Transition Discomfort

Several weeks ago, I decided I would move away from hosting my blog on WordPress. I had researched several other options and decided on a host with a good reputation. The reviews I had read made it seem like the transition would be easy peasy lemon squeezy, like the saying my five-year-old has recently picked up. I filled in the forms, gave consent to make the switch and almost immediately regretted my decision.

After furiously reading more in-depth about transferring my domain to a new host and my website to a new server, I was still grasping to understand what I was attempting to do. It felt like it was a big mess and I began to doubt my decision to move. I looked up the 30-day refund policy, while still communicating with the technical gurus at the new server.

It took some time, lots of calming essential oils and tweaking but it finally seemed like my website would happily survive in its new place.

Just over a week ago, our family made an international move from our place of service, and my husband’s home, in Thailand, to my homeland of Canada. We both felt led by the Lord to make this move and had peace despite many details that were not yet clear. We had good goodbyes, a lovely send-off at the airport, fairly uneventful flights, and warm embraces when we eventually arrived back on Canadian soil.

The messiness of adjusting to something new can be uncomfortable or confusing or both. But if the Lord is in it, we trust Him that the outcome will be worth it.

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I remember that when I first moved to serve in Thailand in 2005, I was so overwhelmed.  On the drive from the airport, through the busy city to my organisation’s office and guesthouse in Bangkok, I felt panicked and flooded, like the streets, flooded from the late afternoon’s deluge. Days later, after sorting out my visa and work permit in the capital, we drove north for a few hours to Lopburi.  I felt like a fraud.  There I was in Thailand, where I felt for YEARS that God had called me to be, and I DIDN’T WANT TO BE THERE.

There.  I had said it – in my head, at least.

We were orientated to our new city and language school, and my roommate and I were given the keys to our new home.  I cried each day.  Wept quietly.  But I knew, without any doubt, that the Lord still wanted me there.  He still wanted me to follow Him.  He still wanted me to serve Him in the on-going work in seeing the Lost come into His Kingdom in S.E. Asia.  He was still with me.  But it was uncomfortable, lonely, and I was still overwhelmed.

Years later, another female colleague shared with me her story of when she arrived on the mission field.  Our stories were very similar.  She wept regularly in that first year.  And, like me, she pressed on.  In fact, both of us, unlikely missionaries, ended up marrying nationals and forever entwined our hearts and lives with Asia.

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Sometimes the move to something different, to somewhere new is as easy as changing your shirt to bear the cooler weather.  Sometimes, it’s as difficult as clinging onto the Lord’s hand as you, begrudgingly, inch forward.  Sometimes, there is immense joy as you enter into a season of change.  Sometimes, there is unexpected grief.  Sometimes, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865 once wrote, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.”

Just as the sun paints an everchanging picture on a landscape, so will we grow and adapt in whatever it is that He has called us to.  There is beauty in each new scene, even though darkness is not absent.

As Paul gave encouragement in his letter to the Roman believers,  so I include this verse to encourage you and me both: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).

When You’re Homesick for a Place or People who are No Longer There

I’ve been reading my way through the “Anne of Green Gables” books and earlier this week I came across a great quote from L.M. Montgomery in “Anne of the Island.”  It was the scene when Anne and one her good friends and roommate from the past three years, Phil, were taking one last walk through their rental to say goodbye to the house. 

Anne wondered if old dreams could haunt rooms – if, when one left forever the room where she had joyed and suffered and laughed and wept, something of her, intangible and invisible, yet nonetheless real, did not remain behind like a voiceful memory. 

“”I think,” said Phil, “that a room where one dreams and grieves and rejoices and lives becomes inseparably connected with those processes and acquires a personality of its own.  I am sure if I came into this room fifity years from now it would say ‘Anne, Anne’ to me.” Montgomery, L.M.. “Anne of the Island.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.. 1943. pp. 221-222.

There was something about that house and those rooms and the lives they lived in there that made it seem like their happy little existence would go on living forever, despite empty rooms and absent friends.

I feel the same way about my mom’s house.

Before my mom had passed last September, she told us that she wanted us to sell her house.  There were many reasons why she felt that way, and, at the end of the day, she would let us decide what we would do but she wanted us to know how she felt.  In the end, we did sell it and it sold quickly.

The new owners have been busy making it their own, so our former neighbours and dear friends tell us.  They’ve been tearing out flooring, bathrooms, a chimney, redoing the electrical system, getting rid of all the brick downstairs, and the wooden panelling, converting the kitchen to a mud/laundry room and moving the kitchen back to what used to be our old kitchen before our family renovated the house 24 years ago. 

While I’m sad that the house will have changed so much, I am curious to see the finished results.  I like knowing that new life has been breathed into it.  I’m also relieved.  My mom’s house is no longer the same and forever it will, in my mind at least, be the last place where our family lived and loved and pressed on despite the sorrow that enveloped us.

I can’t go back to her old house.  She’s no longer there.  And the house is no longer the same.  Life has changed.  But there’s a conversation I dream I can hear from the other side of the hedge and fence.  I dream there is laughter and a face full of joy.  I’m homesick but it’s for a place and a person who are no longer there.

As I think about my situation, I’m sure there are others, involved in missions work and or in secular vocations, who can identify with me, as well.  For those serving cross-culturally and preparing to go back to your passport country for the summer or longer, you may be facing the reality that loved ones are no longer in your hometown.  Friends and family may have moved away or, in some cases, have passed away.

So what do you do when you’re homesick like this?  What do you do when you’re homesick for a place and people who are no longer there?

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1. Grieve your loss(es).

There’s so much that could be said on this point that I could write a book.  And maybe I will.  But not today.  For now, I’ll suggest that you give yourself space, time, and self-care as you grieve the loss of your significant people or person and your special but changed places.  Be kind to yourself in this season.    

2. Take time to pause and express thankfulness to God. 

Thank Him for your past, present and future and for the people He’s put into your life and will put into your life.  When I thank God in this way, I’m able to grieve with hope and joy.  Despite what seems like an oxymoron, joy and grief can and do co-exist.

3. Redeem a place with new memories.

The pain of your loss may be overwhelming and paralyzing, at times, and may be heightened when you are back in that place and your person or people are no longer there.  Don’t be afraid to enter those spaces again, but, when you’re ready, begin to make new memories there.  Initiate creating community and new adventures.  Invite friends to meet for a picnic at a park where you used to go for walks with your loved one.  Start a new Christmas tradition, while infusing some of the precious traditions you shared with your loved one.    

4. Create your pile of stones.

In the Bible, God’s people often built or did something to cause them and their descendants to remember a specific act of God.  In the book of Joshua, chapter four, the people of Israel constructed a pile of twelve stones as a testimony of what God had done to bring His people into the promised land.

“And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:2-24, ESV)

There are a lot of ways to remember how God has helped you, provided for you, counselled you and shown his love for you.  You could make a physical object, like a pile of stones, or a painting or sculpture.  You could take a picture of a place, person or event, frame it and place it somewhere in your house where you would take notice of it frequently. The bathroom?  The kitchen near the sink? On your bedside table?  Choose what works for you.  Another way of remembering is through words – journaling or writing a poem or even a book.  Ask the Lord how to show you how to commemorate your loved one or place.

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This list has no time limit and there is no one method for accomplishing each of these steps.  They do not need to be done in chronological order and may even be done simultaneously.   

I suggest that you invite a friend to journey with you in the process.  Find someone who can listen well and love you as you share about your loss(es).  You may find it helpful for them to keep you accountable for some aspect of your journey.  Try journaling as a way to process each step.  I find writing a cathartic experience and I appreciate looking back and seeing how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned along the way.  Maybe you will too.

But most of all, know that you’re not alone in missing someone who is no longer in your life.  You have good company with people who are also grieving various losses.

We may be homesick, and that’s okay.  May it not end there.  Let us look to the future, into Christ’s face.  

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:16, ESV

The Perspective of Returning Home

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I recently looked back at some of my early blog posts, dating back a little over thirteen years ago. I was in the middle of preparing to go to the mission field and, as I read, I was reminded of the many ways that the Lord prepared the way for me. I was single, young, determined, adventurous, and possessed a heart full of faith to follow the Lord where He was calling me. Now, all these years later, I am married with two small children, not as young as I used to be, just as determined, more cautious than adventurous, but still with a heart ready to follow Jesus as He prompts me through His Spirit.

We are heading back “home” to Canada this coming August and I am unsure whether to call it home or not. My mom passed away last year and my dad twenty years before that. My sister and her family live two hours away from where we’ll plant ourselves, and many of my close friends now live scattered across Canada.

Someone asked me recently about what was waiting for us in Canada, assuming we had jobs lined up and a place to live. “Oh,” they replied when my response was negative towards both of those things, “so you’re just waiting on God to see where He’ll lead you?”

The unknowns in my present are just as intimidating as they were when I was anticipating moving to SE Asia. But the difference now is that I have almost thirteen years of experience of walking through unknowns, following the lamp that the Lord’s provided to show the path in front of me, and the regular discipline of reminding myself of what is true.

I know He is El-HaNe’-eman – “faithful God” (Deut. 7:9 ESV). He never changes and, despite circumstances around us being uncertain, He is unwavering in His character.

I know He is Eliezer – “my God is help” (Exodus 18:4 ESV) – and Ebenezer – “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV). I’ve experienced His provisions countless times and often in the most surprising ways. Like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, I have set up various stones – some real, some in my journal, and some through a picture or other creative means – in my life as a way to honour the Lord and remember how He has moved to help me and others around me.

I know He is Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, and Matthew 1:23 ESV). This has been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to persevere in serving the Lord. I have never had to tackle any task, assignment, follow-up visit, language and culture lesson, visa trip, immigration question, sickness, home assignment, dangerous road, sermon or annual reunion conference by myself. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Despite Satan’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I was never alone in that village in the wooden house, never forgotten in that mountainous assignment, never left behind when my husband went off to work and I was home alone with our children. His presence has satisfied my soul, calmed my anxieties and empowered my heart.

So, I anticipate returning home with great expectations of the Lord to remain the same. I know He will lead us through new challenges and adventures, He will provide exactly what we need (and sometimes what we may think we want) and when we need it, and He will remind me that He is with us and will continue to be with us through it all.

Home has changed. And I’ve changed too. I don’t know what home even really means anymore except for it to be the place where God invites me to be, too.

If you’re returning home for the summer or for longer, which testimonies of God’s goodness is the Holy Spirit reminding you of so your soul may be strengthened?

Accepting a Slice of Chaos

A few weeks ago, I entered the kitchen to get a cup of milk for each of my two young daughters.  They were waiting for me in their beds, nearly ready to sleep for the night – or so I was hoping.  Suddenly, I noticed some movement on the white tiled counter.  Ants.  And not just a couple of them but a long trail of busy, black ants.  I followed their path over to the far side of the kitchen where they were disappearing into a tiny hole in the counter.  I stepped back and decided to return to my original task of the cups of milk.  The ants would have to wait until tomorrow for me to deal with them.

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In every house I’ve called home in Thailand, there have always been ant problems.  For this reason, we (initially my roommates and I, but now my husband and I and our children) have always limited any food to the dining room and the kitchen.  The ants don’t need us to generously bring them crumbs and spills to other areas of our house – they’ll go there on their own anyhow!  We also need to have our house helper or a friend keep an eye out for ant invasions when we go away for vacation or return to Canada for Home Assignment.  Ants like unlived spaces even more than places invaded by humans. The last thing we’ve had to do over the years is to simply accept that the ants would never go away completely and that we would have to learn to live with them.  Those ants in the bathroom?  Sure.  You can stay there guys.  The ants traipsing across the steps of our front porch?  Well, just don’t cross the threshold into the house, okay? Okay?

I desire to be used by God but that also means I need to follow God in whichever direction He leads.  Does this mean that I must embrace an element of chaos if I want to follow Jesus?

I think that embracing the chaos can look different for everyone, and, it may not be the challenge that God is asking you to embrace.  My husband and I are nearly totally opposite people – for him, embracing chaos is exciting (or normal – because what’s chaotic for me is not for him since he is Thai and this is his home culture!) and he enjoys the challenge.  For me, I am a natural homebody (which is quite ironic considering how the Lord has called me to be involved in Kingdom building) and I like to plan things so I know what to expect.  Accepting the unexpected opens the door for both potential failure and success.

The ants in my kitchen represent something stressful and unmanageable.  They are unpredictable and potentially destructive.  They are my storm, whereas a clean, antless house would be my calm.  But if I let the ants blow me down, increase my stress and invade my peace, what will that mean for bigger life challenges?  Sickness?  Death?  Loss or disappointment of any kind?

No, as the Lord is leading me, I must embrace a portion of chaos and ask the Lord what He wants me to look for, listen for and learn in the process.  Because stepping out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus? It’s only possible if I first step out of the boat.

What is the Lord inviting you to embrace in this season?

Return to Thailand

We (the girls and I) arrived back in Thailand last night.  Those were some long flights with lots of crying (none from me this time, thank goodness!).  I am so glad to have that travel done with for now.  The Lord provided lots of help at just the right time.

The week and a half prior to flying back, my youngest was sick.  We had two visits to pediatric emergency and we’ve had lots of doses of medicine each day (including while we were flying, which proved tricky with considering multiple timezone changes).  
But I have fallen behind in my #write31days challenge.  So, here’s to jet lag and catching up on many things, including sleep (even though they say you can’t actually catch up on sleep).  Let’s hope this next season in life is filled with as much grace as ever and keeping our eyes on Him.  Let’s run with endurance this race marked out for us!

Day 4: Hope #write31days

“I remember after my Dad died,” I told a friend at the Mom’s Bible Fellowship this morning, “that the depression was so bad and it was so hard.  And I’m afraid of that happening again…”

I went on to tell her that I wanted my people back in Thailand to know that we will need support for the days ahead, and I can’t go back without that in place.  When we live in a small village, with few close friends nearby, I barely can think about going back.  But yet I know we have to go back.  And get on with life and live the life we feel called to live there.  And I know Mom would’ve wanted that. But it’s still hard to go back. And I desperately hope that my grief journey is different this time round.

I want to permit myself to feel what I need to feel as I grieve, but I really want to keep the perspective that I KNOW, without any doubt, that my Mom is in heaven rejoicing, is fully healed and is with Jesus for eternity.

yearly miracles

“Waiting, trusting, and hoping are intricately connected, like golden strands interwoven to form a strong chain.  Trusting is the central strand, because it is the response from My children that I desire the most.   Waiting, and hoping embellish the central strand and strengthen the chain that connects you to Me…” 

-p.75, March 12, “Jesus Calling”, by Sarah Young

One of the things I LOVE about Thailand is that no matter what season you’re experiencing – hot, rainy, cold, and, of course, smokey season – there are always new flowers blooming.  Bursting in colour along roadsides, mountainsides, in your garden, and in the ditch by the dirty canal.  From the lowest level next to the dirt, to the highest branch and beyond.  The continuous stream of buds of various sizes, colours, intricacies and smells are not limited to only one short growing season each year.

But many of these flowers only bloom once a year.  They take turns being quiet while their neighbour blooms, taking centre-stage.

As a gardener, caring for the plants in your yard, you plant, water, fertilize where applicable, and wait for the crop to yield its produce.

Tawee’s the gardener in our family.  It’s his therapy of sorts – spending time out in nature, silently praying conversations with God, hanging out with our dog and two cats and creatively cultivating the vegetables, flowers and other plants in our yard.  He is constantly grabbing seeds, branches or other living items from wherever we happen to be (or stop along the side of the road) to plant in our garden.  I’m amazed at how a leaf planted in dirt will produce roots and the eventual entire plant.  Or how the stick planted by the small creek that runs beside our property will leaf, grow in size and become a small tree.  He loves the surprise of seeing whether or not something he brought home will thrive in our yard, and what it will look like when it flowers or seeds or spreads in a certain area of the garden.  I love it too.

The biggest surprise is when he doesn’t suspect a plant to behave in a certain way and then it tricks us all.

The latest example is a leafy, rooty orchidish (but not) type plant that he expected will just have nice green leaves and hang from a basket in the tree.  But all of a sudden there is a cluster of small, white, strangely shaped buds.  What will happen next?  What did he bring home?  Several days later, the funny buds pop open and a friendly little white flower with some pink detail smile broadly and boast a beautiful yet delicate fragrance.

A little miracle in the garden.  A once a year miracle.

90. Miracles in all shapes and sizes.
91. Blooms in every direction and colour.
92. A dear husband with two green thumbs (and a love for flowers and all things that grow!).
93. The surprises of nature.
94. The Ultimate Artist, Gardener and Creator.

[Note: I’ve since discovered that these are not orchids at all but are hoya!]

then and now: an exercise in remembering

This post is a little walk down memory lane – something that a friend on Facebook initiated.  Upon liking her status of her own memories, she assigned me an age to reflect back on.  Here goes!

Then
Age given: 22
Lived:  In a room shared with 3 other young women, while attending a Discipleship Training School (DTS), with Youth With A Mission (YWAM), in Turner Valley, AB.  Living on campus at the training centre/base was certainly a stretching and growing experience for me!
Drove: Nothing.  I didn’t have a vehicle.  Lots of walking during that time!
Did: Participated in the DTS, learned more about my relationship with the Lord, grew in my faith, and understanding of the role of missions for the body of Christ.  Travelled to S.E. Asia for the first time (Thailand and Burma), had some serious culture shock, met some lovely Shan women in Burma and was pretty sure that Asia was a nice place to visit but I never wanted to live there.

Now
Age: 34
Live: In a small, cosy house with my Northern Thai husband, on the edge of a small village just south of Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand.  I’ve been living in Thailand since 2005 – almost 8 years now!
Drive: A Ford Ranger XL pick-up truck.
Do: Growing a cute baby girl (that’s a lot of tiring work, let me tell you!), and serving with a different international missions organisation, involved in various ways in church planting among the Thai-yai (and other closely related Tai groups) in this area and beyond.  Growing in my walk with the Lord in this new stage in life: as a new wife (1.5 years of marriage!) to a wonderful, loving man; and a soon-to-be (June 9th!) Mum to a sweet little flower of joy.  Amazed and grateful at God’s goodness in my life, and thankful for this journey that He’s been leading me on.  Looking forward for how He’ll continue to guide our little family.

a BIG thanks from the team at The SOLD Project

A HUGE thank you to those of you who read my blog post the other day and responded by helping in a variety of ways: spreading the word about the competition that The SOLD Project was in through Global Giving (The Girl Effect Challenge), and even by donating $10 to help The SOLD Project win the competition.  Not only did they win, but they came in first place!  AND you helped raise over $18,000 for SOLD!  The prize money (at least $30,000) will be ON TOP of what you helped raise during the competition!  That’s a massive contribution to fight against child trafficking in Thailand through prevention, education and empowering a community!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tawee and his teammates here in Thailand were Skyping with their teammates in the USA as soon the Girl Effect Challenge finished on the weekend.  They are all SOOOOO encouraged and grateful by everyone who went out of their way to help them in this competition, thereby helping the kids and families here whom we love dearly.

Thank you.

To keep updated with The SOLD Project, check out their website, or their blog, or their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter!