Arrest This Man

I love making my bed. Pure white antique chenille complete with my cheerful yellow pillows. Sometimes, when I’m finished, I wish it was appropriate to take a picture of it and post it on Instagram, its so pretty.

I pulled the sheets taut and smoothed out the wrinkles. The comforting purr of a car coming down the road in the rain reached my ear.

A mighty crack like a shotgun and I heard muffled bumps. Then silence. No car anymore.

I knew something was dreadfully wrong. I dropped the coverlet and left my room. On the way down the hall, I knocked on the bathroom door.

“Abby, come outside, something happened.”

I walked out the front door and as I did a wail reached my ears.

“Nooooooooooo!”

I started running down our sidewalk.

“Are you ok?!” I called back, panic gripping my heart. It was like I was transported to the swimming hole again, on that horrible day. I tried not to think that way but to instead remain calm. Whatever is beyond these bushes, panic will not help them.

“Oh God, why?!!!!” came another wail.

I rounded the corner and in the center of the road stood a skinny blonde twenty-something boy, blood just beginning to drip down his legs. Behind him, the trunk of a blue ford focus peeked over the edge of the bank.

Our driveway comes out on a curve. The edge of the curve is a pretty steep incline down into the woods. His car was completely off the road and had taken the road signs with it.

“Are you ok?!” I repeated, looking to the car, hoping against hope no one was in it.

“I’m fine.” He sobbed, “This is just not my day. Do you have a phone? I’m getting no signal.” He lifted a shaking hand and pushed a blonde strand of hair out of his eyes.

I felt relief but eyed the drama-king judgmentally. You gave me a heart-attack.

“Sure, come in.” I gestured to the house and started at a trot up to where Abby stood, her eyes concerned.

“Is everything alright?” she asked, peering over my shoulder.

“I think so, we just need a phone.” I answered, opening our front door and stepping in.

Behind me, the guy hesitated. “May I come in?”

“Of course!” I ushered the damp, trembling soul into our entryway and Abby went to search out a phone.

“What happened?” I asked him.

His eyes darted and he lifted his phone. “I was on my phone. Texting with my girlfriend. I had just had a fight with my brother and I was pretty upset. So I was looking down and when I looked up, it was too late to stop.”

“I have no signal either.” Abby returned, holding up her phone.

Before I could offer mine, the guy, in a sudden spurt of nervous energy, turned around and headed out.

“I’ll run up the road for signal.” he threw over his shoulder, then stopped. “Can-can someone come with me?”

“I’ll go.” I told him. “It’s ok.”

Just like that, he was sprinting out our door and up our sidewalk.

I hesitated for a split second, but then followed him, putting on all my speed just to keep up. It was about the time that I started across our gravel drive that I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes.

Ouch.

However, I would not be left behind. He was so fast. He ran like someone was pursuing him.

As I passed the neighbors’ houses, I realized that that was exactly what it looked like.

He started calling people and finally connected with his dad. When he did, I suggested that we stop running. He didn’t hear me. So we continued at a breakneck speed up our road, him sobbing his story on his phone, me gasping and refusing to give up.

“You have him!” I finally yelled, “We can stop!!!” and stop I did. He soon realized I was no longer behind him and he turned.

I didn’t want to know all the things I now know about his family dynamic. I awkwardly stood beside him in the rain, barefoot, as his dad called him an idiot and told him not to worry about “Trevor” who I assumed was the brother he had been fighting with. When he got off of that call, he turned to me.

“I’m going to call my girlfriend.”

Also a call I did not want to overhear. “I’m going to go- uh, look at your car!” I answered brightly. He seemed calm enough to be by himself now. “You didn’t hit your head or hurt anything, right?” I asked.

“No,” he gestured to his legs, “this is from the weeds as I got out of my car.”

“Good.” I eyed the welt from his seatbelt that was starting to swell on his neck. Probably the only reason this guy didn’t have a concussion.

So I skedaddled down the road and peered over the edge of the road at his car. It was still running. The windshield wipers were going and the right back wheel was completely off the ground. This boy was blessed. It was nothing but trees beyond and for some reason, the car had stopped shy of the first one.

I stood in the drizzling rain, waiting for him to return. When he did, his voice was wheedling as he spoke with his girlfriend. I eyed him covertly, trying to find a way to ask how long it would be till his dad was here.

He suddenly stopped in the road and looked over at me, his eyes wide. “What is this I am hearing?!” He pointed to the car.

I listened. I only heard the purr of an engine and the rhythmic thump of his wipers. He stared at me still, not at all about to investigate it.

“Well the car is on.”

“I turned it off!” he returned, panic written on his features.

Drama, drama, drama.

“But it’s on…” I didn’t know what else to say. “and the wipers are on too.”

Did he think we were dealing with a car that now self-starts? Due to this accident?

“I must not have turned it off then…” he relaxed. “I have to say,” he turned to me and smiled jauntily, “all in all, its not that bad.”

“Who are you talking to?” an annoyed voice issued from the phone.

“A gi-” he stopped himself and eyed me, “the neighbor.”

I felt distinctly uncomfortable.

“She was just helping me.” he spoke into the phone again. “Dad will be here in fifteen minutes.”

Please, no. Fifteen minutes is such a long time to stand out in the rain listening to a conversation between a guy and his suspicious girlfriend.

He glanced over at me, noticing my damp little self for the first time I think. “You can go, I think I’ll be fine. Thanks.”

That was that. “You’re welcome,” I called to him, “knock if you need anything.”

Inside, I finished my bed and tidied up in the kitchen, distractedly peering out the windows. His dad arrived and soon, with an impatient rumble of his tiny, muffler-less car, someone I assumed was Trevor arrived.

I sat at the window, my heart warming as I anticipated the reconciliation. Trevor walked up to the car the boy sat in, opened the door, shouted into the interior, and slammed it. My blood ran cold. Yikes.

A police cruiser pulled up and soon our house was blanketed in smoke from the flares they set up all around the site.

I resisted for as long as I could, but when the tow-truck arrived, I threw on shoes and a jacket and headed out. When I approached, the Officer by the mailbox seemed to get nervous.

No worries, I’m here as a spectator, not as a trouble-maker.

I was glad to see that Trevor had departed, I didn’t want to meet him, angry men make me nervous. They had already pulled the car up the bank and it sat on the road, minus a bumper and a couple other pieces.

“They said if the boulder hadn’t been there, it would have been much worse.” the blonde guy walked up to me.

“You hit a boulder?”

“Yup, that’s why it stopped.” he turned and watched them wrestle the car onto the back of the truck beside me. “My dad says it’s done for.”

“God was watching out for you.” I answered.

He looked at me with a strange expression, then looked away. “Yeah.”

Say something more. He’s thinking.

“Do you have insurance?” I asked. Not what I meant to say.

“I don’t know.” he shrugged unconcernedly.

I turned away, struggling for something else.

The officers and his dad congregated. “So obviously, he needs to watch his speed on curves like this. The road was wet though, so it’s hard to slow down in time.” the senior officer spoke.

I waited to hear the condemnation about him texting while driving. Nothing. Realization dawned.

“Did you tell them you were on your phone?”

He smiled cockily and shoved his hands in his pockets. “It was a deer.”

I stared.

“A deer ran across the road and I swerved to miss it.”

“Those deer.” I answered sarcastically.

“I think the deer will be fine though, I have a feeling.” he answered playfully.

I struggled internally. I imagined myself striding forward and announcing, “Officer, this boy lied to you, he was texting and wasn’t watching the road. There was no deer. Arrest this man!

They would wrestle him to the ground and cart him away for reckless driving and obstructing an investigation.

However.

As nice as that sounds…. what would have happened would be that he would have gotten fined, then would have gotten angry at me and whispered, “I know where you live.” right before he drove away.

I held my peace.

In the end, they all drove away, leaving me in my driveway, determining to march inside and speak the truth on some platform, even if I wasn’t brave enough to bring the man to justice in the moment.

Then, as I wrote, I remembered that moment when I mentioned God’s protection. His face as he looked at me and considered my words.

Fear.

Fear kept him from telling those officers the truth, fear kept me from telling the officers the truth… but more importantly, fear kept me from telling him the truth. There is a God, and He loves you enough to keep you from serious harm. Not only that, He loved you enough to send His only Son to die for that lie you just told.

In Thailand, there was much fear. I would sit in my room in the dead of night, beset by fears within and without. Until God showed me that fear is the enemy.

What is the worst that could happen? If shadows did come alive, would it not be because God had allowed it? For my good and for His glory.

If my siblings do choose the wrong path, will fear ever arrest their path? Could it not be that God is teaching them? For their good and His glory.

If my future is dim and unclear, will fear shed light upon it? Could it not be that God is teaching me to trust only Him? For my good and His glory.

If I speak the Gospel to a lost soul and they respond in anger, will that be so bad?

In everything, it will always be for my good and His glory. Even if it is difficult or unpleasant.

I hope he comes down that road again one day and thinks about God’s protection. May it be that God uses this to arrest him, not in the way I had ridiculously imagined, but in an eternal way.

 

 

Forbid Them Not

I stood outside the park in Allentown. Kristen moved ahead of me assuredly, a marked contrast to how I felt at that moment. Young girls careened around on a bicycle, screaming in laughter, chased by a teen boy. Beyond them and through the bars of the wrought-iron fence, I saw men playing a lively game of basketball. Older women sat on benches or on the concrete of the center triangle, watching the kids.

The kids.

I stepped into the park finally, behind Kristen, and my eyes rested on the children crawling on the playground or running through the grass. This is why I am here. I looked for a little girl I had met here two weeks ago. Her name was Nattie. I remembered the way she leaned into my hand as I cleaned cigarette ash off of her mouth and cheek. I had told her she shouldn’t eat those and asked where her mother was. She had only smiled at me. But then, she was my shadow.

I didn’t see her.

The group that has committed to reaching out in the city of Allentown gathered steadily around the table at the far end of the park. The spirit is cheerful and energetic. They have a purpose and they have a vision.

They want to start a church in Allentown. The ethnicity of Allentown is diverse and colorful. Many tongues and every color has settled here. The park is an apt representation of that.

I felt very deeply that I was not prepared to help anyone. My spirit was restless and when I looked around at the people, my heart did not stir.

How I wished it would! I want to love children here. I want to work where God has placed me.

I squelched another image of children laughing and playing under the sun on the opposite side of the world.

No, I will not think of where my heart longs to be. God has me here. Not there.

I am here to reach out to the children in this park. I have been asked to help with games and Geoff is heading up the story time for them. Kristen and Jess, two of my closest friends, are helping as well.

The group prays before it breaks up into teams. I listen to the words and send up a prayer as well. Help me love these kids here.

Jess and I run to the restroom at a nearby grocery, and on the way, we chatted.

“You are helping with the kids, right?” I asked her.

“I will help where I am needed.”

A prick to my heart. I should have this attitude as well.

“I’m glad to be doing this.” she continues.

“Me too.”

“I can’t believe how it has all worked out.” Jess said as we waited for the light at an intersection. “I wanted to reach out to kids in this very park a year ago, but there was a need for outreach in a different area. So I helped with that and made contacts with adults whose kids they are now sending to this. It’s amazing how God works!”

I nodded.

“My heart was always with the kids though.” She said as we crossed, “And now God is opening the door for me to help in that.”

When we made it back to the park, I saw a circle of children in the grass, Geoff in the center, reading a story. My heart moved. I walked up and sat beside a little girl. She looked up at me and smiled shyly.

I didn’t know her name, but I knew she needed Jesus. Just like I need Him.

A group of older boys walked by and I looked up, sure I would see disdain.

One of them clasped his hand to his heart and shook his head.

“This is so cute!” he murmured, like he couldn’t believe his eyes, “This is so cute!” he kept saying, turning and still smiling as he walked away.

I looked at the circle with new eyes. Children, sitting in a circle in the grass, the spring breeze stirring their hair, their eyes fastened on Geoff. Learning about a man called Jesus, a man Who was also God and died to save them.

“Miss Eliza,” Geoff interrupted my reverie, “do you have a game for us?”

“Yes,” I sat up and their eyes turned on me. “I want to get to know you all a bit better, so I am going to ask you all some questions about yourself, some silly, some serious, and we will go around this circle and you will answer.”

“I know this game!” a girl of maybe eleven sat up, her hair unkempt and tangled on her head. Beside her, a younger, more unkempt version of her eyed me. They both looked a bit wild.

“Great!” I smiled, “so, let’s begin. If you were on a deserted island, what food would you want to have.”

The little girl beside me considered for a moment. “Bananas.”

“That would probably be on the island…” I laughed. “You?” I pointed to the next boy.

“Pizza.” he seemed very certain.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” I applauded his decision.

Around the circle we went. When we were finished, Geoff picked up where he left off. The younger sister of the wild and unkempt girl scooted up to me. She sat beside me, looking up at me curiously. I smiled down at her.

Through the course of Geoff’s lesson, the kids became more out-going and the air became magnetic. I looked around and saw adults gather to watch us, curious. I caught a lady’s eye and smiled. She smiled back and nodded.

Suddenly, the little wild girl beside me tried to kick someone.

“No!” I leaned down and caught her little ankle. “You shouldn’t kick.”

“Ouch!” she looked at me and then bent over her foot.

On her toe I saw a scab. It looked infected.

“Oh dear!” I took her little foot and examined it, “What happened?”

“At school.” she answered shortly.

“I’m sorry.” I put my arm around her.

“Mommy.” she said quietly.

“What?” I bent closer, not sure if I had heard her correctly.

“Mommy.” she said again. “You.”

I couldn’t think of a word to say.

“Mommy.” she insisted.

“She’s calling you Mommy.” another girl beyond her joined the conversation.

I nodded. What do you say? One interaction, moments in length, and a little girl calls you mommy. This is how much need there is in a child’s heart.

We sang together and played more games, learning the names and personalities of each child. They were a wild group, eager for attention and giving out hugs without reserve.

This is God.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not…”

The words echoed. How He loves them.

When we were finished, as I stood on the playground, I glanced down and my eyes met those of a little girl I had prayed for.

“Nattie!” I felt my heart swell when I saw her smile. I kneeled and took her hands. “I was looking for you! I’m so glad to see you!”

She didn’t answer but her smile was answer enough.

In the middle of that park, feeling little hearts reach out for love, God answered my prayer. He always does. From the mountains of Thailand to bustling Allentown, God answers my prayer for these children. He gives me such a love.

He asks only one thing. It is a simple thing. Suffer them to come to Jesus and don’t allow my own desires and selfishness to forbid them from coming.

 

Leaving You

When I left Pennsylvania, ten months ago, I remember feeling this ache in my chest. How would I be able to leave my home, my country, my friends and stay in a place I didn’t know for so long?

I remember thinking that this was the hardest goodbye I’d ever said.

Three days ago, I looked out my window that last evening. The wooden frames were thrown wide, the curtains pushed back, the musky evening creeping towards us but the sun still shedding this golden glow that warmed your heart.

I was packing…. I was supposed to be packing. That is what I told Saw I would be doing. I couldn’t bring myself to take everything out of everything and put it into the final black holes that are my suitcases.

I had left him, planting beans with Pastor Pratuan and the other kids. Before I left him we had talked for a while. I ran him through three things that he had to promise me he would never do.

#1. Don’t hit girls.

“Would you hit me?” *vehement head shake*

“Would you hit her?” *I point to his sister a distance away* *very firm nod*

“No!” *head shake with less purpose than I liked*

“You promise?”

Big eyes look up at me and he smiled and nodded.

#2. Do not smoke.

Disgusted look. *what do you think I am?*

#3. Do not drink.

“Bleck!” *nose wrinkles* “Mi arroy.” (not delicious)

“How do you know that?”

*sheepish look*

“You are ten.”

“Only one taste, it was disgusting.” he says through google translate.

My heart aches. How I wish things had been different for you, Saw.

Now I was in my room, preparing to leave him and all the kids I loved with every fiber. It didn’t hit at that moment. I felt a touch of panic, but just a touch. I brushed it away. I still had tonight.

I heard voices coming up the hill from the pond. I looked out and saw Pastor Pratuan’s head and next the lovely heads of the kids.

No way am I staying in here.DSC_1135

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DSC_1142I grabbed my camera, only to have it confiscated by the kids after I’d taken a few shots.

I don’t know who started it, but I think it was Pastor. I think it was him because he looked incredibly pleased when the riot erupted.

The daisies here are in full bloom, which means that their seeds are ripening, which means burrs. I distinctly remember Pastor pulling one off of his shirt and chucking it at one of the kids.

Suddenly, they were all pulling burrs off the daisies and throwing them at everyone. A mad scramble occurred for the daisy patch.

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I became the target. I also became an arsenal. Which means I had so much on me that I never had to go to the daisy patch to reload. I had it everywhere, as you can see.

Then we heard the dinner gong. We walked to the mess hall. I walked with Jee, my girl. She put her arm around me and I recalled one night, months ago. We had been talking about me going home.

Jee is one of my fourth grade girls and she used to bite me instead of saying hi. She wasn’t the only Hmong girl to do that. I used to yelp and tell her that she couldn’t do that! My American sensibilities were beyond offended at this practice. So instead, she would sit as close as she could and lean against my back. That was ok. She would still bite occasionally though.

That night, she was standing with me on the porch of the girls’ dorm and she was hugging my waist and resting her head on my shoulder.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

I sighed heavily. “So happy, Jee.” It was true. Some days, the joy of my work and the love for the kids would just course through me.

“But you go home.”

“Yes.”

She was silent, then reached for my phone. She spoke into the google translate, then walked away. When I read what she had said, I felt physical pain.

“I love you. I want you to stay, but I want you to be happy with your family. So you go.”

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Now, I was hugging her just like that, the last evening we would have. Tomorrow morning, it would be finished, my work would be done. My little sister from another land. The biter and the fighter.

We went to dinner and I started snapping pictures of the kids. I was harvesting moments. They would be all I would have tomorrow.

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After dinner, I went right back to my room. Saw was acting very strangely, so I gave him space. In my heart, I was hoping that it wasn’t me.

Packing… Ugh. I tried, I did, but when Channon knocked on my window and told me to come, I wasn’t sorry. We walked up the stairs together. I paused, he paused, then he reached out, squeezed my arm gently and was gone.

I walked to the mess hall with Baithuey, Cee, Rose and Jesa. We laughed and sang. I was pretending that it wasn’t happening. That this place that felt so much like home now would always be where I was. How is it possible to love two places so much?

They were preparing a mass birthday celebration for the kids with birthdays in April. I looked for Saw and when I saw his face, my heart plummeted. His eyes were puffy. He wouldn’t look at me.

I sat in the back and looked over at Nai. He didn’t look happy either. He just stared.

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I tried to ignore the growing pain in my chest and scooted up to the front to take pictures. They sang happy birthday, clapping and smiling.

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When the finished singing, Pastor sat down at the front of the group and the girls started cutting the cakes. He started speaking to the kids. I kept catching Saw’s eye but he would look away quickly, sober and steadfastly staring at nothing. What had I done?

I was startled out my regret by my name. Pastor was looking at me. They were all looking at me. He said I would go home tomorrow in Thai and kids near me reached for my hand. I felt that steady rip in my chest.

“Would you like to say something?” He asked.

“I don’t think I can, Pastor.” I answered, swallowing the lump in my throat.

He nodded. “We will pray for you.”

I bowed my head with everyone else but looked up at their faces as they prayed for me. Do you know how much I love you?

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When they finished, I scooted to the back. I couldn’t escape this sense of unreality. Saw looked at me again and I saw he had been crying. All around me, kids happily ate cake, handing me some as well, and I threw myself into the night. Taking a video of the beautiful girls and all the handsome boys, snapping pictures right and left.

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After cake, the boys challenged me to an arm-wrestling rematch. I had accidentally been caught up in a whirlwind of armwrestling before dinner and now I was paying the piper.

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I will not tell you who won, in order to preserve dignity.

After I finished with the indignity, I felt two arms encircle my waist. It was Saw. I breathed in and sighed out, gathering him close and thanking God that I would have no regrets. Whatever it was, he had forgiven me, or sorted it out. I was thankful.

This boy has been my shadow from the day he arrived, before Christmas. Kids would make fun of him for always carrying my things or for sitting outside the office while I worked, but he steadfastly ignored it. When I would tell him to go play and make friends he would look at me like I was crazy.

“I have friends.” google translate read to me, “A lot. I just want to be with you.”

He once handed me my phone and it said, “I think I love you the most in the world.”

Touching. Devastating. I take full responsibility.

We sat down and settled in for a cartoon. Saw snuggled close and leaned against me.

Jesa came and told me Kru Bua had made dinner for us and to come quietly. I rose to go and waved Saw down when he looked like he would come too. I left my things in his care and went.

The entire time I fought tears. I didn’t want to be out here, eating this meal while moments passed away. I tried. I was able to joke and laugh, but I would cast glances over my shoulder to the other building. My heart was in there. As soon as it felt polite, I excused myself.

I slipped into the group of kids and felt the weight of their little bodies as they leaned into me. Relief. Tinged with something that I didn’t want to think about. Right now, they were here. My heart and my arms were full.

“Teacher Eliza!” I heard a whisper from the row of big boys behind me.

I turned, it was Gluay. He had a grin.

“One more time!” he made an action like arm-wrestling.

“No!” I whispered back, blushing.

“Yes!” he nodded.

I paused. It wouldn’t hurt. “After the movie.” I told him.

The movie was long. I was so glad. When it was over, I rose, and tried to sneak away. Gluay was there, grinning.

Which arm? Left? ok.

I finished, (once again, details are withheld for the dignity of those involved) and left, shaking my hand and making sure all the wrist-bones were still operational.

We walked home together, my hand in Saw’s, kids bunched close.

The last night. I was so tired. I slept.

In the morning, I went down to my room. Since Song’s passing, I have stayed with Rose in her room.

It was 6 o’clock. Four hours.

“Teacher Eliza!?” like that first morning so long ago, I heard the title that is now familiar through my window. “You sleep?”

“No Saw.” I answered, I threw open the curtains and the window. He leaned in and looked at everything. I know, I know. No difference from yesterday.

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He stayed with me while I packed. Baithuey came and Rose, with little Honey sitting on the bed.

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He came in when the little girls came, playing in my empty wardrobe and looking through my treasures. He found a ring. He took my hand and slipped it on. I’m still wearing it. I pray for him every time I think of it.

He sat on my suitcases to help me zipper and carried one of them out. No small feat.

Noi and Grace played with my suitcases until Pastor called them to the mess hall.

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There they stood, silent sentinels, testaments to what I was about to do.

I went back to the mess hall with Rose beside me and Saw in front of me, matching me step for step, holding onto my hands.

“Do you know Teacher Eliza is leaving?” Rose teased Saw, “How does it feel?”

He didn’t answer.

“Rose!” I punched her shoulder gently. “You’re so mean!”

She laughed. I stood with the kids in the mess hall, waiting for the moments to pass and the fateful hour to strike. Eleven o’clock.

“Can you go tomorrow?” Saw asked me, arms around my waist, looking up at me.

“I cannot.”

“Cannot.” he repeated and shook his head. “Mi Dai.”

“Mi Dai.” I answered. I took off my necklace and slipped it over his head. “You keep this for me till I see you again.”

He fingered the jade stone through his shirt and nodded. His smile was like a light. “You come back?” He asked.

“One day I will see you again.” I dodged. I didn’t tell him that it isn’t up to me. God has my life in the palm of His hand. He brought me here. He is taking me away. If He calls me back, I will come. If not, I will pray for them all in any case.

“I love you so, so much.” he said, looking up into my face. “You, mom.”

Something bloomed. It wasn’t what you think. It was guilt. How could I do this to him? His real mom is in prison, I don’t know where has dad is. His greatest compliment to me has been that I don’t hit him. Of course not. I’d rather hit myself. How will I leave you? How could I make you give this precious gift to me, then walk away?

I looked at my phone. It was five minutes till eleven. I felt nauseous. Like I was about to stand up in front of a million people and speak without planning a letter of my speech. That is the only thing I can equal it to. My neck prickled. My arms felt like they were made of lead. I was hot and then I was cold.

I remembered a shell decoration that Achee had made for me in the office. I left Saw there and went to get it.

I was in the office and Rose was too.

“Can you take pictures for me?”

“Yes.” she looked at me strange.

I grabbed the shells from where they have dangled for nine months and tried to lock Pastor’s office. I heard singing. It was the kids. It moved up the hall towards the office and towards those bags. My hands trembled as I tried to lock the door.

“I’ll do it.” Rose said gently.

“I can.”

With a snick it locked. I straightened and handed her the key. I wanted to tell her I couldn’t bear this feeling. I’ve never felt so scared in all of my life.

What if I never see them again? What if this is the last time I hug them? The last time I tell them I love them? The last time I look into those eyes and glimpse their souls.

I had asked God to give me a love for these kids. Many days were hard, other days were effortless, like it sprung up from an infinite supply of patience and sacrifice. I would do anything for them. It brought me such joy, such purpose, and such passion to be with them. To pray as I watched them, to pray at night when the fear came and I fought back, wanting them to be free of fear.

I would stand in the gap for them. I would plead for their souls to my God. Through this, my confidence in God grew. He loved them more than I did. This prayer did not originate with me. This burden and passion and love came straight from God. If He had burdened me, then He intends to answer my prayer. They would be saved. They would love God and shine like lights in their corner of the world.

With or without me.

This was the catch. They are my heart. But right now, God is calling me home. He might never call me back.

Submit. Submit your passions and your imaginations to God, Eliza.

I walked out. They were singing the saddest song I’d ever heard. They sat on the ground and as I walked towards them, they reached out and handed me letters, pictures they had drawn. I took them and put them in my bag, smiling with the last shred of control I had.

I slipped into the midst and hid with Baithuey and Cee. They put their arms around me.

Then I heard the crunch of gravel. Anne and Nat.

My breath caught, my whole head began to throb and I went to the little ones. I will never forget you. I will love you. I will pray for you. God will keep you.

My time was up.

Tears burned and flowed without permission. I felt that rip and then they were in my arms. I was saying their names and they were crying.

I know people leave you. I know that is all you know. Please forgive me. Please understand that I love you always even when I’m gone.

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“God bless you.” and “I love you.” from these kids meant more. Thank you. Thank you for giving me such a gift. Through all of this, I have learned more from you than you probably learned from me.

After many precious moments, I went to go get my shoes from behind the mess hall. I’m glad I did. Channon was working back there. I went right up to him and gave him a hug.

“Goodbye Teacher.” he said solemnly.

“Goodbye Channon.”

Then I walked through the mess hall and up the long school hall for the last time. So many mornings, greeting and being greeted by the children. So many precious memories.

Then I was back in the entryway, staring at the white van. I was walking towards it and I reached out for Saw. Last time buddy. We stood behind the van and I hugged Baithuey and so many more. I was putting off the inevitable.

I saw how painful this was becoming for Saw. I couldn’t drag it out. I kneeled there. The cameras left and I pulled him close.

“I love, love, love, love you.” I said into his ear. Every ‘love’ I tried to put everything in. Please believe me. One day, God will be my witness for how much I’ve prayed for you.

He wasn’t letting go. I couldn’t either.

Ma’am Gik saw it and came out, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. They took him away.

I got into the van. We drove away.

I looked back and I saw some run to the other side and wave. I strained for every last glimpse of them. Like someone drinking the last drops of water before stepping into a desert place.

For two days I lived in the midst of it. I tried to reach back and get in touch, but it seemed that no one was responding.

Someone messaged me and asked if I would talk to Saw before I left. I tried to but it seemed like every attempt was thwarted. I began to sense that something was wrong. I had done something. They were trying to block contact. Saw. They were upset with me over him.

I didn’t blame them. I was upset with me. How could I have changed it? I didn’t even notice it. I was in the middle before I knew I began.

The third night away, I called them. I couldn’t get anyone until I called Ma’am Gik. I asked her about some things casually, then asked if there was anything I had done.

“No! We love you!”

Slight relief.

When I got off the phone I started going through pictures. Mistake.

“Let go, Eliza.” I felt an echo in my mind.

I don’t want to.

Let it go.

“Ok.” I said out-loud. In my heart, I released.

My phone rang. I looked down. Pastor Pratuan requesting a video-chat. That can only mean one thing.

Kids.

I jumped out of my bed and opened the video. There they all were. I said their names as I saw their faces, they were smiling and they were chatting, like I hadn’t left.

“I miss you, ah! You come back, ah!” Baithuey said, laughing.

Then Abigail. “I miss you, you come back and P’Jesa!”

I was telling them all the things I had been wanting to. I love you, I miss you, I am praying for you, I will never forget you.

Anne knocked at my door and I was so disoriented that I knocked back. I heard a chuckle and then I opened.

“A little quieter.” she glanced towards the kids’ room.

“Sure, sure!” I promised, closing the door. I don’t think I was any quieter.

I saw Wah, Gluay, Fongming, Noi, Jee, Lisa, Mare, Gla, Tey, Channon, Chaiyan, and so many more. Then someone handed the phone over and I saw a little face.

Saw. He took the phone a ways away and said into it, “I love you very, very much Teacher Eliza.”

Gales of laughter from behind him. He isn’t that quiet. Then he took it further away. Yapoh followed with Wah.

I delighted in the entire exchange. Where are you? when do you go to America? is it raining there too? Then Pastor Pratuan took the phone back.

“We have a big hole, with all the volunteers gone. The electricity is on and off tonight too because of a storm.” he told me. “The kids miss you. Saw especially has told me every day many times.” he laughed.

My entire being breathed a sigh of relief. No upset over anything. The electricity was out, that’s why I couldn’t reach them. I am such a drama-queen.

“Well, that’s fair, I have a huge hole too.” I smiled, “Tell them to pray that God will call me back. It’s up to Him, not me.”

He turned to the group. “Do you want her to come back?”

“Yes!”

Then more in Thai that I couldn’t understand. I knew he was telling them to pray for it.

When I said goodbye, I sat in this warm glow. I was healing. I had been asking God to help me and He gave me exactly what I needed. I just had to let go. God couldn’t even wait five minutes to answer the need of my heart. As soon as I obeyed, He granted me this gift.

I thanked Him over and over. His kindness was so evident. I still see it.

Leaving you all was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m seeing Him like I’ve never seen Him before. I know that my work for those kids is prayer. I will pray for you.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Because He Lives

We stood in front of the kids and sang.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,

Because he lives, all fear is gone,

Because I know he holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because he lives.

It was Resurrection Sunday. We had just watched a video on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Kids were wiping their eyes and sniffs echoed in the room.

When the last note died, we sat down. It was so quiet. Pastor extended an invitation to anyone who wanted to be saved. A little boy of seven came, towing his friend. He listened while Pastor Pratuan led his friend to Christ, then insisted on being saved as well.

I can picture his face as he prayed. Maybe his eyes lost their customary gleam and his mouth was more serious than usual.

His name was Song.

He was a simple boy with many questions and demands for attention.

His mother had left him when he was three years old, his father was deaf and is now in prison. He was cared for by his grandmother, a Christian woman, but a very elderly woman who could not care for him.

He was saved on April 1st, in the morning. By 3:50 that same afternoon, he was being rushed to the hospital.

 

We sat in a circle on the grass, all of us, and prayed silently. All afternoon we prayed. We moved inside the dining hall, the kids silent, all of us jumping when the cell phone rang. Still no news on Song.

We must have sat there for an hour when I heard a commotion up at the school. I jumped up and walked out, spotting the older boy, Channon, who had gone with Song to the hospital. He was carrying a shirt.

“Is he ok?”

Channon shook his head.

Up the way I saw Jesa sitting, staring at the ground. I walked to her. I felt like the hallway was so long. She looked up and her face was indecipherable.

“What?” I asked. I already knew.

I sat down next to her.

“He didn’t make it.” Jesa said, her voice odd to my ears.

She pulled me into a hug.

“It’s not your fault.”

The tears came. It was odd to have been so dry and so void inside all afternoon, pleading with God for a boy’s life, holding out on a hope. In a moment to know the truth and to know that the answer from God was no.

It rolled through me. I tried to stop the strange sound that came from my chest, I didn’t want the kids to hear me and come in curiosity. I couldn’t.

Jesa was so much more strong.

“He is with the Lord now.” she said, in that same strange tone.

I know now that that sound was control. She was controlling herself.

That evening, we were called to the assembly hall after dinner. In a long line we walked slowly. It was as if no one wanted to know. I looked up into the sky.

“Se dang, dang.” Chai was walking beside me and he was looking too.

Color red, red.

The moon was red.

We sat and sang softly, waiting for Pastor to get back from the hospital.

Amazing Grace.

We sat for many minutes, the children singing so gently. Every face was somber.

We heard a stir and we all looked eagerly to the stairs. Pastor trudged up, his face weary. He walked to the front of the room and sat. He spoke the words that everyone knew already.

Song is gone.

He told them about him coming to Christ just that morning and encouraged the kids that it wasn’t the end for Song, just the beginning. It was his time. God chose this day, that moment to save him and take him home.

It was so heavy, but hope bloomed like a gentle light all around.

This is why it matters.

The night was long. For those who had been a part, there was no unseeing what had happened.  Sleep eluded us.

I read my Bible and prayed for the kids. I prayed that they would see the good and the beauty. I prayed that I would too. Fear stalked. Many could not sleep alone. We all clung together in a new sort of consciousness.

It is so easy. It takes just a moment.

I called my mother at one and talked with her till five. I needed to not be alone. I knew God was with me, but I could see his face still.

Today I felt so conscious of it. It surprised me that the kids rolled so easily. They don’t understand, many did not see it.

Then they told me. Four kids had accepted Christ last night. One more today.

Song is gone. He isn’t here anymore but because God is still God no matter what. In His wisdom, He is using Song’s passing in the lives of the kids here.

I pray that nothing would inhibit the message. I pray that they would understand that standing before God isn’t some distant, unreality. It could happen today. They know the truth, they have heard the Gospel. Jesus is calling.

He paid the price for my sin and for Song’s. He defeated death. It has lost it’s victory and it’s sting. Now, Jesus is alive and because He is alive, Song is safe and sound. No more sorrow, no more abandonment.

I have seen Him work all day. Because He lives.

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Song

 

Life Goes On

It is always incredible to me, how I can feel like every day is the end. This is it. The last moment, the last look, the last time I’ll have this piece of my heart.

In a way, it can be a benefit to have your heart and soul constantly moving into each moment like it could be your last.

A couple weeks back, I had emailed a friend about the struggles and the joys here. She emailed me back and a couple paragraphs in, I came across an interesting question.

“Have you tried living in today?”

I laugh now, just to read it. This was the beginning of my striving to live in today. Live right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow. God will take care of you and of it.

Do I really believe it though?

Last week was the first week of summer classes. There are three English teachers here, one of them is me, and we did not know, going in, how many kids would show up Monday morning.

So, I had the spectacular idea of each of us assessing our students and splitting them up according to level, not grade. This was to avoid holding experienced students back and stressing the kids who don’t understand.

And that, my friends, was how I ended up standing in front of a class of 54 students.

I thought this was the downhill part of my time here! It is all easy from this point on!

Nope.

I looked out into the sweaty faces of each child. I had kids from 2nd grade, all the way to 7th. I saw my dear Seegame, from my normal class, and all of my precious 4th graders that were still here and hadn’t been taken to their villages for the summer. We were in a normal classroom and there was no extra room, even to sit. I had kids crammed back into the airless corners and when I turned the fan on, they all tried to cram themselves into the area it reached.

I threw a ball into the circle and we started introducing ourselves.

That was all we did for the hour that I taught.

When I was finished, I was sweating too.

This week will be awesome, I have a feeling. I thought sarcastically.

I moved them all up to the large assembly area we use for evening devotions the next day. Here, there are musical instruments. As you can imagine, if I didn’t stay on top of them constantly, I would lose 4-5 kids at a time to the magnetic draw of the guitars and the piano.

I needed to up my game. We did hot potato, to see if they knew the sounds of the alphabet and some simple words, but the stress of standing up in front of 53 kids they didn’t know was not something I had counted on. One sensitive 2nd grader ended up sobbing silent tears, then falling asleep on the couch in the back.

I also noticed that I had many kids I’d never met before. Trying to tell one child in a room full of kids to be quiet, especially when you can’t recall their name, has become a huge part of my life lately.

At the end of that particular class, I had a feeling God had given me this stressful string of summer classes to make me ready to go home. I mean, I had prayed that He would give me closure in some way, because as of right now, I am not ready. After that class, I was more ready.

The next day I woke up, planning to be more, well, more-ish in my classes. I went to the kitchen on my way to the school and a little boy called to me from the dirt road.

“Teacher!” he said in his husky voice.

I’d know that voice anywhere. That was the voice of Beyah. He is a little boy of great presence and this knack for cheering me up. He is in my 4th grade class.

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I remember the first time he hugged me and every time in-between until this last day. Only because he isn’t a hugger. However, he is a warrior that had chosen me to admire his battle wounds whenever he had any to show. I got used to him limping up and showing me very slight injuries to which I had to respond with incredulity and horror.

“I go today.” he said.

I thought he was teasing me. He told me it would be Wednesday and he had reminded me every time he saw me because my reaction pleased him so. I would get angry sometimes, indignant, and insist he would stay with me forever. Sometimes I would pretend to cry comically. He was not very comforting on any occasion.

Of course he couldn’t know that I was keeping it light because the thought of not seeing his face anymore made my heart ache just a bit.

“No!” I stomped my foot. Ready to respond in the same light manner.

“Yes!” he returned, very insistently. “Seip Mung!”

Ten o’clock. Oh Beyah.

I watched for him up until ten o’clock, feeling very strange. Kind of how I felt whenever a member of my family moved out. When his mother came, the ache gained a touch of panic. I wasn’t ready. Again. Not ready.

I had to teach kinder and I told him that he had to come and say goodbye if I wasn’t out when it was time to go.

In kinder, I forgot. It was nice. In the last five minutes, we started to do the hand-motions to a song. It was a slow and sweet song. I was twirling with the little kids and on the final turn, I saw him standing in the doorway.

I went right to him and kneeled. He wrapped his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. We stayed like that for so many precious moments.

“Gang mach!” I heard his mother say after a couple moments.

I don’t know if she was telling me good job, or Beyah. All I know was that I had loved teaching her son and helping him and teasing him. He made teaching such a joy.

When he wiped his eyes on my shoulder, I knew it was time to let go. I kissed his ear. I sat back on my heels and looked up into his sad eyes. C’mon buddy, help me keep it together here.

“Goodbye, Beyah.”

“Goodbye, Teacher.”

I went out behind the kitchen, where there were several boys fixing a motor. I feigned interest in it, keeping my head down. I don’t remember one thing about that motor.

“Beyah go home.”

I looked up and Bak was pointing to a truck that rumbled up the road, right past where I sat.

Beyah was lunging over the back seat towards the windshield, waving at us. I waved back with all my might, trying to keep the tears inside. As they passed, the truck slowed and he looked out the side window, just in time to see my first tear slip out. I couldn’t hold that one in. He lifted a hand, like he would wave, but just held it up, staring at my face. I wondered if I looked as sad as I felt.

I prefer to think he was memorizing my face like I was memorizing his.

“Teacher cry.” Chai stated, staring at me as I stared at the dust that was settling where the truck had been.

I sighed heavily and laughed, shoving his shoulder and getting up. Time to go. I could feel the dam start to break. I got food which I probably wouldn’t eat and went to the office, as fast as I could without arousing suspicion.

Inside, I hid behind a sofa pillow and let the tears come. I grabbed my laptop and started to write a word document furiously, writing everything I remember about him. Every hug, every time he stood up for me in class, every time he would take a stack of books away from me to carry.

I was ok after that. Even if I couldn’t reconcile the part of me that insists that if you love someone, they will always be a part of your life. I was ok once I wasn’t worried that I’d forget anything.

That day was also my craft day for the summer class. The supplies for my craft were to be purchased the day before and would be waiting for me. So I went to Ma’am Gik to ask for them.

“Oh,” she looked at me with sympathy, “I had no time to go yesterday, so I have no supplies for your craft.” She looked genuinely upset for me, so I consoled her and turned and went up to my classroom.

I sat on the floor beside the supplies I did have. One pair of scissors and two glue sticks for 54 kids. There was also a sheaf of colored paper so all was not a loss. I started to feel a little sorry for myself.

I cannot come up with a lesson plan and a game and worksheets in 30 minutes!

To be honest, I didn’t want to come up with another one. I was so tired. I knew in my heart that my attitude was all wrong but my head felt heavy.

I looked at my supplies and a laugh bubbled up. One scissors and two glue sticks. My five loaves and two fishes.

Lord, I know my attitude is not right. But help me please. I don’t have the energy. Let this be enough. I will give my effort and ask that you work this tiny miracle and make these stretch. 

So He did. Someone came and gave me 17 pairs of scissors and two more glue sticks. It worked out perfectly. It was utterly healing to be in the midst of them, quietly working.

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At the end, I swept up the paper carnage and realized that it all must go on. My heart wants to stop, right here, and dwell on it all, trying to remember everything, afraid to forget and be forgotten. I want to go back and hug that little boy again.

But life must go on.

Four weeks! As kids slowly leave I realize that I’m glad they are leaving me, despite the slow band-aid rip it’s proving to be, not me leaving all of them.

Some, like Beyah, go to stay with their parents, who cannot afford schooling elsewhere. Others have more tragic stories and stay with relatives for the summer because their parents are in prison or gone. Still others stay here, unable to go home because it is not a safe or a healthy environment.

They’ve learned this lesson early. Too early. I hate to be a part of the refresher course. Yes, I will go, they will miss me, but… life goes on.

Fishing

I watched as he was dragged out of view. I laughed at his face but a moment later I sobered when I heard crying. I rose out of my chair in the office and walked to the opening of the door where seconds earlier Channon and Saw had been playing. Seegame and Phet watched a bit apathetically, obviously not sure if Saw was actually crying.

Saw lay on the bench, face-down and Channon was straddling him, all gangly 5’7” of him, scissors in hands and a rather bewildered look on his face.

“No one likes to be stabbed with scissors, Channon.” I rebuked as I walked and sat on the ground next to where Saw moaned. “Saw,” I said his name and tried to look at his face. Channon got off and sat beside him sheepishly.

Saw is one of those kids that pretends to cry then laughs in your face when you react in concern. This time, the boy was for real. I put a hand on his back and scratched absent-mindedly. He was not wounded in body, just in pride.

It was very hot that afternoon and I noticed he was wearing fleece pajamas still.

This boy. Goodness me.

Seegame and Phet scooted closer and Seegame sat next to me, on the floor of the school hall. They are two of my sixth-graders. Phet is a small Thai boy from outside the Home of Hope, clever and mischievous but with a serious side that I enjoy. Seegame is from outside as well. He is the biggest boy in the school, tall, and starting to grow into his height, with a dopey good-nature and a sense of humor that circles around pretending to be simpler than he really is. He is the life of my class. Sometimes not in a good way. I have a special place in my heart for him.

“You will go to Bangkok?” I asked Seegame.

Finals was last week and I had said goodbye to him then, thinking it would be the last time. I did not take into account that his liveliness in class has affected his grades, not just in English, and he has to come the first week to be tutored so he can pass his other classes as well. Phet is just there for moral support.

Seegame looked confused and glanced to Phet.

“Seegame will go.” Phet answered for him.

I nodded and gently scratched Saw’s head. He wasn’t crying anymore, but his head was still in his arms.

“Teacher,” Phet smiled with glee, “you cry Friday.”

He was referring to the time after I had said goodbye to Seegame, keeping it together, and then went into an empty classroom and burst into tears.

“Alli-wah?” Seegame looked at Phet.

Phet shot off some Thai, telling Seegame about my ‘moment.’

Seegame looked at me with new interest. This was news to him. “Teacher,” he looked a touch pleased, “you cry?”

“Just a little bit.”

Phet guffawed and enjoyed telling Seegame that it was more than a little bit.

As they teased me, Saw recovered and turned over to look at me. He had one chopstick in his hand and he used this to push a strand of hair out of my face. Then he touched my chin with it and then my forehead. He sat up on the bench seat and rested his chin on top of my head.

Seegame patted my shoulder, “Teacher, I go.” He got up and shouldered his backpack. Phet stood as well. I felt a touch of panic. Not again. No more goodbyes please.

It must have shown on my face.

“I come tomorrow.” Seegame reassured me.

I should have known it would take more than one day to repair his grades. I nodded and said goodbye. They walked away companionably, best friends and likely to remain so. They have a solidarity to their friendship, an unspoken agreement that sometimes happens in kids, you know it will last.

Saw was completely recovered and impatient to tell me something.

“Pla.” he made a hand-motion like a fish.

“Fish.”

“Yes,” he nodded, “we fish.” he made a motion like fishing.

“Yes!” I clapped my hands. I love fishing.

“You come.” he jumped up and grabbed my hand.

I followed willingly. I had visions in my head of quietly sitting on the bank of the pond, a pole in my hands and the kids sitting in companionable silence.

The reality was shocking to my American understanding of the sport.

My first clue was a horde of children running by, holding pointed sticks, a net and dressed in very little. It had all the earmarks of a wondrous occasion in my mind. I joined the herd.

As I ran down to the pond, the sun blazing away and the air ringing with shouts and splashes, a boy held aloft a fish he had just caught. I was in awe. They were catching them with their bare hands!

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The little boys were the ones using the bamboo spears. Of course, they caught nothing. The older boys were catching them with their hands along the banks. Do not ask me how.  However, the very oldest boys were using an old-fashioned weighted net. Very efficiently, I might add.

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I stood, marveling, realizing very quickly that I would not be an integral part of this fishing exhibition. It is not a calm sport or one that they did quietly. I watched them instead, delighting in their skill.

They would throw it into the murky water, then use a specific strap to pull it in. It would tangle the fish in the net and make it very hard to swim free. Then they would hand off any fish they caught to an eager, younger boy to run it to the bucket. Then they would untangle and throw it again.

I laughed to see the younger boys give up so easily and instead throw their shirts in a heap and jump into the water. I sat on the bank and watched them. They would come to me, calling my name and asking me to count how long they could hold their breath. Boys are the same the world over.

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I thought as I watched them that every little boy needs someone to sit and marvel at what he can do.

Frame-14-03-2018-11-11-45The older boys were less sentimental and resented the fact that all the splashing was scaring the fish away. We were soon kicked out of their side of the pond.

They caught many fish without us, proving the point.

As I walked back, Sai and Jee walked beside me.

Jee was featured in my very first blogpost here and he has featured in my every day since. He is stubborn and proud, hates to show affection but would find ways to accidentally hug me or hold my hand. I remember I would sit and watch his head and pray for him during devotions. I don’t know why, but he was in my heart from the second day I was here.

Sai, his older brother, is more solid than his wild sibling and used to teach me games in the evenings when I lived at the boys’ dorm. He is not as sure of himself as Jee, but he is less proud because of it. He is also not very into physical displays of affection but isn’t afraid to defend me in the face of Jee’s random acts of terror.

Sai was trying to tell me something to me as we walked. I opened Google Translate on my phone and he spoke into it. When I took my phone back, the words on it sent a pang through my chest.

“We go home Friday.”

“When do you come back?” I asked through the phone.

“I don’t know.”

My heart sank. I was hoping they would stay for the summer classes we have. That would mean that they would be with me until the day I leave. Now, they will leave on Friday and come back probably sometime in May, when school starts again.

I will never see them again.

It hit me. I looked into their faces and I couldn’t nearly bear the thought. Jee smiled archly, like he didn’t care, but Sai looked sober. We walked back the rest of the way and I went back to the office to finish my work before dinner.

Friday. Ok, I have a week.

That evening, right before devotions, three of the Filipinos left for the Philippines. One of them has become a close friend. I didn’t want to be there, saying goodbye. As the kids cried and the volunteers gave hugs, I felt something in my hand.

Sai was trying to slip 20 baht into my hand.

“No, no! I can’t take this.” I protested, giving it back.

He looked away. I put a hand on his shoulder. He put his hand on top of mine without looking at me. Then he pulled it around his chest and stood with his back resting against my side, staring off at the hubbub around us.

I love you.

Then I tried to steal the 20 baht from him. Forgive me, it was the only way to make him not feel awkward about it all. I think it worked. He laughed and held onto my hand for a moment before letting go.

As you know, today is Thursday night. They leave tomorrow. I leave tomorrow for Chiang Rai to meet Anne Williams at 6:30 in the morning. I don’t think I will see them in the morning.

I tried to tell Sai that tonight, but he didn’t understand me through Google Translate. Jee though, heard it and nodded to me. He, of course, did not share the information with his brother, though I asked him to, because he is stubborn and I asked him to.

How silly is that?

And how silly is it that I love him to the moon and back, despite the fact that he betrays me constantly, is always making fun of me to preserve his own strong image, and then pretends to want to hug me sometimes in the mornings, only to dash away, laughing as I practically sob.

It is important that I collapse and feign great hurt when he does that. Because I don’t care if he doesn’t love me, I want him to know that I love him no matter what. That has been my Jee-mission from day one.

So tonight, Jee has been acting really strange. He keeps coming up to me, then walking away without telling me anything. He knows it is only tonight. I know it. He keeps watching me, then looking away when I catch his eye.

In the past I have literally held this boy captive while I look into his wild eyes and tell him I love him. The moment I release, he darts off, but soon, he would come back for more. Thats how I know he needs it. He needs me to hug him and kiss him on his perfect head while he protests. Because he always makes sure that he’s close enough for me to catch.

Tonight though, after devotions, the boys were dismissed early and I came down 5 minutes after him. I was afraid he had gone to the dorm already.

As I came down the steps, I saw him immediately. He was to the side, his back to me. He glanced up when he heard the girls coming and then started walking. Slowly. I walked out into the night air and he kept glancing back at me. His shoes were on but he lingered at the edge of the tile.

I felt like every little girl and boy in the Home was grabbing me. I tried to be patient and I put my shoes on, moving away from the crowd and walking towards him. When I was even with him, he started walking normally.

Just then, another little boy grabbed my hand. He laughed and pulled me away. Jee wouldn’t look at me, but I saw the moment he decided to go. His stride lengthened till he was up the road, away from me.

I noticed Sai was there, hard to see in the shadows. He called Jee’s name. Jee wouldn’t look back. Too proud.

Sai walked with me. When we were even with the girls’ dorm, he stopped. I stopped. I looked at him, he looked at me.

“Goodnight.” he said, clasping his little hands awkwardly. He nodded, then turned to go.

“Sai!” I called and then held out my arms.

He came to me so fast.

He is so small. You forget how little they are sometimes, at least I do, because their personalities are so big. They know so much. Sometimes more than I do.

I held him, his arms around my waist and my chin resting on his head.

“Goodbye Sai.”

His arms tightened. I kissed his head.

Then he was gone.

I stared after him, wishing it didn’t hurt so much to say goodbye. I looked to the boys’ dorm, hoping against hope that Jee would swallow his pride and say goodbye too. Because the one thing worse than saying goodbye is just disappearing.

Well, he didn’t come.

All week long I haven’t stopped fishing. I’ve been looking for moments with them every day. When Jee gave me a tiny house he had modeled. That one evening when Sai sat and called me names then laughed when I threw my flip-flops at him. This morning when we played in the sand, building our houses and digging our holes.

I tried to make every moment count. I’m still hoping that tomorrow morning, by a miracle, I will see them one last time. If not, I’m not sorry that I ignored packing for the weekend to play in the sand with them. I’m not sorry that I didn’t finish assembling the books for the coming school year. I’m not sorry that my laundry is still hanging on the line.

Speaking of which… Goodnight, I have a few things to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well This Is a Disaster, Isn’t It (Part 2)

“Have you seen Biyah?!”

All the little girls in the van stared at me.

“Myhur? Nong?” I gave two more names of little girls I had lost moments after they had been assigned to me. This was starting off spectacularly.

It was Christmas morning and we were all heading off to Tesco. A kind lady from Singapore had donated money so that each of them could buy something they wanted for Christmas. Each of the volunteers and older children had been assigned three or four children to look after during the journey. I had sent them to get their shoes and that was the last I had seen of them.

I went to the next van and the next but I didn’t see my girls anywhere. The engines started and I felt that rushed feeling. I stood there, wondering where to look next.

“Teacher Eliza!” I heard a tiny voice and turned to see all three of my girls running towards me.

Instant relief. So let’s do this.

I was riding in the truck in the back seat with another volunteer, Judy and our six combined girls. All the way we sang. Nong sat in my lap and her little head constantly moved, looking at every new sight along the way. Nong is the type of child who seems to be in her own little world. When you interact with her, her only response is an adorable smile and this laugh that bubbles up and sets you to laughing as well.

When we arrived at the store, we poured out of the vans and trucks and people in the parking lot stopped and stared at the straight line of children stretching out along the front all the way to the side, where we were parked. This time, I grabbed Biyah and Myhur’s hands immediately. Nong was right beside me… no, no she wasn’t.

This toddler had to be all of five years old and I didn’t want to be straining to spot her little overalls and ponytail in the crowds of Tesco all day. I followed the flow and soon saw her pert little head in front.

“Nong!” I called.

She did not even pause her little steps. She was in her own world. I tried not to compare this little girl to myself. I was reminded of something my mother would do when I was too far a-field in my mental or physical wanderings. She would pretend to cast a fishing line and reel me back. I almost did the same in that moment. I refrained and instead sent someone to corral her and bring her to me.

When she came, that tilt to her head and that smile on her face, I immediately put them all in a shopping cart.

The teams dispersed and I took my little charges straight to the shoe section. Now, I am not terribly experienced at teaching English as a second language, neither am I exceptional at breaking up fist fights between little boys, however, I was raised in a family of seven girls. When it comes to shoe shopping, I am in my element.

They each picked shoes totally in keeping with their personalities. Nong chose an impractical pair of kitten-heeled shoes. Sweet and quiet Biyah selected a more practical pair of pink sandals and headstrong Myhur picked out candy-apple red flats with a silver buckle that glittered with ferocity.

We also bought more practical clothing items they needed and each got a bottle of bubbles. They clutched them close and beamed from their seats in the cart. My heart felt like it might burst. What a perfect way to spend Christmas Day.

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Left-to-right, Nong, Myhur and Biyah. The little boy is Noah and the big grumpy one is Ji.

We finished off our shopping with an ice cream cone that we enjoyed as we waited in line at the register.

The manager at this particular store loves our kids and has brought meals and snacks for them in the past. He reserved a register just for us. Our line stretched along the side of the registers and down one of the aisles. It was so special to see people realize who we were and where these children were from. They would smile and speak so kindly to them.

After we were finished checking out, we gathered at the front of the store and sang a Christmas carol to the employees as a way of saying thank you. It drew much attention, of course, and cellphones came out and videos were taken of our motley crew. The manager noticed one of our boys was wearing a broken pair of sandals. He took the boy to the shoe section and told him to pick out any pair he wanted.

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I will never forget the way I felt standing with all those precious kids, watching them rejoice over their simple treasures. I purposed in my heart that my Christmas Days from now on would be spent giving like this.

We said our goodbyes and the kids bowed and waied the employees and the manager.

All the way home I sang Christmas carols quietly to the window, a special warmth in my heart as I dwelt on the words. His was the greatest Gift.

IMG_6152The girls all fell asleep and I watched them as they slept. My eyes went to Nong’s adorable ponytail atop her head. Then I noticed something peculiar.

Little white dots, like dander, all through her hair. I touched one and it clung fast to the shaft of her hair.

Oh merciful heavens. Lice.

Her head was way too close to mine. I strained away from her and looked over at Judy.

“Lice!” I whispered.

We automatically started checking the sleeping heads and out of the six in our crew, four were infested. All four were from the other dorm room. Jesa would have to be alerted.

Merry Christmas, Jesa! Your girls have lice.

I was glad that the girls from our dorm appeared to remain unscathed.

Our next activity was walking to Ma’am Gik’s house to help prepare the meal for Christmas dinner. I had been asked to prepare traditional spaghetti and I had been told that the ingredients were already purchased. Judy and I came in through the back door of the kitchen, into the warm smells of garlic and onion and parsley.

It smelled just like home! Even though through the wooden-framed windows I could see the banana trees and the flowers still blooming in December. We jumped into the soul-healing activity of cooking. As I prepared this familiar meal, watching the meat sizzle and smelling the fresh garlic, I felt a strange melding of my two worlds that I hadn’t experienced before.

It’s me, Eliza, cooking here as the fresh breeze dances through the rubber trees and refreshes the delicious heat of a kitchen in Thailand. I’m the same, even if I feel like the person who lived in Pennsylvania, in the lush farmland of America is someone else.

I asked for the sauce and my mental wanderings came to an abrupt halt when someone handed me two 64 oz. packages of ketchup. Yes, you heard me right. It was straight-up ketchup.

“I-I…” I stared at the pouches. I can’t add this. This is ketchup.

It was many moments, but once I came to the firm realization that I was going to add this ketchup to my spaghetti, I braced myself and cut the corner. It oozed out, bright red and glossy. I could smell the sugar. I stifled that part of me that was starting to refuse to have any part of this culinary disaster, and squeezed harder. Let’s get it in there and get it over with.

Judy tried to be optimistic and reminded me that we had fresh cheese to add to the pot. I’d never added cheese straight to the spaghetti, we usually sprinkle it on top after serving, but neither had I made sauce from ketchup, so… yeah, throw it in. The whole bag.

We added fresh tomatoes and the cheese. We rummaged through the spices and added what we could find. When the time came to taste our concoction, we held our spoons and stared solemnly at each other. This was the moment of truth.

The sugar hit me first, of course. Then came the cheese and the Italian seasonings. To be honest, it was not bad at all.

When we served it at dinner, I smiled to see it there, looking so deceptively like authentic spaghetti. I enjoyed a plate of it and we all agreed that things could be worse.

Yes, things were about to be worse.

The next day, heart still aglow from the special Christmas we had, I sat down at my laptop and typed out a blog post. I hit post and pushed back from the desk. I had to go get something from another classroom.

When I returned, the screen was white and a stark no-entry sign was firmly in place. Dead. Turns out my hard drive went bad. The man who worked on it had to do a factory reset. All of my pictures, all of my documents were gone. I had pulled them from my icloud to avoid having to buy more space so I had no back-up.

By New Year’s Day, I had it back. On New Years Day though, the last thing I wanted to do was re-write that blog post and report to the world what was going on in my life.

I woke up that morning and opened my Bible. As I read I played with the ends of my hair. Something wriggled against my fingertips.

I pulled my hand away and in my palm, writhing, was a single louse. So the first thing I did in the brand new year of 2018 was have an episode in my room. I felt so dirty. I ripped apart my room and killed that single louse with all of the fury I had in me.

The warmth of Christmas Day was so far away. All I wanted to do was go home. Well, first I wanted to shave my head and bleach everything I owned, then I wanted to go home. I went to Rose and told her. She gave me shampoo and a lice comb. I retreated back to my room and sat on the floor, a white sheet of paper under my head, combing through my hair.

Tiny eggs landed on the page with each stroke. I even found more adult lice and killed them with the edge of my finger-nails.

This was the part I had not anticipated. I had never thought of this, how I would feel or what I would do. I had pictured adorable kids with emotional issues, not hygiene issues.

That entire week after New Years, I would jump when people touched my hair. I would walk through the grocery store or the market and feel constantly conscious of it. Don’t touch me and don’t look too closely. Unclean.

That same week, I noticed a funny, rose-shaped rash on my arm. Another appeared on my shin. Then another on my shoulder.

I was so overwhelmed with my lice-problem that when this appeared, I figured that they should just burn me with my clothes. I obviously was a carrier for too many diseases. I looked it up and added ring-worm to my list of maladies.

Just in case you were wondering, ring-worm is not a worm, but a bacterial fungus that eats the keratin in your skin. It is common in children, but in adults it is rare. It is usually due to a compromised immune system, which explains the constant colds I was having.

Skin-to-skin contact is a no-no, so I was turning down hugs right and left, which explains my emotional state.

It got bigger and bigger and kids started asking to see it. I showed them once, thinking they’d seen plenty of things like this. Apparently I had a bad case. They were horrified. I started wearing long-sleeves. I would not show them, even if they asked.

So…. yeah.

I wandered around, cringing when they would touch me, refusing hugs and feeling rather like a leper. I have a new sympathy for lepers now.

You can imagine that I wanted to be as far from that week as possible before concluding part two of this chapter. February seemed far enough. Now that the ringworm is a mere scar and the lice are long gone.

The first few weeks of January were a blur of mistakes and moments of despair. I was deeply homesick. I also had been asking God to make it easier somehow, to reverse my mistakes by a miracle and grant me wisdom.

I remember a moment where I came to the end of a day and cried into my pillow, asking God why. Why did He bring me here if it was to fail so constantly? I told Him I didn’t understand. That I couldn’t see.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I am not owed an explanation at every point of this journey. Yes, I am Eliza Rogers, with her besetting sins and her tendency to love herself very dearly. However, I am not God.

I know that seems obvious. Especially with the wonderful contrast I have provided you, but to me, it was something that I needed to grasp.

So I submitted.

I must tell you, nothing about my circumstances changed. For once, the consequences were not removed. Every day was still pretty hard. Oh, but every day had a moment of beauty! Moments where a child squealed with laughter, clinging to my hand as we danced, moments where a boy would see my need and sweep in to give me a hug or carry my bags.

I realized that the hardship of my every day is the way days are. Days are hard. I have a lifetime to look forward to of hard days. I cannot collapse in despair and demand comfort and constant happiness. I cannot measure success by how blissful and sun-shiny the days are. I cannot accuse God of not loving me and not caring for me because I am not comfortable.

My hard days will be. So I must depend on Him.

When I accepted this, a deep calm entered me. God is in the midst of me, I shall not be moved. He will help me and that right early. He will keep me in perfect peace when my mind is stayed on Him, because I trust in Him.

Good days, bad days, it is all the same. Whether I’m staring down a room full of rowdy Thai students or smelling flowers in the middle of a festival, He is with me.

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So yeah, my month has been a bit of a disaster. But God has this uncanny ability to turn disaster into a lesson and failure into beauty.

 

 

 

 

Well, This Is A Disaster, Isn’t it (Part 1)

I wish I could just write about something else. Instead of the week I’ve had. I’m not sure I’ve had more ups and downs within such a short period of time before. I’ve remained silent because I literally can’t think of anything else to say.

Then I realized that I can’t be a selective presenter. I must tell everything, good and bad.

It started Christmas Eve.

I dabbed makeup onto the tiny face before me, wondering, as I had all night, why we were dolling the children up for their dances if the only people who were going to see it was us. I had started at 5 o’clock and was still painting on my human canvasses at 7 o’clock.

I hadn’t eaten and I was dreading my own part that I would play tonight. I’m not a dancer. People have called me graceful before and that is very kind, but my coordination is reserved for impractical situations like climbing trees or crossing creeks.

I don’t know how many talent shows you’ve witnessed, but I doubt you’ve ever seen someone showcase their ability to climb trees or cross various bodies of flowing water. If there was such a thing, I would compete with better success.

No, this was us standing in a line and doing coordinated and interesting steps.

It was those crazy Filipinos.

I had expressed to them how there is no traditional dance of my people that I had been taught as a child like they apparently had. No expectation that one day I would be required to perform against my will. I always figured that if someone asked, I would politely say, “No, thank you.” and that they would just accept that and move on to a more willing dancer.

When you have been asked by the Pastor’s wife to present a dance and you have four Filipinos telling you that they will not dance unless you do as well, you might do what I did. Which was agree to it and complain the entire time.

After every practice over the two days they gave us, I would slump to the floor, in imitation of my little sister Anna and tell them, “I hate my liiiiiiiiife!”

Every move I made was a disaster.

At one point in the dance, we would all crouch to the floor and one-by-one each person would stand and execute a graceful move of their choice. Eight beats… only eight beats. When my turn came to stand and do something, I would limp out a series of hand motions and foot-tapping.

At first they told me I was good.

“No, really! You are doing well!”

Then, when they discovered that no amount of practice was improving me, they told me to just have fun. Which is a nice way of admitting that I truly was not good, but it’s ok, because if you laugh at yourself, others will feel less bad about laughing at you.

So here I was, dreading it with all my heart and painting the face of a little girl who had been raised to do her traditional Hmong dance all her life.

“Teacher! You dance?” the kids would ask me. I would nod and they would turn with excited face to the person behind them. “Teacher Eliza will dance!”

My dread heightened as the word spread and I realized that they would make a point of watching me. Great. I was hoping that the group-dance thing would rescue me.

I literally prayed and asked God to make it all go away. I am not a performer, although everything at this school has thrown me in front of a crowd with the Filipinos. Skits almost every week to tell Bible stories, teaching every day and then singing, which was by far the easiest and most anonymous thing. Now, dancing.

I tried not to imagine my family, cosily sipping coffee in front of the coal stove, snow falling past the windows, staying up late watching old Christmas movies.

That is how I am accustomed to spending Christmas Eve, not trying to compete with a bunch of five-thru-fourteen-year-olds in a foreign country.

They told me that dance is very important to Thai culture, that for every occasion they have a dance. So, I know why they asked, but in the moment, I would have traded nearly anything to not stand in front of a crowd and provide a glaring contrast for the graceful Filipinos.

I finished the face in front of me and one of the older boys, Tao, brought in two trays of food.

A Christmas feast. Pork, falling off the bone, served with noodles. Tao had piled oranges and a strange green fruit on the tray. I thanked him and he winked and left, laughing at all the makeup piled on desks in the classroom.

“Do you think it’s magic?” I yelled after him, “You are such a boy!”

I would have defended the ritualistic face-painting more, only I hated it now too and Tao doesn’t speak English.

I slid to the floor and pulled the metal tray to me. No utensils had been provided. It felt good to rebel against the system and use my God-given liberty to eat all the food with my fingers. Especially since my fight-or-flight response was screaming at me to pretend I had a fever and lock myself in my room.

I may not be able to refuse to dance, but I can sure laugh in the face of restrictive norms and eat all of a Christmas Eve dinner with my hands.

“Pe Eliza!” Judy, one of the Filipinos came in, “We dance in 30 minutes, you are not ready?”

She had her long, black hair in curlers and settled at a desk to apply her make-up.

“I will dance like this.” I gestured to my hoodie that I had been wearing all day.

Judy stared and I lifted a handful of noodles to my mouth. Rose came in at that moment. She was also wearing a hoodie.

“Rose!” Judy was aghast, “You will not change?!”

“No,” Rose looked down at her clothes, “Why should I?”

That’s my girl. Rose is the best. The most practical woman I know. I slurped my noodles as Judy looked back and forth, as if deciding on who she disapproved of more. The uncultured American who didn’t know any better, or the Filipino who didn’t care?

She settled on me. I was, after all, sitting on the floor, eating noodles with my hands in a detestable hooded sweatshirt. However, no amount of eye-rolling or sighing would budge me from my decision.

Judy turned to her preparations, obviously giving up on Rose and I.

I ate my oranges and tried to feel happy. It was Christmas Eve! And how adorable was it that they bought oranges for all the kids?

“Pe Eliza,” Judy turned, “Is it ok?” she gestured to her face.

“Yes, its good.” I mumbled.

She started pulling out the curlers and brushed her hair, looking a bit skeptical but without another person to ask. Rose had wandered out after being so scorned for her clothing choices. A glance at the clock caused Judy to burst into a flurry of action.

“Pe Eliza! Its time!”

I looked at the clock and felt dread like a lump in my stomach. It sure was time.

I followed her out of the classroom and into the crisp evening air. It is a bit chilly here now and it gets dark very early. I could hear the kids up on the second floor of the mess hall, chattering with Christmas music playing.

Through the mess hall, past the remnants of dinner and up the stairs.

They had lights set up at the front of the room and the kids were sitting in their groups, dressed in their traditional clothing and watching the first group dance. It was the little kids, doing the hand-motions to a child’s song.

It struck me suddenly that I wasn’t getting out of this. This was happening. I was going to stand up in front of all these people and do many embarrassing things.

It wasn’t one of those times where you hope you don’t mess up but have a reasonable expectation of doing well… I was going to mess up. It was going to happen and they would laugh.

Its not a nice feeling.

In the next moment I had another revolutionary thought.

Who cares?

I do. Just me. The kids will laugh and forget the next moment, the adults present are kind and generous. I, however, because of my incredibly monstrous ego, will shrivel and die because I am forced to do something I am not amazing at.

A fit of the giggles hit me. These kids were braver than I.

Here I was, moping about my forced role, and here they were, volunteering to showcase their talents for the enjoyment of others. I was eating food with my hands in protest, wearing my hoodie to show my independence, and making it all about me.

I decided to take their advice. Just have fun.

When they announced our group, the kids cheered to see their teachers up there. I saw them smile and I instantly felt the dread go away.

Not everything is about me.

When those eight beats of my solo arrived, I rose and twirled like I remember twirling when I was a little girl. A pirouette and a step from one side to the other. So yeah, I have been dancing from childhood, just not like a Thai or Filipino. Just like me.

I’m sure it looked ridiculous, I know they were laughing at me and I was laughing at me too. But something struck me, as we left the stage to applause, and that was that I enjoyed it and the kids had enjoyed it.

I had messed up. There was no mistaking that but it isn’t about me. I had released my strangle-hold on what people think and in the process I had brought joy to them.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”

I’m not suggesting that we all go and dance to save the world. In fact, I intend to restrict my clumsy twirling to my home. However, I’m discovering that embarrassment and discomfort are not the enemies I assumed they were.

I can preserve my “dignity” and not reach out to the world around me but I’ve just put myself in a cage. There is always potential to fail and most times, it is unavoidable.

But what of the failure I will experience when I stand before God and tell Him that I didn’t speak to that person because I was embarrassed to? That it made me uncomfortable? That I didn’t use my talents because I was afraid?

It was a disaster, no doubt, but God taught me through my imperfect actions that there is no sense dreading what we must do. There is no sense in avoiding what makes us uncomfortable. We’ve been commanded to dance and right or wrong in anyone’s eyes, we must dance.

Unfortunately, discomfort and shame are not things God restricted to a one-day lesson. I was in for review in a couple days.

 

 

 

 

Just a Glimpse

Clutching it to my side, I huddled with the others in the line. I pressed myself as closely to the side of the wall as I could. So close. No one had noticed me yet, I was doing pretty well.

I kept my eyes lowered but every once in a while, I would risk a look at her. She was standing there, watching them, yelling every once in a while if they weren’t doing it properly. I willed her to turn the other direction and walk back up the way I had just come.

I was second in line now, I could see the dishwater and I started to allow myself a moment of relief. Victory was nigh.

“Teacher!!!”

I’d been spotted.

“No!”

The dish and my spoon was wrenched from my hands. It was Abigail. The dishwashing guardian. She had seen me, I never get past her watch.

Perhaps it is left-over insecurity from when I first arrived but I always try to wash my dishes. I will prove to them that I am not helpless. This is how I rebel against the stigma…. which now that I’ve written it down, seems a bit silly. These self-sufficient Thai children will never cease to be amazed at how little I know about simple things in their world.

I sulked out of the kitchen and she stood shaking her head at me. No teacher, you aren’t allowed to and you know it.

Sometimes I rant in English as I leave, but this time I just walked away. It was after lunch and the line to wash dishes was long. There are four huge sinks, the first is plain water to rinse excess food off, the second is a soapy, fluffy dish-heaven where you scrub with the scouring pads, the third is the first rinse, the fourth and last sink is the final rinse. Abigail stands watch and inspects the plates when they are finished. Then, and only then, they are allowed to be placed in the drying racks.

Other inspectors look the other way when I go through the line to wash my dish, others sweetly beg me not to, which I cannot resist, but Abigail does not mess around. If I am caught by her, there is yelling and hard looks of dark disappointment.

The kitchen girls are already prepping for dinner, cutting vegetables, frying meat, and starting the huge vats of rice. I tiptoed between them and stepped into the mess hall, where kids were washing tables and sweeping rice off of the tiled floor.

After lunch I teach sixth grade. There was a bounce in my step. It has been two days since I’ve been with them and I’d never tell those rebellious little teens, but I miss teaching them sometimes. Sometimes. Other times I walk in and just know I’ll have my work cut out for me.

Since many of these kids are from hill tribes and have never taken much English in school, we have had to back up from verb tenses and pronouns and focus on a more basic approach. Reading. Mostly letters and their sounds.

So I’ve been working through the alphabet. Which garners many groans and sighs from my more experienced students. Sorry guys. Chai and Seegame don’t get it yet. No child left behind…

Chai…. oh Chai. He’s the one that growls. Sometimes I’ll be walking down a path and I’ll hear a gravelly, “Teacher!” from somewhere up above my head. Then there is the frantic rustling of branches and leaves.

It’s just Chai, in a tree.

I’ll be walking down the hall at school and I’ll hear the low, “Teacher!” emanating from behind a door.

It’s just Chai, lying in wait.

Sometimes he will walk by in a herd of boys and I’ll hear that “Teacher!” coming from the midst.

In those cases, I usually growl, “Chai…” back into the mass and am rewarded by a glint of mischievous eyes and that naughty smile.

Now, Seegame is the mystery boy. I thought I had him figured out as the tall and dopey, good-natured boy. Which he is, except apparently, the dopey part. He was the one in class that never paid attention and tried to get out of his work. I truly and genuinely love him in spite of all the trouble.

He shocked us all with his high scores during finals and that was my first clue that he wasn’t as unintelligent as he seemed.

We usually start the class with general mayhem that sometimes subsides into less mayhem. This day, we sat and talked during the introduction period, mostly them trying out their English on me which we all enjoy.

Somehow the conversation switched to their tribes. In the class there are mostly Hmong with only a few exceptions. There are two Lahu boys, one of which is Chai, and one Lahu girl. There is an Akha girl and then there is Phet, who is a Thai boy and Athawm and Seegame, who were siblings. The reason I thought they were siblings is because once Athawm had said he was her brother.

Today, however, when I asked Athawm what she was, she answered, “Thai.”

“So you, Phet and Seegame are Thai?” I nodded, it made sense.

“No, No!” Athawm shook her head so hard her braid flipped over her shoulder. “Seegame not Thai!”

Oh really? How in heaven’s name does that work?

“Isn’t he your brother?” I asked.

“No!” She said, “eh, he-he my relative.”

“Oh, so, cousin.” I stated, about to move on.

“No! Not cousin!” She exclaimed. She seemed disturbed by my inference that he could be related to her, as her relative.

“Same father?” I was curious now.

“No!” more emphatic.

“Same mother?”

“No!”

“Same grandfather??” I was reaching for anything now.

She shook her head, more horrified at every suggestion.

“Same village?” I asked, having learned that some kids call people from their village their relative, even if they are not.

“No.” She shook her head.

“So what is he?” I was exasperated.

She said a word that I could not hope to spell or pronounce again.

“Oh? and what is that?” I asked.

“Lahu, Hmong and Thai.” She said counting on her fingers.

I happened to look around the classroom and I noticed something akin to personal pride on each face, mixed with a touch of something very close to scorn. As if Seegame could help his ancestry. Seegame looked uncomfortable. I was sorry I had stumbled upon a sore spot.

It was as if I was thrown back into a different era. In my country, we are all hopelessly mixed and we are proud of every strain of DNA that makes us who we are. Here, it is purity that brings pride.

I turned to the whiteboard and started the lesson abruptly. I didn’t want to bring any more attention to the already-uncomfortable Seegame.

Even with the trials, I don’t think I will ever meet a group of kids that can make me laugh quite like them.

The girls, carefully copying their work and making clever little jokes, Athawm interpreting where it is needed, Phet making single-word associations, like “wasabi” just randomly in the middle of everything, Seegame pretending not to know and asking a hundred times before I catch on and realize he has already written the correct answer down, and finally Chai, his stubborn chin thrust out, his eyes snapping and forever shouting out “Phonics!” when he is done. I am starting to believe he thinks it means ‘finished.’ I should probably correct that.

Sometimes it strikes me as odd that I feel so comfortable here. In some ways I’m enjoying it more then I could have imagined.

On the other hand, I find my biggest trials here. I’m seeking to discern between good change and bad. What ways should I allow myself to be stretched and grow? What ways should I stand firm?

What is my guide? What others think? Or God?

I’ve caught a glimpse of the depth of my weakness. I’ve found that my lines are drawn by what others will see on Facebook or how I will be perceived by the people here.

There is no consistency to be found there. No rock to plant my feet on.

Because my human motivation to do right has started to lag, I’ve realized how much of my ‘morality’ was based on peer pressure.

Yet, God is good. He is able to keep me from falling. I’ve seen that this is one of His lessons for me here.

Why, Eliza? Why do you believe this? Why to you draw the line here? Why are you doing this good thing?

I’ve been reading a book that I accidentally stole from a new friend here in Thailand. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. Don’t worry, I’ve admitted the theft and she has graciously forgiven me. She says we can still be friends. Which is good, she happens to be the type of lady I’d like to be one day.

In this book is this revolutionary idea.

You are incapable of accomplishing godly things in human strength.

As of yet, I have not wrapped my mind around all the concepts in the book, but I do know this one thing, I am not strong and noble. Will I ever be? Or is the point of all this that God is strong and noble and He is working in me His own Image?

Lest at any time I look down and praise myself for how far I’ve come, God never fails to let me fall on my face when I take my hand out of His.

I would hate for anyone reading this to think that I’m being hard on myself. That my relationship with God is demoralizing and degrading. To the opposite. Just like that picture of a child being held secure by his father’s hand, I am held secure. I am never more peaceful and joyful than when I am walking close with God.

It’s like a well-spring of security. No matter what happens, it is for my good and in the end it will be according to His plan. I trust that. Like I trust that the sun will rise in the morning and set at night.

If you want proof of God, look at a society that denies Him. You will see the broken families, the abused children, the lack of light and you will know that what you have as a Christian should be shed abroad like spring rains on a parched world.

I want everyone to catch a glimpse of this darkness and perhaps savor the light a bit more.

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Ah, Life

So this morning I woke up with great purpose and anticipation. School has begun again. All the kids are back and you will not meet a happier person than myself. There are moments where I am just sitting on the ground, surrounded by little bodies crowding close and showing their boo-boos, hugging, snuggling… and there is no one there that is more pleased about it than the tall American right in the middle.

However, this warm, fuzzy picture is only half of the coin. The other half I like to refer to as Life and Life just happens, ready or not.

I left for Maesai this afternoon after school. There is nothing warm and snuggly about sitting on cold, hard benches at a bus station waiting. And waiting…. and waiting? Isn’t there supposed to be a bus here? A lady explained to me that the next bus was at 5 pm.

It was 4 pm.

I thought to myself that I would write a blog post. I started to and it was very nice! All about how exciting travel was. How much I enjoyed all the possibilities that every leg of the journey brings. I jinxed myself. No doubt about it.

I should have turned around right then. I did not. I boarded that 5 o’clock bus and fell asleep. When I awoke, it was to the crush of an over-packed bus. I don’t know how they fit that many people on there. We endured the ride to Chiang Rai and I stumbled off, blearily blinking in the fluorescent lights of the Chiang Rai bus station.

I looked around and spotted the sign for Maesai. They were just taking it down. No more buses that night. Great.

I’m in this vast city, at night, with no idea what to do next… Hotel?

On the bus I had passed a brightly lit hostel called Connect that looked promising. It was just a couple of streets over. No problem… I got this.

I slung my backpack and my laptop case over my shoulder and started walking. The city was teeming with foreigners. Everywhere I turned I heard snatches of French, German, Arabic and the sweet nectar of my own English. That being said, I still felt oh-so-conspicuous. A girl, alone, marching down the street with determination that was poorly masking uncertainty.

One must do what one must do.

I walked down the street to the corner. Beside the intersection was a cafe. Now, this city has many cafes, but this one was called Cat ‘N’ A Cup. The wall was entirely of glass and inside, prowling around, were the most gorgeous cats. Exotic felines curled up on pillows and sitting on tables, staring down the customers who were sipping their coffees and making tentative offers of friendship towards them.

I was so struck by the number of cats that I missed my opportunity to cross the street. When I finally tore my eyes away from the spectacle, I waited a bit, then darted across and continued walking. Everywhere I looked were candles and lights, lining the streets and clustered next to shop doors. Something was up. A festival?

I realized I had been walking for a very long time. This hostel was further than I thought. Oh and it was. Much further. By the time I dragged myself across the front patio of this trendy, well-lit hotel, I was about to throw my bags into one of the ditches on the side of the street and live there.

I walked up to the front desk.

“Hello!” a man chirped, spinning in his office chair towards me.

I say chirped because he reminded me of a perky, squat robin. His glasses glinted so brightly I could not see his eyes.

“Hello,” I answered, “Do you have a room available?”

“Do you have a reservation?” He swung towards the computer.

“No.”

His hands paused over the keyboard for a moment. “Oh,” he swung back and clicked his tongue, “I see.”

I was taken aback because I genuinely felt that I had disappointed him deeply.

“Do you have one available?” I asked again.

He pointed to the sign on the counter.

What in heavens name was a mixed dorm room 6? and why was a private room only one option and a female 4 room another? I was very confused.

“What?” I pointed to the sign.

“Would you like a female only room or a mixed room?” he asked, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.

I must be incredibly sheltered.

“I want my own room.”

Who wants to come to the end of a long day and spend the night listening to a bunch of strangers snore? Who would feel safe in whatever a ‘mixed room’ is?

His tongue clicked again and he carefully put his hands together, as if he was about to deliver very delicate news. “Our private rooms are fully booked, would you like to be in a female only room? Or would you prefer a mixed room?”

A member of hotel staff came up and stood behind me. It’s not realistic to think they would force me to stay in their ‘dorms’ but my mind doesn’t react realistically, it reacts dramatically.

“I’m going to check other hotels.” I backed away, feeling very odd about it all. I was beginning to realize that a hostel was much different from a hotel. I’d always wondered. You live and you learn.

I went to the next place and it was closed. I was beginning to relate to Mary and Joseph. No room… unless you are willing to sleep with complete strangers. I’d rather sleep on a bench at the bus station. Or find my own version of a stable with a manger of hay and some friendly animals… maybe that cat place? with all the pillows…

Thankfully, all was not as bleak as I had assumed. I found a room in a presentable hotel. I deposited my heavy bags in my room and sat on the bed. I was conflicted. I was so hungry… and this is Chiang Rai at night! Think of the street markets! Think of whatever this candle festival is!

However, I have this voice in my head, which I contribute completely to my Mother. It was telling me that my phone was at 13 percent battery and if anything happened to me, people were probably a day away from noticing I was even gone.

Then my stomach rumbled and someone set off firecrackers in the street below.

I emptied my backpack and threw in some essentials. Then I hit the street. The hotel was on a very quiet stretch of the street. About halfway back to the busy section, I was hit by the conviction that I was going to be attacked. No reason, no person was even close to me, but my imagination was whispering that if it was going to happen, which it surely was, this was a perfect place for it.

It was dark and the alleyways were even darker. I almost wished my backpack was heavier. I had just emptied my only weapon. I quickened my pace. As the streets became busier they became brighter. I started to relax and enjoy it again. Anne texted me and told me that the festival was Loi Krathong. This is the festival where they float the lanterns up into the sky and send basket lights down the rivers. What a perfect time to be in the city!

The night market was my destination. Apparently, this was the best time to hit the market. It was bustling. I walked through and secretly hoped I would see the shop I had come to on my first trip here, over a year ago. I had bought a bracelet that I loved and that I wear almost every day. In fact, I was currently wearing it.

As it happened, the shop was in exactly the same place. I went in, my eyes wide with anticipation, my hands clasped. I seized every color that caught my eye and presented them to the shop lady. She smiled at the load I bore, but her eyes fell on the bracelet I wore on my wrist.

Our eyes locked. Oh, oh I see, no lady, this is mine… how do you say, “I bought this here last year.” in Thai? For an uncomfortable moment we stood, judging the character of the other. I was wondering if she was the type to call me out on the supposed theft, she was wondering if I was a thief.

I decided to flaunt the bracelet. Surely a thief would have slipped it in their bag, not slipped it onto an obvious place like a wrist. Right? What kind of idiot would put it on and flash it in front of the proprietor’s face? So I started pointing at everything and gesturing madly at the earrings. I even went as far as to point to my bracelet and ask if she had the same color again?

She allowed me to leave the shop without accusing me, so I assume she either did not think I was a thief, or was loathe to call me out on it. So I joined the flow of the night bazaar again.

I cannot express the feeling of wandering alone through a crowd. I get the same feeling when I’m overlooking a vast and spectacular view. Lost. In a good way. Insignificant and free to soak up every last iota of the experience in my own way and in my own time.

I bought my chicken on a stick and my sticky-rice and watched the people pass me by. I was brought out of my comfortable people-watching by the realization that across the way I was also being watched.

He took a bite of his food and steadily held eye-contact. I dropped my own eyes and decided that I should just shove the rest of my food in my mouth and skedaddle. So I did.

As I continued through, under the hanging lights, I saw nothing that struck me. That is, until I locked eyes with a pencil drawing. I felt like I recognized her. She looked like the soul of every little girl I’ve met here. Small and self-sufficient.

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She is, of course, unbelievably adorable. However, she makes me remember, just by looking at her, how it feels to have that distance in their eyes vanish and have little arms reach out for a hug. I’m big now, but for the first time I don’t miss being little. Because I can be the adult in someone’s life that they need. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. So much pressure and so much opportunity!

I bought the print and a few other things at the shop. I bought strawberries, munched and meandered, listening to the languages flow past and catching the snatches of English.

“Silk? Oh Dan, I think this is real silk, isn’t it lovely?”

I missed his response but from the look on his face when I passed him, it was probably a “Harrumph!”

Dan doesn’t care, my dear, better just buy it and go to the food court where he can look at things he does care about.

I came to the end of the market and decided I was done. I also decided I wasn’t walking to my hotel. I crossed the street to where a line of Tuk-tuks waited. They are the motorized version of the old bicycle taxis.

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This one I once saw in Phayao. I don’t believe it’s used anymore but let me assure you, the modern version is definitely uglier and always blue.

I pulled my room card out of my pocket and showed a driver the name of the hotel I was staying at.

They all looked at each other and jabbered a bit in Thai. They all but did rock, paper, scissors for the opportunity of ripping me off. The man who won in the conversation, turned to me and named the ridiculous price of 80 baht.

I knew he was taking advantage of me, but I also knew that I didn’t care. When I agreed promptly, the instant regret on his face made me laugh out loud. Should have asked for more.

He laughed as well, a bit nervously, and kept shooting glances at me like he didn’t understand why was laughing. The joke was on me after all. I still laugh at the exchange. They weren’t even trying to hide how mercenary they were being. All the way to his tuk-tuk, he was calling out to the other drivers, who were lounging in their seats, pointing to me and I heard “paet-sib baht” again and again.

I rode all the way trying to understand just how much ‘paet-sib’ or 80 baht was and why it caused such a stir. It’s about $2.50 in USD. I know it’s more than I should have paid for a few blocks, but not that much more, right?

When we pulled up to the hotel, I offered him a 100-baht note.

“No change.” he smiled.

Ok, mister.

I went into my change purse and poured out all my coins and started counting very slowly. I had two 20-baht notes but now, since the poor man who probably had been collecting fares in small change all day, had no change for my 100 baht, I would have to count out 40 baht in 1 and 2 baht pieces so he had change for the next unlucky rider he would try to shiest.

When he saw me begin, I heard him sigh. I dropped some coins but continued counting and digging around in my change purse. There was the staccato beat of fingers drumming the handlebar of the motorbike.

“Ah!”

I looked up.

“They change!” he pointed to the receptionist of the hotel.

I looked back down and kept counting. I had his eighty baht in exact change, but he would have to sit and wait.

He leapt out of the front seat and bounded up the steps. When he returned, he had a 20 baht note in his hand. Magic. You go in with no money and come out with 20 baht. I wish I’d known that’s how that worked.

We completed our transaction and I trudged up to my room. I was ready for bed.

I want to tell you the name of the hotel because I had inadvertently happened upon the softest bed I’d ever slept on in Thailand. Most hotels offer you deluxe mattresses that feel like you are sleeping on the floor. Not so with this mattress. It lovingly accepts you. It also smelled so fresh. Most rooms smell like damp and other people but it smelled like flowers. The sheets and blankets were pure white and fragrant, even if the other furnishings were sparse and dated. I don’t care about one other thing if the room is clean and the bed is comfortable.

It’s called The Space Hotel in Chiang Rai. As in, you get your own space, you don’t share it with six other ‘mixed’ people. Which is nice.

So yeah, Life happened. It’s the other side to my coin and I honestly would not have it any other way. I could sit and be safe all the rest of my life and just spend my coin, not experience it. But that’s like giving away the one thing that you will have to present to God at the end.

So thank you, Lord, for my coin, both sides.