Elephantastic

When they said we would be riding elephants, I strangely enough did not feel any particular thrill. How could one feel a thrill when one was in the depths of despair?

Of the 160-some kids in our home, over a hundred would be traveling back to their villages to visit their relatives during school break. Which means I would be missing over a hundred pieces of my heart. When I left Friday to travel to Maesai to spend five days with Anne and Nat, I said goodbye to those kids, knowing I wouldn’t see them for a month.

On the bus I had stared out the window and tried to rationalize. It will go by quickly, they’ll be back before you know it.

No good. Still in the depths of despair.

In Chiang Rai I was hungry, so I left my suitcase with a fairly reliable-looking bus driver and struck out into the traffic on foot. This healed me a bit. There is nothing like leaving all of your belongings with a complete stranger, knowing that he could make off with it, but just not caring. Because somewhere in this vast labyrinth of streets and alleyways, there is a barbecue and sticky rice stand with my name on it.

The thrill of my stupidity and the almost instant regret distracted me. I laughed out loud as I crossed the street and dodged a motorcycle. I chose to call it faith in humanity at that point and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and anonymity of the city. Down an alley and up a street I heard music; the slide of an erhu and the beat of drums. I came upon a food court, filled with tables and ringed by food stands.

I spotted the barbecue across the way. Bingo.

With my spoils in hand I beat a hasty retreat back to where (hopefully) my suitcase and my bus waited. Safely aboard, I sank into the tired pleather seat and arranged my belongings around me. I was justified in my faith in the wrinkled man who captained us through Chiang Rai traffic. My suitcase was exactly where I left it.

On that next bus ride I tried to talk myself out of my blues. I would have a relaxing time with Anne and Nat and then I would be back. Then four weeks later, they would be back. On top of that, 50 kids were still there, I would have plenty to keep me busy.

The days passed agreeably with Anne and Nat. I hadn’t realized how tired I was until I was in that familiar home-away-from-home. I slept that first Saturday nearly all day. When the topic of the elephants came up, I thought, Eh, why not? Just to cross that off the list.

I truly was not excited.

However, now, standing dwarfed by this wrinkled giant, his trunk stretching out to touch my hand, I felt my pulse jump. Yes please.

There had to be over twenty elephants in the camp. Huge, swaying, monuments to a bygone era with meager poles separating us. In Thailand, these creatures were once used in manual labor and war. Looking into the impressive face of this elephant, I tried to imagine coming up against him in a battle. No thank you.

I touched the tip of his trunk and he blew once and withdrew. I wondered momentarily if elephants remembered you by smell, like horses. His small amber eyes were fixed over my head and his ears flapped in a slow rhythm, like breathing.

I don’t know why, but I started to hum. For a few moments he just stood there, then out stretched his trunk again. He was off by a few inches and bumped my arm. He seemed flustered, like he wanted to apologize for disturbing me, and withdrew again.

The elephant beside him suffered from no such delicacy. His trunk was wrapped around the pole supporting the roof and his ears flapped at a quicker pace. He was obviously of a more excitable nature.

I stepped up to him and his trunk came out immediately. He was a little more polite at first than he was at the end. At the end his trunk was resting on my head like a heavy boa constrictor. He was snuffling at my hands and my hair and my face until I figured enough was enough. I don’t care how exotic this creature is, he is rude.

Behind me his handler called lazily from where he rested in the shade. The elephant made no effort to respond. So I pulled that heavy, leathern trunk off my head and tried to make him understand that he should be more polite. He did not agree. He wrapped his trunk around my arm and I marveled at how tiny I was compared to this animal. He could definitely fling my around or anything he wanted to.

So I pulled away and left.

I saw my elephant and my handler, or mahout, as they are called, amble up to the platform I must climb. So up I went. As soon as my foot touched the broad back of my elephant, I felt another thrill. The saddle is made of a thick woven mat, almost a foot thick, with a metal seat. There is a cushion and my mahout gave me an umbrella. Off we went.

At first, the jerk and jar of his gait made comfort and enjoyment difficult, but as I acclimated, I started to enjoy the height and the sensation. I was on top of an elephant for goodness sake! I felt like Katherine Hepburn, braving the jungle and touring a new world. I tried not to feel like a princess but that was even more difficult than trying not to slide off the seat.

My mahout looked sufficiently wild as well. He sang and talked to the elephant, he also talked to me. Between my limited knowledge of Thai and his better knowledge of English, we got along just fine.

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The rice paddies were green and vivid, the river we followed for a portion was murky and swollen. Young boys called to us as they fished along the edge and my mahout spoke back in a different language. It was not Thai. Then I remembered that this was a Karen village and that Thai was not the mahout’s native tongue. Up we climbed, beyond the rice and the river, up to the pineapples.

Here, the elephant’s appetite was not to be sated by anything other than a juicy pineapple. He ripped one right out of the patch and crunched into it immediately. The mahout seemed to be displeased and spoke sharply to it. He then jumped down and waited patiently for the elephant to be through with his snack.

He looked up at me and after a moment asked, “You, picture?”

“Yes!” I handed him my phone.

He took a few and then went a step further. “Ow mi?” He pointed to the elephant’s neck.

“Yes, oh yes!”

Before he could change his mind, I slipped under the teakwood restraint and stood on the elephant’s back. My shoes I had pulled off near the beginning of our journey and I’ll never forget the strange sensation of standing barefoot on an elephant. The hide was rough and the hair felt like bristles under my toes. I kneeled and slipped my feet down on either side of his neck. My legs nestled behind his ears and my toes barely made it beyond the tips.

I slid my hands over the top of his mighty head and laughed out loud. This was insane. Each wrinkle and line I traced with my fingertips. He started to move and I looked to the mahout on the ground. The mahout nodded and smiled. Even on the ground apparently he felt he could control his elephant. Fantastic. I hoped he was correct.

I leaned down and tried to look at the elephant’s face. His broad forehead looked so noble, even from that vantage point.

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I was curious about him and he was no less curious about me. His trunk came up and I caught it in my hands. He snuffled around and touched my hands and my leg before retreating back down and continuing his ambling gait.

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I rode a little bit longer and then the mahout handed back my phone. I crawled back into my seat and he stepped up on the elephant’s trunk and assumed his former position. I couldn’t stop smiling. The bamboo huts we passed and the people we met on the way smiled back and waved to the mahout.

I observed that the Coats, on the elephant far ahead, seemed to be on a less rebellious elephant with a less relaxed mahout. They marched on at a steady pace while we meandered here and there. My elephant had an insatiable appetite and ate nearly everything he encountered.

Once, on a lonely stretch, he halted. The mahout urged him forward but instead, his trunk snaked up a banana tree. With a jerk and a crack, the entire tree fell. I recalled stories of elephants being used to clear land in the older days and I laughed to see it in action.

The elephant carried that tree with him, shoving it into his mouth occasionally and audibly munching away. The mahout pulled out a sack with some sort of tobacco in it. I hope it was tobacco…. he sprinkled it into a white piece of paper and and carefully rolled out a perfect cigarette. At that moment, the elephant dropped half of the tree, but did not stop. The mahout slid off as the elephant meandered along and went back for the rest of the tree.

It occurred to me that perhaps this banana tree was not up for grabs. I recalled how Masae, the Lahu man that Nat works with, carefully tends his banana trees and how Pastor Pratuan planted some just last month and told me about the exact number with pride. The mahout was probably trying to destroy evidence of a theft, now that I think of it.

At the time though, I mostly thought it odd that elephants ate trees at all, let alone other tribe-member’s trees. I also was feeling quite alarmed at the elephant’s quickened pace, now that he wasn’t dragging a tree, and the fact that the only thing controlling it was… well… nothing, there was nothing controlling this snack-attacking, banana-tree-slaughtering beast. The mahout was back there, picking up the banana tree and slinging it over his shoulder, all the while casting glances up the trail to where a hut sat, presumably the dwelling-place of the owner of the banana tree.

I wished that he would stop looking back the way we had come and would start looking at his elephant, fast putting distance between himself and his mahout and with little old me perched atop his stubborn hide. Finally, the mahout turned and ambled after the elephant, the banana tree on his shoulder. He reached us and handed the tree back to the elephant, as if to say, “Well, eat it. I’m not going to be caught with the evidence.”

I felt a bit relieved that he was back, but still had some doubts as to how well he could control the elephant from the ground. Then, he lit his cigarette and started to smoke whatever it was. I determined I wasn’t going to let all these shenanigans prevent me from enjoying the ride. I opened my umbrella and re-assumed princess status, viewing the world from the shade of my perch. Soon, the mahout climbed back up and grinned at me.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell your boss.

We finished the ride without further incident and when I stepped back onto the platform back at the camp, I turned and thanked my mahout and my elephant for the adventure. I would never have wanted it to be ordinary, and thanks to them, it wasn’t.

The Coats made it back as well and we climbed in the van and headed back to Chiang Rai. Today I was supposed to head back to the children’s home. Every time I thought of it, I felt excitement.

Unfortunately, an hour and a half wait in a steaming bus in the dusty terminal was between me and the kids. We sat there and waited… and waited…. and sweated… and waited. I bought water and tried not to be mad. It was hard. Especially when another bus for Chiang Kham pulled up and left while I sat there thinking, Surely we will leave before them. I thought that all the way up to the point where they left before us. I had arrived at 12:25 and when we pulled out at 2:00, the entire bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I fell asleep, of course, and slept until we were about 30 minutes from Chiang Kham. At the terminal I fell out of the bus and went to the bathroom. It was guarded by a long-haired Pekinese who barked and barked while I snuck past and brushed the dust and tangles out of my hair. When I came out, the owner of the Pekinese gestured angrily to the sign and held out a hand. I blinked at the sign. 3 Baht.

I gestured to my hair and she looked disappointed. Yeah, sorry, I was using your mirror. I hope there is no charge for that. The Pekinese took up barking again as she turned and walked back to her chair underneath the 3 baht sign.

When I got back to the home, the kids were assembling upstairs for devotions. I got a few hugs and many smiles and then settled back into the swing of things. So many faces were missing. I couldn’t believe how small the group was! I felt a twinge of sadness but this was overwhelmed by the laugh that bubbled up as I watched their antics as they sang.

We ate and I went to bed, wondering what I would do with myself the next day. I shouldn’t have worried.

Rose taught me how to wash my laundry by hand. And my hands are definitely going into protest. My knuckles are raw and my skin is tight. I think I will still try, as the washing machine here is more like a meat processor than a washer, but I think I will save my hearty articles of clothing for the washer. You know, the thick jean and any bedding that can withstand being chewed instead of rinsed.

I must admit that my spirits were less high when I approached the office in order to write this post and score the tests from exam week. But when I opened the door, the light fell on a square box postmarked from a little town in Pennsylvania called Fleetwood.

Home.

I tore into that thing with my bare hands. I pulled out the letters and smelled the tea. I clutched them to me like precious gems.

You never realize how much you miss home until you get a letter.

I ate up those words like a starving man eats his first scraps of food. Every word, every line, every person who took the time was like a balm to my tired soul. Just like I didn’t know I was tired until I was at home with Anne and Nat, I didn’t realize how much I missed you all until I read your notes.

I marveled at the kindness. I marveled that they would take the time. With the stack beside me, every one opened and every word read and re-read, I stared at the ceiling and thanked God for each one, for each person who showed that tiny bit of kindness and love. I know we are just people, brought from darkness into His light, but He has made us so much more than we thought we could be.

When I was selfishly making my way through high school, gossiping with my friends and rebelling against any authority I could find, I would never have thought that He could work this miracle in me. Only God could have taken the person I was, wholly wrapped up in myself, and bring me into this place.

I am living proof of my God. If you think what I’m doing is proof of man’s inherent goodness, you are wrong. I struggle every day with that same selfishness, and He is that gentle guiding hand, correcting me and granting me a love that is not of myself.

I wish that just reading these words would convince you of this goodness. His goodness. If, even in the slightest, you turn your eyes upward and look into the gentle light of the sky, your thoughts bent in a question towards Him, I will be satisfied. Look for Him. Don’t take my word for it, please. Find it for yourself.

And for all of you that sent those letters, thank you. For all of you that are supporting me, thank you. You guys are such a blessing that I cannot express it fully.

 

Say Something

I sat in the van and watched as the boy walked up and jerked the handle on the passenger side door. Every Thursday I ride this same route to pick up the rowdy villager kids that attend the school. Every Thursday this boy, Ochi, walks along the side of the house that sits between his house and the road and clambers up into the front seat.

Today though, his head jerked around as he went to open the door. He looked back towards his home and so did I. In front stood a man. He was very obviously Ochi’s father. They had the exact same eyes. The man started to yell something and I’ve never seen a man look at his own son with such hatred.

Ochi looked back towards the van almost immediately. He would not look back. He climbed up into the van and closed the door. I’m glad he did. Because his dad, with the most venomous face, lifted his hand and gave his little boy the middle finger.

I finally understood why this boy, who is so active in the classroom, becomes silent on the way home.

I couldn’t bring myself to interact with the kids on that ride. I was so deeply sad. I always come to this point, at least once a day. I would give anything to be able to say something that would help them.

As usual, as soon as I think that, I also think how perfect it is that God has put me in a place where my many words do no good. My only resort is the best resort. That is prayer.  So I prayed for him. I prayed that God would reach this boy’s heart and be the Father he needs. That Ochi would not grow up believing the hateful things he’s told but that he would find his worth and safety in Christ.

That entire day I watched for him and smiled every chance I got. I think he’s wonderful and I want him to know that even if the most influential man in his life doesn’t, his English teacher thinks he’s special.

Friday I went to Phayao to finalize my visa. My visa expires in just a few days. The officer at the front desk in Immigration is a warm and sincere guy who I had met the last time I was there.

He had asked me my name. I had said, “Eliza.”

He smiled and nodded. “My name is Pep.”

“Pep?”

“Pep.” he affirmed, then added, in order to tutor my pronunciation, “Like Pepsi Cola, but just Pep.”

“Oh, I see.”

“That’s just my nickname.”

“Really?”

“Yes, my full name is——————-”

I put the line because not for the world could I pronounce or remember that name. It was so long.

“What’s your nickname?” he asked.

“Eliza is my nickname.”

He seemed incredulous. “But it’s so long.”

I felt like it wasn’t. I still feel that way.

“A nickname in Thailand is usually one syllable.” Gik, the headmistress of the orphanage, interjected at this point.

“Oh…” I said. Pep nodded and gave me a look that made me feel like I should consider doing the same, just to save all the Thai tongues from pronouncing the ‘l’ and  the dread ‘z.’ My name is easily the most mispronounced name at the orphanage. Followed closely by Rose. Her nickname is mispronounced like, ‘Raws.’

Pep sat and I could see him mouthing my name. He turned to me after many moments.

“Elisa?”

I couldn’t bring myself to force him to put some vibrations in his ‘s.’ I nodded. He was very pleased.

This last time that I came, Pep was standing at the printer and when he turned and saw me, he froze.

“Elisa!” he finally said, pointing at me. It was the most un-Thai greeting I’ve ever received. He realized this as well and wai-ed Gik with a respectful, “Sawat-dee-khap.”

“Pep.” I wai-ed him.

He came and started sorting our paperwork. He had me re-fill out an application on a new form.

“Are there different questions on the new form?” Gik was curious.

“Nope.” I looked at her, about to laugh and tell her the new form was word-for-word the same as the original form, except that they had put a bolder font on the headings for each category, but I stopped myself when I saw Pep’s attentive face. I cleared my throat and searched for the words. “It is -eh- much cleaner.” I finished lamely.

He nodded and seemed pleased.

I bent my head to finish filling out the ‘new’ form.

“How are you?”

I started and looked up. Pep was looking down at me intently. I don’t know why I was so shocked, maybe it was the quiet and normal tone of his voice, but I couldn’t remember the correct response. I felt like one of my students.

“Good.” I choked out. I looked down at the paper. Oh yeah, it’s polite to return the question. Man, it’s been too long since I’ve had to speak my language correctly. “And how are you?” I asked, finally. The moment to ask this was past, the awkwardness told me that, but it was already done.

It was his turn to look trapped. I saw the same thought-process occur. What is the correct response?

“Go-od.” he answered haltingly.

I smiled and nodded. He seemed pleased again.

I’ll probably need to practice my social skills before returning to the States.

The officer in charge of our case came out. He seemed regretful but he informed us that they could not see us today. Gik took it in a stride and we arranged to come back Monday.

So, I still am not officially approved for my work-permit and my visa expires in about two days. It will be ok.

Saturday, I cleaned my room and swept the walkway outside my door. I shouldn’t have bothered. A backhoe appeared out of nowhere and dug up the stairs and the entire hill beside it. That was more excitement than the kids could handle. All day long we sat and watched that monstrous beast paw at the concrete and earth.

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That evening, I think they were exhausted. During the evening devotions, as they were singing, a boy gestured to me.

“Jee!” he pointed into the crowd of kids sitting on the floor and singing. “Cry!” he added.

Jee sure was. I still don’t know what had happened, but Jee was sitting crosslegged, his face towards the ceiling, sobbing like his heart was broken. I had another of those moments. The ones where I wish I could say something, anything.

Jee never cries. He is a fierce tribal boy with proud features that transform when he smiles. But I’ve never seen him cry. I know that if I go to him, he will refuse to look at me. He will refuse comfort from me.

As I sat and yearned over how broken he seemed, he turned and looked at me. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. What can I do? Pray.

He wasn’t the only boy who had a melt-down that night. I decided that the excitement of the day had proven to be too much. Many of the boys simply laid down on the floor and slept.

The girls seem to handle everything so much better. They sang their hearts out and then went to dinner like usual. All the while boys were falling left and right. I saw one boy with his sleeve in his hand and his shirt torn clear up the side. I don’t know why. When I sent him to change, he nodded but when I saw him at dinner, he was still wearing it. I decided to let him alone. He must have his reasons.

Today was Sunday. I woke up to sunshine but had coffee with Rose after lunch, watching the rain. It’s like that here. The rain comes and it goes, mostly once a day, sometimes more. You can never tell. At least I can’t. The rain does not stop the kids. They traipse around, some under scavenged umbrellas, others with their heads bare to the elements and enjoying every moment.

Despite the challenges and the communication barriers, I love it here. I could watch these kids all day… I do watch these kids all day. That’s sort of my job actually. I know that there will be more frustrating moments, more moments of missing my own people, but I think God has made my ‘mind like water’ as Nat says. There is always something and someone to love in every moment.

I’m learning too. Things I didn’t think I would. When I saw Ochi’s father do that hateful thing, I was angry and sad. I turned my heart to pray but God showed me something I didn’t expect. I was mourning Ochi’s past and looking into his questionable future. I was realizing that even if I did speak his language, I could not fill the void left by an abusive father. I could not be an example to him of what a man should be.

So I started to pray for the father. While I was doing that, I realized that this is why I should try to reach everyone with the Gospel. It’s easy to feel the burden when it is children, it’s easy to reach out. There is almost a zero-percent chance of rejection from a child. But every woman I see could be someone’s mother. Every man could be a little boy’s father. Whatever their failing, whatever their walls, they need Jesus Christ to mend their broken hearts and their children need a strong family.

So I asked God not to make me a good child care-giver, though I do want to be the best one ever, but I asked Him to make me a bold soul-winner. Because nothing will provide better for a child than their own family, whole and healthy. And no-one  can make a family whole better than God. So next time I have a chance, I’ll say something. Because little lives might depend on it.

 

 

 

I stared down at my leg. There is something so incredibly shocking about injuries. In the movies and in our imagination we think of them as causing searing pain. But usually, well, for me anyways, I’m usually just really, really surprised.

It took me several moments to understand.

Ok.

So.

Barbed-wire on my leg. No, in my leg. Ok, so that’s why I can’t lift my leg right now. Wicked-looking barbed wire too.

Right.

So…

Well, pull it out.

I bent over. Searing pain that you imagine in movies. I could see the tip of the barb under my skin, moving along the inside of it every time I moved. I wanted to throw the vines I had been pulling along the barbed wire fence but that would mean moving.

“Channon-” I said, trying to not move, balancing on one leg in this ball of wire.

Perhaps you remember Channon from my previous post. The gangly, elfin boy from Serin. The troublemaker. The boy with the perfect smile that flashes in his dark face, especially when he is making trouble. Well, I had the bright idea of making him part of my crew for my weekend task of cleaning out the back of the boys’ dormitory. I figured I could see if his unwillingness to work in the classroom was due to laziness or due to something else I suspect of him.

I suspect that Channon feels overwhelmed in the classroom. He spoke a different language when he came to the Home of Hope and he had no formal schooling. So not only did he have to learn another language, but he had to jump into classes without a basic understanding of them. So he makes trouble. My suspicions were heightened by the fact that this boy had worked harder than any other boy on my crew today.

Anyways, Channon had already seen the look on my face and he stepped to my side. I was standing across a little drainage ditch and I reached over and grabbed his shoulder. His eyes got a little solemn when he saw my predicament.

“Don’t move.” I said. Of course he couldn’t understand me.

“Pagulaap!” He called over his shoulder, staring at my leg. Pagulaap is what they call Kathy. It means Aunt Rose.

I bent over and pulled on the wire, thinking it would slip out. It did not. The wire was twisted and my skin had slipped between the coils somehow. I would have to twist it out, like a corkscrew. Also, I had a little audience.

“Oh my goodness!” Kathy reached the group and gasped.

She bent over and touched the wire.

“Ow.” I said, enunciating.

“Oh honey.” she said, trying to pull it out like I had tried to.

I laughed because crying was not an option. “Well that hurts like the dickens.”

“It’s caught somehow, dear.” Kathy said, looking at it over the top of her glasses like she does when she’s reviewing my lesson plans.

“Yes.”

I realized I was squeezing Channon’s shoulder pretty hard. I loosened up. He looked grateful for that. There was general hubbub all around as more boys noticed the group and joined to see. I felt very much like a science exhibit. Perched across the ditch, surrounded by barbed wire, vines dangling from my one hand, the other clutching Channon.

Exibit A: Teacher Eliza once again illustrating what not to do. Boys, remember, do not be like Teacher Eliza.

I threw the vines across the ditch and almost hit a few of my spectators. They dodged expertly and resumed their positions. I bent over and watched as Kathy twisted the wire just a bit. The wrong way. I saw the tip jut up under my skin, making a small tent with the tip about to tear right through. I felt surprised again.

“Ow!Ow!Ow!”

“Sorry, dear.” Even while wounding me, Kathy is solicitous.

“Here-” I decided that pulling it out couldn’t be worse than what I was experiencing. I grabbed the wire and twisted the other way. It came out. I jumped across and looked back at the wire. “Why do they have this here?”

I was looking at everyone else’s vulnerable legs with new eyes.

“I don’t know. But you need to go and get that cleaned. That wire is filthy and rusted.” Kathy pushed me towards the girls’ dorm where they keep a first aid kit. I walked away. A boy coming the opposite way was grinning at me. News travels faster than anything else here. Doubtless he was heading to see me tangled up in the wire.

After enduring the treatment and having a bandaid almost the size of my foot applied to my wound, I went back to finish. When I reached my pile of vines I looked at the wire across the ditch and narrowed my eyes. I would have hissed threatenings and slaughter, but the boys had paused their work and were watching me closely.

I gave one last scathing look and continued my weeding. We cleaned out the ditch and dragged piles upon piles of junk out of the covered porch to be stored in the basement of the school.

The little boys reveled in the filth and the older boys meticulously avoided the little boys. Channon is a leader. He became my right-hand man. There’s something about being relied on that grants a boy dignity. He may be the most rambunctious troublemaker in a classroom, dancing and singing during lessons, but he can organize a rowdy group of first and second-graders faster than anyone I know. I’m hoping that our new working relationship carries over into the classroom.

Throughout the rest of the day, my leg throbbed at strange times. My second mistake of the day, with the first being the dance with the barbed wire, was looking up symptoms of tetanus.

It doesn’t matter that symptoms only show after five days with three days being the quickest and most lethal case, I started overthinking every twinge. It starts with a headache and muscle spasms. Then it progresses to violent, uncontrollable seizures wherein broken bones and bruises are the norm. The most typical cases end with the muscles of the face contracting and the jaw locking then asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.

Once I read the articles, I was already planning where I would like to be buried and what flowers I want planted on my grave. (Abigail, you already know what to do)

I went for a nostalgic walk through the rubber tree groves, tripping through a creek like I used to when I was young. I lost my flip-flop and it got carried down-stream, also like when I was young, and my legs got all scratched up in brambles. I walked towards where I had seen the spooky lights at midnight last night. I was going to die anyways, no sense in being careful.

I found nothing but did walk into several spiders that had spun their webs between the trees. There is nothing that will make you feel more foolish than walking into one of those and twirling and whirling madly. You whip your arms around and shake the webs and the spiders off, then, when you are walking away, still twitching and shaking occasionally, just at the thought of the spiders still being on you, you see that there are two boys watching you through the trees. They can’t see the web. And the smiles on their faces tell you all you need to know about the latest rumors that will circulate.

Since I will die, it doesn’t matter.

In the evening, I was standing on the steps of the school, watching the kids play in the yard. The boys had gone to the chicken coop and returned with cornhusks and feathers. The feathers had come from the helpless fowls and the cornhusks were from their dinner troughs.

The boys had stuck the feathers into the husks and wrapped rubber bands around them. When they started throwing them, I realized with shock that they had made badminton birdies. They spiraled through the evening air perfectly. Once again I found myself impressed with the children’s ingenuity. They can make anything.

They threw one to me and I sat and admired the craftsmanship. They were pleased that I was so impressed. I think most of the time they are amused with how easily they can impress me with their little creations, but they don’t know that I come from a society that buys toys and would never pluck feathers from a chicken to make them.

“Kin khao!”

Eat. It was dinner time and a girl stepped out of the mess hall and yowled those two words. The response was instantaneous. The boys rushed the hall. The girls were only a little more sedate.

“Eliza!”

I turned towards the call. It was Rose and Judyanne, two of the Philipinno girls.

“We are walking up the road for some food, want to come?” Rose asked.

I had smelled what dinner would be earlier. Since the food is on a rotation, you start to be able to tell what it will be by sniffing the air. I wasn’t particularly excited about cabbage and pork.

“Oh, yes please.”

We walked up the road in the evening air, away from the orphanage. The crickets were already singing. The shadows in the rubber tree grove were lengthening. The two yellow lines down the middle of the road reminded me of home. But the smell on the air was the earthy and sweet smell of Thailand.

“This makes me feel free.”

Judy laughed. “Me too.”

There is something about being able to get away from your responsibility for a while; even a pleasant responsibility. Something about walking away in your own power, not riding in someone else’s car, bound to another person’s schedule. I never knew how much I missed that freedom until I tasted it tonight. We meandered into the village up the road, peeking into the two shops that the little place boasted, looking distrustfully at the bags of food and pinching the rolls to see if they were fresh.

Then we ate fried rice in the one shop, sipping our tea and coffee drinks, talking about nothing and everything. We walked back in the twilight, with the moon high above, shedding its light on the uneven road curving before us. When we reached the path to the orphanage, we hesitated.

“Let’s walk down to the rice paddies. They will be beautiful in the moonlight.”

Rose and Judyanne looked distrustfully at the storm brewing behind the mountains. Lightning flashed.

“Lets.”

Rose is always very certain about everything. She cast her vote with confidence and started walking without waiting for Judy’s answer.

Judy just giggled. Judy is prone to laughter and facial expressions. Her English is not as concise as Rose, but her face makes up for it a hundred-fold. That and her ‘tsks.’ She can ‘tsk’ like no other.

We tripped down the road towards the stretch of fields below. The mountains were visible even in the dark. The breeze quickened and brought that delicious intensity that comes before a storm. We stood still at the edge of the paddies and looked over the night. The moon was shining clear in one half of the sky, the storm was brewing in the other half.

It was with regret that I tore myself away and followed them back up the road. I had forgotten all about my impending death somewhere along the way. The night was too beautiful to worry about something you could never control. God knew. And to trust the God that created this night is enough.

The storm is still brewing, the rain will come soon. Maybe I’ll beat it back to my room. Somehow, I hope I don’t. Goodnight 🙂

 

 

 

My Worst Day

I walked into the classroom of Sixth Graders. These kids are what? Eleven? Twelve? You don’t need to be intimidated by them.

That’s what I told myself.

The desks are set up in three rows of two desks each. In each is a hard little nut of a sixth grader. These kids think they run this school. And it would be hard to argue and say they don’t. I usually sit and watch these kids perform in their little circus with other teachers. I was not looking forward to seeing their act being performed for my benefit. This was one of my first days teaching by myself and my first time teaching 6th grade alone.

I wrote out the first verse of a song on the whiteboard. Behind me I could hear the talking and the laughing and the occasional whistling. I turned around. “Quiet, please.”

They look at me and don’t even miss a beat. No whistling this time though. I should just count it a victory. I turn back to the whiteboard and continue my writing.

“Ok-” I say as I turn around, then pause. There is someone missing from their desk. “Where is Channon?” I ask the suddenly silent class. Another pause as they look back and forth at one another.

The tiny, studious girl that sits next to Channon points to the floor behind the desks. Her name is May.

I stretch on my tiptoes and see the dark, mischievous face of Channon. Channon is a gangly, elfin boy from the far-off village of Serin. He lives at the Home of Hope and “studies” at the school because his Grandmother cannot afford his education and care. I say he studies because that is what he is supposed to be doing but somehow never does.

He was completely prone on the floor. His perfect teeth flashed in his dusky face.

Charm won’t save you.

“Up.” I clip, “Get up and sit in your seat.”

His smile grows. He moves not an inch.

“Channon.”

Still nothing.

I step forward and grab his wrist, throwing every atom of energy into lifting this boy (who is almost as tall as me, by the way) off the floor. He unfolds and, still grinning like a tanned cheshire cat, slumps into his seat amid the laughter of the class.

“Shhhhhhhhhhhh!” I throw a little extra vehemence into the end of my shushing for good measure.

They subside. That is until I turn back to the board. Then the perky, pretty girl from the village, Athawm, starts singing a Thai pop song with much expression. The other girl in the back row, Baithuey, who is usually stone-faced and looks like she could be a basketball player, joins in with uncharacteristic ardor.

I turn around. “Stop singing and repeat after me.”

They stop. I start reading what I’ve written on the board and the class half-heartedly echoes. We do this a few more times before I decide it is enough.

“Teacher,” Phet, a small sapling of a boy pipes up from the second row, “I no understand.”

“Athawm,” I call back to the pretty girl, “please come up and write it in Thai.”

Athawm went to school in Bangkok and she is far above the class in her English comprehension. She speaks broken English still and there are some things she doesn’t understand, but for the most part she has a good grasp.

She hesitates, “No, I don’t want.” she finally states.

Is that so?

“Why?”

She shakes her head and her eyes are darting around at her classmates. She shouldn’t have worried, half of them were doing un-English-related doodling in their notebooks.

“Come.” I point to the board and attempt a smile.

She reluctantly slides out of her desk and comes up. She takes the marker from my hand and starts translating.

I turn to the class. “Copy.”

Some of them open their notebooks and start to write down the words. I glance over at Channon and see that he has his head down on his desk, apparently asleep. I walk up and pull on his outstretched hand that dangles over the edge of the desk. Nothing. I try to lift his head and I call out his name a few times. His hand slaps my hand away but his forehead does not budge from the desk.

While I am busy trying to resuscitate the apparently lifeless corpse in the front row, the class is degenerating into chaos again. Someone is singing and Phet is still staring at the board, his forehead wrinkled and his eyes skeptical.

I realize I’m losing them again and start visiting desks to check on their progress.

“Seegame, where is your notebook?”

I was speaking to Athawm’s brother, a haphazard boy with eyes that twinkle and a propensity to shriek like an actual banshee. By that I mean that sometimes when I am speaking to the class, he will suddenly erupt in an ear-splitting scream. I think he does it to make me jump. And I do.

Note: all of these things are actual occurrences. I am not making this up.

“Get out your notebook and copy.” I say, making hand-motions to illustrate.

He smiles his cheeky little smile and his eyes dance some more as he pulls out the notebook and starts to write it down.

I limped through the rest of the class and felt physical relief when the bell rang. There is no demerit system in place, no detention, no suspension, no expulsion… Just looks and fancy eye-brow lowering. That’s all I have.

The next morning when I woke up, I was about to pull the covers back over my head and hide in my room until they came to drag me kicking and screaming back into that classroom. I have very little preparation for this. I expected it to be different.

I became a little angry.

Why are you doing this to me, God? Why would you put me here to fail?

My nephew has this thing he used to do to get my attention. If I was looking at something else, he would take my face in his hands and turn it back to him and whatever he was doing.

In that moment of desperation, God did that. I saw something I was trying to ignore. My vanity and my pride. I had been so busy doing everything perfectly, harvesting man’s praise and basking in the glow of the children’s love, that I forgot my God. My devotions had petered out and my prayer life was lacking. I was doing it by myself.

So, He let me do it by myself. I failed.

When I saw myself, I knew in an instant that this was my doing. I begged Him for mercy. I saw endless days of the same failure stretching out before me and I knew real fear and desperation. I could not face these days alone.

That day was still a rough day. But God had already prepared something for me, a little miracle.

The next day of school dawned. I rose to meet the day and I went with such an acute feeling of helplessness. I felt like a baby, going into a battle I was not equipped to fight. Every moment I was fixed on Him. Lord, I need you. That is the only thing I could think.

That morning I sat in the office where the teachers break between classes and rested my forehead on my hand.

“Good morning.” Someone greeted me.

It was Rose. Rose is a cheerful and matter-of-fact Philippine girl who teaches 1st through 3rd grade English. She and I have become friends and I am always enjoying her dry sense of humor and her quaint way of speaking.

“Good morning.” I rouse myself.

“You look tired.” she said.

“Yup.”

She gave me a look.

“I teach 4th, 5th and 6th grade today and I cannot seem to keep their attention or even know where to start.” I finally said.

“Oh?” she doesn’t seem surprised.

I wish she looked more surprised. But that is pride. Of course I don’t know! I’ve never taught.

“I’ve only ever taught Bible stories to toddlers at church. I’ve never taught like this before.”

“Well,” she starts, looking at me frankly, “I taught for some time at an ESL school in the Philippines and that was before I went to college.” She paused. “What I would do-”

And what ensued was a simple outline of a vocabulary drill. When I stepped into my 4th grade class, I sent up my plea and whipped out my flashcards.

When I stepped out of the classroom, I was buoyant. Success. Every eye on me, every mind active, every face bright with eager understanding.

The next day, I thanked Rose. She brushed it off. Then proceeded to feed me my next lesson plan to follow up the drill with. The next couple of days were glorious. Rose would suggest ideas, I would follow them and watch as the class ate up the material.

This is my miracle. God had placed Rose here for me from the very first day I arrived. But He had some lessons to teach me in my own classroom of life first.

After another successful class I breezed into the office and sat in my chair. I whipped out my phone. I had some time for Pinterest before my next class. A quote I know well jumped out at me almost immediately.

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This was my best day. But I need Him on this day of sunshine and joy just as desperately as I did on that day when I wanted to pull the covers over my head and disappear. I don’t need Him in my storms more and on the days of calm I don’t need Him less. My Almighty God does not change and my neediness for Him does not change, just the circumstances.

I turned off my phone and sat in silence. I am still that baby toddling into battle. So I turned my heart back to Him. In thankfulness for this miracle; this good day. And in desperate neediness for all my days, good or bad.

 

 

 

Jungle Fever

Well, the point of a chicken bus is purely transportation, comfort is out of the question. It’s like sitting on a padded board in a wind tunnel. The first time I rode one of these, I wondered to myself why they called it a chicken bus. That is, I wondered until we were halfway through the journey and a rooster started crowing from somewhere behind me.

I ran through the rain and dodged a few motorcycles on my way to this paragon of transport. I clutched my bags close and clambered up the first two steps. The first face I encountered I asked, “Chiang Rai?” and that face stared, then nodded, still dazed by the sudden words from a foreigner.

I scooted back along the aisle, seeing two open seats but beyond them a long bench in the  back, quite empty except for one man. Space to spread out a bit. In my excitement I hit someone with my backpack. She clutched her arm, as one wounded.

“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” I rushed to apologize, still on my way back. I hit someone else as I turned and then settled in the far corner. The people I had hit nursed their wounds and glanced back at me with great sadness. I felt like I had made a bad impression. Not only for myself, but for all foreign-kind. So I scrunched my bag close and put my backpack on my lap, trying to take up as little space as possible.

I glanced to my right and noticed another entrance to the bus here in the back. So I could have avoided all the mass destruction on the way to this highly desirable seat.

For, at the time, with the rain pouring down and the the bus station bustling with vendors and passengers, it was cozy. I leaned back. Against the metal rail that ran along the window. Mid-back, right where it’s comfortable.

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I eyed the other seats that were still open. Then I pictured the look of fear in everyone’s eyes when they saw me get back up and start towards the front. So I decided against it.

The bus started and we lurched out of the station. My first clue that I should have just gone for one of those seats was when the rain started coming through the door and hit me in the face. Then it became very apparent that the seal on the window was broken. Rain started coming through and dripped down my back.

I sat in misery.

Passengers kept piling on and space became tighter and tighter. The seats that were available were quickly taken and even if I wanted to switch, which I did, I could not have. I became colder and colder.

Rainy season is supposed to be warm right? And maybe it was, but at that point, any movement of air felt cold. When the first shiver hit, I knew with great certainty that I was going to be sick. Possibly I already was. This week at the orphanage, several children had fevers and a few even vomited. I was prime for catching the bug.

So, when I arrived in Chiang Rai, I was ready to be off. The water from behind had soaked me through and thankfully my front had dried once the rain stopped.

The next morning, I was sick. I lay in that bed all day and wondered if it was jungle fever. I was told that it definitely was not. But it sounds so much better than just a regular fever. Anne made the best chicken noodle soup (beside my mother’s) and took wondrous care of me.

I had one last fever on the bus on my way back to the orphanage, and that was the last aftershock of my first sickness during my orphanage stay. I was supposed to call Gik, Pastor Pratuan’s wife, when I was 30 minutes away. She called me and asked where I was, and I had not a clue. When she hung up, two seconds later, I saw a sign for Chiang Kham. It said it was 16 Kilometers away. I went to call her back but my phone refused. Apparently, I had run out of minutes.

I sat back and had to laugh. Of course. When I reached the Chiang Kham bus station, I ran to the nearest coffee shop. After ordering a milk tea, I found that the barista spoke pretty good English. She offered me her phone and I called Gik back.

Gik was taking several boys back to university and she would be another 40 minutes. So I sat with my tea and a book until she came.

Sun was driving, her son, and he had to pick up his motorcycle from the shop. He is restoring an older bike and had to get a piece welded on. The bed of their truck is very short and with every jar of the road I was convinced that that monster of a bike would slide off the edge and cause certain death to the people driving behind.

Thankfully, we made it safe and sound.

I stood on my porch and breathed in the smells of this place and listened to the rowdy boys on their way to dinner. There was the threat of a storm lingering over the mountains and the stillness of the trees reminded me of the calm before Pennsylvania thunderstorms.

I experience very little homesickness. But sometimes tiny things affect me, a certain smell, a word, and right then, the lowering thunderstorm.

When I turned to go inside, I found four ears of corn on my table with a simple note that read ‘Achee.’ That boy has made it his life’s mission to feed me. Unfortunately, he must have left it several days ago, it smelled sour. I regretfully threw it out. But the thought counted.

Even if I had the option to go home, I wouldn’t. I would only sit there in my cozy home, or in my cozy pew at church and think of all these kids.

The day I left my home I was already homesick. I wrote in my journal that I trusted God to give me joy wherever I was. Because I knew He would be with me and in Him is fulness of joy. That was my promise that I claimed and He did not let me down. In fact, there is rarely a moment where I don’t have a smile. And quite often, I’m laughing at something these kids are doing.

The storms do come. Stubborn classrooms, crazy kids, and communication barriers. But all in all, it is worth it. So worth it.

Thank you for reading! And to my supporters, all my love and all my thanks.

Good Morning, Teacher!

Boys are loud. I woke up this morning to singing and yelling outside my window. Occasionally I would hear a voice call out at my window, “Teacher?” like they wanted to make sure I was still here.

They had pushed off my arrival date because they wanted to send off the last team on Wednesday and also make sure my room was ready. So my actual arrival date was Thursday afternoon. I was shown around the campus again and introduced to the children during evening devotions. So many shy smiles.

I ate my first meal and then was sent to rest up for my first day of teaching. Kathy took me back to my room, which is right next to the boys dormitory. It was dusk and I could see a man giving a young boy a hair cut.

“That is Sun, Pastor Pratuan’s son.” Kathy informed me.

They all rushed to the edge of their patio and started rough-housing immediately. One boy stepped out from the dorm in his trousers. When he saw us he instantly started flexing.

“Good afternoon.” He said, flexing all the while. I couldn’t stop laughing. He followed me to my porch and then scampered off into the night, leaving me and Kathy. She must be used to it, I still am not.

We said goodnight and she left me in my room. It is a rather nice room, with tiled floors, a small bathroom and a refrigerator. More than I expected. There is no hot water, but there is no air conditioning either, so I am grateful for the chilly water after the hot days. I also find that the room stays cool, sheltered by trees, so I cannot complain.

I sat on the edge of my bed and realized that this is ‘before.’ Before my first night sleeping in this bed, before my first day of teaching, and before I start this change. I knew the moment I saw all of those children, the moment those boys rushed to show off, the moment the little girls reached for my hand as I passed by them, I knew what people meant when they said I would be different when I came back. I will be.

I was afraid suddenly. I missed my family and my friends. I was happy where I was. I had been content. But God wanted this for me. Its not perfect, I don’t completely understand it, but this is His task for me. I can do nothing but obey. So I slept.

The next morning I was awoken at 5:30 by clamor. The boys were awake. They are my new alarm clock. It is a good way to wake up. Hearing them sing and argue in their native tongue. Just being boys.

I typed out a Facebook status in excitement and started making myself some breakfast and tea. I dressed and took my fare out to the table on my porch. As I sat and looked over the buildings and trees to the mountains, a feeling seized me.

What am I doing here?? What was I thinking?? I don’t understand a word of this language but I’m going to teach these kids mine? So many kids!

I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music.

What will this day be like? I wonder.

What will my future be? I wonder.

It could be so exciting, to be out in the world, to be free,

My heart should be wildly rejoicing.

Oh, what’s the matter with me?

I’ve always longed for adventure, to do the things, I’ve never dared. 

Now here I am facing adventure, yet why am I so scared?

She sang that and every time I listened to it I’ve thought, Are you kidding me? Its going to be wonderful! Leave that dark, old Abbey and dance into that other life. Own it already, Maria!

But no, its scary. Get back in that Abbey, Maria.

I sat there nearly petrified at the thought of getting up and teaching all of those kids. Kathy would be with me, yes, but how would this all play out? My imagination started creating all of these scenarios where I would stammer around, staring into the blank faces of a bunch of kids, frustration mounting, seeing the confusion in their eyes. I started scrambling for my courage but then glanced down to the edge of my porch.

My porch steps down onto a tiled pathway/patio area that leads around the front of the boys dorm. I had left my shoes in the mud with all of the other shoes, like I was supposed to. But this morning, one of those boys had carefully taken my dirty flip-flops, rinsed them, and lined them perfectly on my step so that I could slip into them this morning.

I stared at them. Something bloomed in my chest. Love. Perfect love casts out fear. God knew I would be afraid in this land, with no one that understands my language, looking back at my family across the ocean and wishing they could be with me to help me be brave. So God led a little boy to do a little thing. And in that instant, I stiffened my upper lip and stopped my imaginations.

That boy, whoever he is, needs someone. These children need someone. God made that someone me. So I can either think my thoughts of fear and longing for the safety of my culture, or I can be strong and of a good courage, for the LORD my God is with me, whithersoever I go.

I wrote in my journal that afternoon. I had just helped Kathy in the first class and I couldn’t keep the thankfulness inside me. It was beautiful. God was with me, I knew it. Those kids are sweet and willing. I must be nothing less. Teaching was so rewarding. So intuitive. They fight to be noticed and I try to notice them all. Every time I walk into a classroom, they shout, “Good Morning, Teacher!” and then, “How are you?” to which I must respond and ask them the same. The answers to that are always jumbled and less confident.

I was given a desk in my classroom, which will be 6th grade, and it is right by the open windows, looking out over the rubber trees. The first time I walked into that classroom, they gestured to the board and said, “Teach! Teach!” I could not help but laugh.

The Thai teacher I will be working with speaks some English and is extremely friendly. I will enjoy getting to know him. I cannot pronounce his name, so that is the first thing I shall try to know.

The only thing I cannot be happy about is the way I must write English. Block letters, no cursive, and straight lines, no wave or bend. It is so ugly compared to their beautiful Thai letters. I wouldn’t want to learn it.

After school it is my new task to guide the Kindergarteners in picking up trash around the school. It is only the most fun I have ever had. One boy in particular made it his business to take care of me. I obviously, as the American Teacher, could not possibly know how to take care of myself. It was lovely. Whenever I would walk somewhere a bit more treacherous, he would take my elbow and guide me. Whenever I would reach for a piece of trash, he would do it for me. When my bucket was full, he would take it and empty it for me. He knew some English and would interpret what the other children were saying. When we found the poisonous snake, he yelled it in English and prevented me from going any further to see it.

He is my guardian now. I could not ask for better. When I told Kathy this she seemed incredulous.

“You have his heart. You must already have his heart.” She said.

Well, he has mine. It’s only fair.

That evening, after dinner, I sat next to the office, for the wifi. A little boy, Ganoi, came and sat beside me. Earlier, I had seen him crying and had gone to see if I could help. Apparently, he only needed a hug, something I gladly gave. Now he sat with me and we killed mosquitos with our hands. We watched the other kids play and he reached for my arm, just to hold. Another girl came up and sat with me as well. She could not tell me her name. But we three just sat and smiled at each other.

All day long children would come and grab my hand or throw themselves into my arms for a hug. Boys are a bit more cool about it. They just gently punch my arm and smile. This was only the first day! I cannot imagine what a month is going to do, let alone ten.

As I sat on my porch with my breakfast this morning, the boys sang and cleaned all around. My shoes were once again rinsed and placed on my steps and the smell of detergent filled the air as they washed their laundry by hand. My guardian saw me with my Bible and notebook and he got his school books out as well, sitting at my step and busily writing away.

When I was done, I went inside my room. I heard a knock. My guardian was at the door. He had two candies in his hand. He gave them to me. I think I cannot leave him here. He must come with me when I return to America.

This is a Saturday morning, so the children are more relaxed. They do not have school and so they busy themselves with chores or playing. A kind person brought fruit and sticky rice for the children today. That was an event. It is almost lunch now, my guardian just brought my shoes to the steps and he is waiting outside the office door for me. I must go!

Thank you for visiting, and to all of my supporters, thank you for your support!!! I could not be doing this if it weren’t for you.

Thailand – Part One

I’m sure you have been wondering why there has been complete silence here even though I was on an adventure to Thailand for three weeks. Was there nothing to tell? Quite the contrary! Something quite wonderful happened. But this thing could not even be hinted at until I was sure it was what I was going to do.

Now, I suppose you’re scratching your head and asking why I couldn’t have at least written around it. I tried. But writing about that journey without writing about this great event took the heart and soul right out of my trip. I had no desire to write about anything else you see! I was full to bursting with the news!

But now, as I stare at yet another flight itinerary, I think I’m ready to share it all. So sit back. This story goes back to February of 2016.DSC_0013 2

It was my first big adventure. I had taken a month from work and I was going to Thailand for the very first time. That first trip was so memorable. The bustling city of Bangkok, with vendors hawking savory meats and sweet fruit. The rural town of Mae Sai with its rice paddies and simple farmers.

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The sweeping mountains with temples that glistened like jewels above the haze of the trees. The monks gathering offerings and bestowing their blessings. The shock of bouncing in the back of a truck while motorcycles and trucks swerved and darted around other cars like life was not a precious gift.

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I loved every minute. The flower festival in Chiangmai, the hidden alleys behind the market fronts, the hole-in-the-wall coffee shops with their rich and dark brew, the spicy food with its unique flavor, but more than anything, I loved the people I met.

I met Masae with his tiny village church and his big heart, plying us with bananas he’d grown himself. James with his mother-in-law serving us delicious and authentic Chinese meals after the Bible studies. Alice and her daughter Sarah, speaking broken English to Anne but communicating through more than words the movings of her heart.DSC_0006.JPG

The girls that I met with Anne during their English/Bible studies. Laughing over Thai celebrity cats and showing them the dreaded jade bangle which a shop lady had forced over my wrist and which was too small to remove. Fang Fang and Jet Ai teaching us to make their spicy dip and eating it with green Mangos. (My lips pucker at the very thought)

It was easy for me to fall in love with Thailand. And when you see the desperate needs of the people around you, physical and spiritual, it’s easy to feel a burden. Over the weeks I was there a thought reoccurred to me over and again. To come and help somehow. One night, we biked up to a night market on the street. There we met a older couple and their daughter. The couple had retired and were volunteering in Thailand and soon, Cambodia.

The lady and I seemed to hit it off immediately and she shared how they were serving in orphanages. I felt a tug at my heart when I heard her stories but I knew that this was natural. How can you hear about orphaned or abandoned children and not want to help?  We prayed in the middle of the market, our arms around each other and I remember feeling very strange. A kinship and a purpose surrounded them. They were not ashamed of their faith. And whether or not they were spot on with their doctrine came second to the thought at that moment that they were bold and brave and I was not.

That night, I could not sleep. I opened my Bible and started reading in Ecclesiastes. My fan oscillated back towards my bed and bookmarks went flying and pages turned. When I came back from retrieving my papers, I saw that it had turned to Job. My eyes fell on the words.

“Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him… I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.”

I was stricken by the words and they reoccurred to me over the next year. The cause which I knew not I searched out…

Through the rest of that trip I spoke to Anne, almost jokingly, about coming back and searching for orphanages in need. But when I returned to the States, the thought came less and less. I talked to my parents about it a few times, when the topic came up, but by the next year, I had switched jobs and was looking forward to other trips. Israel, Mongolia, every trip seemed to have my name on it. I prayed and prayed and felt the biggest pull towards Israel. In the back of my mind was this nagging lack of direction. Like God wasn’t saying no, he was just saying, “Wait. Wait for it.”

I feel like I’ve waited all my life. If I told you how many directions I had shot off in, only to feel God put an end to it, you would be here a long time. My frustration with this was tempered by the fact that I knew if God wasn’t in it, I would never be satisfied.

Then Mrs. Ossman came to me and asked if I’d go with her to Thailand. I told her no. She counter-offered with paying half of my fare. I prayed for a week and felt that same confidence I had the first time. Go. God will only let me go to Thailand. Sigh.

The moment I looked out over the river at the Golden Triangle, I remembered. It settled in my heart like it belonged. Behind me I heard Anne say to Donna, “I’m convinced this girl belongs in Thailand.” (Yes, I know she’s biased)

I turned and asked her, “Do you remember how I wanted to come back and visit orphanages?”

She nodded.

I left it at that. But I remember thinking, God, you knew I would never have come back here if not for Donna’s offer. At the time this meant nothing. But the next day, it meant a lot more.

 

 

 

 

I’m Sorry About Your Lamppost

I have many loves in my life. I love God, I love my family, I love the woods, I love books, I love the way spring always makes me feel like I might explode with happiness, I love my dog, I love my car and I love bread and cheese. Of all these loves, my car and my family seem to be the ones most prone to accident and damage. I could write for days about my family’s mishaps. However, I’m sure this title has already informed you as to which of these loves I speak.

It was cold. About 23 degrees and windy. The roads were fairly good for the most part. However, there is one particular road in the township that I was ignorant of yesterday around 9 o’clock and with which I became intimately acquainted by around 10 o’clock that same night. Beverly Hills Road. Emphasis on Hills.

The wind was drifting snow across the road and whipping it up until it danced across the hood of my car. I flipped my wipers on and slowed down. I knew it was coming. I had driven up this hill not 4 hours ago. I crested the hill and tapped my brakes. As I started down I kept a steady tapping up, seeing the red glow in my mirror, on – off – on – off.

No good. I knew I was going too fast. I pressed my foot down feeling something in my chest like a premonition.

Yup. I locked up. I slid. The road was steep and curved dangerously ahead. Off to the right was a drop down a hill, a fence, a telephone pole, a house, nothing good. With panic mounting I looked to the left. I had a split second to see a fluffy-looking bank and an adorable lamp shaped into a slender toadstool. So cute. So much better. I jerked my wheel to the left.

I don’t think its correct to say that it felt anti-climatic. I had been so terrified before and it felt like my car had only hit an actual toadstool, not a five-foot metal look-alike. So plush and cushy was my landing. I stopped moving. I sat still for a moment with my stomach sinking.

When I called my mom I felt ridiculous saying I had gone off the road. My window faced up to the crest of the hill and I noticed the dim glow of headlights. The car came slowly but instantly started the same sickening slide. Great.

The car did something I had been unable to do. It stopped. Not in a bank.

A lady got out and almost fell immediately. I got out of my car as well and when I did I saw that I had done more to this person’s bank than I had thought. Dirt was churned up, glass from the lamp was sprinkled around and the lamp base jutted up right where I stepped.

“Are you ok?” The woman called.

“I’m fine!” My voice came out a little more pathetically than I intended.

“You sure?” She came closer and peered at my car. “Oooh.”

“Yeah.”

“This road is terrible, I slid too.” She comforted me.

“I know.”

“Is someone coming for you?”

“I called my mom.” I realized at that moment that the faint sound I had been hearing was my mother calling to me over my car’s Bluetooth. Apparently, I was still calling my mom. I had forgotten. “I’m going to go up and tell these people that I hit their lamp.”

“Ok.” She looked up the long drive towards the house. “Well I’ll stay here until you have. They might be creeps.”

I might have laughed but it was much too cold and my despair at telling strangers of my assault on their landscaping was too acute. “Thank you.” was all I said.

I went and finished my call up with my mother, painfully aware that the lady was still standing, shivering on the frozen road, waiting for me to talk to the potential ‘creeps.’

I trudged up their drive. I looked for a path leading to their front door, but all I could see were vague footprints. I sighed woefully. I started through the snow. I knocked, hearing the television. There were voices, then silence. It felt suddenly like church visitation. I stood awkwardly then knocked again.

“There’s someone at the door!” I heard someone whisper. Muffled footsteps and then a short elderly lady opened the door. She was clutching a blanket to her chest.

Why me? I averted my eyes from her fully clothed person and started my tale of woe.

“You better come in.” She said after a few moments of my apologetic recitation.

“I can give you my information.” I said.

“Sure.” She was very disgruntled.

“Who is it?” An equally short, elderly man appeared.

“She hit our light.”

He harrumphed. Then began a rant which made me shrink a bit until I realized that the anger was directed not at me, but at the state. This was a state road and this happened every winter. They had called the township but they couldn’t do anything, or wouldn’t, which was heavily implied with much frustration.

I scribbled every pertinent thing about me that I could think of and started out again.

“Do you want to stay in here until your parents come?”

I thought of the poor lady shivering in the cold and refused. They showed me out a side door and as I started down the drive I saw that the situation had worsened. Another car was sliding down and another was spinning their tires coming up.

“This road is horrible!” The lady I had left in the road yelled.

“What?” the elderly lady standing at the door yelled back.

“The road is terrible she says!” I relayed.

“I’m calling the police!” the elderly lady crowed back.

“She’s calling the police!” I shouted to the lady who nodded and started towards the car spinning its way up. I slid back down to my car and then realized the lady at the top had stopped. I went to her.

“This road is very bad. I wouldn’t try coming down.” I said after she had rolled down her window.

“I’ll try to turn around.” she said.

She did. Very successfully. The other car squealed its way up, inch by inch, until it crested the hill and left. I stared after them, envying their happy endings.

“I told them, they were very nice and I gave them my information.” I said to the first lady who had stopped.

“Ok, are you sure you’re ok?”

“I’m sure.”

“Ok.”

“Thank you very much.”

“No problem.” she said and headed back up to where her car idled.

I shouldn’t have been so envious of the ease with which she left. I sat back in my car and stared at my steering wheel. A truck with four-wheel drive passed me. It felt like an insult.

The next car was not so lucky. She slid to a stop a car’s-width behind me. She tried to reverse. No luck. This particular lady seemed to handle her situation with less grace than everyone else. That is to say that she became hysterical.

Down the drive came the elderly couple who owned the house. She had a blanket, he had a shovel and kitty litter. She gave me the blanket and stood outside my window, which I kept rolled down.

We both watched as the elderly man spread litter around the lady’s tires and started to coach her on backing up.

“So just easy-does-it on the gas and try to back up the hill.” he said.

“Ok!” She trilled, her eyes a touch frantic.

Shrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

“Easy-does-it!” The man yelled. More kitty litter.

“George!” his wife called, “Out of the road, George! You’re going to be hit!”

His response was a dismissive wave. I got out of my car and wrapped my arms around myself. It was so cold.

“Silly man.” she commented to me. I think that was the moment that I became a chum and not the girl that had pulled them away from their favorite tv program. George was loving the action, she was loving the action, I even started loving the action a little.

Headlights down the road started their worrisome glow. She and I watched mutely as a ford SUV approached. My worry disappeared as I recognized someone who knew what he was doing. The SUV pulled through both our cars and parked at the top of the hill.

Out stepped a shadowy hulk of a man. He stepped into the light of our collective four-ways and I saw that he was actually quite young, perhaps early twenties, with the blue eyes and blonde hair of the Arian race. Everything about this guy shouted Dutch farm boy.

The German, as I came to refer to him in my mind, was missing three fingers on his left hand. He had an open, steady gaze and he instantly was in charge. Even George deferred without hesitation.

He came and looked at my car and then stood next to ‘Dear’ as George called his wife.

“Alright, try again.” George was again talking to the lady in her car. I noticed her passenger for the first time, a heavy lady who was clutching a large bag protectively. Odd.

She eased her gas this time and her tires started to turn.

“I’m sliding! I’m sliding!” she yowled.

“You’re not! You’re not sliding!” George yelled back.

“Yes I am!” She screamed, “I can feel it!”

“George, get out of the road!” Dear tried again. Even less of a response.

I heard the truck before I saw it. The German looked up the hill and I felt the familiar sink in my gut.

Dear saw all of her fears realized in that moment. The truck was going too fast. He saw us too late. I saw his break lights blaze but that was the only indication that he was trying to slow. His speed did not decrease in the slightest. He started going sideways.

Dear lunged. “George!!”

George just stared. The lady in the car started screaming.

The driver realized that he couldn’t stop it. Our only hope was the opening between our cars. But it was so narrow and there was George. The driver released the brakes. Dear grabbed me and started pulling me up the drive, away from my car. The German stepped forward. George threw himself over the hood.

We stared as he whizzed through and then slammed his brakes past our cars. His brake lights illuminated the road, marking his descent. Somehow he slid down the entire road.

The lady in the car cursed him.

“He tried to stop.” I said.

“He did.” The German agreed.

The lady subsided. Dear must have been scared into silence; she didn’t comment. The passenger in the lady’s car decided she would be safer out of the car. She hobbled around the car, still clutching that bag.

As she slipped towards us, she seemed very angry. I braced for a different kind of impact.

“My dog is going to freeze!” She crowed.

I realized with a start that the head of a very shaken chihuahua was sticking out of the large bag.

Dear was still speechless for a moment. “Uh, well, you can keep him inside.” She spoke finally.

“Well-” the lady joined us and turned back towards the spectacle. “I want to see what happens.”

The German stepped forward. “Do you want me to drive your car?” he asked the lady in the car.

She crumpled. “Yes.” she said piteously.

The German got in.

Another rumble from above. Not again. The truck stopped at the crest and turned on its four-ways. Out stepped another man. He shuffled down towards us.

His grey hair stuck out from under his ball cap and his grizzled beard brushed the collar of his coat. He presented a rather unkempt figure. He gave no explanation for his presence, much like the German, but unlike the German,  he projected no competence and in the end, offered no assistance beside that which he had already given. His four-ways. He struck a pose in the middle of the confusion and lit a cigarette. There he remained. He told me that he lived at the bottom of the road. He made many comments that all ignored and seemed to treat the situation like his personal entertainment for the night.

Meanwhile, the German waited while George spread more kitty litter up the driveway. He then just backed the car up and pulled into the driveway. Not without spinning out himself, but he never panicked and never seemed ruffled. He got out and went to my car next.

“Did you try to pull out?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “after sliding like I did, I felt safer in the bank than on the road… especially after-” I gestured to the cars parked everywhere. “This.”

“Hmmm.” he nodded.

I felt like I was being judged.

“I started sliding the moment I crested the hill. It was either that-” I pointed across the road towards the telephone pole. “Or this.” I pointed to their lamp.

“You made the right decision.” Dear affirmed.

Thank you, Dear.

Police lights flashed down the road. The cruiser pulled up and the officer emerged. He walked up and stood behind my car. I was struck with the unpleasant realization that I knew this cop. But where? Had he pulled me over? Did I know him from the animal hospital?

He placed his hands on his hips, gun very prominent, obviously uncertain about where to start. He nodded to the collected rabble. When he looked at me his eyes narrowed. Obviously he knew me too. The difference being that I knew that it wasn’t a drug bust or jail. He didn’t. He continued to give me strange looks throughout the night.

“So what happened here?” The officer asked.

“I took out their lamp post.” I pointed to my poor, beached car.

The German snorted and then laughed behind me. The grizzled loafer automatically started laughing too. The officer seemed to relax and chuckled. He obviously was expecting a fight.

“Penndot will be here in over an hour.” He told everyone. There was moaning and I think the loafer rejoiced inwardly.

“They need to close this road now.” Dear asserted.

The officer shrugged.

“Should I wait?” I asked.

“Can you get out?” he asked.

“I haven’t tried.”

“Well, let’s try to get it in the driveway.” He said.

I climbed in and rolled down my window.

“Ok,” The officer leaned over and talked through the window at me. “You need to just ease out of here.”

I felt a twinge of fear, remembering my brakes locking, the helpless slide. I nodded. The German was watching and I secretly wished he would repeat his previous service and drive instead. The loafer crunched up in the snow and listened in.

“So nice-” The officer started.

“Niiiice.” the loafer parroted.

“And easy.” The officer finished.

“Eeeeeeasy.” the loafer nodded and tacked on his own advice for good measure. “Just tippy-tap-tap them brakes.”

I stared. As I looked at all the different characters around me, sans the lady with the chihuahua, who had retreated into the warm house, I realized that I was going to write this.

I shifted into reverse and slowly pressed on the gas. There were murmurs of approbation from all the men gathered around as I eased back over the lamppost. I felt a tad more confident. I eased further and pressed a bit harder. The murmurs were definitely in the negative as my wheels spun in the ditch.

“Oh!” The loafer threw up his hands, “You lost it! That’s just ice under your wheels now.”

The German walked up, his mouth tipping slightly. “Do you want me to drive?”

I might have been a little too eager. I jumped out and ushered him in. He tried it. He got a bit further but still wasn’t making much progress.

“Is there any way you can take traction control off?” He asked.

“There’s a button-” I leaned over and pointed to the shifter, “I don’t know what it does.”

He pushed it. Apparently it was helpful. He pulled into the driveway as George furiously scattered the last of the kitty litter in front of him.

We stood in a circle again. The group had started to feel a bit like a club. It was kind of nice, actually.

“Ok.” The police officer looked at me. “If you can get out of here, I would recommend it.”

“Ok.” I obviously did not project an awful lot of confidence.

They all exchanged glances and looked back at me.

The officer walked to the middle of the road and looked at the rumble strip. “Ok, if you can get to-” he pointed at it and we all stood staring at it.

“The rumble strip?” I offered.

“The rumble strip! If you can get to the rumble strip and drive up with one wheel on that,” he shrugged, “you might make it.”

My lack of confidence was excusable.

I looked around at all the faces. George smiled and gave me a nod. The German looked vaguely amused, as usual, and the loafer was staring, offering nothing, also as usual.”Ok.” I said. “I’ll do it.”

I climbed in and backed out until my left wheel hit the rumble strip. I braked and slid. I sent up a prayer. I stopped. They all got behind my car and started to push. Not the loafer, excuse me. They pushed me back up that hill and when I got up my velocity, I left them behind. I looked at them in my mirror, silhouetted against exhaust and the flashing lights.

It felt wrong, to just drive away without a goodbye. I stopped, willing to risk my not being able to start again and willing to risk their wrath. I got out and started walking back. George, the German and the police officer were in a line across the road. The German soared above them and the officer had his hands on his hips again.

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!” One of them shouted back.

“He has my information!” I pointed to George. He acknowledged it with a salute.

“Be safe!” The officer said.

“Thank you, I’ll try!” I gave a final wave and drove away. I heard a truck start as I went and saw that the loafer was rendering me the only service of the night. He followed me out of danger and then turned back with a flash of his lights. Back no doubt to the scene of so much personal amusement.

My car has a hole in the front but I discovered that the button I had the German press is, in fact, a decelerator… the image that pops up in my display is a car going down a steep hill. Too little, too late.

When it is warmer, I am going back and bringing George and Dear a plate of cookies. A thanks for the blankets, the adventure and especially their kindness.

 

 

 

 

 

Jack In Love

I am currently the Nanny to three outrageous and adorable nephews. Lincoln, the eldest, is all but five and thinks he must know just about all there is to know. He is calm and sensitive, I can see him becoming a musician. Grant, at the age of three, alternates between furious cuddle mode and just-as-furious furious mode. He is able to build anything and will tell you everything you need to know about trucks. Fwat-bed twucks, concwete twucks, dump twucks, any ‘twuck’ you could be curious about. I’ve never been curious about them, unless forced curiosity counts. The kind where the information is forced upon you (and it is). I can see him as an engineer. His mind is always methodically moving, except in those moments where he doesn’t see the need of using his mind at all and that is exactly when you should run. He is a force to be reckoned with.

Then there is Jackson. He is two years old and every bit a little person all his own. He reigns over his domain with a pudgy, yet iron fist and no injustice towards himself goes unpunished. He does not like to eat carrots, nor any vegetable except cucumbers, and he has a serious relationship with chocolate milk. He calls every person in his life ‘mommy’ (at least a variation of it that sounds like ‘mah-ee’) and he demands the complete attention of whatever ‘mah-ee’ is in the room at that moment. He has two volumes, whisper and EARTH-SHATTERING which he uses when he chooses, not necessarily when its most convenient for ‘mah-ee.’

However, today, his chocolate milk received a jarring displacement. Her name was Rose.

Jack is not overcome by much, but today, at the McDonald’s playground, he seemed a changed man.

We had been there since 11:00 and had seen many little boys and girls come and go. Grant appeared to like other children, but had no use for them, so more often then not he was playing by himself, contented. Jack doesn’t know what to think about other children. It’s one thing when the faces are all the same, there is a comfort in that, but when they appear and disappear at random, it is a source of consternation for him.

I sat and watched them. Somewhere around 12:00 Rose and her mother walked in. She was exactly Jack’s size, perhaps a fraction of an inch smaller, and looked like a toddler fairy with blonde hair and blue eyes. He had been eating and now he was heading back into the fray. She was standing in the center, staring at the slide with a look of uncertainty. Jack wasn’t focusing on much in the confusion of children at play and mothers refereeing but suddenly, he stopped. Rose was two feet away from him. Jack forgot what he was doing, I could see his confusion. What was this? 

I’ll never forget how they stood and stared. It was weird. How many times had they seen other children their size? And yet they looked at each other with such a consciousness. I would love to have known what was passing through their minds. For the rest of our time there Jack was ever faithful to this lovely thing that he had found.

She would turn and there he would be, speaking to her in his whisper volume, little childish gibberish that I could not understand. He seemed afraid to touch her. When she was looking at something besides him when he was speaking, he would take his hand, as if to cup her cheek and turn her little face towards his. Yet his hand would hover inches away for he could not bring himself to touch her face.

I have experienced this mode of attention-getting, but never with the same gentle consideration for my personal space. He has no problem turning my face to his with as much force as is necessary.

Rose perhaps was aware of his existence, but did not seem to set much stock in it. She toddled from place to place, Jack ever faithful, and pursued her interests with fervor, but never did her interest extend to him. She would turn and walk into him, he would be shocked, she would be soberly annoyed, then she would circumvent him and toddle on.

I watched them with great enjoyment.

When the time came to take our leave, I called for the boys to put on their shoes and don their coats. Jack loves shoes. He was overcome with excitement, as always, and came at a run. I think he forgot. But as we were about to leave, he became a touch frantic. He struggled in my arms and desired that I would put him down. I did. He went back to where Rose stood, not even aware that he had left (although, lets face it ladies, sometimes that is just an act) and he stuck out a friendly hand and waved it clumsily.

“Bye!” He said and then stood there, obviously paralyzed again.

Rose observed him for a moment, shuffling from foot to foot absentmindedly.

“Rose, say bye!” her mother encouraged.

Rose extended her little arm and wiggled her fingers at him. “Bye.” she responded, her face lightening for the first time with a smile.

I laugh every time I think of Jack’s reaction. I know it’s silly to think he was overjoyed by her first words to him, but he literally turned on his heel jauntily, a massive grin on his face, and walked on air out of McDonalds.

That is probably the last time Jack will see Rose. I would be sad only I know for a fact that the last moment he saw her was the last moment he thought of her. Just like a man 😉

The Great Mistake

Where does one start? Someone might unrealistically suggest the beginning, but no one has time to hear all of that. Even if I could I wouldn’t want you all to know the whole story. I wanted to name my blog The Great Mistake but I felt (quite conceitedly) that I would not like to be known as one who makes a lot of mistakes. Perhaps as much as any person, but certainly not enough that it would define the story of my life. No. Instead, I decided to make that merely the title of my first post.

I tend towards mistakes. I must be honest. My very existence could be termed a mistake. I was born as a twin, which means your parents were expecting one baby for their trouble and received two. Of course, that could also mean that my twin was the mistake and I was the intended reward for nine months of sweet agony. I take comfort in the fact that God makes no mistakes, so He intended me anyways. I also comfort in the fact that my parents do not appear to view me or my sister as such. They actually appear to love us very much.

With my history of passionate beginnings and dismal endings, it must be understood that this could all be a mistake. I could be starting something I cannot possibly finish well. I could end it. Yes. But ending something and finishing it are two very different things.

So I called this place The Great Escape. I love to travel. To see new places and meet new people. I love to experience the culture and the memories of a place. It just makes me ache in such a delicious way to hear their legends and see their customs. Alternately, what a homebody I am! There is nothing I treasure more than my fireside and the warm companionship of family and friends.

And here you see my dilemma. When at home I dream of different places. When abroad I miss my home and my people. So what to do? Journal. Writing warmly and imaginatively of the place I am, home or abroad, has contented me in a wonderful way. This blog will serve as a step up from my notebooks and become (hopefully) a collection of my adventures. Of which I desire there to be many.

Much fear has accompanied this decision. This could be a mistake.

It occurred to me as I sat with my nephew, a bright boy of five that I ache and pray over with all of my being, that it is part of the process. His face was insecure as he realized I knew he had made a mistake. He was trying to blame someone else for his slight slip, trying desperately to cover the open feeling of thinking he was doing something right, then crashing and burning in an instant. He doesn’t like to mess up. Neither do I. But I was in my wise-old-man mode.

“Lincoln,” I started sagely, “it’s ok to make mistakes.”

He seems to find this hard to believe.

“Making mistakes is a huge part of learning. There is no way you are going to get it right every time, but mistakes are steps towards getting it right in the end.” I was very pleased with how well this was coming out.

“I didn’t.” He states. Denying a wrong equals not committing a wrong altogether in his mind.

Obviously he doesn’t appreciate my wisdom. Honestly, I didn’t either.

I’ve been so afraid of failure that I didn’t even start. He at least stepped out and fell. I would not risk the falling and so I did not step out. So here I am, challenged by a five-year-old to do something I really should do, but hadn’t the courage to do. The start of something shiny and new. My great escape and maybe a mistake. But we’ll make it a great and wonderful mistake.