Black and White (and Gray all Over)

It feels odd to be alive at a time like this. The streets continue to get emptier and emptier after an order to shut down universities and schools, large tourist markets, entertainment venues and sporting events in an effort to stop the spread of Covid19.

The city lies cloaked in gray. Smog blankets the mountains, hiding the sun that should come out in blazing heat. The Air Quality Index shows the PM 2.5 to be over 360, at dangerous levels.

Our worlds have been uprooted, our safe schedules in upheaval. The ground beneath us is shaky, the sky above us is shrouded, the road before us is blurred with confusion.

Through it all hovers a brooding heaviness. Fear. Fear, waiting to latch its teeth into us when we read the news, when we discuss the crisis with friends, when we see the city streets emptying.

In a time like this, it feels sometimes like the distinct black and white lines that we like to draw are blurred and shaky, smudged into gray, like the sky above.

Life has felt like this for me in the past week. Selfishness seems to be the norm in cases I meet at my work as a translator. Anger flares over the smallest things. Hope seems to be ebbing low. Some of the kindest people I know are said to be the most corrupt. My own future and the dreams I’ve cherished are vague and unreal and look impossible. My school and internship plans for the next 5 months have been totally changed. Sometimes the things you believe with your mind don’t feel right with your heart.

It’s easy to let these things carry into my life, to begin carrying a heaviness that was not mine to carry. It’s easy to let the unknowns and gray matters and smog of life soak into my soul.

But when I stop and think of it, I can still trace some of the lines and truths. Through the gray, I can still see color. I can still see truth.

It is still right to be kind.

It is still right to be just, even in the face of injustice and corruption.

Being humbly truthful is still the best thing.

Unselfishness still speaks as loudly as selfishness.

Prayer is still the best response to an unknown future.

Practicing generosity is still one of the kindest and unselfish things you can do.

God is still in control.

God still keeps his promises.

God still loves this world.

And donuts still taste really, really good.

The Road to Saohin

The road to Saohin is rough and steep.

Saturday, February 1, six years after my initial decision to move to Thailand, was the first time I traveled the road to Saohin. And probably not the last.

On Friday January 31, I drove to Mae Sariang, a town in Mae Hong Son 5 hours away that I am quickly learning to love. The drive there, though long, was relaxing, and there was a sense of adventure and hope and “this is a day off of school” that I felt in the air as I drove. I stopped in a pine forest and took off my shoes and enjoyed the spicy smell of pines, making me think of both Sara Teasdale’s “pines, spicy and still”(Stars), as well as the words: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep” (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost).DSC00696DSC00685DSC00711

I arrived in Mae Sariang around 5 and checked into my hotel. I left several times, once to buy food, once to go to a coffee shop, and once to chase down a song I heard wafting over loudspeakers.

The next morning I went to Saohin. They had told me the road was bad and life was rough there. Would I come look at it first before I would decide whether or not to do my 3 month college internship there? Could I come Saturday?

So I went with the teachers who had come down to the city for the day to run errands and pick up some other things besides this odd farang who wanted to live in the mountains. Aside from the fact that I spent the first two hours sniffing mentholatum in a desperate effort to keep my lunch of noodles from reappearing, I loved the trip up. After the first 61 kilometers, a rest, one little drammamine pill, and 20 children piling on the back of the truck, we tackled the final 37 kilometers. It took two hours (during rainy season it can take many more), crammed into a double cab pickup with 4 other people. I got to know them. And I like them.

DSC00734DSC00870

Saohin was small, with a school, a police station, a temple and a few houses, more like a wilderness outpost than a true village. They said a church was up the road a bit in another village. Most of the 80 plus children come from other villages to study at Saohin.

2_70

(photo credit: กรุงเทพธุระกิจ) Sometimes this even happens, according to the news.

We went to Burma on Sunday, crossing over the border passport-less about 3 kilometers from Saohin. We toured some places, ate some sweet desserts and came back.

DSC00824

S__4005896S__4014095

No phone service exists for most of the 98 kilometers from Mae Sariang to Saohin. Electricity is brought to the village via a few solar panels, but most daily work is done without the aid of electricity. Most of the cooking is done over an open fire, and washing is done by hand. No refrigerators exist.

I came back to Mae Sariang on Sunday night, mulling my experiences in my mind. Three months. Could I handle it for three months? Maybe.  More than that? I don’t know.

There are always those times when the dreams we dream start to become true, and reality hits us like the freezing splash of water of the dip shower I took on Saturday night in the teachers’ house. And odd little things start niggling at our minds. Can I give up my midnight habit of eating cornflakes each night? (no fridge= no milk.) Take cold showers? Live with no phone service?

But when I came back down, pictures of the village kept flashing through my mind. And I KNOW it sounds cliché, but a piece of my heart was left there in that dry mountain forest on the western edge of Mae Hong Son. And I knew I wanted to go back.

But the road to Saohin didn’t start on Saturday, Feb 1 when I left Mae Sariang. It didn’t even begin on Friday, when I left Chiang Mai. Or even when I started looking for an internship, searching through Google maps and finding places that became further and further away.

Perhaps it began one day under a little thatched roof when two of my friends and I were dreaming about what we would do when we would get “big.” I never thought the things we wrote down that day would actually become true.

IMG_3317

Perhaps it started the day I traveled with the CMCC youth group to a Karen village in Doi Dtao, Chiang Mai, up roads similar to those of Saohin.

Perhaps it started February 1, 2014, when I made my decision to move to Thailand. Or perhaps the day I signed up to go to IGo.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the road to Saohin began when I was in the 5th grade and listening to the speaker with the funny Carmel name talk about her experiences in South America. Perhaps it started when my teacher gave me the book Peace Child to read. Perhaps it started when I picked up my history book and started learning about far away countries with odd sounding names.

Perhaps it started one day on the sandpile underneath a bunch of green ferns when I prayed to give my life to Christ.

I don’t know. But I do know that “road leads on to road” (Frost). I know that it looks like Saohin will be my home for three months starting hopefully sometime in June, with week long trips to Mae Sariang once a month. But that doesn’t mean the road to Saohin leads to my final destination. Perhaps the road to Saohin is only a road that eventually leads to other roads.

I don’t know. But a sense of deep joy and expectation fills me as in my mind’s eye I look up that road, winding, muddy and steep, to what lies ahead.

Thank you, Jesus.

DSC00846

Child Bride

I asked her if she loved him. She said yes,

Her nut-brown hands clasped in her lap

Hands that instead of scratching sums and wiping

Chalkboards of the second-grade classroom

Would soon be cradling sons and daughters and

Threading flowers to sell at the intersection

On smoggy March days

 

She asked me if I had someone. I said no,

But I didn’t tell her of the cloud of pain that

Hovered over me or the knife that still pricked my heart

She wouldn’t understand why anyone would put

A knife into their own heart

 

I wondered if she knew what love was. But I didn’t ask,

She felt sorry for me that at 29, more than twice as old as her

I did not yet know love as she did

(What she did not know was that I knew love,

But only the kind you let go

Even if it meant turning the point of the knife)

 

We wondered what the other was thinking. But we didn’t ask,

The table and a world between us,

The dirt floor swept clean

Open windows, a motorbike droning somewhere,

Smoke from a fire wafting through the room

Time frozen

Only a smudge caught in the air

 

January 28, 2020

Duet of Words

Woven through each day like colors in the rain, the words

Couple together in a sheen of mist, these two words.

 

And when the pain throws its curtains gray over the world

Its anguish cloaking, I do not despair; I know the words.

 

For when its shadow lifts, the rain throws light like prisms

Into the sky where I catch them as they fall; these words.

 

These two words spell out my days; each gives wings to the other

Piercing through the rawness– alive, quivering, these two words.

 

For my name is Rung*, and when grief comes stealing through the rain

I know hope follows. It will, for I know these two words.

 

*Rung (รุ้ง) is my Thai name meaning rainbow

This is a Ghazal, written for my poetry and drama class. A ghazal is originally an Arabic form of poetry, must have 5 or more couplets, ends its couplets with the same words, and includes the name of the author in the final couplet.

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay 

Through a Glass Darkly

I am excited to announce a new book!

Recently I was inspired to make a compilation of the poems and essays that I’ve written over the past 5 years. The result is a small book called a “tradebook” from Blurb (a company that in the past I only used to make photobooks). It’s about 90 pages long. I’ve titled it Through a Glass Darkly. It contains 4 different sections labeled “The Other Side of Home,” “Steal Away,” “Through a Glass Darkly,” and “Shoes.” The book contains poetry and essays mostly having to do with life in Thailand, day to day events, people I’ve met in my time over here, etc.

Actually, I’m not really sure if I should say that I published a book. In a way I did, but it’s a very simple book, and the printing of it will be very informal and low-key. For me, it’s more of a thing I do for myself. There’s something satisfying about seeing your work bound up in book form.

I am offering it for sale, though. While it is mostly text, it also contains about 15 high quality black and white photos, all taken in the area of Chiang Mai. It contains about 41 items of prose and poetry, several titles which are as follows: “When Tears Become a Language,” “Silence,” “The Image of You,” and “Dusk-Doi Sutthep.” Most of the items in the book are found on my blog.

The book is priced at $5.99.

If you are wanting to have the book mailed to you, shipping in the States is priced at $3.00 for one book with 10 cents for each extra book added. As far as payment is concerned, a check can be sent to my home address, or you can pay via Paypal.

Below are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what the book is like. If you’re interested, please leave a message in the comments below and I’ll make sure you get one.

Many blessings!

DSC00430

DSC00434

dsc00462.jpg

DSC00433

 

DSC00432

DSC00461

DSC00449DSC00447DSC00446DSC00450DSC00452DSC00453

DSC00456DSC00458DSC00460

 

 

Midnight Reverie

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am

 

My heart shifts like the changing lights

Glinting on the river below

One winding river with a thousand gleams

 

The night wind breathes sorrow as I pass

The grief of the world presses in

A million sorrows from a million lives.

 

How many griefs can one heart carry?

How many days does one tear live?

How many people can one person be?

 

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am.

Grief

Who am I anymore?

I’m not sure.

I thought I knew who I was. On the about page of this blog I confidently wrote about who I felt myself to be.

I thought I went through this identity crisis 4 or 5 years ago when I first moved to Thailand. I thought I worked through it again three years ago that month I went home in October. I thought I processed who I was when I started college two years ago.

I wanted to write, to blog, for quite a while to dump out my feelings. But I didn’t trust myself. I’m still not sure if I do.

The month of November was anything but normal. Because of some things I believe and some of the values I hold, I had to say some really hard things to someone I cared for. It was like holding a knife to a living part of me. It hurt. Like crazy. I cried like never before and slumped into a blurred sort of depression. I started doubting my identity. I started doubting what I believed.

And then I got really mad at God.

I’m ashamed to say the reasons. But I asked God why he even let me hold these values like this? Why did He give me these convictions? Why did he let good things come into my life and then snatch them away? Why did He put me in this place at this time? Wouldn’t it have been much less painful if He hadn’t? What would it be like to be a “normal” person? Why did I have to say things I didn’t want to say?

Then one evening when gathered with friends, on a day I was feeling especially angry, a friend shared a poem and a verse with us. The poem was about how God sends people into your life, each person for a reason. It talked of how we are at a certain place at a certain time for a reason. And then he read off the verse from Esther 4:14 where Mordecai tells Esther, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther wasn’t a normal person either. Maybe she wished she hadn’t come from the place she did, or carried the convictions she did. Maybe she wished that she could just be like the people around her. When she came into that palace, I’m sure she doubted whether she was at the right place at the right time. Maybe she loved someone else before she married the king. Maybe she got mad at God too.

I would have.

But God placed her, uniquely her, in the palace at just the right time. If she would have denied her values and her people, her story would have been vastly different. Thousands of people would have died.

As for myself, I still don’t understand why this had to happen. I don’t know if I ever will.

But maybe, maybe I can start believing that God lets each thing happen for good and for a reason. Maybe I can start trusting that God is good and He knows what He’s doing. Maybe I can start believing that the plan He has in mind is much better than anything I could have imagine.

It still hurts. But maybe I can at least start.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Psalms 129- My Love Letter to God

I needed Psalms 129 this morning… here is a personalized paraphrase of this beautiful chapter.

God, you know everything about me, inside and out.

DSC08959

You know when I sit down to spend time with you and my thoughts go floating far away from you. You know when I wake up in the morning, wondering what the day will bring, with questions swirling around in my head.

DSC09682

You know where I will be going today. You know the steps that I will take and the path I will walk. You know what road I will follow in the future, whether it is today or tomorrow or next month or next year. And You are going to be there.

DSC09965

You know when I lie down curled up in pain and tears, crying out to you, wishing you would give me answers and tell me the things I want to know. You know when I laugh with pure joy and smile at the way you paint the sunset and draw the moon on the sky and fill my life with good things. You know how much I like it when I get to do the things that bring me joy, whether it’s helping someone out or reading a good book or getting to escape into the mountains for a day. You know all my quirks and the worries I hold and the way I respond to any situation, whether it’s a good response or not.

DSC09782DSC09499DSC09266

You know.

Even before I am going to say something, You know what I will say. You know what I will say even before I do. Which is good because so often I wonder, “How should I say this?”

DSC09383

When I am driving on the road, your hand is behind me, protecting me. When I am sleeping, your hand is over me. When I am walking, you are beside me. You are all around me.

I can’t grasp this. I can’t understand this. It’s too much for me to realize.

Even if I wanted to get away from you, I couldn’t. You are with me wherever I go, not just now but in the future as well.

DSC09876

When I am filled with joy and happiness and hope and elation, you are there. When I am huddled on my bed, crying of loneliness or thinking about decisions and uncertainty,  you are there. If I wake up early in the morning and hike up Doi Pui to watch the sunset, you are there. If I fly to the other side of the world to visit my family in Kansas, you are there. It doesn’t matter where I go, your hand is there. You hold me up with your right hand.

DSC09845

In the darkness of my thoughts and worries, you are there. In the light of my joy and peace, you are there. It doesn’t matter to you what I am like—you still love me and are always the same.

DSC07593.JPG

When I was yet unborn, you put me together. You gave me this kind of eyes, and this shape of nose and this color of hair and this kind of mouth. You did a good job. Everything you do is perfect, even when I don’t believe it.

You are wonderful. I know it.

You saw me when I was still nothing, just an idea in my mother and father’s love. But you designed me. You took your book and you wrote down each and every detail about my life. You wrote down all of my days and every detail that would happen in each of them, even this morning as the teardrops rolled down my cheeks. You wrote out all of my days, even before time started for me.

DSC09559.JPG

God, your thoughts, they are wonderful to me. There are so many of them; they never stop. I couldn’t even count them. They are more than the sand in the sea.

At night, I want to wake and think about You, not about my worries.

Oh God, I wish you would take all the evil from this world. Destroy the evil that makes people speak badly of each other and of You and kill each other and cheat and lie. Heal all this pain that fills this world.

God, let me despise those things that are not of you. Let me never take it for granted and say, “That is just the way it is.”

But Lord, as you know, this heart is wavering. It is not strong, but weak. It is full of selfishness and wrong motives and anxiety right now. Look through my thoughts, Lord. Sift through them and take away that which is wrong.

If I am doing something wrong tell me.

And always, always, let me walk in your path.

Let me hold Your hand.

And trust You.

DSC09341.JPG