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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Emerging

Yes, I know it’s been months since I blogged.

I’m emerging this week from a world of homework, teaching, and translation. I have two weeks to take a deep breath before I dive under again.

Perhaps this next time when I go under I can do it a little more wisely. When balancing homework with ministry, I just simply have not got it figured out.

I like living life. But sometimes I try to live too much life all at once. So that’s why the past few months you didn’t hear much from me. And looking back at the past few months, there are several things that I would do over again and there are several things I would not do over again.

One of those things I wouldn’t do again was help an acquaintance with a Sunday afternoon children’s event/party. I didn’t know until I got there that I was supposed to be MC (master of ceremonies, or announcer, or moderator. Whatever you want to call it). In Thai and English. I have never been an MC in English, much less in Thai. It was terrible.

But I did many, many things I loved. And some of those things might turn out to be a lifelong job. I don’t know yet.

Here’s a glimpse of what life looked like for me the past 3 months.

I taught. The top left picture is of two wild, adorable children that I’ve been teaching English to on Tuesday evenings. The top right picture is a group of children at the Saturday morning White Elephant Club in San Kamphaeng. I haven’t been helping with this all the time; only at times they don’t have enough teachers. I also substituted for a friend at Chiang Mai City Church (CMCC) for a few months. The bottom picture is where we went to visit a student’s family at their home with Pastor Kiat, the Thai pastor at CMCC.

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I made a birthday cake for this young lady and took it to her school. She’s been a part of my life for the past 4 years, sometimes more so than others. I am so thankful that now she is able to go to school. That is an answer to prayer.

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We had a traditional Thai dress day at Thai church to celebrate the church’s nth anniversary (can’t remember the actual number).

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We said goodbye to some people and said hello to others.

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We helped with an English camp at a local high school in San Kamphaeng.

My favorite thing that I’ve started is volunteering a shift once or twice a week as a translator at the local police station. This has turned out to be something I love, being that bridge between two cultures. To be honest, I also enjoy the adrenaline rush. For the most part, my job consists of translating for people who have lost important items, such as a bankbook, passport, cell phone or wallet, or translating for foreigners who have been in traffic accidents. Every now and then I’ll translate for a case for a foreigner who has died in Thailand, or has gotten in trouble with the law or in an altercation with a Thai national. There are some intense times where I, as a translator, feel like a kickball being kicked from side to side.

I love getting to meet new people as they come into the station, and being able to give them at least a slight sense of security when they see another foreigner there. Most people who come to the police don’t want to be there, and not knowing the language adds another stresser. Speaking and learning Thai is something I enjoy, and I love the chance to use language as a way of helping others. I also love getting to know the people on the Thai side of things. Many of the officers I work with are close to retirement, so in Thai I refer to most of them as uncle. Then there are others that are closer to my age who enjoy practicing their English and just being friends. On the top right hand picture is a picture of two of my “uncles.” The one to the left has a very gruff exterior and a very soft heart.

One of my friends, Care, to the right in the picture on the left, was an intern the first few months I was there. She loved practicing her English with me. To the right is another of my favorite “uncles.”

So yes, I’m still alive. Other than the things above, I’ve mostly been doing homework, as well as some additional translation for acquaintances. And that all of that has taken up most of my waking moments.

Hopefully soon I’ll have time to tell you sometime about the time I got stuck in a phone booth during a rainstorm or the time when we ordered pizza at the police station. As well as my recent trip to my friend’s home in Chiang Dao.

The Chiang Mai Expat Dictionary (Specifically Conservative Anabaptist Oriented)

Sometimes we experience things that we simply have no name for. Craig Thompson, who blogs at Clearing Customs, wrote about “In-flightisms.” This inspired me to come up with my own lexicon of words that describe specific people, places or things in Chiang Mai. Here are seven new words I have coined.

  1. Farangogation: the interrogation that occurs on the first meeting of a Thai person and a Farang. “Can you speak Thai?” is usually the first question asked. If the answer is yes, and usually only then, the interrogation proceeds. How many questions are asked is usually dependent on the Farang’s Thai speaking ability. The more they are able to answer clearly, the more questions are asked. If the first questions bring undesirable results, the last questions are usually left unasked.
    1. Where are you from?
    2. How long have you lived in Thailand?
    3. Where do you live in Chiang Mai?
    4. Can you speak Northern Thai?
    5. What kind of job do you have?
    6. Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
    7. How much do you pay for rent?
    8. Do you teach English?
    9. Can you eat Laab? (substitute Laab for Somtam or another very spicy food)
    10. Are you half-Thai?

Questions in a farangogation are usually directed by a group of Thai people at one farang. Questions are asked in rapid-fire succession, leaving the foreigner little breath to answer. A farangogation is usually held in order for Thai people to be able to analyze the farang’s “expatnicity” or in some cases “foreignicity.”  Farangogations can occur anywhere without previous notice, for example, at police checkpoints, at fruit stands, at gas stations.

2. Foreignicity: The type of foreigner in Thailand. Usually foreignicity can be divided into two categories: expats and tourists. The most common identifying factors are noticed while driving the roads of Chiang Mai. Characteristics of tourists will be as follows: sleeveless shirts and short shorts, shiny, smooth helmets with the names of rental shops, riders holding smartphones or selfie sticks, and lots of white skin and long legs.

3. Expatnicity: This is similar to foreignicity, but differs in that expatnicity concerns foreigners who live in Thailand for an extended period of time. Examples of different types of expatnicity may be but are not exclusive to: Old white men with young Thai girlfriends, rich retired divers, homeschooling missionaries driving Avanzas, young, single English teachers, university students seeking an experience, restaurant operators and more.

4. Whistutter: A quiet, almost inaudible type of voice employed by busy English teachers when asked in public what their job is. The whistutter is used in case someone with children wanting to study English privately is in earshot. The whistutter rarely works.

5. Mennusters: Not to be confused with clusters of men, this is what you call the group of Mennonites that gather at the Chiang Mai International Airport to say goodbye to staff leaving permanently. These Mennusters form long before boarding time and disintegrate in trickles. They can be identified by the long dresses and head veilings the ladies wear, as well as  cameras, forlorn looks, groups posing for pictures, and farewell cards.

6. Terrapinack: A unique kind of backpack used by teachers who commute to their job by motorbike. This backpack is classified only as a terrapinack when it used to transport everything that is essential to the teacher’s life. Certain items stay in the terrapinack permanently, for example eye drops, billfold, phone, pens, socks, tissues, Thai vocabulary lists, planners, and sunglasses. The terrapinack is so called because it is similar to that of a turtle’s shell—it goes everywhere the teacher does. When terrapinacks are lost, teachers may automatically go into a frenzy of anxiety, exude excessive sweat or completely faint away.

7. Tingutch: A form of language that has evolved among speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch who currently reside in Chiang Mai. The language contains structures and similarities of Pennsylvania Dutch, English and Thai. One sentence can contain words or structures from 2 or 3 of these languages. An example of a sentence may be: “Ich bin puuting pasa English and you still can’t versteh me!” (I am speaking English and you still can’t understand me!) According to Ethnologue, linguists predict that in approximately 20 years, the language will be established in Chiang Mai as a language of its own.

Who People Think I Am

“She’s a teacher here, for sure.”

The low murmur followed me out of the room as I left from a meeting with my educational adviser. I turned halfway and flashed the speaker a smile and left, leaving her to wonder if I really had understood her statement in Thai to the lady beside her.

I get it a lot. Wearing a dress and a veil often gives Thai people the idea that I am some sort of important person. I’ve been asked if I am a nun, a sister, a nurse. I have been called an ajarn (a word often used for a professor) when I went in to registration at my university.

I grew up wearing dresses around women who always wore dresses, so our wearing dresses did not really reflect much of our personality. It is different in Thai culture. Thai people view ladies who always wear dresses as เรียบร้อย “riab roi” (proper) and along with that word comes a host of other presuppositions: you are gentle, you are organized, you are ladylike, you are the epitome of womanhood. I am none of those and sadly shall never be. I am not very “riab roi” either. I ride horses in dresses, I play soccer in dresses, I run races in dresses, I climb up waterfalls in dresses, I milk cows in dresses, and I go hunting in dresses.

But in thinking about all of this, I came to the humorous conclusion that few people understand me well and no one understands me perfectly.

And that is totally ok. I know Someone who does understand me.  I have imperfect perceptions about people around us as well.

So in thinking it over, here are some different identities people around me give me, or I think they do.

WHO THE GENERAL THAI PUBLIC THINKS I AM

 

WHO MY CLASSMATES THINK I AM

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WHO FELLOW NON-ANABAPTIST AMERICANS THINK I AM

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WHO CHRISTIANS FROM MY HOME AREA THINK I AM

 

WHO NEWLY ARRIVED EXPATS TO THAILAND THINK I AM

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

WHO PEOPLE IN NEED OF TRANSLATION OR EDITING THINK I AM

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WHO MY HOUSEMATES  THINK I AM

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Photo by 立志 牟 on Unsplash

WHO MY HOUSEMATES THINK I AM IN EARLY MORNING

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WHO MY FAMILY THINKS I AM

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WHO SOME OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO OTHERS OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO MY TEACHERS THINK I AM

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Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

WHO I THINK I AM

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Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay

WHO I REALLY AM

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These Days

These days are bright with heat, the humid, sultry weight of unreleased rain weighing down on us each morning. In the afternoon, clouds pile up high above the mountain, with the occasional growl of thunder punctuating the brooding heat. These days the skies are mostly clear of the insidious smog that covered our lives and souls in March, and in the evening, after the dusk rolls in, the skies release their rain. Each night we go to bed with the drumbeat of hope beating on our roofs—and in our hearts.

And why should we hope? Why should we dare to give life to this wild thing beating in our hearts, that gives way to the ridiculous, the kind of dreaming that leads to walking on water? Do not we know that walking on the water is unacceptable for bipeds of our kind?

But while hope seems to contradict every circumstance we face, it is conditioned in us. The very threads of our being are made up of hope. When we breathe, each breath that we inhale and each breath that we exhale are breaths of hope. Why else would we do something that borders insanity, this continuing to live and breathe in a broken world, except our bodies hoped? Why else do we continue to flip the light switch even after we realize the light is no longer working? Why else would we scan the skies with furrowed brows, unless our lives were not conditioned to hope?

When that hope is gone, life fades.

Hope is not optimism. Hope is not positive thinking. It is something stronger and frailer, more powerful and more delicate than we could ever imagine. It is rooted, planted into our hearts at birth, but without nurture it is like the succulent that my friend gave me–withered and dead, because I forgot to water it.

I faced days, dark days years ago, when I lived one day at a time, one hour at a time, on feet that dragged heavy. In the evening I would lay my head down and cry until I was exhausted–without knowing why. Now, I can look back and see some reasons for the darkness, but at the time I was only confused and tired, looking at the next day and dreading the thought of facing it. Hope was something I could only dimly make out, and I clung to the remaining threads I had. Friends walked with me. I scoured my Bible. I journaled. I talked with my dad. I held on tight to words that brought light.

And the light returned slowly. There were some physical changes, some emotional changes, some spiritual changes. We are people that are knit together tightly and our physical can affect our spiritual and our spiritual can affect our emotional and all the other ways around. Somehow that hope that flickered began burning brighter and brighter.

Hope hurts. It’s such a ridiculous thing. There have been so many times that I’ve seen my hope knocked to the ground, bruised and bleeding. I usually look at it and say, see I told you!

But I’ve met some people who keep on hoping against reality, who live with unfulfilled dreams, who hope for more despite the pain; those people are some of the most beautiful people I know. They live life with a deep, quiet rest, a trust that speaks of something more inside even while pain is mirrored in their eyes. They have hearts that have been ripped wide open, and perhaps never sewn fully shut. But they are strong and quiet and wise.

And I want to be like that.

These days the sun is bright and the heat is oppressive, but hope comes to us at night when the rain chatters on the roof and the wind gathers up fistfuls of the scent of green. We sleep the sleep of those who remember the days of darkness and rest in the new life that each droplet brings, knowing that the Maker of the seasons is also the Maker of hope.