A few weeks shy of my 27th birthday, I tapped the brakes slightly on my motorbike, and as a result, went sliding down a rain-washed mountain curve, leaving a 15 foot long scar on the pavement and a barely noticeable bruise on my leg. Shaken, but not hurt, I righted my bike and continued down the mountain in a proper fashion.
A few days before that, I finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi while sitting in the waiting room of a hospital waiting for a health certificate in order to renew my driver’s license. Finishing the book at the hospital seemed fitting, even when I had no reason to be there other than to get a piece of paper.
Kalanithi writes poignantly of his battle with cancer and even more poignantly of his search to find purpose and meaning in life. Somehow when you read a book in which you know the author dies in the end, you read it with an expectancy of being on the brink of learning a great secret of life. It’s like leaning breathlessly over a death bed trying to catch the last words of someone who is ready to cross over to the other side of that blurred glass. You feel that someone that close to death must have a key to the purpose of life.
Perhaps that is because death and life really are not that much different.
The gist of Kalanithi’s story kept echoing in my soul several days after I put the book down. Kalanithi’s words, the fact that I slid down the mountain, the fact that I am close to adding another full year onto my life, and various other factors turned my mind to take a deeper look into my own life. One afternoon as I was patting one of my K1 students to sleep, a thought exploded in my brain.
If I live till fifty, I am over half finished with my life. If I live to 75, I am a third finished with my life.
I hated that thought and wished it away. It scared me. It made me panic.
You see, I’ve been living life in the same manner that I’ve been using crayons at work. In a classroom of 21 children, crayons are expendable. Once one of them becomes a little stub, it ends up in the trashcan without much thought and is easily replaced.
Life is not like that. But I’ve been living it like that. And suddenly with the realization that I’ve been alive for 27 years and at best have 60 more years left, comes the realization that I can’t afford to live life carelessly. I could die tomorrow. I could die in two weeks. I could die in 20 years. And the brutal fact remains– I’m not getting any younger.
My young students remind me of this daily. One day while playing “doctor” (I was the patient; they were the doctors) one of them discovered the white hairs in my head, exclaimed over them and made it her self-appointed duty to pick them out immediately. Just a few days ago, I leaned over a table, talking to a three year old, while raising my eyebrows. At the end of whatever I was saying, he didn’t respond, only wonderingly lifted his finger up and traced the wrinkles on my forehead. No, I’m not getting younger.
What does it mean to really, truly be alive in this world? This is the question that comes back to me over and over again.
There are lots of good quotes and words out there about what it means to really live, what a life well lived looks like. Cliché. Well meant. Good stuff. But somehow I’ve reached a point in my life where I myself need to come to a conclusion about what it really means to live.
As I was trying to form a conclusion for this post, I only was able to come up with a hundred more, disjointed random questions and thoughts.
Does truly living mean pouring yourself out trying to meet the needs and demands of the people around you until you are totally exhausted in the evening and lack the energy to even make your own supper?
Or is it the opposite, saying no to the needs around you so you can live your private life, follow the desires of your heart and stop and smell the roses and drink all the coffee you want?
I don’t think it means either of them. For the last few years, the former has been the story of my life. On some days I drag myself home at the end of the day, thinking, “Is this really what a fulfilling life looks like?”
But the fight within me continues. I have a hundred things that I would love to do before I die. I want to gallop across the Sahara desert on an Arabian horse with my hair down. I want explore Southeast Asia and visit the deserts of Mongolia and find my way into North Korea. I want to live in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border. I want to write another book, a really really good one. I want to read books. I want to live at home and appreciate the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of my own culture. I want to live in a Karen or Akha village in the mountains of Thailand. I want to learn another language. I want to live in Tibet. I want to get married and have children of my own.
But I only have one life. And it’s not my own.
Can I justify doing things to satisfy my own wanderlust and desires?
What do the words mean, “Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart?” Am I not in tune enough with the Father’s heart to have my desires be his yet?
What does it mean to enjoy the gift of life that God has given us to the fullest, and yet being in tune to the needs of millions in this world who lack the privileges of money and freedom I have been given? Can I justify using my time and money in following my own desires while others are struggling to simply live?
What does it mean to be a Mary who serves?
Is it wrong to spend time reading literature just for the fact that it is well written, even if its spiritual benefit is low?
When is it right to spend money on your own comforts when it is something you could live without?
How do you decide where to pour out your life when there are so many things you love to do and would love to learn?
Paul was an apostle who poured out his life so others could hear the gospel. But did he ever stop on a mountain peak and drink in the glory of the natural world? Did he rejoice inwardly in the beauty of each culture he visited and delight in the different stripes and colors of each country?
This life is beautiful. The people and the world around me are beautiful and deserve to be noticed and gloried in. There are hundreds of amazing accomplishments of humanity that should be celebrated, not because of the human ability behind it, but because of the gift of talented brains and gifted hands that God has given us. There are hundreds of beautiful cultures and customs that express the image of God.
To sum it up, the question that remains is, “How do I live and taste this beautiful life to the fullest, without getting wrapped up in things that take away from the purpose God has given me?”
Sometimes I have those moments of lying awake in bed at night and wishing I could take the next plane home, get out of the city, spend time with my family, visit my favorite haunts again, listen to the laughter of old friends, and tear down the road in a madcap gallop on a sorrel horse.
I do have those moments. In no small measure. But on the other hand, I also have moments of pure joy as I experience life in Southeast Asia.
It helps to count those moments. To look at pictures of them and savor the beauty and the joy. And the laughter. I face a thousand decisions a day and one of the decisions that come up the most is whether to laugh or to cry. Or lose my patience. And when I do make the right decision to laugh, it’s always a relief. Like the time I walked into the bathrooms after naptime and caught three of my three year old male students sleepily peeing into the toilet all at the same time. Sadly, the funniest moments are usually the most difficult to snap a picture of because they come at unpredictable moments.
Below are several snapshots of what life has been like in the last month. Beauty, laughter, and just plain cuteness.
This is what life looks like for me most of the time. Minus the green and yellow. We only wear these uniforms Wednesdays and smile with relief when the day is past. This photo was taken at Wisdom Tree Home during the exercise part of the day. The rest of the day is spent teaching, playing, eating, napping, and prepping for more teaching. In my room alone, we have 20 students, age 3.
This is Peem, one of my more solemn students. And sleepiest.
We get lots of giggles, as shown in the picture above.
Sometimes its really hard to wake up from naps, even when our blanket gets pulled out from underneath us.
We do art projects, we just simply look cute with our curls, we find worms and we fall asleep at the table. A lot.
Sometimes this happens!
Going to the market on Monday night is bound to bring me some sort of joy, whether its talking to the vendors, seeing people I know, or a tasty bite of fried chicken strips.
One thing that keeps me sane is horseback riding, usually done on Saturdays.
We got to go to a Karen wedding one Saturday.
These two, a coworker and her daughter, keep me in laughter.
And these two make me smile.
We went to Maun Jam, a local mountain lookout one Saturday.
At a local village, we spent some time with the children and later watched them play this game similar to volleyball.
Sometimes just looking at the sky brings me all kinds of joy.
One Saturday we spent time with a Thai friend at a 3D Art Museum.
And when you combine rivers and coffee, life just becomes too much to handle. 🙂
It’s now close to two years that I saw him last. Be was my first student at Wisdom Tree Home, and the one that left the most lasting imprint on my heart. I stumbled across a picture of him yesterday and floods of memories came back. Here is a poem I posted two years ago of him. I felt it would be appropriate to post it again.
One of my housemates gives them names. The other one can’t bring herself to kill one if she has the chance. I throw water bottles at them.
They’re a constant problem at our house, these rats and mice. One morning a little over a year ago, I woke up at 3 in the morning. In my groggy, half-awakened state, I heard an odd rhythm, the scraping sound of furniture moving, belongings being shuffled around rather frantically, and a methodic thumping. I lay there for a good 3 minutes, trying to gather up enough mental energy to make a conclusion of what was happening. Finally, it dawned on me and I croaked as loudly as my 3 AM voice would allow.
“Brit, are you killing rats?”
A weak answer floated back, “Yes.”
When I got there, her room looked like a war zone. Everything was on the bed that could possibly be there and whatever couldn’t be was arranged in a path to channel the said mouse (not actually a rat this time) into a trap. The sad part was she couldn’t bring herself to kill it, so she handed me the broom.
At that time of the morning, you say odd things. I am told that I said, “I can’t kill them unless I’m really mad at them” and then went ahead and savagely killed it.
We’ve had them long enough that we’ve become calloused to them. They create material for good stories to freak out moms and sisters at home. Like the time one of them ate a snack on the drying rack and had the audacity to leave shreds of mango on my newly washed underwear. Or the time I heard one in my closet and as I was hunting for it, I leaned my hand against some blankets and it came squirming out from underneath them. Or the time they chewed up an entire cloth runner since butter had melted on it and they craved the flavor.
We’ve found ways of coping with them. They come in from the kitchen, so we close the door to the rest of the house so they can’t get in there. That doesn’t actually work since they can climb through the open window that goes from kitchen to the hallway. We’ve learned to cover up or put in the cupboard any food that is edible, even if it’s in a plastic bag because plastic bags are barely barriers to chew through. Lately I’ve started to put out poison. We found the smelly results under the couch a few days later.
About a year ago, some friends of mine were here. The guys in the group had pity on us and went out and bought some dry cement and filled up the holes in the kitchen so the rats couldn’t come through again. It worked!
For a while. Then they learned that they could come up the washer drain. And the dry cement began crumbling and a little hole appeared large enough for them to come through again. Now at night we hear skitterings and crashings and all sorts of noises coming from our kitchen. And in the gutter, we can hear dreadful squeakings and shriekings. For some time I was sure there was one in the agonies of death, either that giving birth to another generation of unprincipled rodents. (Do rats have labor pains? I wonder.)
Every time another episode in the rat saga occurs, we look at each and shake our heads and say, “Guys, we really need to do something about these rats!”
But no one does anything. We get used to them. We work from Monday to Fridays in slightly stressful jobs and no one has the energy to do anything about them when we get home. They are a nuisance, but not a constant pain. And most of all, we don’t really know what to do about them. How do you fully plug up those holes anyway? We helplessly ignore them and secretly hope that eventually they will go away. Either that we’ll do something about them tomorrow.
But they don’t go away.
In a way, each of us has rats in our lives too. Rats of a different ilk.
It’s that niggling feeling that you get when talking with someone else and you’re not sure exactly what is niggling. It’s that sense of dread that comes over you when you’re listening to a sermon or reading a book and something is said that suddenly takes you in a deep, downward spiral. It’s that feeling of inadequacy. Shame. Anger. Bitterness. Fear. Or a feeling you can’t even name.
Sometimes the feelings are so quick and passing that we don’t even realize they exist. We rush on through our day, intent on doing our job right, so intent on getting to the next thing that when we have time to sit and reflect on what happened, it’s burrowed itself down deep enough we don’t feel it anymore and it takes too much digging to get it up again and deal with it. Or we forget that it even happened or we don’t have the energy to deal with it.
Sometimes it’s more obvious than that. Sometimes it overshadows whatever we do and we struggle to put one foot ahead of the other, because of this feeling of dread that hangs over us, but we feel helpless and overwhelmed when we even think about doing something about it
Usually these rats come stealing in at our lowest points, when we stretched thin, when we’re facing stress in our daily lives, when we’re dealing with raw pain, or when we’re lonely.
And what do we do with them? Sometimes we put up walls. We put everything edible into cupboards so the rats can’t reach them. Or we only close the kitchen door to certain parts of our lives so they can’t enter into the living room. In reality we are saying, I will only be bitter about this part of my life, but I won’t let it affect the rest of my life. But eventually it does affect that part.
Sometimes we put out poison for the rats. This works to some degree, and there’s a need for this. But after a while we get tired of cleaning up the smelly mess and always dealing with new ones coming in again.
We need to plug up the holes. As long as the holes are there, rats will come in. And we will need to deal with them.
Those rats, those ugly thoughts and feelings that come twisting out of the woodwork when we’re not looking, aren’t really the problem. The problem is the holes in our lives.
Most of those holes were created when we were very young, between the ages of 0 and 8. These are the formative years of a child’s life. Forgive me if this sounds cliché. Sometimes I myself get tired of people harping that you have to dig into your childhood to find the roots of all the problems that are present in your life currently.
But often the most cliché things are cliché because they actually are true. The painful things that happened when you and I were young and the way we reacted then becomes a pattern for how we twistedly deal with life presently on a daily basis.
That’s why if we don’t deal with that point of paint that happened when we were six, it becomes a building block for future patterns of “fixed” thinking.
Recently I heard it explained in this way. Painful or traumatic things that happen to us in our lives are like hooks that are thrust into our hearts. As long as we don’t forgive or don’t deal with that pain or issue, we provide a hook for future events to hang on to.
We can clean up the mess from the rats every morning (and believe me, they leave a mess). But until we plug up those holes and remove those hooks from our hearts, the rats won’t go away.
The rat analogy can only go so far. In truth, we shouldn’t stop short of just plugging up the holes. In a perfect world, we should go outside and kill all the rats in the field behind us. But anyone who’s lived in Southeast Asia realizes the futility of that. And we don’t live in a perfect world. (Duh.)
Here are a few thoughts that might help with the finding and plugging up of some of those holes.
Find out what you are feeling! This is easier said than done. Our souls are intricate and our emotions a mess. Sometimes we don’t even know we are feeling something when in reality we are feeling it deeply. Ask God to help you become aware of emotions you feel daily. Sometimes He will give you a little push to help you see what you’re feeling, and it can hurt. Be prepared to be hurt. When we open our hearts to actually feeling, it is astounding how painful something can be.
Write down what you’re feeling and find out where it comes from. The writing down part doesn’t have to happen—that depends on what your best way is of processing things. But for me, writing brings clarity and a new viewpoint. And most importantly, it helps you remember. But however you do it, keep track of what you’re feeling and when you feel it. Become aware of the world that goes on inside of you.
Take it to God. Ask Him to show you where these feelings are coming from. Why do I feel inadequate when someone else can do a job better than me, even if I do it well? Why do I get angry so easily when one of my students disobeys me? Why do I feel like hiding in the bathroom when I have to be a part of a large group of people that I don’t know?
Talk with someone about it. There are several reasons for this. Talking with others about it can bring clarity. Recently I emailed someone about an issue I was facing that I couldn’t quite lay my finger on. After the email, I felt like I was able to see the problem from a different angle and much more clearly. But even more importantly, talking about it brings healing, especially when done face to face. Recently I was a part of a group that spent time together talking about issues we were facing and walking through those issues with each other. There is something terrible and humbling in discussing our core pain with each other, but something freeing and healing as well. God can bring deep healing through true interaction with brothers and sisters. Like someone in the group said, “I didn’t know God can kick you in the butt and give you a hug at the same time.”
Remember that it’s not a onetime fix all. I know, technically once you get those holes plugged up, and once you get those hooks out of your heart, it’s supposed to fix it all. But we live in a fallen world. And analogies can only go so far. Even though we do rid ourselves of the hooks, sometimes our old ways of living life, our old patterns of expressing still want to shine through. They are habits. It’s like someone whose been in the hospital and been on morphine for a long time. Once the pain of the health issue is no longer there, the craving for the morphine still exists. In the same way, we sometimes crave for our old patterns even though we have found something much better.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at rats in our lives. In fact, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’d like to hear from you. What kind of experience have you had with rats in your life? How have you dealt with them?
What is missionary life? After reading an article called This Is Missions by Brooke Vanguard, a description of missions in China, I was challenged by a friend to write our own version of missions in Thailand. This is a glimpse of what it is. The photos are a bit random, some having to do with the words, and some not.
Again, a small disclaimer. Sometimes I hesitate to write anything about missions here, simply because so many people get the picture that missions is some sort of really special work that only really special people can do. It is not!! Sometimes I cringe when I am labeled as a missionary, because of this. It is a really special work that people with a really special God can do. And being a missionary does not mean that you need to go to a foreign country. It can be done on your very doorstep.
This is missions…..
It’s reaching up and finding spiders in your hair and going on wild mouse chases in the middle of the night. It’s brushing off the ants from that precious banana bread — and eating the banana bread. It’s waking up at night hearing rats running around attic. It’s setting sticky traps in the kitchen and having to haul off the results later, while choking back nausea.
It’s trying to make food that your Thai guests will enjoy and instead, it’s putting way too much water into the rice which leaves it sticky and mushy. It’s feeling like a bumbling city girl who can’t cook anything because you simply don’t know how to make Thai food. It’s ordering fresh milk and feeling stupid and naïve because no matter how desperately you calculate, you can’t think of how much 10 kilograms of milk might be in pounds. It’s feeling silly because you don’t know how to change children’s diapers Thai style— pull off the diaper and spray ‘em with the hose!
It’s being told that you are way too trusting when you invite the lonely stranger you met at the bus station to stay at your house. It’s being told by your neighbors and friends how you should arrange your furniture, how you should put up your shelves, how you should always close your door to keep out the mosquitos, and how you should not go out into the sun without long sleeves, or let yourself get wet. It’s feeling frustrated when you’re constantly told by your coworkers at school that you need to speak harshly to your children in order to make them behave, and feeling like you can’t do anything right because you don’t quite do it their way.
It’s trying to impress your hosts with your ability to eat spicy food, and then paying for your pride the next morning in the bathroom. It’s feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate the way you want to and it’s being tired of feeling like a 3 year old who keeps on using the wrong words and saying silly things.
It’s feeling totally comfortable telling a male friend at church how much you weigh. It’s laughing at jokes you would not have thought funny 2 years ago. It’s eating with your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left without a thought. It’s being ok with changing plans at the last minute, or not even having any plans in the first place. It’s going home and asking your mom if the mattress in your room is new—- because it’s so soft! It’s asking people if they’ve eaten yet and what they ate, as a way of being polite. Or asking them where they’re going.
It’s feeling like you’re brain is permanently fried by language study and hot weather. It’s feeling like you use so much brain energy just surviving that all the profound, cool thoughts you used to think have simply vanished from your brain.
It’s wondering how on earth to help the bouncing ADHD student learn to control himself and stop shooting things with his imaginary gun. It’s holding tightly an angry child bent on hurting whatever he can touch in his little world. It’s feeling like all you do is tell little people what to do.
It’s going to church and feeling a heaviness on your heart because you wish so badly that your unbelieving friends could be there too. It’s driving home late at night and feeling the sadness of the city circle around your soul.
It’s being ecstatic about the fact that in a little over a week you get to fly home for an entire month. At the same time, it’s feeling terrified too.
It’s being on cloud nine after being able to carry an hour long conversation all in Thai, and then it’s crashing down to reality when you can’t understand a simple question.
It’s always feeling a little self -conscious, wherever you go. It’s being told you are sooo beautiful all the time and you speak Thai sooooo well. It’s being used to the stares that come from passengers on the backs of trucks as you drive down the road on your bike.
It’s listening to your friend recount with glowing face her new found faith and the way God is working in her life and leading her to witness to her co-workers. It’s listening to her bold statement of faith before she is baptized on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
It’s having a young student crying inconsolably after leaving school because she found out that Teacher Lori is going home to America, not realizing it’s only for a month. (Ok, not quite inconsolably. She was consoled by donuts eventually, I heard.)
It’s listening to a 4 year old student from a Buddhist family announcing to his friends, “When I grow up I am going to go to church!”
It’s watching the even rising and falling chest of a young girl as she sleeps and running your finger over her smooth cheek, praying that God would give her a hope and a future, even when all the odds are against her.
It’s feeling that odd tug at your soul when you crest the mountain peak – on those few occasions that you do get to the mountain – and seeing smoke rising from a valley village, far below. It’s that heartfelt connection that you feel after stopping at a roadside stand to escape the rain for a few minutes and striking up a conversation with the vendors and customers, finding that they too know the true God. It’s seeing the delight on a market vendor’s face because you speak their language and eat their food.
It’s feeling the small strength of a child’s hand in yours. It’s seeing the solemn trust in a little girl’s chocolate eyes and hearing her say your name. It’s hearing the squealing laughter of 30 children loose on the playground. It’s giving piggy back rides and bouncing wildly on big rubber balls and roaring like a tiger and rolling on the ground and doing other quite unladylike maneuvers.
It’s sitting at Wednesday night cell group, singing Thai songs and sharing struggles and realizing over and over again that we are brothers and sisters.
If I were to write a book about last week, I think I would title it, Crazy.
Crazy in a good way. Mostly. Now that I’m looking back at it.
In order to tell you about my week, I should introduce you to the 3 girls I live with. I live with Brittany (or Brit) and Barbara (or Barbs) and Judi, (who just came several weeks ago.) We fit into our little house quite nicely and snugly.
Monday is a normal day, as far as Mondays go. Go to work at 7:30, chase, teach, hug and spank wish you could spank kids. After work, run over to the church to teach English for another hour and 15 minutes, like usual on Mondays and Fridays.
Tuesday. I feel the end of the month requirements piling up on me. Write monthly student progress reports for the parents who can understand English well enough, and hand the others over for my Thai teacher to process. Write my monthly newsletter. Finish my monthly report for our team meeting. Plan ahead. So Judi and I go to a coffee shop to catch up on some work. I don’t know what is wrong with the coffee, or if my metabolism is just going berserk (are metabolisms affected by coffee?) but an hour after I finish my cup, my head is swimming and I am not sure if I can drive home. (And yes, it was only coffee! A hot latte!)
Just as we walk out to go home, I get a panicked call from Brit. Barbara, in an attempt to do some exercises to liven up her time while waiting in the kitchen for her laundry to finish, was jumping up and down, and managed to catch her hand in the metal ceiling fan that was going on high.
“Should we take her to the clinic or to McCormick Hospital?” Brit asks frantically.
We race home, but not before they leave for the hospital with some neighbors. The kitchen looks like a murder scene with a trail of blood dripping over to the sink, a bowl of murky, bloody water stands in the middle of the floor, and music still plays eerily in the darkened house. Forcing my dizziness to the background, I manage to clean up the blood without throwing up. Afterwards we run to the hospital to see what’s going. Barbara needs stitches, and comes home after midnight.
Wednesday. I get a message from my Thai boss, asking us to come in early since both of the Thai staff have sick children and can’t come. Barbara goes to work, but is hampered considerably. Then suddenly in the evening, we find another child with hand, foot and mouth disease, and therefore….. to reduce the risk of more infections….. we suddenly close the school for two days!! An unexpected holiday! Teachers are supposed to be able to handle sudden days off maturely and without inner “hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lords!” I know that, but I have yet to reach that mature stage.
Thursday. We go to school to clean and disinfect everything in sight. Toys, crayons, beads, legos, mats, tables, chairs, books. Everything. In the afternoon, I run to do get some supplies for school, and although I feel tired, get lured into exploring a hitherto unknown part of the city for an hour or so. In the evening we relax at home.
Friday. I ride my motorbike the almost 30 minutes to Doi Kham Horseback Riding for one of the best rides of my life. Four of us—my friend who owns the horses, one of his workers, an expat from Germany, and I, ride into the woods for 3 hours, galloping pell mell down little footpaths, riding higher up the mountain than I have ever ridden before, crossing streams, letting our horses graze, leading our horses down paths too steep and full of loose rocks to ride (and slipping and sliding down ourselves) and riding behind Night Safari, the exotic animal reserve, and hearing the growling of the tigers as they are fed. Kru Kom, the Thai employee that works for my friend, provides the entertainment for the day as he rides like a mad cowboy, letting his reins fall over his saddle horn while racing down the path, all the while waving a stick in the air and whooping and hollering. Or, better yet, turning around in his saddle taking pictures and videos of the riders while his horse picks its way up a mountain path and suddenly veers off into the bushes, taking him by surprise. I laugh.
In the evening, we teach English at the church and then run to look at a secondhand fridge for sale, about 20 minutes away. We decide to buy it, and plan to come the next morning to help the guy load it up and show him the way to our house.
Saturday. In the morning we go get the fridge. We get it situated in our house and then run to help a missionary couple clean the new house they plan to move into. After cleaning for several hours, we pack up our stuff with plans to head up the mountain. An extra two days off of work is not complete without a trip up the mountain. Journals, drawing supplies, books, Bibles, water and snacks. We’re ready. We drive for about half an hour, Brit and Barbara riding double since Barbara can’t drive yet with her injured hand. Just about 15 minutes from our destination, I notice Brit’s tire looking suspiciously sad. We pull over at a tourist spot and after asking half a dozen people, find a place to air up her tire, only to be told that it has an irreparable hole. So the poor bike and its passengers get loaded up on a truck and sent aaaalllll the way back to the city. Joy surprises us at a stoplight with a brilliant double rainbow spanning the sky. We find another place to hang out and do our work in the city and in the evening, we come back home and spend several hours cleaning out the old fridge, getting the new one situated and rearranging furniture in the kitchen.
Sunday. Thai church services in the morning. After singing “These Are the Days of Elijah” in Thai and listening to a sermon about Naaman and Elisha, we try the mountain again. Brit needs to get gas before going up the mountain so we decide to meet at the zoo, which is close to the foot of the mountain. Judi doesn’t hear the plan about the zoo. We reach the zoo and there is no Judi in sight. Her phone doesn’t work, she’s lived in the city for a total of 2 and a half weeks and she is not the kind of person to simply stay in one place if she gets lost. Barbara stays at the zoo to see if she’ll show up, and Brit and I start the hopeless task of trying to find one person in the midst of a million or so others. Twenty minutes later I get a call. Barbara saw Judi driving past the zoo, headed up the mountain, assuming we went without her. She doesn’t know the way, but is going anyway. We hop on our bikes and drive after her, stopping at the tourist spot we stopped at yesterday, hoping to find her. No luck. Finally, close to our destination, we spot her bike at a rest area and spread out in hopes of finding her. Brit finds her, and Judi, unperturbedly says with simple innocence not unlike Winnie the Pooh, “Oh, you found me!”
Finally, all together now, we keep on going. The road becomes smaller and narrower and bumpier. We turn off on another one. This one is hardly wide enough for two and has signs telling us to honk while going around curves. We gladly comply.
We turn off on another road. This one is moss covered and green, a bit slippery. Finally Brit stops and says, “This is it!” She’s been here before and knows the way to the lookout we want to be at. We unload our stuff— all our stuff—- and follow her down the mountain trail. In flipflops. Flimsy ones. That should be recorded under the column “Stupid Things Tourists Do.” We follow her. Down and down and down and down. And all the while I am thinking, “One day in the near future, I will have to climb this trail up and up and up and up. In flipflops.”
Brit is no longer so sure she knows the way. The trail is more overgrown than it was when she was here. And she doesn’t remember going this far. But still we walk. And walk. And walk.
Finally I hear her calling up ahead, “I found it!” We arrive, ooh and aah at the beautiful view, and lay out our blankets, pull out our Bibles and journals and books and snacks and drawing supplies and prepare to have a jolly time.
We have a jolly time for less than 45 minutes. Then the rain comes. We see it sneaking up the backside of the mountain, hoping it can surprise us, but we are ready for it. We pull on our raincoats, and decide to give up and go back.
Have you ever hiked up a steep mountain path carrying a heavy backpack, while wearing flipflops in the rain? It is not for the faint of heart. My flipflops are very slippery when they are wet, and I keep on slipping and sliding all over the path. Finally I take them off and go barefoot which is rather painful, but takes much less energy. My lungs are unused to mountain air and the first 15 minutes are torture. After that I pretend that I am a Free Burma Ranger carrying supplies to IDP’s (internally displaced people) in the jungles of Burma while keeping an eye out for the enemy and land mines. Then suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad at all.
After about 45 minutes of hiking we reach the road again. We are a bedraggled, sorry looking lot, but really quite happy. We drive down the mountain, shivering and blue from the rain.
On the way home, I am surprised by light shafting through storm clouds and by the second rainbow I have seen in two days. From a lookout on the mountain I see it, suspended over the city, so bright and bold and close you can almost reach out and touch it. Even though I am disturbed that my camera battery is dead, there is profound meaning and hope in this rainbow. The Thai song running through my head takes on new meaning and turns into a prayer, “Bless the land of Thailand, that they may find hope. Open their eyes and hearts to see the light…” (English translation of โปรดทรงอวยประเทศไทย ).
Green is the color of life and today is full of it.
This Saturday morning I ride my motorbike up Doi Kham mountain, through some of the greenest foliage I have ever seen in my life to one of my favorite spots in Chiang Mai, Doi Kham Horseback Riding.
We ride through the thick green landscape, rich, rich, rich in all its greenness where two months ago it was a dry dusty brown. The green feeds my soul, my dry dusty soul.
Afterwards we sip coffee in a little cafe surrounded by rice fields in a small valley. Mountains rise on the side and light glints off the top of a temple spire built on the tip of the mountain. My coffee is perfect, not too strong with lots of milk. The sky has cleared from its early morning storminess, and color like I have not seen in a long time splashes the world with its life-giving vibrance. I savor the gift of friendship, the gift of coffee, the gift of being able to speak a language that 2 years ago was foreign, the gift of resting my mind from the daily challenges of work.
The day passes and the gifts keep coming. Sunflowers- yellow, brown and green- from a friend, cookies, summer sounds, tall, tall thunderheads towering in a brilliantly blue sky. Green grass in the shadow of palm trees with light shafting and glinting and dancing. I long for a camera since words cannot do justice. It seems like every waking moment is full of color. Why? Was it not there before? Or has God simply allowed my soul to see again? All through these sights and all through the day, two words keep on running through my mind.
Later rain torrents down from the thunderheads that now pour out their fury on the world. I am on my bike heading to the airport to meet a friend when it comes, and it is the worst rain I have ever driven in on a motorbike. But it brings a glory of its own— the challenge of driving in the rain with wind lashing and water coming up to mid tire at times. I feel at one with the rain at times like this. It seems to embody the human spirit— a lashing out at the sadness and evil of the world.
But the one most precious gift of the day keeps on coming back to me as I drive home late at night from a friend’s house. It is words that I keep on puzzling on, over and over again. This morning as we sat on the balcony of the cafe after our ride, drinking coffee, my Thai Buddhist friend says of his 14 year old son, “Chawin ok gab Pra Jao laao.” Literally translated he says, “Chawin is ok with God.”
I keep on mulling over these words, wishing I knew exactly what he meant. Chawin goes to a Christian school, and as I look back at memories of conversations about religion when he was present, I remember the look of understanding and empathy in his bright eyes as we talked about Jesus and Christianity. But does he mean that he believes in God? Does he mean that he has found peace with God?
I wish I knew. I wish I had asked.
But for now I am grateful at least this. Chawin is ok with God, whatever it means. And perhaps one day his father will be too.