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Gifts of Summer

I was looking through my folder of updates that I send to people at home and found the one I wrote just after I got back to Chiang Mai from my summer at home. 

I cried. 

It was hard for me to adjust back into the swing of things here in Chiang Mai after my colorful summer at home. But once I was adjusted, I almost forgot about it. And that makes me sad, that I would forget something that beautiful. 

So I decided to share it on here. 

I miss them. 

Gifts of Summer

(May 12-July 28)

Lights from the Chinese airfield are bright in my eyes at 4 AM. The floor is hard, yet not too hard to sleep. Something bites my feet and I wonder what kind of insects would inhabit the carpet of Guangzhou airport. 11 hours down and 6 more hours to go until my rescheduled flight leaves. The night has been long, but the people who befriended me have been kind. We have our own little Thai corner in this Chinese airport, these disappointed travelers and I, and we dream our troubles away.

Home feels just right. It is Monday morning and I wake up to a drizzle on the roof. A robin’s rain call echoes. Dad comes striding in over the lawn after fetching the newspaper after the morning’s milking. Smells of breakfast drift up to my jet-lagged body. Life feels good.

The little blonde boy holds the strawberries in his hand and laughs with delight. We sit on the west porch and first munch our fruit, then wash it down with “coffee” which is flavored milk in Grandpa’s mug. He is quite pleased that he uses Grandpa’s mug. “Now we have to watch the birds,” he says, meaning the swallows that swoop over the lawn in the morning.

The night is soft and cool. The train whistle splits the evening air. We run laughing, breathless and barefoot to meet it at the crossroads. Its thunder drowns our heartbeats and we savor the power harnessed by man.

The fork clinks onto the plate of pie. One coconut, one peanut butter chocolate, one apple. The pie case door thumps as it shuts. Ice tinkles as it is scooped into a glass. Someone laughs. The smell of French fries and a thousand other fried things drifts up to the front. I clear the leftover pie plates from the table. Put the tip in my pocket. Scrape the food into the trash. Scoop ice. Fill waters. Grab silverware. Smile. “Would you like anything else to drink besides water?”

The volleyball thumps onto the cement floor before hitting the fence with a “ching.” In. Next serve goes into the net. The spicy smell of evergreens pervades the air, the air is cool and the moon is bright tonight. It is late. I should be in bed. But tonight I am 16. And I am having fun.

The motor throbs in the early morning. The sunrise glows in the east. Cows crowd into the barn. Wipe the dirt from the teats, dip them, strip out a stream of white milk, wipe them clean, put on the milker, dip them, open the gate. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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They come streaming onto the benches that squeak under the weight. 28 bare feet wiggle as 14 mouths sing the old German songs of Summer Bibel Schule. I relive my childhood in those days, remembering how the big boys used to sing the refrain of “Nur das Blut das Lammes Jesu,” and how deep and scary their voices were and how awe-inspiring they were to little first graders. Then we sing, “Herr ich Komm” and I remember the little jumps we liked to add to the chorus, and wonder how exasperated our teachers must have gotten.

Thistles blow in the wind. The wide sky touches the green world around me and grasses wave. Thrust the spade down. Dig up the roots. Clip off the pretty purple flowers and put them in a bucket. Breath deeply and stretch. The air is medicine.

“Sing it again!” she says fascinated, her eyes bright. I sigh and launch into the 31st rendition of “Boom di ya da” in Thai. “Chan chaub du pukao, chan chaub du talee yai…”

The wheat field sighs. It is pregnant with its harvest and only awaits the teeth of the combine. Elevators seem dominate the horizon, even though there aren’t any more than before. Tractors, trucks and combines drone late into the night. The harvest lures me, calls me, fascinates me.

5:00 AM. June 20. My sister’s cell phone rings and I hear her answer it sleepily from my room. It is my older sister, Susan. “Happy Birthday,” she says.

9:49 AM. June 20. I answer the phone at my sister’s house. “Happy Birthday,” says my brother in law. Evan Samuel, born June 20. Yes, happy birthday!

The bean row is long. Longer than I have ever seen before. And there are 6 of them. Stretching all the way from Pleasantview to Yoder. Yet a feeling of satisfaction fills me as I wipe the sweat off my face and look at the fruits of my labor. It feels good.

Mozzarella sticks. Onion rings. French fries. Mountain Dew. We are not eating healthy this afternoon. Two excited boys share the booth seat in front of me. We eat our fried things with relish, laugh at ten year old boy jokes and sing the worm song as we suck the onions out of the breading. Happy Birthday, Davon.

Creak of the saddle. Sunflowers in my horse’s bridle. Laughter of friends. The night is soft. Lights create crazy silhouettes of rider forms running through the dark and dust. We gallop through the dark, and gallop and gallop and gallop….

Itch….. itch……. Itch…itch… Itch..Itch.Itch.Itch.Itchitchitchitchitchitchitch. The red rash reminds me that I am not immune to poison ivy after all. Itchitchitchitchitchitchitch…..

The cravings come at odd times, late at night when people on the other side of the world are eating their spicy, mouthwatering, lime-juice laden, cilantro-decked food over fluffy white rice. I eat an egg sandwich. And munch cereal.

Cancer. The word splinters the joy of summer with shock. Breast cancer. Brain cancer. We discuss the implications with furrowed brows and hushed voices.

We cram into the cabin as rain drums outside. Twenty-five Hershbergers in one cabin is quite a feat. And quite noisy. The left-behind ice chests finally arrive and we eat the creamy ice cream it contains, savoring the cool before we sing some songs. We have this moment to hold in our hands.

Colors go wild. The wake of the boat swathes white into the blue of the water as we skim along the surface. Red bluffs and blue sky, bluer water and white foam, green grass and white gulls. A gull follows us for a while. We do a loop in the water and I put my hand out to feel the spray. The little blonde boy falls asleep.

Six of them. I count heads again to make sure, make sure none of them bobbed beneath the water too long. We splash in the water and laugh, chasing sticks bobbing on the surface, savoring life.

It was summer. We lived it. It was good.

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Craziness and Life in General

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.

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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.

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Horseback riding in the mountains. Photo credit: Nikom (Kru Kom)

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.

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Rainbow over Chiang Mai, photo credit LH

 

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.”

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Photo credit: BL

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.

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Moss on a log. Photo credit: BL

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.

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The view from Doi Pui, Photo credit, LH

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 ).

God, let your spirit fill this land!

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Light shafting through storm clouds onto the city below. Photo Credit: LH

 

Hurry

Hurry has no poetry.

It only rushes, muttering, grumbling.

Dashing here. Dashing there.

Nibbling. Never tasting.

Dabbling. Never diving.

Skittering on the surface.

No, hurry has no poetry.

 

For poetry lives in the soul of the rain,

That slowly comes, murmuring,

Mysteriously through the night;

Whispering, never shouting,

Trickling, never pounding,

Soaking to the heart of the earth.

For poetry lives in the heart of the rain.

August 19, 2016

I’m Alive

Today is rich.

Green is the color of life and today is full of it.

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Photo- July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit, Lori Hershberger

 

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.

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Photo– July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit– Lori Hershberger

I’m alive.

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.

Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

Of Revival, Poetry and Fridge Cleaning

IMG_4520I feel like I’m becoming alive again.

How can I tell? Because the poetry is alive in my brain again. There’s more color in the sky, in the grass, in the mountains. And not just because of the rain.

After the brain fog and brutal heat of March, April and May and the ridiculous intensity of our work schedule, there was no longer any poetry bubbling in my brain. There was only dragging myself out of bed in the morning, forcing myself to eat something so I would have energy for the day, and then at the end of an exhausting day weighing myself and discovering I had lost yet another 2 pounds.  If there had been poetry, it would have gone like this:

It’s so so hot/ I feel like meat/ Left out of the fridge/ In all this heat/ Like boiled cabbage/ And leftover peas/ That’s what I feel like/ (groaaaannn…. more water, please)

And that’s actually not poetry. It rhymes. But its not real poetry.

But now there’s poetry bubbling again and not just my own. One of these days I would love to sit down and trace back through all the poems that have shaped my life. Poetry that opened doors and windows to a new way of seeing the world through the beauty of words that capture life in crystal clear images. Poetry that thrilled me and inspired me. Poetry that made me laugh. Poetry that captured that feeling inside of you that you yourself didn’t even know existed until that aha moment when it was put into words. And then you think to yourself, “That’s exactly how I feel about it, but I never knew I felt that way.”

Late last night as I defrosted our poor neglected fridge, threw away rotten fried rice and tomatoes and eggs, and debated whether to keep last year’s chocolate or throw it away, I thought poetry and listened to it. And tried to ignore the smell that reeked from the fridge. I listened to Robert Frost and dreamed of someday stopping by woods again on a snowy evening. Oh the pure delight of doing that again! I listened about his road diverging into a wood and said, “I know exactly how you felt.” I listened to Rudyard Kipling’s “East is East and West is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet.”  I was curious and felt a little disturbed. Then I listened to Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” and remembered a dear  little first grader with honey -blonde hair in front of an audience reciting “Fog” on the last day of school. And I felt pangs of homesickness and pastsickness.( pastsickness: a longing for the past,  to relive memories that are sweet after time has washed away all the pain.)

But the poem I like the most of all the evening was this one. After washing out of the fridge thoroughly of all its putrid odors and feeling like it was on its way back to recovery like I was, it was raining once again and I listened to Longfellow’s “The Day is Done.” However much poetry might be bubbling in my brain, my soul is still tinged with tiredness, and this poem echoed the thoughts of my spirit. Sometimes we long for the simple words of some normal human being to soothe our restless spirits, instead of weighty words of theology and religion.

The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight.
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I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
      That my soul cannot resist:
_________________________
A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.
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Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
_______________________
Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.
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For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.
________________________
Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start;
__________________________
Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.
_________________________
Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.
________________________
Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.
_________________________
And the night shall be filled with music,
      And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
      And as silently steal away.

 

And now, because it is almost midnight, I must fold up my tent and steal away on the road less traveled that leads to bed since I have gone many miles since I  have slept and my bed is oh so lovely and dark, yet, I fear not very deep, because East has not yet met West in the making of mattresses. And we will pray that the neighbor’s cats do not come on their little cat feet and fight on my roof.

Goodnight.

 

I Wonder

This poem is not a new one for me. I wrote it several years ago after a long, dark struggle. I came across it tonight as I was looking through some old files, and again it spoke to me.
We are free. 

Flying Butterfly

I wonder….

When the butterfly struggles

Out of the clenching confines

Of the dark cocoon

If it flies right away

Without a fear

Or a looking back over its wing

With a shudder, at the prison?

 

I wonder…

If without hesitation

It stretches its wings

And flutters away

No more to think of the long dark struggle

That lasted interminably

In that age long moment of not knowing

If daylight would ever be seen?

 

I wonder…

If it  ever thinks

It is still trapped back there

And forgets it has the means to fly

But struggles wingless in the dust

Trapped in a cocoon of the mind

Remembering the darkness?

 

I wonder…

If the butterfly ever fears the cocoon will come again

Or if it knows the freedom it has been given

Will last as long as the turning seasons

Bring out their shades of blue and gold and green?

And it goes dancing over the meadows

Free and unfettered?

I wonder….

 

March 2014

 

Why Sightseeing Is Not Enough

The following are some ramblings from tonight. I seem unable to fully put into words what I really want to say, like usual. But I decided to go ahead and publish itself in its imcompleteness. Perhaps others will have another perspective. Also, this is not saying that foreign long term missions are the only way to go. What I’m trying to say is don’t be somewhere where you can’t be all there, and where you can’t stay and plug in your heart.

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Doi Tao, Chiang Mai. (photo credit JJ Burkholder)

I love traveling. Few things thrill me like standing in the huge Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and watching the swarms of people, all of them going places. I love the feel of the airport, the delightful mix of ethnicities- from the turbaned Arab of the UAE, to the excited, jabbering Chinese tourists, to the veiled Islamic Iranian women, to the purposeful, striding Americans to the gentle Thai bathroom cleaners.  The call of the unknown beckons. There’s the excitement of running to catch your plane, the interesting conversations with your seatmates like the man from Uzbekistan who is searching for truth or the Indian woman on her way home for the birth of her child. And sometimes you sit beside people who plug up their ears with earbuds as soon as they take a glance at you. Those are the times you look out your window and gaze in awe at the clouds below, glinting the rays of the afternoon sun, or at the sight of the gigantic blue earth so far, far away and so beautiful that you would never guess the sorrow and the pain that is rooted deeper than the roots of any tree.

Neither do I need to fly to get into the feeling of being a tourist. Chiang Mai has more tourists than a street dog has fleas. You can’t go into the inner city without stepping on them. They come from all over- Belgium, Germany, France, China, USA, Canada, Russia, and more. They walk the city with their hiking backpacks and long blonde hair and funny accents when they try to greet a native in Thai. And they’re always going somewhere. To the elephant camp. To the pottery shop. To the Hmong village. To the longneck Karen village. To Tiger Kingdom.

We are constantly on the go. We fill our passport with visa stamps and are a wee bit proud when we need to add extra visa pages in order to have enough to scratch the travel bug on our itching feet. (excuse my mixing metaphors). We go home with colorful stories of the people we met, or the food we ate, or the amazing pictures we took of the Akha child in her gorgeous tribal headdress, or the brilliant eyes of the Indian slum girl. We can even add in some stories that pull on heart strings and make others want to go view the same.  And we’re always talking about the next place we’ll be going to. We want to do all these things, as many as possible, before we die, like we won’t have any room for adventure after we die.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The travel bug hits me hard and plenty. Words like “wonderlust” and “beyond the horizon” used to resonate with me.

But now they sound so empty.

Empty.

People say travelers have rich experiences. And they do. But when we go and see and do and go home, we are denying ourselves some of the richest experiences of our lives. And that only comes when we go and see and do and stay.

We forget that the real treasure in everything we experience lies in the heart of God.

No matter how unique, or cool or amazing all those amazing sights are.

And one of the ways to knowing the heart of God as deeply as possible is to know and understand the human heart.

We forget that immersing into a new language and a new culture is one of the most beautiful experiences a human can have, as well as the most painful. Because if you learn to understand  someone’s culture and their language, you begin to understand their heart.

Suddenly they are no longer just a picture, or a story, or even a random person you met on the streets of Vietnam.

They become a part of your heart. From being just a picture of an Akha girl with a stunning headdress, she becomes a friend, a student, or a daughter.The Indian girl with the deep black eyes becomes real too- not simply a photograph or a story, a memoir from your travels.

Instead of traveling and  viewing  magnificent or notorious sights, and grinning to ourselves as we cross it off our bucket list, while planning our next trip, we actually experience what we see. By living in it. By becoming a part of it. By making this people and this land ours.

When that happens, sometimes some of the glossiness gets wiped off the pictures. When we actually get our hands dirty and realize the extent of the pain this world has to offer, we would rather move on, skimming from country to country, not carrying these people in our hearts anymore.

Two weeks ago, I took a short trip to a hill tribe village way back in the mountains. We spent a night and a day there, traveling roads that curved and climbed impossibly, playing with the children, watching in the New Year on the lookout. We slept outside under stars that were deeper and brighter and closer than any I’ve ever seen, punched out of a sky of velvet. We ate rice and spice like nothing else I’ve had. I even got a bite of rat.

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Karen children at Doi Tao, Chiang Mai (photo credit: JJ Burkholder)

 

But it wasn’t enough.We had a less than 24 hours actually staying in the village. I needed to talk with the most of the  villagers through the help of the children translating from my Thai to the Karen language. I had no idea what these people’s lives were like in the last 10 years before we met. I didn’t know their struggles, or their hopes, or their passions.  Sure, I got an experience, something to write home about and something to shock my mom with (the rat part.) But it wasn’t much more than a passing experience.

It all seems so useless if you don’t stop and stay and become.

 

 

 

Identity

Sometimes I get very confused.

Who am I anymore?

Each of us is born with the legitimate longing to be known and understand. A child wants his mom to know when he hurts, or when he is happy, or when he is scared, sometimes not even for the words of comfort or praise that he knows will be reciprocated, but more because he wants to be known and understood. To not be understood and known catapults into the feeling of not being valued.

To know that someone understands you is like a damp cloth on a delirious brow, like a fresh breeze blowing after a rainstorm, or like steaming cocoa on a snowy day. It touches something deep inside of you that cannot be touched by anything else.

But no one can fully understand us. Ever.

Neither can we live in this world and be known by everyone around us for what we truly are. No one will ever fully understand our background, our thought patterns, our deepest struggles, even though they know us better than any other human.

And it hurts. It hurts to live in a world that does not understand you or know you or even tries to find out about you. Because all of us are like specks of dust in this life compared to eternity and compared to the vastness of the universe.

Do we really matter?

What gets really confusing is when I don’t understand myself anymore. Sometimes after living in another country for so long, it is hard to know who you really are. Am I the Lori who lived at home in Kansas and taught school and milked cows and penned poetry on the back of dairy records while milking? Or am I the Lori who rides a motorbike for transportation and teaches three year olds the ABC’s and sings the doxology in Thai at the end of every Sunday service?

I can never fully understand myself either.

There are three parts of identity, and all of them seem to be closely intertwined. One is our physical identity- our name, our face, our physique. The next is our soul- our mind, will and emotions, our personality. The last one, the deepest and hardest to understand, is our spiritual identity. When one of these three is affected by the outside world, the others are affected as well.

The identity of my soul is what feels dethroned right now. I am not who I was, neither will I ever be that person again. Can I accept that?

But I’ve listened to too many voices telling me who I am. It’s time that I stop listening to them. While my soul needs to be understood and known (it’s a desire planted in when we are born), as long as I know the identity of my spirit- a child of God- then I can walk on, even when I do not understand the identity of my soul anymore.

The question God is asking me is this, “Am I enough?” Is God enough when dreams and desires lie on the bottom of our busy lives, untouched? Is God enough when no one else can fully understand? Is He enough when our souls are stifled for the sound of prairie winds and rustling grass and slow German hymns and horse hooves on blacktop highway? Is he enough when our body craves, craves, craves a juicy hamburger, or a T bone steak marinated in Italian dressing, grilled to perfection? Or when we long for the cold touch of snow kissing our cheek on a twilight winter evening?

He is. I believe He is. Oh God, help mine unbelief!

So when being a cultural bridge between two (or three) vastly different groups of people twists me about in ways that a bridge should not be twisted, I will listen to God.

When I am indescribably lonely for someone to sit and listen and say, “Uh huh, uh huh. Yes, I know exactly what you mean”, then I will listen to God.

When I long for a quiet pond to sit beside to soak up the silence of the night, I will listen to God.

I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.

Psalms 143: 6,8

Searching for Beauty

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I miss…

The beauty of early morning cirrus wisps

Splashed with color over ever-lightening sky

Stirred with rays of the morning sun, rising, rising, rising

Gleaming over golden of short shorn wheat

And vibrant green of wayside grass

Lush and lavish in sun-dappled morning glory.

I miss the dew.

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I miss…

The cool caress of wind on my face

On the late evening rides with young bright sorrel

That pulls on the reins to fly, fly, fly;

And the beauty of thick brown tail, and well- muscled legs

That stretch in quiet thunder down shadowy lane

In rhythm with the ever- rising, ever- setting sun.

I miss the catlight.

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I miss…

I miss the silence of a sun-stilled afternoon

The dreams of the summer wind as it lies still and

Asleep in wide seas of wheat where waves lap, lap, lap

Against the never giving shores of green

Until the machines come with their powerful teeth

And eat away at the waves and the silence.

I miss the dust.

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I miss…

The sharp knife of wind in snow swept prairie

Stinging on numbed cheek, embracing the wild, the fierce

And bowed head against the cold, fighting, fighting, fighting

And after that the silence, and the swirl of snow

Floating with featherlike dance to the ground.

I miss the pain of cold.

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I miss….

The horizon that stretches far and away, and I can breathe

In the glory of a star spangled night in fields of sky

That stretch out their canopy wide, wide, wide

And wider still, never hampered, never cramped

By skyscrapers and man-made malls glimmering their incandescence

But go on and on and on.

I miss the sky.

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So God, show me how to find beauty in crowded cities

Where noise runs random and unchecked and the air is thick- smogged

With smoke and sorrow and the beat of grief that chants and chants and chants.

Show me where to find it in this sewer world of sin

Where jewels lie buried deep in the debris of human forgettings

And neglect.

Undug, unsought, unknown

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

After 3 ½ weeks at home, I’m back in the Far East, wondering sometimes if this is really where I’m supposed to be, wondering if I am equipped for this work, wondering if I’ll last the two years I signed on for, feeling at home yet not at home.

When home was within my grasp 4 weeks ago when I left for America, the thought wasn’t as delightfully welcome to me then as it would have been 3 months earlier. My time to go home came at a time when I was finally feeling more at home in this country and friendships were being built. But when I walked down those last few feet into the arms of my waiting family, I knew why I had come home. My nephew summed it up later. “Everybody was crying. But it’s ok for big people to cry.”

I didn’t do any super amazing things while I was home. Mostly I just soaked up being at home, yet on the last day, I still wished I had spent even more time at home.

My time was filled with those little moments that I love. Like when my 6 year old nephew sized me up on my first evening home and asked, “Can you still run?” Or it was holding my newest nephew for the very first time.

It was moments like these that made up my time, like when my sister and I made lattes with her new coffee and espresso machine on the evening before I left because this was the last time in a long time that we could do this, and then we took our books to bed with us and read late into the night because we couldn’t sleep.

Or it was milking cows in the new dairy barn and trying to see how fast we could milk. It was stumping around my sister and her husband’s farm in dirty boots, letting my niece show me the baby chicks and looking at the prize yearling filly of my brother- in- law’s. It was riding my horse one sunny Sunday afternoon through grassy fields and listening to the prairie wind speak to the world, or sitting in the silence of a late Saturday evening by myself, listening and praying.

It was just sitting at home and eating a simple supper with my mom and dad and sister. Or that time I spent with friends, around a campfire on a misty Friday night into the wee hours of the morning. That morning that I spent on a friend’s porch, enjoying a deluxe brunch and laughter and companionship. Or when I ate supper with a friend one evening and we shared our hearts, even after 8 months of absence from each other. And it was baking cookies with 4 lovable tykes, and even an afternoon of teaching former students. It was looking into chocolate brown eyes and listening to my nephew’s solemn dissertation on why Jesus is more powerful than Satan. It was visiting my grandma and wondering if I would ever see her again on this side of heaven. It was singing “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” and letting the tears come, because that is my real-est home.

And somehow, no matter how much you might have prepared yourself to come back to your “other” home, and no matter how much of my heart is here in this country, good-byes always color those last few days with sadness. And that’s why tears rolled down my face as I opened a card from a friend at the airport, and as we taxied down the  runway for the first flight, and as we flew over unknown territory on Qatar airways. And I was glad it was rainy that last day I was home. It fit my mood.

(I know I’m sentimental. There’s no getting around it.)

But God wasn’t angry with me for having a hard time leaving. Instead, He gently showed me again the burden He had given me as I sat in the Chicago airport, watching people. On my longest flight, I sat beside a young Indian woman flying home to India to await the birth of a child, while her husband stayed working in Arizona. In Qatar airport, I was doodling horses on my drawing notebook when the Arabic man beside me noticed and started asking questions.  I was delighted to sit beside a Thai lady while waiting for my flight to board to Bangkok, and even more thrilled that Pasa Thai still flowed from my lips. On my flight to Bangkok, I sat beside an Islamic Thai student studying in Jordan and we had a few long worthwhile conversations. And as I read from John 3 and looked out the airplane window at the hundreds of city lights below me, and thought of the millions of people we were flying over, I realized again why I want to do this. Even when it is painful and I cry.