As I’m sitting here,
Like, as I’m sitting on my giant, falling-apart bed, in this very moment, I have been living in Chiang Mai for 1 year, 9 months, 1 week, and 5 days. (Don’t double-check that–I am a firm believer in not wasting any more time than necessary on Mathematics.) It’s funny how it seems way, way longer than that, but when you write it out, it looks like such a small amount of time! I still remember the feeling of sitting in the plane as we flew over the ocean, wondering what on earth we were doing, my family and I, flying in a plane over the ocean, let alone moving all the way across the ocean. I remember thinking back and reminding myself why we were doing this, of all those prayers we had prayed, the little details that had fallen into place for it to be so clear to us. And as we started to fly over the water, I looked over across dad’s lap and out the window, down to a little shadow of an airplane, reflected on a cloud below us. I remember realizing, Oh, that’s us; that’s our airplane, and thinking how odd it was to see a shadow of one’s self down on a cloud. Then, I saw this and my heart skipped a beat:
It turns out that you can google “rainbow around airplane shadow” and learn about these things, how “diffraction” and “classical wave tunneling” and “droplet tunnels” somehow explain the mysterious rainbow. But I just keep remembering the promise God made the first time He made a rainbow, a promise of forgiveness, and mercy, and just that He won’t give up on us. He really didn’t have to make rainbows, but He did, and He made them for His glory. Oh! And that circle around the airplane shadow is called “glory.”
And that is why God brought us over the ocean to Thailand, because of His glory.
Yes. That was possibly the first bunny trail we’ve encountered so far. You can keep track.
What I was trying to say in this post, is that I’ve been thinking, I’m not sure how much people know about life here. Sometimes I sub-consciously think that if I’ve told one person something, everyone somehow knows it. So maybe some people know random bits about life over here that don’t even make sense. In this post, I just wanted to give you, as briefly as possible, a glimpse into my first 1 year, 9 months, 1 week, and 5 days in Thailand.
Of the Beginning
The first few months in Chiang Mai seemed like a dream. And sometimes they seemed like a dream that would never end, when culture shock and heat shock and Dengue fever and homesickness and random other sicknesses set in. It seemed like we would never learn our way around, or be able to read all the squiggly letters flying past us as we drove (skittishly) down the [opposite side of the] road. But it was an adventure, an exciting new experience to plow through together as a family … all 8 of us.
Most of you have probably experienced some degree of culture shock. If you haven’t, I’ll explain just a speck of it for you. It affects everything you do, from traumatic and dramatic things to tiny, insignificant, later hilarious things. As we explain the stages of culture shock, we will use palm trees as an example. (We have palm trees right outside our house.) (This still stuns me sometimes.)
Culture Shock (Stage 1)
“Palm trees! Beautiful, glorious palm trees! WE SHALL LIVE IN A MAGICAL UTOPIA OF PALM TREES!”
Culture Shock (Stage 2)
“Today I saw 45 palm trees. PALM TREES ARE FUN.”
Culture Shock (Stage 3)
EUPHORIA AND EVERYDAY LIFE
“This is me, living my life, in the shadow of palm trees.”
Culture Shock (Stage 4)
“I think … today is hotter than … yesterday …”
Culture Shock (Stage 5)
“I live in a hot place! I live in a hot place with PALM TREES!”
Culture Shock (Stage 6)
“Hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. Hot.”
Culture Shock (Stage 7)
“The number of palm trees in this country is SICKENING!”
Culture Shock (Stage 8)
… and somewhere along the line, getting you to the coveted stage #8, is this:
And that brings us to the next part.
OF THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS
In the past almost-2-years, we’ve had incredible, incredible people here to welcome us and prop us up and teach us things and keep us going. Our IGo family has been amazing … so much more than we could have ever asked for. And then, I can’t even begin to describe the mind-blowing support you guys back in the states have given us. It seems ridiculous to even try to describe, because we can never thank you enough. Every prayer, update, gift, letter, phone call, visit, it means so much more than you’ll ever know. Until Heaven … when, I’m really hoping, God will give you instant replay of all the happiness that has happened in our hearts because of you.
So much has happened since we moved that it’s hard to summarize. Somewhere along the line, I learned to read and write the mysterious language of Thai, which looks like this:
(And as for the speaking, I’ve learned only a fraction of what I want to learn, but now I can finally have fun getting to know Thai people … with an occasional embarrassing mistake.)
I got to spend 2 1/2 months in Pattaya working in the streets with Tamar ministries, and those were days that changed my life. I got to learn bits of how to teach English when you don’t really enjoy teaching English. I got to help pick out a name for my sweet Thai godson (pray for him?). I got to pray with my neighbor for the first time and watch her cry out to God (pray for her?). I got to spend a few weeks at a hostel with my sister and our friend, teaching English to those heartbreakingly sweet children, singing our lungs out with them, coloring with them, and learning so much more from them than we could ever teach them. I got to experience the fully-alive sort of life when your heart breaks for people all around you. I got to see God’s light reach into darkness I never thought I’d see. I got to see miracles happen. I got to begin a relationship with an amazing man who’s been my hero since I was 15. I got to learn to make Thai food (okay … I’m still working on that one). I get to live close to some of my dearest friends, and even my boyfriend. I get to live in the shadow of a mountain (and palm trees). I get to learn the beauty of the hard things, like those everyday choices to choose others above yourself. I get to feel an intensity of the spiritual battle around us that I’ve never felt before; some days it drags you down and you hardly know how to fight … more than anything I’ve learned the power of Jesus’ name, in any place. I get to zip around town on a motorbike, and stop and pull on a raincoat during rainy season’s surprise showers. I get to receive letters from beautiful friends who take the time to care. I get to be a missionary in everyday things, like washing dishes or sweeping the gecko droppings in my shower. I get to finally sort of find my way around this city. I get to see need all around me; sometimes that isn’t easy, but I never want to stop seeing. I get spied on by all those geckos on my window. I get to visit a Thai church and see the gospel radiate in every culture. I get to meet students who come to IGo from all around the world. I get to barter for vegetables. I get to learn to get used to heat, when heat is one of my least favorite things in the world and I would rather be stranded in a snowstorm with no socks or shoes. I get to miss so many people, and it shows me how blessed I am to have something worth missing. I get to walk 2 blocks from my house and see the deep green of rice fields, and mountains looming in the distance. (I get to bike up those mountains every now and then, to escape the heat.) I get to have those brain-dead moments after learning so much Thai that you can’t think of the English word you want. I get a loving squeeze on the shoulder from the crazy old lady next door who can’t speak English or regular Thai, but chatters away to me anyway … and comes into our yard to collect the flowers that fall from our tree. I get to watch lanterns float up into the sky on Loi Khratong, or douse people with water on Song Khran (these people take their holidays seriously). I get to lie awake listening to our village partying with their unbelievably loud party truck blaring unbelievably loud party music. I get to hear the rooster over the wall crow 48 times a day. I get to swerve to miss a baby elephant on the lane to my house. I get to listen to Christmas music when the weather gets down to the 70s and it rains, and it almost feels cold outside. I get to painstakingly read my Bible in Thai and see new things about God’s Word I never saw before.
Maybe the hardest thing for me to walk through since being in Thailand has been the problem of my health. There have been a lot of months of being sick and weak, having no energy and wiping out all the time. Sometimes I’ve been so sick of holding myself back and taking it easy and resting that I could scream. Recently, God led us to a new doctor here in Chiang Mai, and from blood tests she diagnosed my problem as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Since learning what’s wrong with me and what all I can do to eventually get back to almost normal, it has been so amazing … I’m getting better … I really am. And God is the one to thank for that!
My life is almost completely different from what I would have imagined it to be only a few years ago. And it’s so strange … most of these things, I wouldn’t have chosen. I still wouldn’t have chosen to move to Thailand, or anywhere in Asia. I wouldn’t choose a lot of the things I’m doing. But it amazes me how much joy I have in the everyday life here … it must be from God, because I know it’s not coming from me. Suddenly I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else, just because of the joy of knowing that I’m where God wants me to be.
The deep, painful beauty God works through the hard things is something that I sometimes don’t even want the grace to walk through … I want to walk around it instead. But looking back, every hard thing has been worth it. Anything I’ve had to give up has been worth it, because I’ve been given so much more than I deserve at the same time. Life in Thailand so far has been a wonderful classroom … through all that life has brought recently, I’ve been a mess sometimes, I’ve learned, I’ve found my home in Jesus, … and most importantly I’ve learned that it’s not about me. It’s about God’s glory. And no sacrifice we can make would ever be enough to give Him enough glory. His glory … that is why I am here for now, and you are where you are for now … and that is the long and the short of it.
P.S. Which culture shock stage am I in right now? Well … pick one … I may be experiencing it tomorrow. 🙂
Photo credits: Google