Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015

Always a girl who enjoys lists, goals, reflecting, and pinching the most meaning out of every moment... it is no surprise that New Year Resolutions are an important part of my annual calendar.

Mark isn't always so eager to join me in (yet another) five hour conversation about the meaning of life and if we're living intentionally enough, and plans for setting practical goals daily to get where we intend to go 15 years from now....and so on and so on.  I don't see why he doesn't leap at the opportunity to discuss these things weekly with me. =) But the beginning of the new year, he's always ready to indulge me at this goal-setting time.

Last year we spent New Years in Burma. We shake our heads still in wonder at that vacation-it was so beautiful and perfect, a wonderful culmination to a wonderful year. When we returned we spent some time thinking about our goals. We decided to do it a bit differently, and chose only five things for the month of January. Five things to pray about, intentionally work on improving, five things to focus our attention on. The intention was to come together monthly with new "5 things", but when February came around, we both felt that we needed to keep praying about and working on the same five things. And in March, April, May, still we were not ready to change our focus. And, a whole year has passed now and it was these five things that we wrapped our year around.

We chose one overarching phrase for 2015, and we wrote it on our walls and in our hearts."May Love Abound".  I whispered it to myself when I dreaded another day of giving, giving, giving. We said this phrase to one another when we struggled to make a decision. Sometimes love did abound and it was beautiful. Sometimes we chose more sacrifice and more love and it was hard and we didn't want to. Sometimes I did not choose love, and my husband, and friends, and kids bore the brunt of it. Love did not always abound this year, but we tried to lean in to this idea-to open our hearts in bigger ways and I believe we grew and were blessed because of it.

I am blessed to think of our years' goals and see so clearly how God has moved.

1.  Grad School for Mark

Last year we began praying about if and when Mark should pursue his masters, at what university, and with what program. At the close of 2015, I am incredibly proud to report that Mark has received his first two A's in his first two classes.

2. That our house would be used, and the rooms filled up

Our house has been a constant source of joy and frustrating. It is just... big. And empty. And we have often wrestled with the choice we made in moving here as it doesn't align well with our values of simplicity. So we prayed and prayed and prayed that our house could be used. And we have been blessed to have friends, and a missions team, and family, and couch surfers in our house on temporary occasions, but it did not seem enough to warrant the extra rooms. But for several months this last year we had a great friend live part-time at our house, which gave them the opportunity to pursue a job and broaden their world. And we are so happy that we got to be apart of that in some small ways.

3. Friendship

We prayed for deeper connections and friendships. And then an amazing couple joined the ICS family this year and we "clicked" instantly. We are incredibly thankful for them. We continued to be intentional with prioritizing our church community, and our relationships continue to grow and grow. It has felt a whole lot more like home this year as we continue to invest in this community.

4. Abiding

We prayed and sought to abide in Christ. We read books and the bible. We had talks and we prayed. This year has been a hard year for me spiritually. Sometimes God does not seem so good when the world shows all its bad. But other times it is the truth that he has and will overcome that allows me to start over every morning.

5. Baby

Beginning last January we started praying for a baby. And, well, baby comes in May. I'm sure many more prayers will be uttered. =)

Mark and I have a few days "off" together this next week. And we are talking again about our resolutions. There is a lot of unknown ahead, a lot of ways we will need to grow, a lot of things to prepare for. 2016-bring it on, we are excited for all that you will hold!

The Glamour of Pregnancy

1st Trimester:

(Must sleep)



2nd Trimester:

(Must Eat)






Not Pictured: my closet, where piles upon piles of clothes lie from the 15 different outfits I try on every morning before finding something that fits and doesn't look ridiculous.

I would be embarrassed by these photos if I didn't think they were so incredibly hilarious. Bring it on third trimester- I'm ready and waiting!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Perspective

I've been angry these days. Bitter and hardened. Quick to anger, quick to question, quick to doubt. Too quick to judge, not ready to listen. I am incredibly snappy and I'm quite certain my face is set in a perpetual frown.

And so I've tried to take a step back, take some deep breaths, slow down. Why am I so full of hate? Why is anger what is flowing out?

I think there are a lot of answers to these questions. I am selfish and sinful. I brood over my hateful thoughts and selfish desires. I'm not so good at choosing to think on what is true, good, right, and noble. That muscle needs far more development in my life.

And then I think that, I'm just a bit disheartened. Okay- a lot. So much that the tears stream down my face just to say it.

The thing is, friends, I'm surrounded by death. Not the literal death (but sometimes that too) but Death. You may believe in the devil and you may not. But I see him every day.

He's at work- spreading hatred and fear, discord and violence.
I listen to these stories and I wonder how it is possible for a human to do these kinds of things to another human. Kids chained up like dogs, sold for their body parts, mother's raped before their eyes. Then I wonder about my own humanity, when I actually have to actively remind myself to acknowledge this pain, this evil, so I mutter, "I'm sorry" and then get back to business- I've got quotas to make and deadlines to meet people!

I sit in my office trying desperately to catch up- so of course there's a steady stream of kids coming in. They come. They complain. They cry. They question.

And I just want to shout from the rooftop- "yes! everything sucks for you! And NO, it is not going to get better! And yes, everything that has happened to you is so bad and it isn't fair. And No, I can't do anything to help you!"

Don't you get it, you silly 15 year old, we are all losing this battle. You experienced hell and you ran away. And now you're here in this other hell. And I am so sad for you, and I am keeping notes on all the messed up stuff that is happening to you, but I can't actually do anything about it.

And- really- I'm just not as strong as them. I'm so privileged. I'm so spoiled. Because I can't help but think- this is not my problem- I can walk away. On the bad days I dream of just walking away from it all. Pretending it's not happening. As if these atrocities and injustices would no longer exist if I didn't have a desk in a certain neighborhood. I don't want to care about these things anymore. I am numb. I am raw.

And don't even get me started on the Syrian crisis. On the boats in Lesvos. On the American christian response. The hate rises up in me and is spilling over- I'm so burdened, so sad, so ashamed. Oh yes, Death is everywhere, and he often seems victorious to me.

I was looking out the bus window earlier this week. You have to understand my views- Bangkok is ugly- a serious concrete jungle. Pollution of every kind- air, noise, odor. The bus stopped to let some passengers on and I caught sight of a small bush growing in a crack in the sidewalk. In the middle of the bush was a big, bright, beautiful butterfly. Just sitting there- slowly moving it's wings up and down.
For some reason it struck me so deeply, this living thing amongst all of these "dead" things, this beautiful thing amidst all of the ugliness. My heart quickened and tears filled my eyes- something beautiful, so very small that on most days I would have missed it.

I got to my office and started putting together an excel sheet of all the kids who would like to access family tracing services- who have lost contact with their mothers or fathers. Who literally have no idea where they are and if they're alive. A little hard to imagine in this day and age.

For a few minutes I felt so overwhelmed by the bleakness of it all.

But then I thought of that butterfly. One very small beautiful, living thing amidst the ugly and the dead.

Yeah, I see Death every day. But I see Life too.

Sometimes it is so easy to find- in the smiles through the tears, in the insane perseverance of these kids, in the way they serve each other. In their dreams to be doctors, their plans for their children, their grace towards their oppressors.

What I'm paid to do is produce a certain amount of certain assessments, make referrals and run programs. None of that hardly matters. What I'm not paid to do, what I do that can't be assessed or measured or known is to find Life.

So I'm purposefully looking for it these days. I carry with me close to 300 tragic stories from the last year and a half. Close to 300 have come through my office door, have shaken my hand, have told me their tale. It is easy to carry all of the despair and Death from all of those with me, to let that be the center of my thoughts, to feel beaten and worn down, angry and broken, so sad sad sad sad. But if I look closely, when I remember fully- I can catch a glimpse or two of Life. A little bit of hope, a little bit of beauty. If I let him, God can use me to create these moments. But I don't think he can use me when I'm so full of anger, so full of hate-when I forget that he is the victorious one in all of this.

As I'm writing this blog, I keep thinking about this certain client. She had the most messed up story-you wouldn't believe it if you heard and, trust me, you wouldn't want to hear. There were all of these things that she needed- tons of health treatments, psychological treatments, etc, etc. But all that she wanted was a gas cooker so she could cook her own food. At first, I was often irritated with her. I would call to discuss test results, doctor appointments,etc and she would be always be like, "ya, ya, ya- what about my gas cooker?!". Even when she finally got recognized, I called to congratulate her and her response was, "get me a gas cooker yet?". One day, finally, we got the money to buy her a gas cooker. We took it to her and she was ecstatic. The next time I was in her neighborhood she had me over for lunch, cooked me some traditional food. We laughed and laughed about the gas cooker.

It's always so amazing to me the things that can make a person feel human again. The things, however silly or simple or ordinary they seem, that can offer hope. Sometimes it's a gas cooker. Sometimes it's remembering their name. Sometimes it's calling them on the anniversary of a hard day and letting them know you remembered. Sometimes it's playing a game, or buying a coke. Sometimes it's a smile.

There's so very much that I can't do. But every once in awhile I can buy a gas cooker. Gas cookers and butterflies- that's what I'm fixing my thoughts on these days, that's what I'm holding tightly too.




Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Home"- by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your childs body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Happiness Resource


Eyes Closed
Hair blowing in the wind
The ocean spray sprinkles my arms, face, my lips.
I taste salt.

I breathe it in- the air, the breeze-
so cool and refreshing.
I fill up my lungs with this air
this air that tastes of salt and earth and sun and beauty.

I breathe it in- the smell-
so wild and intoxicating.
I focus in on this scent
this scent of ocean and mystery, coconut trees and possibilities.

I breathe it in- soak it up- eyes ravenous to gaze at it all-
So beautiful, so majestic
I stare out from my perch atop the boat- wide-eyed and seeing.
Seeing, seeing. Basking in the beauty of creation.

I've done this ride one hundred times
always with the realization that this time will pass, these days will end.

We round the last bend and she lays out before us-
our little island on the edge of the world
so untamed and isolated
full of so many things broken and beautiful.

The kids are swimming off the wharf
laughing and screaming- skinny, tanned bodies that know this earth well.

Our pup waits on the beach- quick to let out a howl when he sees us
reminding us he doesn't like being left behind.

Isitolo, my student, climbs to the front of the boat and drops the anchor.
He dives off the side and joins his splashing friends.

I hear the sounds of laughter and roosters and "Te u ta'i koe".
The island's only transport- a tractor- rumbles to life in the distance.

We call out jokes and unload the boat-
passing bags of rice and noodles,
passing babies and buckets of fish.

The tractor arrives and they all implore us to"heka".
We prefer the 15 minute walk through the jungle back to our village,
even when we're loaded down with groceries and gossip and the tiredness of our once a month trip to town.

We enter our yard as the sun is setting
Greens, yellows, oranges, blues
The sky, the ocean, the trees, the flowers.

Our laundry flutters in the wind
the kids play rugby in the front yard
Our pup barks and runs and greets everyone,
always returning to his master's side
We cross the yard hand in hand

Sometimes it's easy to remember,
"We find You in everything we ever could call home". 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Encouragement

Hey Friends,

I'm a moody writer, prone to writing when I have HAD IT, when I'm full to the top and need to let it out.

I don't often think to write when I am all smiles and laughs- when there is good news to share, or a small success.

So, in an effort to combat that, let me say, I have been encouraged these last two days.

We all often feel like the things we do don't matter, that our work is unnoticed.

Yesterday I had a conversation that reminded me that even if I did nothing else- I changed this one person's life. And this particular kid is pretty amazing-so I'll just sit back and watch this ripple effect and thank God that He got to love someone through me.

And today I am reminded of how much I love my job because I get to learn about different people and places. That has been my desire since I was in elementary school- and I'm doing it. I'm thankful for that.

A few months ago my dad gifted me a year subscription to daily devotionals by Skye Jethani. They are sent to my inbox daily and sometimes I am so on top of them and sometimes (like right now) I have about 10 I can choose from to read cause I ...ugh...have been sleeping on the bus ride to work instead of growing my mind...

Today (and the last few days) Skye has been focusing on the Good Samaritan. He writes, "We view it (love) as a commodity that can easily run out if managed improperly. Therefore, we must be wise in how we use it and limit who may receive it. Like the religious expert who questioned Jesus, we want to make sure our love is not wasted on those who are undeserving and ensure we will receive a strong return on our investment".

"Jesus' story, however, obliterates our commodified view of love. The Samaritan does not guard his love or ensure the man he helps is deserving of it, and he expects nothing in return for his love. Instead, he gives it freely and lavishly. He is wasteful with his love in the godliest way and behaves as if his supply of love will never run out." (Read more @ www.skyejethani.com)

This has been like a second wind for me. May I love lavishly. May I lean on the strength of my Savior, who has a never-ending abundance of love. May I be wasteful with my love.

Leaning in to abundant love,
Alissa

Friday, October 16, 2015

Reconcile- to coexist in harmony

I’m 28, nearing 29. Sometimes that sounds so old and other times it sounds ridiculously young. Sometimes I feel so old- gray haired and weathered- wrinkled with the wisdom of experience. Other times I feel embarrassingly young- squeaky voice, too na├»ve, always too simple, too trusting, too …dumb.

For the last 10 years I have been involved, in one small way or another, with refugees. Advocating, studying, befriending, volunteering. I’ve spent hours upon hours in the most questionable neighborhoods, sitting on floors and learning people and places. Then, it was never my place to ask why, to decide who got how much help, to allocate limited resources. It was easy. I loved and served them all, equally. I had no official authority over any important issue in their life, so the soliciting was rare and manageable.

And now here I am. In the last year I have learned more, much much more, about this issue. And the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. The longer I am in this job, the more I feel incapable of making the right decisions. 

Who deserves help? Who is at risk? Who is telling the truth? Who is most vulnerable? How serious is this? 
This weighs so heavy on me.

At every turn there is a heart breaking story, and right around the corner there is a heart breaking story that turned out to be a very masterful lie. I can’t capture in words what’s worse. Crying over these horrific stories, or the pain and relief and the anger and confusion that brings on the tears when it all turns out to be a lie- A desperate attempt, or just an attempt, at a quicker process to get to the land of opportunity.

Again and again I sweat, lose sleep, skip meals, skip other appointments, cry, pray, dream, and worry about these people and their issues. Again and again I am made a fool as the stories unravel and the lies become known.

And yet still, still, I awake and think of these people, these issues. When they come to me, as they do daily, I am ready to listen. I’d like to think I am smarter, a lot more thick-skinned. But still, I’m so often fighting tears on the bus home as I think of the undiagnosed medical issues, the suicide attempts, the sobs of those in the detention center. And then, because this is the way it is, I also think- what if those seizures were faked? What if that suicide attempt was for acceleration? Were those sobs strategically placed for me?

I can not reconcile these things.

How do I love and serve and fight for people every day when so often I am loving and serving and fighting for people who do not need any of those things? How can I tell the difference? And, I tell myself, if someone is so desperate they’ll hurt themselves, or shame themselves, then…they need help, even if not everything they say is the truth.

I am not ready to give up this fight, this passion. So much of my identity has been placed (and found) in serving these people (for the last decade). And maybe that isn’t the best thing, or maybe this is my calling, or maybe I need to go out to the movies more and get pedicures and care a little less about the world. I don’t know.

What I do know is, it is so easy to love and serve people when I deem them worthy of it. But that’s not what Christ called us to do. He also didn’t ask me to be a bleeding heart and a total sucker, either.

Hats off to all you who survive many years and lifelong careers in this field. Every day my hope in humanity soars and plummets, like the rise and fall of my chest.

Learning how to reconcile the deception and the desperation,
Learning how to reconcile the ability for man to survive unspeakable horrors, and for his brother to capitalize on his pain for a step up,
Learning how to reconcile my own privilege that makes me so quick to condemn a person attempting anything to escape a lawless and war torn country-something I could never understand,

Just…learning how to reconcile,
Alissa


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Body Language

Eyes averted, downcast.
Arms crossed, around body.
A voice that whispers.

Hands down at her side, clenching her dress.
I watch the hands- clasping and unclasping.

Tears in eyes. Tears in her voice.
But her mouth still smiles- she laughs even.
A few tears fall but she brushes them away and changes the subject.


Eyes staring back- empty- challenging.
Voice flat.
Body still-no tick, no nervous gesture.
Just the robotic disclosure of the most horrific events.

Eyes brimming with tears.
Chest rising and falling. Faster and faster and faster.
When fear rises, when the hard questions come up.

Head in hands.
Hands covering face.
Hands covering eyes.

Talking and talking and talking and then-a break.
An overwhelming emotion. A thought that is much too hard to voice.
And then the clenching of the jaw-over and over-until it can be voiced without letting the emotion win.

Quiet.
Clutching your one bag- full of your only possessions.
From time to time your eyes fill with tears but they never overflow.

A nervous smile.
A quiet tear.
A trembling hand.

I see.
I see it.
I see you.

But sometimes I don't say anything because there is nothing that I can do.



 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3 years ago... Today

Three years ago today, Mark and I said tearful goodbyes to our family and friends and left for Tonga.

We met the craziest bunch of weirdo's (G77) and speculated about our future with them.
We flew what felt like the longest and most uncomfortable flight and landed at a quaint, yet still overwhelming Tongan airport.
We were introduced to our first Tongans, our first Tongan words, our first Kava ceremony.
We wondered and worried about how one bathes, washes clothes, drinks water, and lives without electricity.
We pasted tentative smiles on our lips and tried to say yes to everything.
We awoke to roosters crying at random hours and cursed all children books everywhere that lied to us.
We did not appreciate the magic of Selahs Guesthouse (or discover the hot water heater) until much too late in the game that first stay.
We ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops... (and you get the point). And then we ate roasted pig and discovered it was nothing AT ALL like ham...and a little bit of our souls died that day.

And then we moved in with a family. And all the newness and uncomfortableness began again. But we were a bit braver this time.
We ate cookies. And ate cookies. And ate cookies. And ate cookies. And (occasionally cake, but only when it was served to us in bed). And ate cookies and ate cookies. (and you get the point).
Those weirdos became friends- who each responded differently to the challenges that are:
 1. Homestay 2. PST 3. Culture Shock
Even though we had so often shared our living space, we struggled to settle into a working routine with our Tongan family.
We laughed, we cried, we avoided, we dug in. Usually all of these things within every hour.
We rewired our entire brains to understand Tongan. We carried flash cards in our pockets and Mark murmured to himself everywhere he went and I remember thinking TENSE marker FIRST, VERB SECOND. Just... a constant mind battle to conquer this foreign language.

Then we transitioned again. To our little island at the edge of the world. When we were shown the map of Tonga and the available potential living sites- we both looked first for the smallest, most remote island, and we hoped and prayed and longed for that placement.


We arrived in Neiafu, Vava'u and were taken to the wharf. A small red and white boat awaited us. I thought for sure we were living in a fairy tale. I promise, you have never seen anything like the beauty of this place. Go there. Sit in an 8 foot boat in the magnificent old Blue and feel the sun and ocean spray, see the islands jut out before and alongside you... It is a spiritual thing, truly.
We settled into our classroom converted into a home.
We thought temporarily that a small cooler would allow us to eat meat.
We became vegetarians.
We bonded and came to love, lean on, admire those bunch of weirdo's from G77.

We danced, joked, ate, church hopped, taught, sang, baked, kava drank, etc, etc our way into that little community.
We made so many mistakes I cringe.
We grew so much as individuals and as a couple I sometimes can't recognize who we were before this experience marked us.


We struggled so much. We emptied ourselves so completely. We learned so many hard lessons. We loved to the deepest of our ability.

There was us and who we were and there was our life
and then there was TONGA
and now there is us and who we are now.

And TONGA will forever be a marker. a milestone. a great adventure. a crazy life altering experience.

And though time passes and memories fade, a deep and lasting fondness remains in my heart,

lisi

*te u manatui lelei hoku taimi I Nuapapu. Ofa atu Tonga.

Solitude

I had a minute alone today.

I thought I was leaving work a bit early, but by the time I had excused myself from the last conversation as I walked out of the neighborhood it was after 5.

I called Mark to tell him I was on the way home. In our less than ten minute conversation I received 14 phone calls on my work phone. Neat.

I drove home distracted- mind busy- stressed at all that I didn't accomplish today.

When I got home it started to rain. A cool breeze shifted the Frangipangi flowers on our tree in the front yard. I sat in the doorway, out on the porch.

I had to refocus myself multiple times- to remind myself to be present, in that moment. To just experience it...
'
To feel the breeze and the every so often rain drop...
To hear the light rain, the rustling, the occasional meowing cat from the cat lady next door, the sound of the motorcycles, the new baby crying across the street.

It was good to sit and force myself in the present. To take a minute to do something completely trivial, something for myself.

Mark came home then- all wet and splattered with mud- as only he could arrive. We laughed. We sat a little longer out on the porch. We listened to some music and listened to each other.

There is a brokenness that I carry with me in this season, friend, I am sure you might have noticed it.
Sometimes this brokenness makes me a bit crazy- yelling and distracted, short-tempered or oft near tears. Maybe it seems I carry the weight of too much sadness, have not yet learned what is mine to bear and what is not. I haven't got it figured out, that's for sure.

But there is also so much life in this season. So much to be thankful for and so much to be happy about.

I'm thankful for quiet nights on the front porch, of a cool breeze, frangipangi scents, making Mark laugh over dinner, and that one minute of solitude that prepared my mind to enjoy the evening.

 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fa'e

Every once in awhile I hear a story, experience a moment, and I think, "this will be with me for forever".

So often it is you, dear sister, that undoes me.

I am not a mother now, nor do I know if I ever will be.

I hope that I have children that I can call my own someday, in whatever way that can be.

Maybe because I have a desire to "mother", maybe because the absence of "mother" is so apparent in my current work, whatever the case, it is often you mothers that I look to in awe and in despair.

Awe at all that is beautiful and possible and sacred.
Despair at all that is broken and unfair and evil.

If ever I am a mother, I imagine you will haunt me and inspire me, from moment to moment.

I imagine that when I have that first moment of pregnancy, feel that first kick, I will think of you. How brave and strong and selfless you were to carry and bear and love your baby, considering the way in which baby was conceived.

When the time comes to give birth, I can't fathom that it wouldn't cross my mind that you did it completely ALONE, on your own, on the dirty floor of an immigration cell. I can just picture that moment- how scared and abandoned you must have felt. And then how you just did it. I wonder if you cursed God alone in that room, and then looked at your child and saw Him there, somehow, afterall?

I hope I'm not like so many, who think a new baby means lots of new "stuff". With every purchase I will remember your thin blanket and empty studio. No toys, no bed, no "baby crap". But still, a happy and healthy child. I will see your faces-wanting so desperately to provide for your child, but so limited to do so.


As the years pass I am sure I will fall into a routine, perhaps your faces and stories and struggles will become distant memories, vaguely recalled from time to time.

But I know-  know that I  know that I know, when my child turns 14, or 15, or 16, I will think of all the mothers, that with desperation, hope, and despair, sent their child far away -with an unknown person, to an unknown place-maybe never hearing from them again. I really can't imagine the agony.


You have haunted me and inspired me. You who are strong and brave and selfless. You who are mothers and you who are motherless. I imagine you will follow me for all my days- both haunting me and inspiring me. May I remember. May I be strong and brave and selfless like you.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Helplessness


Up until now, I don't know that I've ever felt helpless. I really can't recall a moment when something was happening and I couldn't do something about it-change it, fight it, impact it.

Helplessness is not something that we Americans do well with. It is not something I do well with.

What do I do when I can't do anything?
Scream? Cry? Curse? Light buildings on fire?


Sometimes my work (hey, surprise, I'm talking about my job again... deal with it!) feels like a bunch of broken promises.

Like I can do this, this or this but if this, this , or this happens-you're out of luck. It's the worst when they do realize that and the worst when they don't realize that.

So often there's this attitude of, "it will be what it will be". Just a ...resignation.

Resignation...that doesn't sit well with me either.

But when all the odds are stacked against you, and all the worst is out there waiting for you... perhaps it's better to accept the fact that you're probably not going to make it out of this unscathed.

And I have a front row seat. I sip my bubble tea and watch. And I can't DO anything. Just listen and see and mourn when they mourn.

Tonight is a mourning kind of night.

And tomorrow...well, tomorrow I'm raising hell-helpful or not.



 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I was hiding in my office, behind a very small room divider- the whole day was crazy and chaotic and nothing was going as planned. I wasn't even supposed to be in the office (hence the hiding).

The office was being used for a workshop activity and thus closed to walk ins (funny how that's never stopped anyone).

In came this kid. He was tall and skinny, but he looked young. I knew at once he was a new arrival- he had that frightened/overwhelmed/you've gotta be kidding me this is what I RAN TO face on him that they all have when they are new.

I was in no mood to be bothered. New arrivals I see on Friday. It was Wednesday.

He spoke not a word of English, but this is not my first rodeo folks, I most certainly know the word "no" in Somali.  I waved him away, busy at my computer, didn't really bother to actually see him.

But then I glanced up, just as he turned to leave. And I saw that he would cry.

So I brought him into my small cubby and found an interpreter. I asked what his problem was and he poured it all out-how he had no money and no where to go, just a fifteen year old boy who needed a place to sleep that night.


I said what it is I always say, "I've been doing this job for one year and I've NEVER seen a Somali client sleeping on the street". Basically- you're going to have to toughen up, my young friend. You are going to have to pave a way for yourself. But again I saw in his face that he was just so young. He was someone that couldn't just walk out and fend for himself- ask a dozen strangers if he could spend the night until someone said yes. So I said, "well, I know some Somali boys. Would you like me to make some calls for you?". Of course the answer was yes. (The answer is always yes).

So I started calling. "Okay...this kid has no money," I thought, "so I need someone kind of settled in, a bit established-looks like someone older might be beneficial for this kid". I placed a handful of calls and was met with many kind, but firm "no's".

Then I remembered a few months earlier, when another very frightened and very young boy was in a similar predicament, and thought, well...maybe he would be understanding and let this kid crash a night or two...

And no sooner had I called and explained the situation than this 15 year old boy arrives to the office. He comes straight for this new arrival, puts an arm around his neck and introduces himself. He invites him to come stay with him for the next two weeks. He speaks softly, kindly, and earnestly to this scared kid. And then they are off- my little hero picking up his new friends bag and out they go.

And I was just so proud of who he is.





 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mt. Kinabalu and my current peak


Last October Mark and I went to Borneo. It was our first long weekend vacation in SE Asia and we were very excited. We travelled with two friends and one of them, an avid climber, convinced us that hiking Mt. Kinabalu (one of the highest peaks in the region) would be a great (and doable) plan.
 

We travelled from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu and spent one night at “Jungle Jack’s” (a quick facebook search is how we stumbled upon this gem…but when he picked us up on the side of the mountain in the middle of the night blaring country music…we knew we’d picked a winner). We got in late, spent the night, and started on the trek early the next morning.


To say that we were a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started our vacation a bit sick with… stomach problems. When we surveyed our trekking group Mark and I noticed that most people wore high end gear and threw around phrases like, “when I hiked to Base Camp last year”. As we set off on our hike I had a moment of trepidation, but brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL to make it to the top. I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.

About 15 minutes in and I knew it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. It was just so… steep. I was unaccustomed to this type of “hiking” (CLIMBING!) and my legs were shaky after about one hour. And I couldn’t breathe, not at all. I have practically lived in the ocean the last few years, so starting a hike at 6,000 ft with a 4,000 ft elevation gain in four hours… Oh boy.

After the first half meter or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I’m not very athletic and I felt proud to be doing this thing that was difficult for me. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. Mark and our friend were quickly leading the pack, but us girls hung back, slow and steady. When I could breathe, we chatted. Mostly I enjoyed the scenery and marveled at the human body- so amazing how it works together, how I can neglect it in some ways, and then demand it to perform and it will.

 
The hike is usually accomplished in two days. The first day you stop at the Laban Rata Resthouse for dinner and sleep. The hike commences the next day at 2 or 3 in the morning, so that you can make it to the summit for sunrise.

 

About halfway to the resthouse things took a turn for the worse. I quietly plodded on, one foot in front of the other, but I was dizzy and nauseous, the whole world was spinning. What I knew was that I needed to stop, but I convinced myself that rest would come once I made it to the Resthouse. I continued on. Once I reached the Resthouse I knew I was in trouble. I hate being the weak one, the party pooper-so I tried to sip tea and pretend all was well, but I had to get up every 5 minutes to run to the restroom. I could barely walk the room was spinning so much. I waited for an hour. I felt certain that I was just tired and needed a break, and once I was rested all would be well. Eventually Mark decided to tell our guide, a lovely Malaysian man, about my ailments. He took one look at me and declared I must get off the mountain.


At that point it was about 6:30 in the evening. Night was falling, fast. (Oh, and it was FREEZING, and I mean FREEZING). I cried when they told me I would go back down that night. And of course, the only way down was the same way we had come up… You guys, I pretty much had to be carried off that mountain. Suffice it to say… it was a very long night, my poor husband did not get to summit Mt. Kinabalu, I couldn’t move my legs properly for two weeks, and altitude sickness is a B.

 

Now, why am I regaling you all with this story from almost a year ago?

 Glad you asked….

A year and a week ago from today, I shuddered and cried and bemoaned the fact that I was moving to Thailand without a job. I sulked that I was following my husband (whom I adore and would follow anywhere) and felt certain I would literally go insane sitting alone in BKK day after day. I cried and yelled and threw things (well not really, but in my mind I had these tantrums), because I just have SO MUCH passion and I needed to direct it. I had so much desire but no opportunities.

 

And then, miraculously, I got offered this job.  

 

To say that I was a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started this job with the kind of naivety you read about, the kind of naivety you love to scoff at. (and don’t even get me started on all the other “sicknesses” I carried into this job with me- bias, savior complex, etc, etc). When I surveyed my co-workers I noticed that most were far more educated and experienced than I was. They threw around phrases like, “According to the CRC, all SC and UAM’s need BIAs”. (okay not really, but holy acronyms people- the first 10 pages of my orientation notebook were just acronyms defined. Does anything make you feel more idiotic than frantically googling acronyms whilst sitting in a meeting?!). My first week at my new job I had a moment of trepidation, but I brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL, had the passion, to accomplish this work, to make a difference, to change the world!  I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.

 
And JUST like that mountain hike, I knew from the get go it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. The need is so great and the supporters so small. I was unaccustomed to these types of stories- stories of anger, envy, deceit- but with accompanying actions of murder, rape, torture, freaking organ harvesting. This girl who used to cry at the mere sight of a tear welling in another’s eye had to toughen up quick. And I did.

After the first few months or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I had so much to learn and I was proud of myself for digging in, despite all the difficulties. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. I created good boundaries and slowly and steadily built relationships with my clients, learned the ways of urban refugees in Bangkok, and tried my hardest to love and dignify the wonderful people I have the honor to serve.  I enjoyed the many discoveries I made while learning more about new people and places. I marveled at the human spirit- so amazed at other’s strength, beauty, and goodness.

 

About eight months into my job things took a turn for the worse. Just one week of a string of bad events and I was (literally) dizzy and nauseous, my whole world was spinning. And then the next week there was more bad news. And the week after that there was more. And for a short time I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even breathe when my phone rang, so certain it would be another tragedy. All my well laid boundaries got wrecked to shit. I took calls at 11 pm, worked weekends, I did what I felt I needed to do so I could look in the mirror the next morning and know I had done what I could.


What I knew was that I needed to stop, to take a step back, but I convinced myself that rest would come once “such and such” problem was solved, or once insert random crazy thing here was taken care of. And I guess the whole point of this whole thing is, I don’t want to have to get carried down this mountain.

I just got back from a one month holiday home. I tried to stay away from work-including emails and other contact with clients/coworkers, but our team had recently made a chat group and I was notified every time someone wrote in it (1000 times a day-give or take). You guys, the crazy stuff just keeps on coming. First it was responding to a suicide attempt, then it was a serious medical issue, then it was a trafficker found one of our clients and tried to abduct them, then it was the arrest of our girls with young babies, and then the next day of our handicapped client.  And I guess, from my cozy bed, in the room I grew up in, I (finally) realized that if I wait until all is fixed to re-establish good boundaries and leave my work at work, this job is going to kill me.


One of the things I have voiced often to Mark in the last year is, “I can’t unknow what I know now”. Usually this sentiment is accompanied by some amount of tears. I had known the world was a broken place, and I had sat in my cozy bed at home and tried to understand conflicts in places far away from California, USA, but I had never had to look into someone’s eyes as they recount the horrific things done to them. I had never had to answer the question of “Why?”.

This year has been a paradigm shifting year for me. Why does God allow Suffering? How do I bear the enormity of my privilege as a white American? Why do I do this work- Guilt? Love? How can it be that I see Jesus more in my Muslim friends day by day than so many who say they are Christians? How much should we (mark and I) sacrifice for these- and when? How?


The days leading up to my return to the big city I could feel my anxiety mounting- I knew what would be waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong-I love these kids, I love this job ( I would hand pick this job of all the jobs in the world, even now-especially now). But I knew what awaited me.

I landed very early morning earlier this week. And I was instantaneously filled with joy. I exited the plane with the biggest smile on my face- I couldn’t wipe my silly grin off my face as I went through customs and got into a taxi. I got home and unpacked my bag and it was time for work. I (honestly, this really happened) laughed for the pure joy of my life right now as I walked down my neighborhood street to catch a motorsai. As we drove down the busy Market street and passed the vendors, monks, etc, I marveled at how incredibly clear it is that this is meant to be my home for this time. I was all chatty in the bus-pretty sure I was the only eager and excited person at 6:30 on Wednesday morning-but my bus! I’m back! How exciting! I put on Taylor Swift’s 1984 (for old times sake).


Some people say, “your job sounds so hard- don’t you think you will quit?”. Or, “your facebook statuses are sad- this doesn’t seem like you”. Yes, my job is hard. And yes, I have had so much to learn and still have so much to learn about how to manage it and still be a normal, functioning person outside the craziness of this job. But- do you know me? If you know me you know that I would rather this, I was meant for this. And for all those who met me this year- I’m sorry you’ve had to watch me walk through this crazy year as a crazy person. No promises for this coming year, but know that I am learning, I am growing, and I am right where I’m supposed to be.

 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Patriotism: Some Contradictory Thoughts

This year, I’ve surprisingly become more patriotic.  This may come as a surprise to those who know me and my tendency to criticize my country’s priorities and values.  But, it’s true!

This change of heart is primarily due to the relationships we’ve built with young asylum seekers.  To them, America truly represents hope.  They have fled their countries because they are in real danger of being killed, usually merely due to their family’s clan or ethnicity.  And they now live in a country where they are in constant fear of arrest.  They long for freedom—not just freedom in the abstract sense of the word, but the real, genuine freedom to simply live in peace. 

When I talk to these young people about their desire to be resettled in the U.S., I can’t help but encourage their hope!  Even though America is certainly still dealing with our own demons of prejudice and inequality, I can genuinely say to them:  Yes, if you are resettled to America, you will not have to be perpetually afraid of being murdered because of your clan!  You will not have to live in constant fear of the police!  If you’re willing to work for it, there are opportunities for education and employment!  It’s been so funny to notice my own pride in the good ole American Dream. 

However, on the complete other hand, it’s been funny to reflect on something else I’ve realized this year.  Never before have I come to a greater understanding of the dangers of patriotism. Never before have I realized how poisonous a seemingly innocent “love for one’s country” can be. 

Take, for example, the Rohingya refugee crisis.   I would argue that they have been systemically mistreated by the Myanmar government not because all the government officials are evil, but because the Myanmar government takes pride in their nation, and wants to remain strong, to remain “pure,” and to remain free from those deemed threatening or different.  And this year, when thousands of Rohingya took to the sea in dangerous, overcrowded boatsthey were turned away from multiple countries—again, not because of evil governments, but because of their insistence on protecting their supposed economic well-being and their unwillingness to welcome the outsider.

Just name your 20th Century tyrannical dictator—Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao—all ruled their countries and committed great atrocities in the name of patriotic pride and the nationalistic desire to make their countries great and powerful.    

And lest we judge these “evil men” too harshly, the U.S. and other developed Western countries have planks in our own eyes that are far too difficult to ignore.  I would argue that it is this same brand of patriotic pride that lies at the root of Europe and Australia's continued decisions to turn away thousands of dying and desperate refugees in recent years.  And I would argue that it is deep-seeded patriotism, a desire for nationalistic greatness and economic strength, that often motivates Americans when we make decisions like turning away child refugees and and separating immigrant children from their families.   

So, where does that leave me?  Of course, patriotism is not all bad.  As that cheesy anthem says, I am proud to be an American.  But I am continually weary of the dangers of that patriotism. 

Ultimately, I rest in knowing that my citizenship in a Kingdom that is not of this world, one that transcends all divisions of nation and ethnicity, is infinitely more important than my American citizenship.  I rest in knowing that my first allegiance is not to a president or a constitution, but to a King that calls me to seek reconciliation, struggle against injustice, and welcome all who are in need.  

Mark






Monday, June 1, 2015

Top 10 Moments of '14-'15

It's been a crazy year, to say the least. Unfortunately, busy schedules and commitments did not allow for the same amount of writing time that our tiny Tongan island did, so I (Mark) haven't done much blogging. But better late than never, I guess. For the sake of posterity and in fear that these precious memories may one day slip away and be forgotten, here are 10 of my "most memorable moments" of the 2014-2015 school year, in no particular order:

1.) Christmas in Mae Law village, Burma.  Getting to meet our dear friend Maung Way's family in Burma was an unexpected and profoundly meaningful time.  And driving 3 hours to attend a Christmas "family reunion" in the small, rice farming village in which he was raised was certainly the highlight.  A priceless memory that can not be captured in words.

2.) The first soccer practice with the "Somali Stars."  This was my first exposure to some of the teenagers that Alissa serves, and it marked the beginning of a number of relationships that have profoundly impacted me this year. It was an initially awkward but joy-filled event, and it was incredible to join in with them as they enjoyed their favorite sport for the first time in Thailand without the fear of prejudice or immigration officers that constantly plagues the urban refugee communities. 

3.) The last day of my World Literature class.  It was a rare pleasure to teach a group of 24 young people who in just a couple months will be moving literately all over the world to enter university.  We read some amazing books together and spent hours discussing meaningful topics, ranging from poverty, human rights, culture, religion, human suffering, personal identity, social justice, and so on. Their last day, when they surprised each teacher in our classrooms with an informal ceremony of speeches and bowing "wais", was a doozy - beautiful and extremely tough.

4.) Motorbiking to Kongsi Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos with Peace Corps buddies. Our quick trip to Laos to meet up with Katy, Joey, Michael, and Chiara was definitely a travel highlight of the year. Probably the coolest part of the trip was driving motorbikes through rural villages to go swimming in an amazing waterfall, then heading back during a stunning sunset.

5.) When a couple students told me they wanted to become teachers because of my class.  To someone who is currently a teacher because of the influence of a couple great teachers of mine, these were some pretty big moments - as they would be for any other teacher in the world.

6.) The city of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I can't really pinpoint a single best moment from this Fall Break trip full of intense hiking, much needed relaxation, and bit of food poisoning.  Really, the most memorable thing was the city itself. It's one of those rare places on earth where breathtaking mountains and beautiful beaches are only an hour drive from one another. 

7.) The talent show at the 10th grade SALT Trip.  The big field trip of the year was 4 days of "Service and Learning" in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. On the last night, the students put on an incredible talent show - incredible not necessarily because of the superb talents, but because of inclusive and joyful unity and camaraderie shown as each act was applauded uproariously, regardless of friend group, native language, nationality, or anything else that so often divides international school students.

8.) Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When other folks heard we were going to the veritable center of Thailand's biggest holiday - a week of everyone in the country going nuts and splashing/shooting/dousing/spraying each other with questionable water from any and all sources - they said we were insane. But being first timers, we ate it up - the whole indescribable whirlwind of it all.

9.) Our "Ethiopian Birthday Party." Being the thoughtful, motherly wife that Alissa is, she planned a birthday party at our house for one of her Ethiopian kiddos who was turning 16.  It was memorable to say the least - full of good food, roaring laughter, and some unforgettable "Ethiopian dance lessons." (we hope those videos stay hidden for a long time...)

10.) That first trip from the airport to our new home at ICS, Bangkok. I can barely recall our overwhelmed feelings as we made that drive, jet lagged and unknowing of what lay ahead, taking in for the first time the bright lights, skyscrapers, and web of highways in this concrete jungle that we've come to call home.  And while there have been countless answers to the question "Why did God lead us here?", a thousand more answers to that question are still lingering. I guess we'll have to see what the second year brings...










Sunday, May 10, 2015

From the van I see the horizon-that magical blue that only exists over ocean. We crest a hill and there it is.

I have a physical and emotional response to the ocean. My pulse quickens, my breath catches. I'm overwhelmed-anxious to see it all at once, to take it in and not miss a thing, to memorize the smell and sound, and taste and feel of this mighty thing.

It wasn't always that way, but it became so i hoku motu. It still feels like home.

I remove my shoes and let my toes sink into the sand-warm and enveloping.

I walk to the water's edge. My eyes squint against the glint of gold off the blue waves.

I wade into the water, letting the waves splash me. When I throw my bag and leg over the boat side a nostalgia strong and sweet sweeps over me. I turn back and call to Mark, "Heka". We smile at each other- a smile full of shared memories. A smile tinged with sadness for all of the people and places we have loved and left.

I watch a kid raise the anchor and we are off. The wind is in my hair, the ocean is spraying my face. I lick my lips and taste a hint of salt. I breathe. I am happy. It is well- in this deep, down in my soul place, it is well.

I find myself on top of the waves. I find God there, too.

"When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace". Leaning in to that, into Him.

 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Storykeeper


I have always loved a good story.
First, when I was young, it was all about a good book. I could get lost for hours in a good book, and was scolded often for bringing my book to the table during dinner, or staying up late to sneak read.

When I got older I realized that the best stories are the stories in each of us. The ones that are constantly unfolding right before our eyes, the chance encounters that have so much potential because your story can become apart of someone else's story and...possibilities are endless.

I'm not a great storyteller. I talk so fast and get overly excited. Volume control has been a persistent problem throughout my life (eh, Krista?) But I love to write. I have to write. I have to express, some way, externally, and so often it is in writing that I start to make sense of it all, to unpack it, to label and sort it and put it away.

In my work now I do some writing. Sometimes I sit on a story for a few days (or weeks, every so often, like this time around). And because these stories are sacred they aren't things I can talk about. Sometimes after a hard story I come home so sad, and I want to convey to Mark the story. But I really can't, not properly (or legally, actually) because it's so much more than words...it's tears and trembling and heavy silences. A word or two that are so ripe with meaning. I couldn't possibly do the story justice. So sometimes I sit on, sit with, a story for a while, until I've had time to write about it (either for work or in my own journal). Until I write it, until I've framed it exactly perfectly as I can, it will follow me, bounce around in my head, catch me off guard at funny times. I'ts a therapeutic thing for me to write these stories out of my head, to look the words straight on.  I'm thankful that it is a mandatory part of my current position, because I need to do it anyways. (But just so everyone knows...I write the real story-the story as it was told and how it felt to be the hearer, and then I take out about 90% of the emotion, and submit that. =)  )

Words are so powerful. I feel honored to be a story keeper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Let them Rise

I had about six bags. I had called their friends and sent my texts to my guy on the inside. I had gathered the things they wanted, and about killed myself walking out of one of the neighborhoods I frequent so overloaded. The boys were ashamed to have me walk out on my own, but I wouldn't have dreamt of risking their safety to save myself from a sore back.

I called for a taxi today. I was already completely strung out from the last weeks' worth of drama. I am one big ball of anxiety and stress. I can see other people seeing it in me, but I can't hide it. I got in the taxi and put in my ear buds. My mind wandered and my eyes brimmed with tears. I already knew it was going to be a hard one.

Of course, this being Bangkok, traffic was atrocious. After many long and loud sighs on my part, I finally demanded the cab pull over. I gathered my six bags and pieced myself onto a motor sai. Why are motor sai drivers infinitely more competent than regular cab drivers? They are Bangkok's unsung heroes. for sure.

I arrived and I was all bags and business-meeting "so-and-so" who so graciously volunteered to see one of my kids, so that I could see him too. I arranged and labelled the bags. I practiced my Somali (ever so slightly).

I saw them while we waited to go through security. I saw them see me, and I wondered when it was I became so responsible for so many kids, so counted on.

We (my co-worker and I) went in. They flocked to us-those that we had arranged to see, and then others, who had been visited by someone else but came directly to me. Their eyes searched mine for assurance while my heart just slowly broke into a million pieces. They think I can do everything.

The one I am losing sleep over came. We talked with her a bit. Just for a second the conversation paused, and before I knew it she had fainted. The sound of her body hitting the concrete floor will ring in my ears for a long, long time. I've never felt more powerless. Just watched my kids-all wide eyed and scared- try to care for their friend, while I stood with my fingers laced through the chain fence and watched. After she was carried away their tears came. I saved mine until I had exited the building and rounded the corner. And then I cried for the injustice of it all.

I'm sitting in my big (and empty, accusingly empty) house, with my A/C and my hubby. I just had dinner-Mark got something I didn't like so I just threw away my portion and made myself something else (ya know, because I am completely, horrifically spoiled). I am free and fed and comfortable and loved. And I can't imagine how I would ever not be those things. But all I can think about are those kids-stuffed into those rooms, where freedom and food and comfort and health are not for them.

And I really don't know how to come to terms with it. Shouldn't this break all of us?

 I am much stronger than I ever knew. And I think there's a strength in saying that right now, I am so broken about the realities of my job, of this world we live in. But not so broken that I can't get up tomorrow and be strong for the other 150 kids that need someone to fight for them.

 But tonight I am quiet and introspective. I am angry and sharp-tongued. I am nauseous and flighty. I am trying to settle these things into manageable realities. I am trying to mourn these bad things without letting them ruin me. I am crying my tears tonight because tomorrow I need to be the one who helps others find their joy. 

If you are a prayer-let them rise.
 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

There are weeks

There are days when I think I could do this job for forever. Days when the smiles, the small victories, the "thank-yous" outweigh all the stress, long hours, and difficulties.

Days when I get asked if I come from the blue-eyed clan, or if my hair is real. Days when my clients wonder what actually happens in a church, and can it be possibly be true that Mark (a boy) does the cooking for me?

Oh those days make me laugh- I have found so much glee, so much delight- in discovering more about them and letting them discover more about me. It is so good for us all- this unravelling of "the other". Laughs abound.

But sometimes there are weeks- never just a day, but a series of days that stack one on top of the other and I wonder how on earth I will face them again.


I watch their tears fall and their hearts break. I listen to them try to muster courage up, whispering just a word or two of their devastation. Just posing one question to me, to the world, of how they will survive?- but behind it so many more- Will things ever be different? Does anyone care? Is this what life is supposed to be?   I watch them get defeated again and again- and always they amaze me, move me, motivate me.

I've seen a quote going around on social media, likening motherhood to deciding to have your heart go walking around outside your body. I know it's not in my job description, and certainly no one has asked me or expected it...but so often I feel like my heart is diced up into a hundred different pieces, walking around with each of these 100 kids, whom I hope and long and pray for. These kids that make me laugh and cry- make me crazy and make me scream.

Sometimes I think it is unhealthy that I give them each a little bit of my heart, but I don't know any other way to do this job. And I think I carry their hearts too-what they give to me. I hold them as carefully and wisely as I can, sometimes with the realization that I may be the only person that sees them, loves them, wants for them, looks after them.

Sometimes there are weeks and I wonder how on earth I will face them again.

But then I just do.







 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Every time we have flown out of Bangkok and begun the descent to our destination, I look out the window and my breath catches. Trees, mountains, land, grass. Nature. The hand of God so clearly visible. I don't notice how badly I miss it in this Concrete Jungle until I see it. Suddenly a weight is lifted and it is well with my soul. We are meant to commune with God in His creation, all of us, I promise.


So when it came time to decide on our Burma itinerary, I knew I wanted to do a trek (yes, even after the infamous KK disaster). We signed up for a three day, two night trek leaving from Kalaw, a wonderful and chilly little mountain town. We flew Yangon to Heho and drove the short distance from Heho to Kalaw. Arriving mid-day, we meandered about the town until we stumbled upon Sam's Family Restaurant, where we had heard we could book a guide for our trek. Sure enough, there was a small crowd of tourists all trying to warm themselves over tea and soup, while waiting their turn to book a guide. We sat with two Dutch guys and, after being explained the route options (one short, one long), we all decided to do the trek together, and since you only live once, we chose the long route. We were set to leave early the next day, so after a delicious Indian food dinner, Mark and I went to bed at promptly 8:00 ( we were exhausted from our few days with Maung Ways family, which included 6:00 am church services and many midnight, or later, orange soda parties while we met yet another distant relative).

The next day seven of us started out. Mark and I, the two Dutch guys, and a couple from Israel, and our wonderful, magnanimous guide, named Zaw. We walked a total of 60 kilometers, which averaged out to be between 6.5 to 8 hours walking a day. The landscapes were breath-taking, the people beautiful and friendly, our group of six were quick friends, and we all agreed that our guide was the best. Zaw, in all his 20 year-old vigor, sang, danced, jumped, skipped, and laughed his way through the Burmese hill tribes and straight into our hearts. I have never met a more joyful person. Zaw, born in a small village called Kanbani, of the ethnic minority, Taung Yoe, is one of those kids teachers pray for. From a young age he says he heard English and he felt like he wanted to know it, so he practiced and tried and is the first in his family of rice farmers to finish school and speak English. I look at Zaw and I really think he could do anything, he most definitely has the charisma.

He was a most excellent guide- explaining culture, agriculture, language, and religious beliefs to us. We saw Mustard Seeds, Chilis, Rice, Green Tea, various vegetables, Sesame, Beans, and Wheat. Zaw's wonder at all things was infectious, so when he stopped to pick a spider off of it's web and slowly started extending the spider's webbing, explaining as he did so, "I've already spent a WHOLE day pulling the webbing, and it never ends!", I felt certain that my years reading my science text books in an air-conditioned classroom paled in comparison to his vast knowledge of all things living in his backyard, the hillsides of Burma.


After three days, aching legs, and sun burnt cheeks, we arrived to our destination, Inle Lake. We rode a long boat from a small village off of the lake, passing houses on stilts, and the most unique "farming" I've ever seen. It was a truly magical three days....I would love the chance to do it again.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Yangon

We arrive in Yangon full of expectation, misconceptions, and excitement (with just a little bit of apprehension...you know, about the whole somehow finding strangers and then staying with them thing). Sometimes you can tell by an airport if you're going to like a place. I knew at once, in this small international airport that reminded me much of the Vava'u airport, that I was going to get on well in Burma.

As we rode down the escalator to get in the immigration line we saw three people waving frantically in our direction. We cautiously waved back as we tried to decipher the signs they held. Once we got closer, I didn't need to see the meticulously printed "Mark Cooprider and Alissa Cooprider" sign accompanied with our wedding photo, I would have recognized Wonderful as Maung Way's youngest brother anywhere.

We exchanged hellos and introduced ourselves, and before we knew it we were in their car and leaving the city to meet Maung Way's mother and four sisters.

It's funny how things can be so foreign and yet so familiar all at the same time.
It is strange to think these people were all strangers to us only a few weeks ago. We felt so at home, as if we'd known them for years. We have a home in Burma now, and a huge family waiting for us there. I am certain we will visit many times.

We drove a few hours outside of the city to the small village Maung Way was born in. A village is a village is a village. So when the generators kicked on and choir practice began (at 10 pm, of course), we looked at each other and laughed- this was not our first rodeo. We visited (literally) every house. We knew when we met the ofisa kolo Village chief that it was important to eat every scrap of soup they served (approximately our 15th meal that day), and we posed for more pictures than you can imagine. Oh, and we were forced to sing at the Christmas pageant, you can imagine my delight.

We made memories and we wondered at the life we have lived. But mostly we loved fully this dear family who dearly loved us. We heard stories of Maung Way as a naughty child and we answered questions about his life now. We felt the unfairness of our privileged life as we acted as the link between a mother and son, over 20 years separated. And we decided that week that it just wasn't right, so the schemes and the planning have begun.


It was a very merry Christmas.




January


We all come to this time of year and do the same things- we reflect. Reflect on what has passed, what we've accomplished, how we've changed and grown, who we've met and lost. We look through old pictures- we laugh, we cry. We walk down memory lane and regardless if it's full of triumphs or regrets, we all think towards the new year and we hope.

As I think about 2015, my heart is full of all sorts of hopes. Hopes for myself, for my husband, for my family and friends, for my kids. With so much hope, I'm bound to be disappointed sometime in the next year. But I rest now, as I will rest when darkness comes my way, in the everlasting faithfulness of my God. And when I think of all the dear ones in my ever growing world, and all of your whispers of Hope and pleas for Change and I feel the chains of my limitations and the inequality of my own western privilege, I pray ever more fervently that His kingdom would come, and that in my own small way, that I may quicken it's arrival.



When He answers

I used to cry, really just bawl my eyes out, on a somewhat predictable 3 month cycle. Cried for passion and gifts unused. For a life I knew I was meant to live, but wasn't living. If I'm anything, I'm a passionate person. (Just like my mama and papa).:)

I was remembering some of those cry fests this last week. Remembering how unheard, unused, and confused I felt. Remembering how often I cried out to God for something more.

Remembering has made me laugh, and ( big surprise here) cry. In humility and swimming, nah-drowning, in God's boundless grace, I praise the one who is and is to come.

Maung Way's brother told us of their pleaded prayers. Of their brother missing, perhaps dead. They gathered that could, with tears on their cheeks , and prayed that their brother would be found to them, or that they would know for certain he had died. And of course I can't know for certain, but I sure do wonder, if that's not the exact moment I cried out for more and stumbled sleepily to my first refugee meeting all those years ago. Who's to say the exact moment God began knitting our stories together? But there are so many who can say that they were an answer to so many of my prayers and that we were an answer to so many of their prayers. What a strange and beautiful thing.