He Fills, We Bless

The Heart’s Attic- Our Experience in Grief Counseling

This is one of those things we’re not supposed to talk about.

Meh.

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Going to dismiss that ideal and continue onward….

God has sent us an invitation.

Most certainly one of the strangest ones we have yet to receive.

It might as well be with paper and ink, as it was given that clearly in the spiritual sense.

It’s not an invitation we want, not even a little bit.

Yet it’s an invitation we desperately need to move forward freely and joyously.

An invitation to a process of grief. 

I wonder if there is a little room in all our hearts — like an attic.

Things begin to accumulate there over time, all with the idea that “we’ll get to those later”.

On a rainy day, maybe we’ll rummage through all those things and take care of them.

But the rainy day seems to never come, and those things we place there to address later, never face the light of day.

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The attic-room is typically an unkempt, unattended to room in our hearts.

Yet our wholeness is dependent on that room-with-a-unclear-role. It can’t be avoided forever. We must walk in, however apprehensively, and begin to sort through the cluttered memories.

This week we officially accepted our invitation. Although we had already given our RSVP. “We’re afraid, but we’re in, we’ll be there”.

As you may very well know, the traveling companion to our BIG yes’es for God, is more-often-than-not hardship and pain. By God’s grace, we’ve had our fair share of yeses in our 12-year-long married life, and the heart-attic has accumulated quite a bit of clutter.

So as we sat in a counseling room, entering our heart-attics together, pouring through the stories, the memories, the horrors and the glories….we allowed ourselves to be more deeply known to each other, to a fellow- sojourner (counselor), ourselves and God Himself.

When our counselor (and friend) looked into our grief-washed hearts and authentically said, “I’m so sorry”….

I got it. 

The meaningfulness of the work we are doing here.

The power of being seen.

The gift of affirmation.

The healing power of telling your story.

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I don’t think I could have understood the value of our ministry in counseling cross-cultural workers to the depth that I do now, if it wasn’t for this profoundly soul-impacting experience.

Being on the receiving end of these invaluable gifts is almost necessary to offer these gifts well to others.

So here we are friends, in this grief process with no boundaries, rules or predictability. We have no guidelines or date of expiry. What we do have is a long-suffering Father, well-acquainted with sorrow, who will guide us along the way.  And the deep conviction that “The glory of God is man fully alive”, with an understanding that grief is an imperative part of our functioning humanity this side of heaven. 

And while it feels terribly undoing, there is this flicker of hope as He leads us forward. And the real comfort in knowing He’s been down this road many, many times before.

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.”
Dr. Earl Grollman

 

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The Most Unsafe Thing

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“Safe? Who said anything about safe?

Course he isn’t safe. But he is good, he’s the king.” 

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the Father asks of His Beloved as we journey together….

Does He ask them to supernaturally experience his love and receive all that He has for them? YES.

Does He ask them to learn about themselves and those they love, so they can learn to love well? YES.

Does He ask them to let go of their self-centered ambitions and let Him cast His vision for their life? YES.

Does He ask them to choose life over death in every situation, every choice, every relationship? YES.

Does He ask them to care for their bodies, hearts and souls as they are ever-so-slowly being crafted into the person that He has destined them to be? YES.

Does He ask them to care more about the people’s needs around them, then their own reputation, prosperity and even comfort? YES.

And sometimes….maybe most times…He asks them to do the things that scares them THE MOST.

The places deep in our hearts we want to safeguard from the elements, wishing desperately that they would never get called to the front, hoping that He won’t ask for those places to be offered too.

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Those fragile parts of our soul, those tattered pages of our stories. Those deepest cracks where we’ve needed the healing balm of God’s grace the most. The places where we still feel susceptible, not yet aware of the heaven-side-version of our story.

The vulnerability that comes when He gently draws those places forward…exchanging our perceived comfort for His actual presence.  Replacing our grasping hands of control, with His real, anchoring peace.

The offering of these unsafe places, these broken pieces, might actually bring us something incredible……a level of LIFE that giving Him our safe, nicely ribboned, ‘desirable’ gifts, may never offer us.

 

If you cling to your life, you will lose it;

but if you give up your life for me,

you will find it.   

Matthew 10:39

 

 

It Sounds Like Another Language!

Language learning is beyond insanity.

Seriously people.

It is the most bizarre idea anyone ever attempted. To learn an entirely new way to see the world around and inside you….thoughts, actions, realities… in words. To try and tell your brain that what has meant one thing since you were say, 1 or 2, is something ENTIRELY different (and in a different order, and tone BTW).

How very, very strange.  Almost twilight zone-level-strangeness.

We have been chugging along this language track for about 10 months now.  In a perfect 10 months there would be no days consisting of headaches, exhaustion, apathetic feelings towards language, insecurity, brain fatigue, memory blocks, bad attitudes, speaking blocks….or sick-day-holiday-skip-days-kids-at-home days either…

But unfortunately, we didn’t somehow opt out of those things called LIFE when we started this daunting process. Shucks.

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And yet, with God’s grace right with us each tiny, seemingly insignificant (no for real!) step of the way….we are learning to speak(ish) the beautiful Thai language.

And since ‘speaking another language’ sounds like one thing to folks who have yet to really do so….we want to let y’all peak into our journeys as were progressing down this language train track.

 

The Kids:

CAVEAT, all you lovely-well-intended friends who said “oh kids learn languages so quick, they’ll be flying past you and speaking fluent in no time!”

No. No. Nope.

If only it were that simple.

Learning a language is INCREDIBLY complex, like physics-level complex, and while young kids have more brain potential to do such a thing, they are not just sponges who suck it all up with out intentionality and huge struggle. Truly, apart from VERY young kids being TOTALLY immersed in a second language (happening at home, at school, at play, in TV…ect) we have not found this idea to be true (with our kids or other TCKs).

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Camden- Cam is in a bilingual pre-school 5 days a week. The schools intention is to help Thai kids learn English, so only the afternoon is in Thai, but all but 1 (lovely) teacher are Thai, so he is learning basic Thai all day long from them with the routine, ect.

It is often said that kids who are bilingual at a young age end up speaking later than a 1-language kiddo, and while Cam would not be put in that camp, we think its a close comparison.  The brain is learning to file words and concepts in each language, and since there are two languages coming in, it takes longer for the language to come out in its proper channel (language A/language B).  So after being here for 10 months we are finally starting to see more Thai language actually coming out, and definitely comprehension of more things. He is such a brave little guy- and his love for life is probably one of the best attributes in attempting another language.

Tessa-  Tessa is in a bilingual school as well (The School of Promise), while instruction there is more like 70% Thai, 30% English.  While outside of school she really wrestles with nervousness in using Thai, in school she feels quite confident. Her comprehension is phenomenal, and her ability to speak is a close second to her amazing comprehension. Sometimes in public we ask her if we understand what someone said, and often she can help us out on a few missing words or phrases.  Ha! What a help that is! Tessa has really excelled in the English language, speaking in full, articulate sentences at 2.  Learning a new language is not in isolation to how you learn and engage with your own language. We really see her unique success as an extension of her well-adept English skills, as well as her high-interest level in Thai.

Lucas-  Lucas is also at The School of Promise.  The beginning of school was quite rough for Lucas, as he is a highly-feeling person, and is pretty aware socially. So not fitting it, and being told that, really affected him a lot.  That element isn’t gone, but it’s improving, and so is his ability to ‘handle’ that harsh reality.  At first he said he had no idea what was going on for a while, and now he says he understands what’s going on, and what’s expected of him! Amazing! Like usual, his comprehension is a lot stronger than what he can actually say, but both are improving.  We think his 2nd year in school is when a lot is really going to come together and ‘click’.  We are so proud of him TOTALLY getting out of his comfort zone, and most days, having a willing spirit and good attitude about tackling this language/culture giant.

Nikki- Nikki is at The School of Promise part-time.  She had a much more eager attitude about smallcomb_postcard-4inx6in-h.jpgstarting at a Thai school, and kind of jumped all in!  She has been to several schools in her life, and she has learned a definite level of resilience. It was hard for her at first being the only black student at TSOP, but again, she had some experience to pull from, and we were amazed how well she has navigated that.  Kids have seemed to accept that she’s a part of the school now and the ‘novelty’ of her having much darker skin than their own, has started to wear off.  Nikki has been keenly observant and has had strong comprehension for some time now, and those two skills have paid off in Thai for sure! She, like the rest of us, has better comprehension of what people are saying, but remembering how to say things right is hard for her.  Nevertheless, she’s definitely the most brave of the kids, and she will initiate a conversation, when ever the rest of us maybe won’t.  We’re amazed how she has managed all of this transition, and still kept her fun-loving, eager approach for life!

 

The Adults:

Lauren- As if most of you didn’t know, I (Lauren) write these posts, with my trusty side-kick editor and add-a-few-things-guy, Luke at my side.  It’s hard for me to summarize my language learning, as my view-point is not from the outside.  Luke and I have different strengths, and that has played out well for the most part in learning Thai.  My memory (when it comes to intentional memorization, not getting groceries!) has always been a strength for me, so my retention of the LOAD-fuls of vocab words we get is typically more than Luke’s. Remembering the tones (that each word has) is a tad bit easier for me too.  I so wish I was further along, and still didn’t get stuck SO often, but this language gig is not one you can control and tame….its a process that you MUST submit to. And submission has not always been my best skill 😉

Luke-  Who would have ever thought that out of the intro or extrovert, the former would be the braver one?!  Such a surprise to both of us.  Luke can come up with what to say more quickly than I, quite often, and I can help by reminding him of certain words here and there. When it comes to needing to approach someone and use Thai, Luke is often the leader, as I chicken out with the start-up more than I want to admit 😉 Then once we get started, we’re a good team, and with 2 of us listening and responding, there’s DOUBLE the chance that we’ll actually make it semi-successfully to the end of the conversation. Phew. In this language game we are always needing to boost our chances.

So there is, the 10 month (very official) language assessment!  At this point we really need STAMINA and a revitalized motivation to KEEP GOING. We recognize we wouldn’t have gotten HERE without each day plugging along word by word….HOWEVER, looking into the future and seeing WHERE we have to go….is still incredibly daunting. Maybe even more so now.  And the feelings of hopelessness and the desire to abandon the language track is strong some days. Yah know how they say the more you know, the more you realize you DON’T know…..yeah…that about summarizes it!

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Please join us in asking God for these things in

increasing measure for each one of us in our family. 

Thanks Team! 

Rough Places Smooth

 

So it’s actually happening.

We’re ‘being missionaries’ in Thailand.

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Although language is far from over (think like a 2 on a scale of 10, or like a freshman in a 4-year program), Luke is working 5 days a week at The Well International, and I am carting kids around to 2 different schools, homeschooling part-time, studying, going to Thai class, braving the grocery stores and markets, interacting with Thai and foreign friends, and ….lets call it, “being our life’s secretary”.

It’s great. It’s the real deal. And it’s really not near as glamorous as it sounded years ago when we imagined what it was like “being a missionary”.

But aren’t the important, holy things wrapped up in the simple? Aren’t the ‘BIG yeses’ of living in God’s will, walked out in the daily little yeses….

I am more convinced than ever before.

Prior to living in Thailand I thought this was the case for me because my life was so normal, so ‘comfortable’. Somewhat predictable.  BUT NOW, when our life is no longer really those things, I can see that the glory is STILL in those little yeses all.day.long…..It’s sinking down deeper.

These places were once rough.  God knew what He needed to do to prepare us for these places that were once ahead of us. And He has been faithfully leading us among  (very) UNFAMILIAR paths…….and they are truly becoming smooth before us.

We were once in the dark, blind to what lay ahead. And He has graciously brought 21731348_1455405231209295_2081403108514902042_nlight to our eyes as we have walked along this dark, confusing path. It is no longer dark, as He is making His light our reality. He has been our very real helper.

The smooth and lit path aren’t always what we imagine.  Maybe it’s a ‘smoothness’ that you feel AFTER the gripping moments of dread and complete despair…..maybe it’s a ‘smoothness’ that feels bumpy, and yet you hear His tender voice whispering in your ear over each bump “I AM here, I will not forsake you”.

And the light… sometimes it’s that faint, off in the distance kind of light….not because He is not powerful enough to give us the blasting beams, but rather, there’s a precious faith and anticipation He is allowing to build in us as we wait to (eventually) arrive at that well-lit place.

JOURNEY could not be a better description of life’s story. When I posted this verse on our ply-board kitchen cupboard, in our 1980 trailer at Seminary, I KNEW in the marrow of my bones that it rang true.  That God was beckoning us forward…with each little yes, to an incredible adventure. And that ultimately, regardless of the twists, bumps and darkness HE was doing a new thing with each step of that way….and in that process He was revealing more and more of Himself to us.  He is in the destination, and the journey. And He makes it all worth-taking.

 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; 
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.

Is.42:16

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Is Self-Care Selfish?

 

This past Sunday, I took care of myself. Like, really took care of myself.  I slept in. Went on a walk. Listened to great music. Stretched. Juiced fresh fruit/vegetable juice. I even took a NAP, on top of sleeping in. And in the evening I spent hours with some amazing women that fill my soul.  We didn’t even *gasp*  go to church. (Our church is off for this month while we’re encouraged to meet in each other’s homes. Our entire weekend has been surrounded by doing Nikki’s hair, so therefore we stayed home to finish that).

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Some would consider my day selfish.  Maybe even a little inward focused.  Should a missionary especially, spend so much time on THEMSELVES? I don’t know seems a little hedonistic, ay?

Since we have hit the ground here on our long-awaited mission field….we have heard countless numbers of solid, passionate missionaries share of their close call with burn-out.  Some say they were even swallowed up by it.

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We have had a huge burden to take care of ourselves and really try to have a mindset of “prevention”, rather than “productivity, regardless of the cost”.  God has been building this mindset in our hearts for the last few years prior to arriving, and now we are here and get to flesh out what it actually looks like to care for our souls in a climate that is so challenging.

What does it even mean to truly take care of yourself. Have good boundaries. Know yourImage result for vine needs. Stay connected to the Vine. Be holistically healthy. Care for your soul.

These are the mystery questions that seems so evasive at times.

Maybe it’s easiest to look to what it is to NOT take care of yourself. To NOT know your boundaries. To let your soul wither away.  This….this is all around us.

In some places in the world, I’m thinking especially of poverty-ridden countries, people are living out of a place of survival and I assume it is a luxury to really care for themselves.   This is tremendously unfortunate.

However, for virtually everyone reading this, we forfeit our soul care for far from  necessary reasons. We thrive off the rat-race. We are so highly motivated by more and better, that we run ourselves ragged for the sake of this endless pursuit. Maybe some of us don’t like the lull between projects, so we say “yes” to things that were not ours to conqueror in the first place. If many of us are honest, the inner rewards we reap from accomplishing things in our days, whether big or small, is more worth it to us than a little self-care. What does that REALLY do anyways?

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Think of a beautiful apple tree that a young man plants for his future children and grandchildren.  His desire is that this tree becomes a haven, a blessing, a fruit-providing gift for those generations.  None of us would think it’s strange that this man MUST nurture this tree for it to ever become and remain a blessing to those around it.

Filled to Bless.

We MUST fill, if we desire to be a blessing to those around us.  This simple truth can make all the difference between people who serve the Kingdom of God with sustained longevity and soul-health, and those whose fruit is sparse and sickly…and whose souls dry up.

Our good Father, who is the giver of EVERY good gift our souls need, longs to fill us.  He designed us to be broken jars of clay, that His glory can fill us and then flow through. Image result for broken clay pot light flowing through How magnificent. It really is so glorious.  This is no frugal Father. He doesn’t ask us to give what we don’t have.  He doesn’t leave us empty, while we pour to others.  He desires to continually fill us. He said we will have everything we NEED for life and godliness.  Everything. That is an abundance we fail to tap into if we are so caught up in DOING and even SERVING.  Jesus pulled away multiple times in Scripture to fill, and PAUSE His ‘extending’ work to others. (Luke 5:16)

Whether you like it or not you ARE a mere mortal friend, and your needs are the needs of a mortal.  A designer, more than anyone else, knows what it’s creation needs.  Life is not separated by holy and humble.  Needing sleep= humble.  Praying= holy.  Date night with our beloved= humble.  Serving strangers= holy…….you get the picture. We subconsciously do this ALL the time! There is no distinction, our Designer knows ALL these things we need, and it seems He encourages us to intentionally pursue what our soul, body, heart and minds need.

And the irony of it all….for those, who like myself, just really wrestle to reject this as selfish deep down, is that we ARE SERVING all the people in our lives when we care for ourselves well.  We are building into that tree (ourselves) that they will be blessed by.

 

The delightful moral of this story is that we really ARE loving others as we love ourselves by pursing consistent, holistic, life-giving self care.

 

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When Your Brain might EXPLODE

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Not sure if our brains have ever had such tremendous amount of new territory to cover in such a short period of time. They’re getting a little full….feels like they *might* explode some days!

Since coming to Thailand we have had quite the long list of to-do’s.  Some days are discouraging and nothing seems to work, and some days it seems like we’ve been moving in ‘fast forward’ mode.  Here are some of the things we have accomplished these past 4 months! Truly by the grace and kindness of God!

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  1. Moved into a new house & neighborhood (loads of logistics here!)
  2. Set up our house (only brought 14 suitcases)
  3. Bought and registered our vehicles
  4. Lucas broke and had surgery on both arms
  5. Began many, many new relationships
  6. Learned how to drive on other side of road, in *ahem* crazy traffic
  7. Started full-time language school
  8. Kids started full-time Thai school
  9. Started shopping regularly at 2 news stores and 2 markets
  10. Got our Thai licences
  11. Traveled to Laos for a new Visa we needed to obtain
  12. Celebrated Lauren’s 30th B-day, our 11th anniversary, Easter
  13. Found a church and small group
  14. Found a doctor, Occupational Therapist for Camden
  15. Learned A LOT about Thai culture, Thai language and Thai people!

 

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It’s hard to quantify the things like millions of bug bites, getting lost dozens and dozens of times, and the endless amount of staring and confusion while we’ve navigated through days here…

 

 

 

Q&A (From you!)

  • Communicating in Thai:

Speaking and listening in Thai is harder than we even imagined. It is highly complicated and overwhelming. We are actually enjoying learning, but it is veeeeeery difficult and the progress feels slow most days. We are increasing in our ability to have small broken up conversations in Thai, and this feels really really good! It is like building a very elaborate Lego set, one piece a day!

  • Things we miss about America:

Besides the obvious PEOPLE we miss (our awesome friends and family), we miss  knowing what is going on around us.  We miss accomplishing tasks using English. We miss the predictable driving. Shopping at familiar stores, with familiar items. SPEAKING ENGLISH! It’s not easy to explain, but we miss feeling secure and familiar. For those of you who have felt consistently out of place before, you know what we are referring to.

  • Things we love about Chiang Mai:

It has a lot of natural beauty. Even in the midst of broken down buildings and dirty areas, there is so much here that is beautiful. Its a bigger city, so there is a lot of fun things to do here, and so much here we have left to explore. People are friendly and respectful. When we speak we may be chuckled at, but it’s in light-hearted way, and typically people are eager to try and understand what we are attempting to communicate. There are a lot of really interesting people from all over the world that live here. We love to meet new friends and hear their stories! Most days we are up to tackling the newness factor that comes with every new store, outing, or experience.

  • Practical ways to encourage us:

Sending us short messages of encouragement.  Showing us pictures and updates in your world. Not forgetting about us over here 🙂 Letters aren’t expensive, and our kids would love to  receive letters.  Packages are quite a bit- but of course kids love care packages with familiar American things!

  • Eaten gross things:

We haven’t eaten too many gross things yet! We’ve used Cricket Powder (ground up crickets) in our smoothies. That wasn’t bad. We’ve eaten eggs, taro and bean paste in dessert foods. Accidentally, Camden and I ate coagulated pork blood.  We thought it was liver. It wasn’t too nasty, but not being accustomed to it, we probably won’t eat it again 😉

  • Best and worse moments so far (and how it changed us)

Just like a roller coaster, there have been MANY highs and MANY lows so far. It’s hard to summarize them…but there have been multiple times where something semi-major has gone wrong, the kids are all a mess, we are a hungry-tired-hot mess and everything just feels too HARD.  Those moments are the hardest times. They will not end, but thankfully God has built up some resilience in our spirits, and we have HIS faithfulness to fall back on in moments of complete chaos. Lucas breaking his arms and needing surgery was certainly a really scary and vulnerable time for us here, being so new here and not having family to support us.  So thankful the Lord walked us through that.

Our best moments here have been seeing the grace of God just POURED out on us ALL here.  Some times it just completely overwhelms us.  It is beyond clear that God has ordained the steps of our path- and that He has provided for our needs here to be a healthy family, while we pour out into others lives. The beauty, the people, the food, the glory of it all….these have all culminated into the best moments.

 

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Mission IMpossible

After a month living overseas, the veil between theory and reality has taken it’s descent towards non-existence. We are very much here, in our new home… and this world is our new reality (B). Yet, as we learned in all our culture and mission training’s, we will never stop being (A). Since we have existed on earth we have been immersed in (A) culture, and as a fish in water doesn’t even recognize its water until it’s out of water,ut of water! This is where the culture stress and shock come into play. An (A) person, living in a (B) world. It’s as backwards as it sounds. This is the long term culture-stress that ends up being like little paper cuts every day, versus major injuries.

We haven’t really had any major’s yet, apart from Lucas’ recent injury.  For those of you who haven’t heard, Lucas was climbing a tree to get some star goose-berries, and fell from pretty high up. He broke both of his arms, and required surgery on both arms. It was a very scary day, and Lucas was quite shaken up, but very brave.  We had an almost 3 day hospital stay and are finally home now and attempting to get back into the little bit of a routine we were establishing. So grateful to our temporary nanny, Holly, who manned the fort while we were taking care of Lucas in this hospital. We’re also super thankful how well our experience went at the hospital. Lucas’ care was really excellent and skilled, and he really enjoyed being doted over by his Thai nurses.

So back to the paper-cuts.  We have avoided writing this update primarily because

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Tessa’s drawing after Lucas’ injury happened

we are just so unsure how in the world to communicate what this looks like.  It is so strangely unfamiliar and foreign, and yet paradoxically human beings are so similar. For all the differences our brains are continually processing, we are also simultaneously tallying up all the ways we are not completely different from our Thai neighbors. Seeing familiar emotions displayed, similar gestures of kindness or hospitality, or enjoying the gifts of being human. Those things create some buffer in the midst of constant differences and daily challenges.

In just over 5 weeks our hearts have gone through quite the transformation! We have both transitioned in some ways and we are transitionING.  Transition is much more of a long process, versus an event or a experience. Our family’s transition is really just beginning here in South East Asia.  We are committed to the long-haul of work here… to living here WELL, learning Thai to the farthest extent possible for us,  and serving the missionary community needs here passionately.  

We have become even more acutely aware of this reality since hitting the ground here….IF we want to see these long-term goals become our life’s realities, we MUST WALK through this process with patience, intentionally, and truly dependent upon God’s grace in our days.  This is where our faith is plunged deeper.  In the midst of all the impossibilities and improbabilities, do we TRUST God is faithful and able? Do we trust that in our weaknesses, He is made strong in our lives?  Do we rest in His process for life change? Do we receive His love and care for us even when we feel inadequate and unproductive? SO thankful for God’s unchanging word that anchors us when so much in our life is NOT what it once was……“Therefore, since through God’s MERCY we have this ministry we do not lose heart.” SO thankful to our beautiful team of supporters whose giving and prayers are quite literally enabling our family to serve in Thailand. Our hearts are filled every time the Lord brings you to our minds!