Monday, March 20, 2023

When You Can See It and (Honestly) When You Can't

 In 2008 we were timidly getting to know each other.  They were just children, at-risk but now gathered under the roof of a ridiculously compassionate couple who had suffered poverty themselves as children; people I was also just getting to know.

And now.

Miki is married.

Entorn is married.

Both stepping into this next responsibility of adult life with hope and optimism that comes from having been well fed, well loved and well educated in the context of a stable, grace-filled family.  A solid platform on which they can each build their own families now.

Gotta love it when this happens!!!  And we celebrate and congratulate and praise the God of sparrow-focused compassion Who gifted us with their care when they were so vulnerable.  

"These are my children.  Do something!"  I heard it as clearly as we ever hear these things we claim God spoke to us.  "Feed my sheep."  That's how Suradet says he heard it.  

So we did.

And on wedding days full of joy and flowers and sunshine, it feels so good to have followed those leadings.  It's all worth it when you can see the clear fruit of your investments.

And also.

I won't, but I could list you names of children that left our care prematurely.  We didn't get to see them to that place of strength where you can launch with confidence into a future that isn't determined by poverty.  Children who's living family members don't have the capacity to understand the need for education and take them back to send them to work to make money for the household.  Children who's living family members got too terrified of COVID and were convinced the safest place was to stay isolated in the mountains.  True orphans who's elder siblings made things more complex.  Children who's academic struggles brought their living relatives 'shame', hindering our attempts to find special education opportunities.  I could go on.  Each of these premature goodbyes still stings.  

I have friends who are foster parents in Canada, in a system way more structured and legal than anything we work with in Thailand, who say the same things are in play for them.  We don't call these  children 'vulnerable' for nothing.  Life everywhere, life there, is so complex.  And generational poverty does its damnedest (bad word intended).  We make agreements with living family members, but we do not override the authority of blood relatives.  We are in no way like a 'residential school.'  

So we do what we can do.

And sometimes they grow up and leave to go to university or solid jobs, and keep coming 'home' for holidays and family meals, and find life partners and marry them, and we are so happy and quick to say "yay God" for this!!!  And we should.

But my heart is often drawn back to the other ones.  I still pray for them by name.

Love like you won't get hurt, but you do.

And I write these things today because you really can't have one and ignore the other.  Because it's really a thing to be authentic and tell both kinds of stories.  Because we are entrusted with so much, and absolutely must be honest about it all.  To our supporters.  To ourselves.  

And a huge, huge thank you to Sponsors and Supporters who get it, who stick with us when it's complicated.  Without you, we couldn't be there for any of them.  

Monday, January 23, 2023

Touch Points and Tech: A Mini Report on Highview's Thailand Sunday January 22


One of the most challenging learnings for me as a shepherd-leader during the pandemic has been how to counter the necessity to employ "high-tech" methods with the need to remain "high-touch" shepherds.(1)  During the height of the lockdowns this was especially difficult.  As we all navigated our way through online services, taped messages, and virtual meetings, there were times when it all felt so distanced, so impersonal, so sterile.  As one frustrated person said to me, "It feels like church is being 'done to' me."

The lack of warmth from in-person, high-touch interactions was made even more chilly for us at New Family Foundation when it meant we couldn't travel.  A normal touch point year would include three visits.  For almost three years, nothing.

Well, not quite.  

They say that passion-driven learning is best, and I would add maybe even the only way some things can be mastered.  Zoom for instance.  The fact that I now have a Zoom account AND that I actually know how to use it (for the most part anyway) is only because it was intolerable for my heart not to connect, face and voice, with Suradet and Yupa and the children during the travel restrictions.

All this to say that on Sunday we invited Pastors Suradet and Yupa to bring to us a message (via recorded Zoom interview) of resilience and hope based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and the truths it holds that are lived out so vibrantly in their lives.

Strengthen feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong; do not fear: your God will come."  Isaiah 35:3-4a

And this profound picture of joy later in the same chapter.

Therefore the redeemed of the LORD will return and enter Zion (God's ultimate city of peace) with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them and sorrow and sighing will flee away.  Isaiah 35:10

I will invite you to remember that these are people who have experienced life in harsher ways than many of us in other parts of the world can properly appreciate.  And here they are, inspiring us.  

Via Zoom, no less!

Sunday was for me a high-touch moment, even though it involved so much high-tech.  For all the behind the scenes support, I absolutely must thank my good friend Dave Driver, whose own passion for Thailand and his heart for our children kept him hunched over his computer for several weeks working on the tedious subtitling/translations.  Thank you!

And also a big thanks to Derek Goupil, Highview's Music Director, who can lead our worship teams to make any request for any particular song not only sound fantastic, but be part of what brings us into those spaces where we can imagine for ourselves what it will be like to be part of that throng going through the city gates one day.

It would be important to also mention our gratitude to Pastor Erin and the Elders of Highview for their continued support of all we do, as the leaders of New Family Foundation's 'umbrella' church.

And of course.  Always.  To all our Sponsors and Supporters.  There is no possible way to bring enough gratitude, in any way it might be communicated, to adequately express how much we see you as our heroes.   Thank you, thank you, thank you.  And may God bless you in accordance to the measure that you have blessed us.

And if you ever want to 'touch base' with me about anything at all to do with our incredible family in Thailand, please reach out (via tech) at

(1)  This was just one of three counterpoints in my thesis for a directed reading and research academic study of preaching for spiritual formation during disorienting times, undertaken in the winter of 2021.  Fascinating opportunity and I learned so much!!!

Friday, January 6, 2023

Healing Hospitality

Baby bananas, if you're wondering.

That's what the picture is.  From under the petals of this gigantic purple bloom emerge the first bits of what will be afternoon snack in a few days from now.

They say a fun hello to welcome me each morning as I walk back and forth from the house to the gate on my mini fitness routine while at Hot Springs last November.  I imagine their voices to be small and chirpy, (like Alvin and his friends, for those who would get the reference).  They amuse me, even just being there.  Because no where at home do I walk past a banana tree.  And well, just look at them!

Beyond the novelty and cuteness, though, there is a picture of a deeper invitation.  As if the slow spreading of the purple petals drawing me in is a picture of the sweet healing of this place.

I felt it first in 2008, my second only trip to Thailand, but the first time I actually stayed here.  I was still reeling from one of my life's worst nightmares, just five months out, and still de-numbing from it. I had no sweet clue as to how much I would need the healing.  Certainly didn't expect to receive it.  

I was, after all, here to serve, right?  I was here to represent the support and love Highview had so recently offered in this new-then adventure of partnering with Suradet and Yupa to raise up a gathered family.  I was the bringer, the one with the goods, the one they needed.


At this point in telling our story I always must stop.  

Father, thank You for Your forgiveness, mercy and grace that somehow saw through my arrogance and held it up for me to view, in all its ugliness.  Jesus, thank You for offering Yourself freely on the cross to pay for my sin of superiority.  Spirit, thank You for Your patient, intimate interactions with my soul as I continue to be shaped more and more into Your humility.  Triune God, please don't stop this work in me.



If ever a spiritual gift was needed in ministry to children traumatized by poverty, it's the gift of hospitality.  And both Suradet and Yupa have it in spades.  And we feel it when we are here.  We all do.  The welcome of it, the comfort of it, the belonging of it. 

The healing of it.

I once had a team member say that they felt more loved at Hot Springs than they did among their friends at home.  That they 'belonged' here better.  And without getting into a bigger analysis of it, I would say that in some ways, for different reasons, in a different home context, I knew what they meant.

Two takeaways.

One is that if you're serving kids who desperately need the love and security of home, healing hospitality is the way to go.  It's what's needed first.  More of a priority, even, than good education and expanded opportunities, which is still part of what we seek to provide, of course.  So for our kids at New Family Foundation, that we know and experience this ourselves is a good reassurance.  Yes.  

And two.  It makes me want to do this better myself.  To be a place of healing hospitality, just in my personhood.  Maybe that includes offering a meal or a cup of tea.  Maybe it includes my physical space of home.

But more importantly, I want this to be just part of what people experience when they are in my presence.  A sense of being welcomed into the space of presence.  That they have my undivided attention.  That they are heard and seen, understood and validated.

I can describe this so well because of the people who have done this so well for me.  Suradet and Yupa.  And others.  And I am so grateful.  I need them.  Badly.

Phot cred:  Dave Driver

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Found In Translation (With a Little Lahu Thrown In)

It's early and the mountains seem moody under a heavy smudge of fog.  The drive so far has been on back roads that are fairly far.  We are all of us quiet, easing ourselves into what is expected to be a rather robust day, starting with this 6 a.m. departure.  The moody mountains and the silence inside the car provide me some space to be just a little moody myself.  

We are on our way to a Thanksgiving service in a rather tucked-out-of-the-way Lahu village.  The anticipation of a 'first' experience into yet another dimension of Thai culture should be enough to take more of center stage in my head.  But it doesn't.

I'm fussing.  A little.  Not a lot.  Well, okay, maybe medium.  Two reasons.

One is that I yesterday managed to get a bug bite right on the bone of my right ankle, on the inside.  I saw the bug on me.  Not a spider, not a mosquito.  Nothing that burrowed.  Just a little thing, really, that was squashed beyond identification by my quick swipe.  I didn't even think it was a bug at first.  Just a speck of mud or grass.  But after I wiped it away there was a pin prick of blood, then some mild itching that I could ignore.  By now, travelling in the car, there is a raised red lesion about the size of a small pea, and my ankle is slightly swollen.  Hmmm.  I had Yupa look at it earlier, and she said it was a common thing, nothing to worry about.  I've applied topical antihistamine, and some highly recommended green goop Yupa bought at the market.  

But now, in the moody quiet of this early drive, I am over-assessing.  Are my toes starting to get just a tad puffy?  Is that a tingle going up my calf?   I keep checking.  By the way, how does an exotic insect-borne disease manifest itself, like, right at the beginning?  It's a thought I choose not to entertain.  

That's okay because I'm fussing about something else anyway.  

If there is a Lahu version of that now discontinued (probably because it was so mean-spirited, I mean come on!) 'What Not To Wear' TV show, I fear I may be walking into the next episode as the next victim.  Despite my many inquiries over the past two days, what I've chosen to wear to this occasion in no way matches how Suradet and Yupa, as well as Bell and Da (who are along for the ride) showed up as we were all getting into the car.  They are dressed all sensible and Sunday and Western.  Nice blouse, good shoes, dress shirt for Suradet.  Me?

I went with one of my more traditional (rustic, mountain folk) Karen shirts, all beaded and embroidered and the fringes at the armpits and everything.  This can be worn with a traditional woven skirt, but I thought, when Yupa and I were talking about it, we were thinking more on the 'dress down' side of things, so I went with my capris pants.  And I'm in flip flops.  Because Yupa said she didn't know and it didn't matter.  Yupa has on some of her best dress sandals.  So here I am.

I asked!  Many times, if I haven't already mentioned.  Because one of the lesser-known nuances of missionary life is that no one wants the farang standing out more than they already do, or worse, looking like they're trying too hard.  

Suradet is speaking at this service, having taken on more responsibility within his denomination, which will begin in January.  So, yes, his family is dressed for that.  I know that now. But in the moody silence of the drive, I'm feeling all kinds of awkward, even though I am fully aware that it's petty, which is also annoying.  

So I'm fussing.  A little.  I’m able to right-size my fashion crisis by reminding myself that at the end of the day (I say this now as an expression, but it ironically it will actually happen 'at the end of the day'), this is not about that.  I take a few deep breaths to remind my body - especially my right foot - that we're okay, put my hand on my maybe-tingling calf, and give my bug bite into the care of God to do with it anything He wants.  I take another breath, confess my vanity, and let it be okay that I'm dressed weird.  And then one more, just to say thank you for what an amazing thing it is that I'm here at all.

The straightforward drive gives way to the mountain climb, a crazy winding and zigging that takes us up and up and deep into the jungley-forest, no shoulders, one lane only for a two way road, and hardly able to see what's around the corner. Sometimes there is a rather significant drop on the one side.  Sometimes there is a bamboo fence to indicate a particularly treacherous turn.  Yes, bamboo.

I am not prone to car sickness, and I don't feel queasy, but it's enough to bother my eyes a bit if I try to look out the window.  That's on the way up.  Then we go down.  

Because the Lahu village is in a valley, nestled between two high, high hills.

As soon as we turn into the main 'roadway' of the village, any fussing about my outfit vanishes. 

These are colourful people!  So much colour and beading and jingling fringes.  And even among them, there's a wide range of fancy.  Some are in what must be their high-holiday traditional clothes, long and fitted and brilliantly patterned.  Some are wearing traditional Lahu shirts over jeans.  And some are simply in their very best t-shirts and cotton pants.  Turns out Yupa was right.  She really didn’t know what to tell me and it really didn't matter what I wore. 


The people are coming out of houses that are close together and simple.  So simple.  Made of thin wooden shingles, up on poles.  Large bulls chew slowly, appearing only mildly interested in who these strangers might be.   There are deep ruts in the mud in the narrow laneways between the houses.  So many people are milling about.  Moms and Dads and Grammas and kids and babies.  Suradet says that the whole village is Christian, and this is a day everyone sets apart to come and worship together.  There certainly is an air of celebration.

We are invited for a meal of rice and salted pork, and something else unrecognizable to me, but too spicy to dare put in my mouth anyways.  We are treated with honour, and more and more dishes appear even as we begin.  Smiles everywhere as more rice is put in front of us and we are urged to eat, because this rice is ‘new’.  Apparently there’s a difference in taste and texture when the rice has been so recently harvested.  I didn’t know. 

This is the pastor's house, also rustic, simple, one main room and two back rooms for sleeping, and a cement enclosure off to the side with a Thai toilet dug down into the wet red mud floor.  There’s a big barrel of water with a tap to fill it, and a pink plastic bowl floating in it.  And that’s all.  We all left our shoes at the front door, so there’s nothing to do but use the wet pair of flip flops left on the cement step just inside. 

I step outside to take a few pictures and am immediately reminded of my 'otherness'. Farangs don’t often come in to these hard-to-access communities, so I’m a bit of an oddity.  Turned heads, longer stares, leaning in close to tell the person beside you, 'look over there'.  shy smiles and they hurry on.  If I think I’m imagining it, one Gramma is somewhat less subtle. Looking in to say hi to her pastor, she sees me and stops short.  We make eye contact and I greet her with a wai.   Her hands fly to the sides of her face and she gasps with an open mouth smile, then hurries away.  I find myself hoping, inspite of myself, that she likes what I'm wearing.

We arrive at the church where folks are gathering.  More colour, everyone excited, everyone smiling and talking and happy.  The front of the church has been decorated with the recent harvest; pumpkins and bit root vegetables, and rice and beans and hot chili peppers.  And flowers.  So many flowers.

And the service begins with many, many introductions of many of the important folks who've joined them.  Leaders of nearby villages, pastors of nearby churches, denominational leaders who've dropped in to pay their respects and bring an offering that is either laid down with all the other produce at the front or presented in an envelope and a handshake and a picture.  Everywhere people are taking pictures.

Suradet is the speaker and is sitting up on the platform.  He is introduced near to the end of the beginnings, as am I.  I have to listen closely because all I pick up is the word 'missionary' in the midst of the Thai/Lahu translations back and forth.  Suradet stands and wais when he's introduced, and Yupa tells me I'm to stand as well.  So I do, in all my dressed up/dressed down glory, and smile and wai several times in many different directions as I know to do.  Wasn't expecting any special introduction.  I forget, honestly I do, how high a standing missionaries have here.  So different than at home.  But I'm okay with it.  And I think that's all there'll be.  So I settle into the service itself.

And there's music.  So much music, unrehearsed and raw with giggles when they start on the wrong key, and a child of one of the singers running up in the middle of the song from time to time, and the parent gently bringing them to their side while they keep on singing, until the child is done and runs back to sit down with the rest of us.  And every group has a special number.  And there is dancing, which is where the jingling fringes come in.

We sing together a few times.  These are mostly unknown tunes to me, but the harmonies are incredible.  And then.  Can I even describe this?  An old hymn, likely brought by some of the first Christian missionaries, How Great Thou Art.  And I can I even contain myself as we sing together with all the enthusiasm of hearts touched by such a great God, in three different languages, with harmonies that must be visiting us from heaven.  There's an old word my Gramma Robinson might use for this.  Rapture.  I attempt to capture the rapture, and it's almost possible because we sing all four verses, and it is simply beautiful.

From the sublime to the ridiculous.  When we sit down I realize my ankle is getting a bit worse.  And, wait, is that a black dot on my other ankle?  I try to wipe it away but this time it does indeed seem buried just under my skin.  When I told God He could do whatever he wanted with this bug bite, did I expected that might extend to my other ankle!?

To help distract me, and because it's getting warmer and we've been at this for over an hour and Suradet hasn't even started his sermon yet and because I keep drinking good amounts of water, I use a little break in the ceremonies to ask to use the bathroom.  Afterwards I feel a little better, because moving my ankle helps, and because the black dot on the other ankle is actually very easily removed by a sanitary wipe and wasn't at all embedded in my skin, sheesh.  And it helps to get outside where there was a bit more air.

And just in time we are back in our seats because now it's Suradet's turn.  He speaks in Thai and is being translated into Lahu.  He greets everyone and then says something about there being a missionary here from Canada who would now like to say a few words because she can speak in Thai.  There is?  Oh.  That would be me.  And Yupa is making me stand up and pointing to the podium, so off I go.  

Freeze frame.

This whole visit I've mourned the loss of what feels to me a significant amount of fluency in Thai.  I've struggled mightily, and that's been frustrating and embarrassing and distracting.  And humbling.  So wonderfully, awfully humbling.

Slow mo.

As I walk to the podium and am handed the mic, I just ask for grace.  That's all.  Nothing like what I'm about to be given.  

Regular speed.  

And it comes.  I greet them all ever so politely and warmly, and I let what I say come from not a head trying to translate, but a heart that was moments ago enraptured in worship with these truly inspiring human souls who worship so differently and entirely the same.  And I say, and am understood, that it is such a delight for me to be here worshipping together with all of them.  That everywhere in the world, where people love Jesus, we are all from the same family.  And that means everyone here is my brother and sister.  And I thank them for welcoming me into their family.  And it comes easily and simply and honestly.  There is hearty applause, and several people stop me on the way down to touch my arm and say thank you.

And I sit back down and realize that exotic insect bites and cross-cultural fashion crises don't matter.  I'm here for this.  To be with family.  It's just that simple.

Suradet's sermon is phenomenal, and I marvel again at his ever-increasing skill set as a pastor, leader, follower of Christ, communicating God's Word clearly, memorably, relevantly.

And there's a few more songs after that.  Suradet and I are acknowledged again, called to the front, and given two handmade bags as gifts.  

And then we eat.  Everywhere.  A table is brought up on the platform, chairs are cleared away so folks can eat off the floor.  Outside many are gathered under a tent.  We stay inside.  The table is for the special guests and apparently, we are among them.  Almost everything is served wrapped in banana leaves.  Mostly I stick with the rice, but I think what Yupa is putting on my leaf is chicken, so I try some of that.

And there is a little girl who's pretending not to be looking at me.  Every time I look up and we make eye contact, she looks away.  But then shyly peeks again.  I smile.  I ask to take her picture.  She obliges.  She looks familiar if that makes any sense.  It shouldn't.  And then I suddenly realize.  It's me.  Well not me.  But isn't it kind of cool when you find your two- year old doppelganger in a remove Lahu village on the other side of the world?  Or maybe our Dads just took the same haircutting class.  I don't know.  I'll let you decide.

Oh sweetie.  I wonder what adventures God has in store for you in your lifetime.  Will they take you to the other side of the world where you can put aside the fussing about stupid things and let God be all and more than you ever dreamed He could be?

I hope so.

There is more talking on the way home.  I have so many questions.  And what I'm wearing doesn't matter, and the bug bite will be almost gone before I have to get on the plane.  


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Bai Teo Times Twenty Two

We're sticky and full and exhausted and have all fallen asleep in various ridiculous positions on the way home.  Proof of a great time out for fun - 'bai teo'.

For some of our kids, this would have been a first.  You can tell.  The little boys stay safely close to Ahajahn Suradet, eyes wide, uncharacteristically saying nothing.  Even our older girls, the new ones, aren't quite sure what to make of the grand theme-park entrance way and lining up to go through the turnstile.   At a few points - especially when the giraffe came just a little too close - it was a tad overwhelming, hands clutching tightly on Ahajahn Ruth's arm.  

For the most part though, our trip to Chiang Mai Night Safari was a whole lot of oohs and ahhs and giggles and wide-eyed wonder.  

This is no small endeavour.  It begins back in Canada with folks generously donating funds to make it happen.  When you're taking twenty-two people on a day trip, you have to do a double take on the price.  And right now Thailand's economy is in the very same position as the rest of the world - trying to catch up.  It cost us 6,500 THB for admission only, which equates to about $214 CDN.  This includes the bonus that children under 100 cm are free (that was six of us).  Maybe that sounds like a fairly decent price, considering what it might be to take a family of four to a similar venue in and around the GTA.  But for our budget and in these times this was a bit more than previous comparable day trips might cost.  We would NEVER have been able to swing it were it not for the generous gifts.  So a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who put anything at all in that little box I had out for a few Sundays....and/or contributed directly on the day of the Garage Sale or through Highview's various donation venues!!!  You know who you are.  

It meant we could learn about all kinds of animals through various demonstrations and shows.  But best of all was the train ride 'through' the pavilions.  This is where the giraffe comes in, and really comes in!

The way it's laid out is that many of the animals can come and interact with us on the tram.  The giraffes seem to like to check out each car.  The zebras didn't mind getting up close and personal.  And all manner of antelope and deer treated us with a close up look.  More dangerous animals, of course were separated from the track by strategic ditches and fencing, but none of it very visible from our perspective, as we travelled through about five different countries.  

My personal favourite was the Asian sun bear, who was expecting us and greeted us happily by rising up on its haunches to show off its bright orange chest patches.  Of course it helped that our driver tossed in an apple or two, drawing out his other two friends.  But honestly, was that bear smiling?  

Another favourite was the Asian bear cats as they strolled right above us across a rope set up with some treats for them in the middle.  

By the time we leave it's dark and past our supper time.  The snack Yupa packed helped, but we still need some sustenance.  So, where do you bring 22 people for an evening meal on a tight budget and without a reservation?  To the noddle stand beside the 7-11 on the side of the highway!!  You should have seen the guy who runs the stand!  He was elated.  He even asked one of our older girls to take a picture of all of us at the four small tables he has on the side.  Like a this-never-happens-to-me-and-I-gotta-put-it-on-Facebook kind of picture.  His joy was another part of what made the day for me.  

And of course, because we were so close to a 7-11, we just had to go in for some treats.  Something more fun to drink than the water from the cooler at the noodle hut.  And something light and sweet, but not too much because it was almost bed time by now.

For me, the most notable feature of the day, as it always is, was the children themselves.  Perhaps it's because they are tad overwhelmed.  Maybe it's because they don't get this very often so they're not taking anything for granted.  But for the entire trip, there is not one bit of acting out or complaining or need for correction, other than reminding Jua (our youngest and most animated) to come back a bit from the other cars in the parking lot by the noodle stand.  He was dancing in the someone's headlights.  Honestly, other than that, nothing.  

We're making happy memories for these kids.  More than poverty could have imagined for them.  And it's not about the big trips either.  It's in sharing it together with this big warm family.  The kind of family you can fall asleep on, even if you're a bit sticky, on the way home from a really grand 'bai teo'.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Yupa's New Kitchen (The Whole Story)

Yupa and her Pampered Chef Chopper

 It's all big and bright and clean.  Just like you would want any kitchen to be.  But there's something of a deeper good and a truer shine on this new addition to the house of Suradet and Yupa on the Hot Springs campus.  Because it quite literally rose up out of the ashes.

Before this.

It's important to know something of the living situation of not just our gathered children, but of their parents as well.  We are situated on property that is the extension of the Korean Methodist Church  Suradet and Yupa planted some 20 years ago.  It's a larger-sized property, and can host small conferences and large meetings, youth retreats and, well us.  

In this living situation, Suradet and Yupa have been given one of the structures to live in, and while it wasn't originally laid out to be a family home, they have innovated and adjusted and made a good place for their own family, with an office space now included.  

And before this, the kitchen was, let's say rustic.

Don't get me wrong, some of the best Thai food on the planet came out of the kitchen, proof of Yupa's excellent culinary skills and gift of hospitality.  But the "room" that we called the kitchen was more outdoors than in; more camp-style than cuisine.  It made use of what was once a porch, some corrugated fiberglass roofing, crazy Thai-style electric wiring, and copious black netting to keep out the animals.  It was cramped and crowded and dark, and accessed down a rather steep step and via a rather narrow walkway.

To be clear, this was not the kitchen where the main food prep for our children took place.  Some did.  And a fair bit of food storage was in there.  So there's that.  But still.

Yupa was not at home when the fire happened.  She was staying with her Mom in their shared time of grief at the loss of her father.  Trauma happens that way sometimes, layer on layer like that.  Bell was the first to notice the smoke and the alarm.  She woke up her Dad.  And by the time they and the older boys were on it, things were almost, almost beyond saving the entire house.  Almost.  And aren't we glad we made sure we have smoke detectors and the fire extinguishers, because the fire department never would have made it out here on time.

And it was a mess.

I received the video of the still-smoking remains within minutes of the danger being past.  And Suradet's strained but relieved voice, saying first the words you absolutely must say first if you ever have to send a video of what used to be your kitchen but now is just a charred and hissing mess. 

 "Everybody okay!"

I admit, this was perhaps one of the hardest points of the full-throes of the pandemic for me.  We were already contending with the pandemic itself.  Online learning for the kids.  Concern for everyone's health and safety.  Then Yupa's father's diagnosis leading to his death.  Now this.  Really?  A fire?  And the next little bits of this illusion of security and control we fool ourselves with break off and shatter on the smudged ceramic tiles. And I am all these cursed miles away, completely unable to do what everything in my being screamed to do.  Just be there.

An important pause inserted here, because it was awful.

But after this.


It's beautiful.  Big and bright and clean.  And it happened because so many responded in the moment.  Because it just so happened that Yupa's nephew who is a skilled tradesman was available.  Because folks half way around the world felt the "oh no!" of it and wanted to help.  Because insurance is a real thing and was part of our start up plan four years ago.  A new kitchen was not in the budget but it happened anyway and today we are all shiny with gratitude.

The Pampered Chef Chopper was a cherry on the top of one of the fundraisers we did.  Thank you to everyone who participated in that.  Thai food, as you well may know, requires lots of chopping, and it will be put to very good use, believe me.

And now I am tempted to simplify it all and say that good things come out of bad.   They do.  But in all my conversations I'm having this week about all the things that happened while we were away from one another, we are trying to make sure not to be glib.

This was hard.

So many levels of hard.

And we are grateful, 
largely because of how much we've lost, 
and how much we've lived, 
and how much is true in dark chapters of the story. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Maybe the Hokey Pokey IS What It's All About

L-R Fah, Meena, Pooey, Atom, Gam, Im, Da, May

There's been a lot less hugging than usual in these first few days here.

Partly, that's because I'm keeping my distance for about five days...just in case.  Feeling great, actually.  Better than I should be given the extra rigors of the trip this time.  But if I do begin to present with any be careful.

But it's more than just that.

So many of the kids have never met me.  And some of them are still adjusting to being here and being part of this family.  Some of them, as I might observe, will take a while long to show the benefits of the better nutrition and overall care.  To hold back a little makes sense, and respecting that is therefore even more important.

The older girls (pictured above) - which sounds funny for me to even call them that now - are holding back a little too.  Maybe because when I left they were very much into that cuddly stage, and now they are becoming young women.  Maybe because a lot has happened in the world since I was gone and, well, aren't we all a little more careful with our hearts and expectations this side of COVID.  After all, I was gone for a long time because of it.

Speculation, at this point, shared because an honest account of how it is here brings more of it home to those who can't be.  And because I'm still sorting myself out a little in these first few, lesser-hugging days, and it helps to say it.  And because caring for at-risk and orphaned children is more complicated that any amount of hugging or can resolve.  All of our kids are here for a reason.  

But then, a bit of a breakthrough.

Right.  Left.  

That's the basic concept we're after for the little ESL portion of our time together last night.  As I said, a lot of the children are new, and many of the little boys are very much at a beginner stage as far as English learning is concerned.

And, come on, when you have Right and Left as your main concepts, you just HAVE to do the Hokey Pokey.*  And when you do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around, well, apparently that is what it's all about.  Because big smiles.  Because laughing.  Because being silly (especially when you get to the 'you put your backside in' verse) is freeing, and fun, and is a love language all its own.

For me personally, I am over the top grateful for a very solid first few days here, emotionally, physically, even sleep-wise.  But there's still a sense that there's work to do and trust to regain.  

I can be patient.  I takes a while to earn the name "Gramma" in any language.

For all those who Sponsor a Child, and support us in other ways, thank you.  Your love is known here.  The tangibles and the prayers.  It's all part of giving our kids the space to believe they matter, they are important, and they're safe.

Here's a little glimpse of opening the packets from the Sponsors last Tuesday night.

I'm still building up my picture file.  Haven't wanted the new kids especially to feel too invaded.

Deborah (pink) and Goon (blue)

May (who is now taller than me)



*The inspiration for the title of this blog, and much more creative reflections of my life, is from my dear friend and kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, Anne Campbell.