Category Archives: Moving


I grew up as a majority citizen… white, suburban, Christian, sporty enough, bookish enough… I was a woman but surrounded by women who proved that opportunities were open to me.  I grew up thinking, “Can I do this? I can try!” instead of facing obstacles of “-ism”s.

I live now as an immigrant: a minority in race, citizenship, religion, education, and so many other categories.  To be sure, I am an expat, which means that I am an immigrant by choice, that I have a nation I could easily return to, and that I have a safety net of resources (savings, health insurance, and a fabulous sending agency that has already thought of every contingency).

So many immigrants lack those assurances.  The realities they face are amplified by their lack of choices.  The lost, last, and least – leaving their own country to migrate, or worse, flee; and they arrive in other countries where they again face lack of opportunity, where they are forced again to be the lost, last, and least.

A friend of mine once told me about immigrating to Italy from the USA.  When her family got there, her husband was working.  She was encouraged to learn Italian – in fact, her community had free language classes with free childcare, because the community understood that it would be otherwise impossible for her to learn Italian.  The USA, on the other hand, demands that people learn English (a wretchedly hard language to master) while working 100 hours a week as single parents, expecting people to organize and fund their own classes and to take that time away from their families.

I’ve learned some of the language here, but it’s remarkably difficult.  Because it’s the national language, there are actually fewer resources for learning the language, becuase it’s assumed that you already know it.  I want to honor this place and its people by learning the language… even with passion and hope, it’s not happening anytime soon.

We are in limbo with visas as well, not allowed to do anything that appears to be taking a job from a local person, and under suspicion because of living at the Seminary, which is clearly Christian.  Christians in Sabah aren’t under threat of violence; but a minority faith is enough to put many roadblocks to visa approval.  Like many immigrants around the world, we are doing our best to follow our host nation’s policies.  But those policies are shifting, and we are not lawyers; it’s hard to know if we’re doing things the right way.  We have to trust our advisers here and have a back up plan.  That’s a difficult, stressful way to live.

Being an immigrant has reminded me to care for other immigrants.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service does amazing work within the USA, helping immigrants live better lives and contribute more quickly to their communities.  (And the contributions immigrants make are significant!)

I would ask that you pray for all immigrants: for those who go to a new place to serve, or for more opportunity; for refugees who flee with only the hope of staying alive, then find themselves in a new place with no resources; for missionaries like us who are finding immigration documents to be very challenging.  Notice the immigrants in your community and make room for them.  Pray for greater international responsibility and cooperation.  Pray, and pray, and pray.  It is often in prayer that God directs us to the concrete things we can do to care for others in our midst and around the world.


A photo that does me so proud

IMG rock climg Dante Artur StanA friend of Dante’s (in the yellow shirt) is moving to Hyderabad, India – something that is a commonplace kind of thing when attending an international school in a quickly developing nation. This picture was taken at his good-bye party (rockclimbing! in Kota Kinabalu!)

When I look at this picture, I see what kind of friend Dante is growing up to be. In an international setting, people are coming and going – moving, attaching, saying good-bye. The kids can’t always articulate it, but it is often a challenging kind of life. Yet a pat on the shoulder, sharing some cake… and everybody gets to live in the moment, for just a little while longer. Friendship, at any age, is such a gift, and it comes from being able to both stand on your own *and* reach out to span the gaps.

Could Laura Ingalls Wilder have imagined this?

I am sure that you will be hearing many stories from Eric’s 17-day trip to Yogjakarta, Indonesia, for intensive language training. But the story for today is the gift he brought home for Caedmon. For Easter, Eric got the boys the full set of Little House on the Prairie, one of my favourite things to read as a young person. I must have read the entire series 10 times. I once made the mistake, after my mom joked about her being old, of asking (innocently!) whether she rode in covered wagons as a little girl. “Not that old,” was her reply.

So you might imagine my shock and delight – and shock – at seeing Eric’s gift for Caedmon:

Yes! It’s a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. The back cover says, “Laura mengalami banyak kejutan sepanjang hari ketika keluarga Ingalls menghabiskan waktu pergi ke kota.” Laura is in for a day filled with surprises when the Ingalls family spends the day in town.

It’s such an amazing contrast, of Laura writing when her memories of going to town were grand adventures. And here we are, where we live in a “Kota” – Kota Kinabalu – and her work is being translated into languages that she didn’t even know existed. And there is such a strong connection between me as a young girl, dreaming of exploring and adventure “on the frontier” and me today in this developing nation, with just our immediate family that had boarded a plane with 8 pieces of luggage and a lot of excitement/anticipation/anxiety/hope. The title of this book is “Pergi ke Kota” – going to town – and that’s what we’ve done, too. Gone to town, figuratively, as we made a pretty extreme move from New Jersey to Borneo, and gone to this town, with its culture and language and currency and even some dirt roads. Laura journaled and I blog, and across the years and the miles, our paths still cross. It’s amazing, this huge, small world.

Field notes from a day at the Asian mall

Last Friday was a public holiday here – Malaysia, being as multicultural as it is, has the most public holidays of any country in the world, because everyone allows time for others to celebrate (plus, the workday is assumed to be 6 days, with an “off day” instead of a weekend – so holidays are needed to balance that intensity out). Here is a link to what public holidays are: And here is a link to what holiday we [weren’t] celebrating – . There are relatively few Buddhists here that would have had religious requirements for that day, so many people were out and about, having a festively free day.

We chose to go to Centre Point Mall – a mall that has a nicely organized western area and a haphazardly laid-out eastern side. We were looking for school shoes for Dante, and knew that the better deals were to be had on the eastern side. However, there are trade-offs: to buy shoes in the more haphazard area, you have to get someone to help you because the boxes are all jumbled up – you can’t pick a shoe and see what sizes they have. If you want to look at a pair of shoes and see what sizes/colors they come in, you have to go to the western department store, where you pay at least double for the privilege of wide walking areas and items that stay where you expect them to.

We were looking also for a DVD movie to watch at home for our family movie night. Almost everything here is pirated, and most movies come 8-to-a-disk. So you don’t look for a movie, you look for a collection. When I found an 8-movie collection I liked, it was 15.90 RM (about $5); I know to ask, “little discount?” But I am always surprised when they give a deeper discount than I expect. Usually it’s on an item I already consider to be a good price, too! So when I asked for a discount, willing to pay the 16 RM, I had to hide my surprise when she offered “10 RM?” Ummmm, yes, thank you. (The issue of pirated movies is one that isn’t really even in conversation, which is another surprise, given how interconnected our world is. I would think that Fox or Disney would have acted on this already.)

Incidentally, as we sifted through the children’s DVD’s, I saw a disk that contained a mix of movies – including, side-by-side, the South Park movie and “Barney & Me.” Priceless.

Then we went to wash up before lunch (though it’s BYO soap, TP, and you dry your hands on your clothes), and saw this sign:

“No dish washing in the toilet.” Whether that means “toilet” as in “facilities” or as in “commode,” I don’t know (there is a hose & spigot in every stall to wash down whatever needs washed down). As this was near a favorite lunch spot, I tried not to think on this too hard.

We also saw this sign: Which cause me to make a severe mistake: I read it aloud. Later, when we were about to head home and Cade was tired and yet did not want to leave, he knew just what to do: he leaned over and spit several times, right on the floor. Sigh.

While there we did get a great lunch – Dante loves a big bowl of noodle soup, though he asked Eric and I to eat the noodles so that he could get to the broth. After walking around, we returned for an ice cream dessert. We ordered at the main counter – the boys wanted what was in a picture there, the “Colorful Sundae.” Ironically, when we ordered, they shouted across the restaurant, “Orang putih – colorful sundae!” (meaning, “the white people want a colorful sundae!”) They knew just who to deliver it to. The “colorful” part was having sprinkles, but the ice cream flavors were yam, sweetcorn, and vanilla. Purple, yellow, and white – colorful flavors to our western palatte.

They were having a Harvest Festival display at the mall – the Festival is actually today and tomorrow, but the mall set up handicraft vendor displays, like many huts. The Harvest Festival celebrates the many tribes and indiginous people (“Bumi Putera” – which is beautiful to say, too, “boom-y Pooterah”).

Hopefully everyone knows not to buy souveniers at an inflated price here; on the other hand, the vendors here are real people seeking to earn money for their families. There is a large Handicrafts Market on the waterfront in KK – a much better place to shop and bargain. There is not much of a market for fine art beyond woodcarvings, but hopefully that will change as tourism increases here by leaps and bounds.

The biggest thing we did at the mall was to try – for the first time – family karaoke. For 8 RM (under $3) you get a room to yourself for ½ hour, with microphones and a karaoke machine. What was the first song that Eric picked out? “500 miles.” “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone… Lord, I’m five hundred miles from my home.” Which made me remember that while doing karaoke when I studied in China, the song I was landed with was Edelweiss – “bless my homeland forever.” Singing about home is a pretty vulnerable moment. The next song that we recognized on the song list was “O Come All Ye Faithful” – we figured, that would be fun to sing. There was a video screen that played scenes associated with the song, and, inexplicably, the video footage was of Buddha statues from around the world. (???)

Our big purchase from the day was finally finding a Chinese Checkers set. I’ve been looking forever because it seems Dante is ready for that level of game. I did not expect it to be so hard to find Chinese Checkers in Asia!

On the way home I was delighted to find that I knew several different ways to navigate downtown to get home, and that I knew which lanes did what. When moving to any new place, that is an accomplishment; I’ll count it as double because of driving on the opposite side of the road and reading signs in Malay!

When we got home we were all exhausted and overwhelmed from so many experiences. Of the above, which surprised you most? Which would you most like to encounter?

Taking pictures because a visitor came!

I was overjoyed to pick my mother-in-law up from the international airport today.  She had flown all the way from Washington DC – from DC to LA to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur to KK.  The trip takes about 3 days.  She has the benefit of being a nurse, used to changing her sleep schedule.  We had the difficulty of traveling with two young kids who could not sleep once we entered our new hemisphere.

KK Airport - Terminal 1

KK Airport – Terminal 1

I had not been to the airport since we were picked up there.  I remember very little of that first trip… we were all overwhelmed.  But today as we drove, my mother-in-law was snapping photos and I realized how wonderful it is to have her perspective here, now.  She is not as overwhelmed, she has guides that already know her, and she only has to last two weeks here!  But her response to what she was seeing brought me a lot of joy.  It was the kind of time when you see your life through someone else’s eyes, and realize the wonder and excitement before you every day.

A very concrete set of buildings, with a hotel, apartments, and several businesses.

A very concrete set of buildings, with a hotel, apartments, and several businesses.

She took pictures of buildings that I now call ordinary.  She took pictures of palm trees.  She took a picture of me, driving on the right-hand side of the car.  She took a lot of pictures, and now when I see them, I think, these are far from ordinary.

Driving around Kota Kinabalu... tourist snapshots!

Driving around Kota Kinabalu… tourist snapshots!

Each place has its wonder, that doesn’t have to wear off; or at least, it can be rekindled.  An apartment building can be amazing in its weaving of culture, architecture, personal styles, and frankly, laundry.  It’s all there waiting to be beheld.

Yet at the end of the day, it was this picture that captured the spirit of the day:

Family, together.

Family, together.

We all want to come home, somehow, whether it’s to a familiar place, or to the arms of family.  This moment between our homesick son and his newly arrived Nana gave a context, a grounding, for all the other pictures.  Places have meaning because of what they tell us about ourselves or one another, and today this city of ours was a place where we embraced and were embraced.  All the memories we share, the wonders we behold, have meaning to us because they are how we connect to our world and one another.  We aren’t collecting images, we are finding life together.

You know you’ve arrived when…

The 6-month mark of living in a new place is important in a lot of ways.  You know which grocery market you like best.  You realize how many street signs don’t have names (true in New Jersey, true in Kota Kinabalu).  You have a library card.  You’ve started sticking stuff up on the walls of your apartment, even if it’s not technically allowed.  You don’t need to get a thousand things every time you go out.  And…

in my case…

You dream about the Dukes of Hazzard driving on the opposite side of the road from which it was filmed.  Vividly.  My theory is, if you’re really there in your dreams, you’ve finally arrived.  Welcome to your new home!

Driving on the left side? the "right" side? the other side?

Driving on the left side? the “right” side?
the other side?

the 1980's tv hit

the 1980’s tv hit







As I typed, we started watching Cash Cab Asia.  You never know when you will find such great balances of new and familiar.  It’s a great part of travel and of living in a new land!



Cooking with New Friends

This gallery contains 1 photos.


Day 12 of 20 *Questions*: What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?

Ah, this is the question that, in part, led us to serving as missionaries in Malaysia.  We were just fine where we were – a beautiful congregation that we co-led as pastors, hopes of Eric finding adjunct teaching in the tri-state area, kids in a great school, financial stability, and a great Y and public library.  It was the American dream.  (Yes, our garden even had a picket fence.) 

But as happy as we were, it still wasn’t *our* dream.  Our dream has always been to serve abroad.  For Eric’s Ph.D program we tried to move to South Africa, because we felt this strong pull to moving outside of America.  Nothing against America – but I know that I’ve always wanted to see how others outside of America experience life, and to see their perspectives on the life I’ve assumed as “normal.”  But South Africa didn’t work out (in part because I was pregnant, and my mother put her foot down that “my grandbabies WILL be born in an American hospital” … and there are times when you don’t mess with a fierce Mama Bear.)  Our plans would have to wait, and we mostly thought they were gone, and that was okay.

Until this opportunity in Malaysia opened up.  This time we had Mom’s permission!  (Thanks mostly to Skype and Air Asia.)

In coming here, we had to ask ourselves about our potential memories.  We were giving up Little League and youth group pizza nights and a house that we had named.  (Blueberry Cottage, if you’re asking.)  We were giving up a place where dogs are vaccinated for rabies and vehicle emissions are controlled – those certainly help toward creating memories, though they’re often unnoticed.  We were bartering those memories in order to come here  – and we were certainly deciding a lot for our kids without their voice or consent.



But under it all, we decided that the biggest and defining memory for our kids would be them watching us follow our passion.  That hope goes for all who had to grieve at our leaving – our family, friends, congregation and colleagues, and even our kids’ friends.  We bartered their memories as well, and that is no small thing.  But I fervently hope that people who have lost track of those specific dreams might have a door or window opened by knowing that people can indeed follow their passion – whatever that passion may be for them.

This question asks us to balance our todays and our tomorrows, as well as the things that give us satisfaction now versus what we will look back on someday.  This question reminds us that we are always defining our future and that we have a say in what not only our future will be, but the future of those tied to us.  It reminds us that we are always negotiating, always finding our way.  This question reduces our complacency, and replaces it with verve.

The Hap-Happiest Season of All… or, 3 months away from home

Advent greetings, friends. Is your Christmas tree up yet? Our is, no thanks to my annual humbugginess. I am definitely a humbug. I love the idea that God comes to Earth, to meet us as we are, that God isn’t afraid of being a vulnerable baby, that it took a whole cast of people to live out the original nativity that we celebrate. I just hate untangling Christmas lights, and people running up to me saying, “If we don’t get the decorations right, it ruins the whole feel!” As Mary about the whole feel of Christmas, and I bet there was no turkey, wrapping paper, or post office involved!

OK. You get the gist. But, there are parts of Christmas I really like, especially the music. Eric made us a whole Christmas playlist from our digital music collection, 11.1 hours of all kinds of Christmas music! And amongst the music came this radio favourite:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer” 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year 
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings 
When friends come to call 
It’s the hap- happiest season of all ‘

We tend to hear these songs and accept them as a picture of normal holiday feelings. But really, kids are not jingle-belling, they’re prepping their list of demands from Santa; and if you’re in a blue or cruddy or tired mood for any of a thousand reasons, being told to “be of good cheer” is not going to cheer you up, especially if you are depressed or grieving or lonely. Is it the most wonderful time of the year? I love that moment of candlelight at Christmas Eve worship, but I think I really like those first days of spring when you can smell the earth blossoming more. And the song goes on – those holiday greetings (that we politicize and haggle over) and gay happy meetings (in our free time, right?) when friends come to call (and we don’t worry about if our house is photo-shoot ready)? Really? In my mind I romanticize the days before electricity and cars and central heat, when people had nothing to do in winter except feed the animals and wait for spring, and if they did go out across the prairie, they would stay awhile with friends just to warm up before coming home. When things were slower, less was expected, and people knew their neighbors’ names *and* their stories. Maybe it wasn’t that great in real life, but I tend to think of it as better than today’s consumer rush and drastic expectations of ourselves. There. Have I ruined the song for you?

Now, it’s not quite fair that this song played just about at our 3-month mark of being here. Here is a chart of average responses to moving to a new place:

The process of adjusting to living in a new place, by Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealy

Note that there’s a dip there. I was warned that this would be coming (and many thanks to author Clide Sargeant, with revision by Daniel Kealey) and so I can keep some perspective on my emotions and reactions and expectations these days. I can be gentler with myself. This morning I lost my voice, had a terrible head cold, and looked at this chart – right below “frustration” it notes that this is the time when people develop colds, headaches, and are most prone to take sick leave. So I spent the morning reading the not-so-holiday “Hunger Games” trilogy. I took the boys to mail Christmas presents and didn’t lose my temper when we found we had to re-pack them twice and still not get it right (“ah, I thought, ‘frustration.'”) I sent an e-mail inviting friends to come to call.

The seasons come, whether it be Christmas or monsoon or “frustration.” But in our missionary handbook, right beside the chart that says some seasons will be hard, are these verses, appropriately, from the book of Lamentations.

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!        My soul continually thinks of it, and is bowed down within me.                                           But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:                                                         The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.                                      “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.” -Lamentations 3:19-24

Day 17 – First Words in Bahasa Melayu

1 Kilo of Mangoes for 13 Ringgit!

Being greeted by a family selling their wares in the fruit market

What an amazing day.  A seminary friend – actually the woman who will be teaching Eric (and maybe me) the language here (Bahasa Malaysia, or Bahasa Melayu, or just B.M.) – spent the morning showing me different places to shop.  A grocery store for locals (Tai Sun’s, I think) and breakfast at a little café (dim sum at 8 AM!).  The downtown harbour’s fruit market (where I bought a kilo of mangoes, not knowing Eric had bought the same yesterday… lots of ripe mangoes to eat!).  (And, notice how our Word program corrected my spelling of harbour to the British standard.)  (And, sorry for all the parentheses!  So many thoughts!)

Then, the meat market.  I kept having to literally use my hand to close my mouth – my jaw just kept dropping.  I’ve never seen a whole plucked chicken chopped and packaged – cut off the neck, cut off the feet and claws, save the feet, cut the whole thing in half in one blow of the knife, and so on.  And in the fish market, how fast they could fillet a fish, and the orderly piles of so many kinds of fish, plus squid and then huge bins of all kinds of shellfish – clams and hermit crabs, big blue crabs and others I don’t even know how to describe.  Eric went there yesterday, his first trip, and said that as he went in the door, two rogue crabs were skittering out.  It is a lively place, with people who are the salt of the earth – so patient and kind (recognize those words from scripture?) and willing to laugh with me and practice counting in BM.

I arrived home with my finds – a kilo of thin-sliced pork (sold at room temperature… yikes!), a big rectangular broom (kind of a Swiffer, for the dust from having windows always open), and fish with fillets to cook up and the head/spine/tail with which to make soup.  Eric has a fever – one of the mom’s at the international school said something is going around, plus he just needed rest after the rush to get here and get settled.  So off I went to get the boys from school and take them on a ginger ale hunt.

We went to a familiar mall – it has something very close to a Target in it.  There was some kind of show beginning – youth with two sticks attached by a 1-metre string, with huge yo-yo’s on them.  They were doing all kinds of tricks.  I tried to find a video online of it, but have no idea what it’s called.  (This kind of thing happens a lot – not having the words to try to find out more about things we’ve seen, or eaten, or want to try.  Life without words is very tricky!)  In the end, Dante had enough watching and we went off to the Giant (a version of Target) and found, of all the sodas and juices and drinks, only one can of ginger ale.

But, during the morning shopping, I had seen a shop that had gripe water – an herbal drink that helps babies with gas and all ages with any stomach discomfort.  I was so excited to see it!  When I went to buy it, it turned out that it was a Chinese apothecary, and when I went in and spoke my rudimentary Mandarin Chinese to the ancient man who worked there – well, you can imagine his surprise.  Blonde American, buying something in his shop, speaking his language.  I wonder how often, if ever, that happens.

I think one of the biggest learnings is how gracious people are when one tries to speak their language.  I think of the U.S.A., where too often people get impatient with those whose English is not yet particularly good.  Punishing people for trying to learn and speak?  It makes no sense.  Here people honour and reward you for entering into their language.  There is a generosity of spirit that encourages moving from “my space” (you speak English, please) to theirs – it gives shared energy.

In the end of the day, I splurged and used some of our powdered cheese stores, bought from the U.S., to make mac’n’cheese (with that thin-sliced pork and steamed okra) for the boys, paired with our first Skype conversation with my mom.  Two tastes of home.  But when I tucked them into bed (about 30 times), I was still looking out over the lights of our new city.  We live in 3 places – home there, home here, and somewhere in between.  Thankfully, we still talk about all of this as an adventure, and so we remind each other that the discomfort of transition is part of a bigger picture – one that we don’t yet fully see, but that we get to experience little by little.

Malaysia Day from Signal Hill

The view of Malaysia Day fireworks from our apartment at Sabah Theological Seminary