One year ago today, we met Mae Boon Ma

One year ago today, we were resting in Thailand between respite care in our various homes and a required visa trip to India (we had to be out of Malaysia for 90 days, specifically starting on September 2).  While in Chiang Mai, which is a lovely town in the north of Thailand, we had the opportunity to volunteer for a day at an elephant sanctuar

'We met this elephant for the 3rd time and she let us hug and scritch behind her ears for over a half hour.'

y.

In the morning, every family group got to bathe/massage one elephant. Then the elephants went to play in the river.  We came across “our” elephant, Mae Boon Ma, after she enjoyed the river.  Mae Boon Ma has been at the Sanctuary since 1955; she was rescued from logging. Amazingly, in the 19080’s, Thailand outlawed logging, which has protected innumerable creatures, workers, and acres of wilderness.

At the end of our day, we were walking back to the vans, when who should appear but Mae Boon Ma and a group of mother/baby elephants.  Incredibly, she walked right up specifically to our family, put her trunk by Caedmon, and made it clear that she was waiting.  Our guide explained that this was very rare, for an elephant to let someone near its trunk so willingly.  Caedmon hugged her, and it was clear that this was not a chance encounter, but a real connection with an animal that is wise, kind, and has feelings.  It was a beautiful memory that we will carry, and it helps us to stand strong for care of God’s creation.

“Home” from Home Assignment 2016

A few days before we flew back to Malaysia after 10 weeks in the U.S.A., I came across some Malaysian money.  Just the touch of it transported me in all my senses to the island of Borneo, the city of Kota Kinabalu, our apartment and markets and views of sea and mountain.  As amazing as America is (berries! friends! smooth roads! cool weather!), we were all ready to come home.  Nearly three months without routine, having to pack up and move every three days, is a lot.  We were given wonderful, wonderful hospitality along the way, which made the trip much easier, and we got to enjoy so much storytelling – both sharing our stories and getting to hear stories of our friends and supporters in the Red White and Blue.  Maybe it is a bit of grace that we were ready to come home, even though we are never ready to say “good-bye” or even “see you later” to our USA crew.

During our last month in America, we got some messages from the seminary here in Malaysia, saying that a section of the seminary’s internet cable had been stolen (apparently, again.)  We expected to come back to zero internet, but miraculously, coming back we have (I think) had better connection than ever!  My desktop computer won’t turn on at all, but I can use Eric’s laptop to keep in touch.  Having internet is like salve on a wound – it calms and helps us do important things.  Like blogging!  And keeping in touch with not only internet banking and work emails, but also some really wonderful people around the world.

In closing out home assignment, and as one last reminder of the generosity of our American friends, we managed to lose both boys’ Kindles in the Seoul, Korea airport.  Kindles are our alarm clocks, our music libraries, our down time, our learning games center – in other words, they’re really important!  We mentally retraced our steps, and yes, we remembered where they had gotten left.  Airport lost and found (thank you, Skype calls!) had them, but could not mail them; we needed someone to come pick them up in person.  I broadcasted a Facebook plea – anyone know anybody in Seoul?

We received so many offers of connection and help within an hour – what a gift!  It was actually hard to choose just one person!  Needless to say, the Kindles are now in the mail – a friend of a friend (who is now OUR friend!) fetched them and went through the bureaucracy of mailing them (had to mail them separately, to two different addresses, because of their batteries and making sure we weren’t running an import business).  It was just one more reminder of the web of relationships – wherever we are, if we are in need, people offer kindness.  If there is one message to carry from Home assignment, that would be it: that we are connected, and loved, and blessed to be able to hopefully continue to return the favor in the days and years ahead.

 

(P.S.: Happy 16th Anniversary to Eric and I! Here’s to the adventures that lie ahead!)

Diving Off Gaya Island (Dante’s guest post as part of his school blogging project)

Beautiful fish and coral, what could go wrong? Sure there are damselfish, lion fish, wrasses, butterfly fish, and clownfish. But it is hard to learn to dive. Your mask gets water in it, your tank gets turned off, your regulator (mouthpiece) falls out of your mouth – all as parts of your training.

Imagine this: first you do the buddy check: B for BCD (air vest), W for weights, R for releases, A for air, and F for final check. Then you do a backwards roll into the water, fill your BCD, and signal the boat captain. Once your group is ready, deflate your vest, and down you go. Keep breathing and equalize pressure by swallowing or blowing lightly while pinching your nose.

Swim forward, belly down, and enjoy the dive.
This is how a dive should go.

Phosphorescent Zooplankton

Greetings, all.  I’ve decided yet again to get this poor old blog off of the back shelf and try to write more regularly.  It’s been quite the mental obstacle, as each blog topic I thought of, my brain would say, “Really? Is *this* more important than any other topic these past months?”  One of our family rules is:  Comparing does not make you happier.  I was comparing each individual idea with crazy wild adventures – and each comparison made my new idea seem weak and useless.  (Brilliant life lesson there! Yay for blogging!)

It was an adventure that got me writing.  An American pastor has come to teach here for three weeks, and so we have reason to go do the wonderful touristy things that we haven’t had time for in the past 2 years.  And so we found ourselves on a jungle river cruise, DSCF3154watching long-tailed macaque monkeys battling for a tree for the night.  Then after sunset we went on a firefly expedition.  But what no one advertised ended up being the coolest thing ever – phosphorescent river water.  When someone splashes the water, little zooplankton light up like fireworks.  It was so unexpected, and so amazing!  And, of course, impossible to photograph.  The takeaway is that getting out of routine to go explore can be life-affirming.

DSCF3173

And, you can come visit us and we will take you to see the Klias light show, have a Chinese scalp shampoo-massage, go starfish hunting, have a terrifying fish massage, watch wild monkeys play up close, and eat magenta dragonfruit.

The reality is that most of our time is in the humdrum grind of daily life.  Don’t let our facebook page fool you (unless you’ve been following my posts about our lack of internet, which is yet another obstacle to blogging – we just never know when we will have connection) – we do dishes and pay bills and nag the kids to do homework and play outside.  Life is life, wherever you go.  But what a gift when someone comes to visit and you have an excuse to see what is around you in a new way!

 

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.

Our latest newsletter… Enjoy!

newsletter jan 2016

 

reflecting on India… now that we’re home in Malaysia

Eric and I found some downtime last night to watch a DVD we got at a tea plantation in India.  Watching it brought back so many of the feelings we had during our time there.

We had been told that with India, you simultaneously love it passionately AND want to tear your hair out in frustration.  True!  The food, the generosity of people, the ability to go anywhere on trains or buses, all great!  But getting a non-spicy pizza, even at Dominos? Can’t.  Ask someone to do something in their work that they don’t do everyday? Forget it, they won’t even consider trying.  Want a train ticket?  Get onto the waitlist and the afternoon that you leave for the 14 hour train ride you find out IF you have a seat.  We loved lemon rice and curd, we loved playing cricket and badminton every day with our neighbors, we loved the first train ride.  And, we burned a lot of calories being frustrated and lost.  It was almost always BOTH love and despair.

The video we got was supposed to be about a tea plantation, but it turned out to be an intro to all the tourist spots in the state of Kerala, with a voiceover that we could understand about 30% of the words (though many people spoke English, we could understand very few), and the last quarter of the video had no audio at all.  Seriously, the state-sponsored tourism video forgot the audio file???  So we watched it in silence, still enjoying it, and marveling at our experiences in India.  We’d love to go back, and we had to shake our heads.  That’s the India experience in a nutshell.

DSCN2020.JPG

Hands-on exploring of temple built on coast of the Bay of Bengal over 1,300 years ago

Visiting a Hindu Temple

Today we used our time with our tutor to walk to a local Hindu temple. (The poor tutor is trained to teach high school math; with our boys he is doing everything from spelling games to Indian geography to “Microbes and You!”) As the tutor happens to be Hindu, we have spent a few minutes each day reading and asking questions about the Hindu faith. India is primarily Hindu; in fact, the government is working to outlaw the eating of meat in the whole country! We have been almost completely vegetarian since we arrived; interestingly, the boys have not noticed that particular change.

The temple we visited, Gangadeeswarar Temple in our neighborhood of Purasawalkam (there are so many syllables here!), is dedicated mainly to the god Shiva, the god of life, death, and rebirth. Dante drew this picture after our visit (taking photos would have been disrespectful). You can see images from the temple at http://www.purasawalkamgangadeeswarartemple.tnhrce.in/

DSCN1965[1]

His picture shows the pillar at the center, as seen through the wildly colorful gate. He noted the chalk drawings/offerings on the ground as we enter, the statues of Shiva and Parvati, and of course, a temple cat.

What I found most interesting about our visit was that, as we walked around the temple complex, there were many 3D paintings on the walls – an Indian version of stained glass – which tell stories from the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures. Looking at the artwork, I couldn’t make hide nor hair of them, but our tutor told us the story behind each one.

Caedmon was not so enthralled – possibly because it was a million degrees out today. His picture was of the cats in the temple complex. But I imagined that for a 7-year-old, seeing that kind of care for life was its own wisdom (there were many bowls of milk, both for bathing the deities and for feeding the cats).

DSCN1966[1]

Soon we will chat about the many points of crossover between Hinduism and Christianity… It will be interesting to see what is sinking in for each of us, and what connections we see.

Re-starting the Blog!

DSCN1743

Greetings, friends. How very late we are in posting anything to this blog. As I write this, I am sitting at a table in Chennai, India, where we are temporarily staying while sorting Malaysian visa requirements. Eric is on a flight right now from Delhi to Melbourne, Australia, to meet with Lutheran churches and colleges to share about his work in Malaysia. The boys and I have been living out of suitcases since the beginning of July, having traveled through the US, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and now India. We are literally all over the map.

The chaos of this past year seems to be settling. I have one more scan to do but doctors are confident that I am cancer-free. Our son, Caedmon, is thriving with more attention being given to him, as we understand more of his needs related to his Sensory Processing Disorder, diagnosed in February. He has a school and school friends in Malaysia that are looking forward to his return in January. Eric has been promoted to Director of the Lutheran Study Centre, a position that is using his unique gifts very well as well as giving him reason to travel and meet Lutherans and theologians all over our hemisphere. We moved into a new apartment at the Seminary in Malaysia, which has more room and puts us closer to the other seminary faculty and their children.

Psychologists have stress tests that add up the points for major life events; the higher the score, the more stress is amplified. According to the information above, we are pretty much off the charts. Almost every aspect of our life underwent major transition this past year. The good news is that we made it through. That’s what we are focusing on these days.

A wise missionary once told us that “home” is wherever we have dinner together. From now until mid-December, “home” is Chennai, India, on the campus of Gurukul Lutheran College and Research Institute. We are grateful to be here (even as Eric travels). Our adventure continues as we learn to eat with our hands, to haggle with tuk-tuk drivers, to wash our hands and feet ten times a day. As Dante said, “Now I know to be thankful for our hot showers in Malaysia!” In all of it, we continue ahead, step by step, day by day, flung forth yet again, looking and learning all we can.

Hey! Found how to post the newsletter here!!!

Jan ’15 newsletter

Turns out “media” means more than just photographs!  Click on the above to see our newsletter.  That was elegantly simple.  And how I do love Simple Things!