Saturday, March 22, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Joy



This imperfect post below is a result of taking a blind leap of exercising my writing skills through Five Minute Fridays. Hundreds of other bloggers around the globe take just five minutes every week (ok...maybe I am not that consistent!  but...working up to it) to write for only five minutes on a one-word prompt that Lisa Baker gives at her site.  Interested?  Click here to get the details.


Joy

GO

Lately, my Joy comes packaged in a 3-6 month onesie. She drools like a leaky faucet and loves to show me her newest raspberry-blowing trick. Her smile lights up the room and the faces of everyone who happens to catch a glimpse of those tooth-less gums.

My joy-filled “never-ending, always giving, Grace of God” little girl loves her paci, her big brothers and sisters and chewing on anything in sight. With every addition to our family, when my belly is swollen to almost popping and I simply can’t imagine how I will handle it all…I think, “How can the love and the adoration and the joy spread far enough to spread over one. more. little. person?”

And then, she came. Of course, my joy for the other three, her predecessors, multiplied overnight like the loaves and fish. There is always enough for her. There is always enough for one more. My joy came when she did. It is hard to extinguish it, anyway, when you catch a glimpse of that smile.

Thankful for my little, baby Charis; my precious one.

STOP


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hospitality Will Make Marks

Can you guess which side got used more?

I would cringe every time we pulled out the second leaf of that table; the nicest dining table that we ever had. Normally there was room for 6, but that expanded to 9 whenever we had someone over for spaghetti or baked chicken or every-day rice. Each time we opened it up, I would marvel at the smoothness of the wood grain, the unscathed beauty, the glory of it. Any of you who have ever bought new furniture (even if it was just "new to you") have to know what I mean. And, if you have small children, you know what I mean multiplied by ten. 

You want to keep it beautiful and untouched. You want to preserve and "steward" that table, that bed, that end table as well as you can. But then, people always come into play.

Of course, furniture stores are testimonies to this!: "No food or drinks inside the establishment, no jumping on the beds, and don't you dare slide a Hot Wheel over that coffee table!"

Every time I opened up that secret middle leaf of our table, those feelings crept up. There are no glass rings permanently imprinted there. No unsightly marks from a toddler dragging her fork across the table..little sign or wear and tear. The differences between the outside and the inside are very clear. 

If I was going to get comfortable with hospitality, I was going to have to get comfortable with leaving marks. Even though my house wasn't always naturally tidy (anyone figure out how to do this well yet with little people?)...it was going to endure at least a few more scathes in the process of having people over for dinner, for play dates and for prayer.

Over the last few years, it has been a challenging process of laying down my own expectations for providing a *perfect* space for guests to enjoy and taking up the reality that "Hospitality is not about me...it is about them." I read this once, and then many times since, on a blog called Reluctant Entertainer by Sandy Coughlin . It is her mantra and helped me tremendously in examining my own self-imposed ideas about hosting others.

It isn't about me. It is about them. It is about you. It is about them.

Sometimes I think about preparing too much and lose sight of the simplicity of just being with people, filling their bellies, and encouraging their hearts. 

In this season of life here in Thailand, Treavor and I have been challenged by God to keep our house open to others. If we go through a week and realize we haven't opened it and our table to others, we open up the calendar and see where we can fill it with an invitation for others to share it. I have to contentiously set aside my hesitations that "the house isn't ready!" and call somebody up to feast on curry and conversation together.

Join me? Who can you open up your (imperfect) table to this week? How have you overcome the hurdles that get in the way of hospitality? Tell me about it in the comments.

Blessings,
Alina



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Crowd


I stumbled across an opportunity that has captured the attention of hundreds of other bloggers every Friday.  It is called Five Minute Friday.  Basically, it is a chance to write for just five minutes, with a certain writing prompt in mind.  It is a chance to just create and think without paying too much attention to making it look pretty (i.e.: no editing, back-tracking or second-guessing allowed!).  Sometimes all I have is five minutes to write, anyway, so the idea seems to be right up my alley.  Want to read more about how it all got started?  Click here to go to lisajobaker.com to get the skinny.

Today's prompt, "Crowd," made me instantly think of the Sunday Walking Market in our city.  Before having Charis, there were several months where a group of girls and I would go to different places in our city to share the good news of Jesus with others that God put in our path that night. I looked forward to those nights every week. It was my inspiration for this week's prompt. I hope you enjoy it! (BTW, I wrote it when it was *still* Friday in the States and haven't had the chance to post it till today. Life.) 

Crowd

GO

I look out into the crowd, the aimless wanderers...the children running...the parents running after them. I see street-sellers, beggars, tourists in their darkened skin from a sunburn gone bad and I hear the noise of haggling and drums and ancient Thai music brought to life at the market of today.

The night market swirls with smells and people and noise noise noise. Although I am one of thousands in this crowd, I see with the eyes of the One who sees the few, the isolated, the ones on the fringes and the ones crying out for recognition. 

Those days when we went out every Sunday night! with watchful ears and eyes...I miss them. I miss streaming along the sides of the market stalls with sellers and their bounty. I miss passion fruit drinks and neck massages and sitting, sharing with the lady who drives in every night from out of town to earn a few baht and rub the necks and feet of tired, sweaty people. 

I miss the energy of people gathered together, and the air ripe with the promise of finding that one, "lost" in the crowd but "found" by the One who is treasure-hunting to find them. I will go again, one day, to seek them out again.


STOP


Monday, February 17, 2014

Shannon's Visit: The Wonderful Whirlwind

Aunt Shannon and Kyla playing in the river during our trip to the mountains. Favorite day.


Whirl. Wind.

There is no other word to describe it well. Last week's six days with my beloved sister went by so fast; like a whirlwind.

We ate Thai food, we shopped markets, we drove to the mountains, we dipped our feet into hot springs and also into tanks full of hungry fish, we visited friends, we feasted, we played in the water and scaled the heights of a local waterfall, we ate sticky rice every day, we took a zillion pictures, we held snakes, she tasted bugs (do you notice how I left out the "we" on that last one?), we laughed with the kids, we gifted each other with fun things from afar, we talked and talked, we caught up on family business, we visited the local temple, we drank loads of coffee, she played with baby tigers, we got bit up by mosquitoes and got treated at a nail salon...we had a blast. The time went so fast, but it was wonderful.

Most of all, my sister and I connected. She got to see Thailand through her own eyes, rather than just through my own accounts or through this blog. We connected over something now that we can share in remembering together; her trip here. That is most of why we stay close with people, right? Connections.  She is my sister and always will be, but now she has one more thing to tie us together in relationship...an understanding of where we live and how we live and why we live here. 

Thank you, Shannon, for coming!

Here are just a few highlights of her visit (photo disclaimer...sorry for the graininess of the art museum pics. I am an airhead and forgot to hit the focus once or twice):


We went to Art In Paradise, a 3D Illusion art museum in our city.

Seriously, this art museum is a blast!

"Underwater"
Somebody better rescue those kids!

Did you know there were active volcanoes in Thailand?

Thai food had a growing effect on Aunt Shannon.

My sons at their finest.
Shannon's favorite thing: the Tiger Kingdom.

Think this feline would go well with your sweet doggies, Shannon? 
My son has become a tuk tuk driver in his spare time.

Of course these beauties belong to the same family.

Fish spa with the whole family! Even baby Charis sat with us. She opted out of putting her feet in, though. Short legs. 

At one point, the boys took their own tanks and chilled out. They seriously enjoyed it. Seriously. Just look at their faces.

My sis was in her element in the outdoors. I am thankful she prefers being outside because it is the perfect time of year for this! 

Dipping our feet in a local hot spring. Cheap fun in a beautiful place.

We love Aunt Shannon!

Our last meal together with the whole family. We miss you already, Shan!

Anyone else want to come jump in our world? You are always welcome to come for a quick visit! (As long as you bring us beef jerkey like Shannon did. Always a win!)

Blessings,
Alina



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Aunt Shannon is Coming!

Grandma, sister Shannon, Kyla, Aunt Cathy, and myself at Kyla's 2nd birthday party almost 2 years ago. It has been so long since we have seen each other!


This girl.

My sister; two years my junior, newly married, impossibly beautiful, and one of the hardest-working, humble people I know...will be landing in my city in less than 7 hours.

It was easy to wake up with my alarm today because I am just. so. thrilled!

She will be here barely a week (Thank you, America, for giving our citizens impossibly short vacation allowances with our work. Can't we be like the French and get our 6 weeks?).  We have so many things in the works for her here...fun Thai food, a trip to one of the waterfalls in our area, elephant riding, tuk tuks (what trip to Thailand is without one of these?)...weird-Thai-fruit-tastings, Night Safari, walking market, hot springs, coffee in the mountains...there is just so much to do in so little time.

With her trip, I didn't realize that I had so many pent up feelings about visitors. Her visit here has made me realize the incredible value I feel for having a member of my family (she will be the very first!) step into our world.

Our world.

Sure, we aren't living in a stilt house on a rice plantation, with King Cobras slithering about our feet and riding elephants to school...our foreign predecessors have done that already.  We live in a seemingly ordinary home with suburban neighbors and very ordinary things happening around us every day. In many ways, our lives are just like yours. 

But, so much of our world here in Thailand has been so common-place that it is pure fun to have an "outsider" step into it and open up our own eyes to the wonder that is overseas-living:

...chanting and announcements from the local temple blaring through the loudspeakers...firecrackers every day, at almost any hour...the glory of sticky rice (how did I live without this before?)...fresh pineapple and such for pennies (or free, if you have a generous friend)...Thai smiles all around...the normalcy of cool water from the faucets and the lack of indoor climate control...trails of ants that can enter any room within a flash to swipe up that dribble of watermelon juice on the floor...then, the geckos that save us from a nightly attack of blood-sucking mosquitoes...cheap wares at the handicraft markets...and landscape views that some people only witness on the cover of a travel magazine...

...every day.

We will relish every second of Shannon's visit this week.  And, when she returns home (too quickly!), she will finally have a picture to remember and retell to my parents and kin when they ask about how it was "way over there across the ocean."  


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Friend Who Makes That Good Kind of Heartache

P. Fon, myself, sweet Charis, Treav and P. Ton hanging out last Saturday at our place. I have an eight-year old and bad lighting to thank for this grainy shot...but I am so thankful to have a memory of that night.


Every once in a while, you find a friend that fills you with the good kind of heartache. Do you know what I mean? That kind of heartache that you feel when you miss the person so much it hurts a little (and sometimes a lot).  For reasons such as, well, life...you can't visit them very often or chat on the phone or sit and have tea and talk about all the sorts of little things you've been storing up inside your heads.

About four years ago, I met a fabulous woman who almost instantly became that kind of friend.  P. Fon wasn't just my new Thai language teacher.  She was my helper in all my incorrect and cultural faux pas. She showed me that Thai people didn't all fit into one neat little box.  She delighted me with her parenting skills and humbled me with the way she respected and honored and cherished her aged parents.  She had fun with me and our family. She helped me to feel free to share about the tender things of the heart with the ability to finish my sentences in English where I was incredibly insufficient in using Thai.  She laughed at me when I mixed up all my Thai letters and rolled her eyes when I said them all wrong.  All wrong.

When we left our first home in the south of Thailand, she was among the handful of people I was so tearful to be missing as we moved on to another city.  And, when I lost my cell phone with her number in it (before those long ago days of pre-Facebook...well...before I ever got on Facebook, anyway)...I had a brief scare that I would never get to talk with her again about a stupid question or a even just a story to share.  Thankfully, Treavor had her number stored in his phone and I was able to keep in touch just a little (with a forgetful brain like mine, those conversations were few and far between).

To my delight and utter surprise, we heard through a friend that she and her family were going to be visiting our city over New Year's!  Really?!  What joy!

And when I finally got to see her, her kind husband, her suddenly grown-up little girl and the new son I had never laid eyes on, my heart leapt.  My friend was back.  Even if only for a day or so, I could connect again, face-to-face with one of the only Thai people that I could imagine being the most perfect big sister a girl could ever ask for.

I missed you, P. Fon!  Hope to see you again very, very soon!  I think another trip down south is in order for this New Year. By God's grace, we will brave the day-long trip again and get to sit again, drinking instant coffee, asking each other language questions, laughing at our children and smiling at each other with big, free smiles.

Blessings, 
Alina

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 is a New Start

Wouldn't life be grand if the toy area always looked like this? These are the bulk of our toys post "The Great Toy Purge of 2013". 


Treavor and I got a head start on the New Year toward the end of December 2013. You see, we have five sets of people/family units/relations coming to stay with us in first six weeks of this year, and being the Messies we are, the house needed a good shake down. In fact, Christmas Day's evening was spent initiating a toy purge. We have done this for the third year running and it. is. awesome. We go through toys, ditch the ones that have been long forgotten, throw away the bent paper airplanes, broken action figures and dust bunnies...and then consider our storage space (with the goal being not to buy more boxes to fill, but to stay within those boundaries instead).  It was so liberating, as it always is.

From that day on, we spent a good part of each day sifting through piles of papers, pulling out guest blankets and sheets, rearranging, and cleaning. We even enlisted a friend to help (one whose gifting it is to be a great organizer and cleaner!).

So, when our friends Glen and Kat arrived last Saturday to stay for the week, we felt like we could finally breathe and not have to wish with baited breath that they wouldn't open our cupboards and find themselves at the bottom of the junk pile that had just fallen on them.  We are working on being hospitable and tidy people.  Help us, Jesus.

I can't tell you enough, but it is so wonderful to have clean, empty spaces!  Growing up, it was my tendency to feel like a shelf or a table or a space was for filling with some kind of junk. Can anyone else relate? It was as if an empty table was screaming, "PLEASE put junk mail and books and papers and all your loose change, etc. etc. etc. on me!"

It has been a week since we rearranged almost every corner of this house, and there have been a few lazy days of not putting things away as we have rushed from this meeting to this meal to that errand, etc.  The clutter is starting to, well, clutter up our empty spaces.  One week into our New Year and it already seems we're back to our old ways.  We didn't make a resolution, exactly, but are wanting to seriously change our ways so that our children don't inherit our messy tendencies and struggle with it for the rest of their lives. 

Have any tips for us? Leave a comment below...or you can just wallow around in the dilemma with us and leave me with an "Amen!" if you're struggling with the same thing.  Either way, I'd love to hear from ya!

Here's to a brand spankin' New Year!  God's got some wild things in store for us here, I just know it!

Thanks for reading,
Alina

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