that one time play-doh made everyone cry

It’s been one month since I’ve returned to Laos! And I can’t help but feel the tension between having just left home and adjusting to being back home. My roommate/confidant/friend, Emily, wrote this in anticipation of returning to America but I feel it’s just as relevant having just returned to Laos:

For years, I have been skirting the question, “So, where’s home?” In the past, I have found my answer in sarcasm — “I have no home, thanks for asking” — which is always well received (see, sarcasm). I’ve had a home in Colorado, Kentucky, and now Laos. In fact, I’ve had three homes in Laos. This new home, the one that is not my old home that I keep trying not to miss, has me asking this question to myself. Today, however, I’ve demanded a real answer.

In July 2012, I attended teaching orientation in Colorado (with my new-found friend, Lauren). One of the key sessions at the orientation was, I’m sure, creatively named, but will infamously live in Lauren’s and my minds as “The Play-Doh Talk.” “The Play-Doh Talk” was introduced to us as “the time to let go and cry” as our final days of living in our passport country dwindled. Cue my eyes rolling. “The Play-Doh Talk” goes like this: all of us (Americans) are blue Play-Doh. As an American, we have a culture, language, world-view, and belief system that makes us irreversibly American and blue.

Next is the yellow Play-Doh that represents Asia, which I realize is an ironic color choice when encouraging people to let go of their preconceived notions and stereotypes about this part of the world. Asia, or Laos in particular, has its customs and culture that makes it distinctly yellow, just like we’re blue.

The height of the presentation was the somber and deliberate blending of the colors while we watched our metaphorical selves turn green. I would never be blue again, nor yellow ever. We were, from that point on, the loners of the Play-Doh Universe. This is what living overseas does to you. It takes us out of our world and puts us in one we must adapt to. And as I looked around the room at my new colleagues, tears rolling down their cheeks and hands clasped to their hearts, I turned to Lauren, grabbed her hand under the table, and stifled a sudden bout of laughter.

Maybe it was the oddity of watching a toy bring so much sadness, but it felt shameful, pathetic even, to cry over the inevitable shifting of my paradigm and broadening perspective. Who doesn’t want to be more cultured? I pitied the crying sissies. Two days after that talk I moved to Laos. I began studying language and taking my shoes off before entering a shop. A month after that I was riding a motorbike and wearing traditional Lao clothing. A year after that I was arriving late to everything and getting sick from processed food. And today, as I shiver in 75-degree weather and listen to Lao women discussing papaya salad recipes while I type on my Mac, I accept that I am green.

I first figured it out when I was at a stoplight on my motorbike, dressed in all the trappings of a Lao lady. I felt every eye boring into my already blazing hot neck, reminding me that yeah, I stand out. I felt it again when my students, with smiles on their faces, commented on how chubby I’d gotten over the summer. And through gritted teeth and tears that finally got the last laugh, all I wanted was to go home. So where was home? America gave me dreams, but Laos gave me passion. America gave me comfort, but Laos gave me endurance. America is where I belong, but Laos is where I’m embraced. I am partly at home here, and I am partly at home there. I have no home, and sarcasm is dead.

I long for all the things that I love and none of the things I hate to be combined into one ultimate Play-Doh ball. There would be no misfits and no outcasts and no 5’11” white girls parading around like they’re Asian. I long for heaven. And though I may tear up watching fireworks on the 4th of July and allow myself to be doused with water over Lao New Year, heaven is my home. It is the final destination for all green Play-Doh, for all of us who have taken solace in the words, “We are not of this world.”

This longing is, perhaps, the greatest gift Laos has given me. Through it has come peace in tribulation and hope in what’s to come. In a culture where life is thought to be an unending cycle of suffering, heaven is literally the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the end of all displacement, of bratty eye rolls and troubled tears. And so we who have been called to till, sow, and reap this broken earth and wait for what’s next we cling to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Savior, our Lord.”

We will continue waiting, fumbling around like aliens in a foreign land, and we will rest in the truth that we have no home. Not here, not yet.

So there you have it.

Some green Play-Doh weirdos ;)

Some green Play-Doh weirdos ;)

’til i only dwell in thee

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” -Psalm 116:15

While God seems to have always had this figured out, it took me a little longer to get on board with the idea. How could death possibly be precious? Death, on earth, leads to grief and depression, widows and orphans, brokenness and hurt.

But death also leads to life.

The gift of eternal life is made possible because of the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. The theological term is atonement and it literally means “at-one-ment” with God. While we do partake in this gift on earth, it does not come into full fruition until we’ve gone to be with the Lord. Death is not the end, but the beginning. The beginning of an eternal presence in the Lord without sin, heartache, or evil.

And that is why I remember today, the anniversary of my dad’s death, as precious. Today is a day of celebration because my dad is “at-one” with God. Today is a day of victory because it’s a reminder that on the cross, Jesus conquered sin and death. Today is a day of joyful anticipation because it’s a testament of what’s to come for all who believe – living eternally in the very presence of Jesus Christ.

Frederick Buechner wrote, “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” My hope is that you too would find peace, celebrate today as a victory and cling to Him who will give you strength.

And if you knew my dad, go eat a maple-bar in his honor ;)

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because you need to start your monday off with a laugh…

While I love living in Laos, there are a handful of things that I don’t like so much. One of those things are the critters. Laos is home to vipers, pythons, cobras and oh yeah, the world’s largest spider.

For those of you that don’t know, spiders are my biggest fear. I think it stems from the time my mom got bit by a spider and her knee swelled up so bad she couldn’t bend it and hopped around on crutches for a week. It scarred me for life.

A couple weeks ago after a restful night’s sleep, I woke up. Well that is to say, I tried. As I laid there in bed I thought wow! I must be really sleepy. I CANNOT open my eye! I fumbled my way to the bathroom still thinking the same thing – I slept really well and I don’t feel tired. Why is my eye glued shut? I cupped my hands, filled them with water from the faucet and lifted it to my face. Surely this will help. I grabbed a nearby towel, patted off my face and looked in the mirror to find this:

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Now, I don’t know for sure it was from a spider, but, a nurse-friend did confirm it was some kind of bite. A bite that swells your eye nearly shut and makes you look like Sloth from the Goonies.

It’s been three weeks since and I still have the bite on my eyelid. But thankfully, I no longer look like this:

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Thanks for laughing with me :)

home is wherever i’m with you

Even though I’m sitting here in Portland International Airport, it’s still hard to believe that it’s time to go back. On the one hand, I feel like I just got to America, was just getting used to riding in a huge car without a passenger, just getting used to the enormousness that is Target and just settling back into life and friendships. But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve been away from Laos FOREVER.

In preparing to go back, a weird phenomenon has taken place – I’ve come down with a mild case of identity crisis. I call it the I’m-in-limbo-between-two-places-and-don’t-know-where-I-belong syndrome. People who suffer from I’m-in-limbo-between-two-places-and-don’t-know-where-I-belong syndrome are often nomads, have strong ties to more than one place and enjoy traveling. If you suspect you know someone with I’m-in-limbo-between-two-places-and-don’t-know-where-I-belong syndrome, listen to their speech. Have you ever heard them participate in this conversation…?

Me: “I’m so excited to go home! I mean… Back to Laos!”
Mom: “Yeah! I can’t wait to see Laos. Err, um… Your home!”
Me: “The first thing we’ll do when we get home, or… uh… Laos is see my dog!”
Mom: “I can’t believe you have a dog in Laos! Eh, well… Your home!

In limbo between two places is a difficult place to be. You’re always in a long distance relationship, either with your friends and family from “home” or your friends/teammates/ coworkers/etc. from your “other home.” It’s also emotionally exhausting because you’re constantly saying goodbye to people when you travel between each place. And on top of that, it’s confusing because so much of who we are is developed out of where we come from. My first year at Moody, I resented anyone who referred to Chicago as my home because I had so much pride in being an Oregonian. I never wanted that to be stripped of my identity. And I never wanted to have to choose between the two.

But the Bible teaches us something different about being “home.” All throughout the Book of John, Jesus says abide in ME. Abide is a verb meaning to live so what Jesus is saying is live in me, make your home in me. We aren’t to abide in a single place or a structure, we are to abide in Jesus Christ. That’s good news for a girl who has lived in 10 different places since graduating high school (not to mention the countless couches I’ve surfed on visits home).

See, I don’t abide in Salem, OR or Chicago, IL or even Vientiane, Laos for that matter. I abide in Jesus Christ, and therefore, no matter where I am in this world, I’m always at home.

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Chicago – One of my “homes”

a whole bunch of punch lines

Blame it on reverse culture-shock or jet lag or… an overall terrible memory, but when someone asks me to tell them a story about Laos, my brain turns to mush and I can’t remember anything that ever happened.

Ever.

So, I’ve compiled this list of stories:

The time I held a monk’s hand.
The time I got pooped on by a gecko.
The time there was a gecko in my motorcycle helmet.
The time there was a spider on my neck.
The time I talked about Easter and Christmas at school.
The time I waited 3 hours at the bus station.
The time a monk said I was beautiful.
The time I found a puppy in my classroom.
The time I couldn’t remember the word for “ice”.
The time I said a bad word (in Lao).
The time I said a bad word (in English).
The time I taught my class the word “butt”.
The time a student wrote “spider” as an occupation.
The time I rafted through a waterfall.
The time I taught my class the game spoons.
The time the tailor made my clothes out of Emily’s material.
The time I learned the lyrics to “Get Low” in Lao.
The time I road the bus to Laos from Vietnam.
The time I fed an elephant sugarcane from my mouth.
The time I was told not to eat ice cream.
The time I threw up under the bed.
The time my boss pushed me off of his motorcycle.

So the next time you see me, feel free to ask me to tell you one of these stories.

But beware… I just told you the punchline to most of them.

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