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 ;)


goodbyes suck

 I don’t cry a lot, I’m not easily stressed out, and my mood is not like that of a Six Flags roller-coaster. So in general, I don’t consider myself a super emotional person (but who knows… my roommates might have something to say about that). However, for the past week I’ve been a ticking time bomb, about to explode at any moment. A simple smile, meaningful word, generous gift or kind hug sends me into a state of unmanageable, unstoppable, wild, ugly cry. The kind of cry where you lose control of the muscles in your face, your whole body heaves in and out deeply, you make super awkward noises (even though you’re trying to be as quiet as possible), and your face turns into Niagara Falls – eyes, nose, and even mouth. It’s called the “ugly cry” because it’s not a pretty sight.

So why the blubbering mess? Because saying goodbye sucks.

It’s just the worst.

And it’s very painful.


I wrote this the day I left for Colorado in the airport and what is written above is as far as I got. I wanted it to end with uplifting application and an appropriate verse. But I couldn’t finish it. I was in pain and I kept asking God WHY IS FOLLOWING YOU SO HARD?! Why can’t following you be the easier thing?

At orientation we spend every morning in worship and devotions lead by the president of the organization and I was reminded of the high cost of following Jesus. Yesterday we spent time in Acts 7 and 8 looking at the end of Stephen’s life. The Bible recounts:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 7:54 – 8:4).

So many times we read passages like this and skip right over to the next section before considering the ramifications of the circumstances. Take this passage for instance… Was Stephen married? In his death did he leave behind a widow, a woman whom he had loved and protected for most of their lives, now on her own? Did Stephen have children? Were they possibly nearby, hiding behind their mother, watching, crying as they saw their father dragged out, beaten and killed?

These are the ugly, painful consequences that we either gloss over too quickly or don’t think about at all. And while Jesus doesn’t cause our pain, following Jesus is painful. But somehow, in the midst of the Lord’s sovereignty, even this tragedy was in the hands of our Father and He used it to spread the Gospel.

So what I’ve learned is that following Jesus is hard. And sometimes it hurts me. But in sorrow, and in joy, it’s all for the glory of God!

a gyro a day keeps the doctor away

First of all… the word gyro is pronounced like Euro (as in the currency used by most EU countries). Not with a “g” sound like gy-row or g-euro or ger-o. Think silent “g” people! I should know – I went to Greece. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s begin! :)

There are no words to describe my time in Greece.

Except… amazing, awesome, rewarding, growing, and learning (so I guess there are words to describe my time in Greece).

The first thing people ask me is what was your favorite memory? And that’s an easy one – teaching my English class. I had never taught an English class before and honestly it had never crossed my mind to try. On Fridays the women on the team have a “personal ministry day”. Some teach classes and visit refugee homes and others spend time learning the language or volunteering with other Greek ministries. The week before I arrived my “host mother” introduced Emily to some girls who wanted to practice their English and… the class was born. I arrived just in time for the inaugural first day! We worked on verbs, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Although it was only 6 weeks long, the girls really improved their skills. And found a way into my heart.

Another question people often ask me is what was your favorite dish? Now that, is a difficult question. One that I don’t think I can answer indefinitely. The gyros, obviously, were amazing. There’s an ancient saying in Greece that translates as a gyro a day keeps the doctor away. Or maybe I just made that up to feel better about myself…

Regardless, I’ve made it my personal mission this semester to find authentic Greek gyros in the city. No, the SDR (student dining room) version doesn’t cut it.

I also loved Greek salad – minus the tomatoes. Would it be wrong for me to start saying that I have a food allergy to tomatoes? It would get people to stop harassing me about my dislike for the darn things.

Would you like tomato on your sandwich?
No thanks, I’m allergic.

And we’d all move on and still be friends.

One day when we were cooking at the ARC someone brought up manicotti and Donna, one of the team members and queen of the kitchen, told us that it was a staple in her home growing up. Her Italian mother would make crepes to fill with the cheese mixture instead of using noodles. YUM! I begged politely asked if she would teach me her ways and Donna obliged. Believe me, once you use crepes you’ll never go back to boring noodles.

Unless you have a strange phobia of crepes. Then keep using noodles.

Since learning in Athens, I’ve made it several times at home and got rave reviews. But my family would never tell me if they didn’t like my cooking. They’re too nice. The real test will be if it stands up to hungry, ravenous, college boys who compare everything to mom’s cookin’. I can’t compare to mom’s cookin’!

But maybe the next time I make it I’ll snap some pics to show you how it’s done.

I also learned to make humus which is incredibly simple. Just don’t forget to add the tahini! Most people leave this ingredient out thinking it’s just chickpeas and seasoning. It’s not. Ask my mom.

One of the great things about staying in Athens was that when Emily and I had free time we could hop (figuratively, not literally) on the metro and within minutes be staring at the Parthenon, swimming in the sea, or exploring a museum. I’m sure this was a very different experience than my friends who did their internship in the middle of the bush in Africa. When those kids had free time I bet they slept. That’s what I’d do.

And how much sightseeing can you do in the middle of the bush in Africa anyway? I don’t think much.

Not that I have anything against the bush. I’ve been there. We’re tight.

One weekend we headed west to see ancient Corinth with some fellow teammates. I learned a lot about the Bible that I never knew before. For example, it is absolutely necessary to understand Greek mythology when reading the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. Each of Jesus’ “I Am” statements are a direct rebuttal to the Greek gods and goddesses worshiped by many.

Demeter – Goddess of the harvest who presided over grains, the fertility of the Earth and the seasons.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” -John 6:35

Apollo – Recognized as a god of light and the sun.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” -John 8:12

Pan – God of the wild, shepherds and flocks.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me….” -John 10:11-14

Dionysus – Overseer of the grape harvest, wine making, and wine.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:1,5

I also learned about Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. In ancient times, a person who was sick would go to the asclepeion, a healing temple, and pray to said god to get well. If he or she did in fact get better, they would commission a sculpture of the body part which was healed and display it on a pedestal somewhere in the city. In ancient Corinth hundreds of life size terracotta body parts have been recovered. These are the G-rated ones.

So now imagine the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth, a city filled with dismembered body parts, these words (1 Corinthians 12:12-31):

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Um. Can you say goosebumps? How cool is that?!

And if you already knew this, please don’t rain on my parade. Thanks!

A couple weekends later, Emily and I took the train to Meteora (per the advice of Brent and Travis). On the edge of the small town of Kalambaka soar GIANT rock formations straight into the sky and on the tops of these bad boys are monasteries built between the 15th and 16th centuries. It is unreal. If you ever go to Greece PROMISE me you’ll go to Meteora. You won’t regret it.

photo credit - Emily Mueller

This is the view from our hotel – the main drag in town and the rocks in the background. Emily and I hiked 4 out of 6 of those suckers (and the miles and miles in between).

P.S.  If you really do visit let me know and I’ll give you a GREAT hotel recommendation. And please note that the all caps was to emphasize how great and enjoyable our hotel really was, not to be sarcastic. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Oh. Another thing people ask me is did you learn any Greek?

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Ok, that’s not completely true. I can say hi (yasas) but that about sums it up. I did however learn some Farsi. Yay! I can say greetings and goodbyes, count to 10, the color green is saps, knock-a-she means coloring page, cardaste is craft, and chasp means glue. Can you tell I worked with kids a lot?

So there you have it, folks! My favorite highlights from Greece bundled up into one neat, tidy, little package. (If only! This is just the tip of the iceberg.) And if you haven’t already, make sure to read my previous posts from on the field for more juicy stories and pretty pictures.

Thank you for making this mission trip/internship/crazy-learning-experience possible! It truly could not have been done without your prayers and financial support.  I’m blessed beyond words!

the apostle paul preaches in athens

on mars hill with the acropolis in background

In lieu of going to church this morning, Emily and I went with some other team members to Mars Hill (or the Areopagus).  It was here Paul delivered his famous speech to the Athenians about the identity of the unknown god.  We sat on the hill and read the passage together and the words came to life as we looked across the landscape to the shrines Paul was describing.  This evening I re-read the passage in The Message translation.  Verse 29 is translated “One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?”  I love the visual image of Paul saying these words as he stands on a huge marble rock – the very medium in which the Greeks used to carve their statues.  Who says the Bible isn’t funny?

Acts 17:16-33
(via The Message)
16The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols.

17-18He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicurean and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What an airhead!” But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”

19-21These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything.

22-23So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

24-29″The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

30-31″God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32-34At the phrase “raising him from the dead,” the listeners split: Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul—among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris.

The next verse is Acts 18:1 – “After Athens, Paul went to Corinth.”  And next Sunday… we’re going to Corinth :)

using tragedy for “self-promotion”

Yesterday afternoon I was enjoying a nap when my roommate came into our room and woke me up.  “Lauren!  There was a shooting on the corner of campus!”  Still half asleep, I got in the elevator with her and went down to dinner.  In the basement we passed several students telling their account of what happened.  In the kitchen the staff were huddled around another employee reciting what he had read on the news.  At our dinner table everyone wanted to chime in his or her two cents.  And after dinner I got on Facebook to find my newsfeed flooded with posts, links, status updates, and tweets regarding the shooting.  Sadly, not a single one of these included a call to prayer or words of encouragement.

My opinion is that we used a tragic event for our own self-promotion.  The issue here is that unless you were one of the people who actually witnessed the event, this tragedy did not directly affect us yet it was blasted over the Internet like it did.  Was the purpose in promoting the story to bring awareness of crime in Chicago or simply to cast a spotlight on ourselves and say, “Look at me!  I was involved in this.”

The truth of the matter is crime and violence happen every single day in Chicago and no one expresses a burden or shows concern.  Possessions are stolen, children are kidnapped, women are raped, and men are assaulted.  But when crime happens on the “good” side of town, suddenly every media outlet picks up the story.

While I do not endorse the man’s actions (pulling a gun and shooting a police officer), I am deeply saddened by the way the newscasters broadcast the incident.  ABC’s headline read “aggressive panhandler”; FoxNews referred to the homeless as “them”, ending their story with tips to avoid panhandlers; WGN called the man “mentally ill” but never cited where that information came from; and viewer comments on CBS’s story read “one more down” and “better the thug dead than a police officer…”.  Until today, no news report used the man’s name to identify him.  He was simply known as “the panhandler” who shot a police officer.  Regardless of the fact that he committed a crime, this man is now in eternity and we should be heartbroken that it may not be heavenly.

In Matthew 5:14-16, Christ tells us, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Did the world see light yesterday when camera crews were at our backdoor?  Did our light shine before men?  What if instead of “Dead Man ID’d After River North Shootout” the headlines read “Students Gather to Pray After Fatal Shooting Rocks River North Neighborhood”.

Please don’t think I’m condemning you, my fellow classmates.  Rather, I’m calling us, as Jesus did, to be light before men.