Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reunions & Relationship

I hate goodbyes.  No question about it.

But I do love hellos.

A couple weeks ago I was able to travel to the orphanage to visit the kids we took to the states with Window to Hope this summer.

I had brought letters from all the host families and some small gifts as well.  The sweetest moment to me was when I laid out the gifts on the floor (for them to choose) and handed them their letters at the same time.   You’d never have known that candy and toys were lying in the middle of the room; instead each child was enraptured in reading the letters they had received.  You could have heard a pin drop as they each sat there reading, smiles appearing on their faces as they read.   Finally I had to remind them about the presents.

Being with these kids reminded me again what they are hungry for.  Relationship.

Yes, kids love candy and kids love stuff.  In reality, we all do. Sometimes we even think that the chocolate bar or the latest gadget will make us happy—just like these kids.

But at the end of the day, what we really want is to be known.  We want to know that someone is thinking about us.  We want to know that someone cares about what happens in our day.   We want to know that we are not forgotten.   We want to know that we are liked…or even better, loved. 

We want to know that our life matters to someone. 

After most of the kids filed out of the room where we’d been hanging out, two of the older girls remained. I sensed the desire for connection and relationship stronger within these two.  They wanted to reminisce and remember together.  They took turns sharing favorite memories from the summer and funny things that had happened in their host families, things they missed and things they learned.

I didn’t really recognize what was happening in that moment but what I saw taking place was so healthy.  The ability to call to mind positive memories and to relive them helps us form our identity.  To have shared memory with others is both healing and connecting.   Relationship is vital. 

My heart breaks when I think of the number of kids in this country-- no, the amount of kids in this world, who don’t have a relationship with a healthy adult.  More than buildings, more than resources, more than clothes and food, kids need people.   Such a simple and yet timeless message.

It doesn’t matter where you live. There is need in every city, state and nation.  Who are the children God has placed closest to you?  Where are kids near you that are in desperate need of relationship?  They are there if you look up—and they are needing to know that they are not forgotten. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Little Women in Bangkok

To wrap up my time in Thailand I was able to spend 4 days with my dear friend Mandy and her family.  The Smiths were missionaries in Kiev in my early days here and we were in a Bible study together that joined a sweet group of friends--several of us still friends today!  Mandy is one amazing mom to 6 of the sweetest kids I know and is tackling life as mama in the big city of Bangkok!  She is also a talented blogger and photographer who you can follow along at Seventh Smith as she documents their daily Thai adventures.

Their family has only been in Thailand for 10 months, so they are still playing tourist a bit when they get the chance. Mandy is my inspiration!  I’ve always said I want a big family so I loved seeing my friend traipse through the crazy transport system of Bangkok with all her little ducks in a row.  My tall, beautiful friend, with 5 darling girls trailing behind her and me trying to lend a helping hand where I could—I think we made for quite a scene on the Bangkok Train system.  Little Women or the Bennett sisters...I'm not sure which!

On this fun outing we left Mandy's only boy with a friend and had a girls day in the city, using 3 modes of transportation and making it to one of the many temple locations. A culture education to say the very least.  My lens sure enjoyed all the vibrant colors.

Mandy too is a photographer, so we had fun exchanging lighting and setting tips and taking pictures of each other in action! And as you can see she has five beautiful little models who are not camera shy!

I am so grateful for friendship that endures time and miles—there is something about having shared your life in a place far from home that unites internationals for life.  We had not seen each other in 5 years and yet we picked up where we left off—enjoying lots of late night chats and ice cream to catch up on the years we had missed!  Such a sweet time.

the largest 'lying Buddha'

We became good 'fwends' on the many tuk tuk rides around the city!
Little miss fashion diva!

Thanks Smiths for an amazing time in Bangkok! Never fun to say goodbye...but I hope to be back soon! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lions & Tigers & Elephants...Oh My!

I was in Thailand for a conference (see previous post) and to visit and learn from our Orphan's Promise office in Chiangmai.   BUT after work was over, I had to make some time for play too!  And I can say hands down that the highlight of this part of my trip was TIGER KINGDOM!

After my time with the tigers I learned that everyone apparently has a secret desire to snuggle with a baby tiger, as the facebook pictures I posted gathered more likes then any pictures I’ve ever posted and seemed to evoke comments of envy from friends and acquaintances alike! Who knew everyone wants to touch a tiger?!

I will say that when my friend Karen posted pictures of her time at Tiger Kingdom a year ago, I too had that tinge of jealously rise up.  As a closet cat lover I definitely had secret desires to play with a tamer version of a tiger—and so added Chiangmai to the bucket list. (I just didn’t realize I’d get to make it only a year later!)

I will admit that even in their 4-month old form these beauties are a little intimidating.  Maybe it was the bite marks that I saw on the trainer’s hand, or the signs that were posted about not making and ‘sudden movements’ and not touching the head of the tiger.   Let's just say I was still feeling a little nervous, despite the smile on my face.

There were 4 choices at Tiger Kindgom for tiger visiting….Big, medium, small and smallest.   Visions of an untimely death and being mauled by a hungry adult tiger didn’t exactly sound like the best way to end my time in Thailand, so I played it safe and went with the small and the smallest tigers.   Seeing the big kitties from the other side of the fence was close enough for me!

Yes, they really were sleeping (I was not), yes, they purred, and yes, the smallest ones were my favorite—the ones deemed ‘small’ (like the one above) were already a bit too feisty for my liking! (Notice I'm keeping my distance!)

I managed to leave with 10 fingers still in tact and some awesome pictures of my brush with wild life. Thank you Tiger Kingdom!

"Approach the tiger from behind, that way they not think you want to play....."
Seeing the big kitties from through the cage was close enough for me :)
The other cool thing to do in Chiang Mai is have a ride on the elephants!  What dear dear creatures these are.  At the Maesa Elephant Camp I was treated to an elephant show (who knew elephants can play soccer, paint pictures and throw darts?), saw a 1 month-old baby, road through the hills hoisted high on one of these amazing creatures, and received a good many kisses from their long trunks.

Also, a very cool experience!   So there you go Thailand, free tourism advertising.  Thanks for the wonderful time—hope to come back again! 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

4/14 Window in Thailand

Can’t say that Asia was on my bucket list of travel destinations, but after 2 weeks in what is deemed the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’ I have a new-found love for this part of the world.  Did I mention I love Thai food?

I was privileged to travel to Thailand to participate in the 4/14 Window ‘Rooted and Released’ conference in Bangkok.

What is the 4/14 Window you may be asking??  In short- it is a pretty amazing movement, which is focusing on seeing children as partners in mission. As in...don't forget about the children- they are important!

Statistically speaking, those who accept Christ between the ages of 4 and 14 will go on to follow Christ in their adult years.  Simply put, reaching children is critical.   As one of the speakers stated, “The church is never more than one generation away from extinction.” A very sobering thought.

Though I was raised in a Christian home I can say that my faith became my own at the age of 14, an age where the choices of going one-way or the other were screaming for my attention.  Praise God, thanks to discipleship and good teaching, my faith was cultivated and grown.  At that key age—14.

The purpose of the conference was bringing together leaders from across the world (92 nations to be exact!) and to bring teaching and resources for reaching today’s youth—as teachers, preachers, missionaries, media entities, etc.  I was there to take part in the Orphan and Vulnerable Children track and share strategies and ideas in that sphere. Again- surrounded by a phenomenal group of people.

Eastern European representatives
candles lit at the conclusion of our prayer time for orphans
In all honesty, I went to this conference rather tired.  I’ve organized and been a part of a good amount of conferences in my life and sometimes can feel like I’ve heard and seen it all—not a very humble attitude I admit!    So I went to this conference asking for some revival and some encouragement from the Lord…I think I realized I needed this to keep going. 

Today, 2 weeks later I’m still going through all my notes, trying to make sense of it all and trying to wrap my head around all I learned.  Believe me- there were many inspiring moments. One thing I was clearly challenged in is that we are going to have to get our hands dirty if we are going to make a difference. Or as it was said from the stage, “We need to put blood in the deal, and leave the talk behind.” Though my life may look glamorous to some from afar, I know that I play it safe in many spheres and choose the cleaner option- and I want this to change.

Wars are never fought from behind the palace walls.  Battles are never won in the castle; they are won on the fields.  I’m still wrestling with what this means in my work—where God is stretching me more and where he is calling me to step out of my comfort zone.  
So for now I'll leave this as a post that doesn't resolve with a nice wrapped up ending, as I'm still thinking and still wrestling with God on this one.  I guess I'm asking you to ask yourself the same question-- where are you playing it safe?  Where is God asking you to put action to words?

You'll have to answer that one for yourself.