Moving On

This is my last week as an English teacher in Phayao. It’s somewhat strange and surreal when I sit down and think about all I’ve been through while here. I taught 27 and 24 classes a week, and stuck out the term. I learned so many things about myself. I’ve learned that I’m both weaker than I think I am, and stronger than I thought I was. I’ve learned that I can’t do it on my own, that I need people as well as God. Many days I found it hard to engage with God, and unfortunately, sometimes I didn’t make much of an effort. But I’m here; I made it, I did it. It was far from perfect, and downright messy at times. I didn’t do nearly as much as I could or should have. But I did something. I didn’t make as many Thai friends or engage with the language and culture as much as I would have liked, but all the same I made a few and learned a little of both. It’s something, yes? I guess I always expect a lot from myself, but as we all do, I always miss the mark and become keenly aware of my humanity. I’m really just a small stroke in the big picture, but I did something. I didn’t stay, I went. I wasn’t a hero, but I was here. I failed some, and succeeded some. There may be some things to regret, but there are some to be proud of.

It’s learning to see the same thing from different places. I’ve viewed the same mountain, the same scenery, so many times; but each time when viewed from a different place, I see it as if it’s for the first time. Is this not life? We see the same people, places, and things day in and day out, so much so that we see them as normal or even mundane. Yet, that something can be called “natural,” makes it so very “supernatural” — that what is here one day is here the next, is so very miraculous. Could it be, that every day, we could see things in the light of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving, knowing that just as they are, they could just as easily not be. Whether it’s the sun rising or setting, the moon casting its subtle light, the stars shimmering, the refreshing breeze, the rhythm of waves, the taste of food or coffee or beer, the strangers who bear the image of God, the friends who would die for us and the family who loves us, or the God who created and sustains it all, and has given it as a miraculous gift.

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When driving dirt roads and finding new places, it brings a sense of nostalgia and sorrow. I’m leaving behind a beautiful place. I’m especially sad in the moments of peace and quiet, when I see just how blessed I am to be here. I ponder the incredible gift I have been given in this season, to be in a place such as this, to explore and experience and have adventure, to teach hundreds of students, to be in a foreign land – immersed in another culture and a different language.

It’s hard to describe how this immaculate beauty has touched my heart. Winding through roads up the mountain, passing villages and villagers working their fields. They farm corn all through the mountains, on their slopes. Children are out along the road. A quiet haze is settled over the mountains, making them mystical. It’s silent, and the breeze is steady. I’m in awe, this wonder is hard to describe. I guess the words to describe are grateful and thankful, in this wonder and amazement.

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A beautiful drive through the mountains in Northern Thailand. Here, they farm corn on the mountain sides

Despite the ups and downs, times of loneliness and isolation, and moments of doubt, I’m so thankful for this season – it’s been a gift. And I am reminded over and over again, that only Jesus fulfills, only he satisfies. I wander and run and question and doubt, but I always come to know that he is everything. Would I die for him, will I live for him? Do I truly believe in his worth, above all others, above all else? I am reminded that no place or person, no mountain or sea, no earthly beauty or magnificence can compare to him. I could go the ends of the earth, looking for what I can only find in his heart. His heart is my home. If would never see another mountain or sea, if my feet would never wander the world again, he would be enough, and I would miss nothing.

I don’t think I yet realize how blessed I’ve been to receive such gifts, to have been surrounded by such beauty, and to be bestowed with the undeserved. I won’t see it’s worth until I’ve lost it. I’ve asked to see God, and he’s here – showing himself in the waterfall, in nature, in the mountains, in the drives, fragments of his beauty and goodness hidden in everything around me. He’s shown himself, subtly but not fully hidden, to those who would search for him. It’s the greatest lie that would say life shows no traces of him, that all is left to chance. If this were so, there would only be death, for the world is only inclined towards such. The fact that there is life at all is the miracle, and proves it must be some great act of One’s will that its rhythm still continues, day in and day out. The fact that we recognize beauty outside of ourselves – externally – means but it must exist according to someone’s/something’s definition outside of ourselves, rather than only internally. There must be a standard of life and beauty and romance. Holiness is everywhere, because God is everywhere.

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Doi Phu Nang NP, staring at Tansawan waterfall

I look behind, and you are there; I see up ahead, and you are there; I stare in front of me, and you are there. You always have been, always will be, and always are. Every moment has been full of your presence, the darkness even full of your light. Nothing keeps me from your goodness; nothing hides me from your love. I am found; I am at home in you. What does the past mean for the future? What does the present mean for the past and future? Make me at home in the past, present and future – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Make me a home in valley, the mountain top, the desert, in fire, flood and calm.

Maybe my great fear is that nothing will ever change – that I will never change. That I will always be lost and wandering from desert to desert, shore to shore, without purpose or destiny. That I will never find what I’m looking for. Unless, what I seek is never meant to be found. Because maybe all that matters is that I AM FOUND. I’m constantly aware that I am not who I should be, that things are not as they should be. There is only ONE who is as he should be – my Father. And one day, with a single whisper or shout (none can know), he will make all people and all things, just as they should be. No more wandering, no more deserts, no more seas to turn us around, only the rest and peace we’ve all been seeking and longing for.

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Could it be that in the moments we feel as if we’re becoming weaker, he is actually making us stronger? In the moments we feel as if we’re without, he is actually giving us (or making room for) more?

Father, give me grace to believe in what I cannot see or hear. To believe the truth that seems to contradict what I do see and hear. Blessed is he that believes, even when he does not see. It’s as much a choice as a truth to be fulfilled and satisfied by God, to be content in him. It’s not some automatic, magical happening, but a hard fought conquering. The tendency of our hearts is not towards the external – what is good, but towards the internal – what is selfish. Yes, I am light, but also I choose to walk in it. Yes, I am righteous, but also I choose to be holy. Yes, I have been given everything I need in him, but also I choose to seek it in him. Yes, he alone is worthy, but I choose to see his worth. It’s the great paradoxes and tensions of Christianity. What is, and our choice to live in what is.

(Stay tuned for more upcoming pictures of students and school…)

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A weekend trip to Nan
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Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan province

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Art and culture festival in Nan

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Thai teachers
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Boy Scouts camping trip in a local national park

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The eerie Ban Daam (“Black House”) in Chiang Rai

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Wat Rong Kun (“White Temple”) in Chiang Rai

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Boy Scout activities

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Paying homage to a shrine of a previous king of Thailand credited with initiating the required Boy Scouts program
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Exploring on a day off

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Waterfalls in a nearby national park

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Student photographers
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Thai wedding reception
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Mae Chaem National Park

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During a drive along the lake, I discovered some of my students at this swimming hole
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Phayao
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The road along the lake
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Phu Chi Fa

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A crowd awaiting the sunrise

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Thai families enjoying the waterfall
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Exploration in Phayao

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Students playing a speaking/listening game called “Running Dictation”

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Prayer at a Wat (temple) in Chiang Mai

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Monk’s blessing
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The best coffee in Chiang Mai
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The moat around “old city” Chiang Mai
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Coffee beans drying in a small town/village outside of Chiang Mai
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When we stopped for a break on our drive, this kind man invited us inside his home for water, and even invited us to stay for the night – hospitality at its finest!
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A traditional elevated wooden home in Northern Thailand

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I found multiple buildings/complexes/Wats and statues on a small mountain in Phayao while exploring one day

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…and an incredible view

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This and another statue overlook the town of Phayao (interestingly enough)
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Wat Analayo – a famous local Wat

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Workers in the fields

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