Two Year Asian-versary

by Laura on March 31, 2012

Two years ago, today on April 1, our family was on an airplane moving to SE Asia. I don’t remember much about the plane ride except that it was long, and that I was really thankful the kids watched the movies on the seat-back screens. I remember being so excited and so hopeful and so very nervous.

And we landed and hit the ground running, trying our best to settle our family, get our bearings on the Girls’ Home we’d be working with, and adjust to living in a foreign place that was so-very-foreign. And I’m not going to lie, it’s been a heckuva two years. We’ve cried more and learned more and yelled more and pressed-in more than in any other season of our lives. And tonight we are going downtown to treat ourselves to some expensive Western food and pay for a 15- minute foot massage for all five of us at the Sunday street market. We’ll probably give each kid some money to blow on some terribly cheap something, where the vendor will touch Ava’s hair and Kelty will take three years to decide between a new hair clip and some type of jewelry. And I’m sure the night will involve ice cream in some form, because what’s a celebration without dessert?

But, I thought it fitting that I celebrate my family’s Thaiversary here on the blog, as well. Because, honestly, this webspace has been more of a lifeline for me personally that you will ever know. It’s been a creative outlet, a punching bag, and a community that I never expected. I look back over the past two years of my writing, and I recognize that I’ve found my voice and processed my experience on this blog, and for that, I am enormously grateful. Because I might have really lost it, had I not written about it.

And while my husband is working on a video to show the kids tonight of pictures of our two years in SE Asia so far, I thought I’d do a bit of a blog scrapbook here, as well– posting some of my favorite articles from our missions experience. Enjoy . . .

Favorite Posts from Two Years on the Field

The Beginning, Culture Shock and Such:

Crappy Missionary. One of my very first, very raw posts written from SE Asia {from our first house of three}. I talk about culture shock and how the first two weeks were nothing at all like I had imagined.  I remember it was so hot {don’t ask us why we chose to move to SE Asia in the hottest part of the year or on April Fool’s Day, for that matter}, and we were so deers-in-headlights.

While I feel like I knew how to swim in America, here in Asia I am a fish out of water.  I reckon my prayer should be (as Matt said yesterday) that “Jesus will grow us some legs fast.”  And I know that I will learn to walk here, eventually, but I think much of what I thought I could offer has been stripped away—right down to even my “right” to claim the ever-righteous “missionary” label.

New Girl. The one where I find the missionary community is not as welcoming as I had envisioned. Being independent missionaries, finding community has been a huge challenge for us, and I learned the hard way that living in a transient place makes others much less likely to engage.

On Moving House, Like a Lot. We’ve moved thirteen times in thirteen years of marriage and have lived in three different houses in SE Asia in the short two years we have been here. Welcome to the life of a missionary {or an Army wife, I assume}.

The Song that Made Them Stand. This story took place in a church here in Chiang Mai. It will always be burned into this church-snob brain of mine. One Sunday, the entire community of older missionaries stood spontaneously to a song. And I cried for the power of what they said without saying anything.

Because these older, wiser souls had left home and family before the convenience of Skype and email.  These men and women have hacked out a life overseas, and have stuck– for years, not just months.  They have lived in the real jungles and have said many more goodbyes than these lips have uttered.  They have been weathered by the winds and fires of a life-laid-down and have tasted Stranger over, and over, and over again.

I felt like I was a child among giants.

And I was reminded, by the simultaneous rising, that the song that made them stand,

is a Truth that has enabled them to.

The Injustice of Skpe. My girls dance one morning while their grandparents watch on Skype, and I am painfully reminded of how less that is– for all of us. Having my kids especially live away from family continues to be one of the toughest things for me personally about living overseas.

Vlog on Culture Shock. I explain an illustration about how culture shock is a bit like someone strangling you by the neck. And then learning to breathe on less air, with shallower breaths but surviving, nonetheless.

The Funny:

Matt Rides and Ostrich and Ava Eats Worms. Potentially, these are my two favorite videos of our experience here– good reminders that life here in Asia has offered us some um, unique, experiences, thus far:

8 Reasons You Should Never Become a Missionary. A tongue-in-cheek look at motivations that won’t get you too far on the mission field, like this one:

Don’t Become a Missionary to Find Cool Friends. Now, I’m not saying you won’t find amazing friends– maybe the best in your life– but there is no denying that the mission field can draw some pretty odd ducks. Don’t be surprised, though, if you find yourself in a church service with ladies wearing clothes from the 80?s singing praise songs from your middle-school years like Awesome God, but without even the drums. Don’t be surprised, too, if your social interactions are awkward at best with many of your fellow mission-souls. Living out the in jungles for twenty years might do wonders for your character and strength and important things, like, oh, the translation of the Bible into another language,but it can sure do a number on a person’s ability to shoot the breeze in a church lobby somewhere.

But, there, again, maybe there’s a necessary shifting that has to happen to your definition of cool, anyway.

Two Missionaries Walked Up to a Coffee Bar. This is a sarcastic rendering typical of many of my conversations with other missionaries here– the one-ups-manship would remind you of old men after a fishing tournament. {And it includes an awesomely telling photo of an elephant stepping on a guy, too.}

How a Missionary Kid Gets Lunch. While not terribly hilarious, this video is a quick snapshot of a daily lunch outing for me and the kids. {If you click on the link to the actual post, there are several other links to food “adventures” in SE Asia.}

The Ugly, and There’s Been a Whole Lot of That:

Knock-Down, Drag-Out. I wrote this post several months ago, as we felt caught in a cycle of dream, hope, and nope. And your comments from about dreams being smashed offered me more encouragement than you’ll know.

And just like that, we deflate. Hope gets the wind knocked out of her, and we find ourselves on the mat, head spinning and nose bloody, wondering what in the world just happened to our dreams.

But, there’s still some fight left in us, we tell ourselves– at the beginning, at least.  There’s still some fight left.

And, so, we regather. We shake our heads and stand back to our feet, positive that that last experience wasn’t really “it,” anyway, and that God needed to make us stronger with that one, in order to give us this next one.

Rescue. This was a tear-jerking story about when my five-year-old packed his suitcase and demanded a flight home back to America, literally. If you’ve read much from the first year, you’ll know that we all struggled but that he especially hated SE Asia during the initial months. The food, the loss of friends, the fact that we were working with an all- girls’ home were all especially tough on his heart.

When you Become an Awful Person. I kept referencing this post because it highlights the reality for me of all the mess in my heart that has been dug up while living overseas. I’ve tried to be honest here about all the ways I have epically screwed it up, but this post, written after a truly awful day, still remains one I return to often.

What if  the men who dropped nets to follow Jesus, became awful people in the process? What if they were more cheerful and less angry when they were just normal fishermen?

Because we dropped nets.  And here we are. And we both feel a whole lot awfuler.

And, somehow, I don’t think that’s what following Jesus should look like.  I mean, you step out in love and faith, and it’s supposed to make you a better person, right?  A more loving spouse, a better parent, a gentler soul? But what if your pursuit of the better makes you just worser in the process?

Everything is Spiritual. Except for When Maybe It Isn’t. Here I talk about a major Ministry-Fail from our past.  I ask some hard questions about how we Christians so often over-spiritualize in a subconscious effort to excuse our screw-ups or justify our behavior. Two years in and a lot of cynicism later, I still think this is one of the largest lessons I’ve learned here.

And, obviously, all of life has a spiritual aspect, and for the Christ-follower, that spiritual essence should permeate our very core, but I wonder how often we use God as a crutch to excuse our own failures or as a stamp of approval to bolster our own goals?  I wonder how often we point-the-finger at the spiritual realm like some kind of mystical force that is either out to hurt us or help us, depending on our perceived need of the moment.

Of course, there’s grace for our many mistakes {even our own miscommunication in the train-wreck ten years ago} and there’s that divine mystery that “all roads ultimately lead to God’s purposes.”  I do believe that  God’s Spirit walks and guides intimately, perfectly, practically– in jobs and sicknesses and conflict,  in every moment that life happens and paths are chosen.  But his perfect guiding doesn’t necessarily equate to our perfect following.  And this is where I struggle– when we Christians {and I’m including myself here} assume and claim that does.

At the Virtual Coffee Shop {Conversations I’ve loved}:

The Cosmic Bartender. An image of God being a bartender and sliding a perfectly-designed drink for you across the bar.

Could Tattooing be a Form of Baptism? A question that makes me wonder if I should get inked sooner than later.

Why ‘Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question. The discussion this generated at my home with my kids is still life-changing for us. {About parenting and helping our kids love better}

Justice: On Bikes and Bullies. An insightful conversation generated here about how to bring social justice to earth, using an example from our neighborhood kids.

The Guy in the Rice Field Never Read Wild at Heart {And Maybe He’s Happier}: This post {and one of my all-time favorites entitled On Living a Good Story and Why You Shouldn’t Try so Hard} took a major stab at the idea of “following your dreams” that we so often buy into in our Christian circles. I honesty ask some hard questions here about the way we view God and our purpose, and apparently, so did you . . .

I remember reading John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart as a young 20-something. I can honestly say that it changed my life in that it opened up this whole world of dreaming big for my future, of expecting the miraculous from my work, of paying attention to the desires of my inner heart. Other books I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard and blogs I’ve followed in the last decade have only encouraged this same idea that I should be a world changer, that my dreams are part of God’s Bigger Story, and that I shouldn’t settle for anything less. We’ve fed on a fairly steady diet that God can and will use us in larger-than-life ways, if only we’ll be brave enough to let him.

And these ideas are not entirely bad ones. Not in the least. They are Biblical, in fact, on many levels.

But, but.

I wonder if the movement in Western Christianity to “embrace your dreams” is coupled with the resources and education naturally at our disposal, if what we become burdened with instead is an insatiable desire for the dramatic.

And, unfortunately, this quest for The Dream, The Calling can lead to mountainous discontent– especially if I find myself back in the land of the quiet and normal.

The Ministry and the Missionary:

Knowledge of Pattaya. This post records the true story of when our family of five stumbled accidentally into the heart of the red-light district in Pattaya, SE Asia. Looking back, I see this as a very small brush with a world that we eventually would become very involved in.  Later, I would write about the similarities between myself and the prostitute across town, and I’d write a post about the street children with roses, too.

She Threw a Rock. I remember watching an orphan fight for herself during my account of this story of a little girl at the Children’s Home we worked at last year. It’s a small picture of the plight of the parentless child.

When Missions Goes Hollywood. Here I ask some honest questions about the ways we missionaries communicate and the  exploitation ministries often use to raise funds. Later, I would write an Official Apology to all NonMissionaries, too.

But, I’m on the ground here in Chiang Mai, SE Asia, which happens to be somewhat of a Christian mecca for missions organizations in all of Asia, and a story I’ve seen repeated more than once from or by the missionaries here is one of

false advertising.

Because anybody can have a good website.

And, let’s be honest, a good website with moving pictures of the impoverished or the primitive, sells.  Or fundraises, to be more specific.  And since so much of the work here is support-based, it’s a bit of a game that missionaries and organizations have to play.  We live in a virtual age, after all, when the validity of a company is based in large part by the flashiness of its website, and nonprofits are having to compete, naturally, if they want to survive and raise the necessary funds to further their visions.

And I get it.  I understand the language of SEO tags and google analytics, but my greatest struggle is when ministries paint a picture for their online viewer that isn’t actual reality or when they use content that actually exploits the people they are supposed to be helping.

Stressed-Out Missionary. This post, surprisingly, remains my most-popular article to date. I write about the negative effects of stress on the missionary, and the respect we should give it.

The Guy in the Orange Shirt. In regards to overseas ministry, this post {and the vlog about it} remains one of the most shocking things I’ve learned in our cross-cultural work. That, alas, we are not nearly as important as we thought we were.

And I think the reason this idea has bothered me over the past few months is because I came to SE Asia with a bit of a Savior-complex. I flew over oceans because I was caught up in the assumption that I had the answers and abilities and funds those people needed.

But I was wrong.

And I wonder how much of my service has been motivated by selfish-ambition, wonder how much of my “loving the poor” has been wrapped up in a thirst for the dramatic.

And this is hard to admit– hard to admit that perhaps I have been serving with a bit of an agenda.

But, humbling as it may be to confess, I still think it’s true–

Because authentic love for the orphan doesn’t care about jobs or recognition or drama.

And genuine care for the least of these has no regard for pats-on-the-back

or the color of shirt it wears.

**************************

Again, thank you for intersecting with our lives here via comments and shares and conversations over the past two years. Maybe we’ve met already or perhaps we never will, but for me, your virtual presence here has proven a greater gift than I ever would have guessed. Thanks for offering it. Truly.

***************

Now, my time to give back a little. Can I pray for you about something today?

 

  • Shanda Oakley

    Wow…I cannot wait to come back and read all these posts. I was in Chiang Mai and Mae Sai in October on a missions trip. Grew up a mk in Africa and was a missionary in Africa as an adult. I also have a college friend who is a missionary in Chiang Mai now.
    I’m gonna have fun reading these!

  • Nicola Olsen

    Wow, what highlights! I’ve read a few posts over the last few months via a friend who keeps re-posting them, and I totally get it, being a missionary myself (recently returned from 2 months in Chiang Rai), you literally write what I think many people think and feel (no need to write my own blog! ha ha). Seriously though, great job using this as a processing tool that also encourages and teaches others. Keep it up!!

    • lauraparkerblog

      thanks, so much, Nicola– cool that you were so close to us!  we are in chiang mai!  :)  

  • http://mirembeekisa.wordpress.com/ Erin

    I’m so very proud of you! Living the life you and your family is living is so.ridiculously.hard. and I’m so glad to be apart of this little space. Congrats on two years and praying for ya’ll as you enter year three. 

    As for me…I’m finding something out about myself that just complicates this whole being a missionary thing: I’m not a self-starter. I like getting direction. I like being told what needs to be done by when. I run best on lists, deadlines, and direction. But we each have different roles here and I know I SHOULD start taking the lead on things, but I just don’t know how. I don’t know if it’s because I live in fear of messing up, or if it’s part of my personality. Or both. I don’t want people to think I shouldn’t have come because I’m not the go-getter that the other missionaries in the ministry are. I don’t know exactly what you can pray for…but I know I need it. 

    Thank you for your words and heart, friend

    • lauraparkerblog

      Jesus, i life up precious Erin. Will you give her exactly what she needs right now to be fruitful– whatever that looks like? Will you grow her, stretch her, build her? Will you cover her from the harsh opinions of others or the harsh opinion she gives to herself.  Will you let her thrive in you, stay close to you during these days?  Amen.

      • Erin

        all I have to give back to this is a deep and heartfelt “thank you”

        • lauraparkerblog

          oh, Erin. thank you. i feel like we are truly friends. even if we never meet.

  • Thewaltersfarm

    Sitting in my bed on Sunday afternoon watching Ava eat worms with my girls on each side of me & Matt ride the ostrich & your bike ride to the noodle shop & the first video when your 1/2 way there at the airport has provided quite the laugh/cry afternoon.  Abby said “didn’t she come to my ballet class Mom.”  And didn’t understand why I cried some more.
    You are brave Laura. And your a darn awesome Mama.
    And you have chosen to fight for your heart here & I admire that.
    I commend you for being consistent with writing, for being humble & transparent.
    Your voice is needed in the world.  Your voice matters….is a tool that Father is using in lives all over the place.
    I can’t believe its been 2 years- 2 very long years & while I still long to have you in Asheville & hope we do get just one more season of living some daily life together, I love that your my best highschool bud that took me to my first Bible study & wet my appetite for knowing Jesus.  
    Heres to another 2 years of fruitful writing!
    Love you.

    • lauraparkerblog

      oh, Amanda– thanks!  this comment, and the image of you and your girls watching our videos, made me smile.  thanks, friend. love you so much and am so thankful for you and yours. truly.  thanks for cheering me on . . .

  • Carol

    Happy Thai-versary!  Thank you for sharing this journey.  I have really reflected on missionary care the past two years.  So important for those of us living state side to have a realistic view of what it is like.  Also, I have love the ‘could have happended anywhere’ posts.  Things like triathalon completions, sisters dancing, remembering to cling tight to marriage, . . . great job, friend

    • lauraparkerblog

      Thanks, Carol.  :)  

  • http://www.angiewashington.com/ @ngie

    Hooray!!!  Bravo!!! I am proud of you!!! And so good that you celebrated with the whole family. My theory is that the second missionary year is the hardest. Get through that year and you are doing good. You rock!

    If you really want to pray with me you can agree with me for the provision for new tires for our truck. Thanks!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Lauraleighparker

      Thanks, friend.  Glad to know it’s all downhill from here– can i quote you on that?  ha ha

      yes, praying for the truck tires right now.
      praying they would come out of left field, in a truly personal way.  that builds your entire family’s faith.

      • http://www.angiewashington.com/ @ngie

        Well, now you’ve done it… you made a sister cry. My heart overflows with gratitude knowing that my friend on the other side of the world tugged at God’s ear for me today. 

  • Charity

    Hi Laura,

    I just found your blog last week, and honestly, I can’t even remember how I linked to it.  I’m sure I was reading somewhere else and found the link.  And ta-da!  Anyways… Oh. my. goodness.  Seriously?!  I feel like laughing, crying, shouting, and pounding my fists all at once!  Your writings so clearly portray so much of my heart, my thoughts, my feelings, my confusion, my struggles, etc. from over the last 10 years!  No kidding.  I spent 2 years in West Africa (2003-2004) as a young, single 22 year old.  It was the best and worst experience of my life, and it literally took YEARS to figure out what happened to me during those years – the frustrations, the culture shock, the heartache, the confusion, the depression, the unmet expectations… 

    Considering I just found your blog last week, I haven’t read many of your articles.  But browsing through this post, there are SO many I can’t wait to read!  I am encouraged that, even with only a small glimpse, our hearts beat so similarly and our thoughts whirl in similar patterns. 

    Ahhh, I’m rambling.  I don’t even know how to express that I’m just excited to have found your blog and someone who may just identify with me in ways many (MANY!) could not.  And happily I say, I’m moving back to Africa with my hubby in just a few short months!  And I’ll be following along from there!

    Thanks for writing with truth and transparency,
    Charity

    • lauraparkerblog

      Charity,

      So glad we found each other! I totally get this– really struck a chord with me:

      ” It was the best and worst experience of my life, and it literally took YEARS to figure out what happened to me during those years – the frustrations, the culture shock, the heartache, the confusion, the depression, the unmet expectations… ”

      Man, I think that is really true. And i think it will take years for me, too, to unpack all that this experience has “done to me”.

      Thanks for your encouragement . .. . :)

  • Kate

    Hi Laura,
    I can’t remember how I found your blog, but I’m sure I clicked on the link because it mentioned Chiang Mai, Thailand. One of my best friends family are missionaries in Chiang Mai as well, and I was able to visit for a month last summer! Is the international school you mention in your “How a missionary kid gets lunch in Thailand” video Grace International School by any change?
    Kate

    • Kate

      *chance

      • lauraparkerblog

        Kate–

        Yes! We live in Koolpunt 8, right next to Grace! So fun that you were here!

  • http://twitter.com/JustSchneider Justin

    I always expect comments that follow a long blog post and begin, “Jesus…” to be about something other than what you see here.

    Not enough time to catch up on all the writing.  We’ll do what we can to make up for it in real life.  Blessings for the next two-niversaries.

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