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Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Beautiful Mess


Have you ever had a moment in life where you realised that, for whatever reason, you’d believed a lie?

Recently I had an ‘uh-ha’ moment where I suddenly understood that, somewhere along the journey, I had wrongly started equating beautiful with perfection.

I had started to believe that in order to have a beautiful home, it would have to be clean and tidy.
That to have a beautiful face, would mean no blemishes.
That to be a beautiful family would be never fighting or being grumpy with each other.
I started to believe that to speak Thai beautifully, I’d have to have my tones perfect and that to …
                  the list went on.

I was placing impossible, unrealistic expectations on myself and feeling disappointed and wondering why I never seemed to reach my goals.

All of a sudden though, I recognised the lie before me.  And I was able to look around with fresh eyes to see the beautiful mess surrounding me and finally own the fact that...

My whole life was one big, beautiful mess!

Which lead me to ask, what if I gave myself permission to embrace my mess and see it as an opportunity for loving, learning and growing? What if my family had complete freedom to accept their mess as well? For them to really know that, no matter what mistakes they made, what risks they took or what chaos they found themselves in, it would be okay.

The other day I looked down at my t-shirt with its imperfectly ironed sleeves. To others it might not have looked that nice but when you know the story behind those sleeves, you’d think differently. It’s the story of a daughter who knew her mum had been unwell for the past week and saw the mountain of clothes in the room that had not yet been folded, ironed or put away. It’s the beautiful account of ten-year-old girl who, sensing someone else’s feelings of being overwhelmed, chose self-sacrifice, helpfulness and love.

Last week one of my children was particularly anxious on the way to school. The comments towards the rest of us were unfair and harsh. They were spoken out of fear and anger and yet through the loud words of insecurity came an unexpected silence by my other two children that I can only identify as ‘self control’. As we pulled into school, the anxious one muttered words of apology and repentance to which we all responded with forgiveness. Without my instruction, these children had demonstrated love and grace. The ranting and the angry words had been unpleasant but yet what came out of it was so beautiful to see.

A couple of months ago I began studying the Thai language again but this time I started to final grasp the concept of ‘beautiful attempts’ as apposed to ‘mistakes’… and ‘boldness’ as a substitute for ‘fear’… and ‘steps closer to my goal’ instead of ‘set backs’.

What if I could see all my mess and struggles as beautiful moments in disguise?

A week ago we sat around our table and tried a new tact. Instead of lecturing about not fighting, we acknowledged our disagreements and differences and we agreed on how to fight fair. How beautiful it is to see that, even the mess of misunderstanding, we can choose not to put each other down or threaten … or bring up past mistakes. How beautiful to work together instead of trying to tear down.

This week as I cringe at my dirty floors let me be reminded of the laughter, love, responsibility and fun it is to have a pet dog.

If I start to shy away from speaking Thai, let me see the beauty in trying, the humor in the mistakes and the resilience that I am developing in not giving up.

When my family starts to argue, may I choose to see the powerful beauty in grace, forgiveness, unconditional love and the gift of second-chances.

As I stare at my reflection in the mornings, may the tired eyes, the smile lines and the sunspots remind me of the beauty in aging, time spent laughing and hours enjoying the outdoors.

May the crinkled shirt, the bin not emptied and the pile of socks still not paired, remind me of the beauty in teaching my children responsibility and chores. And may it increase my patience and encouragement towards them.

So now I see. Beauty is not perfection.

Beauty is the every day mess of imperfect people learning, growing and accepting each other. It’s dust, wrinkles, dirty dishes, unmade beds and smelly dog bones.

But more importantly it’s laughter, gentleness, kindness, persistence … and so much more!


Maybe this week, by owning my own mess, I can give others the courage and freedom to accept theirs too!    

Sunday, January 1, 2017

As 2016 'caves' in...


Have you just walked through the greatest year of your life? Like an open field of daisies planted in soft green grass, fresh air, dew drops glistening on petals and birds chirping in the trees? 


Or maybe it was more like a deep dark cave with dangerous twists and turns, slippery surfaces, damp musty smells and little-to-no light to guide your path?


Our family recently went on a mini road trip to the Chiang Dao Caves. After proceeding into the caves we were faced with a decision. There was a short track with open spaces and lighting that you could easily walk along, or a more adventurous path that involved exploring an unlit part of the caves and a much longer trek. We would have to hire a guide, carrying an old-fashioned kerosene lantern to go with us on the more dangerous path, but we were all keen for an adventure so we picked the harder option and set off excitedly.
The kids followed along right behind the guide and I ended up at the back trying to capture memories and take pictures on my phone. What I soon realised though was that the further I lingered behind, the less I could see. Each time I tried to take a shot, that few seconds that I stopped, meant that the light from the lantern would disappear and I was left in complete darkness. As I tried to catch up with everyone else, I stumbled and strained to see where to put my feet and where to duck my head down and not a hit stalactite but it was extremely difficult outside of the circumference of the lantern's light. Pretty soon, I learnt that I had to stay close by the guide and in the light for my own safety!

I couldn't help but reflect, as I stumbled along at the back, at how much it was so much the reflection of life.

I was reminded of one of the first Bible verses that I had learnt as a child. Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

Inside the cave, without the lamp for our feet and the light for the path, we would've been in a lot of danger. Danger of slipping, falling down a hole, hitting our heads or going the wrong way. It was a good reminder to me that it is in the same in life. 
It also made me think how in life there is real darkness. When I get to hear news reports, I often wish I hadn't. They are just so devastating and sad. How can humans treat each other with such hate and evil intentions? If we just sat and listened to the news all day, I'm sure there would be feelings of hopelessness that would hang over us, dark clouds of despair.
But if we think about God being the light, all that is good and perfect and... real love. To keep ourselves from being caught up in the world's despair and devastated by hopelessness, we need to stay close to the source of light. We can find hope... even in the darkness. We must draw near to the source and stay close by the light.


As we head into another year ahead, I pray that whether 2016 was like a field of daisies or the darkest of caves, that you and I would know where to find 'the light'. That we would know that 'the light' is there for our benefit, our safety and to give us hope in the darkest of times. May we not be too self sufficient this year that we forget our need for 'the light' or walk with too much distance from it.

I also pray that in 2017 we can keep on the right track.  That we would have endurance to stay the course and not be easily distracted by other things that would draw us away from 'the light'. May we also reflect the light, the peace and the hope that the world so desperately needs.
Happy New Year from the Cross Family!






Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Odd Socks… and a Merry Christmas!

So, the last time I wrote, we were embarking upon the overwhelming task of moving house but I am pleased to report that the move went smoothly and we all settled into our new surroundings quickly.

The first few weeks in our new house were busy. It felt like we'd just moved in but we were hardly home, rushing from one event to the next.  With the end-of-semester sports matches, Christmas events at school, celebrating Eli's birthday, ZOE events and seeing friends.
10-year-old birthday girl selfie!
Suddenly, the realisation that we'd moved from a house with all built in storage to one without soon became noticeable.  The absence of having drawers and enough storage for our clothes became more and more chaotic as the days passed, “I can’t find my PE uniform” “Where’s all the socks?” “I don’t know where anything is!!”
Eventually we were able to get the furniture that we needed and now most things have a home… what a difference that makes!!

The most puzzling thing for me though was that once everything was sorted and put away (from being in piles and thrown across our bed) was that I was left with … 21 odd socks!

C’mon, a few odd socks I would expect, but TWENTY-ONE!!!! That’s just ridiculous. How do twenty-one socks lose their partner?

“Life is too short to waste time matching socks”

As Christmas time drew nearer, we realised how different it would be this year for our family. We had celebrated at the The NEST a week before Christmas and at ZOE on Christmas Eve leaving Christmas Day all to ourselves.  It was the first time in a long while that we had the whole day with just us five six (including Latte) and we were all pretty excited!! 

We created a menu based around our restrictions (no dairy, wheat, refined sugar) and set about getting everything just right. I just love how our children are able to help and be a part of it now.  The day started with GF pancakes and eggnog.
During the week Spencer had created his own pin-board on Pinterest and selected dairy free, sugar free ice-cream recipes to compliment the avocado chocolate fudge brownies that I’d made earlier. Him and I made some Chunky Monkey ice-cream... 

And the older two kids made a delicious entrĂ©e of bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms all by themselves while Dave and I also worked on the roast vegetables, chicken and gravy. We even enjoyed GF fruitcake and custard for afternoon tea… it ended up being quite the feast!

“It felt great… like a new pair of socks”

There were so many highlights throughout the day and just like their father my three children were all heard commenting, “This was the BEST Christmas ever”. I guess you just can’t beat genetics!

During the day we read the Christmas story from our Bibles, wrote birthday cards to Jesus and prayed for the many people for whom Christmas Day is not filled with love, presents, family and togetherness.  We each took words that were opposites to how we felt and prayed for those people for whom the day is difficult, lonely and painful.
We also got to chat with our precious families in Australia via Skype. It was so lovely to hear their voices and see their faces.

“I miss you like the mismatching sock I can’t find”

Our day even included some drama! We were excited to light the final candle of Advent, but during lunch, when we were all chatting happily, one of the pinecones on our advent wreath (in the middle of the table) caught fire. Whoops! My red tablecloth and runner were ruined but thankfully everyone was safe and the fire was easily contained! 
We also watched the story of William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army). It was very thought provoking and a good reminder about why we "fight". 

And of course there was also time during the day for opening presents… and, yes, there was even a few new pairs of socks under the tree!

I’m hoping your Christmas was also joy-filled and memorable.
From our family to yours, odd socks and all… Merry Christmas! 

“Happiness is discovering that all socks came back in pairs when folding the laundry”.

Friday, December 2, 2016

From Overwhelmed to Overwhelmed.




Oh wow… it’s been so long since I wrote. Where to start?

So I guess nearly two years ago when we put our hands up to help start the transitional home for the older teens at the children’s home, reaching 18 and wishing to work or go to university, we had no idea how what that looked like or how long we’d do it for.

Over the past two years, we’ve had ten young people live at the house (at different times) with our family. The length of their stays has differed according to their needs. Out of the ten young adults, seven of them are still actively involved in the transition program. By this I mean they still live here, stay over or come and use the house throughout the week and are a part of our mentoring program, weekly catch-ups and celebrations.

We have another 5-6 young people, who currently live at ZOE, and are in the preparation stage, getting ready to move here sometime over the next 4 months.

Just recently, we had started exploring the idea of our family moving out of the transitional home and finding a house close by where we can still be involved (Dave will still oversee the program) but we will have some more space and at the same time create space for the young people who will be moving here soon.

In the past, moving hasn’t fazed me but honestly we all love living here and deep down none of us want to move but on the other hand, we all know it’s one of those hard-but-right decisions for everyone. Thankfully we were able to find a house very quickly and as I write this, we have begun the process of packing and clearing out and trying not to take too much with us to this next, much smaller, house.

Over the past two years Dave and I have loved seeing our own children grow and change. We have had the pleasure of watching them interact and grow to love their ‘big ZOE brothers and sisters’ and it will be sad to end this season living at the house. I am very excited for the next season of the transitional program though. After our family moves from the upstairs section of the house, there are another five or six girls and 1 guy coming to live at the house plus one missionary. The two wonderful Thai staff, who work at the house, will also stay over 1-2 times per week.

Please pray for the transition of our family moving out and the other missionary moving in, also for the young people finishing school this year and preparing to move into the house in the next few months.

~

School life: This is the second year that I have been involved in our school’s Parent/Teacher Group Leadership Team as well as the weekly prayer meetings and helping out where I can with athletics/swimming etc.
Top left: PTG, Top and bottom right: Friends from Australia,
Bottom left: Sweet friends  

This year has been a huge change as our Tobi started Grade 6 (Middle School).

This has meant lots more homework, staying up later, receiving a laptop from school and trying to cope with two parents who feel slightly extremely unprepared!
Life has a way of simply carrying on though whether we’re ready or not!

So far this year we have enjoyed supporting Eliana in her swimming endeavors. She brought home two medals at the International Schools Swim Meet. A bronze medal for a freestyle relay and a silver one for the 25m breast stroke. We were so proud of her efforts training both after school and on the weekends.


We also got to see both Eliana and Tobi try basketball for the first time this year. They both caught on quickly and even though the season is finished now, they still enjoy going to their school on a Saturday night and watching Dave play a pickup game in the men’s comp and shooting around in the breaks. Watch out for Spencer though, this boy can shoot and, at the rate he’s growing, we think next year when he can play U10s he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with! The current season has just started with both soccer (or football as everyone else calls it) and Track and Field. I am excited to see how each of the kids has improved since last year and I am resting my voice in preparation for some serious cheering at their games and meets!


In September this year, Tobi had his 11th birthday, a Marvel party, at a local rollerblading rink. Spencer’s party was postponed due to our family being sick for a few weeks with flu. When we eventually celebrated his 8th birthday, it was at home, ninja style, with a few close friends. Eliana is still deciding what to for her birthday in a little over a week’s time. She is determined to do something adventurous to mark being double figures… we’re just not sure what that will be yet!


In September this year we welcomed a new member into the Cross family- a little Shiranian (Pomeranian-Shih Tzu) puppy named Latte! He is super cute and super cheeky and loved by everyone at the house… I think he’ll be the most missed by the big kids when we move out but we’ll bring him around for lots of visits!
Latte's first visit to the vet.

In amongst the sickness, the moving, the busyness of Thanksgiving, Christmas, ZOE and school events it has been easy to look at my planner packed with events and an arm’s length to-do list and give in to some big… overwhelming… feelings!! During my quiet worship times though I have tried to mediate on the words of one of my favourite songs right now. It continues to give me the perspective that I need not be overwhelmed by my circumstances but instead with Him my creator and my God. The pressures, deadlines, meetings, events, appointments and strains in a busy season seem to fade in comparison to how amazing and wonderful He is.

If you don’t know the song, I’ll post the words below and if you don’t know this wonderful Creator and God who I speak about … then I challenge you to try Him out, talk to Him and see what happens. He is never far away. He made you and He already knows you!

"Overwhelmed"

I see the work of Your Hands
Galaxies spin in a Heavenly dance oh God
All that You are is so overwhelming

I hear the sound of Your Voice
All at once it's a gentle and thundering noise oh God
All that You are is so overwhelming

I delight myself in You
Captivated by Your beauty
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You

God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You

I know the power of Your Cross
Forgiven and free forever You'll be my God

All that You've done is so overwhelming
I delight myself in You
In the Glory of Your Presence
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You

God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You

You are Beautiful, You are Beautiful
Oh God, there is no one more Beautiful
You are Beautiful, God you are the most Beautiful

You are Wonderful, You are Wonderful
Oh God, there is no one more Wonderful
You are Wonderful, God You are the most Wonderful

You are Glorious, You are Glorious
Oh God, there is no one more Glorious
You are Glorious, God you are the most Glorious

I delight myself in you
In the Glory of your Presence
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you

And God, I run into your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you

There is no one more beautiful
God, you are the most beautiful

(Big Daddy Weave)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

One month on...

Well, we left Australia with our hearts full.  Dave was a tad exhausted after a busy 6 weeks, but it is always such a blessing to have time with family and good friends.  After years of missing different things, there is only one thing that I really wish I could bring back to Thailand with me; the very precious people in my life.
~
Unfortunately I experienced travel sickness on the way home so I was very glad when the plane finally hit the runway and I was standing on solid ground again.  As we exited customs, our wonderful friend Laura and her girls greeted us. It was a joyous reunion with lots of laughter and chatter as we lugged suitcases and joked about how hot we all were, still dressed in our winter clothes. We were really looking forward to showers and bed by this stage.

It was only as we were preparing to leave in Laura’s car that our spirits were suddenly dampened. We realized that her bag containing her wallet, phone, passport, bankbook and i-pad had been stolen from the front seat of her car while we’d been loading the suitcases into the back.

Dave, Laura and I took turns to stay at the car with the children and rotated who would go off praying and searching nearby bushes, in the backs of trucks and rubbish piles.  Laura managed to get the attention of the police and we searched anywhere and everywhere in the hope that the thieves would just take the cash and then dump the rest of the contents.

… 3 and a half hours after arriving at the airport, sweaty, tired and thirsty, we began thanking God for His faithfulness. The phone ‘find me’ service was able to help police to locate her bag, which, as we had prayed, was dumped with everything still in it, apart from the money and the i-pad.

With mixed emotions of thankfulness and shock, Laura finally dropped us off.  After a sleepless night on the plane, the travel sickness and the strain of the airport incident, I can assure you, my head was very happy to hit the pillow that night!

The past few weeks have not been quite so dramatic, thankfully.
After finding the adjustment back a little more difficult this time, I feel like we are finally settling into a good routine now.  Our children are back at school and are enjoying their new teachers, classes and being around their friends.
Rock climbing at a friend's party.

I recently posted on Facebook:

I love seeing how God faithfully answers my prayers and continues to provide and supply all my needs but when He answers my children’s big, important requests with abundance… it makes my heart so very, very happy!

I was reminded recently that the way God can show us He’s in control is when we are in situations that we can’t control.
When I see the way my children’s faith is growing; I praise God for his presence in their lives.
~
Shortly after arriving home, one of the young ladies who was living with us at the transitional house was preparing to move to her university dorm.  We know that we will not see her as often now because her university is a long way away so it was with both excitement and sadness that we had to farewell such a wonderful girl.  It was fun to celebrate her out, encourage her with our words and pray blessing on her. We look forward to seeing how she blossoms, grows and changes even more this year.  We believe she has an amazing future ahead of her.
~
With the children back at school, I thought about all the many things that I have wanted to do but somehow the first 2 weeks of school just slipped by very quickly.
I am learning some new cooking skills at the moment, trying to incorporate wheat free, dairy free and low sugar alongside some homemade probiotics to help a few members of our family. Just think a few months ago, I’d never even heard of kefir, fermenting SCOBYs or kombucha, let alone thought about making bone both soup.  And my friend’s text message the other day as we chatted about our soups read something like, “and the more chicken feet the better”.
When did my life start incorporating chicken feet conversations relating to food?
Hmmm!
~
We feel ready for this next season. We know there will be obstacles and trials but we know our God is good. He is able and He is in control.
Visiting the zoo with friends from Australia here.
As you sit and read this, please take a moment to pray for the precious children at ZOE Children’s Home, for our family, the other volunteers and for your family too… for all us… that we will continue to acknowledge when God faithfully answers our prayers and provides with His amazing abundance.

From our home (of fermenting SCOBYs and chicken feet) to yours with love!!
Choosing bones for our soup!