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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Finding Joy in the Journey

Part 1
Ninja Whinger Warrior

We arrived home on Saturday, after being away for over two months.  From driving up north of Thailand to then flying down south of Thailand, we then headed over to Sydney and Melbourne and then back to Chiangmai.  It’s been quite the adventure with a mix of relaxation and “working holiday” [now there’s an oxymoron!]

In the beginning of June, we could see our family holiday time approaching, but just making it over the finish line for the end of school felt like completing a round of Ninja Warrior (…with a limp) and many obstacles.

The day before school was finished for the year, our daughter split her lip open and needed a couple of visits to the local hospital. Then someone hit Dave on his motorbike and drove away.  And so, with food being baked for class parties, teacher gifts, friend’s gifts and all the final goodbyes; we started wondering if we were ever going to get on the road to go.

Heading up north, through winding roads, the complaints of swollen lips and feeling carsick were silenced by quiet prayers as the brakes on our car suddenly overheated on a downhill slope. We all held our breath and when eventually Dave cautiously proceeded (after letting them cool down) we hoped and prayed that we would make it on to our destination safely.

With the car brakes working again, we set off once more through the hills until finally we arrived at our hotel.  Glad to be safe and out of the car, we unloaded our bags and found our rooms, only to discover that the hotel was actually not going to be a suitable place to stay {insert sad face here}.

You can imagine how disheartened we were by now and so through language barriers and phone-negotiations with Agoda, the challenges of the Ninja Warrior obstacle course began again as we loaded our cases back into the car and set off once more to find an alternative sleeping arrangement for the night.

As the evening wore on though, it became clear that the car of Ninja Warriors had transformed into the Whinger Warriors with three tired, hungry and disappointed children who, by now, just needed dinner and to know that they had a place to rest their weary heads for the night.

What a great lesson in trusting God!

After finding a restaurant and ordering, Dave slipped out from the table and headed across the road vanishing into the darkness. Appearing back some minutes later with a relieved look, a room booked and a place to sleep for the night… we were all very thankful, to say the least. The next day we would look more carefully and book somewhere for the remainder of our stay but at least we knew we had a bed for one night!
Some highlights:

Part 2
Beauty and the Feast

Down south of Thailand is just so beautiful. Ironically, after our next booked accommodation did not work out either (a dodgy house booked through airbnb this time) but we stumbled upon a hotel on the beach with reduced prices because they were going through a major renovation. We were right on the beach and our room was far enough away from the construction that we couldn’t hear all the banging. The sand was just a few feet away and the place included a great breakfast too- thank you God. It really was beauty and the feast!!

With the exception of a few jellyfish stings on the first day: the beach, the weather, the food and the water were all amazing. We truly enjoyed our precious family time here swimming, boogie boarding, playing cards and just relaxing.


Part 3
The Roads to Rhodes

Our next destination was Rhodes for a mix of work-related engagements (speaking at two churches) as well as spiritual refreshment (attending the Hillsong Conference).  And, yes, we did see Justin Bieber!!
The weather in Sydney was cold but the sunny-blue skies made it appealing to be outside.  The amazing sights of the Sydney Harbour and the coast had us all falling in love with this part of Australia and of course it was fun to show the kids the Bridge and the Opera House.  The people who we spent time with at both Narara Valley and Kiama are all such wonderful, warm, generous and welcoming people. It was a blessing to have this time together.


Part 4
The Blizzard of Oz!

We’re off to see the Blizzard, the wonderful Blizzard of Oz! ♫

Well Sydney had helped us adjust a little bit to the winter weather, but the cold winds of Melbourne definitely felt like ice as we landed at the airport of our final destination.

“I've a feeling we're not in Kansas Thailand any more.” 

Home to so many of our friends and family, we were thankful for such a warm welcome with not only Dave’s parents there to pick us up but also one of our nephews, and Dave’s grandmother as well!

Throughout the four weeks in Melbourne, it was an honor to share with six different church groups, a youth group and a missions group.   On top of that, Dave also shared at six schools and met with several people who have pledged to help ZOE in significant ways. God is good!

Throughout all the bookings, we did manage to see family, have medical check ups, walk on the beach, go to the library, watch Australian TV (yes that’s a novelty for us) and eat way too much pizza!

Saying goodbye never gets easier!  There is some truth in the Wizard’s words to the Tin Man.

“You want a heart! You don't know how lucky you are not to HAVE one! Hearts will NEVER be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

So, yes, we arrived home on Saturday, after being away for over two months.  From the north to the south of Thailand to Sydney and Melbourne but I must say, it felt good to be back home.

I’ll finish with one more Wizard of Oz quote:

“Toto, we're home. Home! And this is my room, and you're all here…
and - oh, Auntie Em - there's no place like home!”

Thanks for reading and keeping updated with our family.  We do love your encouraging emails and messages. And please do stay in touch!

Melbourne Highlights:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Change Your World!

In our current house, we have this kind of semi outdoor-indoor kitchen. It’s off to the side of the main part of the house. I’m repulsed to say it but, when we moved in, there was more than one sighting of a rat! The kitchen contained an open drain with holes each end, which made it easy for the rascally-little-rodent to come in and out with his friends as he pleased.

Needless to say, I couldn’t handle that arrangement for too long. I felt like I was always looking over my shoulder as I washed the dishes and the slightest sound of scurrying little feet made me shudder.

That’s when we came up with the idea of fixing the pipes, covering the holes and then filling the open drain with rocks and placing plants in the rocks and hanging them up along the wall. Suddenly the open-drain-scary-area turned into my little kitchen oasis!

Sadly, several months ago, when the weather suddenly started to get hotter and hotter, some of my little plants struggled in the scorching heat and their leaves started to wither, which made me determined that none should perish and I would just have to increase my watering routine.

So firstly, each time as I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, cooking dinner or hovering around the toaster impatiently, I get my little water sprayer and squirt the plants, which usually happens several times a day.

Then once a day, I get a jug of water and give the plants a bigger drink to really soak through their soil.

Thirdly, every once in a while, when the weather looks a bit stormy or not too hot, I hang the plants outside to enjoy the sunshine or get an extra dose of water (if it’s raining).

As I was going through this routine the other day it reminded me a lot about what I have been studying lately about ‘growing down’ (but that’s for another blog post). But this whole idea of watering… left me reflecting on how my daily devotions is kind of like that once a day watering that I give my plants.

The mist from the spray bottle is like the moments throughout the day when I get a top-up; worship music in the car, an encouraging email, a prayer answered etc.

And then there’s those times when I’ve had the opportunity to get away on a women’s retreat or go to a women’s prayer night, a church camp or a season of more intense and deliberate prayer, which reminds me of when I move my pot plants outside for an extra dose of rain, a soaking… or some sunshine.

We all need the misty-moments and our daily soaking and yet it’s also so important to make the time to get drenched or immerse ourselves in more than just our normal-daily-dose.

For me, having time away from the daily routine, where I free myself from distractions and ‘work’ is when I notice and appreciate how vital these times are for my own personal growth.

As Dave, our team, and I excitedly plan the weekend camp in October; I am reminded again, how beneficial a weekend like this can be.

I’m so excited that this October, our ZOE Australia team is making space to come together with fresh ears to hear and fresh eyes to see God’s heart for justice.

And we want others, who are also passionate for the lost and for changing the world, to join us. We’re encouraging like-minded people to bring their families, bring their young adults group or just bring themselves!

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do!!

The weekend away is from October 20th-22nd 2017 at the ADANAC campsite in the Yarra Valley.

If you know of anyone else who you think would be interested in being involved in this project, let me know. I’d love to hear from you!



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!