Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Letter~ Andie

Suksan Wan Christmas! Which means, “Merry Christmas” in Thai.  
Last year when we sent our Christmas letter, we had no idea that the year ahead would be so life changing.  Now as we write, we sit in a different house, just weeks away from heading out on a huge adventure to Chiang Mai.
As most of you would know, we are leaving in January to begin some volunteer work at ZOE Children’s Home in Thailand. 
The journey to get to this point has been a bumpy ride of faith and trust.  We are excited to be able to go and do this as a family and we look forward to seeing how it all turns out.
My role will initially be to support Dave and settle the children into our new home, the culture and their kindergarten.  Then as time passes, I will hopefully be able to take on some small tasks whereby I can either work from home or with Dave.
2009 has felt like an eventful year.  The children’s activities have kept us occupied.  It’s been a joy to walk alongside them as they’ve enjoyed a variety of activities from kindergarten, music, swimming, dance, visits to the library and play-dates with friends and cousins.
Some of the highlights for the year included celebrating our ten-year wedding anniversary, going to Thailand in July, planning and celebrating the children’s birthdays (Tobi’s gingerbread man party, Eliana’s ladybird tea party and Spencer’s rubber duck party) as well as watching the children’s development and many achievements.         Here’s a brief update on their year:
Tobi had an absolutely wonderful kinder experience. It fulfilled everything we’d hoped it would and more.  He made some really special friends and he had such a capable teacher who knew her students well.  Her creatively led the class through an array of rich learning tasks.  Tobi brought home a beautiful portfolio of his work each term, which will be a treasured reminder of his first year of ‘formal’ education.  He participated in various special days and a Christmas concert as well as learning to write his name.
We are also so proud of him in the area of swimming.  His first lesson, earlier in the year, was a huge challenge for him but over the months Tobi has developed so much more confidence and strength within himself.  He’s particularly enjoyed swimming lessons this term with his cousin Bella! 
Eliana participated in two terms of Mainly Music earlier in the year but in the second half of the year she began dance lessons.  We weren’t sure how she’d cope being the youngest in her class but she amazed us with her eagerness to participate and socialise with the older girls; some of whom she knew from mother’s group or Tobi’s kinder class.  
The highlight of her ‘dancing’ experience was the end of year concert.  She performed in two concerts, two items in each (one ballet and one tap item).  It was very cute and we were so proud of the way she conducted herself performing in front of a couple of hundred people.  
Eli also began swimming lessons this year.  She completed two terms of child-parent classes (with me) and then progressed to independent swimming classes this term.  She’s done such a great job under the instruction of her teacher and she amazes me each week with her progress.
Little Spencer is … well … not so little any more!  He has grown at a rapid pace.  He finally began crawling about 10 and a half months after being sure he wasn’t ever going to!! Actually it was a blessing in disguise as he started crawling pretty much right after we’d packed and moved house.  Spencer continues to delight us with his happy personality although he is getting a bit cheekier and more willful. This is taking a bit of getting used to after being the perfect child for 12 months LOL!
Spencer has been busy furniture walking or using his walker.  He LOVES to eat and chase after Tobiah and Eliana as well as dance to music.  He also very much enjoys the water, either swimming in the pool or bath (hence his rubber duck themed party).
So besides being the proud mother of three, I have also loved the opportunities this year to catch up with friends and family. I got to know the mothers in my Marvellous Mums group better and my sister and I kept doing market stalls throughout the year-, which was a real highlight.  I also enjoyed blogging, editing some photos, making and baking things, a bit of sewing (I made each child a quilt and matching bunting for their rooms) and, of course, bargain hunting!
As I now hand this letter over to Dave, I wish you a safe and happy Christmas. Cherish each and every moment and take some time to reflect on the real reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ. 
I challenge you to look at Christmas in a different way this year. I believe that real joy and peace comes from a relationship with the one who created us and lasts the whole year.  It is not just the temporary “fix” that we get when we rely on all the other “stuff” around us.

Christmas Letter~ Dave

When Spencer turned one this year, I took a moment to reflect on the previous 12 months.  Looking back, I could see myself at the hospital, holding our new baby in my arms.  Our family was complete and I felt so happy!  
At that moment, if you’d told me where we would be just 12 months later … moved out of our home, living at my parents and having condensed our most loved possessions into 16 boxes on their way to Thailand; I would have thought you were a little strange! 
If you then said I would be a going to be a volunteer or be a missionary in Thailand, I would have laughed (very loudly) at you (not with you) and said with confidence “there’s no chance”.
However, here we are! How life changes! 
It’s funny because I have never felt even remotely interested in the activities of missionaries, or overseas aid.  I felt that we were doing our family’s “bit” by sponsoring a child overseas (ironically she lives in Thailand).
I really can’t explain the past 12 months.  All I know is that I have felt a God-given passion rise up from so deep within me, that it has compelled me to act.  
I have become so focused on the children of Thailand, that I am pushing hard to do whatever it takes to get us there next year, so we can start helping at the ZOE Children’s Home.  As much as I would like to say that I have a clever plan, we haven’t yet worked out how the next 12 months will be funded.    
What we do know is that this is a cause we believe in and the experiences we have had over many years in foster care and children’s camps have helped to prepare us for this next step in the journey… however long it is.
Quality Signs has felt the rises and falls of the market and it looks like we are slowly headed back towards the sales figures of previous years.  It has not been an easy year. I have, however, been truly blessed by some great people who work with me and some phenomenal individuals who have been involved with assisting in planning for next year.
Our children have grown up a great deal since last Christmas and each of them continues to develop their own unique personality.  Tobi’s a real thinker and often comes up with some deep and left field topics of conversation and is learning to articulate what’s on his mind or clarify when he is confused about something.  He has a wonderful imagination and sense of humor, which helps to keep our family laughing!
As Andie mentioned, both Tobi and Eli have achieved some significant milestones this year.  Eli loves both her dancing and swimming classes. These seem to be the only times when she is not talking constantly! Mind you we have heard her still talking as she’s jumped into the water but it quickly turns into more of a gurgle!! It really does not matter the day, time or topic.  She is quite the social butterfly and as long as she is pumping out words, she is satisfied!  
Tobi and Eli have become wonderful friends and we love to sneak in on them while they are in the midst of an imaginary game and hear what’s going on.  It’s very amusing.
Spencer is just as Andie described: a very happy boy with music in his bones.  When he hears any song he just starts grooving!
Andrea has been the rock throughout the past 12 months.  She has navigated the move of the house and been instrumental in organising and liaising with the ZOE staff.  Though our schedule has been full with Thailand related appointments, on top of the weekly activities, she still managed to organise the 3 birthday parties for our children; each one themed to the very last detail.  
Andie is a wonderfully gifted mum and we all love having her around to keep the fun in the place!
Yes, it definitely has been a roller coaster of a year.   Though I have struggled with my concerns of how everything is going to work out (and had many teary moments as I think about leaving family and friends) I know that God has not brought us this far to leave us hanging at the last minute.
We have experienced many amazing things in the past few months.  We have felt people’s thoughts and prayers uplifting us and greatly appreciated the generosity and support we’ve received from our close friends and family.  We look forward to sharing more with you in the coming year.
May God richly bless you and the time you spend with your family this Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Away We Go!

What a day... 

Today while at work, where I have been employed for the last 16 years, I watched as our belongings were picked up by Grace Removals to be shipped to Thailand. 

Ironically “grace” is defined as getting something that you don’t deserve.  

We believe that the children that ZOE help definitely do deserve a chance to reach their full potential, and we are so excited to be taking this opportunity to go and work at this wonderful organisation that helping to make a difference in the lives of orphaned children. 

We can’t wait to meet our boxes in Thailand in January and begin this fantastic work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Can I Say?

I believe that we have a responsibility to reflect God's heart to the poor and less fortunate.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…defend the rights of the poor and needy." Prov. 31:8-9.
I continue to be amazed at how God is bringing forth His plan for our lives and how He is providing wonderful people to assist us in such practical ways.
As we need to be self funded for the work at ZOE, we have struggled with how we would go about raising finances to support the work we are doing. It just seems so foreign after having always working in paid positions.

Thank you so much to those who have been willing to support us with your finances, your prayers and your practical assistance.

We feel truly grateful and a little overwhelmed at how God is orchestrating everything just as we need it.

I’m reminded of that High School Musical song “We’re all in this together..” LOL but seriously there are so many different aspects to making change happen and making a difference.  Don’t ever think that just because you’re not on the “front line”, that what you’re contributing is not as important.  That is just not true.

By showing your support you’ve become passionate about making a difference in the lives of children. Is it easy? Not always. Is it time-consuming? Yes. Will you be put out of your comfort zone? Probably. Does it come at a cost? Yes. Is it worth it? Most definitely!
Thankfully, we also have an awesome God.
I read somewhere the other day that instead of being discouraged by the size of the task, we should be encouraged by the limitless power of God.  
Thank you for joining us in fighting for this cause.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What's Happening?

Our dear friends
We look in amazement as we see God continually going before us.

Our children have settled in to our ‘temporary’ accommodation.   
Dave’s parents have been more than gracious with us as we seem to have taken over their home!

Our fridge sold, Jake our turtle is in a great new home, our garage sale was really successful and a few items have been sold on ebay too.
With another children’s market this weekend, we expect that another lot of items will be gone! 

We started this website that we will use when we are away to communicate what we are up to . 

We had our first medical consultation last week to discuss all of the necessary vaccines required.  God has really blessed us with this beautiful friend who is a doctor.  She is so capable and thorough. Her care and research in to what we need to do before we go just blows us away.

It also looks likely that David will be taking with him some great leadership training resources that he will be able to use in the Thai business school (that is currently running at the children’s home). We are very thankful for this amazing offer!!

We have also had the provision of more funds come through to us and we are learning (very slowly) not to feel so incredibly awkward as God uses people to help fund this journey.

We have had a few hurdles to clear in the past weeks...
When we went to ship our boxes to Thailand, we were told we needed our visas completed.  In order to get visas we needed a letter from ZOE and in order to get this letter we needed everyone's passport numbers so.... we took a step back and have now just had the children's passports approved and await their arrival.  We can then apply for visas and THEN ship our boxes! 

Our little Spencer has been rather unwell with an ear (and possibly chest) infection.  The doctor was concerned that he may need to be admitted to hospital if he continued not keeping fluids down. He's such a happy one normally but he has been really struggling this week.  We are confident he will bounce back quickly though.
We are so grateful for Dave's parents who have helped with the kindergarten drop-offs and pickups as well as taking Eliana to her swimming etc.  Spencer celebrates his first birthday later this month.

Amongst the continual obstacles that we seem to have to plough through, we know God's hand is on us and that He will continue to be faithful in all He's said He'll do.

What I have said, that I will bring about.  What I have planned, that I will do.
Isaiah 46

With all our love and appreciation for your support,

David and Andrea (Tobiah, Eliana and Spencer)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Update: September '09

Hello!  We look forward to catching up with you individually, but this email briefly sums up where we are up to.  

Praise Points:  
Cheap airfares!
We are booked to leave on January 14th 2010.  Unbelievably we got $99 tickets to Kuala Lumpur!  All up we will get the 5 of us to Chiang Mai for around $1000!! YAY!

Renting our house-
At the end of this term, a beautiful Christian couple (whom we've known since youth group days) will begin renting our house with their four children.  Praise God we didn't even have to go through an agent or advertise.  This was a complete blessing.  We "officially" move ourselves out this weekend and then the cleaning begins!!

Our first visitors "booked"-
For my birthday in August, my parents called me to say that they'd booked tickets to come and stay with us in March next year!  This is really exciting.

Packing up-
I admit, I have found it difficult trying to pack up the house on top of the normal busyness of life.  
It's also been overwhelming at times realising how much there is to get done before January but God is so faithful. 
He continues to go before us and make the way so I know it will all be okay.
Our 2 beautiful mothers have been so helpful as always.  My mum has been working day and night to help me pack the house up in a very short amount of time and Dave's mum, cooking us meals and minding Tobi and Eli so that there were some quieter moments to get jobs done.  I would not have been able to function without their advice, direction, assistance and thoughtfulness.

David's parents are not only housing us for 4 months until we leave, but are also able to store our remaining furniture and belongings for as long as we need.  We are so grateful for their flexibility and their provision in this area.

A GP has offered to assist our family both with consultation and cost. in preparation (health-wise) for the move,   This is a huge load off our minds.

  1. It seems that every week we are meeting new people who share our passion to raise awareness and stop human trafficking.   We have received money to help support us going to Thailand.  
  2. We've also had offers to keep our family in their prayers (we really need this).
  3. Our couch sold (without having to advertise).
  4. We were introduced to a young lady Rachael, from Sydney, who feels called to raise money for ZOE and could turn out to be a great 'Australian' administrative support person.

Our friends-
I hope this update finds you all well.  I want to thank you for your prayers and support.  Your words of encouragement help to keep us 'going'.  We serve a wonderful God.  Without His strength, we would not be doing this and He often uses you, our family and friends, to prop us up during the tougher days.  
We look forward to the future with so much excitement as we feel like we've found our "groove" but also with sadness at the thought of not being surrounded by our support network in the way we've had in the past.

  1. A buyer for our fridge would be good.
  2. A buyer/ new home for Jake our turtle and his tank.
  3. A successful garage sale on Saturday.
  4. That the children will feel settled and not anxious in the coming weeks/ months.
  5. Continued energy to keep up the pace of packing/moving.
  6. A reasonable price to ship our belongings.

Thanks! We love you guys!

From Andrea (and the Cross Family) 

Monday, August 31, 2009

The next installment... how it all began!

ZOE Children's Home 2009
The following is the recount of what has happened since that night back in March...

The following morning we questioned each other, "Were we both still 'feeling' this?  Did we agree to pursue this option? (working overseas was something Dave had always said he'd never do!)"

Every day for the next week or so, the answer kept coming back from both of us "YES"!

So after we'd seen the ZOE DVD we did two things.  Firstly we starting asking ourselves things like, ‘could we even take our children with us’... ‘was this even a reality?’  And ‘who are these people working at ZOE?’  One of the first things we discovered was that there were missionary families involved at ZOE and that they had children (some children were even born over there).

I then stumbled across some of these missionary family's blogs.  I read with excitement about what was being accomplished in Chiangmai and it was amazing.  I emailed one of the 'moms' over there and shared with her what Dave and I felt that God was saying to us.  She suggested that we contact the ZOE head office in the USA and get some more information.

After emailing and asking if we could come and see the home etc. we were told that if we wanted more than just a quick tour (if we felt God was speaking to us about this move) that we would need to apply to work at the home.

This was  a big moment in our journey.  How can you apply without seeing the organization?  Without meeting the people?  Without checking to see how they ran things?
However we pressed on. ..
We were sent out application forms and after weeks of writing them (about 20 pages of typed information) we finally emailed them off.  We had no idea how long we'd have to wait for a response,  but thankfully the founders Mike and Carol were at the USA office that week and were handed our applications immediately.  They contacted us within two days and arranged a Skype interview for that weekend.  We couldn't believe it!  It was becoming a real.

The interview was phenomenal.  We seemed to hit it off right from the outset.   We were able to gain more of an understanding of the work they work they were involved with.
They told us that they are very cautious people, especially when it came to interviewing people to work for ZOE however they felt so excited by our applications. This was really encouraging for us because obviously we have felt so strongly like God has been speaking to us so it was great to hear their reactions and hear how God is answering their prayers as well!  We felt such a connection with them through the way God was working in all our lives, given the fact that we are in totally different parts of the world.  
Carol said that when she read our applications, she threw her hands in the air and screamed.  Hearing our voices at the beginning of the interview, she exclaimed that she couldn't believe we were actually real.  She told us that we are the exact people that they have been asking God for and that we were "heaven sent".  
We felt that we were taking a massive leap of faith and acting in total obedience to a calling God has placed on our hearts.  We had not yet even seen ZOE or walked around to experience the work first hand.  We liken it to some degree to the reading we have both been doing on both Moses and Aaron when God spoke to them. 
All He required was their obedience to His calling and He continually revealed His mighty hand. Over a period of time, they began to see the details revealed.
The night before the interview David had a bit of a moment!  He felt quite troubled that he may not have what the organization needed and was thinking that it may be just Andrea that would be the one ZOE needed (being a trained teacher) and concluded he would be happy to be home-dad if that was what was required.
In the interview, Mike spoke specifically to David and listed a number of areas that they would love to get him involved with.  Both Mike and Carol were running a successful business when God spoke to them and called them to this work.  They took a similar step of faith and it's so inspiring to hear the 'God honoring' principles they have put in place.  
Mike also mentioned that ZOE could gain from the experiences that David  had in business as they look to establish a range of micro business units as the organization seeks to become self sufficient.  Mike and Carol said that at this point they wanted David to work for the organization full time and were extremely happy for Andrea to be mum to our kids and if opportunities presented for her and she was able to assist, that would be great but they were extremely respectful of her role as a mother.  Obviously this lines up with exactly how we saw the next few years for our family. 
We discussed the amazing 'holistic' vision for ZOE: their 80 acre land purchase, Gods opening of grants of millions of dollars to allow them to custom build of a new facility to house orphan and at risk children, a business school, safe houses, bible college, schooling for 0-18 year olds and more!

The next month or so, leading up to our 'scout trip' in July, was filled with preparation.  Preparation of our hearts, preparation of our parents/ family for what we were going to find out and preparing ourselves too for what would be massive decision.  We knew something was happening by the resistance we got when trying to organise our trip.  I'll never forget the night we needed to book our flights... from lost passports, to Spencer screaming uncontrollably (totally out of character), the Internet continually dropping out and then Dave's front tooth completely fell out! 

If we had any doubt in our minds before arriving in Chiangmai, we certainly did not arrive home with any.  We were blown away with how much God had gone before us.  He gave us a week full of confirmations.  From particular songs being played, bible verses being said, people saying things to us.  
He showered us with His love and He showed us that He is a God of detail.  He loves to pay attention to the little things that matter to us.  We had an amazing week and met some of the most precious people.  Their hearts and their passion are incredible. It was so inspiring to be around.  We got a great idea of how much there is to do there and they were so encouraging to us personally.  

I remember reading in that book, Praying for Purpose, that "As we pursue our God-given purpose we do not get discouraged even when it seems that nothing is happening. God wastes nothing".  For me this quote has kept me going.  It's gave me persistence during times when I've sat at Marvellous Mums, the only one there, wondering why God asked me to organise the group for no one to come.  It constantly gave me hope that God was preparing me for something far bigger than what I'd imagined.  The skills that I have learnt, the resources that I've been able to write and the experience blogging etc all from running Marvellous Mums were all for a reason.  When I was in Chiangmai I got a glimpse of how all of this will be so helpful for some of the things that I'll be able to do over there.

There are ways that I can help out working from home (like maintaining a ZOE Facebook page) as well as with teaching English, child care meetings, shopping trips for the short-term missionaries and so much more.

We also sorted out so many logistical things while we were there too such as kid's schooling, house, car etc.  These are all stories of God's faithfulness in themselves!

Since arriving home, it has been a blur of events and emotions.  I sit here surrounded by half packed boxes and 'piles' to be sorted.  We are moving to live at Dave's parent's house in a week's time.  This in itself has been such an answer to prayer.

There is too much to write about explaining how everything is falling in to place but here's a quick summary:

•Our house is being rented to a Christian family (I knew the couple from youth group days). Unbelievably we hadn't even advertised yet. They needed to move in at the time we'd hoped to be out by!

•Dave's parents can store all of our remaining furniture (we don't need paid storage).

•A GP has offered to help us prepare health wise for the move both with consultation and cost.

•Donations and pledges of money to help support us.

•Our couch sold (again without advertising)

•Very cheap flights (we leave January 14th).

•We are meeting people every day who share this passion.

•Rachael, from Sydney, called to raise money for ZOE and a great 'Australian' administrative support person.

Well as I conclude this part 2 of the first chapter, I want to thank you for your prayers and support.  Your words of encouragement help to keep us 'going'.  We serve a wonderful God.  Without His strength, we would not be doing this and He often uses you, our family and friends, to prop us up during the tougher days.  We look forward to the future with so much excitement as we feel like we've found our "groove" but also with sadness at the thought of not being surrounded by our support network in the way we've had for the past ten years of marriage.