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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Greater Things Are Yet to Come

Are you getting excited about the fast approaching New Year?
Well I am.  {And Dave certainly looks like he is from this picture haha}
2012 has been so great but I am looking forward to seeing God do even bigger and better things both in our family and at ZOE in 2013.
With the New Year getting closer minute by minute, I thought it'd be nice to reflect back on the year just past, and so, that's exactly what we did as a family at dinner tonight.
We brainstormed all of the highlights from 2012 and then (through a very lengthy and complicated voting process) we narrowed it down to our Top 12.
There was such a lot of good stuff that didn't make it to the final 12 too, but ... here it is... our Top 12 of 2012!!
For the older generation, who might find that text a bit on the small side, the list says:
 1. Having overseas visitors.
 2. Our family holiday to Koh Chang 
 3. Going to Sticky Falls (lime stone waterfalls)
 4. Moving house.
 5. Playing soccer in the street.
 6. Tobi winning the 200m at school.
 7. Going to ZOE.
 8. Christmas time.
 9. Reading chapter books as a family.
10. Eliana's pony party.
11. Going back to Australia.
12. Friday's chapel at school.

There has truly been so much to be thankful for this year (more than I could mention here in one post).
From financial donations (at crucial times when they were needed) to seeing God's protection over our family as well as all the amazing things that have occurred at ZOE where children have been rescued and their lives transformed.
I get goosebumps thinking about how in 2013, there are greater things still to come.
I am excited that we are positioned in the city in a Thai community where we are building relationships with our neighbours.  
I love it that there is a growing interest in ZOE's work within Victoria and Australia and an awareness about child trafficking that is prompting people to rise up and take action.  
I get teary when I see my children settled in their schools, growing and learning and keen to make a difference in the world despite their ages.  
And I feel such a deep sense of gratitude when I look around and realize that now, after 3 years of being here, I actually have some really good friends.  Not just acquaintances, not just other school mums, but lovely, genuine, friends.  I really do feel so blessed.

I love that song, God of this City.  
It's going to be my anthem for 2013. 

"For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here"


For those of you who may not know the story behind the song
“God Of This City”; it was written by a band called Bluetree during a missions trip to Thailand.  While the band was on stage performing worship songs in the Climax Bar, a club which doubles as a brothel in the Red Light district of Pattaya, 
God put these powerful lyrics on their lips in that moment…"greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city."  Right in the middle of their set of songs, this song was spontaneously birthed. The song then became a message of hope for the people of Pattaya and is now being sung in churches across the world.  

In all honesty, there were several of my 2012 goals that weren't completely finished.  Actually, some I didn't even get close to achieving.  But with only a day and a few hours left to go, I'm putting those things behind me and choosing to look forward.  
There is still so much to be done that I am heading into the New Year full of anticipation and expectation that greater things are ahead.

How are you feeling about 2013?  Setting any NY resolutions this year?  Expecting greater things in your family/ community/ work place/ business/ life? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ho... Ho... Ho... Hoping You Had a Great Christmas!

It's been a great few days.  
MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Here's some photos showing what we've been up to over Christmas.
Friday December 21st~ 
(am) The ZOE kid's Christmas Concert. Very cute!
(pm) The Christmas Party of the century.  This was absolutely one of the nicest and funniest nights ever.  We love our ZOE family.


Saturday December 22nd (more here)~
(am) Everyone at ZOE was placed into three different work-project groups.  We wanted to go out and bless various organizations in our local area.  Our group met at a school to clean mat-flooring with bleach and detergent.  
By the end, our clothes were totally stained and our knees were red raw, but we finished the job in under three hours and we had a LOT of fun!



(pm) After showering off the bleachy smell, we headed out in to our street to deliver the goodie bags we'd prepared.  We had the opportunity to speak with several of our neighbours and strengthen our relationships with them.  
The 20 or so monks, gathered at the end of our short street staring at us going door-to-door, made us feel a little overwhelmed, but we completed our task and even wished the monks a merry Christmas! 

Sunday December 23rd~
(am) We headed to a local shopping centre and participated in a Christmas Carol Flashmob!!  So cool.  I had goosebumps.  Four levels of people all singing carols made it sound almost angelic.  This was an amazing experience.
(pm) We had some of the Thai children in our street over for a Christmas movie and little Christmas party complete with yummy chocolate home-made goodies and hot chocolate with marshmallows.  The children really enjoyed this special time with their friends.

Monday December 24th~
(am) We celebrated Christmas a day early this year.  We had a lovely time reading the Christmas story together and opening presents (most of which had been sent from our family in Australia).  
Feeling very blessed! 

(pm) At lunch time we headed off to stay at a hotel near ZOE for the night.  Squeezing in a quick swim and rest first, we then headed in for a big potluck dinner and super-fun evening hanging out with our huge ZOE family.  It was SO nice to see some of the newest ZOE children enjoying their first ever Christmas!
Tuesday December 25th~
We planned to go to church at ZOE on Christmas morning (hence the reason we stayed overnight so close) but as Eliana got dressed that morning she pulled a muscle in her neck and was in an enormous amount of pain.
With no immediate improvement, we changed our plans and "had" Christmas church sitting on the beds in our hotel room.
After a slower start to the day than anticipated, we packed up and headed back home.
The rest of the day was spent gathered around Eliana on the couch, eating yummy food and having a Christmas movie-marathon.  It ended up being the most relaxing day ever!  
Loved it.  We may've even started a new tradition for Christmas Day afternoon!

And that brings me to today... we were so excited to welcome another Missions Awareness Trip team run by Graeme Smith at the airport this morning.  This team has lots of familiar faces as well as several of our family members on it.  
Hoping they're not too busy doing ministry in and around Chiangmai to hang out with us- just a little bit!!! Hint, hint!

So from our home to yours, we hope you had an amazing Christmas Day too.  Thanks for all the Christmas messages.  
We loved hearing from each and every one of you.
Love to you all, the Crossies :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Give it away~ Christmas that is!

I wrote a post at Christmas time last year entitled, "Give this Christmas Away".  I'm going to repost it now with some updated information relevant to this year, but the message for us all is still so challenging.

I've been reflecting about Christmas lately and just how completely different December feels here.  There's no junk mail filled with tempting gift ideas shoved into the mail box. We don't have a television, so there are no ads proclaiming the newest 'thing' that we need.

And besides some random attempts by the big department stores to pretty things up with lights and a few Christmas trees, there's not too many other clues that Christmas is just around the corner.  
It also dawned on me that for several of our ZOE children, this will be their first experience of Christmas, ever!  
For the majority of Thai people, who are Buddhists, Christmas is not celebrated but rather the coming of the New Year.  At ZOE though, the excitement is building and the children are looking forward to not just what they can get, but just as much what they can give.  We have service projects planned for a few days time where the ZOE families will be helping with cleaning in certain areas around our local areas, serving and sharing God's love.  And Christmas Day is going to be a special celebration of what this day signifies within the Christian faith. 

Have you heard the song, Give This Christmas Away?  It's one that I really like and I've posted it below if you haven't heard it.
I'm continually challenged to fully grasp what this looks like for our family and how we can act upon it.  
The true meaning of Christmas, and what Jesus' birth means to us, prompts me to ask how can I give back, focussing on the most important gift of all.
I definitely haven't "arrived" in this area, but I would like to share some of the ways that our family is attempting to give this Christmas away.  AND I am hoping that you'll join in and add some of your good ideas in the comment box below.  

Okay so these are the easiest ways that I've found so far:
1. Buy an extra pressie.
Choose a tag off one of those Christmas trees set up at your local shops or school that requires you to buy a gift for a child of a particular age/ sex etc.  This year we picked a little boy about Tobi's age who needed a new school bag.  
Result: This can be a great conversation starter for discussing needs verses wants, and a reflection on what other children do or don't have in comparison. 

2. Against the odds.
I wasn't going to buy Christmas cards this year (opting just to email or post out our Christmas letter) however I had the opportunity to purchase some from a friend who, in her spare time, works with an orphaned, HIV girl to teach her card making skills.  My friend was helping to sell the girl's cards for her.  I felt so happy to be able to support her in this small way and I scored some beautiful hand-made cards!
Result: Win-win!

3. Life goes on
When a natural disaster occurs, like last year's Bangkok floods, there was much to do to rebuild the lives of those affected.  Last year our church gave us a list of everyday grocery items that we could buy to make bags and send to those still requiring relief in certain areas.  I love to shop, so I found it fun searching for the items on the list like sardines in tomato paste {ew} and other practical items like mosquito repellant, oil, rice, fish sauce, noodles, soap, toothpaste, sugar etc.
Photo taken by Tobi!
Result: I bought three lots of everything and left it up to my three children to pack one bag each.  I was able to talk about why we were helping as we packed and Eliana even went and drew some pictures to put in the bags too!  Look for ways that your local community groups and churches are helping out after a crisis occurs and join their efforts to bring assistance.

4. Buy fair trade  
This is talked about often so I won't go into it too much.  When you have the option, make a choice that gives farmers a fair price and help in community development projects.  Over here, I found some Akha Ama coffee beans to give as presents that are produced by local entrepreneurs supporting Akha communities and encouraging farmers to put more efforts in sustainable and organic agriculture. The Akhas belong to an indigenous group living in the highlands of Thailand.   We also buy coffee beans from one of the ZOE staff members here whose grandfather has a coffee planation that Dave has actually been to.  And we have a small range of fair trade chocolate too which makes great "teacher" presents.
Result: Supporting local traders and communities so that they can strengthen and continue to achieve sustainable farming.  

5. Buy handmade. 
Over the years here, I found some great items in a little shop over here (similar to the Oxfam shop) that sells handmade items by local hill tribe people.  In buying products from this shop which includes clothes, bed covers, jewelry, silverware, musical instruments, and dolls made by Thailand’s six hill tribes, it helps to support artisans from the hill tribes to earn an income.
Result: Profits from BPP & Hill Tribe go to support hill tribe villages and to the Border Patrol Police school students and their families.

6. Get involved! 
Help out/ support/ attend your local carols.  In our local area, Tobi's school puts on a wonderful carols service every year and everyone from the school community pitches in by baking and supplying hot cocoa etc and the whole event: food, entertainment ... everything is opened up and offered for free to our Thai neighbours that live around the school.
Result: Building relationships, being generous, seeking to live in harmony and strengthen our community.

7. Buy local.
When possible, we like to buy from the person in the street.  This year with one gift idea, we were able to buy most of what we needed from a little Thai lady in a market stall at our local market.  Think about where you buy so that, when possible, your helping the people doing business locally and showing your support.
Result: Strengthening local businesses.

8. Share the load.
It often takes a lot of work to give out and provide for a large number of people (we sure know about that here) but it doesn't seem so hard when lots of people contribute.  The little Christmas stockings filled with candy and hanging on the Christmas tree at ZOE have been filled by several of the volunteer families here. Each family contributes just a little bit, and when we all pool together...
Result: A lovely little treat for the ZOE kids to enjoy over Christmas!

9. Out with the old. 
Go through your children's clothes and toys with them (before Christmas) and assist them with choosing some of their toys to donate to a community group that works with children, to either provide for or sell these items to fund their work.  We did this today and the result was two basketfuls of soft toys and some bags of clothes.
Result: A great chance to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for but also to think about not just giving away out of our excess.  Encourage children not to just give away what is broken, dirty, worn or outgrown.  This is very challenging!

10. Invest
It's so easy to get 'stuck' in our Christmas traditions that have become so comfortable and easy.  Have you thought about investing your time on Christmas day into an elderly neighbour with nowhere else to go, a single mother or the family that just migrated away from another country? 
Christmas is a time when you have a great opportunity to connect and share with someone around you and get the chance to make sure no-one is alone.
Despite not being with my family back in Australia during this special time, I am glad that I have such a big family here to join with on Christmas Day.  I am definitely being changed, stretched and challenged and I will continue to keep thinking about this concept some more.  Please share your ideas too so that we can all have a big list to remind us.
Enjoy the song!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Away in a Manger

Okay, what I am about to say is totally biased and unnecessary but I'm gonna say it anyway...
So, I was in a bit of a flurry from the 8am Christmas concert at Tobi's school.  I raced back home, prepared plates of food and teacher gifts, took an overseas phone call, quickly made sure I had everything I needed and raced off to the next event.
It was only when I hastily plopped down in my seat to watch the preschool Christmas play, that I was totally caught off guard when Spencer came on the stage to play... Joseph!
And this is the bit I shouldn't say, but I will anyway (coz I was one proud mama)... 
HE WAS SO STINKIN' CUTE!
Oh how my heart melted for him all over again.  
And he did such a great job.
But my thanks and admiration goes out to his preschool teachers for encouraging him to just be who he is... to dance uninhibited... to sing loudly... to laugh... to feel the rhythm... to tap the beat... to just be all that he was meant to be.  
What a wonderful gift, at this time, to remember all over again what a blessing it is to have teachers who take the time to nurture each individual in their care.  (If they ever read this- you know who you are!!)  
After the nativity play was over, Spencer's teacher led us all in a few verses of Away in a Manger.  As us parents belted out the all-too-familiar words, I felt challenged to be also thinking about other people experiencing being "away" and "without".
Those who are away from home this Christmas.  
Away from or without a loving family.  
Away from or without safety and protection.   
Or who have chosen to walk away from the God who loved them so much that He sent His one and only son to this world.

You see when I sing 'Away in a Manger' it's not just some ol' soothing carol or lullaby.  
It's a song about when Jesus, the Saviour of the world, was born. He came as a baby, then grew to be a man that gave His life for you and me, so we could live with Him forever when we die. 
It's a song about the greatest gift EVER that's waiting to be received.
I celebrate Jesus birth because of my faith in Him.  His birth was the beginning of a life-changing event - the cross. 
Could we find it in our hearts to stretch out our hands to those around us that might be lonely, unwanted, unloved and away this Christmas? 
To share with them about this amazing, free gift and to show them, practically, what Christmas is really all about?

Comments?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like...


Thanks Tammy for the cute Aussie ornaments!
... a really busy time of year!

Busy and yet fun.

If you don't usually get our Christmas letter and you would like to this year, please email me and I'll send you one.

Well, there's been parties and 
visitors and activities galore
but I'm excited to say there's about to be more!

Let me share some of the past few week's highlights through some of our photographs:

1.  My cousin Mark has been doing a teaching placement at one of the Thai schools here in Chiangmai.  It was great to catch up with him and hear all about his adventures in and around Chiangmai.

2.  I mentioned Spencer's love of all things weird in a recent post. Here's a photo of him guzzling down a serving of frog and rice!!  Yes, you read that correctly... FROG!  No forcing required.  
None of us wanted more than a small taste but not Spencer, he ate the whole lot!

3.  Recently Tobi had his annual Track and Field day at school.  His super competitive parents could barely wait for his first event to begin, but thankfully Tobi was very relaxed about it all.  He did a particularly good job in his 200m and relay events coming away with 2 firsts!

4.  A team visiting ZOE organised some very special Christmas activities for all the kids.  There was card making, cookie decorating, present wrapping and a Christmas tree craft followed by a whole lot of fun playing on the grassy fields afterwards.  It was such a special and fun day.  

5. Our sweet daughter turned 6 this week!  Wow! Where have the years gone?  I feel like it was not so long ago that we were cheering on her first steps and now she is reading to us, talking non stop and asking questions (some I don't even know the answers to).  We enjoyed a cute and wonderful morning celebrating with a pony party last Saturday.  To see some more photos, click here
Happy Birthday Eliana!
6.  On Saturday night we headed off, all rugged up in our long sleeve tops (which was a novelty) to Christmas in the Park at Tobi's school.   We had a great time singing carols, drinking hot chocolate and sampling delicious Christmas cookies. 
photograph c/o Jessica!
7.  Other than that, it's life as normal (whatever that is)!  
School runs and our work at ZOE as well as slowly getting to know our neighbours.  
We still LOVE living in the city and are well and truly enjoying the cheap food spots around us.  
We're getting used to the new noises from the local Thai schools and temples surrounding us which alternate between chanting, drumming, singing, school announcements and the happy chatter of students.  
Our street is often filled with games of soccer, badminton, tag, bike riding or a water fight.  
And in between all that there's the regular visits from the man selling straw brooms, the guy with the coconut ice-cream trolley and the grateful old man collecting anything recyclable.  It continues to be an eye-opening experience and one that we try to absorb and learn from.  
Despite the reoccurring sibling rivalry, outbursts, injuries and normal child-like behavior, we have been blessed with how our three children have so quickly adapted to this new style of living.  They just adore the Thai children and teenagers in the street and have happily played for hours with the 2 older girls who live a few doors up.  They love to chat over the fence with our elderly next door neighbours and the moments when the kids all gather for a game (as well as some of the fathers) the sounds of happiness definitely fill the air.  

And even though it might not be "beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere we go", in the same way that it did in Australia; we really are so very thankful for this wonderful place to live.  
And, personally, I think the "prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on our own front door"! 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This Little Light of Mine

One night late in November, we peeked out through our bedroom curtain and looked across our narrow street to see all our neighbours placing small tea-light candles around the perimeters of their houses.
It was the main night of Loy Krathong (the festival of lights) and we had been hearing hours of fireworks and crackers going off for the past several days and nights.
Other years, we have joined in this festival by letting a lantern go off or by driving around the city to watch the festivities but this year we had chosen not to.  
Our Thai teacher explained that it would send a confusing message to our Thai neighbours if we were seen participating in this Buddhist event when we are actually Christians.

And so it was.  Our street congregated.  Firecrackers went off  and we watched on as they celebrated.


Not even two weeks later, and our family began putting up lights.  We set up a Christmas tree, strung up some tinsel and decorated our house in celebration and remembrance of the birth of Christ.  
Now our neighbours are having their turn at looking on and watching us as we begin to celebrate this Christian holiday.  
To them the few decorations and trees they see in the shopping centers represent the coming New Year, but for us these symbols mean so much more.
We are so excited here in the Cross household.  
This is one of the reasons why we moved house!
We are face to face with the reality that we are different.
Not just in the way we look or because we are the only ones celebrating Christmas, but in what we believe to be the Truth!   And this holiday season, we get the opportunity to explain just why we believe what we do and how that information has been so life-changing for us.
Last night we finished off the goodie bags that we have made for each household in our street. Complete with a gift as well as the Christmas story in Thai.
Over the coming days, please pray for us as we attempt to make contact with each family in our street; that we can continue to build on the relationships we've already established, begin friendships with those we've not yet had the chance to get to know and especially for ways to share our faith.

"This Little Light of Mine" is a gospel children's song written by Harry Dixon Loes (1895–1965) in about 1920.
Depending on the source, the song may take its theme from Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven".
(Wikipedia)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Snakes Alive!


Well, there's never a dull moment at the ZOE Children's Home.
Throughout our time here, there's been many discussions when unwanted visitors have invaded such as scorpions, fleas, stray dogs and frogs but not until recently have we ever had a problem with snakes!
In the past few months, there have been several sitings of these deadly creatures.  And then last week, the missionaries got in on the action just as one such slithering serpent was discovered prowling around the pig farm.
Watch this short video to see how it all plays out... you'll never guess how, or where, these pesky snakes actually ended up!