Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christmas Letter [that almost didn't happen]!

Firstly, thank you for your love and care for our family.  We know we don’t communicate nearly enough and our efforts at keeping in touch are sporadic, but we truly are grateful for all you do to keep us in your thoughts and prayers despite the distance between us.

Well as I sit here reflecting about this past year I see Spencer eating his breakfast at the table… dressed up as a bear.  Our children continue to be a source of much joy and laughter for David and I.  They are growing up so quickly and sometimes I wish I could just freeze them at their current ages.

It’s been an interesting year and maybe one of our hardest so far.  It’s difficult to pinpoint why this is the case as we feel settled in our home, the children love school and life, there have been no major cases of sickness etc. but, life has, at times, felt overwhelming and exhausting.   It has been through this year though that we have been able to clearly see God’s hand on our family and know that He’s sustained us and given us the energy and strength that we needed.  As we continue to seek Him in 2014, we trust that His plan for our lives and our work here will continue to unfold.

I am so thankful for the two times this year when we have been able to take some time to rejuvenate and re-energise.  In June this year we took a week off and had a ‘staycation’ in Chiangmai at the Juniper Tree, a place of rest for missionary families.  It was a precious time to get to know some other families who are serving all over Asia as well as having time as a family without any of life’s usual distractions.  The second time of refreshment was about a month ago.  A church in America paid for all the ZOE missionary families to go and stay at a resort and they organised a four- day retreat/conference for us as a time of reflection, teaching, rest as well as lots of fun.  We felt so blessed and privileged to have been given this gift.
Singing on stage at the retreat.
Well, one highlight from the beginning of 2013 was having Dave’s two sisters, brother-in-law and nephew spend some time here in Chiang Mai.  We loved having them here, especially when Tammy stayed on longer to do an intensive language course.  We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of mango and sticky rice together.

I hit a bit of a low at the beginning of the year when my classes at ZOE became increasingly challenging.  Bogged down by the enormity of just what some of my students had been through coupled with a deep yearning to connect with them and show them God's amazing love through my life and actions, I had to remind myself that it's all about God and not about me.  Any little thing I can do is only through His power.  As His servant, my job is to continually and diligently be in prayer and obedience, remembering, that it is God who breaks the chains.  

In February, it was a pleasure to work alongside Dave and be the “official” photographers for two different ZOE staff member’s weddings.  We had such a blast doing this as well as presenting them with framed wedding photos as our gift to them.  In February, we also got an oven!  Whoop! Whoop! This was a highlight for me and it meant that I could, once again, bake and cook some of our family’s favourite meals.
We also completed our first ‘Run for Relief’ 5km fun run to raise money for the displaced people in the neighbouring country of Burma.  We have since been back to walk/run this track and bike-ride. We look forward to this being an annual event that our family completes together. 

March brought us to the decision to move Tobi to the Australian school where Eliana attends.  It was a big decision, but one that we have been so happy to have made.  Eli and Tobi were in the same class for the last part of the school year and are now in a split 2/3 class.
Visiting the Elderly Home
From April to June, I busied myself by helping out at our children’s school by doing odd jobs like purchasing and arranging a new air-conditioning unit to be installed, helping to bring in a school uniform and even being the school photographer!  I was also able to set up the schedule for our trip back to Australia and help Dave prepare for all the different events that he was speaking at.

In amongst all of that, I had the thought to put some of our stories into a book as source of encouragement for other people… this proved to be a bigger project than I had anticipated, but when it was finished (the day before we left for Australia) it was all worth it and I was so glad that Dave had supported me and kept encouraging me until it was completed.

After returning to Thailand, we found out that there was still no teacher for Tobi and Eliana’s 2/3 class for the coming school year which was to begin in 2 weeks time.  I stepped in to help out for a couple of days a week, which very quickly turned into full time.  It was a huge task to jump in without much preparation, but thankfully it is a small class and despite the busyness of the past 5 months, it has been a joy to have the opportunity to teach, not only, an age group that I love, but also two of my own children!

It would be untruthful to say that it’s all been smooth sailing, the craziness of working full time and balancing family life has definitely been a struggle.  I am thankful that David has been so understanding and supportive.  What a blessing and privilege it is to be able to see how our children are growing in confidence each day and be a big part of educating them in this season.

The past five months really have been a blur!  It is nice to finally be on 2 weeks school holidays.  We are looking forward to our ZOE missionary Christmas party on Monday, Christmas Eve with the ZOE family on Christmas Eve and a quiet Christmas Day at home on Wednesday. 

I guess my summary of the past year would be, “a year of unplanned moments”.  I wrote a blog post about it back in October, which I will paste part of here, but I really think that, it is these moments in life that we often get to see God’s work at hand.  To be able to pause for long enough to see Him in these instances in all His goodness is what I hope to be able to do each and every day.

Nearly 4 years ago when we uprooted our family from life in Australia and moved across the seas to Thailand, we never could’ve imagined all the things that God had in mind for us.  Thankfully God has been right here alongside us every step of the way. 
I like what Alan Ward writes,
"Isn’t all of life an unplanned journey? Each day comes to us; we don’t get to preview it and skip the days that we don’t like. We can only choose to receive what each day brings and struggle to find God in the midst of it all—for God is with us always if we can but train our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to be open to receive Christ into our lives anew each day.  I hope and pray that in time we will all learn to see God with us in every present moment and especially on the unplanned journeys that are so much a part of this life."
King's Parade
As we head into 2014, it is our prayer that we will seek God in every situation and live to please Him knowing that He is with us through it all.

May you have a blessed and joyful Christmas.
With much love from our home to yours,

Andrea (on behalf of The Cross Family).

P.S.   A short update from Dave…
One of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to reflect on the past year.  As I sit here and do this, I know that it sure has been a wonderful year at ZOE.  Many children have been rescued this year and we have been blessed with incredible provision from the Lord to do this work. 
During one of my times at a ZOE safe-house this year, one of the boys was asking me about Christmas, what it meant, how we celebrated etc, and he was quite fascinated by it.  I am excited that in just a few days he will enjoy his very first Christmas.  He, like many others who we have rescued this year, have been through some incredible challenges.  He is definitely still in the initial stages of healing, but I am very excited to be able to spend Christmas Eve with him and the other children at ZOE. 

The year for me, just like Andie mentioned, has been very full.   We have had more involvement with the Government of Thailand and I have attended many other meetings with organisations and governments from countries outside of Thailand.
I often sit in these meetings with people who have much higher qualifications and experience than me, wondering how I came to be there.  It is during these times that I say (many) quiet prayers and ask the Lord to give me the wisdom that only He can. It is interesting to see what’s happening as we work with and alongside people from a wide variety of cultures and viewpoints.

I have also enjoyed being part of the team to review and develop the plans for the ZOE safe houses and I pray that soon we will have the finances required for these necessary buildings.

In addition to these things, I have enjoyed teaching sport to some of the children, three times per week.  I have two basketball classes and one karate class.  I have found that this has been such a great way to continue building relationships with the children –especially the newly rescued ones.

The Lord is so good and He continues to help and guide us in our work at ZOE.
Thank you for continuing to empower us to do this work.

Blessings, David.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Along The Path

~ By David Cross ~

Recently I went away with the ZOE youth for a 3-day retreat in a remote village.  When I say remote, it was only a few hours drive away but in my mind when you are without electricity and your phone reception is intermittent, it qualifies as being ‘remote’.  I had such a wonderful time away with the youth and I just love any chance I get to hang out with them. 

Although my family and I are approaching our 4 year anniversary of being here in Thailand, it never ceases to amaze me how, when in the village, everything is either edible or useful.  Nothing is off limits!!

As our group walked along a small path that was headed toward a huge strawberry plantation (on a 45 degree hill) a group gathered a little way ahead of me.  Crouched down, they were picking up what could have mistakenly just been stones, but as they dug each one out of the sandy path, it was soon discovered that they were small chestnuts- still in their very spiky outer case.  We gathered them all up in bags (to be fried up later that day) and we continued on the path…

A little way further up, one of the boys was hurling rocks at a tree above and, after a few attempts, down fell some (incredibly) sour fruit that I am told is good for sore throats.  Though my throat was not sore, I was encouraged to try it. Yikes! My whole face screwed up like I had just swallowed a lemon, which of course always gets a chuckle from the kids!   If indeed my throat does become sore, I don’t think I could ever eat that again.  It was seriously sour!

We continued on again and I heard a rustle in the bushes beside me and out popped one of the older teenagers with a big stick in one hand and guavas in the other.  The ‘botanical knowledge’ that they possess is just so amazing.

We then continued onto to our destination… the strawberry patch
We were here to help with the pruning.  The last time we visited, it was the end of the strawberry season, so we searched the bushes and collected all the ones that were missed (and ate them), but this time, we were helping to prepare for the upcoming season by pruning the bushes and removing the weeds.

After a few hours of work, we started to head back to the houses but of course the journey along the path included many more discoveries along the way …

On the return trip, one girl held out her hand and offered me some delicious blackberries, then as I continued further I could hear the sound of a machete swinging, so I climbed a fence to go and see just what was going on.

There stood the best find of the day… bananas!  The boys had scaled a tree and cut down huge bunches of bananas.  Some were ready to eat (which of course we did … delicious!) and some others were still a little green, but they were just what we needed for our afternoon activity of making deep fried banana chips!

After all the work in the strawberry patch was done and thousands of banana chips were made, Denise (the youth leader) and I also had the privilege of seeing glimpses of the internal ‘work’ that’s been going on inside these precious youth. 

Just like it took a big effort to prepare the strawberry patch, to prune and to weed… a big effort is also required for a transformation to occur in the hearts and lives of our amazing ZOE children.  

 These teenagers have testimonies that regularly bring me to tears but when I get to witness the harvest, after all these years of our ZOE parents consistently pruning… and weeding… and sowing, then that’s when we get to see a yield of: reconciliation, forgiveness and trust. 

Along this path there are treasures a plenty and I can not wait to keep discovering what’s still to come.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Who Are You?

Yesterday I sat marking spelling tests whilst queuing in line for a medical examination that I needed for my work permit.  Suddenly I gazed around the room and a large poster hanging on the wall caught my eye.  It read "You are what you think you are".  It was an advertisement for a local university.

But just as quickly as the words sunk in, I caught myself disagreeing with that statement.  I don't know about you but, quite honestly... I am SO glad that I am not what I think I am!

I reflected back just half an hour prior.  How that 10 minute drive to the hospital had seen me in tears of anxiety.  
I had done it again... the petrol tank was empty and there was no petrol station in sight.  Okay. I know. Really bad.  I agree.  But I can explain!
Anyway so as I was driving cautiously watching the the dash board flashing EMPTY ... 0 kilometers ... all I could do was pray.  Would my wonderful heavenly father graciously and miraculously some how figure out a way of making my car run on complete emptiness till I made it a few more kilometers to the nearest petrol station? 

I am so thankful that He did!!  Hallelujah! 

But I am also so glad that the statement on that poster is not true.  What I thought of myself at that moment does not reflect who I really am.
Maybe you don't struggle with forgetfulness like me.  Maybe it's a low self esteem, a challenge with anger or feelings of hopelessness.  

I am so glad that I know where to find the truth.

If my brain tells me that I'm useless or my heart sinks with disappointment.  If someone doesn't like my idea or I'm never the winner.  If I make mistakes and feel like a failure.  If I quit or change my mind or do something that someone else disapproves of.

I know where to find the truth.

When lies comes.  When feelings rule.  And when our inadequacies guide our thoughts; we must know who we are!
Who am I?  If I'm not what I think I am, then who am I?

The other day, I took Tobi shoe shopping.  He'd outgrown he beloved fluorescent yellow soccer shoes and needed something suitable for kicking around in at school.  Well, setting his criteria from the beginning, "they had to match" his blue school uniform, we set off to the small selection of shops that sold kid's sizes.  I was skeptical about finding anything on the first attempt, but Tobi is a keen shopper with the determination to match.  He was there to hunt and gather.  Well, low and behold we came across a pair of shoes that he really liked.  The only issue was that they had laces and, because we are always taking our shoes on and off here, and he hasn't learnt how to tie laces yet, I was feeling {understandably} hesitant.  I tried to steer him to a different pair and talk him out of the laced ones, knowing that (being his teacher) I would be the one who ended up doing the laces up 15 times a day!
But here's what happened next.  As I am ranting and raving and giving all the reasons why it wouldn't be a good idea, he cuts in... "Mum! {in-a-kind-of 'calm down' voice}" And then he continues, "But I can do all things through Him who gives me strength".  
I stop, speechless.  "Mum.  If that's true, then I can learn to tie my shoes and you won't have to help me.  I can do it.  I can learn". 
I love it when my kids remind me of things that I should already 'know'.  I love it when the truth planted in a little heart every day over eight years, springs to life.  When seeds sown begin to sprout.    In that moment...   

He knew where to find the truth.

Even as mothers we can temporarily lose sight of who our children really are.  I'm glad God doesn't!

We have a couple of statements in our house for when someone does or says something unkind.  We say, "That's not like you" or "That's not who you are".

When the world around you is bombarding you with messages telling you that you must look a certain way to be acceptable, be a particular size or have this type of phone/ car/ house... whatever it is.  
Who will you listen to?
Are you what you think you are?  
Are you what others think you are?

Be sure you know the truth!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Chiangmai We Play Hide and Squeak!

(Thanks for the photo Laura- too funny). 
Poor Tobi is not feeling well today.  I wonder if it could be from all the mice that are lurking around- living in MICE City and all!  No, no, no it really is squeaky clean here.  Maybe we should've had a mouse-warming party when we moved here. 
No seriously, I hope you're have a mice day.  It really was mice to meet you... What mice weather we're having at the moment... hahaha.  I crack myself up.  Okay, I'll stop now!!

Anyway, instead of going to church this morning, the children watched a dvd of the Bible Read and Share stories.  
I had to smile as the older two explained to Spencer that "Potiphar's wife was trying to get Joseph and kiss him."

It's been a quiet few days with a week off school and Dave away since early Friday morning in the village.  

We enjoyed a fun day playing at a new water park on Wednesday as well as 5km walk around a bush track with friends on Friday.  
Yesterday was a lazy day at home for the children as I continued trying to get my planning for next term completed.  We are looking forward to Dave getting home around 7pm tonight.  

Today is Spencer's "official" birthday (although we celebrated with school friends on Monday) so I was woken up to an excited, squishy face pressed against mine informing me that he was really 5 now!  Love that boy. 
Here's a few pics from Monday's Curious George party:

There has been lots of activity at ZOE as usual.  David is away with both the youth group and a small team from Hawaii who are here helping ZOE out with some videography and photography projects.  I am keen to hear about his trip when he returns later today.  
There have been a couple of emergency hospital visits lately within the ZOE family so please keep them in your prayers.  One girl had to have an emergency operation to remove her appendix and one of our key staff members has broken her leg in several places. 
The ZOE kid's camp program is always loads of fun as well as a special time of growth and develop for the children personally.
You can check out more about the recent camp here.   
Below are some photos taken a a month or so ago at ZOE.

And to finish off, a picture of our very own Rapunzel {aka Eliana} after her hair had been in braids for three days (me being slack on the school holidays and not doing it).  She was very excited with how curly it came out and Tobi liked it too. 

Well from our home to yours (mice and all) I hope you're having a blessed day,
Andie :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How September Came... and Went!

Just like that.

I need to know, what happened to September?
It was here and then... it just disappeared!  
Well there's been lots happening and the days just rolled into weeks and the weeks into a month I suppose.
We have a week and a half left of school before a 1 week break.  That week off school is already filling up with Spencer's 5th birthday, a specialized media team at ZOE, Dave away on the youth camp and lots of planning to do before the new school term begins.
I am looking forward to carving out some time though for staying in my pajamas past 7am, swimming, an outing to either the zoo or the Night safari and a few movie-marathons with the kids.

We totally enjoyed our first AFL Grand Final party here a couple of weekends ago.  My friend Laura (fellow Melbournian and her two Aussie friends) boosted the numbers of attendees who actually knew what Aussie Rules football was and the rest of the party consisted of our wonderfully supportive American friends who randomly picked a side, cheered hard and stared on in amazement, commenting {and I quote} "It makes American football look like kiddy sports. Those guys are tough!"
Half time kick of the footy.
Other September memories included:
Celebrating Tobi's 8th birthday.
Saying goodbye to a very special helper that we'd all come to love and rely on at school.

Having our friends the Slimmon family here for a visit.

 ... and the ZOE staff sports day.

For more updates on all things ZOE related, please check out the official ZOE blog.  You can see photos of the new boys' home, read about the purchase of some more land, meet our new missionary family (The Robbins) as well as finding out how one young man reflects on his time growing up at ZOE (and more). 

Thank you for your continued support, love and prayers for our family and ZOE.