Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Have or Have Not?

We don't get stacks of mail here so when I saw that there was something in our letterbox, I opened it immediately and found a Christmas card that instantly warmed my heart.

I think it's because we're in this day and age of "instant" everything that I found this card so delightful.

Written in a small farm house in an Australian country town named Yackandandah, a very special lady had sat and scribed the words in beautiful old-style cursive handwriting.

In a year when I've found it hard to remember to call, email or even text my friends and family for important occasions, here is this lovely nana, on another side of the world, still thinking and penning out a Christmas message to her grandson and his family despite the fact that they live all the way over in south east Asia!
How precious is that?

Well not only have my emails and calls been few and far between, this year's annual Cross Family Christmas letter…{ummm} never happened!  {sigh} Which brings me to the name of this post, 'Have or Have Not?'

I realise as 2014 draws to a end that I could easily sit here and list all the things the weren't… that haven't happened, that never succeeded, that didn't get finished (or started!!) and have not turned out as I would've liked.

Or, I could finish the year focusing on the 'haves' in my life.
I'm not going to lie, 2014 has been challenging, but through the tears and the questions and the frustrations and the anger, there has also been so much blessing and laughter.
There have been friends that have encouraged me right when I needed it.  There has been answers and healing and joy.  There has been dancing and singing and giggles.
There has been double bouncing on trampolines and pretend wrestles and rollerblading.  There have been birthday celebrations, a surprise party, a ZOE wedding and numerous baptisms.
Swimming and feasting and snuggling with books on the couch.

2014 saw bugs caught, teeth lost, growth spurts, timetables learnt, ears pierced and laces tied.

When I look at our year and I see all God has done I am in awe.  His faithfulness never ceases.
With every sorrow and loss and disappointment and challenge, He has doubled my joy and blessing and thankfulness and mission.

I don't know what 2015 holds, whether it will be "easy" or "hard" but I do know this, that I can be glad for what I have and for what God is doing.

And just like I can trust that God will provide again for me, so too with this bite sized piece of faith do I  trust for my husband and children that He will also be "enough" for them.

From our home to yours, Happy New Year!  {deep breath}
Yep…. I am ready!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Through My Eyes...

As I was driving through the city the other day, I was reminiscing about when we used to live there.  
I actually really miss living in the city, more than I thought I would. 
Anyway, I was remembering back to one of the times that some of the ZOE kids had come over to our house.  
This particular time, the youth had an outing but some of them weren’t able to go so they’d arranged to come to our house for pizza and to play the wii. 

We’d sat around on the tile floor laughing and eating.  Once dinner was complete, I was impressed by their initiative to pack up and clean up where we’d been sitting.  After we’d all pitched in, Dave set up the wii and for the next couple of hours we sat around watching and laughing as we all took turns skiing, tight rope walking, hula hooping etc. 
As the night wore on, our usually hyperactive young son began to slowly become weary.  
After his turn, he nestled into the lap of one of the teenage boys and sat there so at ease and comfortable and unusually calm.  I remember looking over and smiling.   
And it was this picture in my mind that I would not forget.  My son was sitting in the lap of one of the boys who I had had in my English class many months earlier.  He had begun in my class not long after coming to ZOE… the one under the table!
What struck me as I remembered back fondly on this time was the way in which my young son, not knowing this teenage boy’s past, saw him for who he really is.  Our little son had no preconceived ideas. He had no concerns about the past and only positive thoughts for the future.  He simply saw a new friend.

And it's like that with God.  We don’t have to work for His acceptance.  He already sees us as acceptable, valuable, lovable, forgivable and capable. 

Sometimes as adults we seem to look through "glasses" of pity, shock, embarrassment, unworthiness, sadness or the world’s standards of success and beauty.  

But I need to be reminded again and again to become just like a child and understand how God sees each one of us.  
Only then can I accept that there's value inside of myself and recognise the value in others.

Last week I had a great time, retrieving things from my "too hard basket".  I went to bed early each night and got up early each morning, I reversed parked and several other things that I had pretty much given up on being able to/ or wanting to do.
This week's challenge, seeing others not through my eyes.  Searching for the good in others and seeing them as God sees them!  
Phew! I'll be honest… It's going to be a challenge!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Too Hard Basket

I have this basket.  You might have one too.  It's labeled "too hard".  And in it I throw things like learning Thai, speaking in public and getting to bed early.
Mostly the things I throw in there stay in there.  For good.
But just recently I began to wonder what would happen if I looked in there and rescued a couple of things out. 
If I gave them another chance and tried them one more time.  What if…
What if I dug down deep and forgave that person one more time... what if I started Thai lessons again... what if exercising became a part of my daily routine... what if I kept praying for that break through and didn't give up?
Well, it's been 4 weeks since we've been back in Thailand now and I am happy to report that some of the things that I had previously deemed too hard have recently been salvaged and re-examined.  
I am pleased to say that I have completed three weeks of Thai study, attending three mornings a week and I have signed up for the next block of lessons too which {surprisingly} I am very excited about.  
Thanks to those dear friends in Australia who offered to pray about this for me. I actually have a really fun- yes- fun teacher, which is what I needed and a new enjoyment for language learning! Whoowhoo!!
I have also started exercising daily.  I have an accountability partner and I feel good about it staying as a realistic part of my daily routine.
Whilst it all seems to be going well at the moment, I do know that it is "early days"… very early days so I am being honest and saying that there will be days I don't exercise and some weeks that I might not complete all my Thai homework but with determination, accountability and the prayers of those who know me, I am hopeful!
It sounds like everyone is pretty busy right now.  With Christmas and concerts and parties and the end of the year rapidly approaching.  
Whilst there have been some really challenging days lately, I have to say that I have enjoyed so many individual moments these past few weeks and the chance to reflect on God's faithfulness, mercy and grace.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving with our dear ZOE family.  We are all really looking forward to this and I am hoping to do a trial-run of my pumpkin-snicker-doodle recipe in the next day or so.   
Other highlights have included leading kid's church as a family last week.  Our three children were such great helpers and eagerly acted some skits we'd prepared at home to illustrate various parts of the lesson from Revelation.

I have also enjoyed helping with some reading assessments at our children's school.  It has been great to be able to assist in this way.
Tobi, Eli and Spencer continue to grow, learn and change.  It never ceases to amaze me.  
We had such a lovely time celebrating Spencer's 6th birthday earlier this month with his friends coming to a Hot Wheels party at our home.  

I have also enjoyed having timetables races with Eliana (me having to answer in Thai) and watch as the children improve their skills in various areas.  Tobi is enjoying learning the guitar and Eliana has recently begun having a private Thai lesson after school.  
We recently had two new field workers join the ZOE team, Lori and Brad.  We had a fun day with them on Friday helping them to finalise their rental agreement and showing them around the local area.

Our kids are also loving getting the chance to play with our Thai neighbour.  There is a sweet 9 year old boy next door who enjoys coming over for a game of drive-way soccer, freeze tag or hide-and-seek.  Yesterday more children had joined in too and there was quite a crowd gathering!
This morning we headed to ZOE.  Dave was sharing this morning and we had a quick lunch with some of our co-workers before attending a baptism for some of the ZOE children and teenagers. 
Well maybe you don't have a too hard basket like me, but if you do, let's both go grab something else out this week and give it another go!  Shall we?  What will it be?  Befriending that neighbour? Making that difficult phone call? Staying calm in the face of a distressing situation? Apologising?
I already know what I am going to be pulling out and it's a big one!  
Well I'm not sure what's in your basket but I do hope that each week I can take things out of mine bit by bit and not just keep filling it full of life's challenges.  
I know if I really grasped Philippians 4:16, my basket would soon be empty!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Home Again

People say funny things. 
I wish I’d written down some of the interesting comments that random strangers made during our visit to Australia when they found out that we lived in Thailand.  
A classic last week was a shop assistant who exclaimed, “Wow!  That’s like you’ve been on holidays for almost 5 years!”
Hmmm. No. 
No, it's not. 
But I let that one go!!
It is a privilege to love and know people in more than one place… I don’t quite know how to put the past month or so into words. Seriously. I’m speechless.

God is so faithful.

He has once again shown me His amazing love and care though the tiniest of details, and through the incredible generosity of those who keep opening their hands to offer all that they are, and have, to be used by Him.

It all started before we left.

My visa had taken a long time to process and after 12 months of “extensions”, which all cost the same amount of money as the visa itself, I was starting to stress out as to whether it would even get processed at all. 

Eventually around the time we booked our tickets back to Australia, I was told that the visa appointment would be the coming Friday.  But by the time Thursday afternoon came, I was phoned and told that the letter needed for my visa had not arrived from Bangkok and I would (hopefully) be able to go to the immigration office on Monday instead. 
Then it suddenly occurred to me that after all these visa delays, the date of our upcoming trip to Australia was actually going to seriously interfere with the process of trying to get my visa finalised.  You see once you have your visa appointment, the immigration officer stamps your passport for 1 month and then after 1 month, you go back and get the other 11 months added on.  The issue was that in 1 month I would not be in Thailand to get my second stamp and the there was no way that the whole visa would be completed… this was a big problem.
I literally looked to up God and thought, I don’t even see how this can be worked out… to me it seems impossible. 

On the Friday afternoon before the appointment, with still no answer to the problem, I bumped into the pastor of our church. We started chatting and the whole “visa problem” came up in our conversation.  It was then that my ears pricked up, “Oh I’ve just been at a meeting at immigration today” he said. “They’ve just changed the system today and as of Monday, they are introducing a new process called ‘one-stop’.  It’s where they stamp your visa for the full 12 months straight away and you don’t have to go back for that extra stamp anymore.”
What? Had my letter from Bangkok not been delayed and I’d gone to immigration that day, my visa would not have worked out but now just one day before I am to go, they’ve changed the whole process so that when I go it will all work out fine!!!!
God you are AMAZING!! Seriously!! 

This year we’d also hoped to find our own separate accommodation for the majority of our time back.  Whilst we have enjoyed staying with both sets of parents every other year and we have so many fond memories as well as much appreciation for the numerous times they have minded our children when we’ve had meetings and catch-ups at night, we knew that a time would come when our family would simply need more down-time to reenergize (especially for the introverts amongst us).

I had researched a lot of houses online searching through the hundreds of listings of beach units, apartments, family suites, granny flats etc. but everything was just too expensive. I remember saying to God, “If we’re going to do this, I’m going to need to you to find us a place miraculously.”

Well, I had written a blog post mentioning that we were coming back (but not saying anything about accommodation) when, within minutes, a message popped up from a friend offering their house to house-sit while they were away for the school holidays.  I couldn’t believe it! Funnily enough, God obviously knew that our little Eliana (extrovert) and the only one not convinced that we should have our own space, needed the deal sweetened by being able to pet-sit their 2 rabbits and 2 cats while they were gone.  We had one excited girl!

The next answer to prayer came when our friend Aaron asked us if there was anything else he could help us with (he was already doing so much).  Hesitantly we emailed back asking if he knew of any accommodation available for 2 weeks. 
His email {the very next morning} with a place lined up to stay blew me away! And it wasn't just any old place. It was more than we expected or imagined!  

In the week or so leading up to our departure, friends took Eli’s pet rabbits to look after, other friends drove us to the airport, collected mail and washing off the line and upheld us in prayer. 

It’s such a blessing to be a part of God’s family.

Sonia and Colin, once again, so generously let us borrow one of their cars for the entire time we were back.  This was so helpful to us and we really were so appreciative to be able to use it.
During the first few days in Australia, we stayed at my parent’s house.  With the sweet familiarity of being back with them to begin our time here, we were blessed by their warmth and individual love for each one of us.  They amazingly understand all our different needs and some how seem to find the sensitivity to love on us all in only the way they can.

Maria, a lady who lives across from my parent’s home, came around in the few days we were there bringing bunches of bananas, soup, eggs, raisin bread, chocolates and a couple of other bags of fruit and vegetables.  This, along with the many other bits and pieces my mum sent us away with (including the loan of her rice cooker) all made the transition to our “own” place very easy and we set up “camp” thanks to God using others to give so generously.

 Sharing about ZOE at schools.

In our first full week here, we very quickly adjusted to the beautiful Australian landscape, gazing out the back window in awe.  The children loved petting the cats and taking care of the rabbits not to mention jumping on the huge trampoline and having so many exciting toys to play with. 

Our next ‘home’, adjacent to the Cook’s house, became our safe haven.  Here we truly relaxed.  I actually felt teary a number of times as I stared out at the paddocks and watched our children running with sheep, feeding horses, climbing trees and playing soccer.  No amount of searching the Internet could have possibly found a place so perfect.  We enjoyed getting to know the Cooks more through the unplanned conversations in the yard, at the clothesline or over the fence.  Our children were blessed with a new and special friend in Cooper and we will be forever thankful for the kindness and bigheartedness this family showed us.

There are too many individual stories about people’s generosity over the weeks that we were in Australia, but each gesture was so special to us and will not be forgotten.  We enjoyed fish ‘n chips, freezing walks along the beach, toasting marshmallows, celebrating birthdays, fantastic Indian food, a chocolatey feast, barbecue dinners, long chats and much more…. indeed we have some awesome friends and family!!

Dave’s parents also deserve a mention. They once again went above and beyond what we feel we deserved.  We really appreciate their kindness and practical helpfulness and look forward to spending a bit more ‘relaxing’ time together when they visit us in January.

I must say, that whilst it is nice to be home once again, our trip back to Australia was definitely one of my most favorite visits back so far.

Please keep me accountable, I am determined to create space to be more diligent in keeping in touch this year.  Despite having wonderful friends who just let us pick up where we left off, I really feel a strong conviction to be more disciplined in praying for and being connected to all of the beautiful friends we have throughout the upcoming 12 months (as well as updating our blog more frequently!)

Anyway, you know who you are- so thank you from the very bottom of our hearts!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

...In Its Time

Well this post not only has me writing from a new address and new surroundings but with a fresh sense of expectancy for the year ahead.
Thanks for the cake Laura!
It's true, I celebrated turning 27 {ahem} 37 yesterday. Whaaat?
Okay I admit I feel kind of old saying that.
Since I wrote last, we have moved house from the bustling city which we'd come to love to somewhat more peaceful surroundings of rice fields and, more importantly, good friends.  We are closer to the children's home too which is a massive bonus and we are enjoying discovering all the local spots to eat.
One of the first things I loved about this house when we looked through it was the view of the rice fields out the master bedroom window. It was so completely different to our view in the city. Ahhh… that view instantly took me to a happy place.
So when moving day came and I took a load of small items in the car along with the 2 boys, we couldn’t wait to race upstairs and fling back those curtains and breath in the exhilarating, fresh air… smoke!!!

What? Where were the beautiful rice fields we’d been dreaming about? The boys and I stood there in disbelief.  

It’s funny now, looking back to that moment because actually, that pretty much summed up my feelings of the entire year just been. 

Have you ever had those moments of realising, hang on, I didn’t plan this, this wasn’t how it was meant to be, I wasn’t expecting that!!?

How often in the name of being ‘proactive’ and ‘organised’ do I try to plan and… control, only to be standing there, mouth gaping wide breathing in the smoky air of a burning rice field?
Umm okay, don’t answer that!

Ever had that experience?

Our pastor had been doing a series on ‘seasons’ lately.  It’s really helped me to once again remember that just like the appearance outside my window may completely change and go from beautiful to ugly.  So too in time will it change again.

So, after keeping those curtains shut for the first few weeks here, and not actually spending much of the daytime in my bedroom, I finally had a good day of cleaning and sorting out last week where I flung open those curtains once more and let the sunlight and the fresh air seep in.  I also looked out to the fields again and immediately smiled as I saw the sight I’d longed for a month or so ago, the beauty of the lush green fields before me.  It took my breath away.  Thank you God. 
Well, we’ve heard it all before, seasons come and seasons go but seriously, sometimes when you’re stuck in a challenging season of life, ‘that season’ can seem to be unending.  Life lesson: it will pass.

And so here I sit, 37 years old with a new season stretched out before me, and I’m all giddy like a kid in a lolly shop gripping my pocket money tightly in my hand asking, what should I do first?
I am excited to say that we will be heading back to Australia for a visit in late September-October!! Yay.  That has been unexpected but very cool all the same. So I will be putting that trip together.  Our kids have not experienced Melbourne spring weather since 2009!!  Needless to say, they’re hoping it won’t be as cold as the past few years of winter and I hope so too.

Many of you have asked whether our children’s school found a teacher… no! Not yet!  But we are still praying and believing that one or more will come.  The teachers are doing a great job to cover everything but they are very stretched.  I will be helping out by relief teaching.  I have already done 1 day and I have another 8 lined up over the next few weeks.
And on the days that I am not needed at school, I am able to scoot around town helping to get things that Dave needs for work (although I think I still need to work on my attitude a bit before I could officially be his PA or anything).
I am enjoying baking and exercising and more time to mull over things (like my heart attitudes!!).  It’s all good!

So if you’re currently stuck staring out into the open fields of smoke and ugliness wondering, when is this season ever going to end?  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you! (James 4:8) You are not alone for the Father is with you (John 16:32). And remember, it will pass!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Let it Go!

For those of you who are parents, you’re most likely familiar with the movie Frozen and its catchy tunes. 
But there’s one song in particular that’s being sung quite frequently around our house at the moment.  Can you guess what it is?
Yep! “Let it go… Let it go”.
This song, which interestingly was translated into 41 different languages for the film’s foreign release, has become sort of like a ‘mantra’ for me over the past couple of weeks.
You see, we’re in the very messy stages of moving house.
With less than a week till moving day, there are cupboards being sorted and drawers being cleaned out in just about every room.  Everything is up for discussion as to whether it stays or goes. 

And so as I sit cross legged in my children’s bedroom holding up one precious piece of artwork or keepsake after another {along with many not-so-precious-items that have just been hoarded since the last time we moved house} then the kids and I ask, “Keep it or let it go?” 

And I’m pleased to report that we’re all getting better at answering “Let it go!” which is often followed by at least one, if not all of us, bursting into song… again!

I find it amusing that it’s taken a Disney blockbuster to lead me to these thoughts about “letting go” of things, but now it’s not only helping me sort through my material possessions, it’s also challenging me about what is in my heart and life that could also do with a big clean out this week.

“Oh I don’t have that much” I tell myself defensively, “just that old grudge, that one hidden hurt, those boxes of disappointments, that drawer full of comparisons and that closet full of unrealistic expectations.”  
Oh but I forgot. 
There’s also all those worries and that guilt, that’s stacked up high on the shelf, not to mention the shed full of discouragement and inhibitions that I’ve just shut the door on, hoping they’d go away by themselves.

But I’m starting to feel like clearing out the clutter in my heart is going to be harder than trying to hit the high notes whilst attempting to sing the Oscar-winning ballad, Let it Go.

I’m learning a lot from my children too.  Recently they were given some money from a very generous donor in America.  Unsure as to what they wanted to use it for, the money was left sitting there in the envelope in which it came.
And then our church began a project called ‘Kids Aren’t Trash’, where some children, who had been living and working on a toxic waste dump, were rescued and given a home. Our church started asking for donations, which immediately sparked my children’s interest.  Using all their money they bought Hot Wheels cars, toothbrushes and underwear and then they went through their own precious belongings to find teddy bears, clothes and other bits and pieces that they wanted to give.  
Why would they do this? Spend all their money on kids they’d never met.  Well I believe it’s because they’re starting to understand that even when they give it all, or let it go they know deep down in their hearts that they’re going to be okay. 
That holding loosely to their “stuff” and caring about people is far more rewarding than the reverse. And that letting go often means getting back far more than you could’ve imagined.
And then this week our precious daughter had 35cm of her beautiful long hair cut off to send to Australia to be made into a wig for a woman or girl out there, somewhere, who is battling cancer.
Now anyone who knows our little girl knows that she LOVED her hair.  If I was even to suggest or threaten as I battled through the masses of knots on a daily basis before school, that she should maybe just consider having it cut, she would burst into uncontrollable tears.
So when she came to me, weeks after we’d been praying for a little nine-year-old girl in our church network who is going through chemotherapy and explained what she wanted to do. I was shocked.  Really shocked.     
Why would she want to do that?
But see, she’s starting to see that letting something go and giving something up doesn’t mean losing out.  She is so happy that her hair will be used to help someone else.  And she’s already planning to grow it again and donate it when it’s long enough.

How much I have to learn from these little people in my life.  Who make loom bands for strangers and freely give their boxed milk away to kids at the park.  

Sometimes it’s so difficult to let go of the stuff that we hold so tight to.  We grip so firmly to it unsure as to whether we trust God enough to stop leaning on our own understanding. 
I’m so glad that I don’t have to keep all my emotional junk.  That there is someone so much greater than all I have who wants to take it off my hands. Someone who is more than enough for me.

I wanted to share this excerpt from a blog called Original women
So when God reaches down to take us by the hand, we are caught awkwardly shifting our burdens around, trying to free up a hand to offer Him in return.

God’s message to us this week is – “Put that stuff down. Take My hand. I am here to help you. Some of these things you need to leave to Me 100%. Some of these things we need to address together. Step one is to drop it all and take hold of Me.”

We need God’s help. We were not created to do life on our own. We were not created to take care of every problem in our own strength and wisdom. We were not created to be a Lone Ranger of Awesomeness that never needs help. We were created to function in unity with the Lord our God. His strength, our obedience. His wisdom, our execution. His grace, our freedom. His healing, our restoration. His love, our gratitude.
And so I’m sitting here asking, what else to do I need to just say, “Let it go...” to this week?