Almost two years ago I wrote a little ditty about my first month in Thailand. I was amazed by the beauty I saw in the spaces within my city, the smiles of the people I passed and tried to meet every day, and the food. The darkness of the place surprised me, that something so beautiful as a temple was created all for naught. Now, over 20 months later, I'm changed by all that beauty I saw and I'm trying to recap it for people who ask... How I can somehow condense 20 months into 20 minutes or less is still baffling, and it's hard. I often leave out a lot of the big moments. One thing I'll never forget to mention: Chiang Mai is a world all its own, and I'm eternally grateful that it's become home to me, a beautiful place full of soul brothers and sisters that sparked change in me.
From the beginning to the end, exploration filled in the cracks of our daily routines. We discovered dozens of markets, countless restaurants, colorful scenes and true friends, thankful that the things that struck us as so incredible became regular and everyday occurrences: chatting with Mei at the shop and getting to hear Diiya say new words and experience new things; seeing plants we'd never known existed spilling out of some ceramics on a rooftop or by the side of the road; being a small part of a normal day in a place so unlike where we grew up.
One thing several people have asked me about since I left Asia is, "What did you do? It looked like you just drank coffee." I'll just be honest. I did. I drank a lot of coffee. Cups and cups of the stuff. I cherish every sip and every conversation I had over those mugs, every project I finished up or photo I edited while drinking coffee. I remember all the baristas we befriended, all the doors that were opened and all the geeking out I did when we ran into a new, white-brick, rainforest copycat café. The subculture of hospitality in Thailand, the tourist fueled culture of cafés and hotels is an inspiring one, one that makes me happy to be a creative and know the Creator himself. These places were oases, places to withdraw and recharge, very necessary in the go-go-go world of ministry and expatriatism. Also, see: exploring.
I've blogged quiet a few of my favorites, but if you're traveling through Thailand and you need suggestions for Chiang Mai cafés, you'll be sorry if you miss Woo, Khagee, Bay's Café, Diff Home Bakery, Ristr8to Lab, and SS1254372.
More than anything, I'll echo what I said before: these people are the kindest, most beautiful people I've met. You'll be hard pressed to find a mean person in this place (they're there, they're just hiding in heavy traffic). I found myself drawn to the same vendors, seeing the same smiles, practicing my accent with the same people and leaving feeling more joyful each time. The one store owner who invited me back to practice with her each week became one of my closest friends. The village captured my heart every week, when I was tired of dancing and sweating like a pig and the girls still wanted to hear what I had to say, listened when I spoke about the Savior who loves them, even if it made no sense to them or they couldn't understand me. The lovely small group I studied the Bible with every Sunday, our partners and those who helped us translate offered me some of the richest friendship I'd ever experienced, knowing that language barrier or not, I'd have a confidant and someone to rejoice and to pray with.
Farangs included: there are too many people to name in how they helped shape my time overseas, how they encouraged and challenged me to seek the Lord where he may be found and to call upon him in the midst of my trials and my victories. Looking at you, Katie, Lyna, Emily, Katelyn, Casey, Julie, Susan and Kelly. Oh and maybe a few guys I know named "Jo."
Leaving this country wasn't anywhere near easy. I'd lived in Chiang Mai longer than any other city since I left home after high school. My coworkers, my friends and my sisters were staying. But I know God has been preparing such a wonderful season for me to walk into. I've got a few things tucked up my sleeves and in my pockets from Thailand, things that will never leave me, and a lot of things that will come back to me.
This verse covered the time before I moved to Asia, was offered to me more than once as encouragement while I lived in Chiang Mai, and has been my banner going forward into the mystery of this next season. He is good, and he is working.
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13