My Daily Roadtrip

My “plan” for processing Thailand

The dust is settling a bit and we’re now living in our new home in the Bay Area of California. At the moment, it feels like an absolute dream that we ever lived in Thailand. Life is very different now and although I am in touch with friends in Thailand and think about our time there often, I sometimes wonder, “Did we actually live there?” I sometimes don’t like that that’s where my mind and heart are at in regards to Thailand. However, I can’t just sit around and process the Thailand experience to death as I usually do with life experiences because our new home needs to be settled, our new area needs to be explored, and well, meals need to be made, children need to be parented, that kind of thing. And so, I’m trying a new approach with processing the experience … it’s called the, “don’t force it,” approach.

I am introspective by nature and a counselor at heart and I don’t want to gloss over the deeper things that are going on within me (or in many cases, in other people) during any given experience. As a result, my tendency is to question myself about deep emotions I am having, struggles I may be experiencing, things I said or did, and the like. Sound exhausting? It is.

Processing experiences and digging deeper to get below the surface of how things appear is a good thing. I don’t want to live life on the surface and desire to be constantly growing into the person I was created to be. I believe asking oneself some hard questions is a necessary part of this process. BUT. I’ve now realized that I often do this out of fear of swinging the other way, of being in a place where I don’t think deeply about things in my heart at all. I’ve watched people who are completely disconnected from their heart (both intentionally and unintentionally) and I never want that to be me. I’ve also realized that I sometimes “over-process” as a way to control life. I act like if I can just figure out the why behind these things, I can then fix them. I believe I can think myself to a place where I completely understand what’s going on within me so that I no longer feel out of control. And, also? Over-processing can become downright self-focused. It really becomes about me, me, and me. I get sucked into the processing and I can no longer easier think outside of myself.

Please hear me out. Processing life, asking the deeper questions about what’s going on in one’s heart and mind … you should be doing some of that and I of all people am a huge advocate of you (and me) doing so. But if you’re like me, you needed to hear someone give you permission that sometimes you don’t need to process things. You just don’t, and shouldn’t (or at least, not at the moment). When a wiser, older friend (People, I’m serious. Have older and wiser friends in your life. You need them.) once told me that, I could not believe it. Seriously?! I didn’t need to figure out why I was having every deep emotion I was having? I don’t need to immediately get to the bottom of every struggle I was experiencing? But, but … wasn’t that somehow being irresponsible? Wasn’t that somehow living life just on the surface? And what if I then ceased being introspective at all?

If you know me deeply, you’ll know that’s a laughable prospect. As mentioned before, God wired me to ask the deeper questions of life, both of myself and of others. But what I am responsible for is living out life being wired such as I am in a way that does not lead to insanity (I jest, but only partially), without becoming completely self-absorbed, is not done out of fear or anxiety (nor leads to such things). I also need to let go of the different ways in which I try to control life when I need to entrust myself; my struggles, emotions, and the deeper things of my heart, to God. The God who can meet me where I’m at, and can do so perfectly.

This gets tricky because then people (me) who are more on the “type A” side of the spectrum want a formula for when to process things immediately, at a different time, or never. Well, fellow “formula-wanters,” I have bad (or good?) news for you. There’s no such formula. Instead, I’ve learned that I need to pray and wait on God for when certain things in my heart and mind need to be addressed. I’ve also learned that when I’m tired, hungry, super-emotional, or have other things I just need to attend to, I need to choose not to process things at that moment. Sometimes I return to things later on the same day. Sometimes the next day. Sometimes months down the road. And sometimes? I never return to them. But then there are those times when I have to process those deeper things when I’m tired, hungry, super-emotional and have other things I needed to attend to. Like I said … no formula.

Back to Thailand. I’ve had moments of grieving what it meant to leave there. I’m just now starting to be able to answer the questions of what I miss and what I don’t miss from living in Thailand. It’s happening slowly and I’m sure it will continue happening for some time, because that experience rocked my world.

But I’m not forcing it.

On being back

Obviously, I don’t do so well at blogging in the midst of intense transition. Blogging is one of the ways I process life and well, I haven’t had a ton of time to process in the past month or so. Packing up our life in Thailand, living out of suitcases for the last 1.5 weeks there after leaving our house, spending last times with people who had become incredibly dear to us, catching a flight to Hong Kong, and then another flight to America after 2 days in Hong Kong, tends to keep one a bit busy. And then there’s dealing with jet-lag and having to encourage our bodies (and our kids’ bodies) to eat, sleep, and function at totally different times than we had been the previous 12 months. Then, a week after returning, the kids and I flew to Minnesota and are now with my parents in Wisconsin. I’m not complaining; the aforementioned things are all just a part of the process of returning, but … wow. However, I’m grateful because it all has gone really well overall, and some sweet reunions with loved ones have happened.

proof that we're actually back!

proof that we’re actually back!

But today, I have some time to sit by myself and think. I’m at the only coffee shop in the small Wisconsin town where my parents live. It’s cloudy, rainy, and about 60 degrees colder than the current highs in Chiang Mai, and the smell of a Midwest spring is in the air. And as much as this alone time has been desperately needed, I’ll confess that I felt a bit nervous when my mom dropped me off here (remember the expired license thing? For now, I’m back to be chauffeured around by my mother.). I no longer had the responsibility of looking after my children because they were off happily running errands with their Papa, and I wasn’t sure what might come up when I was finally alone.

Nonetheless, I was thankful for the time, so I went on in, ordered my vanilla latte, and settled into a corner of the coffee shop. I have spent time looking back at pictures from our last days in Chiang Mai. I have smiled, remembered, and cried. I cried as I sat in my seat of the Singapore Air flight that took us far away from Asia, but I have not cried much since. But now? The tears are coming. I’m not sure all the specific reasons they are coming, but I don’t need to know. I find comfort just in the fact that they are.

People have asked me what it’s like to be back. To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m thankful to be back for so many reasons, of course. I have watched my kids play happily with their cousins. I have gotten to hug my parents after not doing so for about 14 months. I am enjoying drinking water out of the faucet, and I find comfort in the fact that I “get” so much of the culture in which I’m now in. BUT. What do I do with the fact that the people who have become like family are now 8,000 miles away and that it’s not possible to drop in and see them when we’re in the area because we won’t be in the area anytime soon? With the fact that, throughout each day, I often calculate the time difference and imagine what our friends might be doing in Thailand at that moment? With the fact that one day recently, I found comfort that there was a pigeon flying around in the Safeway produce department because it reminded me of the open-air restaurants and markets in Thailand? With the reality that I am forever changed from the last year and am not sure how it translates for me to be back amidst those personal changes? I’m not sure.

Before leaving Thailand, I had coffee with my wise friend, Pam. I remember telling her through my tears that I didn’t have any box in which to put the sort of leaving we were about to do. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know how to even approach thinking about the leaving, or about the returning. This unnerved me. She told me that I’d have to create a new box for my upcoming experience. Did I mention that she’s wise? These were timely words for me and challenged me to be ok not knowing what the experience of leaving or returning would look like. In addition, since I’ve been back, a friend in Thailand (both she and her husband were third-culture kids) told me that her husband once said that things get a bit more complicated the more places you live. I now get that in a way I didn’t before, even though I have moved around the US a fair amount.

So, what it’s like to be back? It’s sweet in many ways, sad in other ways, and overall a bit complicated. A new box is being created for such experiences. And that’s about how I can answer that question for now … and I’m realizing that’s ok.


The 6th of each month and remembering

I still remember those difficult early months after moving here (April 6, 2013) when, as the 6th of each month approached, I would think, “Three more days and then we’ll have been here three months,” or “Six more days and we’ll have made it five months!” To be honest, I probably even counted the half-month mark of each month at that point. Successfully making it through each month felt like a huge accomplishment to me!

During the 2nd part of the year, the 6th of each month began sneaking up on me and almost always caught me by surprise. I suppose this was a sign of getting over some of those initial feelings and thoughts that come when your world is rocked to the extent that mine had been. It felt good to no longer notice the 6th of every month. And then do you know what happened?

April 6, 2014, came … and went. Despite the quietness that accompanied the day, I did take note of it and even though there was no huge outward celebration, Shun-Luoi and I did spend some time remembering. Remembering what it was like to step out of the airport in Chiang Mai one year ago after 30 hours of traveling and thinking that the “hot season” wasn’t quite as hot as I thought it would be (3 days later the temperatures jumped, keeping me humble). Remembering how our new friend Pam graciously picked us up and navigated getting us and our 6 checked suitcases and multiple carry-ons successfully to our guesthouse. Remembering going to a local mall in order to get lunch (Pizza Hut!) and to withdraw Thai baht from an ATM and remembering how utterly overwhelming being in a large Thai mall was (and still is – the mall scene may be dying in America, but it is NOT in Asia; malls are large, loud, and can be super busy). Remembering thinking how utterly crazy it felt to step onto multiple planes, step off a plane over one full day later and realize that just about everything about your life has changed.


March 2014 – © Katie Friesen Photography

Since we made the decision to leave Thailand and as the day of our departure will soon be upon us, I find myself remembering more frequently. However, the recent remembering is also now coupled with celebration. I can easily remember the days I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive here because of the different road “rules,” and because I’d have to drive on the opposite side of the road than I had been the previous 17 years. However, today I drove the kids somewhere and celebrated the fact that driving here no longer makes my back turn into pure knots every time I do it. I remember when I could only say “hello” and “thank you” in Thai and although I still only speak the language at about a one year-old level, I can now basically order food and drinks for my family at a Thai roadside restaurant. I remember when even a short venture out into local life here left me reeling and overwhelmed because of the sights, smells, and noises I encountered. I still feel that way at times, but can much more easily engage the culture for longer periods of time now without wanting to run home and curl up in the fetal position because of sensory overload. And on and on … remembering and celebrating, remembering and celebrating.

There is also much stress and mourning during this season of preparing to leave and return to America. But in the midst of it all, I will continue to take time to engage the fact that the time period between April of 2013 and April of 2014 will have been a rich time; one that has given me much to remember …

and much to celebrate.

Our life in its current state

These days after the kids are in bed, we retreat upstairs to hang out in Shun-Luoi’s air-conditioned office. Yes, the air conditioning is back on as burning season is upon us and the hot seasoning is knocking on our door! If you can imagine temperatures in the high 90s, higher humidity, and air that is thick, hazy, and often smells like something is burning next door (except it’s not), then you’ve gotten a taste of our life right now. As a result, this office of Shun-Luoi’s is always a welcomed place of respite after the end-of-the-day responsibilities have been finished. The other evening, as I trudged upstairs with an armload of items, it occurred to me that the four things I was carrying were fairly telling of some aspects of our life in its current season.

Item #1 – my planner. Much to my technology-advanced husband’s chagrin, I still primarily use a paper planner. To be honest, one of the things I love about beginning a new calendar year is getting to pick out my new planner! Laugh if you will, but I don’t mind being old-school in this respect. I love my planner and it’s even more crucial to me right now because the amount of details needing to be managed seems completely gargantuan most days. I am a “details person,” but even I feel choked by them at times right now. Selling items, preparing to leave our house, squeezing in last-minute appointments for services that are cheaper here, preparing for a 10-day trip to Cambodia that Shun-Luoi will soon leave on, social engagements … you get the picture. Yes, my planner is currently one of my BFFs. 😉

Item #2 – a baby doll. My daughter had gone to bed not knowing where her doll was, and after finding it, I took her upstairs to tuck her in safely with the little mama. This baby doll signifies that in the midst of all the transition, my kids still very much need me. In fact, transitioning again brings with it unique responsibilities and demands for me as a mother. As I watch some potential signs of stress creep into my kids’ behavior and attitudes, I am reminded that, even when things feel very overwhelming for me personally, I need to be watchful of how my little ones are doing and make sure I am caring well for their hearts right now.

Item #3 – an air purifier. We weren’t here during March of last year, so the effects of the ‘burning season’ were not something we had yet dealt with. Recently, however, the air quality measurements have measured at “unhealthy” in Chiang Mai at times. The poor air quality seems to be due to the burning of agricultural waste as well as forest fires currently burning in northern Thailand. It’s pretty bad and makes going outside fairly unpleasant at times; they have even cancelled flights landing at the Chiang Mai airport recently due to the lack of visibility. Bad air pollution + higher heat = interesting times when you’re trying to think up activities for small children.

Item #4 – my wallet. Well, this actual item itself isn’t all that telling about my life these days, but on that particular night, carrying my wallet upstairs had a very specific purpose because of something it held. This past January, I had checked my driver’s license because I had a sneaking suspicion that it may have expired this year. Unfortunately, it had expired in 2013. Preparing to pick up your life and moving it across the Pacific can apparently make you forget to do fairly important things … oops. As a result, I needed to call the Colorado DMV to inquire about my options for righting my inadvertent mistake. Long story short, I was told that there was nothing that they could do and that yes, if I wanted a license from the state of CO when I returned, I would have to re-take both the written and driving portion of the tests. And no, there was no “wiggle room” for those who had made such a mistake and then moved out of the country. After getting off the phone, I ran off to our room, laid on our bed, and cried. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often. 😉 However, it illustrates the type of strong emotional responses that our current stress levels can bring on. Things feel a bit messier emotionally these days and while I may not enjoy feeling this way, it comes with the current territory because well, I’m human and not a machine.

And there you have it, a sneak peek into my daily life right now. Who knew that four items could be so telling?


The life I wouldn’t have chosen

Here is the rundown on the last 14 or so years of my life … (don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief):

  • 2000: graduate from Winona State University with my BSN-Nursing; move to St. Paul, MN to work as a nurse at St. Paul Children’s Hospital
  • 2001: leave nursing, go on staff with The Navigators, move to Ithaca, NY, for a 1-2 year internship with The Navs at Cornell University
  • 2003: finish my internship, move to Cedar Falls, IA, and work as a RN at an ophthalmology clinic (translation: working with people & their eyes)
  • 2006: move to St. Louis, MO, to pursue a master’s degree in counseling at Covenant Seminary
  • 2007: marry Shun-Luoi
  • 2008 (summer): move to Manitou Springs, CO, to live “for the summer” and finish up my final 2 master’s classes remotely as Shun-Luoi works for a local non-profit organization
  • 2008 (fall): move to Pagosa Springs, CO, to be on staff with Summit Ministries’ gap-year “Summit Semester” program
  • 2008 (winter): move back to Manitou after semester program is finished (this was the plan)
  • 2009: graduate (remotely) with my master’s degree, give birth to a beautiful baby boy named Elijah
  • 2010: move for a brief stint to Longmont, CO, to explore moving into the more urban area of Denver, CO; move back to Manitou in the fall, give birth to a beautiful baby girl named Abigail
  • 2012-2013: decide that we’re moving short-term to Thailand to base Shun-Luoi’s humanitarian business; sort through and sell the majority of our possessions, move to Thailand in April 2013
  • 2014: make the decision to move back to America in the spring of this year

On a side note, Shun-Luoi and I were talking about some specifics regarding our future recently and he mentioned that we should maybe wait until I was a bit more rested because he knows I find it harder to talk about certain things and make decisions at later hours of the day. I laughed and told him that wasn’t really possible because I hadn’t felt “more rested” since, um … 2006, before I began graduate school and had kids. I was right, and after reading the above list, I think I need to go take a nap. 😉 On a more serious note, I wrote that all out to show that I obviously haven’t really lived the ahem, “conventional” American life.

I realize that things are changing in that many people (in countries such as America -I realize this is not a worldwide phenomenon) choose to do things differently than graduating, settling into one career, settling into a particular area of the country, and staying there until they retire. I don’t think things have all changed for the better, as I believe that my generation and those behind me could grow in their ability to commit, especially to hard things, among other things. On the other hand, we have the opportunity to try different things if we’d like and that is a privilege. Despite the changing tide, however, it’s still easy for me to feel the pressure to live the more conventional American life and to wonder what others think because we’re not. But friends, God has just not led that way in our life together thus far.

But let me tell you something. Anyone who really knows me deeply, who knows my personality and my preferences, would know that if left to myself I would not choose this path. I wouldn’t. I can struggle with being too rigid at times, I can be a black and white thinker to a fault, I tend to “dream small” (not something I apologize for, but it’s a factor), I have a history of dealing with some anxiety, and I prefer adventure within a controlled setting. Now, take a look at that run-down of my last 14 years again … do you think someone like me would choose that many changes, an international move, and everything else involved with each major thing I listed there?

Not unless they’re crazy. I wouldn’t have chosen this life for myself. But, I’m so glad the life I live is mine. I’m (most of the time) thankful for the fact that God has asked me to do things I wouldn’t have naturally chosen, because it has meant that I am pushed out of that aforementioned rigidity, black and white thinking, fear, and anxiety. I am pushed beyond myself and while not comfortable at times, it’s rich. I believe I’m becoming more fully who He created me to be, which has huge ramifications on how I love and serve Him and others.

The next place we move is one we’d love to be in, Lord-willing, for a good chunk of time. After all, there is much good to be found in putting down roots and investing deeply in the people and things around you. But “conventional American life” or not, it’s bound to be an adventure.

Sign me up. (gulp)

The why behind the move

That nice little title makes it sound like I’m going to give a very neat and easily understandable explanation as to why we’re moving back to America, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, I snuck it into my last blog post, so in case you didn’t know … we’re moving back. Next month.

But sometimes the “whys” behind things aren’t so easy to understand, are they? And then communicating that non-easily understandable “why” to someone else? Even harder. I’ll tell you the reasons that aren’t behind us leaving … that could be a good starting point.

We aren’t leaving because anything is wrong. We aren’t leaving because we couldn’t deal with living overseas. Well there were times I haven’t dealt well with it, but that was just part of it all; either way, it’s not a reason we’re leaving. We aren’t leaving because I just couldn’t handle one more meal that involved rice (although I wonder somedays …).

We’re leaving because God’s next things for us as a family are not here in Thailand, but back in America. It’s a very long and very emotional story and this isn’t the space in which to share it all, but I’ll give the nutshell version. At the end of December, I began a hiatus from Facebook . When I shared this with people and deactivated my account, my last status shared that we’d decided to stay another year in Thailand. And we had. I was emotionally and mentally gearing up for another year and we felt good about it; I was excited about settling in here. In January, things began to get interesting. Shun-Luoi had a job offer from an organization based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In the process of talking and praying about whether or not he was supposed to take the job and we were to move to Phnom Penh, an entire barrel (not a can, but a barrel) of worms was opened. We began discussing everything in regards to how we were doing here as a family, whether or not Shun-Luoi was thriving in his career, Shun-Luoi’s creative vision and how it’s drastically changed over the past year, the values we most wanted to live according to as a family, and whether or not we should move to Cambodia, stay here in Thailand, or … even move back to America. The American option surprised us, but because God was clearly bringing it up, it needed to be considered and prayed about. That led to weeks of intense discussion, much prayer, more discussion, tears (me), and stress. It wasn’t a clear “aha!”-type decision. But, after all was said in done, we decided that, while staying in Thailand was a good option, moving back to America was the better option in light of the factors we could see.

And so we made the hard decision that we were going to leave. Leave even though relationships here have been sweeter than ever recently. Leave even though we will not get to reap much of what was sown during the difficulty of the past year here. Leave even though the experience has offered us rich opportunities that we may never have again. Leave even though the details of what we are returning to are hazy. But this we do know; God’s timing for us to leave is now.

I don’t know all the reasons behind why we’re leaving. So, if this post leaves you with more questions than you had originally … well, you can join in with the “I’m not sure I understand’s,” of our family. I’ll share more as it develops, but this one thing I’ll say. God is doing some crazy stuff and setting the stage to show up in big ways in the lives of the Fong family. So we’ll wrap up things here, say some heartache-inducing good-byes, and return to America to pursue some new possibilities there.

And we’ll trust God with all of the why’s.



Good-byes and the expat

Even though I have only lived in Thailand for a short time, I have noticed particular aspects of an expat life that are definitely unique* in comparison to those who live within their home culture. This isn’t all that profound of a realization, but I’ve been thinking more about one of these unique aspects as of late.

The good-byes. The hellos are part of it as well, but at the moment, I’m especially noticing the good-byes. Many expats who live here work for nonprofits doing work in either Thailand or the surrounding countries. New people move here all the time – I’ve witnessed this even in just 11 months. People also seem to be leaving all the time. This is sometimes due to a job change that leads them back to their home country, because they’re returning home for a furlough in order to fundraise or catch a breather from the cultural stresses, or a move to a different country within their organization. Other people travel extensively for their jobs and are gone for weeks at a time. And then there are the good-byes on the other end; when they leave their home culture to return here for their jobs. The goodbyes at the end of yet another skype call, another trans-ocean phone call, another email to their loved one who lives thousands of miles away.

As a result, expats are forced to decide whether or not they’ll take the risk of opening up their hearts and lives to other expats, not knowing who will leave and who will stay, or for how long. I’ve seen both choices being made. Some seem unwilling to open up because everyone ends up leaving anyway, and then there are others who willingly let you in even though they know the leaving could happen at some point. Thankfully, I’ve met multiple other women who took the risk of letting me into their lives, even though they didn’t know how long we’d be here. After being here for a bit and seeing this part of expat life, I am very cognizant of the sheer courage it took for these women to do what they’ve done. I’m impacted deeply by it that because I realize they didn’t have to take that risk.

They didn’t have to drive me around different areas of town to help familiarize me with them. They didn’t have to arrange getting some papaya leaf juice made in order to help treat what we thought at the time was dengue fever in my husband. They didn’t have to care for our son when our daughter fell off a wall onto her face and had to stay in a local hospital overnight to observe her neurological status. They didn’t have to ask how I was doing, nod empathetically when I cried about how hard life felt, or tell me to call them in the middle of the night if I needed anything while my husband was traveling. They didn’t have to.

But they did.

I could cry (oh, and believe me – I have) thinking about it as I write this. What an incredible gift these women have offered me and my family! I am humbled and challenged by them in numerous ways. And you know what makes it even more profound to me at the moment?

We’re leaving Thailand.

Yes. Now I’m the one saying good-bye, and this is much to our surprise, because we had already planned to stay beyond our initial one-year commitment. Over the past 1.5 months, we’ve seen that God actually has different plans, ones that require returning to America. I’ll share more about that in another post, but I’d rather get back to my friends and their courage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m the best thing that has happened to these women; that they’ll be devastated when I leave. They won’t. What I am saying is that they took the chance on me and within a year later, that risk means they’ll have to say good-bye again. They invested in me and my family and while I hope part of the return for them was that I was a good friend to them as well, but do you know what another part of their return is? Loss. Yet another good-bye.

Before we finalized our decision to move back to the US, I cried a lot. The tears were cried for multiple reasons, but the biggest one was over the relationships I would leave behind if we made the decision to leave. I have met some incredibly brave and beautiful women here and it’s my loss that I will no longer get to live life with them or learn from them.

Chiang Mai friends (you know who you are), I respect and admire the courageous things you and your families are doing here. I am humbled that you took the risk to open up to me and invest in my life. Thank you for taking that risk – because of it, I’ve been changed. Being the recipient of your decision to open your hearts to me has been one of the very best parts of living here …

and I’m beyond grateful.


* I imagine military families, or those with jobs that require moving at multiple points during their career would probably have similar experiences, but I cannot speak for those groups.

Not so different after all

Hands down, the best thing about living in Thailand is the opportunity to engage people of many different cultures. We get to engage Thai culture, but because there is a fairly large expat community here, we’ve also had the opportunity to talk with and learn from people from many different countries on numerous continents.

For instance, I am learning a lot about Swedish culture from our Swedish friends who just live down the road. My ancestry is largely Swedish, but learning about Swedish culture from family who is several generations removed from Sweden is very different from learning from those who have actually grown up there. It has been so fascinating and I at times worry that my consistent question-asking will be off-putting to our kind friends. Thankfully, they’re super gracious about it, so for now, I’ll keep asking my questions. And then there are our British friends – I am coming to appreciate the use of different words, such as “lovely” and “brilliant.” (On a side note, I think everyone should have some British friends; I could listen to that accent all day!) I am learning more about national health care, which countries make up the UK, and that the same English words often mean different things to them than they do to me. And although there are currently language barriers that prevent me from learning all the things about Thai culture that I would like to, I am learning a lot simply by observing, talking to others who have lived here longer, and talking with the Thai who speak a bit more English.

As you can imagine, there are many differences between the American culture I was raised in and the cultures of those we are meeting and now live amidst. Some of these differences are significant, some are slight. However, beyond the differences, there is much that is the same. Hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes; we all have them. Even more importantly, each person has incredible value, dignity, and something to offer those around them. In some ways, we aren’t so different after all.


© D. Shun-Luoi Fong

My husband recently started a new project called, “A Shared Humanity,” which explores just that; the things that show we are, at the core, not so different as we might think. He has been spending a considerable amount of time each week meeting and engaging with people from around the world in order to learn more about their own life and story. He also creates a portrait of each person and then shares a piece of their story on the site. Shun-Luoi leaves it up to you to engage with each story and see how you may or may not identify with each person, but even if the circumstances of that person’s life are drastically different from yours, chances are that you might just find some commonalities between you and them. This is your chance to engage people of cultures you might not have the opportunity to engage. Take it! I encourage you to click on each image, to really look into the eyes of the people in each imagine, and to consider the things they’ve shared.

In addition, strongly consider getting out of your own cultural comfort zone and seek out people from other cultures in order to learn from them and possibly even share of yourself with them. If you keep at it long enough, I think you’ll be surprised at the ways in which you’re more similar than you expected.  I promise you these experiences will be rich, even if different than you might expect. There will be probably be cultural faux paus committed, one of you or the other might have to muddle through a concept that doesn’t translate easily into the other’s culture, and there might even be language barriers. I realize I’m in an unique position in which to do this, but I think the majority of us can find someone of a different culture (and think of “culture” a bit more broadly than even just nationality, ethnicity, and race) who lives around us. It might take a bit of work, but do it anyway.

I’m not trying to minimize our differences, because I admit that they can be significant, and even challenging at times. But you might also come to discover, that in some ways, we’re not so different after all …

What I’m realizing about “home”


I’ve heard the word, the discussions on what “home” means to different people, and have read numerous blog posts about the concept in the last year. And as you might expect, it’s a fairly big topic for those living outside of their passport country. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m even a bit tired of the conversation; not because it’s a bad one, but because I’ve been, in a sense, forced to consider the topic a lot these last 10 months.

I wasn’t looking to explore the topic of home, but moving away from the country you’ve grown up and known, and in which you are known to a degree you can’t be outside of it, somewhat forces you into considering it whether you want to or not. With that being said, I thought I’d explore what I’ve learned about the idea of home by writing about it. I’m comfortable – well, as much as someone who would, if left to my own preference and devices, put all of life into neat little boxes – knowing that my thoughts about home will shift and change the longer I live and the more I experience.

Before we moved to Thailand, I would have probably said, with about 95% confidence, that home is wherever I am with my husband and children. I’ve seen some pretty cool-looking wall decor that says, “Home is wherever I am with you” (denoting being with that special someone) and I like the thought. I really do. However, I could not hang such a sign in my house after learning what I have in the past year. My sign would have to say something like, “Home is largely … but not completely … wherever I am with you.” As much as I think such decor would bring about some interesting conversation with dinner guests, I think I’ll probably pass on having such a sign made for our walls at this time.

That idea that home is wherever I am with my husband and kids? It’s true, but I now would add some additional factors to a place being home. In the past year, I’ve discovered that, for me at least, the concept is a much more complex one than I had originally thought.

As I get older, I understand more and more that to be truly home is to be fully in the presence of God, the one who created me, knows me perfectly, and who made a way (Jesus) that I could be in perfect relationship with Him. The One in whose presence all that is broken and wrong with this world will fade away. I’ve now personally experienced or witnessed enough pain and consequences of both my own brokenness, as well as that of others, to be convinced deep down in my soul that this world is not as it should be. Because of this, I long for that eternal home more than I ever have, in varying degrees based on the day and my current circumstances.

But since my residence is currently set up on this earth, I now wrestle through what this concept of home currently means for me. As already established, it does, among other things, currently include being in the same place as my husband and two children. But beyond that, I now believe it includes being in a place where I am, in large part, understood by the culture and where I also understand – at least somewhat – the culture.

a few different aspects of "home" to me

a few different aspects of my current “home”

I remember the day months ago when I realize that I would never be very understood within Thai culture. This doesn’t sound like a profound realization; after all, why would I? I’m a guest in Thailand and I get that. We speak different languages, have very different histories (both as people and as the countries we’re from), and are very different culturally. But to feel in my gut that I live in a country where the majority of those around me will never culturally understand me? (Knowing that I’ll never completely understand them is also something I’ve considered, but that’s something to explore later.) That I’ll always be different? That, even if I could understand the language well (which I can’t beyond a very basic level), there will always be cultural nuances that I would have to explain because the way I think as a foreigner, and as an American, is very different? It brings about emotions hard to process. Such a realization can lend itself to a general feeling of lostness – how can I actually find my place here in Thailand if I’ll never “fit in?” It can also bring about a sense of loneliness, a general gut and heart “ache” at times.

Both things made me realize that America – or maybe more accurately, American culture (or at least parts of it) – is part of home for me. If I remained in Thailand for the rest of my life, I’m sure it would come to feel more like home. But knowing that I belong, in a sense that I never will here, in America, makes my passport nation – and its culture – part of home to me. That realization came as a surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn’t have. I just thought that home would be only wrapped up in the living of life with particular people, not with being part of a particular culture.

Maybe my thoughts on what home is will shift, maybe even in the near future. I’m guessing it will. Ah yes, yet another concept that refuses to be put away neatly in its own little box. As a result, I guess I’ll keep on living, considering, and understanding more about just what home means to me.


My husband has an ongoing personal project that explores the concept of home through interview, still photography, and video footage of various people of different ages, race, and geographical location within the United States (hopefully to be expanded soon!). Check it out here – look for “the home project.”

My phrase for 2014

I have read multiple blog posts lately about the one word that people have chosen to guide their 2014. I like this idea better than making a list of specific goals for the new year. While I believe that making yearly goals and starting with one word to characterize your year are very similar in purpose, I like how beginning with one word sets up a framework, more of the big picture from which to work, for the year. That works better for who I am because I naturally tend toward getting sucked into the details of life and forgetting, or not even knowing in the first place, what the big picture is; why the details are important, and what the smaller ideas all point toward.

I liked the idea, but when I thought about 2014 and all I was hoping for in it, I just couldn’t come up with one word. All my thoughts came in phrases. So, I decided to throw the whole idea out.

Just kidding. I didn’t. And while you may laugh at the idea, there are those times when I throw something out because I can’t get it to “fit” just right within certain parameters, even when there’s plenty of freedom in which to move and flex the parameters. But I’m learning that more of life than not doesn’t fit all nice and neat into the little categories and the “black and whiteness” that I want it to fit. But I digress. Back to my phrase for 2014 …

Settle in. 

I find that it can be hard to settle in at times … to different roles I play, ongoing tasks that are just part of life, and to where I live (both geographically as well the specific house we currently view as part of our “home”), among other things. And by “settling in,” I am referring to the mindset and actions through which I embrace all of those different things, get comfortable in my own skin in each of them, become content in particular areas in which I’ve been discontent, and put down roots where needed.

I realize this sounds fairly vague, but bear with me as I continue to think it all through myself. Here’s an example. When we first moved to Colorado back when I was finishing up graduate school, we decided that we were just moving there for the summer. Well, things changed and we ended up staying for five years. Even during those years, we thought we might be moving on from Colorado at some point, but didn’t know when. As I result, there were areas in which I didn’t settle in. I never full decorated any of the 7 houses/cabins (yes, 7!) we lived in during those years. I probably wasn’t as intentional in some relationships as I should have been and wanted to be, because I wasn’t sure when were were leaving. In some senses, I never mentally settled into the mindset that “this is home” until we neared the end of those 5 years – and by that point, we knew we were going to move to Thailand.

Although it’s hard to have the “this is home” mindset (key to settling in, in my opinion) when you’re somewhere for an undetermined amount of time, I know it has to be possible. I’ve seen it happen. When we lived in CO, we got to know a family who was living in Colorado Springs for 1 year due to a temporary transfer with the husband’s company. I watched them jump right in to life in the Springs as they got involved in a church, in community goings-ons, and in relationships. It was incredibly inspiring to watch them seemingly not hold back merely because they were just going to be there for one year. And you know what? They ended up extending their stay for one additional year and then, when given the opportunity to stay indefinitely with the company office in the Springs, they took it and are living there indefinitely. But what if they hadn’t settled in that first year because they knew they were leaving? I think they would have missed out in multiple ways. But  they didn’t and I learned a lot from watching them.

Although an international move has its own specific set of nuances, many of the principles of the need to “settle in” remain. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Thailand, but what does it look like for us to settle in here?

And beyond that specific example, what does it look like to better settle into the role of being a mom and wife in ways I have not previously? Into being an adult in areas where I’ve resisted and wanted to remain a child? Into other areas of life where I, for whatever reasons, have not settled in?

I’m not sure. But I’m hoping and praying that 2014 will be characterized by such things. Here’s to the new year … and to settling in.

When you think of the new year, what words or phrases (or long, run-on sentences ;)) do you want to guide and characterize your 2014? 

Post Navigation