My Daily Roadtrip

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Taking this roadtrip international …

I realize that a roadtrip cannot realistically cross the ocean because, um, there are no roads from here to there. However, since this blog’s title is mostly metaphorical, I figure it works.

There are big changes ahead for the Fongs – we’re headed to Thailand! We’re not going for vacation, although I do hope to spend some time on the country’s world-renowned white sand beaches. We’re going to live there. Yes, seriously.

There is much involved in the story behind why we’re leaving our beloved little mountain town in Colorado to move to Thailand, but I’ll attempt to give you the nutshell version. About 3.5 months ago, Shun-Luoi and I started talking about some job dissatisfaction he was having – we probably all experience this every now and again, but there was something different about this conversation. We wondered if God was leading us to make some changes, so we decided to head to Pagosa Springs for our first ever “family vision trip.” After some very intentional times of talking and praying together that weekend, we came away almost certain that our time in Colorado would be ending soon. Much of the reason why has to do with Shun-Luoi’s career as a photographer. While he focuses on several areas of photography, the area he is most passionate about is that of being a visual storyteller of people in other cultures for the purposes of affirming dignity and bringing hope and healing (aka humanitarian photography). For different reasons, he has not had the opportunities to develop this side of his business as he desires to, and we knew moving could potentially remedy this. But move where? We began exploring the possibility of moving to a large city on the west coast, only to feel God shut the door on that possibility. At that point, we were at an interesting place. We felt God confirming that we were to move, but we didn’t know where to or in what time frame. Yep – it was a place that definitely required faith in God and His plans, along with patience.

A few weeks later, I took the kids to the midwest to see family for about 10 days. Soon after returning home, Shun-Luoi and I were again talking about future things and he mentioned a recent conversation with a fellow photographer that he had had while we were gone. During this conversation, the idea of moving overseas (specifically, Thailand) was brought up. As I now like to tell people in reference to my husband and that conversation; “while the cat is away, the mice will play  mouse gets ideas!” Now, if you knew my husband, you would know that the idea of living overseas has come up multiple times in our marriage. And if you knew me well, you would know that every single time such an idea came up, I was extremely glad the idea went nowhere. (Hey, just being honest here.) I have never been one to dream of living overseas. Traveling there? Fine. Living there? No, thanks. It’s nothing personal to the numerous great countries around the world, but it has just never been a dream of mine as it has been for my husband (he has lived in Thailand for a year previously, but has always thought it would be valuable for us to live overseas as a family). So when Shun-Luoi brought this up in discussion, I may or may not have mildly freaked out. In fact, I believe some of my initial words were, “I’ll be honest. Not one iota of me is excited about this idea, but … I am willing to be open to it and pray about it.” Thankfully, my husband is ok with my honesty and knew that he just had to give me some time. In the past, it has been easy to half-heartedly say that I was be open to something but then, to my shame, not be. However, this time was different – God had worked in my heart so that I truly was open to considering, and praying about, such a prospect.

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong (taken in Thailand)

I think I initially knew that this time, the idea of moving overseas may just be the right move for our family. With time, God gave me a peace about the idea and I was no longer fearful, much to my and my husband’s surprise. A week or two after Shun-Luoi initially brought this idea up, we mentally moved it from the “ideas” category to the “we’re going to move on this” category as we felt the confirmation from God in multiple ways to do so. We told our families and some close friends, asked for their feedback, and continued to ask the Lord if this was the right direction for our family. At this point in time, we continue to feel it is, so … (gulp) here we come, southeast Asia!

I hope you’ll decide to continue on this road(plane)trip with us as we head overseas (probably in February or March-ish). I have a feeling the learning curve will be high and that God will teach us much as individuals and as a family. Translation = this blog’s posts could get really interesting in the near future! 😉

p.s. Wondering where Thailand is? Check out this map to refresh your geography. Oh, and if you are curious about more details, just wait for my next post …

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Regarding the resident artist

I recently realized that I have never blogged about the fact that my husband recently launched his new website, complete with both his updated still photography and video portfolios.

What kind of a supportive wife am I, anyway?! Sheesh.

I’m here to remedy that. As you may or may not know, the main reason we moved to Thailand was to base Shun-Luoi’s business here. Please take a minute to peruse his site, from checking out the still photography from the multiple countries in which he has done work, to watching some of the video work he has made. Some of my favorites are the videos from an ongoing personal project of his, “The home project,” in which he does a series of still imagery, a short video, and an interview after asking different people what the concept of “home” means to them. He interviews, among other interesting people, my precious grandma and awesome son, so I would definitely recommend watching those at a minimum. In addition, please “like” his professional Facebook page (D. Shun-Luoi Fong) so you can better follow his work as he releases it.

And while I’m at the task of promoting the “resident artist” of our household, I wanted to share the latest video he made and released (personal work begun in the US, but completed here). I will very biased-ly (nope, not a word, but I don’t care) say that it’s a great video; one by which I am inspired and challenged because of the artist, Cameron Moberg, who is highlighted. I think you’ll be inspired by him and his story as well.

Read here to find out more about Shun-Luoi’s heart for humanitarian photography. Have any further questions? Ask in the comments section and we’d be glad to answer them. Better yet, scroll to the bottom of his home page and choose one of the multiple ways in which you can connect directly with Shun-Luoi.

10 lessons from our first month

First month in Thailand, that is.

Yes! Today (May 6th) is the one-month mark from when we first arrived in Chiang Mai. There have been difficult times, somewhat brutal heat, and tears, but there have also been moments of laughter and joy along with sweet family times. When Shun-Luoi thought it would be fun to blog separately on the top 10 lessons we have learned this first month, I was mostly in. Except for the “top 10” part of it. It’s a bit too much pressure to wade through all of life’s current lessons and pick the top 10, so I instead give you simply …

Ten lessons I’ve learned in our first month of living in Thailand (in no particular order):

1. Having lizards and cockroaches in my house is not the end of the world. I still hate cockroaches but have finally killed a few myself. And the other day when a small lizard darted around the wall behind our bed, I didn’t even flinch. Hooray! Baby steps, people, baby steps …

2. Having small children is both one of the greatest things and hardest things right now. Having 2 little dependent ones keeps me from having too much excess time in which to overanalyze every thought and feeling I experience (see #10 below). However, having Elijah and Abigail is also really hard because they’re so dependent on me (yep, the old double-edged sword). There are times I wish I had a bit more space to process life and just “be” in the midst of all we’re adjusting to.

3. Thai food is very tasty. I’ll be honest – when we went out for any kind of Asian food back in the States, I would order the same “safe” dish; stir-fried vegetables with chicken and steamed rice. I know, I know … boring! But hey, I’m not a hugely adventurous eater and I like to order food I know I’ll enjoy when paying for it. I was pleasantly surprised by the use of potatoes in one Thai dish – yes, I’m from the midwest – and have really enjoyed trying multiple different rice and noodle dishes, as well as a delicious mango with sticky rice dessert. Yum!

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

4. Being in contact with loved ones in the States is hugely important for me, but I have to be careful to not misuse social media. Doing so could easily keep me from living life fully here. I also have to be aware of not using social media to simply numb myself to any loneliness or other difficult emotions I may be currently experiencing.

5. The familiar can be incredibly therapeutic. Things like spending time with other Americans/westerners, eating familiar foods from home, and listening to American music (from the 80s, 90s, or whenever; it doesn’t matter!) are really good things for my soul. Seriously.

6. Figuring out “life-giving” ways to care for myself is imperative. Things I have found so far that accomplish this? Listening to worship music, iced lattes, writing, sweeping our driveway (!), resting in our air-conditioned bedroom during the hottest time of the day, and morning walks.

7. Flexibility is highly valued by the Thai people. As a result, living here is some sort of cruel joke on me. 😉 Actually, I think it’s going to be a huge gift because even though I have grown in the ability to roll with the punches and let things go, I still have much to learn in this area. I’ll have no choice but to do so in this laid-back culture.

8. My capacity here is very different than in America. I don’t even know the nuances of how that all works at this point (nor may I ever), but I do know that simply living day-to-day life is much harder. Accomplishing even small things takes much more effort. I’m not sure how much is due to the heat, language differences, being car/motorcycle-less at the moment, or other things, but it’s just harder. When I’ve talked with other expats living here, many have mentioned that what I’m experiencing in this area is pretty typical.

9. My tendency toward introspection is both a great gift and great curse. I am wired to always want to get at the heart of why I’m feeling or thinking certain things. My training as a counselor adds an additional dimension to that. BUT – sometimes you just don’t need to analyze your thoughts and feelings. In our current life circumstances, introspection helps me have a better sense of what I’m struggling with or … causes me to freak out. [insert pulling of hair]

10. I need to allow Jesus to meet me where I’m at these days. Whatever I am going through or struggling with is not beyond who He is or His reach. This song, passed on as a reminder to me from my brother, speaks to that truth beautifully.

And believe me, those ten are among many other lessons I am learning. The learning curve is high these days, folks!

Are you curious what Shun-Luoi chose as his ten lessons? Read about them here.

On being brave

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” (Ambrose Redmoon)

Being brave (courage is a synonym of bravery) is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently.

One reason behind this is that my kids have been getting a few more vaccinations lately to catch up on several specific vaccines series as we prepare to leave the country. Each time before we head to the doctor, we talk to the kids about being brave and that the shot will only hurt for a moment before it’s all over.

After one such appointment, Elijah sadly told me that he hadn’t been brave because he had cried while the shot was being administered. My heart sank. Had I somehow communicated that to cry was not synonymous with having courage? This was not what I had intended at all. As a result, both Shun-Luoi and I now often talk with the kids more in-depth about what it means to be brave. It doesn’t mean that you were not scared or didn’t cry in certain circumstances. It does means that, even if you were scared or uncertain, you did what you needed to do in those situations. Contrary to what my son thought, he had been brave.

This is often how I feel these days ...

This is often how I feel these days …
(photo credit: benipop via stoch.xchng)

Another reason behind my recent musings on courage is our upcoming move to Thailand, which we embark on in 2 weeks. More than one person has told me they think I am brave or that they could never be so brave as to do what we’re doing. Let me tell you, I don’t feel all that brave. While I have experienced great peace about this move and feel incredibly confident that this is the next thing God has for our family, there are definitely times where I experience fear, uncertainty, confusion, sadness, and tears. But, in the midst of those feelings and the unknowns of such a transition, I am still moving ahead and doing what needs to be done in order to move to Asia(!) By God’s grace, I am being brave. By God’s grace, I will continue to be brave.

Many of us tend to think that, if fear, sadness, or some of the other “negatively-viewed emotions” (I would argue they aren’t something we should get so freaked out about, but that’s for another post) are present, we somehow are failing at what we are supposed to be doing. There is a time and place to reflect on why we’re feeling such things and if there is something at the root of the emotion that needs to be addressed. However, when did we begin thinking we should be super-human and not have emotions? Such expectations are ridiculous and unbiblical in my opinion. This clearly relates to the topic of courage because experiencing uncertainty, fear, sadness, etc. in the midst of doing what you are supposed to do does not mean you aren’t brave. I would argue you aren’t brave only if you don’t do what you are supposed to do in a specific situation.

I love the above quote by Ambrose Redmoon. Although we might face some fear or other emotions that threaten to paralyze us, my son and I still do the things being asked of us. Why? Because we’ve decided that something else is more important than anything we might be feeling.

We might not feel brave, but we are.

********************

I’m guessing most of you also have areas of your life in which you’re having to be brave right now. Care to share about them or about your thoughts on courage in general?

Interview with Shun-Luoi Fong (and a giveaway of his work!)

In order to learn a bit more about humanitarian photography (the main reason behind our upcoming move to Thailand), I interviewed the very talented, and very handsome,  Shun-Luoi Fong.

MDR: Tell us a bit about how you became a photographer. 

Shun-LuoiMy father always had his old Minolta camera with, using it to record our family’s life, vacations, and portraits. So, from a young age, I was very familiar with photography, especially being in front of the lens. However, it wasn’t until after I graduated from college, and was spending long hours in front of the computer as a web developer, that I discovered my love for getting behind the lens and creating images. Photography became my creative outlet, and provided opportunities to engage with people and communicate my experiences of the world.

It was during a year living in Thailand, spent teaching English and taking many photographs, that my vision for my photography came into focus. I realized I wanted to visually tell the stories of other peoples, cultures, and countries around the world, and considered the possibility that my calling in life was to make my “dent in the universe” as a visual storyteller. After my time in Thailand, I sat for a while on the fence between web development and photography, afraid to take the risk and leap into photography. However, after much thought and prayer, I finally accepted the fact that I was called to be a photographer in early 2010. It was then that I committed to pursuing photography, specifically humanitarian and travel work, full time.

MDR: What is humanitarian photography?

Shun-Luoi: People often think of difficult social issues, natural disasters, and third world countries as the focus of humanitarian work, and for good reason. However, I take a broader view of humanitarian work that can include work involving all people, places, and cultures. I view this work as an opportunity (and challenge) to explore beyond the obvious to see and communicate the beauty, dignity and stories of all people and their unique world, while also remaining aware of and sensitive to the circumstances, both good and bad, in which they may live. I am aware of a responsibility to create images that make a significant and lasting impact, both for those whose pictures I am taking as well as for those viewing the images. Those people and stories can include the difficult issues of the day, but it can also include issues that aren’t quite as obvious. All people have needs, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Therefore, when I create images that minister to people, especially by affirming their dignity and giving them a voice, I am fulfilling my calling as a humanitarian photographer.

MDR: What is it about humanitarian photography that you most love? 

Shun-Luoi: The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” The prayer of Saint Francis says in part, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy.” Humanitarian photography allows me to live these words, making (hopefully) a significant, lasting difference in the lives of people around the world through the visual telling of their stories. And ultimately it allows me to bring glory to our Creator by living out my calling to minister to others through my work. It doesn’t get much better than that.

MDR: Tell us about one experience as a photographer that has had a deep impact on you. 

Shun-Luoi: I often preach to myself, and other creatives, the importance of failure in growing as artists; indeed, as people. And so it was in a moment of failure that I experienced one of my most impacting moments as a photographer. I was working in Haiti after the earthquake and was taken with a group to a local hospital to learn more about the damage they experienced, as well as the ways they were continuing to minister to the needs of the Haitian people. Much of the hospital was damaged, so they were placing many people in tents. It was into one of these tents that they took me and instructed me to quickly take images and then get out. I did as I was instructed, snapping a few photos and then leaving. They then took me to another room and instructed me to do the same. As I was taking a photo of a man lying on his bed, a nurse approached me and said very seriously, “I don’t mind if you are in here to take photos, but please ask each person for their permission before you take the image.” I was immediately convicted in that moment that I had failed to live and work according to the values I espoused as a person and photographer. I had failed to honor and affirm the dignity of those whose photos I was creating. I had failed in my responsibility to ensure that I was giving to the people, and not just taking from them or exploiting them for the sake of an image.

It is true that it can be a difficult balance between honoring my responsibilities to my clients, and honoring my responsibilities to those whose images I would capture. However, those responsibilities aren’t mutually exclusive, and I learned in that experience that I must never dishonor my photographic subjects for the sake of getting an image.

MDR: What excites you the most about moving to Thailand, especially as it relates to your photography?  

Shun-Luoi: It is difficult to list just one thing that I am excited about, so I don’t think I’ll try. 🙂 I’ll list a few things that I am super stoked about!

  • experiencing the adventure of living overseas with my wife and children
  • seeing my wife and children experience other cultures and hopefully learn a second language
  • having more opportunities to hear and tell the stories of Thailand and the surrounding region
  • having more opportunities to serve non-profits/ngo’s that are doing amazing work in Thailand and the surrounding region
  • pursuing some personal projects in SE Asia that I have been thinking about for a while
  • Thai food. Mmmm…my waistline is about to grow!
  • warm weather – I’m a self-professed cold weather wimp

MDR: The end.

Yes, I am seriously ending the interview that way. I’m officially taking off the hat of “interviewer” and putting back on the hat of plain old Dawn. I mean, how do I wrap up an interview with my own husband? Saying something like, “thank you so much for giving me some of your time,” seems a bit formal when my interviewee sees me the first thing in the morning, knows my faults, and … well, has lived the good and bad of life with me as his wife for the past 5 1/2 years. Hence, “the end.” However, I will say that I am grateful that Shun-Luoi took the time to allow me to interview him. I hope the interview shed some light on the area of humanitarian photography (and Shun-Luoi’s heart for it) for you.

It only seems right to wrap this up with a giveaway of Shun-Luoi’s work … Merry Christmas from the Fongs!  One winner will be randomly chosen to receive a 8×10 print of their choice (out of the 2 shown below, both taken in Thailand). To enter, please leave a comment telling us what one of your favorite holiday traditions is. The opportunity to enter the drawing for the print ends at 4 pm (MST) on Sunday, December 23rd, and the winner will be announced that evening.

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong (2 little Thai ladies)

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong

Thanks in advance to all who enter! I look forward to hearing about your holiday traditions … and to giving away some of Shun-Luoi’s work!

Inspired (by minimalism)

As you may recall, my last post about being inspired was about a person. This time, it involves a person, but mainly revolves around a concept.

Minimalism.

I’m not talking about the type of minimalism where you sell all but 50 of your belongings. When looking for a good working definition of what I am talking about, I found this quote by Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist: “At its core, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”

I think we could probably all say that we’re on board with this statement, but do we really live like it?  I would venture to guess not. To bring it down to a practical level, Becker lists and talks about the 10 things he feels are most important to simplify in one’s life: possessions, time commitments, goals, negative thoughts, debt, words, artificial ingredients, screen time, our connection with the world, and multi-tasking (read more here). Whoa. Now how many of us can say that we really live out the above “working definition” of minimalism?

I am intrigued by the thought of a really stripped down life, not in just the sense of possessions (although I now love that thought as well!), but in the sense of everything that I give my time and energy to. I love the thought of my family’s life being one of less quantity (possessions, activities, etc.) and more quality. I believe several things have brought this up – initially, it was the thought of having few possessions, as I can easily see how things can be a burden in the time and energy they take to keep clean, organize, maintain … you get the picture. Last summer’s local wildfires started this whole conversation in my mind and now moving to another country is quickly making the desire for less possessions a reality, as we are getting rid of 75% (or more) of our belonging before we leave. But then, as I started considering how too many possessions (or the wrong ones) can clutter our lives, I also began thinking about other things. How about the amount of activities that we sometimes try to pack into our weeks? How about the amount of time I waste on the computer that takes away from other things I truly want to give my time to? It has really started me down the path of rethinking things and has spurred on some great conversations for Shun-Luoi and me.

Becoming Minimalist has quickly become my favorite blog on minimalism. Its author, Joshua Becker, is considered a “rational minimalist,” because he urges people to become minimalist in ways that fit with their current season of life. He frequently discusses the heart behind minimalist ideas and approaches minimalism in a humble and unselfish manner, things I greatly appreciate. He also gives many practical tips on how to approach a more minimalist lifestyle – I highly recommend his blog, starting with some of his most popular posts.

In a sense, our family will be beginning a pretty minimalist life (somewhat by default) when we leave for Thailand. We will not take much more than what we can fit into a few suitcases. We have some connections in Thailand, but not yet friendships, which means we will look mainly to each other to have our human relational needs met. We will have no commitments to begin with. In some ways, these are scary things, but in other ways, they are welcome things. We will begin life in Thailand in a very stripped-down manner and will have the opportunity, if taken, to very intentionally add things into our life, whether it be possessions, relationships, or time commitments, the longer we are there.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to the things and people we give our time and energy to. However, I’m slowly learning that we should often say, “no,” to the good opportunities in order to make sure we are saying, “yes,” to the best opportunities.

What about you? Have you ever had an interest in minimizing areas of your life? If so, what are some practical steps you have taken in order to do so?

Thailand Q & A

In my last post, I shared our family’s big news that we will be moving to Thailand in early 2013. I also said that I would follow up with more details in my next post so, as promised, here are some of the questions (and their answers) others often ask in regards to our move, along with some they probably want to ask but don’t. 😉

Why move overseas? We are going in large part to position Shun-Luoi in a place where the humanitarian photography side of his photography/videography business can thrive. He has a heart for people in southeast  (SE) Asia and would love to do more work there. There should be more opportunity to get the type of work he wants if we are there, as doing so will cut out the costs needed for traveling expenses. In addition, we will be in closer proximity to many of the organizations who are actually doing the type of work that Shun-Luoi would like to be part of.

Why Thailand? Shun-Luoi lived in Thailand for a year back in 2004-2005, so the country’s culture and language is not completely foreign to him. Also, the cost of living there is lower than in many SE Asian countries, but we will still be in close proximity to these other countries where Shun-Luoi hopes to do work.

Where in Thailand would you live? We are currently deciding between Chiang Mai (in the northwest) and Bangkok (in the south). Find them on this map.

How long will you live there? We plan for this to be a short-term move, starting with one year. From there, we will reevaluate.

That’s a long way away from family – what do your families think about such a move? Thankfully, we are blessed with 2 sets of parents who are very supportive of the decisions we make. Back in 2001, before I made my first big move away from family (from Minnesota to New York state), I asked my mom how she felt about the prospect of me living 17 hours away from her and my dad. Her reply reflects what our parents have felt about each move, including this one, that Shun-Luoi and I have made; she said, “As a mother, I want to keep my children close to me, but who am I to stand in the way of God’s will for your life?” Having their support has meant the world to us, especially as I come to better understand how Shun-Luoi’s and my decisions also impact many people we love beyond our immediate family.

Does Dawn ever freak out at the thought of the move? Umm, no? Ok, ok – while “freak out” may be a bit dramatic of a phrase, I will admit to having moments of anxiety about such a major move. As I tell others, I am very acutely aware of the need to walk by faith right now. When I don’t do so and instead walk in fear, I get sucked into all of the, “what if,” questions and worry about the unknowns or things I cannot control. This ultimately affects me and my family very negatively, and it’s not the “place” in which I want to live. I want to trust God, the author of this adventure, and look to him for continued guidance, comfort, and grace for each step of the journey.

© D. Shun-Luoi Fong (2 little Thai ladies)

Is this move simply about Shun-Luoi and his dreams? Are Dawn and the kids merely getting dragged along on this move? First off, I do not feel that Shun-Luoi’s dreams and the good of me/our family are antithetical. We feel that the right thing for our family at the moment is for me to stay home with the kiddos. My current priorities in life are my husband, my kids, and the people we get to live life with (neighbors, friends, etc.); these priorities are not contingent on my geographical location. However, some of what Shun-Luoi wants to focus on is contingent on geographical location, therefore we will move overseas where we both can focus on the priorities God has given us in this season of our life together. With marriage comes situations where particular dreams have to be given up for a time, or given up altogether; that’s just part of it … by marrying me, Shun-Luoi gave up certain things, as did I. However, when you get married, you also become a new unit in which one of the spouse’s dreams is the one that should be acted on; doing so, while not easy for potentially all involved, is nonetheless the best thing for all involved. This move is the best for our family and I am completely supportive of it even though it was not my dream. Also, it is true that Shun-Luoi is a dreamer and visionary, but in the last 5 years of our marriage, I have learned that he will never sacrifice his family on the altar of his dreams. He truly wants to be led by God and therefore submits his dreams and ideas to Him in order to know which ones we should act on and which ones we shouldn’t. This makes all the difference. Because of it, I don’t need to worry that someday one of his ideas or dreams will become more important than me or the kids. This move is a God-led dream that is best for our entire family.

And there you have it – a few more details for whoever’s inquiring minds want to know. 😉 In the future, I will share more details and stories about the move here and there and also plan to interview Mr. Shun-Luoi Fong himself so you can learn more about humanitarian photography and why he loves it. In the meantime, feel free to ask any additional questions you may have …

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