Sunday, March 9, 2014

I am ______________ when God brings transition into my life

I am ______________ when God brings transition into my life. That's one of the questions posed to our Home Group this past week as we studied Acts 11:19-30. It's a chapter about transition as God reveals His heart to bring the Gentiles to saving grace--stemming ALL the way back to Genesis 12 and God's call to Abraham.

My gut response to that sentence is "excited" because for me, transition means change is coming and I've always welcomed change--ever since the summer of 1979 when I lived on a First-Nations reservation in northern Saskatchewan and I felt God's calling on my heart. I remember reading the book, "Lord Change Me"by Evelyn Christenson. It's outdated now but it had a powerful effect on me. And one line of a song kept running through my head: "And I welcome the change like I welcome the rain, after nothing has grown in a long, long time." So I welcome change because change means growth.

I think most missionaries have a positive attitude toward change. I mean, they almost have to, right, with the travelling and training and moving that takes place? At least for us, we've lived in over 20 different places since we've been married. That's simply crazy--and yet it's often the life of a TCA.

That all being said, transition and change are around the corner again. In January 2015 Doug and I will be returning to Thailand. Am I excited? Yes, because I know God is going before us and preparing hearts and lives for our work there. Am I sad? Yes, that too, because it is the first time we will be leaving all our children, and granddaughter, behind. I don't really like to think about that aspect of this new change. It won't be easy. For now I am simply trying to milk the year for all it's worth--soaking up every opportunity to be with family, extended family and precious friends here in Canada. And it's all good because it's ALL from a good God. And that too is a good perspective for a TCA to have.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Language, Translation and Existence

I wrote this for a Composition course I took a few years ago. There is some overlap with the previous post but this post has more to do with identity in a new culture and language, something a TCA struggles with almost daily.
Growing up in a little prairie town in Saskatchewan, I had little exposure to mountains. I have a vivid memory, however, of driving through the Rocky Mountains on a family vacation when I was 11. As we travelled west past Calgary, I was in awe of what rose before us. The jagged peaks, multi-faceted rock formations, swift-flowing streams rushing down from the snowcaps were fantastic—but also ominous for a young child. Winding around the dynamite-blown rock faces beside 300-meter drops, blind to what was around the bend, was frightening. What did the first explorers feel when they traversed the prairies and watched the mountains grow in the distance, not knowing how high or wide or long the range extended? For me, the only thing I can compare it to is the feeling I had upon moving to the other side of the world. Trying to communicate in a language I had never heard, with strange vowels and tones and a script that looked only like geometrical shapes and artistic squiggles, was like trying to cross an undiscovered mountain range.
 Part of me was exhilarated by the adventure. I studied the many crags and crevices of the etymology and syntax of Thai, a slow uphill climb. I drank in the cool, mountain stream of Thai culture—relishing spicy dishes filled with hot peppers and coconut milk or swaying on the etched back of a graceful elephant. But I also felt crippled, lost, in the inability to express ‘me’ and I sought to understand the ‘why’ of that feeling and the ‘how’; how could I be me in Thailand?
In the early stage of language learning I realized that language is existence, not mere existence as another homo sapien on this planet, but existence as an individual. If I cannot speak or write, I cease to be the person I am. My cultural heritage, my personality, my uniqueness would vanish in the mountain wilderness. But it was in translation, in using the familiar highway of English to explore and chart this new mountain range called Thai, that I grasped how my individuality, my values, and my history were defined by my words. It was a paramount discovery.
I am a trained linguist. That means I am able to analyze the speech sounds and patterns, phonology and grammar of any language of the world. What drew me to this area of study was my infatuation with the English language. In grade school I was curious—curious about all the different figures of speech, what constituted classic writing, why we studied grammatical parsing of sentences, how English differed from French. That curiosity directed me to linguistics, and linguistics made me appreciate and love English, my mother tongue. But in moving to Thailand I felt like my mother tongue was being stripped away. And, in a way, it was.
In my training I saw that figures of speech, especially metaphors, flourish in all languages but as I studied Thai I realized metaphor is not just a comparison of words. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson state in Metaphors We Live By that “Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” and that “our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people”. One example they cite is the metaphorical concept “TIME IS MONEY” as shown through such phrases as “wasting my time, budget your time, borrowed time”. This book opened my eyes to why I was struggling to express myself in Thai. It was not just a language problem. It was a concept problem.
With that knowledge I began to study how a Thai person sees the world—the metaphors they use to explain culture, feelings and relationships—in contrast to metaphors I use to define my world. The clouds that had been hanging heavy over the mountain range began to dissipate.
An old English proverb says, “The eyes are the window of the soul.” In English, eyes metaphorically represent emotions in terms like ‘green-eyed monster, bright-eyed, hungry-eyed, flaming eyes, sparkling eyes, longing eye.’ For a native English speaker, each of these metaphors describes a specific emotion. The Thai language does not use the eye but the heart to describe a wide range of emotions, a discovery that gave me a glimpse into the Thai mindset.
A colleague introduced me to a book called Heart Talk by Christopher G. Moore, a book for the foreigner seeking to understand how the word ‘heart’ is used in the Thai language. Moore states that the word “jai [defined as “the heart” in English] in Thai means both “heart” and “mind”.” (13). Generally, the Westerner separates thinking and feeling. The Thai person does not. Let me cite two examples from the over 300 root words using jai. The first one, written in Roman script, is cit jay suung, literally translated as the “tall heart,” (56) and in English means “a person who has a high moral standard” (56). It is a choice of the mind in English. In Thai it is a choice of the heart. The second example means the same as our metaphor ‘out of sight, out of mind’ showing how we compare sight to thinking in English. In Thai the phrase klay taa klay jai is translated “eye far/heart far” or we could say “out of sight, out of heart,” comparing sight to emotions. I was beginning to envision what was around the next bend.
That revelation energized me for the long journey ahead. It is a journey I will continue on as long as I am living in Thailand, exploring how the metaphors of my language and culture translate into Thai. Just as the raw, Rocky Mountains stand in stark contrast to the serene, Saskatchewan prairies, so the Thai mindset counters mine. Translating ‘me’ in Thailand takes time and work. It is, however, a highway worth travelling because for me, it is the difference between merely existing and truly being.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Heart Talk

When our family moved to Thailand to work with minority language groups, my husband and I were introduced to a book by Christopher G. Moore called, Heart Talk. This book is like no other on the study of the word, *jai 'heart' in the Thai language. It is a fascinating read for anyone doing any kind of cross-cultural writing because it provides insight not only into "love" emotions but into most of the emotions expressed by Thai people.

In this book there are over 700  jai words/phrases that the Thai people know and use constantly. Whether it's talking about positive emotions or negative emotions, good character traits or bad character traits, right choices or wrong choices, the word or phrase usually includes jai. It is no wonder the author calls it, "the central metaphor in the Thai language."

Let me share a few of these "heart" words to help you understand how differently the Thai view life. There are some words that cross over culturally such as jai-yai 'heart big' in referring to a generous person, or jai-sing 'heart lion' in referring to a courageous person. However, there are many that are surprising and sometimes even opposite of how westerners think. For example, jai-nooy 'heart small' doesn't mean a stingy person. It is referring to someone who is highly sensitive emotionally, who is easily hurt or offended by others. Kin-jai 'eat heart' is a verb meaning, "to impress" in a good way; Or, jai-phra 'heart monk' referring to a person who is extremely compassionate and forgiving; Or naam-jai 'water heart' referring to someone who takes into account another person's feelings. This last one could be translated to mean empathy or sympathy in English but in Thai there are two totally different jai words for those feelings. Are you getting the picture?

But I must mention one of the most used jai words: kreeng-jai 'awe heart'--a word that is almost untranslatable into English. Moore calls it, "the heart of hearts of the Thai culture and class system.":

"The phrase reflects a rich brew of feelings and emotions--a mingling of reverence, respect, deference, homage and fear--which every Thai person feels toward someone who is their senior, boss, teacher, mother and father, or those in powerful position such as a high-ranking police officer."

It takes the author 1 1/2 pages to define this type of patron/client cultural system and even then he confesses that it goes so much deeper. Our western culture find this a difficult concept to grasp. Often we are more jai dii phii khaw 'good heart, ghost enters'. Anyone care to guess what that means?

I focus on this book because it is a reminder of what happens when we come in contact with other cultures--how my eyes were opened to their culture and thus I looked at my culture in a new way--and how through it I became more of a TCA in the way I began to view the world. And it made me more aware than in a world that is becoming smaller every day, where we interact with other cultures on a daily basis, a book like this can help us see the world through different eyes and then help us show love to others in a whole new way AND share Jesus' love in a whole new way too.

*Unfortunately, due to computer incompatibility, I could not mark tone on the Thai words.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Every Thursday morning I spend time at a local Junior High School, tutoring/mentoring immigrant students in an ESL class. I love this volunteer work--it keeps me in touch with the cross-cultural life that feels so comfortable to me. I never enter the school in fear, wondering if I will be able to help the student I work with or wondering if I will be able to communicate effectively. Like I said, it is a comfortable place for me as a TCA. I don't believe this is typical for Canadians who have not had any cross-cultural influence or experience.

I work one-on-one with the student that the teacher assigns to me. Often it's the same student but not always. Today was one of those times when I worked with a new student. This boy was from Seoul, Korea and had only been in this school for 2 weeks. I was asked to help him with the reading comprehension of a book the class was studying together. The teacher warned me that he was struggling but I had no idea to what extent until I tried to dialogue with him. He was shy and soft-spoken when he said anything at all. For much of our time together he said nothing and if I asked him questions he would stare blankly at the book or just look down. It was all so painful for him, like he was screaming inside to get out but living in this cold, foreign land was smothering him to death. I asked him if he missed his country, his family in Korea. He replied, "yes" very somberly. I wanted to hug him--to tell him I was sorry and that he would be okay--but will he be? Will he be strong enough to fight for identity? The only time his eyes brightened briefly was when I mentioned I had been to Seoul once, just for one night between plane transfers. I could tell he liked that but then the moment was gone. And then my time with him was done and I was gone.

As I walked to my car, I cried for him, my heart breaking. I felt his pain--the pain of the surreal, being surrounded by everything unfamiliar and missing home. And then I said a prayer for him, that God would meet him in his pain and give him comfort and hope. Because I know God cares and loves immigrant and TCK children.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cereal Overload

In 1992 my husband and I arrived in the Philippines with our three children, all under the age of 5. That reminds me, sometime I need to write about flying. But today I write about food surprises.

We lived very simply in the Philippines, especially when we were out in the village. Breakfasts were especially simple. During language school and when on the Wycliffe centre we had access to bread so we could make toast. Even then, though, there were few boxed cereals--corn flakes and maybe rice krispies. But out in the village there was nothing and I learned how to make very yummy granola in a cast iron frying pan. It became our staple.

Before going overseas, and in our first year overseas, we were required to read a certain number of book on culture, cross-cultural living and the different stages to expect when adjusting to life in a different culture, especially a third-world culture. It was good reading and helpful. However, when we returned back to Canada, we were given little to read regarding the reverse i.e. culture shock in the return.

I remember going grocery shopping for the first time upon return from the Philippines. There were changes, of course--new foods, new brand names. Nothing surprising. THEN I turned my cart into the cereal aisle. I remember freezing in my tracks. Cereal. Cereal. Cereal. A whole aisle--two rows--all devoted to cereal. I was overcome. It was a shock to my simple-lifestyle system. I cannot explain my emotions in that moment--fear, claustrophobia, sadness, shame, disdain. Just negative emotions. I just remember I was too overwhelmed to even look at it all. I quickly picked two cereals I was familiar with and got out of there.

The next time I went shopping, I prepared myself for the emotional onslaught and spent more time perusing the cereal aisle. I was okay. I could breathe. I learned to adjust to this small outcome of living in an affluent society. But even now, there are times I enter the cereal aisle and am reminded of that day and a tinge of emotion ripples at the bottom of my gut. It lingers still.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Smell of Shrimp Paste

 Today I write because I'm homesick--not homesick for the little town I grew up in but homesick for Thailand. I've started an assignment for an English course I'm taking called, "Creative Non-Fiction." My writing prompt is to write a story about being ambushed by a smell. Think about it. This happens to all of us--you enter a room filled with a certain smell and it takes you back to a place in time. Well, the smell I am writing about is typical of a TCA because it is the smell of shrimp paste wafting into our house from the neighbour's house almost every morning like clockwork. The smell assaulted me with memories that occurred in that house for 7 years of our lives as a family--especially morning memories when the smell was pungent in the air. Mostly mornings of trying to get the kids ready for school--mornings of loud arguments with my daughter who hated mornings, mornings of hunting for school uniforms, whether skirts or pants or even sports teams, mornings of trying to get my son to eat a little something before heading out the door. 

 Admittedly, these memories make me sad because I was often so impatient, so unkind--a reminder that I was and sometimes still tend to be a control freak. I've learned much about myself in that area in the last 7 years and am thankful that God is gentle and kind and patient with me and with my relationship with my children. I was so far from being the perfect mother and yet God protected these relationships and caused them to grow and flourish in Him so that despite my past failures, I have beautiful connections with my kids. I feel so blessed.

There were also happy memories mixed with the sad ones. MANY happy memories. Our dog Rosie would almost always make us smile in the morning as she attempted to attack our cat, who wanted nothing to do with the dog. I think Rosie was a morning dog and our cat, Kitty, was a night cat. Two opposites clashing in the morning like my daughter and me. But also memories of eating together, celebrating birthdays and holidays together, playing games together. Lots of love and good times.

And so I am homesick, all from writing about the smell of shrimp paste. Nothing triggers the TCA syndrome like food. Sometime I'll have to write more about that. But not today. And now that I've written here, I feel joy instead of sadness and am thankful for the gift of memory. God is good.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I recently read an article that I found thought-provoking on life overseas and saying good-byes. It's worth sharing so here is the link.[702236749800456]&action_type_map=[%22og.likes%22]&action_ref_map=[]

I never thought of the sadness over saying good-bye to people AND places as grief--but it is. Calling it grief helps to better understand the emotions and accept them for what they are. I have experienced this grief for myself but, as a mother, it has been harder to see my children grieving, because I feel like I am partly responsible for their grief. It was not my children's decision to live and work overseas. The calling was placed on my heart long before I was even married. This is definitely a part of being a TCA and a parent of TCKs.

That being said, I have learned to rest in a God who is gentle and loving and kind. He does not leave my children alone to deal with their grief alone. He understands their hearts and He understands my heart. He has an answer for any guilt I have felt as a TCA parent because the guilt is not from Him. It is from the enemy who wants to prevent me and my children from living abundantly and in freedom. So, I leave the guilt burden at the foot of the cross and He willingly takes it and replaces it with peace. And I leave my children in His care, like the Great Shepherd that He is in taking care of His sheep. It is and has been a process but through it all I have come to a greater understanding of how much He LOVES us. He LOVES us. He LOVES us. He LOVES us. I am still so far from understanding how much He LOVES us but the process is beautiful and I rest in His love.