I am five months into our time in Port Vila now, and it’s been almost six months since Cyclone Pam devastated large parts of Vanuatu. All things considered, we’re settling in well. One thing that’s caught me by surprise during this move, however, is how much I think back to Laos. We spent five years there—three in Luang Prabang and two in Vientiane—and I didn’t realize just how deeply those five years had engraved Laos upon me until we were gone. Has that ever happened to you?

This month, in honor of the deeply important role that our secondary homes can have in shaping our lives, I want to share with you a piece I wrote almost a year ago now called Memories Of A Million Footsteps.

LPB 1

Last week we returned to Luang Prabang for the first time since we left here, more than a year ago. Those of you who have visited Luang Prabang will know what I mean when I say it’s a special place. Those of you who haven’t, imagine a small town nestled in between two rivers and cradled by jungle-covered mountains. Imagine grand and gilded temples alongside old-world French architecture. Imagine purple orchids and saffron-robed monks and sticky rice steaming in small bamboo baskets.

Boats on Mekong

We didn’t own a car during the three years we lived in Luang Prabang, so most evenings after Mike got home from work we would strike out on foot. Walking those streets for three years etched Luang Prabang into my internal map like no other place I have ever lived. It is maybe the only place in the world where you could drop me anywhere in town and I would know exactly where I was.

(Here, Mike would doubtless say that you would certainly hope so, given that the Old Town is entirely contained within three parallel roads, but that is beside the point.)

The point is that I know Luang Prabang. A million footsteps mapped it into me, and coming back was a sort of coming home.

Mike and I weathered some very difficult times during the years we lived in Luang Prabang – broken bones and medical emergencies, two spinal surgeries, depression, isolation, and post-natal anxiety. It was here that we both floundered in stormy internal seas during our first year as parents. It was here that we sometimes wondered whether those seas would swamp us completely.

But when I go back to Luang Prabang now I have to purposefully reach to pull those difficult times into view. As Mike and I walked around those familiar streets, it was all the good things about living there that flooded back – all the happy evenings and favorite restaurants and the lush, pervasive, and perfectly proportioned beauty of the place.

We timed this return visit to coincide with the annual Fire Lantern Festival that marks the end of Buddhist lent, so our first two nights here were lit by thousands of flickering candles that adorned the temples and the singular brilliance of hundreds of paper lanterns ascending from all over town into a still, dark sky.

We went back to our favorite waterfalls and we drank fresh lime juice by swimming pools. Waiters and market vendors remembered our names and did a double take to see red-headed baby number two in tow. We reconnected with old friends and we spent (too much?) money on beautiful silk scarves and wall hangings.

We remembered all over again that there have been many, many things that we have loved about our time here in Laos.  And that we were lucky to have lived in Luang Prabang for three of those years. And that even when times feel awfully thick and dark, future days can bring the hushed serenity of candlelight and the fierce brilliance of fire rising, rising, rising into the night.

LPB Lisa and Tash lighting lantern

What secondary homes have you lived in and then left?
How have they shaped you? What memories have stuck with you?

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An Anniversary That Snuck Up On Me

by Amy Young on August 28, 2015

Twenty years ago on August 8th (my mom’s birthday), my parents drove me to Denver International Airport, dropped me off (per my request), and I flew off to several weeks of new teacher orientation in California before heading to China.

Erin, Amy, Cynthia

Oh my word. Erin (my teammate) and Cynthia (province mate) seem to have dressed in a more timeless fashion than I did.

Remember when vests were the rage? Or pleated shorts? Or fanny packs? Or little bangs? I don’t think I have traveled internationally in shorts since that flight. And truth be told, we got all checked-in and our flight was cancelled so we spent the night at an airport. Then for the second day in a row I put that outfit on, thinking it was a fine way to travel.

One more photo from our first month in China:

Erin, Amy, Random man

Our school took Erin and me on a day trip soon after we arrived. In my photo album I’ve written, “Mr. Yao brought this man with us to practice English.” Ha :)! What I should have written was, “What in the world was I thinking with my sock and footwear choice?!” Notice how nicely everyone is dressed and I’m sporting a cow t-shirt? Erin and I, like good Americans, dressed for comfort. Everyone else dressed for the photos. Oh, sweet Amy, so much to learn.

This man-child was not even conceived when either of those pictures was taken.

I repeat, not even conceived. This is what twenty years looks like: a grown man.

James and Amy

This month marks twenty year of being on full time support. My first support raising goal was a couple of thousand dollars for training and a flight to China and then $650 a month. I remember wondering where $650 was going to come from, it seemed like so much money. Now, needing about four times that amount, I’m thankful God eases us into stages of life.

I’ll admit it wasn’t that hard for me emotionally to go on full time support because I thought it was only for two years. For someone to “eddy out” (using rafting terms) of the flow for how most Westerners earn money for a couple of years when I was young, didn’t seem a big deal.

But to have relied on supporters’ generosity as they’ve listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit over the years, has not always been easy. There is a certain level of pride to have “worked for your money.” We westerners respect and understand pulling our own weight.

There is a certain level of humility and gratitude to have relied on others to have “worked for your money.” We Christians respect and understand living according to rules of a different Master.

I love my American side, but sometimes she does battle with my True Self, wondering if I’m doing enough, if supporters will move on to the next sexy Christian project (the need around the world is great and your resources are limited, I truly do understand), if they’ll think that a fanny-packed clueless twenty something is more endearing than a mid-life apparently not-going-to-get-a-real-job forty something.

We love beginnings and endings. Or I should say, I love beginnings and endings. But the middle? You can wonder where the shore is when you’re in the middle of a journey.

Twenty years. I never would have thought it. I imagine as you look around you, you’ve also got parts of your journey that surprise you. And humble and delight and have formed you. I’m flooded with gratitude for these twenty years.

For the faithfulness shown to me by friends, family, and supporters via letters, emails, calls, asking family members about me, their prayers, and their money.

For the faithfulness shown to me by God who has sat with me in loneliness, laughed with me at team meetings, grown me through his words and the words of others, and reminded me to live in the present with an eye to the future and a gratitude for the past.

Here’s to fanny packs, black socks, and the timeless love of God for people!

Clink (that’s our metaphorical glasses clinking).

And just because I can’t help my gregarious self, I clink again. To God and his faithfulness. To fellow travelers. To the Broncos winning the Super Bowl!*

 

What have been the blessings and challenges of others “working for your money.”

 

*You can take the girl out of Denver, but taking American football out of her heart is nearly impossible.

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When the Rocks Lighten: How to Count Suffering

by Abby Alleman
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It’s been a heavy, transition-packed few weeks around here. As I have been packing and unpacking, there has been a lot of hard news. It’s the kind that stops you right where you are and makes you remember it is a gift to be here. A gift to serve. A gift to be alive. A […]

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Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!

by Elizabeth Trotter
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Some of you know I’m a science lover. Our friends back in the States know this too, and a couple times a year they send us a package with their old science magazines (along with other treats). I love Magazine Arrival Day. Earlier this year I cracked open the September 2014 issue of Discover magazine […]

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Returning Well: Looking Back, Moving Forward

by Editor
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Re-entry. “Re” – meaning “again.” Meaning that you’ve done this before. This is not the first time. Sure, this time will have its differences. But, He has given you the courage to step out and the strength to walk forward before. You’ve sorted your things, packed countless boxes, and weighed your bags before. You’ve said […]

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Harmonizing Sadness and Joy

by Craig Thompson
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Let me add my voice to those who are praising Pixar’s Inside Out as a great movie for the cross-cultural community. I think we’ll be showing clips of it to expats, repats, and TCKs for a long time to come. (If you’ve not seen it and don’t know what it’s about, I suggest you read Kay Bruner’s discussion of the movie, from […]

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Gently Lead Those That are With Young

by Marilyn
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When my parents moved a couple of years ago, they gave my youngest son a painting. The painting is of a Pakistani shepherd. He is holding a lamb on his shoulders, and his expression is one of gentle love.  ********* It was my first day in Iraq and I was at the offices of our […]

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The Cart before the Donkey?

by Richelle Wright
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In what feels like just a few days ago (although it has been a couple of months, now), we packed up our lives – again – to transition to a new place… And that transition has been going beautifully, really. But we made the move knowing that one of us, my husband or myself, would […]

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With A Little Help From My Friends

by Anisha Hopkinson
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A year ago my life could be described as a constant state of exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, language learning brain mush, and heat rash. I fought daily with my husband, picked bugs out of our food, yelled at bully neighbours, and told anyone who asked how I was doing, “Oh, I’m ok.” Yeah… I was not […]

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5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)

by Editor
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The Newbie. In August of 2001, that was me. Standing in the dirty house that was going to be my home, totally overwhelmed by the barrage to my senses–smoke in the air, humidity on my skin, roosters crowing. What on earth was I going to cook? How was I supposed to get anywhere? And what […]

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How to Communicate so People Will Care

by Jonathan Trotter
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Newsletters. Prayer updates. Itinerations. Reports. Furloughs. Presentations. Are you stressed out yet? For most of us, living and serving abroad means communicating back to senders. A lot. But this isn’t what we went to school for, and besides that, communicating in person or in print is scary. It’s exposing. It’s like learning a new culture […]

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Ask a counselor: What about conflict?

by Kay Bruner
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When we first arrived overseas, I remember hearing an older, experienced missionary make this statement:  “The real reason most missionaries leave the field is conflict with other missionaries.” I thought that was so strange!  I mean, here we are, missionaries!  The cream of the crop, spiritually speaking!  Called by God!  Commissioned by our churches!  Well-vetted […]

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