Pecans & Life in America

Life is a wee bit more distracting in America…yikes – just the commercials have all of us Rathmells gawking at the TV – we are so easily sold because of the amazing graphics and professional wooing.  Jack knows that Geico can save us 15% or more in 15 minutes, that you can eat Taco Bell and be a hero with your other hand, and thanks to ESPN, he’s pretty sure there’s a connection between beer and women falling all over you.  There’s so much to learn in America! 🙂

Our lives have been full to brimming over, however, with life-giving, faith-strengthening conversations that help us tow the Gospel line and we are finding ourselves unbelievably blessed.  It has been great to be in America and to breathe clean air, not worry about killing a myriad of moped drivers and find stores that have exactly what we want!

We did make on enormous mistake however.  We did not bring a list of “Things we ‘need’ to bring back to Thailand”.  And you know what?  We have forgotten just about everything!  Luckily,  I did remember how precious and expensive nuts are and my mother-in-law hooked us up with a huge bag of pecans – only one catch – they are still encased in their shell!

Expensive deliciousness!

Early on, I was quite eager to shell them, because I do remember their high value in Thailand and I’m 1/4 of the way of pursuing my dream of a big ziploc bag of fresh pecans snuggled in my luggage back home.  In the process, I have been thinking a lot about “worth”.  I keep asking myself if it’s worth it. I mean, it is when I’m in Thailand, but it’s not so much when I can go 300 yards and painlessly swipe a credit card for a perfect batch of pecan halves down the road.

Funny how things gain and lose their worth.  Our faith sometimes suffers this ebb and flow.  Maybe it’s inconvenience, like shelling these pecans and the effort it is requiring of me.  Maybe it’s the bad taste of disappointment that weakens us, or maybe it’s just plain ole’ fear that reduces the value of our faith.  I have a lot of time to think about it – I’ve got 3/4 of a bag left to shell, and I’m praying it will profit my soul and strengthen my faith.

Love you guys!  Jen

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Trip to Cambodia & Baptism

Last summer I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia with a missions team from Okinawa, Japan.  My first morning in Siem Reap, I debated whether or not to go back to the cafe that I had been going to for breakfast each time I was there for the previous year and a half.  I stopped just short of the cafe and considered another cafe I had found that had great food and Air Conditioning.  After reflecting for a minute I decided that I should continue going to the first restaurant as I had begun to develop a small relationship with two of the waitresses that worked the area where I sat.

During that trip I was able to pray for one of the ladies, Sokneat, and then share with another, Sokhat, about the Lord and also introduce her to another believer who had set up her own businesses just like Sokhat wanted to do.  My family met both Sokneat and Sokhat an the teams that we have brought through.

This year Sokhat invited Clark and my family to join her for her sister’s wedding.  It would have been a little expensive to bring the whole family down but Clark and I were able to attend and had a great trip over all.

We were able to visit a couple of new outreach ministries to poor neighborhoods that Paul Chamrong, who runs our orphanage, has started or partnered with others on.  The church that the kids attend had a Baptism service and three of the older girls were baptized as they publicly declared their commitment to Jesus Christ.

 

 

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The “Real” Deal…

Many of you know we’re coming back to the USA next Wednesday – we actually hop over to Hong Kong on Tuesday, spend the night there and hope to catch a standby flight from there direct to Newark (only 15 1/2 hours)…

Anyhow..in the midst of our thinking about America, the kids keep coming up with random things they “can’t wait to do”, but mostly eat.  (Our British friends put it best when they pointed out that when Americans talk about going to the US, they only talk about food that they are going to eat).

Topping the list from Megan and Adrianne are:

Seriously?? Canned Alfredo sauce???

 

Little Ceasar's Pizza! Pizza!

Cracks me up…even better, is that Adrianne came to me and said, “Mom, can we get the real Afredo sauce in America?”  And by that, she means the Ragu sauce from a jar…not the cream and butter (from a cow) I’ve been using since we got to Thailand.  And Megan insists that the cardboard that Little Ceasar’s uses for a crust is infinitely better than anything we can get here (including the New York Pizza guy who ditched Wall Street to make us amazing pizza!).

You know what I’m going to say – it’s a blog that keeps coming up because it haunts the human soul like none other.  Discernment regarding what’s “real” and what’s “good” is ridiculously hazy at times and mildly focused at best as we consider the words of Isaiah (again).

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55:2

Oh God, that you would give us eyes to know what truly satisfies…help us to enjoy the Ragu and the pizza, but to find our satisfaction in you…help us to live David’s cry:

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine (and Ragu and Little Ceasars) abound.” Psalm 4:7.

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Here I go again…

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blogging world…I don’t really know how to explain why.  Well, first off, my travel blogging hopes were not only dashed, they were obliterated with the shameful lack of internet in New Zealand.  Talk about taking the wind out of my sails…I was so eager…

Secondly, my life moved at supersonic speed thereafter with a trip to the US to defend my dissertation and a whirlwind attempt to keep up my title of “Best Aunt EVER” with my neices and nephews during my visit.  Thirdly, my white (some say, dilapidated) MacBook decided to die 1 week before my defense, which coincides with fourthly, all my passwords that automatically populated [like to this blog] are noticeably absent on my new computer, only proving my fifth reason:  I’ve been the laziest slug on the earth.

I don’t know…I kind of took that phrase, “Stop and smell the roses” and added “…for a month.”  Never fear though…I have about 10 blogs all stored up because writers are always thinking and writing life…sometimes it just takes a while to get onto paper!

The most important blog of all those is this one.  So happy reading!

Dissertation Defense Day.

The day began bright and early at 1:30 a.m. because I was super jet-lagged (which resulted in me looking like I had a drinking binge prior to my defense)…and I couldn’t get back to sleep.  A major kudos to my sister who is notoriously late, for being on time and driving me to Liberty while I looked like I was nursing a hangover.  (seriously, I kept telling her I couldn’t open my eyes and to stop talking so loud).

In all seriousness – I need to change the tone of this blog, and fast…this was a day that is forever etched in my mind because God in His grace illuminated a truth that I already knew, but He cemented it in my mind with a living, breathing, object lesson.

You see, because we worked with high schoolers for 10 years, we know a couple students at Liberty…one of which is from a family that co-labored as Navigator Missionaries in Okinawa with us for 9 years.  We had the privilege of loving and discipling their four children during that time.  Their youngest, Wren, is a student at LU and I wrote and said, “Hey, come on by and let’s catch up…I’m defending my dissertation tomorrow.”  (In typical Vanossdall fashion, Wren showed up with OJ and a pastry in case I hadn’t eaten).  While my sister arranged the reception table, I knew my only chance to catch up with Wren was in the next hour.

We sat down and I was able to hear her heart (which has gone through some pretty big maturing this year)…while I was listening to her, I could not escape the Lord pressing 1 Thessalonians 2:19 into my heart as Paul says,

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” 

Wren - one of many who are our glory and crown!

The rest of the story is that I defended, passed and got to be called “Dr. Rathmell”.  Yet, truly…it was nothing compared to the joy of what God has called us to over the years – influencing, loving, discipling and encouraging students as they seek to please and follow the Lord.  In that moment, God sealed in my heart forever the place that earthly titles hold.  I remember thinking, “If people live for this moment of hearing those words, then they will be so sorely disappointed…”  In contrast, I have never, not once, thought that I would be sorry for pouring out my life into others for the sake of the Gospel…and God was the master educator that day.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud of finishing, persevering and completing the work.  I’m just all the more thankful for a God who so poignantly reminds us of what this life is about.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

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High/Low

I’m feeling ambivalent today – got lots going through my heart/soul/mind….thought I’d write it down (this is one of the times where having a melancholic mood can derail the day):

1.  High – took Dad out in town to shop and enjoy Chiang Mai/Low – Clutch in truck finally bit the dust and I drove home in 2nd gear.

2.  High – we leave for a visa trip/vacation on Wednesday/Low – can’t find our ATM card.

3.  High – We’re going to New Zealand for a grand total for $900!/Low – Our “kiwi” friends informed me how curvy the roads are there!  Agh!  (This might be my first vacation where I’m perpetually on Dramamine)

4.  High – Someone is here to feed the cats/Low – today one cat didn’t show up for breakfast.  We’re down to just Shadow/Extra-low:  telling the kids he didn’t come home today after they get home from school.

5.  High – Singapore Universal Studios that aformentioned Dad is springing for!/Low-it’s sandwiched between grueling hours at the Thai Embassy so we can get back in the country.

6.  High – flying cheaply on United to the U.S./Low – My ticket pimp and brother is laid up with a broken tibula (or whatever) and flights are packed…

7.  High – getting to defend my dissertation at 9AM on April 2nd/Low – getting ready for it!

7.  High – my husband never really has lows – no corresponding low!

We are in the “get packed for Visa drudgery, New Zealand beauty and nature, Buddy returning home with kids, me flying to US, defending, buying blocks of orange cheese and enjoying an asundry of lovely American wonders for 3 days, dropping Dad off and coming back to Chiang Mai” stage of life.

Dad and the "Family Size" pizza from Pizza & Pasta!

A travel blog is coming up!  Stay tuned (we leave to Singapore on Wednesday, so I’m sure by Thursday night I will have something to say about immigration procedures and uber-clean Singapore)  And more than anything – pray.  Any number of strings could unravel a lot..we love you all.

Jen

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And the answer is…(Part 6 of 6)

Good thing I’m done with this montage of thoughts on the blog…after what I’m about to pull, you may need to take a break…

What to do, what to do?

Whenever someone asks me the simple question, “What are you going to do…”, a weird little radar goes off…things like, “I’m not sure”/uncertainty, “I don’t care”/apathy, “Go to Disneyworld”/relief all kind of converge into one moment of indecision.  I really wish there was a super navigable (I did not know that was a word until right now) path…I wish I could lay out my 10 year plan toward health, hope and happiness.

And here’s where you roll your eyes…the problem isn’t usually the answer…it’s the question.  And sometimes, for me, the question makes me lose focus on who I am, and start thinking way too much about I’m going to do.  (Huh?…Jen, people are just curious!)

Let me give a little example:  I was just talking with my dear friend who said that she was going to give homeschooling “one more semester” to see if she was either a homeschool success or failure…whether it was “for her or not for her”.  I promptly told her that was a ridiculous premise.  The question “Did I fail or succeed at homeschooling, and thus, should I continue?” is only going to lead to self-pity or pride (both of which I experienced large doses of during this degree pursuit)

The question should be based on who she is:  “What method of schooling will best provide my children with a better understanding of the Gospel of Christ”.  There, if she’s a mean/terrifying/horrific Mom, maybe it’s school…if there’s a mean/terrifying/horrific teacher/situation, maybe it’s homeschool.  Who cares – what matters is that she stays true to her love/value/hope in the Gospel for both herself and the children.  At the end of that line of questioning is a meek faith that says, “I want them to know You more, Lord”.  Ahhhhh.

See, that changes things…and for now…that’s where I’m resting…I don’t know what my wedding basket will provide other than a few “oooh’s and aaahs” and random men saying, “What’s that for?”…and I don’t know what this degree will play in the future.  I rest in the hope that, with God’s help, it might bring a clearer understanding of the Gospel in my life, and in the lives of others…forever.

Soli Deo Gloria…

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What are you going to do with that? (Part 5 of 6)

This is the question I’ve been getting a lot lately.  If someone comes over and I show them my two antique purchases from China, they definitely have it on their mind.  I bought an old shutter from an ancient Chinese house that I thought would look super cool on my wall [now just have to figure out where to put it]…as well as an antique Chinese wedding basket that looks kind of like this.  (If you’re wondering why the pictures have been lacking on this blog lately, it’s because my Canon died…might have something to do with the time Megan dropped it).  So, all pictures have been coming from google images lately.

Kind of like this, but way more banged up...(hey, it's an antique!)

 

Comes apart like this - supposedly used for bring food to weddings (but who am I to say??)

My BFF couldn’t wait to hear Buddy’s reaction to these purchases, because if your husband is anything like mine, the phrase, “What are you going to do with that?” just rolls off his tongue way too easily.  (He must’ve transitioned into some sort of purchasing cannatonic state, because he wasn’t even phased).

Anyway – I’ve been getting this question a lot lately.  From wedding basket purchases to a degree I’m about to finish…what are you going to do with that?  Concerning school, my belief that this degree might actually be finished is starting to gain traction – all the little ducks are lining up and since that has been my goal for so long, I am suddenly aware of the next question:

Now what?

I really don’t know what a wedding basket is for, nor do I know what my diploma will be for, but as you can imagine, I have some thoughts…see you tomorrow!

 

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Being Strong is Never Easy…(Part 4 of 6)

I know…it’s no bombshell of amazing wisdom…it is, however, the second half of my encounter with three energetic physical therapists…

After my “talking to”, I kept trying to get a word in edgewise about my spinal cord plight of years ago, searching high and low for some sympathy and understanding as to why my legs were/are well, lame.

I think this is because the last class in Physical Therapy school is “How to have a Dead Pan Face, no matter what gruesome story the patient tells you”.  Seriously, not one of them seemed to care that at such a young, tender age, I was paralyzed for a month.  Usually that registers somewhere on the sympathy scale.

Not with PT’s…and I figured out why:  they didn’t go to school to be counselors, they went to school to prove to everyone that people could be overcomers if they worked hard.

I realized I was out of my league…and after receiving the verbal lashing, their words began to take root in my soul.  The truth is, getting strong is never easy.  If it was, there would be a lot more strong people out there and a lot of counselors out of work.

My new friends...

As I whined to these kind and helpful people about how I hate working out, hiking, walking, etc…one of them said to me the most profound thing:  “If you strengthened your legs, you might find that you don’t hate those things so much”. Ugh.  I really have been going about this all wrong – skipping right to the torture of moving my legs, instead of strengthening them for the task.  After some helpful exercises – I was on my way.

But not without that phrase sifting down to my innermost parts.  How many things in my life are weak that I have not bolstered, strengthened for the task?  How weak is my faith concerning areas of my life that I find hard, difficult, maybe even repulsive?  It’s not so much about the “quiet time” being done as it is about my faith being strengthened.  Most times, those things go hand-in-hand, other times, it can be like my futile exercising plan.  Doing the work, but remaining weak in what needs to be strengthened.  (I am not condoning eradicating quiet times or devotions…only the act of disguising them as strong faith…and besides that’s just one example!)

So…I’ve been thinking a lot about what else can use some strength training besides these silly legs…

Strengthen my faith, Lord.

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Physical Therapy Anyone? Part 3 of 6

While at our conference in Beijing, we were treated to lovely, spoiling things by a ministry to North American missionaries.  You’re really only supposed to go to ONE of these conferences in a lifetime, but when they have space available, missionary vultures like Jen and myself are allowed to participate again.  (We are already stalking the next conference)

This ministry brings women from America to keep us from Frumpville, the path that is large and wide for all missionaries…their entourage consists of hairdressers, massage therapists, make-up artists and for the lame, physical therapists…

One of the 3 PT’s they brought sized me up right away…”why are you limping?”…(those people have a radar for the slightest walking infraction).  I yukked it up and laughed off my walking impediment to an “old war injury” and proceeded to win over any and everyone with my ceaseless charm.

Those people don’t give up though…word got out about the girl that walks funny and can’t bend and by the last breakfast (Jen had already skipped town and offered no protection whatsoever), they had closed ranks and proceeded to give me the 1, 2, 3.

As in:  1)  I think you could use some more physical therapy, 2) You need to build up your muscles, and 3) What sort of exercising do you do?  (As if my measly 30 minutes twice a week with Kristi Su isn’t enough…whatever!!!)

It’s been 26 years since I spent my sophomore year of high school with “first period” of school being “Torture with the Turkish Physical Therapist”…haven’t I paid my dues?  Apparently not, and these PT drill sergeants made it very clear to me:  “Shape up & Strengthen up or you’re gonna be a gnarly mess in a few years”…

The story beneath the story tomorrow…(Kristi Su, don’t you go spoiling it!) 🙂

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Vulnerability Stinks…Part 2 of 6

After reading about getting swindled in Beijing, now you get to hear the rest of the story…

As we continued our trek to Tiannamen Square, I could not shake how foolish I felt for being taken…it is not often, as adults (at least if you put forth a small effort toward wisdom) where we are taken advantage of so blatantly and with such premeditation.  I mean, as kids, we sit and think these kinds of things up, but when it involves a full-fledged adult, it just plain stinks, stings and sucks.

The reality of someone waiting outside our hotel to find some unsuspecting tourist (namely me and Jen) and then lie to them about a price just makes me feel so utterly foolish.  When our bike driver got us in the back alley and showed us a laminated (yes, laminated…as in I’m going to use this thing so much that I need to preserve it in plastic!) card demanding $50, everything suddenly became really clear.  We had fallen right into a trap.

This kind of vulnerability, in particular, cuts to the core.  Jen and I felt like we walked around with a huge L on our forehead…we just plain ole’ felt victimized, something both of us don’t cognitively buy into for any length of time.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt foolish.  His was the ultimate trap…if Jen and I knew of this ruse, we would’ve turned around and avoided the bike guy like the plague.  But Jesus…He knew and waited for eventual humiliation.  I can’t say that I can even imagine that in light of the foolishness and vulnerability I felt for a measly $50 and my priceless pride.

Yet another reason to thank and praise Him…God, willing to be foolish for me.

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