The whole thing felt so, well, normal. And that honestly almost made it strange.
Seven months ago we went from 11 to 22 Thai children. And then, over the following few months, we had three more join us. Counting our American boys that puts us at 28 children, aged 15 and under. That is not a normal family. And yet yesterday it felt so ordinary and beautiful that I almost forgot how new it all is and how amazing that we've all settled into each other like an actual family.
The boys who sleep close to the outdoor kitchen were awake by about 6:15am and they came over and started cleaning while I was making breakfast. They wiped down tables from the smattering of bugs the night before and swept the floors that could never possibly see enough sweeping. Then they moved over to the rack where all the kids keep their cups and they washed them. There was no prompting or pleading or even asking; they simply decided to spend their time lightening the load.
A few hours later I was cooking lunch and the kitchen was filled with helpers. Kwan, Namwan, Yim, Nuu, and Alu were contributing with meal prep while Sky was walking around keeping baby Gauv out of mischief. Again, there was no prompting. Just a bunch of kids who could have chosen to do their own thing but instead decided to do the thing that was helpful in that moment. I felt my heart swell a little.
And then my mind went back 7 months to when those 11 kids arrived all within a few days of each other. It was absolute chaos. For at least the first week we spent 3/4 of our time just circling the pond trying to round kids up and keep a head count for fear of losing someone. Nobody would stay where we told them to stay. Nobody listened to anything we said. Nobody wanted to be here and everybody seemed to blame us for the fact that they were. During those first days after their arrival it felt impossible that things would ever calm to a gentle rhythm.
Yet here we are rhythm-ing.
We've moved from surface conversations, due to language barriers and lack of trust, into deep and important communication. We've had tears as we worked through hard things, we've pushed through the feelings and pent-up anger in so many of them and landed in a place where there's largely mutual understanding and far less suspicion. Rather than hugging us because they're desperate for some physical evidence that someone cares, they're hugging us because they know they're loved and they feel safe returning that love.
That's not us. That's not even them. That is God.
There are moments where things still feel chaotic. There are certainly times when we're still working through tears and misunderstandings. There's plenty of I'm sorry's and Please forgive me's still happening. But there's so much growth and change and progress that those times are no longer ear marking our days.
This past weekend we gathered 19 of the children into the chapel on our property and had another Bible study. We're trying to help them understand who God is and what He's done (and is doing!) for them. We want them to have the chance to make the choice for themselves whether to believe in and serve God. We don't want them to simply grow up riding the coattails of our experience rather than embracing their own. The study felt unremarkable because kids are kids and, when required to be still and quiet, sometimes their eyes glaze over and you wonder if they're hearing or absorbing anything at all.
But then I asked a question and Jing, who was definitely numbered among the gang with glazed eyes, produced the answer with no hesitation or doubt. I was floored. Amazed. Encouraged.
Not too long after that we closed the study with prayer and dismissed the kids for their evening showers. A strange thing happened, however. Some passed by and thanked us while others walked over and sat down with a pocketful of questions. So Robbie and I sat talking with, and answering, the kids who were so inquisitive. They had deep questions that totally surprised us. These kids are thinking and some of their questions centered around sharing the gospel with others.
Then Hannah walked to the doorway and said, "This study is definitely a good thing. These kids are out here with all sorts of questions."
Now, understand that we have no translator. We have to do our best with our use of Thai and the kids' use of English. It's not ideal and yet, it's working. God gets His word into any heart willing to listen, no matter what language they need to hear it in.
Today 6 year old Sumita sat on my lap and told me she's afraid I'll go back to America. Three years and a few months ago that might have been an option in my mind. That's no longer the case.
Thailand is where you'll find me. I've learned that pieces of my heart can be in America even while I live out my calling right here in the Land of Smiles.