Dressember: how can a dress a day end modern day slavery

My mom has been a dressmaker for over 30 years. As a girl, I remember watching her design the clothes, make the pattern, cut the fabric and sew the dresses. Sometimes I helped her sewing the hem with  my stubby little fingers and a needle. I grew up with mom’s handmade clothes. In those days, though, I would rather wear leggings and t-shirts from the Body Glove brand than putting on some neat little skirts that my mom lovingly made for me.

Yes, love. For mom, making dress has always been about love. The love for creativity, for the career and for the people. She lavished her love on me and my sisters by making matching dresses for us to wear.

Sadly, there are many girls who are stripped of this love and care they deserve. There are those who are sold into sex business because their parents are poor; those who are constantly molested and violated by their very own relatives; and those who are physically abused day-in and day-out within their own homes.

This is why I joined the Dressember Foundation this year. I was introduced to this organization through a friend, who posted her pictures wearing different dresses for the whole month of December last year. Seeing her in those dresses somehow triggered my childhood memory, of my mom’s dresses. So I made a quick comment in one of her posts that I would like to join.

And here I am.

To be honest, I am scared of fundraising because I hate asking people for money. Yet a wise friend said to me, “Do not assume what other people think. You have to put it out there, because otherwise you may be robbing someone of their giving” (paraphrased). So this post is to inform you about what I do; and hopefully it will help you make a decision whether or not you want to join in this cause.

The core of Dressember is to advocate for the dignity of women all over the world. Its mission is to “oppose the worldwide trafficking and exploitation of women”. It has aligned itself with the work of International Justice Mission and A21. The money raised has gone to support the work that these guys do to put the end to the modern day slavery. You can read about them more here.

My part in this is to wear dresses everyday for the whole month. It is challenging because sometimes I would rather just wear tank tops and shorts in this heat. But I am now committed.

My goal is to raise $300 by the end of December. If you would like to join in with me and consider giving, visit my page here. Click on “Donate” tab and follow the prompts. You can choose how much you want to give by clicking on the amount the site provides, or type in your own amount you are willing to donate. Remember, there is no such thing as too little when it comes to supporting good work.

The other way to get involved is to pray. There are still many girls and boys trapped in brothels, mines, orphanages or even their own homes. They need help. Pray for them to be rescued. Pray for the workers’s boldness and protection. Pray for healing. Pray for justice. Pray for grace and hope to shine lights into those dark corners of the world.

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This is one of the five dresses that mom made for me. I have had it for over five years now. This dress went with me to Chiang-Mai, New Zealand and now Australia. 

P.S. I will be posting my picture on Instagram and Facebook at least twice a week until the end of this month. Feel free to comment or shoot me a message if you have any questions.

 


In the Honour of King Bhumibhol

The night was dark and cool. There was not a single sound outside. I was plunging deeper into my sleep when I felt Joel calling my name. “Mink. Read this.” Wincing at the glow of the screen, a big bold headline wrote, “King Bhumibhol, the king of Thailand, died at age 88.” My heart dropped. Tears streaked down my cheeks. Though I knew this was going to happen, I still wished it was a dream. It was October 13, 2016. 

It has been a month since. I have wanted to write something to honour my late king, but words escaped me. Whenever I started typing, nothing I wanted to say seemed sufficient to describe what I felt, what most Thai people felt, when we heard the news. The sadness runs deep, but more than the sorrow is the realisation that we will no longer live under his reign anymore, this history-maker king.

King Bhumibhol had reigned over the kingdom of Thailand for 70 years. He and his wife were barely getting out of their teenage years when the coronation ceremony took place. They were confronted with poverty problems and political issues. With determination, perseverance and grace, they penetrated the walls of all social classes and united people together. They rose early and retired late, working doggedly alongside their staff and the local people. Their shoes were caked with mud as they trudged into the jungle; their pants dirty from sitting on the dirt floor, and their hair windswept and dusty from spending time outside talking to villagers as they brought medical aid and farming advices to villagers.


For most Thais, we have spent most of our lives living under King Rama IX’s reign. We celebrated his birthday every December 5. We listened to his speech. And we watched about his works and activities that ALWAYS involved the people of Thailand on TV. When I was young, every Friday afternoon before school finished, every student in the school would stand in line outside their classrooms to sing the king’s anthem together. Even in cinemas all over the country, before the movie starts, we would have to stand up for the king’s anthem. As a child, I did not really see the importance of all this. But as I grew older, the knowledge of his goodness and the understanding of how much he sacrificed for our sake has given me appreciation of and deepest respect for the king. 

Sometimes I wonder why we mourn so much for him, the king whom most of us had never met in person. I wonder why a multitude of people are willing to stand in the sun for hours only to see the van that carried the late king’s body to the grand palace. And I wonder why there is such hollowness in my heart since he has been gone…

The only answer I can come up with is because King Bhumibhol loved us so fiercely that he dedicated his life for the country. We see his love through his deeds. His genuine interest in the well-being of Thai citizens took him to the most dangerous part of the country, where he was vulnerable to harm. He didn’t care about whose sides people were on, whether they were democratic or communists. In one of the interviews given to BBC, he was asked if he had won over the communist insurgency by managing to build a dam in the area. He said,

“Oh I don’t know. But we are winning against hunger. This is what we are doing. We are not fighting against people. We are fighting against hunger. We want them to have a better life. If we make this and they have a better life, the people you call ‘communist insurgency’ will also have a better life also. So everybody is happy.”


As a Christian, King Bhumibhol had helped me understand what Jesus’ love must have meant for his disciples and the people in his time. I am not saying that the king was god or even had god-like attributes. Rather, his attributes and traits that portrayed selflessness and enduring love had captivated our hearts. His love makes us want to be better – to drop the differences, to stop fighting over things that do not really matter and to unite for the better of our country.

I am so thankful to have lived under his reign, to have witnessed his majesty and to be able to carry this heritage to the next generation. When we have children, I will tell them of our Thai king, the man who devoted his life for the people of our country. More than that, I will also point them to the God-man, King Jesus, who is the ultimate model of selfless love, when he gave his life for the people in the whole world as well. 

Today my heart weeps with the people of Thailand again because I have remembered that king Bhumibhol is no longer with us. He spent 88 years on this earth with excitement, enthusiasm and unapologetic way of serving. He gave his all for his family and his countrymen. It is now time for him to rest. What a privilege for me to be a part of this glorious historical period. Yet what a loss for us all…

Recently, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to sing the king’s anthem at the royal field near the Grand Palace for a major music production, and to show solidarity and honour to the late king. The singing was loud and full of emotions. Usually, after singing the anthem, we usually chanted “long live the king, long live the king” over and over again. But on that day, there was no more chant. All we could hear was the deafening silence that echoed in everyone’s heart. It is still echoing in my heart today…


My Job Search Experience

Before I came to Australia, I painted a beautiful picture in my head, of me working in a respectable company and earning sufficient income to send money home to pay off my debts and support my family. For some reasons, I thought finding a job would be easy. 

In my first week here, someone told me to beware of discrimination in workplace, especially because I am Asian. Naively, I laughed and brushed it off, thinking it was their own prejudice against the society. Now I am wondering if they were right…

My job search experience has been one of a crazy ride. In my first month, I almost got a job at a restaurant but my pride kicked in and I denied the job because the pay was too low. Then, I spent three hours doing a job trial at a cafe, thinking that this could be it, only to be informed later that they found someone with more suitable qualifications. Unwavered, I kept sending out emails with my resume attached, hoping to hear something from someone. I put up with hours of filling out forms that basically ask for the same information already provided in my resume. And nothing but”We regret to inform you that we will not take your application any further…”, without so much of explanation why, came back to me.

In my last post, I mentioned about a waitress job at a Thai restaurant. It also fell through. I did go in to work for two days, quickly learning the menu and the way they took order; floating between tables, serving food and taking away dishes. Everyone was nice to me. The only issue I had was that they took advantage of the casual staff members, who worked for five to six hours everyday but were paid below a minimum standard. You may think I am a fool for not enduring like others do; but I simply could not tolerate the practise, where my value is at stake.

So I had to start from scratch again. More emails. More rejection letters. What is more disheartening is that even chain companies, like supermarket or hardware store, turned me down. It is demoralising to be told, “We are not looking for senior staff, only junior.” Whether I am under or overqualified, the message is blatantly clear – there is not a place for me. Not yet anyway.

I can understand from the employers’ point of view why they are hesitant to hire me. I have only been in the country for less than three months. I have no relevant local experiences. And I am on a temporary partner visa. There is no guarantee that I am a good person or that I will stay committed to them long term. 

At times like this, I am thinking of my sister’s word before I departed to Australia, “This is the way you chose. This is your path now. Don’t worry about us here.” What else can I do but keep chipping away at this thick wall? I have to swallow my pride, grit my teeth and keep putting myself out there. 

Sometimes, though, I run into an existential and identity crisis. Stripped away from my roots and connection, I am at a loss. The things I once thought was my passion seem irrelevant. I am not even sure what I like to do or what I want with my life. It is selfish of me to think this thought since we need another income, whatever job it may be. But in the deeper part of my romantic heart, I am afraid of living to just get by, of falling into a status quo.

Joel’s squash team member, who is from South Africa, told me that when he first arrived in Australia, it took him eight months to get a job. I do not wish to have to wait this long, but at least someone had already gone on before me. It was comforting to know that I am not alone in this plight. He is now working at a government agency in a respectable role.

When I feel crushed from rejection, I read and I cook. This explains why there are plenty of updates on my Goodreads reading progress and also lots of food photos and videos on my Facebook profile. These activities give me solace as I meditate on my life’s problems and personal struggles. Reading puts me in someone’s world and gives me a different perspective towards my circumstance. I am currently reading Elizabet Bard’s “Lunch in Paris: a Love Story with Recipes.”   She is an American, who married a Frenchman and left her home country to make a new home in France. Like me, she asked questions about life, purpose and passion while trying to make sense of the new culture and fitting in. And like her, I go to food for comfort. Cooking purely gives me something to have control over when my life spins out of balance. I can add more spices if I want to in my meatball or reduce the amount of sugar in my cookies. Making food that is whole and delicious, and being able to feed people makes me happy. It reminds me that there is more to life. I am a better person because of it.

Burger Night with the youths from church. The food was supposedly “Montenegrin-inspired”.

Spanish meatball with roasted potato, carrots and green apples


What now? A friend from church, who is from Ghana, told me to work towards something. With no acknowledged qualifications, the opportunities are limited here in Australia. So get whatever job I can find (trust me, I am praying for one), save enough money for education and chase my dream…

The question, though, is what is it, this dream?


Spring Update

Finally, the weather is kind to us. A few days ago, while driving home, I spotted white on a mountaintop. I turned to ask Joel, to which he affirmed, “Yes, it is snow.” Since then, it had been wet, rainy and cold to the bone. For a moment, I thought we were back in winter if it had not been for the blooming flowers in our host’s garden. But today, the sun came out bright and strong. The breeze is warm and soft. So I thought I would come sit out on the bench in the garden, enjoying the daylight, the beautiful flowers and the warmth of spring.

Life has fallen into rhythm for us here. Joel is working three days a week for the church: organizing and teaching youths, visiting with patients at a hospital, playing music at a mental health foundation, and preparing lessons and sometimes sermon. On days that he does not work, he applies for a second job, plays squash (which he recently won the first set of the season! Though he lost the game, this was his first win. We were all stoked!) and watches movies with me. I am continuing to look for work, but most days, I follow Joel and join in the activities he is doing when I can. I also participate in the ladies’ bible studies on Friday, tutor Thai to a friend once or twice a week, and go to farmers’ market on Saturday.

I intend to make the most out of this “free time” as much as possible because who knows how often I will get to sit in the sun and listen to music on a weekday like this in the future. However, there are days when I feel like I am wasting my time and being unproductive, especially when I see people around me working insane hours and coming home exhausted. I have a tendency to put myself through unnecessary pressure. I keep hearing a voice that tells me I am not worthy if I have not got a job. I know that this is a lie because I used to identify my value with what I do. The higher the job title, the more money I make, the better I feel about myself. That is why I have been picky about choosing the jobs I want to apply to here. Yet God has taken me on a humility journey – to show me that what I do does not matter as much as the attitude I bring into what I do. So, although I sometimes feel guilty when people ask me if I have got a job yet, I am enjoying my time of resting, of recuperating from the stress of visa application and long wait, and of being refreshed in my spirit.

With that said, though, this evening I have got a job trial at a Thai restaurant in civic called “Lemongrass”. When Joel and I were in town the other day, we stumbled upon a Thai sign saying “Staff wanted” posted on the restaurant’s door. Instead of just writing their phone number down and calling them later, we thought why not ask them now. So with our noses plastered on the door, we peered inside to see if anyone was there (the restaurant was closed at that time). When I spotted someone, we knocked on the door until someone poked her head to see what this madness was all about. We made a gesture saying that I wanted to inquire about the position. The lady slowly walked out and asked me my name and my phone number. She told me she would have her boss call me, which she did that evening! We talked  a bit about why I am here in Australia, and she asked if I can come in on this Friday (today) to try it out. I am excited! Though I was initially adamant at not getting any waitressing job ever again; as mentioned before, God has taught me that it is not what I do that matters but the attitude I will bring into the job.

You probably wonder why I did not want to wait the tables again. Here is why. I am 32 years old. I would rather do something worthwhile, something that enables me to develop my skills and talents, pursue my passion and contribute to the well-being of others. My dream job would be to write for a cause, similar to what I did with Compassion, because there are many who need someone to speak for them. I want to be able to communicate in order to bring change to people’s lives. But since I am a new kid in the block, I will need time to get to know people and learn about what is needed here. Meanwhile, I wait tables, play music, get certifications and accreditation needed for what I want to do, write on my blog, and volunteer at places that they do need help.

There you go, our lives in a nutshell. Please keep praying for us to grow closer to God and to have a better understanding of what He tells us to do from the Word. We are thankful for His provision, and happy to be back together. There are plans we would like to get done by the end of this year, like me getting a job and moving into our own house. Pray that it would all happen according to God’s will.


War of Words

The house was still dark and quiet when I woke up to the sound of rain. Joel was softly breathing, still deep in his sleep. I carefully slid myself out of bed, put on my faithful worn jumper and tiptoed into the kitchen. The  gentleness of the morning lingered in the air, and I breathed in the fragrance of the coffee, rich and dark. I wrapped my hands around the cup, and I sat, still, dwelling in this moment of peace and quietness.

Recently, I have been thinking about noises. We live in a fast-paced, microwave-it society. Everything is just a click away, and news travels faster than light. Everyone has an opinion, and we are quick to defend what we stand for, sometimes with unfiltered thoughts. With the conveniences of technology, we are wired and equipped to do multiple things at the same time: talking to someone while watching the news on TV and replying to a text message on the phone (Funny enough, even my husband who claims that he cannot multitask constantly does this).

I recognized that the world has changed; and what we have definitely make our lives so much easier. What would Joel and I have done during months apart if the only way to communicate was a snail mail? Or how would I keep in touch with my family in Thailand in the real-time, face-to-face conversation without Skype or Facetime? There are benefits from the digital technology, but it also has its own pitfalls. With information easily accessed on the internet, we learn more about issues that go on in the world almost firsthand. We hear about war in Syria, election in America, nuclear program in North Korea and the refugee crisis in Australia. We also hear about gay marriage protest, pro-choice campaign and euthanasia movement. We pick our interests and we choose what we stand for, based on our personal belief and life background.

However, in light of the benefits of discussion and debates, what I see these days is how entitled we are to our opinions. What I miss is the respect shown towards one another on the internet and, sometimes in person. I have heard people say, “You don’t need to respect the other’s opinion if it’s wrong,” or “This is my opinion. You either take it or leave it,” without being intentional about taking into consideration of what the other person is saying. This readiness to disregard the other person’s views is alarming. It forces us to shout louder so someone would hear and listen to what we have to say. Tragically, what I see afterwards is rude comments directed to strip the person off of his dignity or people being oppressed to keep silent because they are not loud enough.

I am troubled by what I see. There has to be a balance between the freedom of speech and respect. To be anti-politically correct, “just say it for what it is”, is not going to cut it. What is the purpose of expressing our opinions? Is it to stand for the truth? If we answer yes, then we had better define what truth is; and whether our opinions align with the truth. Often, we jump into hot debates (a better term should be “argument”) because the media or the majority of people tell us that such and such is right or wrong; and we put forth our two cents so passionately that we have forgotten why we started in the first place.

I think what we miss today is humility. Having been raised in Thai culture, we are taught to listen to the elders. Even though I realized that some elders do not act worthy of respect and their opinions are sometimes useless (and we can be hypocritical with our “respect” towards them), the practice of listening has its merits when we enter into the wider world. When we listen, we do not only gain knowledge about what is being spoken, but we get an insight and understanding about the speakers, what they are like, where they come from, and how they draw the conclusion. Listening allows us to be less judgmental and more understanding.

The scripture from James 1:19-20 from the Amplified Bible makes it clear,

Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]

James wrote this letter to the Jews who were dispersed among the Gentiles. So his message was directed to the followers of God. In the midst of troubles and challenging life circumstances, James instructed these people to live a life that would reflect the glory of God, one of which is through being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. For Christians, the standard of our lives is Christ’s love that compels us to do the impossible, including giving up our own “right” so that others may come to know His love. This may simply mean not having to win an argument, or carefully choosing words to speak, or deciding whether to say something or keep quiet. We do not always have to be right, if the desire to be right comes from pride.

I am not saying we should tolerate untruth or lies. Truth needs to be proclaimed. But often what we speak may not always be the truth. It is an opinion that is perhaps based on truth, but our own views nonetheless. Therefore, it is our responsibility to present our opinions as accurately and fairly as possible while remembering that others may view it differently, simply because we wear different “glasses”, and we just have to respect that what the other person says has values. It may go against what we are wired to do nowadays because of our entitlement to a lot of things, but for Christians, there is a higher purpose. Christ did not die so we can battle in war of words. He died so we can be reconciled to God. He died so we can live as a witness of His love. If what we say is not edifying the body of Christ, perhaps we should take a vow of silence for a break.

A friend of mine once said to me, “Mink, I look forward to the time when we are old, when we both will sit on rocking chairs with a cup of tea in our hands and recall all the things we have done in our lives.” I still remember his words because it paints a picture of simplicity and of peace. One day, we will be old and our voices will be just whispers in the wind. One day we will die and no one will care whether or not we vote for the legalisation of gay marriage or euthanasia. What people will remember is how we treat them; how we show them respect, honor and dignity. The world will not remember our words. They will remember our deeds.


“Do It Anyway”

By the end of this week, I will have completed my three weeks in Australia. People often ask me how my transition goes, and I usually (and genuinely) say fine. I do not really enjoy the weather, but I can cope with lots of blankets, jackets, socks, hot drinks and cuddling with my husband. I mostly have no troubles understanding people when they speak English to me since I have been using it regularly. Our housing situation is adequate and efficient at this stage, thanks to our kind friends. I am on a job hunt and it seems to go well. I have not gotten homesick (yet). And Joel and I are back together, readjusting and relearning about each other, which is awesome. Mostly, I am fine.

But then there are deeper things. Mainly, the matter of the heart. Having been here for almost a month, I realised that the novelty of the newness is starting die away. The weather conversation is getting old, seeing that it is always cold in Canberra. The excitement of being in a new culture is being replaced with nervousness as I am phasing out of the vacation period and entering into the real life – getting into a routine, making new friends and trying to find my place and a sense of belonging here.

I do realise that there is a place for me here, that God has brought Joel and I here for His purposes. But to feel like one truly belongs does not happen over a night or in a month. It takes time, determination and courage to invest in establishing a life here. One aspect of life is relationship. It is challenging, to say the least, to enter into a place where everyone knows everyone else, and you are still trying to match names with faces (and my husband does not make it easier since he knows probably the whole congregation). In the youth meeting tonight, when we talked about visiting different congregations and started to drop names of people and places that are foreign to me, my mind was getting foggy and wandering into other trains of thoughts irrelevant to what was being discussed. When you are a new kid in the block, there is uncertainty as to how people are going to receive you. With that comes insecurity.

From my outer appearance, I may seem capable of holding conversations, but that is the byproducts of having moved around in the past few years and of marrying to an outgoing person like Joel. Though I feel nervous inside every time I enter into a new building or talk to a new person, I have learned to be friendly and approachable. But what I really crave, and which allows me to strive and thrive best, is a deep relationship with someone – that kind of relationship that involves understanding and history that goes way back, like when you look into someone’s eye, you know what he/ she is thinking. But to acquire that, I gotta be bold. Yet to be bold, I have got to overcome all my insecurities and wondering.

So one night I prayed that God would show me how to be bold. The phrase “do it anyway” jumped up at me. It was the theme I picked up from church last Sunday through stories of Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer, of Micah the prophet and of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We know the story from Acts 16, how Paul and Silas converted the jailer, but the point Joel talked about was how they did not run away when they could have (the angel even told them to) in order to ascertain that the jailer would not be punished or kill himself, which consequently led to his salvation. They could have run but they stayed anyway. The sermon was focused on the life of Micah the prophet, and how he went about proclaiming God’s message. I was reminded of how many other prophets of Yahweh did the same thing, and ended up in a trench like Jeremiah or Ezekiel. They were confronted with hunger, suffering and shame, but they did it anyway. Later, during the bible study, we explored how the church was like at the time Paul wrote the letter, and why his exhortation was so intense and emotional. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote about his hardship and how he continued to serve the Lord in “great endurance”, “in distress”, or “in sleepless nights and hunger”. He could have done other things in life considering his quality, but Christ’s love compelled him. In fact, what is a better example than Jesus  who could have saved Himself, yet He gave His life as a ransom to many, including me. All these people “did it anyway” regardless of the costs. Why? Because they loved the Lord.

My situation is not as extreme, but the core message can be applied. God calls me to live for and serve Him, period. Our purpose – Joel’s and mine – is to make Him known in whatever we do and wherever we live. However, I will not be able to do that unless I start being bold.  So besides getting through the culture shock (which will eventually pass), I have decided to overcome my insecurity by doing “it” anyway. Instead of waiting for someone to talk to me, I will try to initiate the conversation even though a voice may be shouting in my head, “who are you to speak? you are just a newcomer! they’ll eventually lose interest of you.” (Believe me, this voice is real.) When a negative though comes into my mind, I will brush it aside and pray. When I doubt in my existence and purpose here, I will look to my husband and know that this is where I belong. This is where we will take root and call home.

Loving God can be expressed in many shapes and forms, whether through being committed to a church, feeding the poor, encouraging the downcast, giving money to those in need, singing songs, playing sports, teaching His word, you name it. We do all this in obedience to Him regardless of the costs because we love Him. At this stage of my life, the expression of my faith may not be as “heroic” as I wanted it to be, but the obedience to do “little things” like initiating conversation or overcoming negativity is my mustard seed. I hope God will make it grow.


In Canberra

Well it has been six days since I arrived in Canberra. Before I left, there was a lot of nerve, excitement, sadness and happiness. I was on an emotional roller coaster. I was even worried that the immigration in Sydney would not let me enter into the country. Illegitimate fear, because everything was smooth from the moment I boarded the plane until the moment I ran into Joel’s arm. The experience was surreal. We both had been waiting for this moment for a year; and it happened. God is good.

We spent a few days in a coastal town called Kiama, which was relaxing and a great way to get reacquainted with each other. Kiama is a quaint little town with lots of great coffee shops and stunning views. Right across from our motel is a park where we took a walk and went on the swing at night. The weather was a bit chilly but mostly sunny and nice. We could walk around in our tank tops and thongs during the day, but I had to have my winter gear on at nighttime. We visited the blowhole, went on a long drive to Kangaroo valley, caught new Pokemon, drank coffee, ate really good Indian and Mexican food and watched Olympic games. It was a low key vacation but a really refreshing one.

Kiama.jpg

As fun as the time in Kiama was, we both were ready to come back to Canberra. We definitely enjoyed the vacation (and thanks to our friends from church for gifting us with the pocket money and the hotel room), but Canberra is where we belong. Joel and I are excited to begin our normal life together as a couple…to finally settle here.

My first impression of Canberra is its bigness. Everywhere I have lived in, whether it is Bangkok, Chiang-Mai or Tauranga, the distance from a place to the other is relatively short. Having driven around town with Joel these past two days, I realized how spread this city is. It takes at least 30 minutes to go from one suburb to the other. Though it definitely takes longer in Bangkok to go somewhere, there is always something to look at. Here, there are lots of trees and road. Hence the name “the Bush capital”.

Admittedly, this is not the city I immediately fall in love with. The city itself was built to be the capital. So everything seems functional and has its purpose, but there is not much artistic influence on the architecture here, except the parliament house and the war memorial as far as I have seen. It is, thus, understandable that I do not feel drawn to it straight away because all of the cities I had lived in before are major destinations. Yet Canberra is now my home. God has brought Joel and I here to build a family, to serve His people and to expand His kingdom. We hope that this city will gradually grow in my heart, especially when I start developing routines, making friends and creating memories.

So this is where we are at right now. Joel is going back to work next week. I will start applying for jobs. Once we have another solid income coming in, we will begin to look for a house of our own. It feels good to be able to start planning again. With all that we have been through, we have learned that God is faithful. We are taking confidence in His words found in Proverbs 16:1-3

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue. All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,  but motives are weighed by the Lord. Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”


It is the Sharpie Kind of Day

Recently, I started using sharpie pens to express my frustration and anger in my journal. Its bold and thick ink seems to represent my emotions in constant turmoil. This is a new habit, and I don’t always do it. But today is the sharpie kind of day.

Without going into nasty details, let’s just say that Joel and I both left our texting conversation stressed and probably heart broken. Sometimes I wonder how ugly and hateful my words and reaction can be when I profess to love my husband so much. After we reached two-month mark of being apart, it seems like I have been possessed by a demon. My mind goes mental that results in me spewing words aimed to bring Joel down with me. And I blame this separation for causing the tension. But is it really the cause? If I were with Joel, would not we still have this crazy cycle? To be honest, I think we would still argue.

Our age old issues always have to do with time, space and priority. I tend to blame my husband for not giving me enough time, or not prioritising me while he tends to respond, “I have not the whole day for you, love.” Usually, as you can imagine, it is ensued with vehement argument, bitter words and remorseful apology later on in the day. Often, 99% of the time, I start the fight. For some reasons, we struggle to really hear what the other person is saying. He doesn’t feel like I respect him. And I don’t feel like he loves me.

To be honest, I think my problem goes much deeper than what comes onto the surface. Pride and distrust are my companion, and I try to micro manage my own life based on these two flawed characteristics. I try to control what happens in both of our lives, which is impossible. I am living in a constant hope to be somewhere else instead of focusing on here and now. With these came a sense of despair because nothing is really going my way.

After trying to swallow my tears at breakfast, my friend “Anna” said, “First off, remember you are two kilometres away. Second, remember you are not mental. Your point is as valid as his. You just gotta be intentional in working through it together as a couple.” 

The first was the reference to the story of a swimmer who has been swimming across oceans (this is my vague memory of a true story I read from somewhere), and gives up just a few kilometres away shy from the finished line. Basically, Anna was reminding me that our dream to be together is going to happen soon. The wait is almost over. Do not despair. Second, I was reminded that what we go through, however monumental the struggles may feel, is normal for married couples. I am not a weirdo and Joel doesn’t hate me. We just gotta step back, take a look at the real problems and be intentional about solving them together. 

This marriage business is messy and yet beautiful. When we decided to become one, it is not just sex and skin on skin. It is day-to-day grind of boring detail in life. It is handling each other’s heart gently and lovingly because the lips that say the marriage vow and caress each other’s cheeks are the same lips that stab our spouse’s heart. It is choosing to act on love with humbleness because you know so well you are nothing without each other. 

So the same sharpie I used to pound words with anger early on is the same one I scribbled with thankfulness in my heart for who Joel is and what he means to me in this life. It doesn’t matter how many times we fight, I still choose Joel. 


Just to Unload

*Disclaimer – this post is purely self-indulgent. It is a rant. You can ignore this altogether; or just be entertained by the jokes in my life. 



This week has been absolutely terrible. If there is any time I feel lonely, it is now.

Same old news. There’s no progress on the visa. This is the last month they told me to expect my case to be processed. I still haven’t heard anything. It has been 2 months since I was last with Joel. Yesterday, I was in a minor car accident that somehow left me shaking. The package I sent to Joel was rejected and returned, all the way from Australia. And i. just. want. my husband. But he isn’t here.

Often I wonder if this is all but a joke. Why did we get married only to end up living separately? What is the purpose of all this? Did we get punished because we rushed into marriage? People told me that I will one day see. And I believe them. I just can’t see anything clearly right now.

I am in a world of pain, bitterness, anger and resentment. Holding on in the midst of the storm has taken a toll on me. And I’m exhausted. I’m tired of waking up every morning thinking this will be the day. Im tired of having to go to sleep without Joel on the other side of the bed. I have been postponing appointments or saying no to permanent commitment here because I thought it could be any day now. Well, jokes on me. I’m still here and not with Joel.

I know you guys are praying for me. For us. Please continue. I am just discouraged, lonely, and at the verge of giving up. I am stuck in this waiting pit. And I’m weary of trying to work out this long distance relationship. I know we aren’t meant to be apart. It’s just hard to be positive right now.


Goughs’ June Update

So today marks the 46th day since Joel and I have said goodbye at the airport; and is almost the completion of the 11th month since we submitted my partner visa application on August 1, 2015. It has been one of the most grueling wait we have had to deal with, but the good news is we are nearing the end.

Just a bit of update on us

Joel

Right now, Joel is living with a family of seven – three adults, three children and a dog in Canberra. They are willing to have Joel (and me, once I get my visa) to stay there for six months if we need to. It is incredible to experience this level of generosity. We are very thankful that God continues to provide for us through His people.

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Joel and his mates

Joel has been working at his home church since he went back as an evangelist. His job involves organizing youth events, looking for opportunities to serve in the community, setting up bible studies, etc. He has been teaching youth bible classes and preparing them for the “Bible Bowl”. From what Joel told me, it is  a competition based on different books in the Bible. This time, they are doing Micah. They are serious about it! Joel has also been able to reconnect with his old friends and build new relationships. The busy schedule is definitely good for him.

As the church work is part-time, Joel had been applying for a second job. Last Friday, one of the schools Joel applied for as a chaplain called him for an interview, which was successful and leads to the second interview this Thursday (tomorrow). It would be a huge blessing for us to get this job as it would establish a firmer foundation for our family when I move there.

One of the things that concerned me the most when he left was his health. Since the beginning of the year, he has been intentional in cutting out unnecessary food items such as soda and energy drink, cream and ice-cream and any fatty junk food. While in Thailand, Joel had lost 7 kilograms due to heat and diet. We wanted to keep the momentum going. Knowing that there is sausage roll, pies and his favourite ice-coffee there, we made an agreement that he would look after his health and eat with moderation. Well, he has done that and more.

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Joel’s stir-fry vegetables and beef

He has been cooking stir-fry veggies with some meat or steak and roasted vegetables. This may sound normal to you, but it is a huge milestone for me because 1) Joel never bought vegetables. Whenever we shopped, I was the one at the veggies section 2) He now enjoys cooking using fresh produce! In our first year of college, before we even dated, his kind of food involved Indian takeaway, frozen meals and pasta sauce powder (you know the kind you add milk to it and it turns into a “Carbonara”). Obviously, this means a lot to me because all I want for Joel is for him to stay healthy so he can strongly serve God and be with me for as long as possible. In addition to cooking, Joel recently started playing squash twice a week. Hopefully, his goal to weigh under 100kg by the end of this year will actually happen.

Mink

As for me, I am living with my family. Including me, there are five of us altogether – mom, three daughters and my brother-in-law. We do not have pets but we have a regular poodle who prances into our house like his own. Life for me is not as exciting as Joel although there are moments of joy and challenges.

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Making a Thai dessert “Bua Loy” with the children. Messy but fun.

I am currently tutoring five Thai-American children, from age 5-12. Their father is Thai and mother is American. I met them at my home church here. This family has also been very kind to me. Tutoring these children has given me much-needed income, yes, but it also has been a joy getting to know each of them better. It is very rewarding to see their eyes sparkle when something clicks in their minds. And, of course, nothing beats the sweet hugs and kind words that they keep pouring down on me. God knows I need it because separation, however temporary, from Joel is hard. This family nourishes my soul and brightens my days. Also, I just started tutoring Thai to a Canadian lady on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. So my days are not super full but there is something for me to do each day. For that, I am thankful.

My highlight from living at home is definitely reconnecting with my family. I have been gone from home since 2008. Eight full years! Of course, I visited them as often as I could but they were not the same as living in. I missed a lot of important moments during those years like graduations, moving house, birthdays, and so on. So it is so enriching to immerse myself in cultivating relationship with them again – to hear their pain, to rejoice with their success, to deal with ongoing issues day-in, day-out, and to pray over and for them with insights. If anything, God is using this time for me to strengthen and be strengthened by my family.

The lowlight is definitely being apart from Joel. I never thought separation would be this hard. I know I should not complain because many couples had to go through this period of separation. Yet each couple is not the same. We both feel it physically and emotionally. It has been worse for me (always) since the days seem longer and this period of waiting seems to go on forever. I have struggled with depression on and off – feeling demotivated, wanting to lay in bed all day, crying lots and being paranoid about everything. It does not happen all the time, thankfully; but when it hits, it is full-on.

What I do to deal with this is to exercise. I have been working out with T25 program, which provides a focused and intensive exercise for 25 minutes every day. Not only is it helpful to me mentally, it is also physically beneficial. Since I left to study in New Zealand, I had gained 7 kilos in total, bringing me back with 71 kgs. when I landed in Bangkok in January. I knew that if I did not start taking care of myself, and retreated to my “eating therapy”, I would be on my way to obesity. Since I started this three weeks ago, I have gradually lost 3 kilos. I feel better about myself. The workout is something I look forward to and it does give me a sense of achievement when there is not much to achieve, except to wait around here.

Us

This is our second time being apart. The first was for about two weeks when Joel’s dad passed away. So we learned a bit how we interacted to times of separation. Joel’s primary love language is physical touch and mine is quality time. Apparently, distance does not permit us to fulfill any of these easily. So we resorted to words of encouragement, and we do the best we can to communicate to each other how much we care and love the other person. It is a challenge, really, because all we have got to work with is our iPhone screens (and the “snail mail”, but it takes too long).

With the help of technology, we are able to keep in touch daily through messaging and Facetiming. It was more challenging in the beginning as our schedules were so uncertain. With Joel being busier and still trying to get into a routine, I tended to think that he prioritized his work and people there more than me (which I know is not true). After two weeks and lots of conversation and prayer, we have come to a place where we agree upon. We set a time to talk face to face every other day. Otherwise, we text. This seems to be the fairest way, and it has worked pretty well.

Long-distance relationship is a delicate thing. There can be so many things going through one’s head that can raise suspicion and doubt because of one’s insecurity. We have had to learn to wholeheartedly trust the other person; and ultimately to trust God to take care of each other because we simply cannot do it. It has been a long and hard road, but it is worthwhile because we have uncovered the new dimension of our relationship. It is much easier to stay committed and be pleasant when you are around each other. It takes guts, courage and selflessness to lay every feeling at God’s feet and say, “Lord, do unto it as You will.” When we do that, He has honoured us. He has strengthened our relationship and tightened our bond. Yes, we are stronger together because God unites us as one, wherever we are.

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Walking along the famous beach at the Mount in Tauranga, New Zealand

Visa update

There are two stages for this visa application. We are at the end of stage one. I have been assigned a case officer. They already asked for additional documents and are now assessing my application. The next step is an interview. I have been waiting for this phone call for almost a month now. We hope it takes place soon. Then, they may ask for more documents if necessary. Finally, they will inform me of the decision. This should happen by the end of July as we will have reached the 12th month, which is the standard processing time. So hopefully everything will go smoothly for us from now on.

If I get the visa, I will be given a temporary partner visa, which allows me to live and work in Australia for two years. Then they will reassess my case; and if satisfied, they will give me the permanent visa. During this time, I can travel to and from Australia, which is awesome because my sister is getting married next year and I want to be here when it happens.

If I don’t get the visa, we do have different alternatives in mind, but because everything is still up in the air, it is best to not discuss them right now. Our eyes are fixed on Australia at the moment. And we pray hard that it will happen soon.

Thank you for having read it this far. We appreciate you taking interest in our life stories and supporting us in ways we never imagined we would be given. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to pray for us, will you?

Joel and Mink