It was hot.
But what else was new? Sukhothai’s “winter” had drifted seamlessly into summer having no mercy on the unsuspecting farang still not quite adapted to the intense, year-round tropical climate.
On that day, the threat of chaos felt particularly high, likely as a result of the mounting pressure to equip a houseful of rowdy kids with creative, but safe, outlets for their energy. It seemed as though every moment must be accounted for to avoid a swift descent into insanity.
The world was busy talking about coVid-19, and while it was certainly a thought in the minds of those filling the household, it took a decided backseat to more pressing issues. Such as, surviving the current day with two 9 year olds (both of whom spoke primarily Thai), two 8 year olds, and a 5 year old, all essentially housebound due to government orders.
The bedraggled missionary housewife sat perched on her bed, squeezing a few final moments of quiet at the feet of Wisdom. When she finally dragged herself away, it was with a strange combination of apprehension and peace.
Apprehension because she knew the day was about to erupt, and possibly even implode. Being human, and a great lover of calm and order, this thought wasn’t terribly appealing to her carnal nature. But a steady supply of peace was always on standby for the moments when her clothes being pinned to her body by sweat, and the incessant whine of a child (still largely unaccustomed to a life of discipline) threatened to strip her of all grace.
Shuffling through the kitchen with an iPhone to one ear talking to a long-since-seen son in America, she assembled an unimpressive breakfast and realized, for the countless time, that she really wasn’t as good at multitasking as she used to think she was.
On this morning she was offering foods sufficient to meet the cultural needs of all 7 kids rather than trying to force anyone into the other’s box. If she had to spend the rest of her life cooking, she would somehow honor the cultures of those in her care. And she’d do it with a better attitude than she was previously guilty of. But first, everyone gathered at the table for family worship.
With TJ planted firmly on her lap, Caroline closed her eyes for just a second to drink in the sweetness of a break from so much movement about her. Her husband’s mother, visiting from home, opened with prayer and then the time for singing came.
“Hmmm le hmmmm,” pleaded Genesis with imploring eyes. With the language barrier still not conquered, she and her brother, TJ, used a combination of signs, sounds, and motions to fill in the gap of missing words. In this case, she was asking to sing the song Deep and Wide, a brief hiatus from the usual hymns.
And so it was sung.
It always amazed Caroline how, if she happened to be outside the house when the singing began, the sounds coming forth through the open windows was much more beautiful than the squeaks she heard when she was in the midst of it. Maybe it was true, afterall, that even a tone-deaf offering could be redeemed when the heart was right. Whatever might have been the cause of how different it sounded from out there, the fact that it did gave her a sense of joy hearing all the voices lifted in praise.
She liked to imagine angels pressing in close, anxious to be near where He was being worshipped in the best way they knew how.
With family worship ended, the lively group of small people made their way to the bathroom to line up for handwashing before the meal. Caroline found herself clinging to the words to one of her favorite songs they’d sung only moments before.
I need thy presence every passing hour. What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud or sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
As she served up plates, with the help of Brooklyn and Cienna, her mind wandered to the unchecked words she’d uttered at breakfast the day before. She wondered briefly if she’d end up somewhere with a millstone tied about her neck due to her inability to master her quest for meekness. But just as quickly as the thought came, her gentle Shepherd, whom she was trying so hard to learn to listen for even in the hurry and heat of each day, whispered that she’d already confessed it and it was time to let it go.
Why was it so much easier to forgive another than it was to forgive oneself?
Shrugging out of the weight the enemy was attempting to thrust on her, she turned to her mostly happy brood and took her place at the table. Cheerful chatter filled the room as kids finished their meal with juice from freshly picked mangos dripping from their chins. Though moving from the meal into the rest of the day was overwhelming, it had to be done.
Because the truth was, the past month had been rough. From shortly after the time TJ and Genesis had come to live with them, they’d been in school during the weekdays. But with them out for what could be an indefinite period of time due to the pandemic, Sully and Caroline were being stretched in ways they hadn’t been prepared for. In ways that both exhausted and irritated them, but that also drove them to prayer.
Never had Caroline been so happy to have her husband retired to the mission field as she was right then. If he had to work a regular job, as well as do ministry in a foreign land, there is little chance she’d have survived even the first week of the school break.
As it was, she felt like a miserable failure most of the time, and that was with help.
That day she was determined to approach things in a more pragmatic, organized way. It simply wasn’t possible that God intended chaos to rule every hour of the day. And she couldn’t imagine that meal times needed to be the stress they’d been allowed to become with the cultural diversity she was up against. She was determined things could and should be different and if there was one thing her Irish heritage had ensured, it was that she was equipped with a heaping dose of stubbornness.
Just ask Sully.
A new schedule was being rolled out. One that would give Brooklyn and Cienna some additional breaks from small people and also keep the kids flowing from one thing to the next with little time to creep into mischief. It would work. It had to work.
The day got rolling with Aiden, Kyle, Noah, TJ, and Genesis each being matched with one of the five older family members (including Sully’s mother, Abuela) for housework and chores. Once the house was in order and laundry was started, everyone donned their covid masks and headed out for 3 loops around the village.
It was a mostly pitiful attempt to drain a little energy from the under 10 crowd but it was a nice break from the 4 walls of quarantine.
All too soon the walk came to an end and once again the little kids paired up with their partner for Scripture study, memory work and character training. Caroline quickly decided this may just be her favorite part of the new schedule because it gave her the chance to sit one-on-one with a child and really pour into them. Something extremely hard to do during the rest of the day.
Forty-five minutes with Noah proved like therapy and she moved from that time full of gratitude for the work the Holy Spirit was clearly doing in his little heart and mind. He’d become a sponge and was thirsting for knowledge but also had acquired a sensitive spiritual nature he hadn’t possessed before.
Every mother finds her courage bouyed when she sees evidence that efforts being put forth are bearing fruit, by the grace of God. Caroline was no different than most in that, more often than not she felt like she was failing. These little moments reminded her that Adonai was doing the work she wasn’t able to.
The time for seat work had come and it was two hours in the day that always felt a little like running a marathon in high heels. The decision to school through the hot season break was not made lightly. Scholastic gaps in TJ and Genesis affirmed the need for extra help and Aiden, Kyle and Noah were definitely benefitting from those hours as well. With Sully and Abuela on hand to assist, the task wasn’t nearly as daunting as it would have been otherwise. Caroline had never been one for too much warm and fuzzy but her heart was definitely overflowing with gratitude that she was part of a team rather than thrust into the challenge solo.
Between calls for help from her students, Caroline found her mind drifting back to their arrival in Sukhothai 6 months before. It must have been within the first day or two of moving in that they’d met the neighbors right beside them and were delighted to discover they spoke various degrees of English. In a smallish area where English fluency wasn’t common, it was incredible to think that God had planned ahead so that, out of anywhere they might move within the city limits, He directed them to a house with English speaking neighbors who would quickly prove to be a lifeline while learning to live in a foreign land. It was a considerable bonus that the family had a little boy the same age as their twins, Aiden and Kyle, and a teenage daughter close to the same age as Brooklyn and Cienna.
Most recently, Ernest and Caily, the parents of the neighbor kids, had offered to help TJ learn to read because at almost 10, he desperately needed this invaluable skill in his mother tongue. Caroline was so happy she could have cried to have that weight lifted off them because it was quite near to impossible to teach reading in a language you couldn’t read yourself.
Nobody could ever accuse the emotional wife of Sully of having a shortage of tears.
She interrupted her own thoughts with the realization that lunch preparations must be made and so the rest of the time before lunch flew in a flurry of questions from the scholars, in addition to cooking.
By the time the food was being served, Caroline found herself growing irritable by the persistent heat that seemed not to dare dip below 100F until after dark and, even then, it only cooled slightly. Her clothes were sticking to her body and her crazy head of not-curly-but-also-not-straight hair, paired with pale skin and dark circles, was enough to scare herself when she caught a glimpse in the mirror.
Scary or not, she was hungry and so she shoved all thoughts of vanity from her mind and distributed plates to the famished children crowded around the too-small table. A woven mat was spread across the floor to catch the overflow of people who couldn’t fit with the others.
The lunch was tasty and relatively uneventful. Days of persistent instruction in table manners and the need to eat vegetables was slowly paying off. Slowly and more slowly but there was definite progress and the family was learning the value of noticing that progress and offering prayers of thanksgiving to the One supplying them with the wisdom, ideas and patience to keep with a forward momentum.
Once the table was cleared and the dishes scrubbed and put away, the children scattered with their assigned partners to do some general tidying for a few minutes before language classes and piano lessons. And from there the days were beginning to roll rapidly into night because that final seat work was followed by an hour of mandatory quiet time.
It’s a certainty that anyone within a mile could daily hear the collective sighs of relief from Sully, Caroline, Brooklyn, Cienna and Abuela as the kids nestled into their beds to relax and listen to character building audio stories.
Those 60 minutes flew by and found Sully dragging himself out to lead the kids in a half hour of exercise. It was never entirely clear who was more tired and sweaty after these sessions, but there’s a fair chance it was Sully.
A quick trip back inside for art class with Mama proved far more fun for Caroline than she had expected. Having not inherited her paternal grandfather’s artist abilities, she was seeing some signs of it in the little people in her charge.
In fact, Brooklyn, (who could only ever draw your basic stick figure and not a very good one, at that) suddenly found herself drawing portraits so good that Caroline and Sully were tempted to believe she’d paid Cienna to draw them, all except for the tell-tale pencil lead discoloring the side of her drawing hand.
The family had prayed for the gift of being able to speak the Thai language and instead Brooklyn had gotten the gift of drawing.
At the close of the daily art class, the kids cleaned up their books and hurried off to play with Michael, their beloved friend from next door. The girls split the time supervising to give Sully and Caroline a chance to do a few things without worrying the kids were taking over the village. And Beatrix, Michael’s sister, joined which made the afternoon that much more pleasant for everyone.
She always would arrive with a quiet smile but within minutes the three girls would be laughing, all shyness forgotten. Her uncanny ability to learn anything put before her, including music, was a wonderful challenge for the other girls to keep up with.
While the younger kids had enjoyed a close friendship with the adorable Michael almost since moving in, the road to friendship for Beatrix, Brooklyn and Cienna had been slower but worth the wait.
Caroline moved into the kitchen and began preparing the evening meal just before kids started filing slowly in to shower the day’s sweat and grime off their tired little bodies. The heat seemed to make everyone not only thirsty, but inexplicably hungry so meals were always much anticipated.
But Caroline was looking forward to the evening family worship where the day’s work would be behind them, the children would be showered and jammied, and the quiet of night would settle over the city she’d fast come to love. With the windows thrown wide open to allow in whatever breeze was willing blow some of the oppressive heat out, they gathered once more to end the day in praise.
As she held a warm body close and glanced across at Sully, noting how tired he looked but seeing the smile that still lit his face, she was reminded that God’s grace truly was sufficient.
Sufficient for this day. And for tomorrow. And all the tomorrows after that, no matter what was asked of them.