Saying goodbye to Rachel as we both prepared to leave Thailand in February of 2005 was difficult. Suddenly it hit me that I was going back into a country where I could speak only rudimentary language, with a new baby, into a still-very-unfamiliar culture. I had acquaintances, and a few friends, but not many that I could converse freely with. (Drat that language barrier!) I had no idea how life with a new baby was going to look. To make matters more complicated, John and I were scheduled to only be in the big country for a month, and then needed to make a trip to Singapore for further training--and spend a whole month there! So I was anticipating not just the upcoming change of going back with a new baby, even further away from family and friends, but that our life was going to be full of transitions for the forseeable future.
As John and I spent that final evening with Josh and Rachel, I started to cry. Not just a few tears but those horrible, uncontrolled, "I-can't-get-my breath" sobs. Rachel and I took a quick walk around the large pool on the hotel property and she was a huge comfort to me. I remember that she just acknowledged the reality of all the changes coming up and reassured me that my emotions would subside and that she understood. What an encouragement that was to me in that moment! And she was about to have her own baby! The prego comforting the post-partum, now that's friendship.
Josh and Rachel went from our meeting in southern Thailand to Bangkok, where after only a week of waiting (oh how I envied that! That month in HK waiting for Clara Anne was l-o-n-g!), Rachel was in hard labor on the streets of Bangkok. Yes, it's true, it's a pretty fantastic story actually--I don't want to recount it all for fear of misrepresenting the details, but as far as I know, there was the watching of a movie and then the going to the store for snacks and then on the way back Rachel was laboring hard. Arriving at the hospital they asked her pain level and she said "9--I can't do much more of this!" and though they looked at her like she was crazy, sure enough, she was just about ready to push. Sweet Emma was born very shortly afterwards. Way to go Rach! That's a birth story for the record books!
And here's the lovely result: Though I rejoiced with Rach over Emma's birth, I didn't get to see her until our next meeting in Thailand, in August of 2005. By then Emma was about 5 months old and Clara Anne was 7 months old. That particular week was formative to our friendship for two reasons. The first is that during the previous months, John and I had been struggling in our work and role. Particularly John was thinking through some issues that, to his mind, were not resolving well. We were about a year and a half into life in this country and had hit a cultural wall. Language was difficult, our life here seemed unproductive, we were just not sure what to do or what the Lord wanted us to do. Finally we thought, well, let's just make it to that meeting and see what happens.
I distinctly remember sitting in a Starbucks in the night market of Chiang Mai, Rachel and I were on high stools by the window while Josh and John sat at a table. (I think we had childcare for the afternoon so the babies weren't with us!). I confessed to Rachel all of our mixed up thoughts and emotions, our fears of failure, and our difficulties. This one single conversation turned things around, not in the circumstance, but in our hearts. John found complete understanding and solidarity from Josh even as Rachel and I cried and she prayed for me, and I for her. Thank you Lord!
The picture of Josh, Rachel and Emma was taken during that week in August, 2005. The other event that stands out in my mind is that during that week, Rachel called me and invited me to come over and talk one night. When I arrived, she gently brought up the issue of comparison between Emma and Clara Anne. That week as we had spent time together, we naturally talked about the girls, their schedule, their likes and dislikes, etc etc, but she wanted to make sure that I felt no need to compare Clara Anne to Emma. Here were here exact words, (burned on my brain!): "I just have this feeling that Clara Anne and Emma are going to be really great friends one day, and so let's not compare them." I remember my first reaction was to think, "Sure, really great friends that see each other twice a year!" but I also wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment and resolved to not let a comparing spirit ruin the contentment that we each felt with our own child. Rachel then put her hand on mine and prayed for us . . . for our friendship, for our daughters, for our husbands, for our family life as a whole. I can honestly say that since that night, though we have both gone on to have three daughters of very similar age, the temptation to compare them in my mind has been little to none, all because a friend took the time to point out an area that needed correcting and initiate praying together about it. Again, Thank you, Lord!
Little did I know how the Lord would work. Josh and Rachel finished their first two-year stint around December of 2005, and they returned to the States to make preparations to come back to Asia. As they were making these preparations, they began to feel led to NOT return to the area they had been living, but to look to join in some work in another area. This begged the question, why not our area? Well, at least it did in my mind. I had been praying for the Lord to send me a friend--whether a national who could speak English, another American, or to deepen a relationship via email with someone in the States, I didn't know what it would look like--since that difficult time in the summer of 2005. And amazingly, not through my designs but by HIS plans, things fell into place that Josh and Rachel felt led to join us in our city. However, they had to wait just a bit longer in the States since Rachel was expecting baby number two! Even more miraculous, so was I! And our due dates were almost exactly the same day!
Oh my, how excited we all were! John and I went to Thailand (back to Chiang Mai again!) to await Chloe's birth, and Josh and Rachel were on the other side of the ocean, waiting for Samantha to be born. I'll never forget answering the phone in our apartment at Nakornping and hearing Josh's voice. I immediately said, "Do you have a new little baby at your house?" And he said, "We DO have a new little baby at our house!" Rachel, superwoman that she is, had given birth and gone home the same day, they were already settled back at home again with sweet little Samantha in their arms.
So, then the flurry of passport and visa paperwork began for them. . . and nine days later, when Chloe was born, for us. We arrived back in our city around the middle of July, 2006, and Josh and Rachel arrived--happy day!--in early August. Let's take a look at some pictures from those early days!
This is a classic. Our family went to meet their family at the airport. I remember John jumping to see over the frosted glass that separated the international arrivals from the waiting area. When they finally came, many pieces of luggage in tow, Rachel was so hip and nonchalant about traveling for a day and a half with a six week old baby and didn't seemed fazed at all! She was laughing about the dirty state of their clothing, saying that they could tell the story of their trip by the pizza stain here, the coke spilled there. As we made our way out to the parking lot and loaded up the vehicles, none of us were paying any attention and suddenly realized that Clara Anne and Emma were holding hands. "They love each other already!" said Rachel. I managed to snap this picture; what a treasured moment!
I think I hosted Rachel for a few meals that week while Josh and John ran around town trying to find and set up an apartment for their family. That was fine by us! We had lots of time to talk and the girls played together so well. Snuggly Samantha looks pretty content here!
It didn't take us long to make sure we had an established time every week to get together. The girls need to play, right? Actually they loved playing and we loved talking. I have been so encouraged during our play times, right up to the one we had the week before Rachel left. We always manage to cover the gamut of conversation, from household and domestic to family and children to language and culture to ministry and spiritual life. I'm already starting to feel the lack on my Wednesday mornings now!
So, in one year, from summer 2005 to summer 2006, I went from feeling somewhat friendless to the wonderful, amazing, incredible reality that suddenly, every member of my family had a friend. A close in heart, knows you and still loves you, prays for you, encourages you, is honest with you, and understands you sort of friend. To that I can only say again, Thank you, Lord!
Stay tuned for part 3. . .