Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dusting off old thoughts.

I absolutely love that in my previous post I proclaim myself as "the oh-so-unfaithful-blogger". 2 years 1 month and 7 days later, I think it might be time to dust off the old blog. So, life update for those randos' in cyberspace who may unfortunately stumble across this silly little blog: I last wrote from Chiang Mai, Thailand about my internship in Chiang Rai. Following those humid, exotic days frolicking around this peaceful kingdom in Southeast Asia I migrated to the dry (yet magnificent) state of Colorado. Tucked in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains I attempted to acclimate to the new altitude, and I interned at Compassion International. During this time I soaked in vast amounts of information on project management and curriculum development (invigorating? yes, actually) and learned many life lessons... mostly about non-romantic relationships and community. To be completely honest, the two most challenging lessons were about 1. "haters" - what about those people who just don't and won't like you regardless of what you do or don't do, and 2. FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out - am I being my best self and getting recharged without the fear that I are missing out socially. Those life lessons were pivotal in shaping who I have become over the past 2 years. I moved back to the DC area after that summer pretty empty other than student loans - they're always game to follow you around. Sure, I had a college degree, but I lacked long-term experience in just about anything. Apparently, people aren't as eager to hire girls who only have boat skills and random world travels. I spent my days being a stay-at-home daughter and cooking for hours to fill my time when I wasn't substitute teaching. Needless to say, the lack of social outlet and a grand sense of purposelessness crept up and led to a decent "quarter-life crisis". And, so on and so forth... eventually, I landed a sweet job at my home church and started January of 2012. The past year and half has been a journey full of lots of growth, new faces, heartache, adventures, sticky situations, budding life-long friendships, maturing, gettin' silly, and you know... the usual life stuff. It's a tumultuous journey for us all. So, there it is. In just one lengthy paragraph I have summed up the entire past 2 years. Who's ready for some squeaky-clean-brand-spankin'-new thoughts? To be continued...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"get busy living, or get busy dying"

Well, here I am again... the oh-so-unfaithful-blogger. Since the end of my internship in March... there have been so many new thoughts and adventures. And, of course, I'm weeks late on the update, but I know you'll forgive me... the few, the faithful, who will take the time to read my thoughts. It may be a bit scattered but below are bullet points of the most pertinent topics and revelations that have permeated my little brain here lately:

-The most overwhelming theme has been contentment. I feel too often we wish our lives away and always are looking for the next chapter. (And by "we" I very much so mean "I" but I'm hoping you may relate.) One thing my dad said in a sermon a few years back was "Bloom where you are planted." Honestly, I've been awful at this the past few years, but that's mostly because I haven't been planted. Since I left Maryland/Delaware/DC/Virginia/wherever-my-home-is for university in Tennessee in 2007, I have also gone to Swaziland for a semester, transferred to New York, spent 2 crazy weeks in the DR/Haiti, and now ending the final 4 months in Thailand. This summer I will spend in Colorado and hoping to return to the lovely DMV (as the kids call it these days... yup, so old). The biggest lesson and struggle has been to really BLOOM. I came to the point where I realized, "Oh man! I looooove Thailand and am so happy being here, but I am so entirely excited for the next couple chapters of my life" ...and what God has up those metaphorical sleeves. I'm in such a beautiful place
physically, yes. emotionally, yes. spiritually, yes. relationally, yes. mentally, yes. overall, YES! I love both where I am and where I'm going, and that my friends, is contentment!

-Although the March internship shindig was such an incredible journey, I left with many more questions then when I had started. I know my heart in really invested in international development, but my head was filled with overwhelming questions like: "What is the greatest need in development in a given community? What is the best approach/way to even help to meet those needs? If anything can't really be fixed/solved, what actually CAN be done? What's my role? Should I try to specialize in one aspect of development? Or continue to aim for a bigger picture? What is God calling me to do? How can I balance my passions and gifts with my calling?" I was engulfed and sinking in these and so many more questions, but I felt so much undeniable peace simultaneously.

-The past few years I've had a deep-rooted theme often consuming my thoughts and spiritual walk in the most beautiful way. This theme stems from two well-known, overused, cliché Bible passages. Both John 10:10's "abundant life" and Matthew 28:19&20's "go make disciples" command have been embedded in my heart and I simply cannot shake it. Here's the deal: I've gotten a tad bit of criticism for choosing to attend Christian universities. I was defensive at first, but as time went on I realized that "Christian" schools can be just as dark (if not more sometimes) than secular ones. I've learned this from my own personal struggles and my encounters with countless others battling depression, suicide, eating disorders, severe insecurities, and serious doubts about the God they try to believe in. This is where those themes come in... I found myself frustrated realizing how often Christians internally interpret "go make disciples" into "go make converts". Don't get me wrong here, I'm ALL about some evangelism... but what about the follow through? I have felt such a tug on my heart to try to reach out and help people break free of the chains that prevent them from being disciples, making disciples, and living life abundantly and to the absolute fullest. Honestly, I've failed much more than I've succeeded... and a lot times I'm still preaching to myself about living abundantly. But that doesn't mean I can sit around and continue to be ineffective. The last thing the world needs is more completely ineffective Christians. And that's often our weakest point. I know it's mine... I have a story to tell. God didn't let me go through a lot of difficult things for me to keep silent. Sharing ourselves and being vulnerable provides healing for us and hopefully encouragement for others. In addition to all of this, I've realized these themes have seeped into my academic life and future career ideas. My view of development has shifted... I cannot justify using mere economic terms or hackneyed jargon. To me... the heart of development should be to empower people to be able to have life more abundantly. (Not in a material sense, but having enough to not just survive each day, but to truly thrive and to be and make more disciples.) I have no idea if this makes sense at all... I have no idea who is reading this... but I do know I needed to share it... even if it's for my own sake I guess.

-I have learned heaps and heaps about friendship and community. This is what happens when there are 9 girls living in ONE room. I remember when I first transferred to Houghton and was so incredibly miserable and lonely. It was in that time that I knew God was teaching me to stand alone (A lesson my grandmother shared with me that she had also learned in her college days.)
Well, Jeremiah 17:5-8 is my life passage... It says, "5 This is what the LORD says:“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
So I clung to that in those times. BUT as I was in my philosophy class those first weeks... for some reason we started our curriculum by reading Ecclesiastes. We discussed how Solomon goes on his chapters of ranting but then admits that friendship is in fact NOT meaningless and that "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Ecc 4:12 And, oh wait... wasn't Adam lonely in the garden, so God took Eve from out of his side and created her to help meet his needs? ... So there is a delicate balance to be found between relying too much on humans and self-ostracizing or being a religious hermit. Also, Proverbs 27:17 talks about iron sharpening iron... I realized that's a painful process (if iron had feeling/emotions and didn't compose inanimate objects of course) and it takes heat, friction, and mutuality (hence the iron sharpening iron), but in the end... it's SO worth it. All I know is friendship is important, but God is so much more and so sovereign. I've learned a lot about the concept sovereignty having lived in two monarchies/kingdoms in the '08 and '11, but that's for another day.

-The quote from the title of this post is from Shawshank Redemption and I just find it so encouraging even if the movie is a bit rough and bloody at points. It spoke volumes to me so I thought I'd share it.

Okay, those are just some things I've been wrestling through not just the past few weeks, but the past few years. This is what's deep in my heart and I'd love some feedback if you're willing. Email...

Ps. latest adventures not yet mentioned in le blog: beach trip... it rained but was an amazing bonding time with the girls as we reunited after practicum. Also, we discovered the Andaman Sea is partially bioluminiscent (aka mini microorganisms that light up like fireflies when you touch the water.) I had experienced it once before in Puerto Rico, but the surprise of finding it here was just fantastic. It's such a magical/magnificent wonder of God really. We also went to the 06 Tsunami Memorial which was sobering. And, we've had classes and have gotten so many great nuggets of wisdom. Last weekend we went to Mae Sai/Golden Triangle and crossed the border into Burma. We went to the Hall of Opium which is one of the most eye-opening museums I've ever been to. It was heartbreaking to see the effects of drug trade and consumption. I got food poisoning again, but I'm healthy now... maybe. However, on a much lighter note... this week is Songkran- a national holiday of a 3 days water war where everyone is fair game for buckets, hoses, and water guns! Okay, The end!

Much love and peace,
Tiffany Noel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

every day is an adventure.

Where to begin? So, as you may have noticed I’m not the most faithful blogger ever but here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

(NOTE: there are 6 main hilltribes in Thailand that does not include ethnic Thais. They are: Lahu (the place I live in Chiang Mai is a Lahu Bible school), Akha, Mien, Hmong, Karen, and Lisu.

After 3 days of working in the office on blog/website things and some other research and fun… we left Thursday for an overnight in one of the staff member’s home village. We rode in the truck for 3 hours to the Karen village called Mae Chang Kaew… such a cute little place with wooden/bamboo houses on stilts, no electricity, and red dirt everywhere! The dirt mountain roads (a colossal reoccurring theme in this blogpost) were so fun but not for the weak of…stomach. As we got to the village it began to thunderstorm… I.LOVED.IT. I helped the women make dinner, and by helped I mean chopped tomatoes and garlic with a machete and then crushed hot chilies with the mortar and pestle. For the many travels I’ve already enjoyed… a new experience was cooking over an indoor open fire in a thatch-roof hut. Needless to say, that was an extremely exciting moment given my love for cooking and cultures. The next morning we took the craziest (by the way the Karen words for “thank you” and “crazy” are very similar, so be careful in order to avoid awkward and confused looks) 3 kilometer drive through an tiny mountain road to the local Thai school that 4 villages send their children to. There are about 30 kids of all different ages and grades with only one teacher and right now the dilemma is to close it and send the kids to a better school further away or to try to fix what is already in place. So those were the highlights of Mae Chang Kaew.

On Saturday we did a 2 hour English lesson with games and songs for Akha children at a nearby village’s daycare center. It was such a fun rewarding time and I loved being a kid myself/ summer camp counselor again. :D Also, had the privilege of devouring some Akha food for lunch with some of the MMF staff to help out at the daycare. After the fun in the morning I went home and did laundry for probably 2 or 3 hours (no, I didn’t have THAT much… I takes a LONG time to handwash everything and scrub it good in buckets, but I feel like my clothes got cleaner that way). The four of us girls went to downtown Chiang Mai for dinner and got caught in a torrential downpour! Yes! Adventure! Loved it!

Sunday and Monday were eventful (as every single day is…) but there’s nothing too important to “write home about” as they say ;)

Tuesday during the day we went to the migrant day care center again! Also, we had the opportunity to go with the staff and one migrant worker to advocate for backed payment from his former boss. During naptime we went for a walk in the rain and found a GIANTIC buddha statue and took some very silly picts (check facebook for those).

OKAY! Now for Nan province! (Thanks for sticking with me so far!)
Begin: the most insane mountain roads with the sick-nastiest S curves and hairpin turns and cliffs and did I mention it was still pouring rain??? The bus trip was 5 hours and was very nicely air conditioned except for the fact that we were FREEZING cold! Also, the bus/possibly people nearby smelled a bit like smoked rotten meats and other assortments of odd things. We were in Nan for Wednesday to Saturday and it was incredibly cold and rainy (which is super rare for this season!) for the majority of the time. We pretty much drove through the mountains to different villages for 4 straight days! It was gorgeous/amazing/awe-inspiring/risky/wonderful… if you can get passed the occasional car sickness. We went to a Lua (another hill tribe) village to deliver palm pants for their new sustainable agro-forestry project. We also went to a Hmong village where the MMF staff had done a training for the youth in herbal medicines recently. Later on Friday we drove again through the mountains to a Malabre village (once again another little hill tribe). Malabre are traditionally nomadic hunters and gatherers, but massive global culture change makes that no longer an option for them. Consequently, this village was extremely poor and probably one of the most difficult experiences with physical poverty I’ve encountered. They all had homes (mind you they were bamboo/thatch shacks) and clothes, but they seemed so disheveled and defeated. It’s such a struggle since they’ve lost their original livelihood strategy and battle food security issues. Also, on a lighter note… the old traditional men wear nothing but leaves or LOINCLOTHS! THAT was interesting! Although it was more relief than development, we passed out blankets and hats that had been donated from Australia (in good timing I might add since you already know how cold and rainy it had been!) Also, since many have asked more about and commented about it: I SHOWERED-ish aka WASHED my HAIR thoroughly at the end of day 3 because I noticed that I was beginning to have DREADLOCKS in place of my curls in the back of my head. For the pop culture lovers… yes, the back of my head was ridikalusss! There are so many other things to say about the Nan trip, but that will have to wait for another time and place.

Weekend! The SUN came out! FINALLY! Saturday I randomly made a new friend downtown. She was a student from Germany who was just taking a lovely holiday to travel around Thailand and was alone so I invited her to come eat and shop around with us! I love making random connections with new people. Sunday I went to the Lahu church and then played some ultimate Frisbee in the blazing hot sun (which was fantastic!) and then went to an English fellowship. Sidenote: that night I played Dutch Blitz for the second time ever in my life… hated it the first time, but love it now!

Monday- a 12 hour work day. Staff devos was incredible and we discussed experiencing God, having a relationship with Him, and challenging ourselves on how to really show we love Him. It was a great day of spiritual encouragement overall and I got roped into sharing that night for the Congratulations Party for the 4th year students in the MMF scholarship program (or CONCRETE-SOLUTIONS… you’d understand the reference if you faithfully follow my silly blogposts!) I shared some thaaaangs about God and His role in our past, present, and future. Basically, how 1. We have to learn from the PAST but not dwell in the negative aspects or regrets (see Isaiah 43:18-19). 2. Learn to embrace and serve God in the PRESENT… not be stagnant (see John 10:10 and getchusome of that life abundantly!) and seek God’s face and not just His hand/blessings. 3. One thing I’m really learning about the FUTURE is to trust God and follow His leading (see Prov. 16:3) and then BLOOM where you’re PLANTED (shout out to my dad who shared that with me at the perfect timing in my college career and changed my life!) and also that God gives a lamp unto our feet not a searchlight (life lesson from Ps. 119:105 and from Swaziland… pretty sure it’s mentioned on this blog from 2.5 years ago!) Also, the students who finished this year shared their testimonies and all cried… such a beautiful time. So there’s some food for thought! Speaking of food… we ate it… at the party… and then I got really sick for about 24 hours. (BUT, HEY! That’s the first time I’ve been sick in about 3 weeks! We’re doing well here!)

Tuesday- this was a huge highlight of the month working with MMF. We drove through even more ridiculous dirt mountain roads along the river to a Lahu village where 4 organizations (MMF, Upland Holistic Development Project, Compassion International, and some micro-enterprise program) are working together in the community to be more effective. During their meeting we went to observe their sustainable agro-forestry project that’s been in place for 5 years. SUPER COOL! They had tea bushes, rattan/wicker plants, pineapples, and lychee trees growing… some of my absolute favorite things! The problem is people aren’t very interested because it takes time (many years) and patience and doesn’t provide as instant gratification as rice and other cash crops that only take months. Also, I witnessed a couple pigs and a dog getting vaccinated for parasites and a fever. It was neat yet terrifying and almost traumatizing. Mental note: animals don’t understand that pinning them down and shoving needles into their flesh will help them in any way. We also drove to an Akha village and another Lahu village. The first and second villages were mostly Christian, but the last Lahu village only had 2… the pastor and his wife. There has been that one family of Christians in that village for 20 years trying to share their faith, but has seen zero results. We prayed with the pastor and now I’m asking you to pray for them and their village too, please. There are so many different needs that makes life overwhelming at times.

But that’s my what I wanted to share with you all… whoever and wherever you may be right now. Such is my life…

Game plan… 3 more days here at MMF and Chiang Rai. Then back to Chiang Mai for a quick 24 hour turn around to fly down to Phuket (the amazingly gorgeous beach) for our “post-practicum excursion” aka SPRING BREAK 2011! Wow, the last break of my undergraduate college career. Weird. Exciting! Let’s go!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

working hard and waterfalls.

I am absolutely loving being here and working here. Every day brings about new adventures and lessons learned.

-Friday was quite the experience as I sat in on the MMF monthly meeting. In traditional Thai style, everyone sat on the floor on mats and pillows... personally, I think every office should conduct their staff meetings that way :D. The meetings are very participatory which can be a challenge but also a benefit as each person can feel free to share their questions and concerns.

-On Saturday we went to the youth scholarship program meeting. Basically, it was about 20 college students getting together to do worship, devotions, announcements, and plan future events. It was pretty cool to hang out with students my age, but once again that language barrier can be such a challenge. Saturday night us girls went to downtown Chiang Rai to grab some dinner and do a little shopping... overall, great Saturday.

-Sunday=amazing! we went to a little Lahu church right by Blessing Home and then went with a bunch of the kids to Khun Korn Waterfall! It was so awesome! We hiked 1km through a bamboo jungle and then swam in and climbed the waterfall. We even shampooed our hair in it... which reminds me... I haven't bathed since and it's Tuesday... that's kind of gross (still proud, mom?) Don't worry... showering is somewhere on my lengthy to-do list. hehehe.

-Monday & Tuesday & probably Wednesday too- office days! The office here is so "chill" (as those darn teenagers would call it these days). Mel and I have been working on the blog/new website and updating the facebook page too. EVERYONE who reads this should go look at it and "Like it" on Facebook. Check it out:

In other news, I've been cooking my own dinner making up some little Thai-Italian fushion dish... I like it, but I'm the only one who has tried it so I think I'm a bit biased. Also, I read A Thousand Splendid Suns in less than 48 hours.

Also, here's my quote for today: "Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged and think we are too small to do anything of impact or have anything to offer, but life experiences seem to indicate otherwise. So whether you are reading this to procrastinate from homework, behind a desk in an office somewhere, or even in the remote far corners of the earth... just do your little bit of good where you are.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

life lessons and introspections.

shorter post for now...
life lesson for today (as seen on FB): Never underestimate the power of affirmation... especially when it comes to children.
Today, we went to work with the migrant children again... I have fallen in love with each one of them! I also had the opportunity to go with one of the human rights workers to the Labour Protection Agency as she had to advocate and speak for the Burmese workers who didn't get paid (since they don't speak Thai)... so I got to see all of that in action and of course play with the kids in the afternoon. In other news... I got my first real shower (excluding a bucket wash and of course it was freezing) in 5 days. holla!
FYI... I just write my blog how I'm thinking. I wish I could be poetic... but alas, I have to just be me.
much love and sweet dreams/days,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

So on Saturday, Febuary 26th we all packed up our things and went our various ways to practicum. I'm working with Mekong Minority Foundation in Chiang Rai. check it out! We'll be taking a few days at a time to observe and work with each of their separate projects. But back to getting here. 4 of us girls took a bus to the city and then for the first two nights stayed at Blessing Home (a childrens home for Lahu kids) and got to once again practice our squatty potty skills as well as bucket showers!

On Sunday we went to a Karen village church for a service that lasted 3.5 hours! We were there for 2.5 hours and lunch afterwards was great. It was in the same village as the elephant rides. After church we went to the river to swim and hangout and grab some typical Thai dinner. It was a great time of bonding with some Blessing home staff and in the evening we played soccer with the boys and then let the girls braid and put flowers in our hair.

Monday- we had MMF staff worship for the first half of the day. In devotions we heard about a little girl who runs around the office who is a nanny. She was trafficked from Burma and has already raised 3 babies... however, she looks about age 6 but claims to be 12. One of the staff has taken her in and treats her as her own daughter while she also helps to care for the baby. Crazy stuff. We spent the second half at Blessing home and helped to prepare dinner for the congratulation dinner for graduating students. (By the way... congratulations sounds a bit like concrete solutions with a Thai accent. haha good times). In the morning they had killed a pig so that at night we could BBQ it. Each group of 6-8 got their own cement-bucket-fire-pit and we cooked the pork on it and ate it... delicious! (which I now can say in English, Spanish, Swahili, Thai, Lahu, and Akha!) I ate a fish was really good actually!

And Tuesday... we left the house at 7 to go to the migrant service center and children's day care to observe and work with MMF's Human Rights Project. Phichai drove around to pick up about 18 kids in the van. The center is a daycare for the children of Burmese migrant workers. The kids are of all different ages and ethnic backgrounds but have the common background. The children at the center are usually ones who have parents working illegally and can't get papers to go to school. They do very hands-on learning and being there was absolutely precious. We drove around to see the conditions of their parents' work and where they live. The first stop was a tile and cement block shop in the front, but the back was where the men actually made the materials. The conditions did not seem too bad and they explained that starting salary was 130Baht a day (about $4) but in Burma they could only make 30Baht ($1) per day so working in Thailand. We went to a village (tin shacks linked together) and met a man and wife with a 2 month old baby. He explained that he suffered from gout and could not work all the time because it is too painful. His job is to carry and deliver heavy boxes of fruit and other foods at the wholesale market just behind the houses. Also, his wife could not work either because she had to take care of the baby, so they worry about how to live. We also visited a man who is literally dying of diabetes because the doctor did not treat him properly (due to the fact that he is Burmese in Thailand). His leg had already been amputated and he has lost all feeling in his left side and cannot speak or really do anything for himself (probably a result of a stroke due to the diabetes). It was absolutely horrible to see and experience this and the implications of racial injustice and migrant/minority oppression. We also went to a migrant camp where contractors set up temporary living facilities for the construction workers. (sidenote: I ate raw pig head there...) We walked through on sketchy bamboo platforms that felt as if they may break or collapse any minute. Inside one 18x10ft room (where an entire family lives and keeps all belongings) we met Papa-a Burmese woman with her 9 month old twin daughters Ruby and Rosie. Can we say precious?! The father also came home because he will work overtime at midnight on the construction sight. A huge problem in the camp is that not all of the workers have permits and are working illegally, but there is no enforcement. The conditions are dismal, but it is significantly better than being in Burma. Part of the work of the MMF human rights project is to help meet the needs of the people in the camps (for example: if the contractor does not pay them one month they will advocate for them and go report it to the company so that they can have their money). After we left there we went to an area where the workers collect and sort the recycling bins. There, we met a woman who had her drunk husband literally set her on fire back in December. Fortunately, he was put in jail and her 6 year old daughter was at school in the north and was not there to witness it. Her in laws have to support her because her burns are still healing and she can't work. She is an absolutely gorgeous woman with the most beautiful smile. AND ALL OF THIS HAPPENED BEFORE 1PM (and I had to leave parts out)! Talk about a crazy day at work! We had the opportunity to attend a traditional Thai funeral which is a whole different post for a whole different day. I learned so so so much and have so much more to say, but I'm sure you're tired of reading this and I have to go grab some dinner now.

IN the words I used to express it to a friend: I love this place. Thailand is so AMAZING. But here's the problem... I go to different parts of Africa and fall in love with it. I go to Thailand and fall in love with it. I'm in love with the world... and that is tough. I leave little pieces of my heart everywhere but I wouldn't have it any other way and still always feel whole.

Peace and stuff,

Ps. apologies for typos... I'm exhausted (as you can read) and don't feel like proofreading! email me at if you want to hear more and update me on your lives!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

ups and downs.

So this week has been quite a whirlwind. We had an amazing time watching Likay traditional Thai dancing and got to join in. You should google image Likay... pretty awesome. Also, on another fun/positive note it has been an absolute blast hanging out with the Lahu Bible students here on campus and some of us even went to a soccer game at Grace International School. However, life has not all been fun and games. Classes have been so intense. We are really learning about the most difficult things. Wednesday night we went to the red light district and went to a karaoke bar to hang out with prostitutes. There are so many thoughts, feelings, emotions, frustrations, and an overwhelmingly broken heart. I would love to sit and have tea with each and every one of you and tell you about all that I have learned and experienced. For now, this short post will do. Feel free to ask questions and seek more details and please pray.
Much love,