All I really have is this: Emmanuel. God with us…
God with every unheard and uncelebrated and ignored imago dei, image of God… abiding in thin places from the underside of life. God with the mourning, with the scared, with the angry, with those who hold the great and terrible knowledge of the Presence of Love in our thin and weary places.Sarah BessEY
How to measure a year like this one? When I measure it against our plans at the start of the year, it should really be written off as a flop! When I try to measure the suffering of my friends and neighbours, it’s no secret that quality of life has deteriorated due to the pandemic. Has our presence made any difference at all this year? When I look at the RoyRak figures on paper, that only confirms my analysis of the year; a lot of effort with not much to show for it!
But when I measure the year by the model of Emmanuel, a different story emerges.
I think of the unprecedented number of funerals attended this year. The hours spent at the temple, receiving the hospitality of Buddhists and sharing the thin space between life and death. The depth of loss and the comfort of shared grief, both life-affirming and perspective shifting. We have been those strange visitors led to foreign places that turn out to be universal in scope.
I think of the daily interactions with our shouting neighbour and her shouting toddler; small intentional kindnesses that seem to disperse and amount to nothing in all the noise. I gave her some old rucksacks to take to the recycling centre, worth a few coins at most. Inside she found a silver necklace worth a lot more and she returned it to us immediately; a weighty mark of solidarity. We, like the shepherds, have been aware that we have so little to give and yet been the recipients of wholly unexpected gifts.
I think of the staff reviews that we did last week, finally sat down face to face with people who have caused us such frustration with absences and excuses in these task driven months… only to be softened by the act of listening and becoming people orientated again.
Then of course there has been the unexpected time spent away from Bangkok, the hours given to travelling between time zones. It is this time spent with parents and wider family that has been most precious this year as we have huddled together and appreciated each other all the more for not really knowing what comes next. Jesus was born into a family because family matters a lot.
Emmanuel God with us. His incarnation changes everything and I’m challenged to let it change how I view my successes and failures.
Who have you spent time with this year? Who have you heard, celebrated and carried burdens with? Let it count when you measure your year; let it bear fruit and lead you to the simplicity and tender hope of the stable.
In the neighbourhood
We’ve had a few months of regular flooding. The swamp water beneath the houses is tidal and rises twice a day. It has been up over the concrete walkways most days and the lower lying houses have been flooded out a couple of times. Our house was spared by a couple of centimetres. It has meant more undesirable wildlife inside the house – yesterday a snake crawled out of the aircon unit explaining the strange noises!
After months of observing social distancing rules, we have had to work quite hard at reconnecting beyond our immediate cluster of houses. This is going to take time and is a priority for the new year. Our white cat Sophie gave us a helping hand recently when she snuck out and got lost for 48 hours… a community effort ensued with opportunity to enter homes and chat with neighbours we just hadn’t seen all year. Of course, she waited until midnight to start miaowing under the house and required a very muddy pyjama rescue!
Employment seems to be at an all time low. The squid processing factory at the entrance to our community is in the process of being demolished and has left a lot of elderly people, who have worked there forever, without work. The local leaders do a good job of distributing food donations but these are drying up and are no substitute for jobs. We’ve been impressed with some of the local young men claiming an empty house as a motorbike workshop which is becoming a hub for teenagers hanging out and learning some maintenence skills.
together and apart
In an unexpected turn of events, Elliot and I flew to the UK on the same night that Jon’s parents flew out to Thailand, crossing over somewhere in the air! Late October was a brief pocket of travel time without the requirement for quarantine and we all jumped on it!
On finishing six rounds of chemo, my mum was able to have a hysterectomy with debulking surgery to remove cancer from her abdomen. This was not guaranteed even up till the point they opened her up to see what was inside and it was therefore a very anxious time. The surgery was as successful as we could’ve hoped! It was important to be there briefly to share the start of the recovery journey. My brother Adam was also back from Cuba and applying for jobs to be able to begin the process of applying for UK Visas for his wife and son. It was the first time in years that parents and all three siblings sat around the same table!
With her wound almost healed, Mum now faces two more rounds of chemo. Her doctor then anticipates a period of time cancer free that I have no doubt my parents will use extremely well. We face the prospect of more frequent travel and big questions around where to base ourselves next year but with the uncertainty there is peace. When God gives our lives direction, we just need to take the next steps as they become clear.
Jon, Sam and Bow were able to drive up to Chiang Mai for a weekend to overlap with the Fletcher side of the family there for a day before the kids school reopened after seven months of online learning! Granny and Papa met baby Laywa for the first time at a year old already. Now all of the family are in Thailand for Christmas and we will all be meeting up at the beach on the 27th.
The photos below sum up a year of being a family in different places! We are so grateful for technology that enables some of the connection of normal life when things are far from normal.
These three are back at school and loving being active! They have signed up for every activity going and are making up for all the time stuck at home!
Elliot is doing triathlon training and has found that he loves long distance running. He saved up to buy a racing bike which he rides on the track at school since we are not yet prepared to set him loose in Bangkok traffic! Turning 14 in November was a pretty big deal and he loved the quality time with Nana and Grandad in England. The volume of schoolwork has stepped up a gear and Elliot feels very ready for a break. The cool 20 degree mornings on the motorbike apparently call for hoodies and Christmas socks!
Sam started Secondary school online which actually helped the transition. He has a lovely class and is enjoying every subject as well as the new level of independence. He still manages to forget something vital most mornings and make everyone late but his day always improves from there! Sam’s skateboarding skills continue to amaze and terrify us in equal measure! He recently came third in the school Masterchef competition where he had to design and cook different meals for different athletes according to nutrition requirements.
Bow has moved into year 4 which has been a big jump in expectations but she has risen to the challenge as she always does! She is a very conscientious student and her inquiring nature is helping her to catch up with learning at an incredible rate. Bow is also doing well socially and apparently helps some of the quieter children to come out of their shells! At a recent medical check, Bow’s doctor was pleased with her health and found that no new organs are affected by her mitochondrial disease. Since getting her diagnosis and the right symptom control she has jumped from the 2nd to the 50th centile on a Thai growth chart!
The official name change has finally eventuated so our daughter’s Thai passport now says Bow Annasaewang Fletcher! The middle name is a mix of Anna (in honour of grandparents Anne and Annette), and her birth surname Saewang. We would’ve liked both but this wasn’t possible so we combined them to make a name as unique as it’s owner! We’ve recently submitted the paperwork for UK citizenship (it weighed 1.5kg and represented a lot of work!) which should be processed within 6 months.
Thankyou to all those who have placed orders through the RoyRak website; your custom has been an encouragement and we hope you have been pleased with the products. We’ve relied heavily on website sales but also made it out to some of the big Christmas fairs that were scheduled at the last minute. We are thankful for a strong customer base in Bangkok. All the staff will have two weeks off over Christmas and New Year to recuperate.
We are loving having UNOH apprentice On around the office and with us in RoyRak for business studies one day a week. She is very quick to learn and to offer her help. Tuesday is baking day and everyone looks forward to tasting On’s creations!
We were able to celebrate Ba Ying turning sixty with a party and gifts from UNOH. We’ve never had a staff member reaching the pension scheme retirement age before and it needed to be navigated with a lot of care to finish full-time employment on good terms. Ba Ying remains very much part of the RoyRak family and will still do some piece work for us as where possible. We know that the hard work doesn’t end here – Ba Ying is up every morning to sell grilled Pork near her home – but hopefully her eyes will appreciate the rest from detailed designs that were becoming a struggle.
We will be celebrating Christmas at home with local friends. Today is our last working day before unplugging. Thankyou so much to all who faithfully pray for us and keep up with our news. We have loved receiving Christmas updates from many of you and send our best wishes for Christmas and the new year.
Love from the Fletchers xxxxx