While not fully healed, my hands are doing much better, and I'm able to massage - for that, I am grateful. I packed a whirlwind into my last afternoon of massage at Hands of Hope. Since I wouldn't have time to massage everyone, I ran a 'lucky dip' and had people pull names at random. I managed to do more than 10 chair massages in less than 3 hours. That must be a record. And it was totally worth it.
I have one more full day of work, and I'll get a chance to massage some of the patients one last time. This has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here, and I will miss it.
Every Friday after work, we typically hop on our bikes and head to the local market with two of the teens/young adults. We made one of our final stops at Makro (similar to a Costco) on the way home, and the sky was especially brilliant.
John and I also made it out for one of our last bike rides together. I will miss these informal catch-up times together and hope we can incorporate them into our life back home.
We also rode our bikes to and around Nongkhai this past weekend. We had a short retreat and some intentional time with Lauren before our departure. It gave us a chance to pause and reflect individually and together. Not only do we have plenty to do before we travel, it's also the busiest month for me and Lauren at Hands of Hope. So this time away and other quiet moments have been especially necessary.
This month has been more challenging than I expected - which is a theme throughout the past six months. Hands of Hope has been really busy for us volunteers, which is typical for January but perhaps more busy than even I expected. I was working on way more designs than I thought I would be at this point, while being very involved in updating the catalog with Antonia - to be released at the end of January hopefully. There are a myriad of reasons why it seems even more stressful than I expected - including lack of foresight and planning, and good reasons like Lauren's time spent on designing a brand-new look for the website. She has been working really hard.
During my recent check-ins with Kimberly and with other friends, I have begun to realize that despite the challenges over the last 6 months, I remain glad that we extended our volunteer time. After a year, I think we would have come away with a more rosy (and less accurate) picture of what it's like here. While it's not perfect, I'm glad I have this full picture.
John and I had one more day with the Outreach staff unexpectedly this week. Our first visit was to a man whose wife we also knew during our time here - she has since passed away. It was a chance to check on him and encourage him to take his medicine every day and take care of himself - and to say goodbye.
Our 'outreach' day also held some surprises. We stopped at a park and went for walks throughout different settings on the grounds. This was all part of the bigger plan for us to purchase our big gifts for the community: shhh, don't tell our Thai community yet, but we are giving them strawberry plants.
I'm glad we had a few moments of quiet this past week as we think about goodbyes. Part of me is realizing that it may be a big shock for me when we leave. I think I tend to throw myself into whatever I'm doing, and what I have been doing the past eighteen months is living and working in this Thai community. It's hard to fully comprehend another reality right now. While mentally I know that our departure is coming, and I'm ready to begin the next chapter of our lives, part of me feels like my heart and my body have no idea what's coming. That's a little scary.
I have finally had a few moments of emotional realization this past week. And I'm sure there will be plenty more as we begin our goodbyes at various get-together's over the coming days.
Please keep us, Lauren, and this community in your thoughts and prayers in the coming weeks. Lauren will be having another volunteer join her for three months - a newly trained nurse from Denmark. She has gone through a lot of change this year herself (both expected and unexpected).
And perhaps most importantly, please keep this community in mind. I hope that we are not leaving too big of footprints and that they continue to support each other, as I see them do so regularly - living up to the name, 'The Garden of Friendship'.
I know I'm repeating myself, but beginning February 1st, we are off to travel to Indonesia and Australia. We will be back in the U.S. on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, and look forward to reconnecting with you all in person somehow after that point - although hopefully in a more leisurely manner than our trip last August!
If you need our current address in the states, please feel free to reach out.
Thank you again for all of your support. I think the trajectory of my life (and John's) has been permanently altered by this experience in so many fruitful ways. Until my next (perhaps a little less frequent) blog!