Tag Archives: thailand

MA TESOL (part 1)

I am getting my Masters Degree.

This statement is still slightly hilarious to me as it was never part of my ‘future plan’.  Though, I’m not entirely sure that I ever even had a ‘future plan’…

My undergraduate degree is in Studio Arts–specifically, oil painting.  As I was working on that degree, my family endlessly encouraged me to get a teachers license along with the art degree.  For some reason, unbeknownst my young self, my family did not believe that an art degree would be sufficient in the paying of my future bills and expenses.

With the idealistic stubbornness of a millennial artist, I ignored them.  Art was the passion of my heart and getting a teaching degree along with my art degree would undermine my integrity as an artist.

I graduated university in 2009 and worked as a barista at a local coffee shop, perfectly living out the starving artist persona.

And then I moved to Thailand.

Thailand shock things up for me.  It’s hard to keep up a persona when you can’t work, can’t speak a language and no one even knows what persona you’re trying to present yourself as.  It took me a little while (maybe a long while…) to get my bearings down and figure out what living in Thailand looked like.

About six months into my stay in the Land of Smiles, the school that Caleb was teaching at needed a new first grade English teacher.  I knew of the need and heard the concern, but not once (let me stress, not even one time,) did it enter into my mind that I could be the solution to the need.

One morning, as I was on my way to Thai class, I very clearly heard the Lord say:

“It’s time for you to consider your role at the School of Promise.”

This was so out of the blue and so far from my concerns that I just kind of brushed it off and didn’t give it any further thought.

That evening, as our family was eating dinner together, Caleb looked at me and asked, “Samara, would you consider being the first grade English teacher at School of Promise next year?”

Well, that through me for a loop.

As a team we had never talked about me teaching. My lack of experience/training/desire was clear.  Under normal circumstances I would have said “no” without even blinking an eye–but my morning walk flashed back into my psyche and the word consider seemed specific…

So, I considered it.  And, eventually, despite myself, I said, ‘yes’.

Turns out I kind of loved being a teacher.  I enjoyed being in the classroom.  I enjoyed investing in those kids–getting to know their personalities and planning activities to not only develop their English abilities, but to also develop their cognitive and social skills.  And, on top of it all, I was given the opportunity to introduce my classroom to the Wonderful Nature of the Good, Good Father.

I worked as the first grade teacher at School of Promise for two years until difficult circumstances made it clear that my time was up.  While the decision was evident, the choice was difficult.  Leaving the school meant leaving the kids I had been investing in and the role of teacher that I had grown to love.

But, of course, as one door shuts another one opens and this was most definitely the case for me.

In Thailand, you have a two year grace period in which you can work as an English teacher without a teaching license.  In my second year of teaching I went through the process of getting my Thai teaching license, but after lots of dollars spent and days wasted, I was declined the license due to my degree being in Art. Many foreigners avoid this predicament by switching schools every two years and thusly restarting their grace period, but this was not appealing to me.  My desire is to be rooted in one place and build relationships–not to move around and start over every two years.

This is where the opportunity to get my Masters Degree presented itself.  Caleb, being the wizard of the internet that he is, found a program at a Thai University offering an MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) that is accredited in the US and from start to finish would cost around $5000.

Through a process of praying and communication with friends and mentors, I decided to go through the application process and was quickly accepted into the program.

So, here I am–11 years after beginning my bachelors degree in Art, I have come full circle and am finally taking my family’s advice and getting a teaching degree… like a practical adult.




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“Don’t mind me; I’m a universalist heretic.”

I’ve been on a bit of a Graham Cooke kick lately–specifically his message titled, “Inheritance” (which, if you have never listened to–or just haven’t listened to it in a while, you should click here and have a listen before reading on).

This message has had a profound impact on me over the years, but recently, the truths God speaks through Cooke have been running through my head on repeat.

With the help of my Thai teacher, I translated Cooke’s message into Thai and have shared it at church, in the art studio and in one on one prayer sessions with my Thai friends.

The School of Promise (SoP) recently held their annual English camp which I volunteered to help at.  During a planning meeting we were discussing the objective of the camp and trying to come up with a camp theme.  As this message has become a staple in my spiritual life, I suggested, “God loves you 100%”.  I talked a little about Cooke’s message, said that I had it translated in Thai and suggested that we read it to the kids and base our ‘spiritual time’ on this message.

My colleagues liked the idea and we designed camp around this theme.

Camp went well.  The kids listened to Cooke’s message, a couple of teachers shared testimonies on how the revelation of God’s great love has changed their lives and we had an activity where the kids wrote out the things they don’t love about themselves, nailed those to the cross and them proclaimed God’s 100% perfect love over all our short comings and imperfections.

All in all, I would say it was a successful camp.

On the final day of camp, one of the SoP teachers stopped to thank me for sharing what I had shared with the kids.  She told me that she really loves this particular Graham Cooke message and will often share bits and pieces of it with Thai unbelievers.  She told me that she loves telling people, “God loves you 100%,” but that after sharing this she often feels remorse because she worries that if we stress God’s great love to sinners–while they are still walking in their sin–how will they ever feel conviction and change their ways?

My favorite part of “Inheritance” is when Cooke says:

“He (God) loves you 100%, He won’t love you any better when you become better.

He loves you 100% right now; and even if you have no plans to become better, He will still love you 100%, because He loves you, because that is what He is like.

And even if you don’t want to change, He will love you 100%.

Even if you have no plans to walk with Him, He will love you 100%.

Because that’s His nature. He loves all the way, all the time.”

These truths directly contradict the idea that we need to stop sinning in order to receive God’s love and salvation.

Through out my conversation with the SoP teacher I began to realize that while she really wanted to believe this message–it had yet to become a truth to her.

Our conversation went back and forth for a little while.  She quoted scriptures to me about God’s hatred of sin and how He turns His back on sinners and I did my best to explain my thoughts on God’s infinite love and our justification through Christ.  We were both stubborn in our views so in order to diffuse the conversation I just said,” You know–I can’t pretend to understand the vastness of God and His love and my opinions may not be very popular…so you can just write me off as a universalist heretic, it’s ok.”

Conversation over.

 Throwing the words “universalist” and “heretic” around do tend to make people uncomfortable.

But more and more, I feel like these may be words that the majority of mainstream christians would use to describe me.

After living in Buddhist country for three years and being forced to learn how to connect with God without all the christian lingo/ideology/iconography that has surrounded the first seven years of my walk with God–my idea of who God is and how great His love is has expanded.  It has been forced to.

Having Buddhist grandma die after living a devout life of Buddhism, not ever knowing Christ’s specific love for her…

or having a young man die in a motorbike accident after living a life of neglect and abuse, never once being told he has value or purpose…

or a girl taking her own life after being sold and used since she was a child, not ever being called a beloved daughter…

These sorts of situations begin to challenge ones views on eternal damnation for not accepting Christ in your life.

God loves you 100% right now.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  1. at the same time; meanwhile.
    “he starts to draw, talking the while”
  1. during the time that; at the same time as.
    “nothing much changed while he was away”

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Before circumcision was law, Abraham was justified by God. Before the disciples believed who Jesus was, they were chosen to do great works.

While we were still sinners…

Even if you have no plans to walk with Him, He loves you 100%…

It seems that, more and more, performance and religious rituals have taken the place of justifier in the church.

That the free gift of salvation is only free as long as it’s followed up with a devout, religious, holy, sinless life.

I can not believe this.

If righteousness comes through performance, Christs’ death is worthless. Christ paid the price.  100%. End of story.

The price has been paid.

Christ’s death covered my past sins.  Christ’s death covers my current, repeated sins.  Christ’s death covers my future sins, my unbelief and my incomplete theology.

Is his death not enough for my buddhist brothers?

So. Maybe I’m a universalist heretic?

Maybe you’re going to be worried about my theology and praying for my mind to renewed…and for my salvation.

Maybe this is just a phase that I will grow out of (like obsessing over cats or drawing pictures of robots).


But in the meantime, I chose to stand on and believe in God’s perfect love.

I chose to believe that nothing will draw people into God’s family in a more complete and authentic way than their experiencing the infinite love of the Creator.

And I choose to honor the Lover God by loving those He loves–even when they don’t (won’t) love Him back.

He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because that is what He is like.

An Addendum:

    I was really worried about writing this post, knowing that it may be slightly controversial in a couple of places.  I do want to make it clear that I still very much believe that Jesus is the One way to life eternal and I believe in hell.  The Bible seems clear about these facts.  I, however, believe that we, in our christian minds, send people to hell much more readily and freely than God does and that it is God’s greatest desire to see all of His children honored with Christ in heaven and that He will pull out all the stops to get everyone of us with Him.
    I do not, necessarily, believe that sin sends us to hell. Every single one of us will die in our sin–even conscious, repeated sin (gossip, unforgiveness, half-truths…etc, etc, etc…). But rather, I believe that some, having experience God’s ridiculous love will still chose to reject Him and chose hell for themselves.
    I am also aware of my youth and ignorance and incomplete revelation of God and am willing to be refined in my understanding as I continue to walk with the Lord.



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If Tracy Lorensen Can Do It, I can! (Part Two)

aka the Candida blog

If you are not already aware, Tracy Lorensen can do anything.  Seriously.

She is the kind of person who will say ‘yes’ to anything and then excel at it.  She is strong, disciplined and highly responsible.

In many ways, Tracy Lorensen is the exact opposite of Samara Marie.

I mean we have our similarities…don’t get me wrong.   Youtube videos, small nicknacks and pretty things in general have bound our two [very] different personalities into an eclectic friendship that has shaped me for life.

That being said… “If Tracy Lorensen can do it, I can too” is not a motto I mold my life around.  Like I said in a previous blog (with a similar title), Tracy is made up of the combined essence of Aquaman, Thor and the Amazing Flash. You could probably add Wonder Woman in there for good measure.

That’s hard to keep up with. Trying to keep up with that could result in entering into a dangerous spiral of comparison and self-pity.  Don’t go there.  It’s not pretty.

That being said, I have found myself, once again, taking on a new feat along side the one and only Tracy Lorensen.


About a month ago Tracy found out that she had a candida** overgrowth problem that was wrecking havoc and causing all sorts of ruckus on her insides. In order to get rid of the all consuming candida (which is just a fancy word for yeast) inside of her, Tracy needed to completely change her diet, cutting out all forms of sugar (natural or added), dairy and simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, oats, etc).  It needed to be a complete overhaul.  Right at the onset of the holidays.

My empathy, unsolicitedly, won and I decided that I would do it with her. As a support.

And that’s where I want to end this blog.

Because that’s where I look good.

What a good friend you are Samara. Yay you! The End.


Turns out…this was much harder than I was expecting.

Thank you Jesus for Caleb Lorensen who has been like a live in candida killing chef.  Preparing us all sorts of sugar free, dairy free, gluten free dinners.  If it wasn’t for him I would starve.

The first week on my new diet I was lost.  I had no idea what to eat.  I never realized how much of my diet was composed of carbs and sugars.

Carbs and sugars.  Carbs and sugars. Carbs and sugars.

If you ask me what my favorite foods are, the only honest answer I can give is: carbs and sugars.

I quickly realized that most of my food choices were based off of convenience and that I regularly gave into sugary cravings.

I was addicted to sugar. No doubt about it.

The sugar cravings came hard and then my body punished me for not giving in by sending me a massive headache that lasted days on end.  The lack of sugar made me grumpy and emotional.

Early on, Tracy was going through her first stages of candida die off*** and being the Superhuman Mixture of a person that she is, keeping a positive attitude and making comments like:

I’m just enjoying the smells.  I can’t eat it, but I can smell it,”  and “At this point I don’t even want to eat sugar,”

while I was writhing in my bedroom over a snickers bar that I couldn’t indulge in or curling up in the fetal position lamenting over the woes of my life.

I was an awesome support system.


You may be asking yourselves, “why keep up this crazy diet if you’re not sick and you’re not doing a good job at supporting Tracy?”

That is a good questions and there are a couple good answers for it.

  1.  I am incredibly stubborn.  I am proving to someone (probably my inner critic) that I can indeed do this.
  2. It turns out, I had a pretty horrible diet before this.  I never realized it.  I mean, I eat a ton of vegetables and my meals are all mostly good for me and nutritious…but between those meals, I would eat a ton of crap.  It was mindless snacking. My food decisions were impulsive and often driven by my emotional state.  Coming to that realization was hard, but has been a driving factor keeping me going.  I want to rid myself of this unhealthy addiction to bread and sugar and stop looking to foods for comfort or joy when I should be looking to Jesus.
  3. Finally, it turns out, I probably have a bit of candida overgrowth myself and actually feel a lot better (now that my sugar withdrawal is done) not eating the carbs.  My digestive system has needed the break and I find that when I mess up and eat something I shouldn’t, I end up with stomach issues.

So, I’m keeping it up.  Not with the strength and vigor of the Superhuman best friend that I live with, but with my dramatic, whiny personality that is too stubborn to give in.

If Tracy Lorensen can do it, I can too! (pray for me.)


**Candida is not to be mistaken with chlamydia like I was calling it the entire first week after getting this news…

***Die off is when the candida in your body has been starved to death so it emits all these toxins in a last ditch effort to destroy you and you feel miserably ill until the toxins are gone. Fun stuff.


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Just Like Riding a Bike

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was ten; my childhood was –colorful– up to that point and well, learning how to ride a bike wasn’t high on the priority list.

My brother and cousin, however, were given the opportunity to learn at the normal age of six and I, amid the beauty of prepubescent awkwardness, decided to join in on the fun.

A ten year old’s body is different than that of a six year old.  It’s bigger.  More clumsy.  Uncoordinated.  Etc.  Samara learning how to ride a bike was far from elegant and could best be described as inept.

My best friend at the time was WAY into bikes.  Her dad had a bike shop in the garage, each member of the family had a top of the line bicycle, the family owned a tandem bike and they participated in the Ragbrai bike ride across Iowa each year.  This was a family of bikers.

So–in order to keep up with the Jones’, or in this case, the Rowell’s, I was determined to learn how to ride.

And I did…


Sort of.

I mean I fell a lot.  Who doesn’t fall when learning how to ride a bike…

…it’s just that I would just fall.  Like I would just stop peddling and tip over.  Peddle peddle. stop. flop.

Let’s just say, I was never quite a ‘natural’.

But I learned.

photo 1

(Please note that I am standing with the bike rather than actually riding the bike.  This was common.)

So there I was, the young and impressionable, bike riding Samara–ready to take on the world with my helmet hair and cool biking gear.

There I was, at least, until the dreadful day in 6th grade.

My brother and cousin took to bike riding much more naturally than I did and unfortunately for me, they knew it.  Even more unfortunately, they were little punks about it.  I could generally ignore their punk-i-ness by living in the Sunshine land that created for myself early on as a coping method for unpredictability and chaos, but this day was different.

The kids had been riding their bikes down a steep grassy hill located behind the church, across the street from my aunt and uncles house.  I had been watching them accelerate down the hill, listening to their wails of delight, but I had not even considered joining in on their madness.

But then the taunting began.

I was able to resist for awhile, but as the older and obviously much cooler 11 year old, I couldn’t stand in the face of their immature ridicules long and I decided to go for it.

I strapped on my helmet, got on the bike and sped down the hill.  Everything was going fine until I panicked over the momentum I was gaining and squeezed my handle bar brakes in a moment dismay.  Naturally my ever graceful body did a balletic spin over the handle bars landing me onto the ground with my bike laying next to me.

I died. I knew it.

Or worse.  I was paralyzed.

My brother and cousin came and stood over me looking at my bloodied and mangled body and all I was able to muster out of my mouth was a whisper stating, ‘I’m paralyzed.’

photo 2

As I was so completely convinced that I was either dead or paralyzed, I couldn’t move to get help and therefore my cousin had to go get her mom and my aunt literally drove the van down the hill, took the back seats out and lifted me in.  I rode to the hospital laying on the floor in the back of my aunt’s van.

A couple hours at the hospital and a few X-Rays later we found out that I was going to make it after all.  A minor wrist sprain and a few stitches in my mouth–but I was going to be just fine.

At least physically.  Psychologically, I was traumatized and decidedly never getting back onto a bike again.

Flash forward 14 years.

My car broke down and after learning that public transportation doesn’t actually exist in Omaha, (at least not with any efficiency,) I decided the best way for me to get to my coffee shop job at 5:20am was via bike.

I had been gifted a bike not long before and the old adage, ‘it’s like riding a bike,’ was ringing in my head, so I was completely confident in this idea.  That was, of course, until I got on the bike.

I fell.

and fell.  and fell.  I couldn’t get balanced, I couldn’t get my feet on the peddles and I surely couldn’t go down any hills.   I could not do this.

‘It’s like riding a bike.’  To me, this equals death.

Fortunately, one of my then roommates was (is) a saint and she agreed to re-teach me this age old skill.

It wasn’t pretty.

If I was nervous, awkward and scared as a ten year old, you can multiply those emotions by 14 and that is an equation that, again, leads to… death.

But my friend persisted.  She held onto my seat and promised not to let go and then let go and I fell.  Over and over and over.  Until, at last, I was able to ride my bike to work.

I, however, was never able to call myself a ‘confident rider’.  While I always made it to work and back, I refused to bike on the street and was convinced that I was constantly riding into danger and facing impending DEATH via bike accident.

photo 3

And then I moved to Thailand with the Lorensens.  This family is made up of avid bikers and lovers of all things scary and hard.  So, of course they had me biking to a market within the first month of being in town.

Soon there after, I purchased my own bike and while I was greatly distressed at first, I rode it.  In the beginning, my bike rides only took place on the back roads, but eventually I made it out onto the crazy, overloaded, hustling and bustling Thai roads–I even began to ride my bicycle to Thai class when I had alternative transportation options.

Samara, at the ripe age of 27, became a confident bike riding babe.

I was recently in the States for three months of resting, relaxing and library hopping.   As per my usual, I had a lot of car drama during these three months and was therefore out of a vehicle on a couple occasions.  Once again, providence shined down on me and I was loaned a bike.


This fearless biking mama was totally into the idea of peddling around Omaha.

Hello hipsters.  Here I am.

I buckled my helmet, put on my backpack, tied my Keds and was off on about a two mile journey to my church’s office building.

My biking, hipster babe fantasy bubble lasted a whole three minutes until I actually got on the bike and was reacquainted with my former fears and a few new foes called hills, gears, cars and cold.

That bike ride can only be described as DEATH HUMILIATION.

My Keds kept sliding off the peddles, there was something like 21 gears rather than the five that I have grown accustomed to, my fingers were frozen off in the 40 degree weather and the cars…

THE CARS!! Instead of just zipping past me amid my struggles up the hills (as any Thai person would do) they patiently waited behind me—only to increase my feelings of shame and anxiety.


Basically all the awkwardness and blunderings of my ten year old paralyzed self came flash flooding back into my psyche and I never got back on that bike again.

But hey, now I’m back in Thailand where the weather is warm, the traffic is crazy and for some reason, here, I can ride a bike like a pro.

The End.


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2015: Year of the Sheep

I like sheep.

2014-12-14 14.32.39   2014-12-14 14.33.29

There is the photographic evidence.

This little sheep friend came up to Bai Fern and I at this coffee shop and just let us hold him the whole time we were sipping on our coffees.  As we held this sheep, he rested in our arms.

In those moments, I was reminded of all the times Jesus refers to His followers as sheep–I was being reminded to be like a sheep; to know my Father’s voice, to follow Him where He leads me and to rest in His mighty arms.

(Unfortunately this particular sheep past away a couple weeks later…which is really sad and traumatic and I don’t like talking about, but there it is.)


Meet Sonya.

2014-12-06 14.25.29

Sonya is Chinese, hilarious and has recently become one of Jesus’ sheep.

She is a university student and as part of her program has come to Thailand, teaching at Debsirin High School with Caleb for the last five months.  Pretty early on in her time here, after listening to Caleb and one of their colleagues discussing spiritual matters, Sonya started asking Caleb questions.  Having come from atheist China, she had no prior knowledge of Christianity or the spiritual matters they were discussing.  Caleb invited her to church one Sunday and she has continued to come from that point on.

After church on her third visit Sonya decided to become a follower of, as she calls Him, The God.

Since becoming a sheep, Sonya has not held back in sharing how The God has provided for her and answered her prayers and has even told the head teacher at Debsirin High School that she wants to stop teaching Chinese and begin teaching the Bible as she is just so passionate.  🙂

Here are some stories


One evening I invited Sonya and two other girls to go to a ‘blind dinner’.  This dinner is served completely in the dark in order to give you the experience of being blind and help you understand how trying simple tasks are without our ability to see.  Three of the four of us were having a great time…haphazardly eating our pasta and salad with our hands, as we had given up all hope trying to eat in a more ‘civilized’ way, Sonya, however was not enjoying herself.  The three of us would hear mumbles of her saying things like, “I would never do this in China,” or “I am so glad my friends can not see me, they would be so ashamed.”  We just laughed all the more and continued eating in the dark.

That is, until the owner of the restaurant’s daughter opened the door to ask her mom a question.  Opening the door ruined the effect of the dark as light was able to enter the room and we were, for the first time, able to make out our surroundings.  The owner was slightly mortified, but quickly got her daughter out and the door was shut and we were back to dining in the darkness.

As we were re-situating ourselves in the pitch blackness of this room Sonya speaks out,

“Sisters, do you know why that little girl came into the room?”


“Because, just then, I was praying to The God and I asked Him to let me have some light because I hate this.  So The God sent that little girl into the room.”

It was hard to know what to say to her in that moment, so I laughed.  I laughed not because I didn’t believe her, quite the contrary, I completely believe her and completely believe that God probably did send the little girl into the room as an answer to Sonya’s prayers.  No, I laughed, rather, at her childlike faith and God’s complete awesomeness.


Sonya has also had a problem with rats in her dorm room.  She hates the rats. Who wouldn’t hate the rats?

Sonya started praying and asking God to keep the rats out of her room, and He did… and then something strange and funny happened… but I’ll let Sonya tell you herself.

(In case it was hard for you to understand, Sonya was having trouble with the rats, so she prayed to The God to have the rats disappear, which they did for five days, but one day they did come in, but instead of being scared of the rats, The God helped Sonya to feel as if the rats are her friends.  She lives alone in her dorm, no one accompanies her, but the rats can come and accompany her!)

Laughter is an appropriate response to watching this video.  Yes.

But at the same time, I think we can learn something for Sonya’s sheep-like faith.  While Sonya hasn’t studied the Bible and isn’t learned in spiritual doctrine, she trusts The God to do what He says He will do.  She trusts The God to love her, to protect her and to give her what she needs… even if it comes in unexpected ways, like helping her befriend the rats.

As 2015, the Chinese year of the Sheep, begins, my prayer for all of us is that we may become even more sheeplike in our relation to our Father.

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow me.”  John 10:27

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”  Luke 12:32


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Little Blessings Amid Big Chaos

God is funny.

Not really in the haha sense, but rather the “I am God and have everything under control and you may worry and freak out, but I’m going to be steady and provide for you in ridiculous ways” sort of way.


My mom’s sick.

She’s been sick for awhile and it’s been a long process of praying about whether or not I need to come be with her in America.  I would land on not coming and have peace in that decision, then she would get a little better and then she would get worse, and I would re-start the process.

Sunday I got the “you need to come home now” email.

I was on a flight that evening. It felt like a whirlwind.  Getting the tickets, getting packed, making phone calls and writing emails.  I don’t like whirlwinds.


I’m currently sitting in the LAX airport.

This place is so busy.  Sooo many people.  So many faces, colors, body types… and everyone, everyone, speaks English.  I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.  I’m not so eagerly anticipating the sub freezing weather that is going to welcome me home in just a few more hours.


Amid my whirlwind and my weird emotional state, God has been funny.

For one, He (through my precious friend Julie) has collected a supply of winter clothes for me to wear while I’m in town.  About six different ladies, two of whom I’ve never met, have given my friend Julie their clothes for me to borrow–from boots to coats to gloves to sweatpants… everything I need, and more.

God will keep me warm.

Saturday, before I knew I would be hopping on a plane, a missionary couple gave me 7000baht for babysitting their granddaughter for a week.  (That’s roughly $325…)

God will take care of my finances.

After I had already purchased my tickets, my mom went into her emergency surgery.  The surgery was successful and she came out strong.  I knew this before I got on the plane.

God will take care of my mom. God will take care of my emotional state.

And finally, on my flight from Korea to LA, the man I was sitting next to spent hours asking me questions about my life.  I shared my testimony with him and about how Jesus changed my life, I shared the journey God took me on to get me to Thailand, I talked about my mom and about my birth dad…he asked me so many questions and was thoroughly engaged.

At the end of our conversation he told me that when he was my age he wanted to be a missionary as well.  He said he was close to God at that point in his life, but that the world distracted him and he was never brave enough to actually give up his life in the world and go overseas.

He is now a successful business man, but is not walking with the Lord. His name is Joshua.

Before I left my friend sent me a couple verses from Joshua chapter 1 about how God will never leave or forsake us.  I pulled those verses out and wrote them down for him, encouraging him that it’s not too late.  He let me lay hands on him and pray for him and he experienced Father’s love.

God will use every situation that I give him permission to touch. God will prepare me with the right words.

Finally, as our conversation was drawing to an end Joshua handed me $300.  He said that he didn’t obey God and become a missionary, but he is a successful business man and so He can begin to serve God by giving.

He insisted, so I received.

God will provide for all my needs and not only that, but, God wants to bless me.


So here I am, waiting in busy, busy LA for my final flights to freezing, freezing Omaha to be with my mom as she recovers in the ICU, but I am able to sit here in peace. God is funny. And He really does have everything under control. He is my solid ground, even amid whirlwind craziness. He really does just love me.


“…so I will be with you.  I will not leave you, nor forsake you.”  Joshua 1:5

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and be of good courage.  Do not be afraid or nor be dismayed.  For the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9


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First through Third Grade Self Portraits

Sunshine Studios has been one big learning experience for me.

I have learned that I don’t necessarily know how to teach art.  Certain things, like holding a paint brush, choosing colors that look nice together, knowing how to mix colors, etc. come very naturally to me and I have mistakenly assumed my students would just naturally have these skills.

No.  They don’t.

I have found myself teaching how to hold scissors, how to appropriately use glue, and what you should and should not do with paint.

I have chosen projects that are way too hard and, alternatively, chosen projects that are way too easy and have been left with nothing to do and half the period to fill.

Sunshine Studios has been a learning experience… to say the least.

BUT, it has been a success.

We are wrapping up the first semester of classes, so I’ve been trying to do more exciting projects with a couple more steps to them.

I have done a number of self portraits with the little kids (first-third grade) and have had various success rates.  One of the big problems I have encountered, is that despite my handing out mirrors and us looking and the different shapes in our faces, the students want to draw themselves how they have learned to draw people, not as they actually see themselves.  As I am working with primarily Thai children, I end up with a slew of anime faces that hardly resemble their creator.

I also have a hard time getting these little ones to draw BIG and fill up their paper.

Wanting to address both of these issues and getting inspiration from this blog, I ventured into a two day (two week) project with my little ones.

The first week, we played “Miss Samara says” with a piece of watercolor paper and sharpies.  I would give instructions of what they should draw and they would follow them accordingly.  After about 10 minutes or so, I gave the students watercolors and instructions to fill the whole page with color.  “Miss Samara says there can be no white space.”

Those paintings turned out pretty neat.   Though the students all received the same instructions, each student ended up with a very unique abstract painting.

Despite the begging, I didn’t let the kiddies take the paintings home, as they were part one of our two part project.

While the students were painting their watercolors I took individual, close up portraits and then printed them out on 8×10 paper.

The next week, I gave each student the picture of themselves, a piece of transparency paper and a sharpie.  They placed the transparency over their pictures and I instructed them to trace every line on their face exactly as they see it.

This was actually a little more difficult than I thought it would be.  The students traced the general lines of their head, eyes, ears, nose and mouths, but weren’t paying attention to all the other, smaller and very important lines around these areas.

Students would typically tell me they were ‘finished’ about four times before I actually allowed them to be done–I would just keep pointing out more and more lines that they have left behind.

When I finally allowed the student to be ‘done’, we got their abstract from last week and then the students picked their favorite composition and attached the two projects.

The results were better than I could have even imaged.  I’m jealous of each and every one.

So here you are,

Sunshine Studios 1st-3rd Grade Self Portraits:

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This is Nina, she is in 3rd grade and has told me specifically that she wants to be an artist when she grows up.  She saves up snack money from her parents and pays for art class on her own and asks me every day at school if it’s art class day and has even tried to sneak into the older kids class.

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This is Titi.   He has constantly created some of my favorite pieces.  He, along with Nina, is in third grade and says that he wants to be an artist.  He has a very natural ability about him and is very naturally creative.  I couldn’t help laughing when he took his picture like this.  Oh.. and when this project was finished, he hung up his picture (the one he traced) on the mirror by the bathroom so that we see his face instead of our own.  He has the mark of a true artist.

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Pakboong, one of my favorite first graders.   Pakboong loves to draw and does a very good job.  I have found that Pakboong is a bit of a perfectionist.  She will only take her projects home if she loves them 100%, which means that Sunshine Studios has many of her discarded projects on the walls.  I really liked how her portrait turned out, it’s probably one of my favorites, though it’s hard to choose.  I really LOVE how she placed the portrait inside the shape in the center, making it look like it’s inside a mirror.  Her portrait also oddly resembles on of Frida’s famous portraits.  Way to go Pakboong.  (If only she let me keep this one…)

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Namoo.  Pakboong’s other half.  This kid lives inside of his imagination and what he creates is always interesting.  While I had some questions about whether or not he was really tracing what he was seeing, or just drawing what he wanted, the combination of his two projects looks like something I could see on display.

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This handsome boy, as most of you know, is Geshem.  My roommate and usually a co-collaborator on project ideas.  Geshem really loves to draw.  He draws from his imagination every night and his drawings are getting more and more detailed. He was at first, a student more prone to using his imagination while tracing the picture, but through Miss Samara’s repeated ‘you’re not finished yet’ answers, he was able to start seeing some of the natural lines in his first grade face!  He is also quite the lover of colors.  At one point in his growing up, he would say that his favorite color is the rainbow. This usually comes through in his color choices and in this instance, created, what I think, to be a brilliant piece.

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Finally, we have Hezikiah.  Hez really struggled the day that we were doing the abstract paintings.  He was tired and didn’t want to paint.  I wasn’t sure how his project was going turn out as a result.  The next week when we were tracing our faces, Hez was much more motivated and was one of the students that paid the most attention to detail.  I mean, check out how he handled his curly hair.  I was happily surprised when we put the two projects together, the result was actually quite nice, and like the rest of them, definitely wall worthy.

So there you have it!

First term of Sunshine Studios is almost complete and despite the hiccups and learning curve and lesson fails, I would say, we’re doing pretty well!

Lots of thank you’s to everyone who has made this possible!


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Engaging Missions

I recently gave a radio interview for the show Engaging Missions, and shared a couple stories of what’s been going on this side of the globe.  

 It was a fun experience and I would love for you all to listen to the show (it’s about 45 minutes) and let me know what you think.  

Here’s the link:


He also has a bunch of other missionaries stories that you can listen to as well, so if you’re interested and have some spare time you should explore his website!




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N is for Noodle… and Noise and Nonsense

So far my second year of teaching has been much more challenging than the first year.  I think I was spoiled with last years class, it was so small, the students were quite bright and keen on learning English and they were all, at least a little, scared of me. (At first…)

This year has proven to be so much different.  Not only has my class size doubled, my students come from a much wider range of ‘home situations’.  Where last years students, for the most part, attended Thai preschool and had a basic understanding of what is acceptable school behavior, the majority of this years class are just now experiencing school–let alone English–for the first time.

I’ve had to up my game.

A lot of the tricks and tools I used regularly last year do not work anymore.  Things I routinely did with last years class to quiet them down and transition onto the next activity, have proven to only make these students louder and less compliant.

As much as I have felt frustrated and lost as to what to do, the challenge has been good for me.

I have been graced with a teacher helper, who has helped me come up with new ideas for managing my students and has been pivotal in giving me the confidence I need to play the unpopular role of disciplinarian in the class–a role that I seldom, if ever, had to play last year.   With the help of my teacher helper, I have set up routines, boundaries and structure for my little 6 year old to excel in.

All that to say, my students (and I) have come a long way.

I’ve always known that first graders can’t sit in their desks and listen for any extended amount of time… this year the kids are taking me to task.  I have to make sure I come to class fully prepared with activities that will not only stimulate their learning, but keep the students engaged as well.

I’ve recycled some of my favorite lessons from last year, but have also incorporated new lessons and activities–I have even started doing station rotations with the first graders, a completely foreign concept in Thai education.


This week, we’ve been learning the letter ‘N’.

What is ‘N’ for?  

Noodles.  Obviously.

So, I cooked up a bunch of noodles (spaghetti) and let my kids have at it for some sensory exploration.

It was a blast.

The kids were content playing just with the noodles and the fun could have gone on for hours–but then, I added PAINT and gave each student a piece of paper to make their masterpiece.

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The results couldn’t have been better.

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I was so proud of my students and it was really evident to me how important sensory exploration like this is for this age group.  They not only loved the activity, they were engaged, well behaved and surprisingly quiet.   The noise and nonsense that is so normal in my classroom disappeared for about 20 minutes while my students played and created.

I don’t leave school everyday feeling like it was a success–on the contrary I have plenty of days that I feel like I need to do the entire lesson plan over again–but painting with noodles while learning about the letter N, was a successful teacher day.  So successful that I’m thinking that we’ll need to ‘Paint with Pasta’ for the letter P… 🙂


**Bonus Picture**

We also made Noodle Necklaces, so this is Graphic cheesing with his.  

How cute is he!?! 

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This Years First Graders

I realize the school year has been going on for sometime and I have yet to introduce you all to my first grade class.

So here you are, your first look, at the kids that steal my thoughts and energy on a daily basis.


Geshem is a first grader at the School of Promise this year, but he is (sadly) not a part of my English class.


This is Pakboong (Morning Glory) and just like last year, though I try not to have ‘favorites’ this one has a special place.


There’s a lot of them this year–twice as many as I had last year… and therefore things are just much different.  I’ve had to rethink and restructure my classroom and the way I do things for this group of kiddos, but it’s amazing to me how far they’ve come.

Hilarious stories from this class will hopefully be coming soon.

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