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sound of cemeteries


The Lord knows what we need, when we need it. He knew I needed to visit a cemetery on a hill on a brisk New Zealand spring to find closure, grieve and celebrate a life well lived.

*note, this post was written in October 2014

I’m in Akaroa today. It was a French colony and has a beautiful bay. The weather was excellent—bright, blue skies and brisk spring weather.

I hiked with a friend to an Anglican cemetery on a hill overlooking the city’s lighthouse and bay.
Home at Last
I wandered past tombstones with names of old and dates even older. We then made our way to the Catholic and “Dissenters” cemetery. The Anglican cemetery housed the remains of men and women with English last names. The Catholic cemetery’s stones had French last names, for the many French settlers in the colony, as well as Irish last names. Earlier today, I met a fifth-generation French woman who owns a dolphin tour company.

The Dissenters were English men and men who broke from the Church of England. They advocated for a separation of church and state and called for a Protestant Reformation of sorts in England.

I loved the Dissenters cemetery. On the tombstones are quarter-length ‘tweet testaments’ to God’s grace and their departure to their eternal home.

“Thy will be done” and “in a better place” were etched in tombstones.

With Christ, which is far better

With Christ, which is far better

My grandmother passed away this week. I wasn’t able to return for the funeral. It was really hard for me. Had I been in my city, I could have made it. After exhausting options, I accepted the fact that I’d have to miss remembering the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

A year and a half ago I lost my grandfather on my dad’s side. I was thankful I was in the U.S. to grieve, remember and celebrate his life well lived.

But God allowed me to remember my grandmother –not in the way I’d imagined. As I strolled up and down the rows of stone memorials, I realized the Lord was allowing me a chance to remember and grieve. I wasn’t in the cemetery where my maternal grandfather and uncle are buried and where my grandmother was being laid to rest. But I was in a cemetery, and as I read the last testaments and memories that family members chose to forever etch on tombstones, I was able to mentally write ones for Grandmomma.

“Peace, perfect peace,” and “until the day breaks and the shadows flee away,” are two of my favorites.”

Reading these on the tombstones reminded me that she’s in her eternal home. I could imagine I was there in the Lowcountry graveyard.

I didn’t know the people buried there, but I know the bonds of family, the love and the grief.

Some of the dates I saw on the stones were similar to my grandmother’s birth date.

Tombstone in the Dissenter's cemetery

Peace, perfect peace

On the walk down the graveyard hill, I crunched on a carpet of browned pine needles. I realized this was my chance to be in South Carolina—in a “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” sort of way. The path behind my grandmother’s house is carpeted with fallen pine needles. Pine needles cushioned the back yard of the home she lived in for her entire married life.

Cemeteries aren’t what you initially think of when you think of a peaceful and serene location. Perhaps an even stranger thought is of a cemetery being a vacation attraction.

But for me, I could celebrate the life of a woman who is now at ‘peace, perfect peace,’ and no longer has to wait ‘till the day breaks’ to find eternal healing and eclipsing joy. I was thousands of miles away—on the shores of “Middle Earth,” but the Lord granted me a window into the time of remembrance that I’d of otherwise missed.

The Lord knows what we need. He knew I’d be at the base of a glacier named after an Austrian leader when I returned the missed calls with a lump in my throat—knowing what words would soon leave my father’s lips and travel invisibly over the ocean to the ‘glow worm cottage’ I was staying in. He knew I wouldn’t be able to make it back to South Carolina. He knew I needed to travel to Austria through the songs of the Von Trapp family in Auckland’s Civic Theater.

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away

Grandmomma loved songs. Her Alzheimer’s and dementia claimed a lot of memories – but hymns and Scripture were rooted deep in her mind in areas that disease could not claim.

I remember clearly the afternoon a preacher came by to visit my grandmother. I think I remember that she had had a hard week and her sentences didn’t always fit together and her memory was fading. The preacher made rounds, visiting the elderly and aging in the country.

We sat at the kitchen table, with a view of the carpet of pine needles, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well, Miss Grace, shall we sing?” He started singing a hymn in a soulful and bluesy voice and my grandmother sang along—remembering all of the lyrics perfectly.

The day of the funeral, I went to see The Sound of Music live. The musical is a favorite of mine – my dad would substitute “Tessa Lyn” for “Eidelweiss” in the Austrian ballad. I couldn’t be with my family but through another Aslan-like plan, God closed a door, but like Maria sang, he opened a window. There’s something healing about music. It’s invigorating and the hills in New Zealand are really alive with the Sound of Music. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a powerful song, the soprano singer who played Sister Abbess did a phenomenal job, her powerful voice gave me chills and I closed my eyes during part of it to absorb it. My grandmother was a woman who climbed every mountain and forded every stream.

I was able to watch part of the funeral, via streaming live feed, and I loved the hymns my family chose and I could imagine my grandmother sitting in her pew, singing for memory the songs of the Baptist hymnal. I watched online along with my cousin who lives in Germany.

Carpet of pine needles

Carpet of pine needles leading out to the bay in Akaroa, New Zealand

He donned a tux. I wore last night’s make up—the funeral was at 4:30 a.m. New Zealand time.

As I was watching, my phone data ran out and the hostel’s Wi-Fi refused to wake up from its intoxicated state. Frantically, I ran first to the front desk and then jogged down the dusky dawn streets of Auckland, looking for Wifi.

Starbucks. Must make it, I thought.

I jogged past an abandoned pair of black pumps and was cat-called in an alley. I passed people who’d been out all night. I realized this wasn’t the safest decision—running on a downtown, dark street in an unfamiliar megacity.

Starbucks was still a sleeping giant. I hesitate and pause on the street and start to turn to return to the hostel.

“Are you OK ma’am?” a Samoan security guard in a bright orange vest asked. He was on late-night patrolling the streets after Diwali festivities. Diwali is a South Asian holiday.

I explained my failed mission while holding back tears. He offered to let me use his phone as a hotspot. By the time we had it active, I’d missed the funeral’s finale.

I found a kind Samoan soul who sympathized and let a stranger use his data to connect to South Carolina. I told him he was an answer to prayer. I told him I’d prayed for help, and God sent help.

“God bless you,” I told him.

If anything, my mad dash was a chance to, in a small way, be a witness. If it was a song title, I’d say it was One Direction’s “Midnight Memories—” well, a gospel one, anyway.


I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness

Thanks to another wardrobe, more commonly known as the Internet, I was able to be at my grandmother’s funeral, even if it was only for a short part. Thanks also to technology, I was able to watch the remainder of the service later on YouTube – an interconnected web of wardrobes. I’m thankful for the maze of mirrors, windows and wardrobes that connected me, in Middle Earth, to a small town with a street name with a Tolkien-sounding name if there ever was one.

God’s plans are not our own. Like Maria found—things turn out differently than we expected. I’ll see you on the other side, Grandmomma.

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Traveling with Tessa: Fragrance Façade

I flew before I could walk. Travel has been a big part of my life as a third culture kid and still is now as a writer who works internationally. When you fly, often or rarely, there are ins and outs that you learn with domestic and international traveling. I’m still learning.

Traveling with Tessa – I’ve been pondering writing this post for quite some time. I’ve wanted to share some things I’ve learned and discovered through my years of travel. I hope to publish a series of these. I’d also love to hear your tips and tricks of the travel trade, please share!

You know the smell. It’s the “I’ve been cooped up in a small space for 11 hours with 300 other people smell.” Sometimes, after hours of flying, you just need a refresher, a spritz of something to freshen.

And, as we all know, liquids are restricted for carry on luggage, so your favorite perfume or body spray may not be readily available when you’d like it. Props to those who have travel-size body spray. (I didn’t until recently)

With international travel, staying fresh and clean for your final destination can be challenging. But, never fear, the answer is in the terminal’s closest duty free store.

Chanel, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, Burberry. They’re your new friends. The friends you wish you could afford but can’t. They’re the friends that aren’t there when you need them the most.

International airports, especially overseas, have duty free stores stocked with the most expensive perfumes and colognes. And, you can test them. Yes.

As I’ve traipsed through terminals, I’ll wander in to a duty free store, survey the collection – trying to appear not too eager or rushed. I look at a few boxes. Maybe I’ll cock my head to one side in the stereotypical thinking pose for good measure.

I’ll survey the store first before entering. Cue James Bond theme song. (I don’t recommend actually vocalizing it, it’s more of an inner soundtrack) I mean, you can’t be foiled in manners such as these. Some James Bond moves also might alert airport security – somersaulting, for instance. Ducking, however, might be necessary in some cases. For example, if you are avoiding an over-eager sales assistant, you can duck down and survey the bottles of perfume or cologne stationed lower to the ground. Crafty, I know. You don’t really want to buy, just borrow – permanently. Or borrow it at least until the fragrance fades.

Sometimes, I’ve found that the busy stores work well because sales clerks might be engaged with another customer. Sometimes, if a store isn’t busy, I’ll find the perfume aisle farthest from the cashier or sales clerk so I can escape without the sales pitch. This sometimes requires the ability to gauge distance, reaction time and spray time.

If you know what a fragrance smells like prior to going in and it’s one you fancy, go for it. If not, it might be best to sniff or spray on a sampler card first before dousing yourself. Having a scent that infuriates your olfactory system absorbed in your clothes and smathered on your skin for the next several hours is not pleasant. Trust me.

When I know I have a fragrance I like, I’ll choose one of the following methods, depending on my personal need and/or the security and scrutiny of the store and the clerks.

Direct Deposit: No one is aware you are there

1. Spray the perfume directly on you if no sales clerk is looking. Fragrance is stronger this way.

Spray and Run: You’ve been spotted

2. Spray the perfume in front discreetly and walk through it like you are going to check out another perfume. This is a fragrance that wafts onto you, creating a light, but noticeable fragrance that’s not as strong as a direct hit. This enables a quick exit.

Nonchalant: When the sales clerk in the next aisle is eyeing you

3. Spray the perfume onto one of the sampler papers, holding the bottle far enough away to get a small amount of perfume on the card but most of it on yourself as you walk through and away from the clerk. This is a diversion, showing your possible intent on purchase and it also accomplishes your mission.

James Bond: You’re being monitored closely or are being shown a product by a sales clerk

4. Spray the perfume directly onto the card, like most people do, and then, when clerk is gone, rub the card on your wrists and then deposit card into purse or carry on for a fragrant sprucing up. You can tell the clerk you need a minute or two to ponder the intricacies of the scent, you need to go to the ATM, or you need to ask your friend/significant other. Make your exit. Don’t run away. Meander, or walk with purpose, depending on the excuse you’ve used.

Stock piling: Same as above, with added bonuses

5. Like the above, you’ve sprayed some of the perfume on a card, used the card on your wrists and put the card in your purse and you also spray some perfume on yourself or spray it so you walk through it. This, of course can be quite tricky, especially on the first go-round. This, usually, is best undertaken when you are not being scrutinized.

Voila. You are rested, and refreshed and ra-ra ready to go. (Father of the Bride quote). You smell like a million dollars. (Well, not quite. Perhaps $100)

It’s an adrenaline rush.

There are other ways to freshen up while traveling internationally. Stay tuned for the next post: Shockeys Showering in Airports


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bag defunct. bugs beware.

Are there any more bags?

I asked this of the Thai man who poked his head in through the flaps that release the bags to the conveyor belt.

Yes, one more, he said.

My bag came out and I turned several different shades of red. The side zipper pocket of my duffel was agape. This wasn’t just any side zipper. This is the zipper that housed my dirty undergarments which were now spilling onto the conveyor belt.

The man asked me if this was the bag I was waiting for. Yes, unfortunately so, I answered. Thankfully, since it was the last flight in and not many people at the international baggage claim, I managed to stealthily cram the unmentionables in elsewhere.

For some unknown reason, it won’t happen again, I decided to throw my dirty clothes in the side zipper. It took several attempts to pack the duffel because I purchased more culturally appropriate clothes and pity gifts to give my friends. (We have a pact among the other guys and gals I work with to buy each other treats when we travel.)

So, let’s be honest. I probably put too much in. But how did the zipper break off? At least the other side zipper didn’t break off, that had my travel French press in it. That’s the best $25 I’ve ever spent.

There’s another interesting component to this story.

My flight was delayed due to a “problem with loading the luggage.” At the time, I took no notice of this. I figured there must be a late bag coming in with a passenger with a close connection. They were probably running over from that flight from Muscat I saw on the arrivals screen.

I am wondering if it is because of my decrepit duffel. Was it? It could have been…

My undergarments, for all I know, where probably spilling out over Suvarnabhumi (the airport in Bangkok) and some poor soul had to collect and mash them in the already obese bag.

As a frequent traveler and for someone who’s grown up in Asia, you never want to be the one who delays an aircraft, holds other travelers up or makes any kind of big scene. You kinda wanna slip in an out, like a ninja, or a pirate ( I told an English class I was in last week my occupation was a pirate, no one laughed).

The horror. My undergarments delayed a 777 full of people. It was also the last domestic flight out too. People were groggily rubbing their eyes and checking their watches. Yep, my fault peeps.

I’m thankful to be back in my apartment.

I was welcomed by the two biggest cockroaches I’ve seen in awhile. I grabbed my Chaco, hesitated a second, do I want to use a $75 shoe to kill this thing? I decided they were already stinky and needed washing anyway.

“Die!” I shrieked as I tried and failed repeatedly to kill the roaches.

I’ve heard roaches can survive a nuclear fall out. Do I really think my Chaco is going to kill them?

After more shrieking and ninja-like-throwing of my sandals, I managed to kill both, amputating their legs (sorry for the graphic detail).

So, needless to say, it’s been an interesting last couple of hours. I have many other topics of the “deeper” variety to share and blog about, but thought I’d share the humor in today for now (I think I can laugh at all this).

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I like, no, love history.

I love learning about the past because it paints a picture of why the present is the way it is. Many of today’s problems have their roots in the past, in events that have transpired. I was reminded of that today when I listened to men and women from villages talk about their need for water, food and health care.

Traveling in Southeast Asia this past month, I’ve learned a great deal about colonialism and its effect on current societies. More thoughts on this in the future. But for now, I’ll leave you with a few nuggets from our past.

On this day in history:

The U.S. Constitution was ratified, 1788

Spain declares war against Great Britain, 1779

Pele leads Brazil to victory over Italy, 1970

Rolling Thunder raids in Vietnam continue, 1966

Allies surrender in Libya, 1942


This information is taken from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

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While in Vietnam

While in Vietnam:

I ate pho perched on a squat stool. A Singaporean man sitting behind us told us he wasn’t eating because he was already 105 kg.

I discovered I have very expensive tastes in (fake) designer handbags (the most expensive was a Gucci at $380).

We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant that gives an opportunity for youth from underprivileged to work and receive training. We had a marvelous set of food that included tasty eggplant.

I got hit by a bicyclist. Vietnam has a plethora of motorbikes and I somehow managed to not get hit by one. It’s less crazy than India, but still, crazy.

I navigated the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong hid out underground for 21 years. It was a great quad work out going through those tunnels. In our tour group were five recent college graduates from London. They were a hoot.

I shot an AK-47. I used to think I was a decent shot. The AK-47 was so loud and unnerving I wasn’t quite sure what I hit.

I marveled at Vietnamese art. I love artwork. The Vietnamese are known for their lacquer wood art. It’s almost like a history lesson looking at the artwork. I love seeing the expressions on people’s faces that the artists capture.

I visited the past, the Vietnam War past. This was the hardest part of the trip, visiting the War Remnants Museum.

I tried for Texas barbeque but settled for an Australian grill. We met the owner, Bernie, and I had a panini.

I visited the Reunification Palace where Vietnam was reunified. Sat at the president’s desk in the war room. I also sang a song for the entire basement. Another highlight was learning how to play the nose whistle across from the room where all the pictures of dignitaries are displayed.

I sipped iced coffee at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and gazed at a replica of the Notre Dame cathedral. Vietnam was a colony of France for many years and its influences can still be seen. The Chinese also ruled in Vietnam. Vietnam was an interesting mixture between Chinese, French and Vietnamese culture.

I had the opportunity to drink quarts oh-so-smooth Vietnamese coffee. The Vietnamese and Turkish do coffee right. When you order, they bring a little filter apparatus and you watch your coffee brew. It’s by far the smoothest coffee I’ve had.

I bought weasel poop coffee.

I sampled wild boar and venison at a Vietnamese barbeque. I love both meats.

We wandered by mansions in the expat side of town looking for a restaurant. We asked an Australian lady in a gated community where “The Deck” was. After two more tries, we found it.

At The Deck, I talked about the future with great friends, one who is a prophet and ate an ostrich steak and black eyed peas by the peaceful Saigon river.

These are some of the memories I’ll hold on to and remember when I’m old.


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for auld lang syne

So long 2010.

Every year flies in and out faster the older I get. My elementary years seemed like an eternity packed into 10 years. Middle school seemed to slink slowly by. Each year in high school went by progressively faster. College went by in light speed, or what is it called on Star Trek, warp?  I somehow ended up a college graduate with a job.

Now, I’m sitting in my apartment in Chiang Mai, wondering where 2010 went.

I’ve been reminiscing about what’s taken place the last year. Here are just a few thoughts.

In the past year I:

-Celebrated Christmas and New Years in Taiwan

-Moved back to Thailand

-Begun my first full-time job, which has been my dream job since middle school

-Studied Thai again

-Traveled on my first work trip

-Learned to see poverty through God’s eyes

-Visited four new countries

-Was in my best friend’s wedding

-Had six months where my brother and I were both in Chiang Mai

-Watched my brother graduate high school

-Traveled through Turkey and Greece with my family

-Got to be a part of media relating to the World Cup and the Lausanne World Evangelization conference

-Traveled back to China

-Learned more about Thai festivals

-Made many dear Thai friends

-Hung out with awesome journeymen

-Swam with whale sharks

-Learned how to surf

-Zip lined through the jungles of Thailand

I am praying that this next year God becomes more and I become less. Last year was a good year. But, there are a lot of things from last year that I wish I could change or do differently.

“God is the God of our yesterdays, and he allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present,” Oswald Chambers.

I’m looking forward to a year of closer intimacy with God.

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Boiled eggs and blind turtles

They kneel, bow and rock back on their knees. They chant earnestly with eyes tightly closed and brows knit. Left palm glued to right palm.They are praying to an emerald Buddha perched atop a throne.

Countless Thais visit Wat Phra Kaew each year to pay homage to the Emerald Buddha. For every bad deed a Buddhist commits, for each of the five laws they break, they must do good deeds to make up for the bad deed.

It’s never ending.

Long ago, Buddha’s disciples asked them when their sins and bad karma would be gone. Buddha told them they’d be free of karma if they placed an egg into a river and after three years they put a blind turtle in the same river and when the blind turtle finds the egg, that’s when they’d be free of their sin.

That’s impossible, they remarked.

Well, of course it is.

It was even impossible for Buddha to break free from karma. Buddha told his disciples that he’d kept the five laws most people try to adhere to, furthermore, he’d kept the 227 laws and the 100,000 laws of Buddhism. He’d logged so many good deeds in his life. But, Buddha said that if he lived his life 10 times over, he wouldn’t make it within sprinting distance of the gates of heaven.

What are we to do? His disciples asked.

Wait for the One who’s coming. He’s like a golden ship, Buddha said, one who’d carry people to heaven. This One Buddha prophesied about would have no bad karma. He’d be recognized by the holes in his hands and the scar on his side.

This One, will be able to break karma’s curse.

This is the message we are sharing with Thais. The One Buddha foretold of has already come. Karma doesn’t have to rule.

–These stories are part of a training we’ve taken and stories are taken from the book,  “From Buddha to Jesus, An Insider’s View of Buddhism and Christianity.”

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