In Texas, August is a month custom-made for vacations and escaping the blistering late Summer heat. This year is very different in so many ways, but August has remained our vacation month of choice. We were so excited to have some of our closest friends come to visit us this month -- friends who were making their own August escape from the Texas heat. And we had the wonderful privilege of travelling with them to see some beautiful places.
These are not just any friends. The Baskins and the Kildays have been tight for more than a decade. Thais and I have been part of a small group with Joy and JJ Baskin for most of those years, and the Baskins and Kildays almost always sit together in church on Sundays. We have hosted the Baskin family many times to celebrate Christmas Eve. The Baskins have hosted the Kilday clan many times for Easter Egg hunts and Trick-or-Treat "practice" in their neighborhood a few days before Halloween. We have gone on church retreats together. We have served on church committees together. We have enjoyed pool parties, dinner gatherings, and many Sunday afternoon lunches together. The Baskins are our people.
On Easter Sunday in 2014, we learned some of the hardest news we've ever received. JJ had been diagnosed with non-smoker's lung cancer that had spread to his brain. It was a devastating blow. He was 47, and he was one of my very closest friends. Our families were fused together even more tightly during the ensuing months, as our friends fought a valiant and very public battle. Being with JJ, Joy, and their boys during that year was powerful, inspirational, heartbreaking, uplifting, spiritual, and unforgettable. We prayed together. We laughed and cried together. We watched some football and an occasional movie. We told stupid jokes and got each other wound up into epic battles of one-liners. We talked endlessly about politics, family, college football, God, life, death, and hope. Always hope. We spent time together in living rooms, hospital rooms, the ICU, and rehab centers. I was honored to give rides to the patient and his kids, as the needs arose. We texted constantly. We made promises about looking after those he loved. And in March 2015, we were with the Baskins on JJ's last earthly day, as he and Joy celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary with the sacrament of Holy Communion.
JJ's life and death in March 2015 were profound for all who knew him. He and his family trusted in God's promises, leaned on hope, and soared through adversity. They just soared. And they invited all of us in to do likewise with them. That year, and these friendships, have changed all of us forever.
There is a direct link between the Baskin story and our lives on the other side of the world this year. We are serving with IJM in Cambodia because God called us here. But there is no doubt that our walk with the Baskins exponentially grew our openness to hearing and following that call.
It was therefore fitting and appropriate that Joy, Ben, and Judge Baskin came to be with us in Cambodia this month. We delighted in introducing them to our friends and work colleagues here. We showed them around our favorite spots in Phnom Penh. And then we set out for the magnificent temples of Siem Reap and the beautiful island of Phuket, Thailand. We have looked forward to being with our friends all year, and our time with them did not disappoint.
In Phnom Penh, the Baskins came to our office, prayed with our team, and joined us for lunch at our favorite Pho restaurant. We showed them the local market and the Foreign Correspondents' Club. They toured the Royal Palace and the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (with Naeda). They walked many a mile in our footsteps here and learned what our lives are like. And then we took a road trip -- a self-funded one, of course.
First we took a six-hour van ride to see and show the Cambodian countryside and the magnificent temples of Siem Reap. (Well, we all went to Siem Reap. Most of the Kildays had "been there, done that" and preferred relaxing, hanging out at the hotel, and feasting on an enormous breakfast buffet!) We also went out to the Night Art Market and experienced a most unique foot massage with exfoliating fish.
After Siem Reap, we made our first international trip since our arrival in Cambodia. Our reunited group of eight took a plane to the stunningly gorgeous island of Phuket, in Thailand. We had an unbelievable Airbnb house with a spectacular view of the Andaman Sea. It was so beautiful and relaxing there that we had difficulty convincing anyone to leave, even for a few hours at the beach.
Unfortunately, the trip was not all sunshine and roses. In retrospect, we should have deferred to the kids' reluctance to leave the house. On our one and only mass excursion down to beautiful Surin Beach, we learned just how rough, dangerous, and violent the surf there can be. The kids stayed close to shore, but the waves were still occasionally in the range of at least 6 feet high at the shoreline, knocking kids and grownups alike down to the hard sand. Naeda had the misfortune of meeting two giant waves back-to-back, with the second catching her right leg awkwardly as she was attempting to stand back up. The next few hours were an alarming mix -- lifeguards, a ride in an ambulance, a visit to a Thai emergency room, a sports medicine specialist, and physical therapy on how to use crutches and a knee brace. Our volleyball star has a sprained ligament (MCL) in her right knee. She was disappointed to be injured on vacation, but she was a good sport. She will be off crutches in a matter of days, and back to 100% in another month or so. A close call, and we are grateful it wasn't worse.
Toward the end of our time together, we took an amazing boat tour through Thailand's Phang Nga Bay. This area was once part of the world's largest coral reef. Millions of years ago, the reef died, forming deposits of calcium carbonate hundreds of meters thick. As the earth's tectonic plates collided, these deposits were forced upward, forming uniquely shaped islands that rise from the sea. Our tour took us around the bay, with stops to hike through caves, kayaking through caves, some time to swim and relax on a gorgeous beach, and a wonderful lunch at a beachfront Thai restaurant. Please let us know if you are headed to this area, so we can recommend a boat tour you will never forget! (I tried to convince Thais to let me stay behind with our injured athlete, but Momma Kilday was extremely territorial about the caretaker role.)
Regrettably, all good things must come to an end. We sent our friends back home to Austin last weekend and made our way back to Phnom Penh. It was bittersweet -- so good to be together, but hard to say goodbye. We are now four months away from heading back home to Austin. In many ways, it has been hard to think about leaving this place. But being with our friends has allowed us to think about late December with joy, optimism, and excitement.
And hope. Always hope.
Thank you Baskin family! We are so grateful for our time here with you. We love you all....