Two smiling children sat on a bench at a train station with the bright morning sunshine bouncing across their radiant beings. One had short blonde curls and was wearing a fresh pink-flowered dress; the other wore tan cargo shorts, a T-shirt, and slip-on sandals. Both of them clutched a bag of popcorn for their journey ahead.
When I came across this photo, I burst out laughing. (I was planning to put together memory books for my children, and I had been scrolling through digital pictures.) This charming photo does not tell the horrendous tale of our nightmarish trip from Chiang Mai to Bangkok via rail.
For almost the entire past month, we had spent a much-needed respite at an incredible resort for people like us in Chiang Mai. It is a trip I will always remember because we got to stay in a house on stilts, ride an elephant, eat fried frog with basil and garlic as we lounged in a little hut by a beautiful lake, go swimming almost every day, and eat ice cream as we watched purple and black butterflies land on flowers.
Then it came time to return to our “normal” lives in Central Asia.
When we had first arrived in this country, we had taken a 50-minute hopper flight from Bangkok to the city of Chiang Mai. Now as the days approached for us to leave Thailand, I began to formulate a different plan for our return to the capitol city.
“Wouldn’t it be great to take the train, instead?” I asked my husband.
“How long of a trip is it?” he questioned.
“The internet says about seven to eight hours,” I replied.
As the conversation continued, I insisted I would find the best train possible, that we should probably go by day if we really did want to see the countryside, and of course it would be much cheaper than the airline flight.
I am sure the price of the train tickets won my ever-practical husband over in the end. So a day before we needed to go, we purchased our tickets on a second-class train—this being the “best” available, we were assured.
The train station was clean and sparkling, and I enjoyed a hot cup of Nescafe before we boarded. At the last moment we picked up a few extra snacks. We entered the train.
“Look, there is so much more room in here than on a plane,” I pointed out to my husband.
The train lurched forward, and our journey began. With great excitement we enjoyed the lush vegetation flying past our window. After an hour, we passed a national park; the steam and rising mist were reflected in the early morning light. Then, my son turned white as a sheet, and my husband quickly took him to the “bathroom” at the end of the car, where he lost the contents of his stomach.
From there the land flattened out, stomachs settled, the train traveled through dense areas of trees that made it impossible to see very far, and my children began to get hungry. Much to my dismay I discovered there was no dining car on the train. In fact, there was no place to purchase any food.
About two hours into the journey we were served a little platter of a cake, a pastry, and some eggs along with some water and tea or coffee. We quickly ate this, and later my kids munched on the popcorn. I longingly eyed the stores we saw along the wayside, and when the train periodically stopped I wondered if I could hop off and purchase additional food. There was never any announcement as to how long the train was going to stop, and I feared if I would hop off I would be separated from them forever.
We swayed along. I leaned my head against the side of train only to see several cockroaches scurrying by my head, and I quickly pulled my head back. I noticed how restless my kids were becoming. We played a movie on my husband’s laptop, but after two hours the battery died. We were left with little food and no entertainment. I will never forget my daughter’s horrified expressions when I showed her the bathroom where she had to squat over the open square carved out in the floor while watching the track flying by as she relieved herself.
I began to rethink my bright idea. I began to regret my decision.
However, my family and I had no choice but to remain on the train until we reached our destination—which in the end turned out not to be seven or eight hours, but eleven! Three times we were served the same meal. The popcorn and the cookies were long gone when we arrived in Bangkok in a dark train station at almost midnight, hungry and exhausted. To make matters worse, we had to be at the airport the next morning at 5:00 AM to catch our international flight.
Now I can laugh, but I can assure you, there was no picture taken at the end of this journey.
As I looked at the “before” picture, I could not help thinking about how in life, it is so easy to make one decision that steers the course of our lives. We can then find ourselves on a never-ending train wondering why the decision that got us there had seemed like such a good idea in the first place. We have no choice but to endure and hang on, waiting until it is over.
Through these difficult times we can take comfort in the fact that we do not have to endure alone; our God journeys alongside us. Even when we find ourselves in nightmarish situations, Jesus travels with us—encouraging us, comforting us, and in the end healing us—so that on some distant day, laughter may find us once again.
Question to consider: We know you have some. What “nightmarish situations” have you traveled through with Jesus and can now laugh about?