Finding Serenity in the Slums of Bangkok

It strikes me as I watch Joy and Peter laughing while they wash and dry the dishes from dinner, that a heart lifted by gratitude is the same, no matter where you are.

Resilient, beautiful Joy, living up to her name in the Serenity Retreat's kitchen, displays an exuberance no less infectious than the team of Thai 8-year olds who beamed as they proudly demonstrated to me how swiftly they could take their AIDS meds... and then dove into a giggling heap of their fellows at the Mercy Centre for another giddy group photo.

Finding fun in routine--or even mildly unpleasant--tasks can be challenging under the best of circumstances. A sink full of dirty dishes and a cup full of bitter pills can be tougher to swallow than, say, a slice of apple pie. It takes a healthy dose of perspective, realism, and gratitude to recognize the power and beauty of the ordinary, and to know and appreciate the gift of good company, a full belly, and warm soapy water.

Many of the resident at the Leipzig Serenity Retreat near Wilkie, Saskatchewan (a private, grassroots haven for people recovering from addictions) have had bleak periods devoid of ordinary routines and comforts, and supportive households. Owners Ardyth, Dan, and Gary (pictured above) help people restore balance through non-denominational spiritual study and communal cooking and cleaning. They are inspired, and inspiring. In just four months they renovated a 40-year vacant convent into a warm, loving, well-appointed healing center.

Across the world in Bangkok's Khong Tuey neighborhood, Father Joseph Meier met many people struggling with addictions, poverty, homelessness, and disease. By comforting dying parents and then looking after their freshly orphaned kids (many of whom were born with the AIDS that killed their parents), Khun Paw Joseph offered support and love.

First Father Joe met and tended to people on the streets. Eventually a community and an extraordinary facility grew around his ordinary acts of grace and kindness. Visit the well-appointed Mercy Centre today and you'll meet a slew of staff and children, open to the magic of daily living. These kids--and the people who love and care for them--infused me with insta-joy and gratitude for cheap digital cameras. We had a blast taking pictures and singing songs together.

Life is filled with dirty dishes, disease, and hardship. And simultaneously, there is often soap, medicine, and supportive people eager to help. Wise is the person who takes soap to the dirty lasagna pan with a grateful heart.

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