Tuesday, December 21, 2010

plastic drawers

I am blessed. That is the bottom line. I have been given more than I could ever deserve. I have more than enough.

That being said, I struggle daily to live in the world around me.

I just moved into a new apartment. And, as you do, I went to buy odds and ends to get settled into my new home. I didn't need a lot. (I try to be a minimalist.) There were a lot of things that my roommate and I decided that we didn't really need, or at least didn't need right now. But, there was one thing that we both wanted...

Plastic drawers. We each wanted a set of plastic drawers to put in our bathrooms, which have ZERO storage. We just wanted a place to put extra rolls of toilet paper. A place to put our toothpaste. A place to put other bathroom products.

Yet, as we examined our plastic storage choices in order to buy the smallest and cheapest option that would meet our needs, we felt frivolous.
As we held our plastic drawers on our tuk tuk ride home, we asked ourselves when plastic drawers became frivolous. When did they go from the "cheap" option, the choice of college students, to a purchase that requires fighting a guilty feeling? When did buying some plastic tubs become a purchase that requires saving up? When did I it become difficult to know that I live in a country where most people don't have enough "extra" stuff to fill three plastic drawers in their bathroom? When did I realize how blessed I really am? And, why did it take so long to realize?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

winds of change

I do not claim to be a lover of change, but I'm not a hater either. I do not usually welcome change with open arms, but I don't hide in the corner hoping that change won't be able to find me. If that were the case, I would likely be hiding in a cave right now. Why? The winds of change are upon us. So much is happening right now. I have already had to say good-bye to a great friend/roommate as she finished her time here. I was sad to see her leave, but I am excited for where God is going to take her in the future. And, I know it wasn't a forever good-bye, but it was definitely an indefinite "until next time." Another great friend is preparing to leave in just a few days. I can hardly imagine Cambodia without her in it. We have traveled together. We have eaten together. We have played games and watched movies together. We have vented to each other. We have shared our deep love of Mexican food. And, again, I know this isn't a forever good-bye, but it is a good-bye to this season of life for both of us.
Relationships are a funny thing here. People regularly come and go, sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a long time. And, relationships develop at a faster pace here because of necessity. We need each other, and we realize that we need each other even if it is only for a short season. I believe that I am more thankful for my relationships with people now than I ever have been because I realize how precious people are and how much I value them. I am thankful for my time with people whether it is 2 days, 2 weeks, or 2 years.
And, then, there are people who are riding these winds of change with me. I am moving to a new home in just a few days with my super wonderful roommate. I am looking forward to many things in my new home, not the least of which is a real bed. I really hate the process of moving. I hate packing and moving boxes and unpacking. But, I love being settled and feeling at home. I am excited to buy an oven and bake pies and casseroles and cookies with my roommate. I am excited to experiment with new recipes and have dinner parties. I am excited to have movie nights in a place where we have a TV on which to watch a movie and furniture on which to sit.
Sometimes change is really good. And, sometimes change helps us to move forward after we say good-bye to people and things we love. But, it is always good to find comfort in knowing that God remains steadfast. He never changes.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8

Friday, December 3, 2010

pray

We pray for children
who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
who like to be tickled,
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.
And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never "counted potatoes,"
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead in,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an x-rated world.
We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key,
who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
who slurp their soup.
And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can't find any bread to steal,
who don't have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.
We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.
We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
for those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance,
for those we smother...
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

~ Ina J. Hughs

Monday, November 29, 2010

moo-ay chnam howie!

Last Friday was a special day for me. It marked "moo-ay chnam howie," or one year anniversary, in Cambodia. It was one year ago that I stepped off a plane in Cambodia not knowing what the future might hold. It was one year ago that I fell in love with Cambodia and her people. It was one year ago that I was overwhelmed with new sights and smells and sounds that quickly became normal. It was one year ago that my life was changed forever, and I knew I could never go back.

A lot has happened in the last year. My views on many things have changed. One year ago I would not have guessed that I would be sitting where I am, doing what I am doing. But, I would not trade it for a moment. The past year has involved so much growing and stretching and learning. I know I am not the person I was one year ago. I have seen entirely too much. I had planned to post a list of things that have shaped me and changed within me over the last year, but with all the events of the last week here, I simply haven't had the capacity to do it yet. But, hopefully I will soon!

i saw what i saw and i can't forget it
i heard what i heard and i can't go back
i know what i know and i can't deny it

something on the road cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm afraid of
and what i know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

something on the road cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm afraid of
and what i know of love

your courage asks me what i'm afraid of
your courage asks me what i am made of
your courage asks me what i'm afraid of
and what i know of love
and what i know of God

~ i saw what i saw, sara groves

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

tragedy

I don't have a whole lot to say today.
I am really sad but safe.
The tears keep welling up in my eyes.
My heart is aching.
The streets are quieter today.
The celebrations ended with tragedy.
Please pray for Cambodia today.

You can read about what has happened here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jesus wept

There are mysteries of God that I am sure I will never understand until I see Him face to face. But, as I draw near to Him, I find that He reveals more and more of Himself to me. I have earnestly prayed that God would break my heart for the things that break His, that I would be moved with compassion as Jesus was.
"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matthew 9:36
Jesus loved with reckless abandon. He loved deeply and radically. He loved those the world deemed unlovable. He pursued the outcasts. He dined with murderers and thieves. He invited Himself into the homes of the poor and the hated. He communed with the stigmatized. And, He wept.
"Then Jesus wept." John 11:35
Weeping is not merely a glistening tear falling down one's cheek. Rather, it is a fit of tears. Weeping is typically associated with a deep burden, not a fleeting emotion. It is not a cry of momentary anger or frustration. It is not what we do when we see a touching movie or even when our favorite football team loses the Super Bowl. Weeping is a result of an ache so deep in our hearts that the only One who can truly touch that place is our Abba Father. Jesus understood weeping.
"But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to weep. 'How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.'" Luke 19:41-44

I feel like God has taught me a lot about this kind of compassion over the last several weeks. I live in a place filled with brokenness and beauty. I can easily be overwhelmed by hopelessness until I see the flicker of hope in another's eye. I live in a place that is dark and thus have to carry the light of life within me wherever I go. There have been many days where I have wanted to stop, to sit, and to weep. Weep over the deception in which people live. Weep over the filth in which people live. Weep over the rejection people feel. Weep over the injustice that surrounds them.
But, I have yet to actually release the floodgates. Sometimes my eyes well up. Sometimes a tear or two will escape. But, a flood is coming soon. A cleansing flood for both me and for this nation I have come to love so deeply.
"Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." Psalm 30:5b

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bangkok

I had an opportunity last week to travel to Bangkok, Thailand for a few days. It is amazing the differences that can exist a mere one hour flight away from my home. Thailand is still Southeast Asia, and there are many similarities between Thailand and Cambodia. However, the differences between the two capital cities were striking. It was surreal to be able to use the sky train and taxis to get around the city in Bangkok and to see countless buildings that towered over me.
And, it was great to be able to contact with some friends! I met Brook and Sara a couple years ago as they were preparing to move to Thailand, and when I was certain I was moving to Cambodia, we agreed that we would be way too close together not to visit. It was so much fun to be able to spend some time with them in a nation that they love and share life in Southeast Asia with them. Four of us came from Cambodia (3 of us who are living here, and one who was visiting), so we had a great time of fellowship with one another. Friends are such a blessing!
We didn't have plans to do too many tourist things, but we did make a trip to Jim Thompson house. Jim Thompson is the man who introduced Thai silk to the rest of the world. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while on a vacation in Malaysia. It was an interesting visit to the beautiful home that he had built in Bangkok before his disappearance.

As I mentioned, our goal for the trip was not to be super tourists. We actually had a short list of things that we wanted to do--things that we don't have access to in Cambodia. The list included eating good Mexican food (which we did 3 times in 4 days), eating good Thai food, seeing a movie in a real theater, and exploring to find other things we don't have in Cambodia. Franki and I getting excited about seeing a movie with a big bucket of popcorn. Unfortunately, we all forgot our jackets, and by the end of the movie, we were all fearful of hypothermia! But, it was so fun!
And, yes, we found Starbucks, which was not hard since there are over 30 of them in the city. A toffee nut latte was the most spectacular treat!
As much as I love Cambodia and can't imagine living anywhere else, it is nice to be able to visit a city with a few more luxuries and reminders of America once in a while. It did my heart good to have a little bit of time away to rest and regroup!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

wisdom

Several weeks ago I made a post about one of my Khmer brothers, so this week I decided it was only fair to make a post about my other Khmer brother. I had a super proud "bong srey" (big sister) moment last week that I wanted to share.

Last week while doing our regular afternoon ministry with a group of children, we encountered a situation that we hadn't had to deal with yet. Our ministry takes place in a public area, which also happens to be a location frequented by tourists. Thus, there are often foreigners wandering about with fanny packs and cameras hanging from their necks, and the vast majority of them cannot resist taking pictures of the children jumping rope or sitting in a circle singing songs. This is nothing new to us, but we have learned to simply ignore it and continue on with our lessons. However, this particular day a tourist grabbed the attention of a group of about five boys who were more than happy to pose for a series of photos. After several snapshots, one of the boys took advantage of the situation and asked the young woman for a dollar.

Now, pause. Do not EVER give money to begging children. It is never appropriate. It is a bad practice. It creates cyclical poverty. It creates a climate of handouts rather than hand-ups. And, in many cases, begging children are exploited children. So, just don't do it. Ok? Thanks!

Ok, press play. Unfortunately the young tourist was happy to oblige the boy and pulled out a crisp one dollar bill. Insert chaos. The recipient of the dollar skipped off waving the dollar in triumph while the other boys chased him to try to get a piece of the action. Other boys mobbed the tourist in hopes that she would share the wealth with them also. However, she didn't have enough dollars to go around and simply smiled, shook her head, and walked away.

And, now the proud big sister moment. My wise-beyond-his-years "p'own bproh" (little brother) took command of the situation. He corralled all the children, made them sit down in a circle with him, and asked for the dollar. The dollar was yielded, and he went on to explain to the entire group that it is never appropriate to ask others for money. He explained that it is important to work hard and earn money honestly. Then, he informed the children that we would keep the dollar and use it to help purchase fruit for them, which we bring with us for a snack each day. This opportunity also led to a discussion of being careful in talking to strangers and not automatically trusting everyone who approaches them and offers them something.

I was literally bursting with pride as I watched my 17-year-old brother take command of the situation without the prompting of anyone. I am so incredibly blessed to have him in my life.
He certainly possesses wisdom far beyond his years, and I pray for him. I pray that he would increase in wisdom and knowledge as he grows. Luke 2:52 says, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and all the people." This is what I pray for my brother--that he would grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with both God and men. I think he has a pretty good start already!
And, for some reason, I have a lot of photos of him in this same position. I promise he does work...and work hard!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, his name means wisdom.
And, here I am with two of my most favorite Khmer brothers! It is a privilege and honor to work with them each day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

how do you pray?

As I was listening to a podcast while I ran ten miles this morning, I was challenged to pray in a new way. The pastor shared about how when we pray for people, especially those on the mission field, we consistently pray for their safety. We pray that they will be safe and that God would protect them from danger, that they would not face any trials or tribulations. We essentially pray that their lives would be trouble-free.
Now, while most of us would gladly accept a pain-free life, the reality is that is not just going to happen. We live in a fallen world. There is an enemy out to destroy us. But, we know that ultimately we have victory. We already know how the story ends.
In the podcast, the pastor shared that we should pray that God would show up in our lives, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We should pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. We should pray for divine appointments that will further the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be apparent in our lives. We should pray for patient endurance and ultimate victory in every challenge that comes our way.
God has not called us to a life of safety. Jesus did not lead a "safe" life. Paul did not lead a "safe" life. "In everything that we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our priority, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit with us, and by our sincere love." 2 Corinthians 6:4-6
I think that those words imply that Paul lived anything but a safe life. I am reminded of Lucy's question in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She asks, "Is he safe?" To which Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe?! Of course he's not safe, but he's good."
How true are those words! My God is not a God of safety, but He is most definitely a God of goodness. So, when we pray, maybe we should focus more on bringing forth God's goodness in all situations than praying that God would protect us and keep us safe from the things He may want to use to teach us.
My prayer today:
"I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope He has given to those He called--His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority of power or leader or anything else--not only in this world but also in the world to come." Ephesians 1:15-21

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

emergency

I recently finished the book Forgotten God by Francis Chan. It was an excellent book, and one I am sure that I will be going back to reread very soon. But, the book in and of itself is not really what I am going to talk about today. Rather, I am going to share some quotes from the afterword that served as both an encouragement and a challenge to me.
Francis Chan shares a story of how he sat next to an individual who runs an anti-trafficking organization at a dinner and how he learned about the children who were caught up in this horrific "industry." (I use the word "industry" because it is one of the top money-making industries in the world, despite being illegal.) He speaks about how his heart broke hearing the stories, how we wept all night, how he imagined such things happening to his own children, how he heard God call him to love these children as if they were his own. But, then he talks about how his zeal fizzled over the course of the next several months as he became distracted and discouraged, as he encountered individuals telling him that he couldn't save the world and that he was already doing more than his fair share.
Then, he shared that he and his wife had decided that all the royalties from the book Crazy Love would be donated to a charity that assists in alleviating poverty, bringing freedom, and empowering communities around the world. And this is what he says as quoted in Forgotten God,
"People told us that we were being foolish and irresponsible with the gifts God gave us. They said we should have at least put some away in case of an emergency. My response back was, 'Is it not an emergency that children in Cambodia and Thailand and even the United States are being raped every single day of their lives? Why is that not an emergency?' I think the church often inadvertently teaches that the sex-slave trade is not an emergency. And this, I believe, is sin. Is an emergency only an emergency if it affects me and my immediate family?"

As I sat in my kitchen in Cambodia reading this, I wanted to cry. Why? Because it is an EMERGENCY! It is an emergency right outside my front door. It is an emergency that I see children every day who are being abused, raped, and sold. And, it is not just an emergency in Cambodia. It is an emergency everywhere. Yet, the church has often downplayed the emergency by sending band-aids when an ambulance is what is required. It is easy to read a book or hear a story about the children who fall victim to the sex trade, but I assure that it is different when they have faces and names. I assure that it is different when you sit in the dirt and color with them, knowing that in a matter of hours they may be raped yet again. I assure you that it is different when you hold their dirty hands. I assure you it is different when you teach them to sing their ABC's. I assure you it is different when you see them slowly dying of HIV. I assure you that if you saw these things you would think it was much more of an emergency, and I assure you that my God believes it is an emergency.
It's time to sound the sirens, church!

"Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them." ~ Psalm 10:17-18

Saturday, October 16, 2010

pink or blue?

If there is one thing that living in another culture does to you (though it does many!), it would be that it forces you to evaluate your "normal." As much as we may hate to admit it, we are a product of our culture. We have been influenced and swayed and petitioned to believe certain things are true and factual and, in essence, normal. Then, if we go and plop ourselves in another culture, our entire world is shifted as a drastically different normal sets in. This can happen anywhere. Take a kid who grew up on the beaches of Florida and set him on the streets in Harlem. Or, take a kid who grew up on the streets of Harlem and set him on a farm in the Midwest. Or, take a girl who grew up on a farm in the Midwest and plop her in Cambodia...

I just thought I would share some of the ways God has challenged me and revealed to me some of the cultural things I grew up believing to be normal but have since realized are a bit flawed. The title of this blog post is but one of them. Pink or blue? Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. This is normal and acceptable, right? I mean, yes, girls can like the color blue and wear blue clothing and the like. And, boys can even pull off a pink shirt, provided that it is the right shade. But, we dress our baby girls in pink and our baby boys in blue. Because pink is a feminine color, right?
Hold on.
Stop right there.
How can a color be feminine or masculine?
Colors do not have any anatomy that would suggest they are male or female. They do not give off any kind of hormone or other indication of their femininity or masculinity.
They are merely colors.
In Cambodia, there are no gender-based colors. Grown men drive down the street on pink motorbikes with absolutely no shame. Baby boys and baby girls are more easily distinguished by their lack of diapers than by their pink or blue booties. One of my male Khmer friends commented the other day about how much he liked my bright fuchsia-colored phone. Instead of being surprised by this, I just thanked him and told him how much I paid for it.

Which brings me to my next cultural point. In America, it is certainly a cultural taboo to go about asking people how much they paid for things. I mean, everyone likes to share about a good deal that they got on something. But, it is not appropriate to walk up to a stranger on the street, tell them that you like their pants, and then ask how much they paid for them. It is kind of on the same level as asking someone how much they make. It is a conversation that you may have with family or good friends, but it is not one that you discuss with strangers while standing on a street corner waiting for the light to turn green. Or is it?
I recently learned that a perfectly appropriate and expected question when someone is speaking with you and likes something you are wearing or carrying is "How much did that cost?" Being from a culture where that is not an appropriate question AND realizing that I live on considerably more than the average person here, I am naturally uncomfortable with this question. However, I am learning that it is just part of life here, so I suck it up and hope that my bartering skills allowed me to get a good deal. Or, I revert to my old familiar lie, "I don't remember."

Culture is a fascinating thing. Can you think of any aspects of your own culture that you have caught yourself questioning?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

hand wash only?

Ok, I will be completely honest. I have always been one of those shoppers who checks out the washing instructions on clothes prior to falling in love with something. Why? Two reasons. 1. I do not want to pay to have something dry cleaned, and 2. I HATE hand washing clothes. In order for me to buy something that requires hand washing, I need to really love it...and also know that I am likely not going to have to wash it every time I wear it (i.e. sweaters or dresses).

But, Cambodia puts an entirely different spin on things. Cambodia (at least where I am currently living) stamps "hand wash only" on every article of clothing I own. T-shirts. Yes. Jeans. Yes. Athletic shorts. Yes. And even towels. I thought I would put up a little video of what my "laundry room" looks like.
video
That is where the hand-washing festivities take place, folks. And, they happen there every three days or so because if I wait longer than that it literally takes me HOURS to do my laundry. If I do it every three or four days it is manageable to stay on top of the laundry mountain.

Now, with all that being said, I just want to say that I have learned not to despise my laundry time. It has actually turned into a great opportunity for me to be quiet and pray or to put on my iPod with some worship music. The Bible tells us to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16), so for this season of my life I realize that means praying for mountains to be moved while I wring out my running shorts...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a spirit of fear

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Fear. It is something that runs wild in Cambodia. Fear of shame. Fear of man. Fear of evil spirits.

This week in Cambodia is Pchum Ben, or Ancestors Day.

Pchum Ben is a Cambodian holiday during which the gates of hell are thought to open and the spirits are released. People travel to the pagodas to offer food and clothes to the Buddhist monks on behalf of their deceased ancestors. The thought is that by offering food to the monks it will vicariously feed their ancestors. There is great fear during this time that people will be haunted by evil spirits, but if they feed the evil spirits, they will be too busy eating (or something) to bother people. Other practices involve scattering rice in open fields and throwing sticky rice balls onto walls for the spirits. Many people travel to the provinces around the country to visit their hometowns and the pagodas there. They are incredibly fearful of the spirits of their relatives coming back to haunt them or kill them.
The darkness here makes me more and more aware of my great need for God and my incredible thankfulness for His love and power. "But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world." ~ 1 John 4:4

My heart's desire is for the people of Cambodia to realize the futility of the sacrifices they make and to turn their hearts to the One True God who delivers them from fear and infuses them with power and love. May they know that once they taste the Bread of Life that they will never hunger again--no need for throwing sticky rice balls at the gates of hell.

Please join me in prayer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

but, will you?

"A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. 'If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,' he said."

Faith. Believing God. Being confident in that which we cannot see. Being assured of that for which we hope.

It is a simple idea. Not too difficult, right? Well, maybe it isn't too difficult for some, but I think for most, including myself, it is much easier in theory than it is in practice. And, actually, I often find myself like the man with leprosy. I don't doubt that God can do what He says He will do, rather I doubt whether He will or not, whether He will do it for me. I am quite confident that I am completely undeserving of the grace He grants me each day. His mercies are new every morning, and believe me, I know that I need new ones each and every day! And, just in doing that, He has already given me more than I could ever repay. He sent His Son to endure pain and hardship on this earth, to die a sinner's death though He was without blemish, and all of it was for me. So, who am I to ask for anything more than that? I do understand that if He chose to, He could do much, much more for me. But, is He willing?

"Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. 'I am willing,' He said. 'Be healed!'" ~ Mark 1:40-41

Yes, my friends, He is willing...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

walking

"No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." ~ Micah 6:8

Walking with God. This is something I have been thinking on a lot lately. What does it mean to really walk with God? I don't know that I have the answer, but Enoch did.

"Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him." ~ Genesis 5:23-24.

Enoch understood what it meant to walk with God. He walked in close fellowship with God. Fellowship is a word we throw around a lot in the Church. We have "fellowship time" and "fellowship dinners." But, what does fellowship really mean? Fellowship means unity. It means partnership and close friendship. Those are words I would love to use to describe my relationship with God, but in good conscience, I am quite sure that I shouldn't. I don't walk with God like I should. I do not have fellowship with Him as I should. Why? Because I fail to hold up my end of the partnership. Does He require too much? What exactly does He require?

He requires all of me, and no, it is not too much. Enoch understood that.

And, when he did, God took him. But, I do wonder, since Enoch walked in such close fellowship with God, did he even notice right away that he had left this world and gone on to something better, or were his eyes so fixed on the Lord while he was on earth that the transition into eternity was seamless?

Dear God, may I live knowing that today is the beginning of eternity with You.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

destiny

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him." ~ 1 Corinthians 2:9

God has blessed me with so many amazing people in my life, so many people who encourage me, who challenge me, who love me. I never cease to be amazed at how richly God blesses His children, though we never, ever deserve it. In the past few weeks, I have been especially blessed by one young man in particular.

I never had a biological little brother, but God has certainly blessed me with a lot of “little brothers.” I never really thought I wanted a younger brother growing up. I guess I figured the torment I received from my older brother was enough! (Just kidding, Ryan! I love you!) But, God has thought otherwise throughout my life. I have been blessed to have some amazing young men in my life. And, I know that my relationships with each one of them has brought me to where I am today, doing what I am doing now.

Destiny? Maybe…

In being here, I have the absolute honor and privilege of working alongside a couple of amazing young men to impact this nation. Whether they like it or not, I have adopted them as my little brothers. They themselves are brothers but so different (as so often happens). Today I am going to talk about one of them. (I am sure the other one will get a post at some point in the future.)

“My heart breaks for Cambodia.” Those are the words that appear when you ask this 18-year-old, recent high school graduate about what motivates him. His heart breaks for the ugliness in his nation. He wears a bracelet that says, “seek justice,” and he does. He loves deeply. He prays faithfully. He inspires and challenges me daily. He holds little girls’ hands to cross the street. He carries little boys on his shoulders. He sees the world around him and all of the things that are wrong and genuinely makes strides to change them, to bring God’s kingdom to earth. He has wisdom and maturity and faith far beyond his 18 years.

The future ahead of him is great, and I am so thankful that I am allowed the privilege to be a part of it for a season.

And it just so happens that his name means destiny…

Monday, September 13, 2010

good friends

I recently got a new Bible. The Bible that I had lugged everywhere with me for the past seven and a half years finally decided that it couldn't do as much traveling. The binding completely broke, which means that Hebrews 12 through Revelation completely fall out now (in addition to a few chapters in Matthew that were casualties of another disaster). I love that Bible, and it still came to Cambodia with me. But, I don't feel comfortable carrying it around in my backpack or taking it to church every Sunday because of the risk of losing pages. That Bible contains my life over the past seven and a half years. It is colored and underlined and full of notes in the margins. The pages are dog-eared. Not only is it God's written Word, but it is also the story God has been writing in me.
Needless to say, buying a new Bible was tough...but exciting at the same time. I knew the day was coming and had prepared myself well. I was actually excited about clean pages. Reading an unmarked Bible is like discovering God's truth for the very first time.
That being said, I have really been enjoying reading in my new Sword. And, this past week I decided that James and I, we would have been good friends. I love the book of James. So, when I read through it this past week for the umpteenth time, it was like meeting an old friend but seeing him with fresh eyes. James is practical. He is straightforward. He does not sugarcoat things. He is not afraid to be honest. He challenges. He goes against the crowd. He upsets the apple cart. He packs a powerful punch in 5 short chapters. Every time I read through the book of James, I come across something I missed the last time, or I had at least forgotten since the last time.
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, 'You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor'--well, doesn't this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn't God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren't they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom He promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn't it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren't they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?" James 2:2-7
I read this passage, and I had images of some beautiful, fun, dirty children pop into my mind. I spend my afternoons with them in the dirt. We sing songs. We play games. We throw balls. We use glue and markers. We jump rope. I have no doubt that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. And, honestly, I have little problem with the poor and dirty of this world.
I have a far greater problem not making judgments about the fancy and rich. I am much more comfortable on the dusty streets of a poor farming village than I am in the midst of a banquet in a grand hall. Ask me not to judge the poor, and I will happily oblige. Ask me not to judge the wealthy, and I will bite my tongue and pray for God's mercy.
Now, I didn't actually know James, but I do wonder if he felt the same as me. He saw how the wealthy were treated in comparison to the poor. He saw that the poor were often marginalized, but I wonder if he himself had a greater challenge in not favoring the poor over the wealthy. I don't have the answer, but regardless, I am confident that James and I would have been good friends...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

all before lunch!

I know many people often wonder what I do with my days in Cambodia, so I decided I would give you a little rundown of what a day sometimes looks for me. Today, for example, started out a little like this...

Wake up.
Spend some time with Jesus.
Shower. (This is shower 1 of usually 2 per day.)
Breakfast.
Catch up on emails.
Go through some research.
Khmer lesson.
Buy a helmet.
Bike to office supply store.
Answer phone and have a conversation to set up a meeting for the next day all while riding my bike in traffic.
Go to the market and buy a papaya and some pomegranates.
Go to another market to buy some vegetables.
Bike home carrying my bag, a bag of office supplies and two bags of produce.
Sit down to sift through some more research.

And, lunchtime.

I won't even go into what the rest of my day looked like, but it did involve less running around than my morning. Now, I wouldn't say that today was a "typical" day, but I certainly wouldn't classify it as unusual.

Life here operates on a different schedule, and it is one to which I am growing quite accustomed. I love having freedom in my days and in my schedules. I love being relaxed and focusing on people and relationships. And, I love fresh papaya!

Monday, August 30, 2010

roots and wings

"a bird may love a fish, sire, but where would they live?"

I have been pondering this for the last several days. As I left to travel to Cambodia this time around, my heart was a bit torn. I am so excited about what the future holds for me. I deeply love Cambodia and her people. I love the work that I do here, even when it is incredibly difficult and exhausting. I love life here. I love the activity. I love riding on the back of motorbikes and bartering in the market. I love my friends here. I love seeing God move here.
But, I also realized that I love Indiana summer--the smell of cornfields and the sound of quiet. I love my family and my friends. I love cuddles with my nieces and nephews. I love baking in the kind of kitchen I am used to. I love cool morning runs.
So, it was hard to say good-bye to those things for who knows how long, even though I knew I loved what I was going to be receiving on the other side of things. I am finding that choosing to live my life with God tends to be like this...remembering my roots but embracing my wings.

"then I shall have to make you wings..."

*and props to anyone who can name that movie*

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

are you mad at me?

He's not mad at you...
He's not disappointed...
His grace is greater still...
than all of your wrong choices

These are some of the lyrics to a song by Pocket Full of Rocks, and they have been running over my mind quite a lot lately.

Based on all of my "Christian understanding," of course I know that God is not mad at me. Of course He isn't disappointed. And, of course, His grace both covers me and empowers me to be better. That's the right answer, isn't it?

But, knowing all of that doesn't mean that I still don't marvel at the thought of Him not being mad at me and disappointed in me for all of the awful decisions I make, the evil thoughts that I think, and the good things I simply don't do. He has every right and reason to be disappointed in me. He has 24 years of ammunition against me, and I add to it every day. Yet, somehow God looks past all of that and sees something else in me. I certainly don't deserve that.

Most people live with a subtle dread that one day they will be discovered for who they really are and the world will be appalled...we come into the world with a longing to be known and a deep-seated fear that we aren't what we should be. ~ The Sacred Romance

I have often read those words and marveled at how true they resonate with me. Don't we all wish that someone really understood us? That someone really could relate to us and understand how we think and feel? But then, doesn't it terrify us that someone will actually get a glimpse of what goes on in our minds and be absolutely horrified? I know that I am not what I should be, and I would wager that many other people would acknowledge this about themselves as well. However, it is one thing to acknowledge this about yourself, but it is an entirely different ball game when someone else realizes you for what you really are and knows that you are not what you should be. And, isn't that the exact position God is in? He knows exactly what we're thinking, how we're feeling. He knows our faults. He knows our successes. He knows our inner beauties and our deepest ugliness. Yet, somehow He comes out on the other side and isn't angry or disappointed, and I am left questioning,

"Are You sure You're not mad at me? Not even disappointed?"

And, often, before I even give Him a chance to answer, I think,

"Because I am. I am disappointed in myself. I am angry at myself for the stupid things I do."

Meanwhile, I think God is shaking His head (not His fist) and marveling at the forgetfulness of humanity. And, like Jesus said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing," He says it all over again to me. He says, "Look from where I have brought you, dear child." And then, as He said so many years ago,

"It is finished."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

so...what's on your list?

In preparing for the next phase of my life and heading back to Cambodia, I have been asked several times if Cambodia is where I feel "called." The short answer to that is yes...for now. I do feel called to be in Cambodia for this season of my life. There is actually nowhere else I would rather be right now. I LOVE the nation, the people, and the work that I do. And yes, it is incredibly exhausting and draining and hard, and I really have no idea what I am doing. But, thankfully, God has it all under control; He just needs some hands and feet on the ground to get things done, and I am happy to oblige. However, I do not anticipate being in Cambodia for the rest of my life. There are so many things for which God has burdened my heart. There are so many things that I want to do and to see and to change, so many people with whom I want to share my Jesus. So, I thought I would list a few of the things on my "before I get to Heaven list."

1. Run a marathon.
2. See Victoria Falls.
3. Take culinary classes.
4. Write a book.
5. See a Broadway show in New York City
6. Live in Africa.
7. Have my own motorbike.
8. Live in a house with a HUGE kitchen...with a double oven! (Not convinced this one will ever happen, but this is my dream list so I can put whatever I want!)
9. Visit 6 of the 7 continents. Antarctica doesn't interest me. (I only have one more to go! Anyone want to buy me a ticket to South America?)
10. What is be on Jeopardy!?

So, what are some things on your lists? And, I would really love to hear from anyone that reads this blog. I keep hearing about people who say they follow my blog, but I have yet to receive any feedback from you!!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

perspectives

Sometimes I find that I need a good dose of reality, a good reminder of just how blessed I am. And, that reality is that I was born into privilege. Simply because of the color of my skin and the country of my passport, I have more than the vast majority of the world. I don't know what true hunger feels like. I don't know what it is like to not have my basic needs met, to not have a roof over my head at night. Sure, there are plenty of things that at different times I have been sure that I needed. But, I don't really need much. I have what I need. So, just in case you are like me and occasionally need to be reminded about the blessings you have in life.

Almost half the world, nearly 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day.

At least 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

The poorest 40 percent of the world's population makes up less than 5 percent of world income. The richest 20 percent of the world's population makes up 75 percent of world income.

24,000 children die every day from poverty.

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century without being able to read a book or write their own names.

Less than one percent of what the world spent on weapons every year was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000...it didn't happen.

For every $1 in aid that developing countries receive, $25 is spent on debt repayment.

In 1998, $8 billion was spent on cosmetics in the United States while an extra $6 billion would allow for basic education to be available in all developing countries.

If you find this list interesting and would like to read more, check out this site.

"Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want, for I have learned to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [ I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]." Philippians 4:11-13

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Overwhelmed?

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast about poverty, the developing world, and Christians' responsibilities in regards to it all. It is a series that I have been listening to for a while now, but I hadn't had an opportunity to listen for a while. So, yesterday, I busted through four episodes while I picked blueberries. Now, I feel like I need to go listen to them all again because they were that good!
There was one line in particular that really struck me in listening. In one of the episodes and gentleman who was being interviewed about his work in Mozambique said something in a way I had never considered before. He said, "Satan loves to overwhelm Christians into apathy."
Wow!
I feel like that statement packs a powerful punch, and one that is true more often than I would like to think. As an individual who strives not to become overwhelmed by all of the needs in the world but rather focus on those that I can do something about no matter how small, I know that I sometimes DO get overwhelmed. I think about how big the world is and how small I am. I see pictures of people in lands I have never known suffering from ails I will never know, and I wonder whether there is really anything I could do to make a difference in their lives. I walk down the streets of lands that I know and see people in need and hope someone else helps them, justifying my behavior by focusing on my perceived lack rather than my actual abundance.
I often have people tell me how wonderful the work I am doing is and how admirable it is that I would give up my time and energy to work for no pay in order to be in Cambodia and reach the people there. While I understand why they say these things, I know that for me there is nowhere else I would rather be. And, for me and what God is asking me to do, I need to continually be examining myself. Am I being overwhelmed into apathy? Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, I think we all find ourselves there sometimes. But, I desperately want to be overwhelmed into action, not apathy. I want to know what is going on in the world, and I want to throw myself full force into making the world a better place. One step at a time. One life at a time. It is the only option I have, and it is what my King has required.
"So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin." James 4:17

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I will thank my God...

"i will thank my God every time I remember you
i will praise Him constantly for my brothers, my sisters, my family
my brothers, my sisters, my family"

I just wanted to put a post together to give a shout out to my super amazing family! I do not tell them often enough how much I love them and how thankful I am for their continual support. I am sure that they often think I am absolutely crazy, but they never fail to support me 110 percent to follow what God has put inside of me.
My parents are wonderful, and as much as I know that it does not thrill them for me to be living on the other side of the world, they are nothing but supportive. I am sure that when I was a shy little girl and they told me I could do anything I wanted, this was not what they had in mind. And, I am sure it has occasionally occurred to them that they had wished they had put a few more stipulations on "anything I wanted."
My sister and brother-in-law are a constant encouragement to me. It has been such a huge blessing to me to watch them over the last several years, to walk through difficult situations, to hunger for more of God. I am so excited for the journey they are currently walking through, and I can't wait for Caleb to come home. Caleb, you have some really great parents, and even though your aunt may not be around much, she loves you more than you know!!!!
My two favorite nieces inspire me every day. I am watching them grow (though not as closely as I might like) into beautiful young ladies who love Jesus and love other people. Riley is always seeking to give to others, and I love that! I pray you never lose that generous spirit, Riley. And, Caroline. She makes me smile! I love her determined spirit. There is no doing something halfway. That will serve you well in the future, Miss Caroline!
My brother and sister-in-law have blessed me more than they know. Their commitment to God and the work He has called them to do is exciting. They have certainly showed me what it means to bloom where you are planted without growing too comfortable by still remembering to dream and prepare for the future. Tyler is quite a little man! He's definitely a mover and a shaker, and Aunt Heather likes that, Tyler! It bodes well for the future God has for you. And, Aden, I love our cuddles and your smiles, and I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do with your future!

"i know your love has shaped me like water in a gorge
my Maker knew what i'd need and He gave me much more"
alathea, "my family"

Sunday, July 11, 2010

where is everyone?

I have been back on American soil for a couple weeks now. I have been enjoying seeing family and friends and sharing my love of Cambodia with anyone who cares to listen. Life in America is certainly different from life in Cambodia, but I haven't been terribly shocked by anything upon my return. There are some things that I don't like and are just strange or difficult or make my heart hurt. For example, I find it difficult to go into WalMart. The sheer number of choices is overwhelming to me. Honestly, all I need is toilet paper, but there is an entire aisle. I am bombarded with options...one ply? two ply? three ply? quilted? charmin? cottonelle? double roll? 4-pack? 12-pack? AHHHHH! Ok, I am better now, but I just thought I would give you an example of the thoughts racing through my head.
One thing that I have experienced since being here that caught me a bit off guard was during one of my morning runs. (I ticked that one off the list the first morning I was home. I totally didn't care that I didn't get home until 3am. I got up and ran in the morning!) I was out running one morning around 7:30, and as I was running through town, I kept thinking how strange it was that no one was outside. I mean no one. I was out running for over an hour, and only a handful of cars passed me (I'm from a really small town, folks) and didn't see a single person outside in their yard. It wasn't super early. So, for nearly an hour I pondered where everyone was.
Then, it hit me.
I remembered. People don't spend their lives outside here. People do not get up in the morning have their breakfast and then sit on their front lawn enjoying the cool of the morning. People don't get their haircuts or buy eggs on the streets. People don't swing their children in hammocks to take naps on the front porch. Instead, people stay inside.
You see, in Cambodia everyone is always outside. Between 5 and 6 every morning, people emerge from their homes. They set up plastic chairs in front of their gate, bring their breakfast outside, hop on a bike to go down the street a block to get a haircut, drive their moto to the market to pick up some fresh meat for the day, and sit down to chat with all of the neighbors as if something exciting has happened in the 8 hours that they were sleeping.
The community and social environment in which the Khmer people live is beautiful. And, I love it! (Well, except for when the wedding music starts at 5:30am) I think it is amazing and encouraging how friendly Khmer people are, how everything is about community, how things are shared, how conversations are struck up between complete strangers while sitting at a corner restaurant or even a stoplight. I love how even those who are privileged enough to have a television practically move it as far as they can out of their house, so they can be nearer to the excitement on the street. I love that people and relationships take precedence over stuff and selfishness.
I had prepared myself to face a lot of things. I had anticipated the difficulty of choosing toilet paper and the huge shelves filled with cereal. I expected to miss the wind in my face when riding on the back of a motorbike. But, I had not considered how much I would miss buying a diet coke from neighbor's corner store or being asked by another neighbor's daughter what my name was every day while she rode her bike back and forth between our gates. I did not realize how normal it had become to see men getting their haircut on the street or the familiar red and yellow tent with pink and yellow ribbons indicating that a wedding would be taking place in the middle of the street that day.
It makes me wonder who really has things figured out...

Friday, June 11, 2010

transitions

I only have a few days left in Cambodia. I think I may still be in a bit of denial, but the piles of clothes and gifts, open suitcases, and bare walls in my room are forcing me into a brutal reality.
Don't get me wrong. I am excited to see my family and friends at home. I am looking forward to celebrating my Grandpa's 85th birthday with him. I am looking forward to meeting my nephew who was born in April. I am looking forward to walking barefoot in the grass.
But...
I am sad to say good-bye to a nation and people that I love. I am desperately going to miss my friends here and my life here.
However...
I know that this good-bye is not forever. In fact, it is really only good-bye for a couple months. I am planning to return to Cambodia very soon to continue my work here. The work I will be doing upon my return is in a different capacity and with a different organization, and I could not be more excited about the opportunity God has opened up for me!!!

I am not sure how to articulate the range of emotions I am having right now. So, I would appreciate prayers for an easy transition back to America after having lived in Cambodia, and for all things to fall into place for my return to Cambodia...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

25 Things

As I wind down my time in Cambodia (this time around), I thought I would put together a couple lists for my readers. The first list is 25 things I love about Cambodia and will miss while I am in America. The second list is 25 things I am looking forward to during my visit to America. *Notice I put "visit" to America because I am officially planning to return to Cambodia after 6 weeks or so in America. There will be more on this later!
So, without further ado...

25 Things I LOVE about Cambodia
  1. Friendly Khmer people
  2. Delicious and cheap tropical fruit
  3. Being able to ride a bike nearly everywhere I want to go in Phnom Penh
  4. The Asian pronunciation of my name = “Hedar” (emphasis on the last syllable)
  5. Giggling about anything and everything (because Khmer culture is all about saving face, people giggle when they are uncomfortable with a situation or make a mistake.)
  6. Shopping for pretty much anything in an open market
  7. Not being phased by the appearance of rats or cockroaches (though I do have a new hatred for ants!!!)
  8. Banana Blossom Salad
  9. Talking to the little girl that lives next door who asks me every day, “What is your name? Where do you go?” (That is about all the English she knows.)
  10. Riding on the back of a moto
  11. Mango smoothies
  12. Sunshine every day!
  13. Being able to barter for better price on just about anything
  14. Spending time with beautiful and amazing girls!
  15. Great friends
  16. Free delivery from nearly every restaurant in town
  17. Mangosteens!
  18. Khmer curry & amok
  19. Seeing people spend their whole day in Hello Kitty pajamas
  20. Seeing how long I can hold my breath when crossing over smelly street (ok, maybe that one isn’t really something I enjoy). And, just for reference, “smelly street” has an open sewer that runs along the length of the street.
  21. Being able to scrub my toilet, brush my teeth, and shower all at the same time
  22. Either being barefoot or wearing flip flops 99% of the time
  23. Getting excited about things like discounted cereal at the grocery store. (This is the only way I can afford to buy it. They usually discount it if it is nearing its expiration date or the box is damaged.)
  24. Weaving myself through rush-hour traffic like a pro and crossing streets with confidence that people will just drive around you.
  25. And, did I mention how much I love Khmer people? Because I really, really do!!!!!
And now...

25 Things I am looking forward to in America
  1. Seeing my family
  2. Visiting friends
  3. Traveling faster than 30mph
  4. Being able to drink tap water
  5. Using a clothes dryer
  6. Good Mexican food
  7. Meeting my new nephew and seeing my other one and my nieces!
  8. Running outside on a cool morning (and anything below 85 sounds cool to me!)
  9. Not being in a perpetual state of sweat
  10. Eating berries
  11. Carpet
  12. Baking in a real oven
  13. Being able to walk in grass
  14. Rhubarb!!!!!!
  15. Whole wheat bagels
  16. Dependable electricity
  17. Seeing the stars at night
  18. Actually being comfortable in jeans…and maybe even a hoodie in the evenings!
  19. Being able to wear my hair differently than a low ponytail pulled slightly to the side (I have discovered this is the best style to fit well under a helmet (bicycle or moto) and still stay off my neck as much as possible.)
  20. Not having ants on my countertops, in my cupboards, on my walls, in my shower, etc.
  21. Seeing a normal news show…or any television show, really
  22. Listening to the radio
  23. Actually wanting to take a hot shower AND having a shower with a door (all the bathrooms here are wet baths, which means you have a shower head in your bathroom and the whole bathroom gets wet when you shower)
  24. Playing in the garden (and by saying this, I probably just committed myself to spending weeks pulling weeds, mulching, and picking green beans…)
  25. Cuddling with my kitties and playing with dogs (because I am not concerned about them being rabid!)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

S'bayt Khmaow!

There are some things in life that simply leave me baffled. One of these things in perspectives on skin. Living in a tropical climate has left me a bronze color that I previously did not know was possible. The sun is quite intense here, but I rarely wear sunscreen because I am not usually outside for long periods of time. However, ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there has left me with really dark. The interesting thing is that in Cambodia the people desperately want white skin. It is quite a feat to find any kind of lotion, make up, or moisturizer here that does not have some kind of whitening agent in it. White is beautiful. The Khmer people are quite varied in their skin tones as they have lots of influence from other ethnicities in their history. Some of them are really dark while some of them are quite light-skinned. And, undoubtedly, the light-skinned Khmer are deemed more beautiful regardless of any other quality. As my skin has bronzed, I have begun to get disapproving looks from my Khmer friends and those I work with. They frown and say "s'bayt khmaow!" which means "black skin." Then, they ask if I like my skin this color and they shake their heads when I answer "yes!" I like my bronze skin. They have also taken to regularly comparing my skin tone with their own. I am now actually as dark or darker than many of them, which they think is quite funny.
Isn't it quite reflective of life that we consistently want what we don't have? Those of us who have pasty white skin desperately want to look bronzed (minus the sunspots and wrinkles) while those who have beautifully dark skin tones lather themselves with whitening creams. We want to be thinner, smarter, more athletic, more musically inclined, wealthier...the list goes on and on. Rarely are we satisfied with the way God created us, with the talents and gifts He apportioned to us. We find it much easier to focus on that which we don't have, rather than rejoicing in the gifts and beauty He has placed inside of us. I have come to learn that people are most beautiful when they are walking alongside Christ and operating in the gifts He has given them. When this is the case, people simply glow! Their joy is both evident and contagious! I want to be like this. I want to reflect Christ in all I do. I want His joy to radiate from me. I don't want my glow to come from my bronzed skin but rather from my reflection of the Son. I want to rejoice in the person He has created me to be and excel in the gifts He has given me, not so that I will be noticed but so that God may be glorified. He truly is a creative artist. As I pause to truly look at the world around me, I am consistently amazed by His amazing creativity and attention to every detail. I challenge you to take the time today to pause and reflect on the amazing creation around you!

we're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
we're colored people, and they call us the human race
we've got a history so full of mistakes
and we are colored people who depend on holy grace
~ dcTalk, "Colored People"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Freedom!!

I have discovered a new sense of freedom in Phnom Penh! About a month and a half ago, I finally got up the nerve to start navigating the utter chaos of the streets in Phnom Penh. My hesitation in not doing this previously was simply that I never rode a bike much growing up and was just not very confident on one. However, the organization I am working with had some bikes available to me should I choose to use one. So, during Khmer New Year (April 14-16) the streets of Phnom Penh were absolutely deserted as everyone traveled to the provincial countryside to enjoy time with family. Thus, this was the prime time for me to get all the wobbles out and begin biking!
I think that might have been the best decision I have made in a long time!!!! It was so incredibly liberating to be able to hop on a bike and go anywhere that I want to go and stop anywhere I feel like stopping along the way. And, the best part is that it is free (well, minus the 8 cents it costs me to park at the market)!!!! I love riding on the back of motos, but the free factor of riding a bike definitely appeals to a girl who is living on a budget. Phnom Penh is small enough that it is feasible to take a bike pretty much anywhere in the city as long as you don't mind being soaked with sweat when you arrive. It has been insanely hot over the last few months, so I have grown quite accustomed to perpetually dripping with sweat regardless of whether I am riding a bike or simply sitting. So, the sweat factor is not a drawback for me, really.
I have had some fun (and not so fun) experiences on the bike. I got in a little accident a few weeks ago. A moto hit my bike and I did a Superman dive, but I was fine, just a few scrapes and bruises. I was back on the bike just a few days later, undeterred. Another day I was quite a sight to behold as I rode home from a friend's apartment on a Saturday morning with a backpack strapped to my back, a backpack strapped to my front, and the basket on the front of my bike filled with 2 bags of groceries. Now, you might think that I got some strange looks as I pedaled home, but you would be wrong. Though I would have looked absolutely ridiculous in America, in Cambodia I looked very similar to everyone else. You should never underestimate the amount that you can carry on a bike, moto, or truck!
In conclusion, I have heard someone say that you should do one thing that scares you every day, you know, just to keep things interesting. Well, at first I thought that navigating Phnom Penh traffic during rush hour constituted this every single time I do it. But, it honestly does not scare me anymore. I am growing quite accustomed to the rules of the road (or lack thereof)--making right turns without looking either direction, doing what I like to call the wrong way cross-over (going the wrong direction on the road until there is a gap in traffic when you can cross-over to the correct side), weaving between cars and motos that are stopped at stoplights in order to get as close to the front of the line as possible, using anything that moves as a shield when making a left hand turn, and basically being completely oblivious to any existence of traffic laws...
I am actually beginning to think that at this point navigating traffic in America might be a greater cause for fear...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vietnam

So, I just realized that I had not posted anything about my trip to Vietnam at the beginning of April. My friend Kara had to leave the country to get her visa renewed, so I happily agree to head to Ho Chi Minh for a long weekend with her. It was really great to get out of Cambodia and see something a bit different for a few days. That last statement should not be construed to mean that I am not 110 percent in love with Cambodia. However, it is nice to get out and see something else sometimes! And, though Vietnam is only a few hours ride on a busy away from Cambodia, they are worlds apart! Kara and I were nearly giddy upon our arrival. We were not sure what to do with the semi-orderly traffic, the lack of dirt and dust everywhere, all the trees and grass in the parks, and buildings taller than 5 stories. It was literally like entering another world. We had a great time exploring and shopping in the markets and visiting some historical sites.
We went to a handicraft factory that employs disabled people. There are a lot of disabled people in Vietnam as a result of the chemicals used during the war. These chemicals are still causing birth defects in children today. Much of the art in Vietnam uses sea shell and eggshell to craft elaborate scenes. It was amazing to watch them carefully craft all of these things.
We then went on to the Cu Chi tunnels. These are the series of tunnels used by the VietCong to escape the enemy (aka the U.S.).
This is me inside an American tank. I love that there are no ropes keeping you off of anything in Asia. You can climb on anything. I am hoping to make a visit to the zoo soon because I figure I can reach my hand right into the cage and pet the tigers! Ok, maybe I won't do that...unless they are sleeping...
This is me preparing to crawl through the tunnels. You can't really tell, but I am pretty much dripping with sweat, which is probably why my face looks a bit funny. Southeast Asia is hot people!!!

After the Cu Chi tunnels, we made a trip to the War Remnants Museum.This was the only picture I took at the museum because I don't really want to remember anything that I read or saw inside the museum. Let's just say that my heart was broken, and there were definitely tears involved.

In order to do something a bit lighter for our evening, we opted for a delicious dinner of ice cream and fondue. This was amazing, folks!
And, after typing this whole post, I realized this picture is sideways...oh well. We were so excited about being in a nation much more developed. Thus, we went to see a movie...in a real theater...with real popcorn!!!! We don't have any of that in Cambodia!!! We saw Alice in Wonderland, which was actually really good. However, it probably wouldn't have mattered what the movie option was, we would have gone regardless!
Being in Vietnam made me realize a lot of things.
1. I love Cambodia and much prefer living there to Vietnam (but Vietnam is certainly a nice weekend getaway)
2. Cambodia is still so very far behind in development compared to other SE-Asian countries
3. Cambodia has lost so much of its unique culture. Vietnam has distinct cultural dress and art and handicrafts while Cambodia contains mostly copies of other SE-Asian nations' dress and arts. This is a result of the years of genocide and civil war that Cambodia is still working to recover from.
4. Cambodian people are some of the most friendly people on earth!!!! (Way more friendly than the Vietnamese!)
5. I really don't realize that I miss things until I have access to them (i.e. movie theaters), which definitely makes living in Cambodia all the more enjoyable for me! Thank God for making me flexible and adaptable!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scars

I think a person's scars tell a lot about them. I have thought this for many years. Every scar tells a story of a battle, big or small. Every scar represents a victory or a defeat, a lesson learned. I may be wrong, but I feel like I have more scars than the average individual. I am not sure if that is because I am an accident prone individual or if it may be because God likes to use them as reminders to me of His goodness and faithfulness. I prefer to lean toward the latter. I like to think I am learning as I go in life, and my scars are like the altars built to God in the Old Testament. Those altars were built as a reminder of God's goodness and provision. They were built so that the people would not forget. I think God realized that for me, I need to carry reminders of His goodness and provision with me at all times in order for me not to forget. So, scars tell stories.
I have a scar on the palm of my left hand where I received 5 stitches when I was 9 years old. What is this a reminder of? Well, first of all, it reminds me not to run into glass doors. But, more importantly, it reminds me that even when you think something created by man is indestructible, it can shatter in an instant.
I have a scar on the outside of my left ankle. This one was from when I was about 5 years old and was practicing my balance walking circles around my tractor tire sandbox (yes, I am from Indiana, and yes, I had the coolest sandbox in all of Argos). Unfortunately for me, my balance wasn't so great, and there just happened to be a sharp-cornered landscaping brick inside my sandbox. Lesson learned. When I start to get too confident in my own abilities to balance my life, God is more than happy to send a little breeze my way to pop me off balance enough to remember Who is really in control.
I have a scar on my right knee. I got this one when I was 12. I remember it vividly. I was standing to the side, minding my own business while my dad and some other adult men were unloading my wildly out-of-control 4-H sheep from the trailer into the barn. My dad proceeded to essentially tell me to stop standing around and help unload the dreadful creatures who nearly doubled my weight. In my first attempt to catch a yearling ewe off the trailer, I was promptly knocked into the gravel. Determined not to be "yelled" at again, I got up and climbed into the trailer without even looking at my casualties until my dad handed me his dirty handkerchief to wipe up the blood that was pouring down my leg. Sometimes pride comes not only before but also after the fall...
I have a scar on my left forearm. I did this one to myself when I was 15. I prayed for God to take this one away, but He said no. He told me that I needed to see it each day to be reminded of His faithfulness and goodness even in my darkest hours. God doesn't leave, and He understands all of our pain.
I have scars in the crooks of my elbows from donating thousands of milliliters of plasma. While in college, I discovered that I could donate plasma twice a week for money. I then used this "extra" cash to help pay to go on mission trips. I used to tell people that I was winning either way. I was donating plasma to save lives here, and then going overseas to save lives there. I learned a lot about sacrifice donating all that plasma, and I learned a lot about God's provision as well.
I have a scar on the top of my left foot. I got this one about a year and a half ago. I learned that it is not a good idea to walk quickly across a very dark parking lot that has landscaping stones along the edge, especially when wearing flip flops. That lesson in and of itself was good enough.
I have a scar on the top of my right hand. It is a burn from making bruschetta, I believe. Sometimes no matter how careful you are and how many times you have done something, you still get burned. The important thing is to not get discouraged or to let one negative experience ruin what can be something amazing!
I have a scar on my right knee, which almost covers up the afore-mentioned scar on my right knee. I got this one just a few months ago in my attempt to learn to drive a motorbike. I learned several things from this. First, I think it is a good idea to learn to ride a bicycle in Phnom Penh traffic before attempting a moto. Second, flip flops may not be the best driving shoes (but will probably still continue to be my shoe of choice). Third, God protects us from ourselves sometimes, but He also expects us to learn from our stupidity. Hence, I have not attempted to drive a motorbike again...yet.
And, I think I may have a few more scars on the horizon. Last Saturday I had a bit of an altercation with a moto while riding my bicycle. Ok, so I may have gotten hit by a moto and totally knocked off my bike into the street. Luckily it was not a busy street, and I was not seriously hurt (nor was my bike). I was able to get up, dust myself off, tell the driver of the moto that it was no problem, hop back on my bike, and go home. After I got home, I may or may not have burst into tears and felt the severe stinging of my scraped palms, elbows, and knee. But, all is well. I am healing nicely, and I even hopped back on the bike today for some jaunting around. My scabbed over palms can once again grip the handlebars of my bike. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on...

In the words of Sara Groves one of my favorite singer/songwriters,
in Your hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like character.

Jesus' scars tell the greatest story that could ever be told, and someday I hope my scars can serve as but a reflection of His goodness.