Wednesday, August 31, 2011


There are some things in life that just ooze an indescribable beauty, an inexpressible joy, an incomprehensible love. This little girl is one of those things.
She is my friend's daughter. I was visiting my friend a couple weeks ago, and as we were chatting, this vibrant little girl began pulling all of the kitchen staples from the shelves, all of the spoons, a pile of wooden chopsticks, and even a few random flip flops. She announced to us that she was a 'neyeck looah' (seller). Then, she held up a spoon, looked at me with the most serious face and told me that the spoon was 3000 riel (75 cents), ok? I told her that was too expensive and asked if 1000 riel was ok. She refused to drop her price. Instead, she picked up a smaller spoon and asked for the same price. Shrewd businesswoman, that one.

But, spoons. I have been thinking about them lately. Some people are born with silver ones in their mouths. Some people aren't. Some people have spoons on the less fancy side, or even the disposable side. Some people opt for chopsticks instead of spoons. Some people prefer to use their hands and some bread as a scoop. It is interesting to me how our "spoon" choices can sometimes divide us. I think sometimes we are dreadfully afraid of diversity, of change, of something new. We are content to be around people who are just like us, who use the same spoons we do. Is it because we don't want to be embarrassed when we don't know which of the 12 spoons on the table to use? (Just start from the outside and work your way in...thanks Pretty Woman.) Is it because we are afraid we are too clumsy to use chopsticks? (Practice makes perfect.) Is it because we don't want to get our hands messy? (Allow me to introduce you to a little something called soap and water...) Perhaps there are many reasons spoons cause us anxiety, whether we realize it or not. But, really, spoons are not meant to be a point of division. Spoons are about scooping and combining and stirring and including.
So, that and 3000 riel will buy you a spoon from this precious child...
3000 riel, ok?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A large crowd soon gathered around Him, so He got into a boat. Then He sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: 'Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn't have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.' Matthew 13:2-9

Last Saturday I joined some of the teachers and other students at my language school for a field trip to the countryside. We drove about an hour and a half outside of the city to a beautiful village. I LOVE the Cambodian countryside. Really, I love any countryside. As a child I took for granted that I lived among green grass, clean air, wildflowers, crickets chirping, starry skies. I never thought too much about the sensation of mud squishing between my toes or about the art of being able to identify poison ivy from several yards away. And, I didn't realize how important those things are to me, how life-giving they are to me until I moved to a city. A city with few trees and lots of concrete. A city that regularly smells of sewage and where grass is for looking at not for walking on.
All that to say, I was excited for the opportunity to get out of the city and see some green. The added bonus was that we were going to be learning more about the rice-planting process...and maybe even do a bit of sowing ourselves!
I love the simplicity of country living in Cambodia. I mean, why not take your cattle for a walk through the neighbors' yard while they sit outside and a snack of green mango dipped in chili salt? And, they will probably share with you while you pass by!
After learning a bit more about the rice planting process, Muyteang and I are heading toward the rice paddy, which we were assured was both leech- and snake-free!
Dany wanted a picture, too!
I love the brilliant green of rice paddies. This field was already planted. Gorgeous!
Our rice-planting instructors demonstrating proper technique. Be sure to roll your pants up well!
Much of the rice-planting done in Cambodia is done without the aid of machinery. The majority of farmers cannot afford modern machinery, so it is a lot of hard work. My understanding of the whole process is a bit limited, but I will explain to you the process as I understand it. At the beginning of the rainy season, fields are plowed, typically using a team of oxen and manual plow. Seeds are then sown in one field, or part of a field. After about a month, the seedlings are uprooted, tied into bundles (like the ones in the picture above), and transported to the other fields, which have been plowed and prepared for the seedlings. The seedlings are then planted in rows in the WET fields with enough space for them to grow and spread. This transplanting process is what we were doing last week. After this, the seedlings will grow for another 3-6 months, depending on the type of rice, before being harvested. There is the very brief version of (my understanding) rice-planting.
So, after our demonstration by the local experts, we slipped off our shoes, hiked up our pants, and in we went!
My friend Becki and I were hard at work, but our teacher Anin had a few suggestions for us.
Some children from around the village came out to watch all the foreigners try their hands at rice-planting.
I am pretty sure this hat made all the difference in my rice-planting abilities.
And, seriously, how can you not fall in love with this beautiful land? God certainly did make some beautiful countryside in Cambodia!
After about 20 minutes of planting and feeling as though we had made enough crooked rows in this poor auntie's rice field, we waded out of the rice field, washed off the mud, and walked back to the village church where we played Khmer games together, chatted with the local kids, ate rice (what else?!?) together, and visited some homes in the village before heading back to the city. It was a beautiful day! It was such a great experience to share in something, even if for a short time, that is so much a part of people's lives here. And, I was reminded of the importance of intentionally sowing seeds in fertile soil. It is such a painstaking process to produce a great harvest of rice, but the returns are amazing. The Kingdom of God is no different. Sometimes sowing seeds is a painstaking process, but the returns are well worth the work and the time. Because God has the perfect place in His Kingdom for ones just like these...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


During my language lesson today my teacher and I shared our testimonies. For the past several weeks, we have been talking about Bible stories and praying and talking about how Jesus changes hearts and lives. I have shared parts of my testimony with her before, but we really talked about it today, and she asked me questions. She asked about difficult times in my life, about what things occurred in my life to bring me to a place of really believing and trusting Jesus, about how I knew Jesus was real. And, as I shared with her, I was reminded of this post that I wrote more than a year ago. I was reminded of my scars. I was reminded of how much God changes hearts, how He changed my heart and still does. I was reminded about how much I prayed that God would take away my scars...and He said no.
I remember being baffled as I cried out to the Lord to take away my scars, especially my self-inflicted ones, and He refused. I knew He was more than capable of doing something so small.
But, He said no.
Many times throughout the Old Testament people built altars to the Lord. They often served as reminders of God's faithfulness,of God's goodness, of God's promises. And, even though these reminders were built, they were not usually enough to prevent the people from forgetting. God knows us all too well. He knows we are merely dust and have the memories of goldfish sometimes. And, it seems that many times we have an impeccable memory when it comes to things we should forget but cannot seem to recall the things we should store in the very front of our memory banks. Maybe that is why Proverbs 7:3 says, "Tie them [God's commands] on your fingers as a reminder." God knows that if we don't attach them, they will be forgotten.
And, so, He said no to taking away my scars. He told me that I needed them. He told me that they were my "altar." He told me that they were my forever reminder of His faithfulness, of His goodness, of His promises. They are attached to me, and I cannot forget them.

And, besides, in God's hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like character...
Thanks, Sara Groves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other....It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have." 1 Corinthians 12: 7, 11

Gifts. We all have gifts. We all have God-given abilities. We all have hopes, desires, dreams. We all want to do something or to become something. We all want to do something that we love, something that makes our hearts leap with joy, something that brings us satisfaction and peace. Right?
I have been thinking a lot about what gifts God has given me, about what abilities I have. Now, I want to preface what I say with stating that I believe God can do anything through even the most unlikely vessel. He enables and equips even when it makes no sense to our carnal minds. I can attest to this in so many ways in my own life. "God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful." (1 Thessalonians 5:24) If God says to do it, He will make it possible for you to do it, whatever "it" may be.
But, God also distributes gifts to us. He loves us so much that He has gifted every person in unique and individual ways that His Kingdom might be furthered, that more may know His name. And, there is no greater joy than to know the Creator of the universe, the Lover of souls. While I do think the primary reason that God has gifted us is for His glory, I also think it is because He loves us, because He desires good things for us, because He has abundant life planned for us, because He wants joy to overflow in our hearts. As I seek to develop the gifts God has placed inside of me, I find so much joy, so much peace. I have spent a lot of time over the past several weeks and months meditating on what gifts God has given me, trying to sift through the desires of my flesh and the desires of my spirit, which desperately wants to honor my Father. And, over the course of the last several weeks, I have had several dreams and gifts re-awakened in my life. Many times it has come in unexpected ways--conversing with a friend, coming out on the other side of difficult trial, sitting in silence with the Lord, reading Truth, seizing opportunities. When I sit back and observe what has taken place, I am awestruck. I am simply amazed at how God has worked everything in me together for His good. His gifts are good.
"You fathers--if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Of if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him." Luke 11: 11-13
God understands what it means to give good gifts to His children.

So, God's gifts are good. But, there is this part of me that has been wondering if it is wrong or selfish or silly of me to focus my energy on only pursuing the use of those gifts that bring me joy and satisfaction. As a follower of Jesus, shouldn't I be willing to do anything? Shouldn't I be willing to joyfully clean toilets every day of my life, knowing that I am working as to the Lord and not as to men? Shouldn't I be willing to step up and "do what needs to be done" because there doesn't seem to be anyone else doing it? Shouldn't I just humble myself a little more and ignore that this isn't what I thought I signed up for? It is all part of dying to yourself, right? It is all part of taking up that cross daily, right?
Or, is it?
The flip side? Does God enable me to do things well that He has not called me to do? I mean, I know that I can fumble my way through things. Given some time and direction, I can figure most things out, and I might even be able to do something competently. (This would be where my determined spirit comes in handy.) But, simply because I can do something competently, that does not mean it is what I want to do or would choose to do or is what I should be doing. And, as I have been thinking through all of these things, weighing out (and repenting for) my own selfishness, desiring to please my God first and foremost, making choices that have not been popular, I have come back to this.
"Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, 'I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,' that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, 'I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,' would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where He wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' The head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you.'...If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad." 1 Corinthians 12: 14-21, 26
Selah. Pause. Calmly think of that.

If God has distributed us as the parts of His body, if He has put each part where He wants it, if He has deemed all parts necessary, why are we striving to "serve" in positions He never intended for us to be in? A foot will never be sufficient as a hand. Sure, you might be able to adapt and learn to do some things that a hand can do. Maybe you learn to pick quarters up with your toes. Maybe you can learn to press the volume controls on the television. But, you will never be a hand. It will never be natural to do things a hand does...because you were never supposed to. And, so long as you are striving to figure out how to do what the hand is supposed to do, you are not able to do the job of the foot that you have been appointed to do, gifted to do, enabled to do. Additionally, the hand is not able to do what it has been gifted to do...because your striving, your desire for control, your selfishness has crowded out and silenced the hand's gift to the body. It is not wrong to choose to operate in the gifts God has given to us. It is best. There is nothing wrong with joyfully scrubbing toilets. There is nothing wrong with sitting in a cubicle analyzing endless data. There is nothing wrong with teaching children to read and write. There is nothing wrong with planting and harvesting rice and corn and wheat. There is nothing wrong with offering listening ears to those in distress. There is nothing wrong because it is right, it is true, it is what God intended...

Father, forgive us for our striving that has not honored the gifts You have given us, and forgive us for all the ways we have disabled our other parts...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Bread. It is arguable that the house in which I grew up was never without bread. It was typically an accompaniment to a meal, if not the basis for the meal. There are so many ways to eat bread. It is a great filler, a great way to supplement some meat, potatoes, and vegetables. Bread is a staple, which must always be kept on hand.
At least that is what I grew up believing.
And then I moved to Asia. The land of rice. And, somehow over the last year and a half I have grown to love rice. Rice has replaced my bread. It is a rare occasion for me to have bread at home, which could potentially be attributed to the fact that sometimes within minutes of bread entering the house a swarm of ants has laid siege or the extreme humidity causes bread to go stale and mold in about a day. But, I do love rice, and it is a rare day for there to not be rice in my house.
And I have been reading Exodus. Manna. God provided the Israelites with manna. What is this? That is the exact question the Israelites asked. Manna was the substance that God gave to sustain the Israelites, to fill their bellies, to accompany their meat and veggies. There was always enough. The shelves of Heaven were always stocked.

And now I read the newspaper. I view pictures. I have a deep ache in my heart...over this.
Where is the bread? Where is the rice? Where is the manna?
There isn't enough. The bread box is empty. The rice sack is void of a single grain.
People are starving. Beautiful, beautiful people are dying. Mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters.

I have a terribly difficult time reconciling all of this in my mind and heart. How can it be that there is so much bread, so much that gets discarded at the end of every day? How can it be that there is so much rice, so much that gets heaped on my plate? How can it be that I have watched so many people dig through garbage in hopes of finding some of that "old" bread or "wasted" rice to satisfy the rumbles of their stomachs? How can it be that there are little girls and stooped grandfathers whose skin cracks and hair falls out because there is no bread? How can it be that there are baby boys and wrinkled grandmas whose eyes are sunken and ribs protrude because the rice is gone?

How can this reality be so far from my own?

I ache for these people. With all that is in me, I want to help them. I want to offer them my rice, my bread. But, I wonder if my bread will make any difference.

"As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, 'Take it, for this is my body.'" Mark 14:22

Broken bread. Jesus, the bread of life, broke Himself to pieces. He always broke the bread because one single loaf might feed a hungry little boy, but broken to pieces, a single loaf can feed thousands. I am not sure if this post is really about bread or about brokenness, but one thing I do know is that the shelves of Heaven are still stocked...

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Redemption. This word, this concept, this gift has been on my mind a lot lately. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to wrap my mind and heart around it. It is so big, so all-encompassing, so free.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
for with the LORD there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.
He Himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin.
Psalm 130:7-8
Unfailing. Overflowing.
That is how my God operates. He only does things in abundance. He consistently overwhelms. He restores completely...and then adds some on for good measure.
I have been taking a look at the book of Exodus, at the lives of Moses and the Israelites, at the faithfulness of God, at the deliverance of God's chosen people. And, as I have been reading and studying and meditating, I have been learning so much about what true redemption looks like. Somehow in all of my previous study I have overlooked some profound gifts the LORD gave to the Israelites, some beautiful ways that He provided for His beloved children. He never forgets. He notes every detail.
And, the following is something that I love, love, love about God's provision...
And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you. They will give you gifts when you go so you will not leave empty-handed. Every Israelite woman will ask for articles of silver and gold and fine clothing from her Egyptian neighbors and from the foreign women in their houses. You will dress your sons and daughters with these, stripping the Egyptians of their wealth. Exodus 3:21-22
Seriously, God? The oppressors are really going to look favorably upon their slaves, sending them out of their country with all of their silver and gold and wealth? That is really hard to believe...
And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The LORD caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! Exodus 12:35-36
Yes, seriously. Redemption. The Israelites must have looked like some kind of procession leaving Egypt, having replaced their shackles with solid gold bangles. The juxtaposition of their fine robes next to their dark, leathery skin probably evoked a bit of confusion among those they met on the road. Their sun-kissed skin and calloused hands would be a sure sign that they were laborers, that they were not strangers to hard work under the hot sun, that they were likely property of another. But, their fine clothing would suggest something quite different, something like redemption.
But, it seems that as time marches on we forget the blessed redemption in our lives. We turn aside. We avert our eyes, searching for something different. And, when we do, life somehow blows up in our face. This is not a new occurrence.
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. 'Come on,' they said, 'make us some gods who can lead us. We don't know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.' So Aaron said, ' Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.' All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, 'O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!' Exodus 32:1-4
Fail. It happens to the best of us. We are really excited. We are marching on the right path, wearing our fine clothes and beautiful jewels, walking in freedom. And, then, life explodes. Things are taking too long. Things are not going the way we planned. Surely, things need to change. And, so, we try to force our own change...sometimes using the very abundance God gave us when He redeemed us from our past errors. Have you ever wondered where the Israelites came up with all these gold rings? Yes, Egypt. God brought them out of their oppression wearing crowns of victory...that they then melted down into a worthless idol.
I want to shake my head at their foolishness. I want to judge their stupidity. I want to (not so gently) remind them from where they have come. I want to implore them to have patience, to wait on the LORD, to remember how He has saved them, to hold fast to His promises, to don their gold rings as a reminder of God's redemption.
But, who am I?
How many times have I forsaken the redemption that is mine? How many times have I forced my own way? How many times have I melted down my reminders and shaped them into something I felt I could better understand, something I could wrap my mind around? How many times have I looked back and thought, "Maybe that wasn't so bad. And, the future looks too hard, so maybe I will just try to squeeze myself back into that familiar place where at least I know what to expect"? How many times have I rushed ahead and wasted opportunities and gifts? How many times have I questioned how this wilderness could possibly be where God wants me to be?
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, 'At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.' So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.' But his father said to the servants, 'Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.' So the party began. Luke 15:17-24
There are those fine clothes and gold rings again...

Monday, August 1, 2011

rainy afternoons

I love rainy afternoons, provided that I don't have to go anywhere, of course. I like to listen to the drops ping, to watch puddles grow, to smell the crisp air, to feel the mist and breeze. I like to pick up a good book and a hot cup of tea and just enjoy it. I like to bake cookies. I like to just be. Rainy afternoons are good for my soul, and there have been a lot of them over the last few weeks.
But, like all things, rainy afternoons lose their luster after awhile.
I know there are some things in which I am a creature of habit, but I don't normally think I am prone to extremes. I find that I never have answers when asked extreme questions.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Do you think you will live in Cambodia forever?
What is the BEST book you have ever read?
What is your favorite thing to do?
If you could do anything for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I don't have good answers to any of those questions. Do others really have answers to these questions? There is so much that I don't know, so much that I want to know. How could I possibly choose one food to eat forever when there are so many that I have yet to try? My favorite thing to do? There are so many factors that come into play. The rest of my life? I don't really want that kind of pressure in my life. I will be satisfied to know about tomorrow.
There are seasons in life. There always have been.
for everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die.
a time to plant and a time to harvest.
a time to kill and a time to heal.
a time to tear down and a time to build up.
a time to cry and a time to laugh.
a time to grieve and a time to dance.
a time to scatter stones and time to gather stones.
a time to embrace and a time to turn away.
a time to search and a time to quit searching.
a time to keep and a time to throw away.
a time to tear and a time to mend.
a time to be quiet and a time to speak.
a time to love and a time to hate.
a time for war and a time for peace.
ecclesiastes 3:1-8
And, right now, it is the season of rainy afternoons. It is a season of change for me, a season of transition. And, I may get tired of the rainy afternoons before the sunshine returns, but my God remains the same. His goodness and faithfulness does not change. And, so, I will welcome the rainy afternoons and rejoice both in this season and in the one to come...