Tuesday, October 30, 2012

growing pains

Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. After years of devastating war, it would seem that the country is finally on a better track toward the future. But, there are growing pains. What do economic growing pains look like in a developing country? Well, I am not, and would never claim to be, an economist, but from my perspective in Phnom Penh it looks like...

new coffee shops popping up on street corners,
and street corners littered with garbage such as to-go coffee cups

designer clothes shops with cropping up along main boulevards,
and garment workers are paid a monthly wages less than the cost of one dress in said shop

giant office and apartment buildings being built throughout the city,
and people who are forced from their homes and land in the name of development

wealthy businessmen driving Lexuses,
and families of 6 squeezing onto a motorbike

road construction to improve drainage,
and streets that flood worse than before the improvements

markets full of fresh produce and meat,
and children with bloated bellies begging at the exits

organizations offering job-training programs,
and streets with rows upon rows of tailor shops, beauty parlors, and moto mechanics

young adults itching to practice their limited English skills,
and a majority of people who are not literate enough in their own language to read a newspaper

iPhones are everywhere (including in the hands of the 2 young Cambodians currently sitting across from me at one of those new coffee shops),
and electricity is a luxury that sometimes gets switched off with no explanation

Growing pains can be rough, and I find myself wondering if there is a way to avoid them. I am not sure. I mean, the growth is exciting because of the new opportunities it brings. But, sometimes it is just painful and ugly. Sometimes it is hard to see how this growth could possibly be good. Sometimes it is hard to see how this growth could possibly be bad. I suppose it is all about perspective.

Monday, October 29, 2012

like breathing through a wet towel

After 23 Indiana summers, I thought I understood the meaning of "hot and humid." I thought I knew what it felt like to be sticky and sweaty and just plain uncomfortable. I grew up in an old farmhouse without central air conditioning, and so, I thought I knew what it meant to position the fan just right and to sleep in positions to create the most surface area for the warm, artificial breeze to cool my clammy body.

This, friends, was merely conditioning.

Indiana humidity has nothing on the soggy blanket which covers Cambodia.

There are many days when I feel as though I have acclimated to the heat fairly well, but then there are days when I just can't seem to stop the profuse sweating, when I just want to lie flat on the tile floor for a bit of relief.

This season is usually easier on the heat and humidity than others, but I was reminded about how the phenomenon of Indian Summer when I rose [already sweaty] at 5:30am for a run and felt like I was breathing through a wet towel for nearly four miles...

But, hey, sweating is supposed to be healthy, right?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I recent re-discovered my favorite t-shirt. It was buried in my closet, and I probably had not pulled it out in over a year. I think it got tossed to the bottom of the pile because I thought maybe it was nearing the point of no return. But, when I pulled it out a couple weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the pit stains were not nearly as prominent as I had thought. The holes were tinier and fewer than I remembered. It definitely used to be a darker shade, but it seems to have at least faded evenly. And, to be honest, I bought this t-shirt at a thrift store over 10 years ago. It has been a pretty good investment for a handful of change.

I am not sure why I love this t-shirt so much. It is red, which has never been one of my favorite colors (though it has grown on me). It says "Treble Clefs" on it, which I can only assume is some sort of geeky musical group of which I have never heard (and would never have been invited to join).

But, when I pulled out that t-shirt, I was so excited to put it on. It is comfortable. It fits well. It feels like home and memories and fun.

And, I was suddenly amazed how much comfort and joy I found in an old, faded t-shirt. It was familiar, and sometimes I feel like familiarity is something I spend a lot of time searching for. I live in a land that, even after nearly three years, is still so unfamiliar. I have adapted to many aspects of life in Cambodia. I have learned how to function, and function quite well most of the time. I have come to accept some of the things I was initially shocked/saddened/appalled/confused by, but they are still not familiar.

T-shirts are familiar. But, I must remember not to cling to tightly to that familiarity. I do not want familiarity to dictate the path I take in life. I do not want to avoid something unfamiliar or difficult simply because I do not yet know how to navigate it. God knows. God is familiar. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the same in Indiana or Cambodia or anywhere else I may find myself.

And, I don't think He minds if I take my used-to-be-a-much-brighter-shade-of-red t-shirt with me...at least until the holes grow to an unreasonable size or the pit stains become embarrassingly obvious...

Friday, October 12, 2012


Do you ever have those days? Days when you walk away discouraged? Days when you are tempted to punch someone square in the jaw? Days when you want to revert to being a toddler and throw a proper tantrum? Days when an entire pan of brownies won't make it better...and actually makes it worse because then you feel sick, too? Days when you are shocked to realize some of the ugliness that lurks within you? Days when you just feel defeated?

I do. I think everyone does. (And, I think if you refuse to acknowledge that you do, you may also have some denial issues.)

I have had days just like these. I had one the other day.

In case you were concerned, I did not punch anyone, lay down on the ground and scream at the top of my lungs, or eat an entire pan of brownies. But, every one of those things flashed through my mind.

Instead, I opted to pray (while I was stuck in traffic), to sing [loudly] as I drove down the road, to tell God how thankful I was for His goodness toward me, to breathe deeply (trying to ignore the exhaust fumes and sewage odors), to be thankful that I was not the woman standing on the side of the road puking her guts out who I drove past (and then to pray she would feel better soon), to genuinely thank the young man who pumped my gas [even though it is his job], to wield my mosquito bat on the pests invading my bedroom, to journal my thoughts and feelings, to have a cup of tea and read a book, and to allow myself to be reminded that regardless of my jdkfaljda;kfdj day, Jesus is still seated on the Throne of Heaven and His love and grace toward me remain the same.

"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again--my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember You--even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar. I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the LORD pours His unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing His songs, praying to God who gives me life. 'O God my rock,' I cry. 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?' Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, ' Where is this God of yours?' Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again--my Savior and my God!" Psalm 42:5-11

Thursday, October 4, 2012

the powers that be...

I think I have issues with authority figures. Well, to be honest, I am sure that I have issues with authority figures. I am not opposed to authority figures or organized systems with clear leaders. I am not against supporting leaders or respecting them in their positions. In fact, I think this is very important.

But, I am not good at following blindly or going along with something simply because a leader told me to or sacrificing my own thoughts and values to adopt someone else's. Truth be told, everything in my flesh wants to rebel when I am asked to do such things. I realize this rebellion is not always appropriate, and as I [hopefully] mature, I get better at knowing when to "just go with it" and when to "fight for my right...to party!" (Sorry, I couldn't resist the Beastie Boys reference. I am back on track now.)

I am aware that my views on authority within the church, and for Christians in general, will not be regarded fondly by some of my readership. I have no doubt that they will cite verses such as Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit" and Romans 13:1-2, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished." Romans 13 continues on with several more verses regarding authority as well.

I am familiar with these verses and many others that discuss submitting to authority, in whatever form it comes. And, I know people who will argue that these authorities, regardless of how corrupt or manipulative or unjust they are, should be respected and followed. I know people who will argue that if they are not asking you directly to sin, then whatever they propose for you to do is perfectly acceptable. Stand on your head for an hour. Wear mismatched socks. Attend a prayer meeting three nights per week. Volunteer in the nursery (even if you are nauseated by the sight of boogers...of which there will be an abundance). Do not wear jeans with holes in them. Be sure not to miss more than 6 Sunday morning church services in a year...because if you do, you will be kicked out of the church-sponsored dormitory.


I am not a Biblical scholar. I am not an expert. I am not claiming to have all the wisdom of Solomon, let alone of the Almighty God. I very well could be entirely wrong on this whole thing. If indeed, it is a matter of a definitive "right" and definitive "wrong."


I am deeply grieved that the church sometimes boils the supreme authority of God down to a set of rules and ridiculous expectations. And, I can help but think that God is grieved as well. There is no life in laws and rules. Rules have a place. They protect us. They teach us and train us. They make us better people. But, when life becomes about following the "rules" or bowing to another's authority, I think we have missed the point. We missed life. God's gifts are good and plenty. He places people in our lives to sharpen us, to challenge us, to encourage us, to cry and to laugh with us, to dine with us, to teach us. I do not think that God desires for us to feel as though we are being oppressed by or a doormat for other people. I know that I have felt that way before, and it does not feel good. It is exhausting and frustrating and life-sucking. However, I have had some incredible leaders in my life in various capacities. And, those are the people I have willingly followed because I know that they are interested in me and in doing things well. They have listened to and considered my questions. They have advised me well. They have acknowledged why my idea or concern is simply not possible or best. This is encouraging and life-giving. They provided a safe, definite place without a rigid system of condemnation.

Now, if "the powers that be" could just find that balance that results in joy and life and love...