Tuesday, February 26, 2013

bare walls

The books have been taken off my shelves. The clothes have been removed from my closet. The photos have been taken off my walls. They are bare.
This morning I wanted to put my computer in my backpack only to realize I gave away my backpack. It isn't mine anymore.
I hosted a party yesterday and watched my friends trifle through my "giveaway boutique." I offered reviews on a variety of books. I encouraged my teacher friends to take all the random crafting supplies...because surely a teacher's craft cupboard is never full. I hovered near the bathroom-turned-dressing-room to offer opinions. I sent coloring books home with my friend's daughters.
And, I was glad.
As I have been sorting through the stuff that has accumulated over the past 3+ years, I have often wondered where it all came from and why I have held onto some of it so tightly. Sometimes saying good-bye is really difficult. Sometimes it is exciting because it means there is blessing and adventure ahead.
Several of my friends asked me if it was odd to watch them go through my stuff and try on clothes and shove books in their purses. And, it wasn't. It was fun! It was good to know that they were being blessed. I loved commentating about good books and knowing that they were going to be brought joy in reading them. I liked knowing that my clothes would be a blessing to someone else, and I realize how nice it can be to just have something different, even if it's not new, but that typically means money. I could have opted to sell my things, but I much preferred to watch the excited faces of friends enjoying things I have loved.
So, my walls are bare, but my heart is full.
I think that statement says a lot about how Cambodia has changed me in so many ways. These past few years have stripped my walls, emptied what I thought I knew, and unshelved so much stuff that was hindering me. But, my heart is full. Sometimes I am still tempted to look for my old, familiar backpack, but it isn't mine anymore...and the things I know I really need can't fit inside it anyway.

(Please note that this post should not be construed to mean that I will not have very carefully packed, very full suitcases traveling across the ocean with me...)

Friday, February 15, 2013

changing the world.

On November 26, 2009, my feet first touched the ground of Cambodia. At the time, I knew I was to be here for 6-ish months, and I had a secret hope that I would find my place, my niche, my corner of the world to transform.

Now, I have called this land home for over 3 years. I have bled here. I have shed tears here. I have sweated here...lots...and lots. But, I am not sure that I could ever say that this is my place or my niche or my corner of the world to transform.

As I am preparing to leave Cambodia, I generally get asked a similar series of questions. How long have you been here? What are you going to do when you go back to America? Do you think you will come back to Cambodia? And on the list goes...

But, one question has stopped me and really made me think and has made me keenly aware of how much I have grown and changed since being here.

Have you accomplished everything you wanted to here?

Ummm...what kind of question is that?!?! Of course not!!!

I came here to end sex trafficking. I came here to teach English. I came here to implement programs. I came here to love people. I came here to help develop this country. I came here with the greatest of ambitions. I came here to change the world.

What I found was that sex trafficking, or any kind of trafficking, is far more complex than any book or documentary can portray. What I found is that people are people wherever you go and should be treated as such. What I found is that I am a terrible English teacher...seriously. What I found is that designing or implementing or facilitating programs takes at least 2 or 3...or 4 times as long as you expect...and they often fail multiple times before they succeed. What I found is that development does not follow the structure that you think it will and sometimes the repercussions of development are devastating. What I found is that loving people takes more patience, more listening, and more waiting than I ever imagined. What I found is that the greatest of ambitions and intentions are not always helpful. What I found is that the world, or at least Cambodia, changed me.

So, when someone asks me if I accomplished everything that I wanted to here. I can respond with a resounding NO! I came to change the world, but in my efforts, in the process, I realized that was not really what needed to happen. Do I think Cambodia is a better place for having me here? I don't know. My best hope is that the times I have spent sitting on my friend's floor with her and playing with her daughters, the times I have spent praying with my friend and trying to figure out what it means to follow God, the times I have spent listening and trying to encourage are actually meaningful. But, while I am not sure Cambodia is any better off for having me, I am confident that Cambodia has made me better.

I am still determined to change the world. I have just given up on the ideal that doing so can be quantified or qualified or determined by a particular set of expectations or results. Changing the world starts with changing me, and just like the world, I am still in process...