Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Cards!

I can't help but compare pretty much everything about this Christmas, in Texas, to last Christmas, in Phnom Penh.

It's totally different.  Last year, there were only a few Christmas trees to be seen, no holiday music in the stores, no elf on the shelf, and no crazy shoppers standing in long lines.  I missed the "normal" Christmas some of the time, but most of the time I was thankful.

And this year I am missing THAT Christmas.  I, just like everyone else, got caught up in the busy moments, stood in lines at stores, spent hours cleaning for the arrival of guests (Ok, maybe I haven't done that but I need to get started!), and found myself stressing about things that Christmas isn't supposed to be about.

I miss the quiet Christmas.
I miss the birthday celebration of our Lord.

I am trying now to slooooow down.  In fact, every afternoon, I run to the mailbox and then just spend a few minutes sitting and looking at Christmas cards, usually with a cup of hot chocolate or afternoon decaf coffee in my hand.  I didn't get any cards last year.  Well, in December at least.  I had a few friends mail them to Cambodia and I received a couple in the spring, one in May right before we left, and a few that didn't make it at all before we left.

I love the Christmas cards!  I love it every year, but especially this year after not hearing from so many friends last year.

(This is just one of my 4 sections of house dedicated to displaying the cards)

So thank you!  Thank you for sharing your Christmas photos and letters and cards with us.  It truly is appreciated, and probably my favorite part of this Christmas.

And from the Schiffmans:

They were late going out and if you want one and didn't get one, email me your address, because I probably lost it!

To my friends in Cambodia:
Send me your addresses and I will send you one, too!  It will be a neat experiment to see when (or if) you actually receive it!

We are so thankful for friends and family all around the world.

Let's all try to slow down and show others how much we love them.
That'd be a great birthday present for Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Just being honest

Anyone who has moved a few times knows how hard it is.  It’s a big adventure, but it’s hard work, too.  At first there is the excitement of a new place & a new house.  Then you learn where Target is and it starts to feel like home.  But after the boxes are unpacked and the pictures are hung, the hard work begins.  As an Army wife, I always thought of it as my own mission -  Mission: Find Friends! 

Outside the military, though, it’s quite different.
Coming back from serving God overseas, it’s quite different, too.

See, we naturally gravitate towards others who are like us.  Those who think like us, live like us, understand things like we do. My military friends understand what I mean. As a military family, we always lived in places surrounded by other military families. These were people like us, with families far away and living for just a short time in a new place. We all knew that our time together would be short before the government would send one family or another on to a new place. 

The result of that was deep, real, intimate friendships.  With no time for small talk, we got right into the big stuff.  Friendships grew more important as husbands would deploy.  We helped each other.  We cried together.  We laughed together.  We loved God together.  We’d enlist the help of our husbands for friends living through a deployment who needed help in the lawn, or with home repairs, or just needed help to take the Christmas boxes out of the attic. Our husbands gladly did these things and their husbands returned the favor for us. We all loved each other like family.  Friendships were the “I love your kids as much as I love mine” kind of friendships.  They were friendships that lasted through any amount of time or distance. 

I miss that.

It wasn’t the same in Cambodia.  As soon as we got there, I struggled to meet people.  When I did, it was a while before we trusted each other a fraction of the amount as before.  I was meeting women and moms from other countries, other cultures, all in Cambodia for a wide variety of reasons.  A few friendships developed deeper as I found the expatriate community a little similar to the military community, with all of us so far from home, going through similar circumstances. 

It was in the in-between time – the time from when I got to Cambodia and met no one to the time I began to find true friends I could share my heart with – that was hard.  For a few months I was in a strange in-between world where I felt lonely and uncertain. That was when I clung to God and, looking back, I see that it was an important time for me. Dealing with all the new sights and sounds, and trying to cope with all the darkness around me, I would have turned to friends, but without any, I turned to Him. Looking back, it is very clear that He led me through that time for a reason.

And now I am there again.

We naturally seek others who understand us and I’m not sure there is anyone in all of greater Houston that understands me right now. My heart still longs for Cambodia and its people. My homeschooling journey is continuing. My husband is looking for an Army Reserve unit, which reminds me that we could face another deployment anytime. My kids ask where we will live next because their sweet little hearts aren’t even able to settle here for now.  My whole extended family is nearby for the first time in ten years and my mom is waiting on medical test results we are all anxious to hear. My phone doesn’t ring so much anymore as friends move on to new, exciting things in their lives. My house in North Carolina that I loved is empty and I long to see it one more time before it sells. My heart is hurting.

But I will cling to Him.

Because I know, one day, I will look back at this time and see that He needed to hold me close for a reason.  I know that, all together, no one is just like me.  No one can match every need I have. But if you just take one sentence above at a time, there are many who understand.  I will find others to love me just as I am.

But for now, He does.  And I will cling to Him.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Many Boys!

A couple days ago one of our beloved fish died. I entered the boys' playroom to discover this and tried to prepare myself to tell the boys. When I finally worked up the nerve to tell them, I received a precious reminder that I'm just a girl in a house full of boys.

Their response to the dead fish?  "Awesome, he's floating upside down!" And, "Mom, can I pleeeeeease flush him down the toilet?" Sigh.
The next day they asked me if they could go fishing in their aquarium.

Which reminds me of quite a few other comments I've heard:

"Who is stronger, Hulk or the Thing?"
"Who would win in a battle between Namor and Thanos?"
Or Spider-Man and Abomination.
Or Thor and Captain America.
It goes on and on.  Daily.  Nightly at the dinner table. And my husband is right there in the mix. I just stare at my food and try to focus on something else.

I serve them oatmeal for breakfast and they giggle and say they are eating hot poop.

In fact, they like to talk about bodily functions so much that I have now instituted a rule that we only talk about bathroom things when we are in the bathroom. So the next time I heard them say something about poop I shouted, "Boys!" and I heard one say to the other "All, right, let's go in the bathroom and talk."  Oops. Mom outsmarted. They play in there often now.

I take them to the park and overhear Jack say to a friend (whom he just met a moment before) "If you let me punch you, I can show you how strong I am."

We visit Bass Pro Shops for fun, just to look around. And it takes forever!

They ask me more questions, like "Which kind of throw up tastes the worst?" and "Do I have to wear clothes today?"

Jack chases lizards around to "pet" them and Parker wants to live in Ancient Egypt so he can use a bucket for a toilet.

When we eat, it's become a regular conversation (besides the super heroes) to discuss what animal we are eating. When I was a kid, that made me sad. It makes these little boys giggle!

They ask my husband constantly if they can smell his armpit.  Seriously.

They also have learned that I have this weird problem with eyes. Eye issues and all things about eyes kind of freak me out. Since learning this they have gone from doing weird things with their eyes and tricking me into looking, to talking about things happening to eyes, to now just simply shouting "eyeball!" randomly throughout the day.

Oh, I'll probably never get used to being the only girl around.  But, they do say things to make up for it sometimes.

Like, my favorite...  "Mom, if you make your hair red, you'll look just like Black Widow!"
Ha!  Yep, just like her. I wish.

Most of the time, I don't know what to do with these boys.
But I don't know what I'd do without them, either.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Houston - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

All right, so we’ve been in our new home for about a month now, and we've survived the lizard fiasco, I’m finally learning my way around Houston.  I figure it’s time for an update!

The Good
Well, first thing that comes to mind is that everything is really close.  I mean, within a 5-10 minute drive in any direction, I can find a Wal-mart, Target, and HEB.  That’s all three within minutes in any direction!  Pretty amazing.  Did I mention how much I love HEB tortillas?

Also, this suburb has a super cute little downtown area with shops and restaurants and just fun, fancy places to go.  Not that I get to do it much, but knowing it is there in case I do get a date night - or a visitor - or anything is just exciting. 

Oh, yeah, that’s a better-than-good part of it... My babysitters!  My family is close by and are always begging to take the boys.  It’s nice knowing that people who love my kids as much as me are close by.

A few more “good” things come to mind – fast internet, at home and on my phone; a huge backyard to play in; a great neighborhood with parks and pools nearby; so many fantastic churches that we can’t even make up our minds where we belong; and a job for Stephen that doesn't involve much time away from our family.  Its been a while since we had that.

But you know there is The Bad, too –
The traffic is awful and Stephen has to fight a commute each way every day.  Everyone in Houston likes to drive, so there isn't much of a public transit system. What is in place now is mostly buses  and well, that doesn't really save any time on the road, you know?  BUT... we were living with one car since we got back and this commute required us to purchase another so.... I GOT A NEW CAR!  Not so bad, now, huh?  Remember when I sold my van? I was so sad. Well, we went out and bought the new one and it’s even better than the last! 

We don’t have any friends yet, and, as social as I am, that is weighing on me a lot, but we will. I know it.  We will.  AND... I have about oh, 3 dozen family members all within a 1-2 hour drive, so that’s plenty to keep us busy for now. We’d love to meet some other families, though. All the small groups we have been a part of in the past have been really special to us.

Everything is close by. I know I mentioned this as a “good” thing, but it can quickly become a bad thing, so I’m acknowledging that, too. It’s so easy to run out to Chick-fil-A for lunch or just head to Target for some browsing. It could be expensive if I’m not careful!  BUT... at least I have everything I need. I miss the military commissary, but only for their prices. In Cambodia, I had to make do with whatever I could get.  Here, I can follow recipes exactly as written and make crafts just like the ones I pin on pinterest, and well, do anything. It’s not such a bad problem!

The heat is awful.  Houston is hot.  Really hot.  And humid.  Cambodia was hot.  Really hot.  And humid.  Can a girl ever get a break?  Do I ever get a chance to wear my boots that have been packed up since I lived further north?  No positive spin on this for me.... COOL OFF, TEXAS!  I've been hot for like 2 years now!  Even little Jack was puffing air outside a couple weeks ago and when I asked what he was doing, he said "Blowing out the sun so it won't be so hot!" Maybe we need a Rocky Mountains vacation?

I’d take a picture if I could, but I’m usually too busy screaming and running to even think about a camera.  Its the roaches.  Ew.  They are big.  They fly.  They are everywhere.  EEEEEWWWW!  We had bugs in Cambodia, and we even had great big roaches, but I just can’t handle it here!  I called pest control to see if they could come and spray and the girl kindly said, “You aren’t from around here, are you?” Well, actually I am from close by, and I do remember standing on the toilet screaming (as a teenager) for my Dad to come kill a roach.  It’s just been a while, and I don’t care to do it again.  The sweet pest control lady told me that they can spray, but the roaches will still get inside.  They’ll just die when they get in.  Oh, okay, ew again.  Dead roaches everywhere?  I just don’t know what to do.

But at least there aren’t bugs in my food.  In Cambodia I often found myself just scooping the ants out of my coffee or cereal so I could finish it.  I can live with non-harmful giant monster roaches if I don’t have to eat them.

Ha.  Haha.  It’s the little things...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Leapin' Lizards

Tomorrow I’ve been invited to speak at my Grandma’s church and tell others about my experiences in Cambodia. I’m nervous and excited but most of all, as I was practicing my words today, I felt a longing to be there. I had just texted my friend Erica that I was missing Cambodia when God decided to give me a little glimpse of it. 

I stopped by my sister’s house to pick up some things she had for me. She’s moving to a new place and was giving away her fish tank and some other things to me and some cute little nephews of hers. She said I could take her plants from the backyard, too, and I was super excited. I have a huge back yard at my house now and no plants!  “I would love to have them,” I told her. So while she was at work, I headed over to grab them from her backyard.

There were about 7-8 plants, I think. Plenty of room in the back of my Explorer to fit them all. I was a little nervous about what could be inside them... my sister has a track record of seeing snakes in her backyard... so I shook them and kicked them hard before moving them. 

It wasn’t good enough. 

As I set the last one inside, something green and slithery caught my attention. Now, I hate snakes, so I was happy when I realized that it was, instead, a lizard. A pretty big green one, but still, it had legs. I could handle it. The boys were standing there as I jumped when I first saw the little creature and they giggled. I said I was going to be brave and grab it. It took me a few seconds to gain up enough courage to grab it, and I did, right there on the tail. 

You know what happens to a lizard when you grab its tail, right?  Not only does the creepy thing fall off, but it scares the rest of the lizard into hiding! That little big guy jumped over the backseat and into Jack’s carseat.  At this point, the kids stopped finding it funny and started screaming and crying. As I’m comforting them and trying to swat a lizard with random toys from the back seat,  a sweet neighbor – remember I’m not at my own house, I’m at my sister’s  - came over and asked what in the world was going on. I told him and he goes “Oh, geez, not lizards, those things are creepy!”

He brought over his broom and helped me a little. Then he (conveniently) had to leave once the lizard disappeared deeper into the car, and left me the broom. About that same time I saw another one.  In my car.  Yep.  Great. 

I opened all the doors and started pulling things out. The kids were running up, peeking in the car, and running away screaming. Over and over again. Yeah. I wasn’t sure if it was for fun or from fear, but it certainly didn’t help me any. 

At some point I decided to take the plants out of the car. I mean, all I could think was that if there were lizards then there might be a slithery snake in one of those pots. As I grabbed the second or third one, I saw another lizard on the pot. I knew it was a different one because it was smaller than either of the others and brown instead of green. I figured would stay on the pot while I set it outside. 

Of course it didn’t, though. It, too, jumped inside the car and immediately hid. With two carseats, toys everywhere, and yeah, I admit, some trash on the floor, too, it became impossible to find those lizards. 

And then I saw one, one who still had a tail. He was on the door so I used the broom the neighbor had left and swatted it away. It went flying across the driveway and slammed into the garage door. I became the coolest mom ever at that point.  The boys watched it as it crawled away, unharmed.  (Thankfully for the kids sake!)

Okay. One down, two to go. Or at least I thought. I couldn’t let myself imagine how many there really could be. I found the second one, which was the largest one, aka Mr. Tailless, hiding in between the seats. With some poking and prodding I got that guy to run out of the car on his own. More giggling and screaming from the kids. They thought they were all gone because I hadn’t told them about the baby one I saw last. 

And when I kept looking and couldn’t find that little guy, I outright lied to my kids and told them there were no more. I know, I shouldn’t lie to them, but come on!  I had a 30 minute drive back home and didn’t need them to be freaked out.

Yeah.  The drive.  I was so worried about driving away with that lizard still in there. Without the plants, of course, because there was no way I was keeping those things inside my car after all that. Sorry, sis. The kids were begging me to never put "leaves" in the car again.  
And that’s how it was like Cambodia. But it wasn’t. In Cambodia there were geckos and lizards everywhere. They over and beside us as we ate at restaurants, they came into our kitchen and bedrooms, and they likely rode in tuk tuks with us. It was expected, so it wasn’t all that strange. I guess I’ve adapted now, though, because the thought of driving away with that little guy stuck inside my car, my closed up, moving vehicle, driving on a 4 lane freeway, freaked me out.  I almost couldn’t do it.

But I did.  I lied to the kids again as I buckled them in their carseats.  And I drove.  But every little flicker of light made me jumpy because I thought it was a moving reptile... my mind was still imagining a snake being in there, too.  At one point one of the kids threw a toy into the front seat and I jumped.  They thought that was so funny that they did it again a few minutes later. 

We finally made it home, with no sightings of the lizard. Thank you, Jesus. Because if that thing had run across my lap or jumped on my back while I was driving, I’m sure I’d have closed my eyes, let go, and started singing “Jesus, take the wheeeeeel!”

Whew.  What a day.

I don’t miss Cambodia anymore for now.  
And I'm not driving that car again for a while.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Maybe That's What It's All About

I’m sitting here in my new house in Sugar Land surrounded by boxes and pieces of furniture that aren't put together yet, and using internet that is coming through my phone because I waited too long to order it, and my eyes are filled with tears.  It’s not because of the boxes, though.  Or the furniture.  Or the internet, though I could use a faster connection.  It’s because I am starting to figure out what it’s all about. 

“It” being the right now.  I’m so happy to live here, in a great house, in a great neighborhood, and so close to many of my loved ones, but I couldn’t help the feeling of wondering if all this is enough.  After being in Cambodia, which seemed like such a “big” thing for me, this feels almost small.  I catch myself wondering how I can do more.  More for God.  More for others.  More for sweet young girls and boys caught in the nightmare of human trafficking.  Just more.

And today God brought comfort to me in the midst of it all.  He sent me a nice man to connect my gas so I’d finally have hot water.  I’m thankful for that, for sure, but He did even more.  He made both him and me stop what we were doing and have a conversation that changed the way we both look at our current circumstances.

“Mike” asked me where we were moving from.  It’s funny because I never know quite what to say to that, and I just answer simply, “Cambodia.” Of course, that always leads to a million questions and this time was no different.  Before I knew it, he was hearing my whole story and his eyes were moist with tears.  I felt God nudging me to find out more from him so I started asking him about his life.  I couldn’t believe what he said to me. 

He’s been feeling a call to missions for quite some time but his wife isn’t ready.  They have boys the same ages as ours and she, understandably, just can’t fathom taking them away from here to become strangers in a strange land.  Well, I don’t know if you remember how I reacted to my husband’s revelation, but let’s just say I completely understand his wife’s reservations.  I then shared how God had changed my own heart and how much the boys and I fell in love with this place we never wanted to go. He smiled and told me he was inspired. 

And after he left, I realized that maybe that’s what it’s all about. 
Sharing my story.
Listening to others.
Or, what I should be doing anyway... Just yielding to God when He tells me what to do. 

That’s not a little thing at all.  That’s what it’s all about.  That’s what life is all about.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mercy Project - a guest post

There’s an estimated 7,000 children who work in the Ghana fishing industry. Some of
these children are as young as 5 and 6 years old.  All of these children are slaves.
–Mercy Project

Today many in our country will take a day off from our jobs to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers.  No matter if we’re celebrating at home or at the beach, we’re entering into a tradition that has largely been shaped by Labor Unions - organizations that are dedicated to protecting workers’ interests and improving their wages, hours, and working conditions.  Today as we lounge around or hang out with friends and family, we’re not only celebrating hard work, we’re honoring fair, ethical working practices and the laws that prevent discrimination, abuse, and child labor in our country.  Without these laws in place (and enforced), the most vulnerable members of society suffer.  Who are the most vulnerable? Children. 

Today as we’re celebrating the systems in our own country that strive to prevent injustices like child trafficking and child labor, we’re mindful of the many child slaves around the world who are unprotected and the organizations, like Mercy Project, who are working to free them.

As a mother, it’s difficult for me to imagine my children working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I’m unable to wrap my brain around the thought of my children engaged in long, hard days of physical labor, eating one meal a day, and then falling asleep at night on a dirt floor filled with other slave children.  Yet this is the daily reality for kids who have been trafficked into the fishing industry in Ghana, Africa.  As with much of Africa, there is a great deal of poverty in Ghana. Unfortunately, this leaves many mothers in an unimaginable position: sell their children to someone who can take better care of them or watch them starve to death. Most of the mothers are told their children will be given food, housing, and an education. Instead, the kids are often taken to Lake Volta where they become child slaves and their mothers never see them again.  Thankfully, Mercy Project is working to break the cycles of trafficking around Lake Volta by providing alternate, more efficient, sustainable, fishing methods for villagers – ultimately eliminating the need for child slaves.  Because of the work Mercy Project is doing in Ghana, the first group of children will be freed this month from Lake Volta.

We invite you to watch this moving, 10 minute documentary about the issues surrounding child labor and trafficking in Ghana and most importantly the hope Mercy Project is bringing to children and entire communities in Africa.  Mercy Project is the only NGO working on Lake Volta addressing the injustice of child labor and child trafficking at its root - by strengthening the Ghanaian economy and eliminating the structures that cause the demand for trafficked children.

Whether these ideas of child labor, child trafficking, and modern-day slavery are new to you or you’re aware of these injustices, but need to hear some good news every once in awhile, we invite you to become a part of what Mercy Project is doing in Ghana.  When Mercy Project frees their first group of children this month, we can all celebrate together.

Learn more and get involved by –

• Watching Mercy Project’s short documentary (above)

• Following Mercy Project on Facebook

• Connecting with Mercy Project viaTwitter.  

• Spending some time on Mercy Project’swebsite.  

• Sharing about Mercy Project’s work in Ghana with your friends.  

Although child trafficking, child labor, and the unstable economies that result in these injustices are a tragedy, we’re grateful for what Mercy Project is doing to protect the vulnerable and for allowing us to be a part of this story.   While we’re commemorating labor laws and ethical work in our own country today, we invite you to follow along on this journey with Mercy Project to protect and free children in Ghana.

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

" serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity."
Carol Bellamy

“When the lives and the rights of children are at stake, there must be no silent witnesses.”--Carol Bellamy

"God does not want us to merely give the poor perfunctory help, but to ponder long and hard about how to improve their entire situation." -- Tim Keller in Generous Justice  

"If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." -- Abraham Lincoln


Friday, August 31, 2012

What's Next?

It’s the most common question I get. Day after day, I hear it asked and day after day I answer that I don’t know. “Just waiting to see God’s will,” I say, or something like it. Well, after a couple months of praying, pondering, and hoping for a new adventure to emerge out of the unknown, we have an answer. 

And the second most popular question in my life these days is “Why haven’t you updated your blog?”.

So here goes the answer to both.

It’s been a long (but great) few months. We have been able to travel a bit, visit many friends and family members, and spend time together as a family.  It’s been a little hard at times, not having much time and space for just the 4 of us as everyone is so excited we are here that they always want to join in. But that’s been a great change in our lives, too. For our entire married life we have lived at least a plane ride away and having friends and family here to enjoy (and babysit!) has been refreshing and fun!

Which is why we are thankful our next adventure begins in Texas.  Home.  Or, rather, what used to be home. I’m not sure where I call home anymore. Most of my heart is still in Cambodia, and I don’t think that will ever change. But as a young Army wife staying with my husband at JAG school years ago, a General’s wife gave me the best advice about moving and the military that I’ve ever received.  She said “Wherever you are, make it home.” I’ve tried to do that with every move, whether I’ll be there for 4 months or 4 years. 

So “home” will be Sugar Land, TX.  Sounds sweet, huh?  Haha, that’s from my friend Mari. 

Stephen accepted a job at the Attorney General’s office in downtown Houston and we – this very weekend – will find ourselves in a rental home in that sweet suburb. Stephen has already started working in the consumer protection division in a supervisory role and is enjoying it very much.  I’d explain more what he does but I’m still trying to figure it all out.

As for me, well, I’ll be busy. I want to continue volunteering, homeschooling, and trying to do what I can to help victims of human trafficking by becoming voice for the voiceless. God has given me some visions of ways I can help and I plan to follow where He leads.  More on that to come. I plan to reopen my photography business, with a fresh new goal of serving others with the talents He’s given me. More on that to come, too.  I’m thrilled that I’m in a country where many speak the same language as me.  That was the hardest obstacle to overcome in Cambodia, and I never did overcome it. 

Over these past few months, I have learned ways we - as in YOU and me - can still serve others in need, like my friends in Cambodia, from right here in America.  More on that to come too.

This weekend is our big move and we will be busy loading, unloading, unpacking and arranging things. Things we haven’t seen in over 15 months. Even amidst the craziness, you’ll hear from me. I’m participating in a big blog project Monday, so stay tuned for that exciting update.

If you don’t see it, there’s a theme here... I plan to do more updating to this blog than I have done this summer. (That's not saying much, I know...sorry about these past months!)  I can’t wait to share with you what God has been showing me over this time. 

Thanks for your prayers as our family’s adventure continues!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

On the Road

Well, over 3 weeks ago we set out for a short trip. And we still aren’t back yet. Our little one asked as we strapped him in his car seat one day “Where are we going to live today, Mom?”

Half the time I don’t know. But that’s ok because we’re having a blast! I mean, nothing at all is going as we planned, but we’re trying to just remember that God knows the plan and is in control. I think I posted once about Navigating the Interruptions in Life. There have been some interruptions lately but we’re making the most of the tough ones and loving the people we get to see in between. Loving that part so so much!

We headed first to North Carolina to see loved ones at Spout Springs Church and in the area we lived in just before leaving for Cambodia. One of our biggest priorities was to get the house cleaned up after the renters moved out and find new renters.

That brought interruption #1 :  The renters weren’t quite out as we thought they were, so we just hung out with friends for a week while listing the home ourselves for rent. After a week of no potential renters, we were able to get in and do some work on it. During the second week we got a couple views but some leading from the Holy Spirit – including a call from a realtor who sought us out and set up an appointment – prompted us to list the home for sale instead of rent. My home!  It was hard leaving the home I’d loved so soon after leaving the Cambodia that I’d loved. But we did. We pulled away with nothing left inside but a “for sale” sign. Pray with us that the sale happens quickly.

We planned to leave from there to drive to Washington DC and meet Stephen’s sister and family from further up north, since it was a good meeting point. On the way we wanted to stop and see a friend in Richmond. If my husband hadn’t decided to power wash the deck an hour before our scheduled departure time, we might have made that trip on time (interruption #2 – the neighbor informed us rightthatminute she had a power washer). We did make it, though, ending up in Richmond area at dinner time and able to see our friends at a Cracker Barrel and play for a few minutes before continuing the drive.

We had lots of fun in DC with my niece and nephews, visiting the Smithsonian National Zoo and Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The next day we went to the National Arboretum before leaving town and saw some beautiful gardens. Do I count the major 3 year old meltdown we witnessed here as interruption #3 or is that just normal life?

We left DC that day to head to the Lexington, Kentucky area to see another sister and her family. Did I mention that we drove all these roads with no GPS? Just an old fashioned atlas and me as navigator. That led to a few interruptions too. We’ll just pretend those didn’t happen and not give them numbers.

We stopped for the night at New River Gorge. Also known as “the Grand Canyon of the East,” by some brochures, anyway. It was so gorgeous!  We got up the next day and did a little hiking, driving, and exploring. After lunch we set off for the short 4 hour drive to see my niece and nephew in KY!

Interruption #4 – the MAJOR one (so far!). See, we bought an old car for this cross country trip because we wanted something reliable and big enough for all our stuff, but we also didn’t want to go buy something expensive because we don’t know what we are doing next. If we are moving overseas again, we certainly don’t need an expensive car to get rid of. If we aren’t, well, we can buy a nice car later, when we have an income again! So, we are driving in a 95 Ford Explorer that rocks a bit after 60mph. Well, it did anyway. Sometime that day it started shaking too, and it started at 30 instead of 60. At the border of WV and KY we stopped to have a mechanic look at it. He told us that something or other was wrong and that we learned that we could make it to my sister in law’s house but should keep the speed down, at 30mph or so. Great.  150 miles to go. At 30mph.  That’s what, 5 hours? And doesn’t count all the red lights on the little roads we had to take. Or the navigation errors caused by whoever was reading the map (ahem, me). We realized it was going to be a long trip, and it was already 5pm. 

Then the interruption was interrupted.

Interruption #5.  Just as we came off a winding road in Eastern KY with not much civilization around, we heard a pop and stopped to see that the tire had blown. We were thankful that we were only going 30mph when it happened, and thankful that it happened where it did, because just a few miles earlier we would have been in the middle of nowhere. Here we pulled into someone’s driveway to change it. Good thing, because we had to unload everything, car seats included, to get to the parts of the jack. Very poor design, but we were just thankful it was all there in such an old car! An hour later we were back on the road.

We made it to the house late that night and have been enjoying our time ever since. Except for the sore muscles I have from going to a jazzercise class my sister in law taught a couple days ago. She’s a great teacher.  Whether you judge that by how fun the class is or how sore you are afterward, she wins both ways. I think even my fingers are sore as I type!  And I just yawned and it hurt everything in my body.  Gosh, I need to get back into working out!

As we prepare to depart KY and drive back to TX, with the car repaired and perhaps with a stop on the way at a dear friend’s house, please pray for our family. Here are some specific requests:

Pray for safe travel in this old car (it has the same mileage as when we left TX!)
Pray for the kids who seem to be adjusting well but may be dealing with stuff we don’t realize
Pray for each visit we have with friends or strangers to bring glory to God
Pray for the job search and for God to reveal His plan for our family soon
Pray always for the victims of trafficking.  And for Cambodia.  I miss it like crazy today. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

What I love about being home

I’m “home.”

I love all of it. Most of all I love all the people that love me and my little family. In fact they love us so much that sometimes they even fight over who gets to see us where and when. They all just want to make up for all the missed time this past year and so do we.

Here are some other things I love about being home in America:
PS – In Cambodia, its not called USA or United States, it’s America.  So, I got used to saying it too.

Riding in cars: As opposed to tuk tuks. Kids don’t mind the carseats and I love how fast we get from one place to another. I do feel like the car is going illegally fast most of the time, but that’s just because in tuk tuks we averaged about 15-25mph all the time, mostly because of traffic, and partly because of the motos that pulled the tuk tuks. I haven’t driven a car yet, though. Everyone keeps saying they will let me drive their car, no problem, but when it actually comes down to it, there’s always something that comes up that prevents them from letting me drive.  Hmmm...

Houses:  We lived in an apartment for a year. With other people close by and above and below so I was constantly telling the boys to be quiet at unreasonable times. You know, like 5:45am or something? Well, in houses I don’t have to do that as much! They can play and I don’t have to worry about it so much. If our host gets tired of them, we can just move on to the next place!

TV Commercials:  I know it’s a funny thing to appreciate, but it brings a certain entertainment value that we have missed. In Cambodia many channels didn’t have commercials and when they did, they weren’t in English, so I didn’t know what they were saying. Actually, that was pretty funny, too. Here, though, it’s fun here to see them and see all the new products I’ve missed. Only problem is that everyone we stay with has DVR so they just pass the commercials by!  Haha!

Shopping:  There is so much variety and so much STUFF. I haven’t bought anything, really (see my last post!) but did enjoy my first trip to Target very much. Still haven’t made it to a grocery store yet, which I hear from my expat friends is always quite a culture shock.

Restaurants:  Eating out is awesome. In Cambodia the service is excellent, which is more than I can say for most places here in the US, but they also stand over you and watch you eat in Cambodia, which I don’t miss. Or, they would all gather around the table to play with my kids which I also felt invaded my space at times. It was also sweet at times, too, so I miss that attention the kids got! Anyway, the food is great, the menu selections are great, and the fast food is even good here! These prices, however, I could do without! When our plane landed in LA, I almost skipped lunch when I saw that it would be $10 for just my meal and we used to all be able to eat for $10 at some Cambodian places!

Appliances: Oh, how I missed you, dishwasher. And microwave. And most of all, you, dear clothes dryer. I love you. I must have kissed you 6 times already. Thank you for staying here in most homes of the USA and waiting for me. I don’t ever want to iron again.

Texting:  I love being able to call and text friends or even chat on facebook now that we are in the same time zone! Email me for my new cell number if you are interested!

Toilet Paper: Oh, we had this in Cambodia, too. I carried it in my purse at all times, actually. I had to since many bathrooms simply had a hose next to the toilet with no paper at all. But it was awful 1-ply, thin, fall apart in your hands, paper. As soon as we arrived I was thankful for good toilet paper!

Websites:  Businesses have websites! And usually just one phone number! My friends in Cambodia will understand why this is something to be thankful for! I do miss that in Phnom Penh I could get almost anything delivered though, for free, usually! That is so not the case here.

Air Conditioner:  We have a love/hate relationship, me and the A/C. I love it the first few minutes after coming indoors from the hot Texas sun, but after a year of not good A/C and the hot climate of Cambodia, I find myself freezing most of the time I’m indoors in Texas. I keep thinking I’ll get used to this but it sure hasn’t happened yet!

Playing Outside: As I type this my boys are playing outside at Grandma’s house. They are riding bikes, finding roly-poly bugs, digging in the dirt, and running in grass.  It doesn’t get better than that.  I will be joining them in just a moment!

There is so much I miss about Cambodia already.
                                                        Mostly all the people I love.

But there is so much I missed here in the USA, too.  So much I’m thankful for.
                                                                             Most of all the people I love.

Lots more travel and adventure in the coming weeks.  I’ll update when I can.  I’d love to hear from you.  Call me, email me, comment here, or send up a prayer.  All of it means so much to our family!  Thanks!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Busy but Still Blogging!

People keep asking me if I’m going to keep blogging now that our time in Cambodia is over. Well, if you look above, you’ll see that “Cambodia” is nowhere in my blog URL, my blog title, or my blog tagline or whatever they call that thing. I knew from the beginning that following God would be a lifelong adventure but living in Cambodia might not be.

So my answer is YES!  I will keep blogging, even if no one reads it, though by the number of people asking me if I’m going to keep writing about our crazy adventures, I have learned that there are a few people out there reading my words! Thanks to you all. I can assure you for now that life has been no less interesting in this first week and a half in the US than it was in Cambodia!

We started in Las Vegas, visiting family, then flew to Texas, where we are visiting with more family.  All of it has brought warm memories, lots of love, many hugs, great food, a few extra pounds on my belly, and a wonderful upcoming blog I will title “what I love about being ‘home.’” I promise I’ll get to that soon!

For now I just wanted to let you know what we’ve been up to. Besides visiting with so many people we love and missing so many more who we haven’t seen yet we’ve been quite busy.

The biggest thing got checked off the list yesterday. All our “stuff” came from US Army storage yesterday. It was stored in North Carolina for a year while we were away. They moved it to Texas for us and put it in storage again, because we had no idea what else to tell them to do with it.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! We lived for a whole year on basically what fit into 8 suitcases. I mean we bought a couple cheap pots and pans when we got there and what not, but mostly it all fit in a few suitcases. And that counted a few outfits I never wore in that year and didn’t bring home with me.

This moving truck, though... it had 384 boxes of things.  Three hundred and eighty four little stickers to check off.  384!  All moved from one storage container to another.

So much excess.

I joked that maybe we should go there once a week and take out 10 things and just donate them or sell them and donate the money.  Yes, I was joking.  Sort of.  A little bit.  Right?

But really, do we need so much stuff?

I can’t wait for God to show us what is next for us. It might mean going back to Cambodia. It might mean a house  right here in Texas. It might mean any number of things in between the two (because the whole world is in between the two one way or the other!). One thing I know for sure, though:  we have too much stuff. Our lives will never look the same. I hope to never have 384 boxes of things again. My eyes have seen people who need my stuff – or the money that bought all that stuff – way more than I do.

How can we live with less so those in need can have more, or even just have enough?  What are your ideas?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Farewell, Cambodia

I set the time on this blog post to publish just as our plane leaves Cambodia.  As I write, I sit in an empty apartment where the only thing that remains is our luggage and the daylight is fading fast.

My mind is racing.  In 5 hours I get on a plane and we leave this country.  Forever?  I don’t know.  I hope not. I hope to at least visit again someday.  I never imagined that I’d fall so completely in love with a place I wasn’t ever really sure I wanted to come to. I never expected the people to touch my heart the way they did. I hoped to come here and change some lives, but over this year, God instead changed me.

He taught me that there is so much more to being a Christian than I’d ever known. I grew up in the Bible belt, knew all the answers at Sunday School, and went to church several times a week. My family tithed on our income and helped others at church who were in need.  We taught youth, we led Bible Studies, we prayed together. God’s been in my life as long as I can remember.

But I see now that it wasn’t enough.

He had to use this year to show me the real world.  He showed me real people, with real needs that I would never have encountered in the comfort of my neighborhood in America.  He helped me wake up to the truth of poverty and injustice and how little was being done about it by the only ones who really had the means to help.  He showed me little boys and girls who had been through horrors of sex trafficking that I couldn’t have even created in the darkest part of my own imagination. 

Yes, darkness. The Lord showed me darkness. It was all around me in Cambodia.

But He also showed me the light that is present here.  THE light. His light. In a country that was ravaged by civil war and genocide just 30 years ago, God’s name and God’s presence are now spreading like fire.  IJM is rescuing victims and putting perpetrators behind bars. I couldn’t be prouder of my husband for all he’s done here.  Churches are growing and much of Cambodia’s next generation is worshipping the resurrected Jesus instead of a statue of Buddha. God is Light. And He is shining in the darkness.

God wants us, as His children, Christ-followers, to be that light in the darkness.  He’s telling me that it’s light enough in the pews of the sanctuary.  He wants us out there where we are needed, serving the least of these, getting dirty, stretching our faith, and growing in Him. 

So today my family leaves Cambodia, but we will remain “missionaries” for a lifetime.  We commit to go where God leads and spread his light in the darkness wherever we may be. 

Will you join us?
Will you pray for us?
Will you be a light in the darkness?

I hope so.  Because it’s a big world out there. 

**And thank you to all who made it possible for us to live here this year and be changed and shaped and stretched and molded by God!  Thanks for your support – in finances, in prayer, in encouragement, and in love. Thank you especially to the congregation of Spout Springs Church in NC, our "home" church throughout this journey, and a constant reminder of God's faithfulness. We are anxious to see all of you.**

Sunday, May 20, 2012

No Time for Tears

About a week and a half ago I bought some milk dated to expire on May 24th and right there in the middle of the grocery store it hit me that the milk I held in my hand could stay in Cambodia longer than I could.  It made me so sad and I had to run next door for a cup of coffee and some personal time and self reflection before I could finish my shopping and go home.  Oh yes, and some tears.

Lots of tears.

Then one of my dear friends left a few days later and there were more tears.  She’s pregnant, see, and she is going “home” to have her baby and as I hugged her and realized that I might never meet that baby, my heart was filled with sadness.  I cried like a baby over that goodbye.

But since then I’ve had no time to shed a tear.  Cambodia is kicking us out with chaos! 

Let’s see where to begin?  We have this online forum for buying and selling things here.  It’s similar to Craigslist and has been really useful for us, especially since we had to purchase so many things here in country.  We came in June and bought things from other expats who were leaving at that time.  Now it was our turn to sell things, so I posted – on a Tuesday – that we would be having a moving sale the following Saturday.  I even added a fancy .pdf file with photos and prices to the ad.  I figured we’d do it two Saturdays before we left so we’d have the second Saturday as a back up to sell whatever was left. 

I had no idea what posting that ad would mean!  I got over 100 texts, calls, and emails within 24 hours, most in the middle of the night.  People didn’t want to wait until Saturday.  They were ready to buy my whole home, and I still had to live in it for 11 days!  I gave up after answering so many questions and moved the sale up to Thursday.  A couple great friends showed up to help me out that morning, coffee and muffins in hand, and almost everything sold in the first 2 hours.  It was chaos.  But I was happy to be rid of it all.  My friends gave me some essentials to borrow to help the family survive the next 11 days.

But things stayed crazy!  I got a bladder infection, which I’ve never had before, and had no idea what to do about, and it happened when I couldn’t find a doctor to see me because it was the king’s birthday and that’s a 3-day national holiday. 

Then our youngest son got what we thought was a small cold sore on his mouth but quickly spread and grew into an infection on various parts of his face and hand and we ended up at a doctor with him just after the holiday only to find out it was Infantigo, which just means that he had a bacterial skin infection.  Still, one more thing to take care of since life wasn’t busy enough! 

And then we realized we forgot to sell our bikes, so we listed them.  I took a quick photo before we sold them.

But we never got to sell Stephen’s because he got hit by a car on his bike.  Yes. Hit. By a car. While just sitting still at an intersection waiting to turn.  Don’t worry.  He’s fine.  I mean, he’s physically ok, but he is pretty annoyed.  The lady just drove away!!  Ugh. 


No time for tears.

People keep asking, “Are you all packed yet?”

Sometimes I lie and say yes.  Sometimes I laugh and say no.  Sometimes I want to punch them.  Hey, just being honest.  It will get done, right? 

It’s almost done now, I promise. 

Well, I mean, since we leave our apartment in about 24 hours now.
Which is why I should get back to work.

No time for tears.  But they will come.  I am sure of it.

Thank you for all the prayers from around the world.  We can feel them, I promise you that.
Keep ‘em coming.  We love you.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beautiful Photo Video

One thing I wish I had more time for - this week, this year, this lifetime - is to photograph the beauty of this place!  I have taken thousands of photos, perhaps tens of thousands, this year.  And yet, it still isn't enough to satisfy my longing to capture the feeling I get when I walk the streets of Phnom Penh.  Just recently a man, a photographer named David Simon, posted this video, and I want to share it with you.  I don't know him, haven't ever met him before, but I fell in love with this video.

For those non-technical photo friends of mine, a photo timelapse video basically means that he snapped photos every few seconds or minutes and put them together to look like a video. So, they are still shots, but when put together, it looks like a moving picture.  It's truly beautiful and captures many parts of this city.  I love it, and it is a great way for me to say goodbye, remembering the happiness and beauty of Phnom Penh!

You can see it here:

Or visit here to read what he wrote on his youtube link or share the video

Visit his website here at David Simon Photography

I also hope to show you many more of my photos in the weeks (and perhaps years!) to come.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Rainy Season Begins!

Rainy season, or monsoon season, in Phnom Penh is supposed to start in June.  But no one told that to monsoon season this year.  Almost every day for a week the view from my balcony has looked like this:

So today I took a few photos.

After the rain, here is what the flooded streets look like, again, from my 10th floor balcony:

That, too, lasts for about an hour and then the water all drains away to a mystery location and all is back to normal.  

So the rainy season came early this year.  Makes my heart a little more ready to leave.  I mean, it is cooler with this rain, but come on, who wants to plan every day around this?  Craziness!

I'm thankful it almost always happens in the afternoon.  Because my flight is late at night!  Hey, I have to be thankful for the little things, right?

Just a few more days in Cambodia left.
Loving every minute.
Even in the storms.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Countryside Snapshots

Thought you might enjoy some photos snapped from the window of our moving taxi.  We don't get out into the beautiful Cambodian countryside enough.  It's gorgeous.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beach Adventure

We decided to squeeze in one last beach trip before we leave Cambodia and there was one last beach destination we hadn’t visited, so we took off on Friday for a visit. It sounded perfect. 

Lonely Planet Cambodia describes Koh Kong like this: “Cambodia’s largest island towers over seas so crystal clear you can make out individual grains of sand in a couple meters of water. Its seven pristine beaches get so few visitors that sand crabs scamper obliviously up and down the beach and the shoreline is dotted with colourful shells of the sort you see only in souvenir shops....beaches lined with coconut palms and lush vegetation just as you’d expect in a tropical paradise... one leads to a genuine Gilligan’s Island-style lagoon.”

Um, yes please! We were super excited and as soon as we checked into the hotel were checking into ways to get to that island!

We were a teeny bit surprised to find out that the only way was by boat but when we learned how far that island really was from the shore, it was no surprise that they don’t have a bridge out to it. It is an hour boat ride to the northern point, and further to get to each of the seven beaches. The hotel had a brochure for an all-inclusive all day boat ride that featured a beach, lunch bbq, mangrove tour, jungle trek, snorkeling, and more. We negotiated with them on the prices, since everything is negotiable here and our kids wouldn’t be able to do half of that, and then we all got tucked into bed excited to head to that beach at 8:15 the next morning!

And that’s about where the planning ended.

In short, it was the worst boat trip ever. But if you want the entertaining version, keep reading.

We stood there waiting for the boat where we were told to wait and it didn’t show up. We asked about it again and again but received no new information. Around 9am, we were escorted to a different hotel where the boat had been waiting for us the whole time. We joined 4 other tourists and 6 or 7 Cambodians for the ride. It was hard to tell who was crew and who were just friends along for the ride. 

Our boys were excited but not excited enough to ride up on deck. We gathered underneath but could still see out the window. It was fun as we were in the bay but once we hit the open ocean the waves were huge and our boat hit a giant swell, bounced way into the air, and left us with one kid screaming.   For like, half an hour. (It was scary!) The other one was sleeping. The boat driver slowed a little but continued to hit the waves at high speed and rocked the boat with each one. He decided to take the inland course around the island instead of the oceanside one so it took much longer to reach the beach. During that time we had a seasick crew, a ship that ran aground and required people, including Stephen, to get out and push, and a couple stalls of the engine. Our confidence in this boat crew was diminishing with every passing minute.

And then this happened:

Yep. As we finally got to the beach, three hours after departing the docks, almost four since scheduled departure time, the boat dropped anchor and informed us we had to swim to the beach.  They should put that in the brochure, by the way, don’t you think?  Anyway, after they dropped the anchor, our boat was facing the beach right where the huge waves were breaking and one came over the back and filled the bottom of the boat with water.  I snapped that photo.  Just after I took the picture, another wave crashed in and more water came in. I don’t have a picture of the higher water because it was at that point that the ziploc bag enclosing our peanut butter sandwiches was emptied out of PB&J and filled up with Canon SLR! I decided I didn’t want my camera to get wet and that was my best option.  I even turned it inside out and reverse zipped it folded over so it wouldn’t get PB&J on my camera.  Now that’s quick thinking in chaos! Go, me!

But as I was doing that our boat was spinning. I looked up to see that we were parallel to the beach and the waves that had been coming over our boat from the back were now coming over our boat from the side and tipping us sideways, nearly capsizing us. Everyone was moved into the little enclosed area with us and grabbing lifejackets. Our kids were screaming and the boat was just turning in circles. They couldn’t get the anchor back in because the boat had twisted so much the rope had wrapped around it several times and made it feel even heavier, yet they wouldn’t cut it. I went from thinking about how I shouldn’t have brought my camera to thinking I shouldn’t have brought my kids. Or myself and my husband, for that matter. 

Eventually, though, we got away. But we never did get to see that beach. They took us to the perfectly still (and polluted) waters of bay and we had a BBQ lunch on the rocks, which the kids called their beach trip.  

They were happy. 

Lunch was good.  Or, not terrible, at least.

Then we saw some mangroves.

And, 8 hours after departing the hotel, 7+ of it on a boat, we returned.  It was disappointing, but it made for a great story.  Another adventure of following God, I guess.

For all of us.

(My son’s journal entry for this week)