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)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Feeling Proud of My Kids

I had a proud momma moment this week. A few, actually.

I keep reflecting on all the things I have learned over our stay in Cambodia but I don’t often pause to reflect on what my little ones will take away from this adventure.

This week they have made me so proud.  They have selflessly given so much, and at age 3 and 5 (almost 6, he’d want me to tell you), they are wise beyond their little years. 

Let me explain:
As I’ve mentioned (quite a few times), we came with just suitcases. No moving package as so many of my expat friends with fancy jobs get when they come to Cambodia. That means we leave with just our luggage, too. Since we’ve picked up a few things along the way, we naturally can’t take back to America everything we brought from America. We had to start sorting a couple weeks ago.

The boys decided they wanted to give some clothes away a few weeks ago so we donated some of our not so awesome shirts and pants to the boys center we visit each week.  We gave some that were too small and some that were dirty or worn out, knowing that these kids who live on the street would appreciate them.

And they did. 

But that was just the beginning.

That was a few weeks ago. In the weeks since we have filled up bags and bags of new shirts and pants and shoes and... get ready for this.... really awesome, super cool, totally amazing TOYS. Some of them were even from Santa this past Christmas. 

You know, the Santa who has never visited those boys at the center in their whole lives. Not that they need him. Look what I caught them doing this week with Lincoln Logs.  It’s worth watching*!

*I am unable to show you their faces for security reasons, but I promise you they are smiling so big!

Anyway, my kids realized their needs. This week I heard my own precious little boys say things like:

“They have a pirate ship in the playroom at the center but no pirates so let’s give them all our pirates”
(ALL our pirates?)

“I have 5 superhero shirts and I don’t need that many, so let’s give 3 to the kids.  I hope my friend ___* gets one of them!”
*left out name for security, but seriously how proud was I from that?

“They like Ben 10 because sometimes they wear Ben 10 shirts so we can give our Ben 10 toys to them.  There aren’t Ben 10 toys in the playroom.”

And lots of “Sure, donate those” and “Yeah, definitely give that to them” when my husband and I asked about certain toys and clothes.

Yep, definitely some proud momma moments. 

It probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t invested our time into these boys at Hard Places. For me it confirmed that when you volunteer your time serving the poor, it is not just the poor who are rewarded.  We have learned and received much as well. Maybe that is why Jesus commands it? 

I know for me, it certainly gives me a glimpse of His love for us. It gives me a hint of how faith is made complete by our works. It makes me wonder if the Lord looks down on His people and has some proud moments when we serve others in the way I felt proud when my babies served those boys.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

21 days

I have 21 days to say goodbye
and I have no idea where to begin.

In just 3 weeks we will pack up our suitcases and board a plane that will take us to a place that used to be home. But now I don’t know what home is. Because if it’s where the heart is, then my home might just be right here in Cambodia. I am working day and night to pack up these suitcases but there is no way I will ever be able to fit my whole heart on that plane.

See, during this past year God has broken my heart over and over again. Each time it has brought me closer to Him and each time He has healed me and I have grown stronger from those broken hearts. This time, though, I’m not sure I can pick up the pieces. I’m not sure I even want to. Shards of my heat will be left all over this kingdom.

As I walk through the market one last time, picking up fruits and veggies, or choosing souvenirs to bring home in hopes to capture some sort of memory from here, I will not know how to say goodbye.

When our tuk tuk drives down the streets I’ll see the beggars and the children and wish I could do more, that I had done more. I pray that I have impacted these people even a fraction of the amount they have impacted me. They’ll never know how much they have changed my life, and yet their lives don’t look much different than they did a year ago from my perspective. I wish I had done more. 

And the tuk tuk drivers. How do I say goodbye to them? They are probably the people I’ve seen more than anyone. What do I say when they ask me to stay, as they inevitably will, not understanding that the job is done and we must go? How do I thank them for taking such good care of my family and hugging, sometimes kissing, my kids almost daily? Will someone come to pay them the fare I have been paying them each week or will they not have enough money after we leave? And, oh, how do I say goodbye?

What do I say to the lady who stands outside one store I frequent that I have watched go from being not pregnant, to pregnant, to having a baby who she even tried to sell me for just thirty dollars? How do I leave and not worry that she will sell that precious little one to any willing stranger? A piece of my heart will undoubtedly remain with her, and I hope she knows it is so.

All of us will have a hard time saying goodbye to the boys at Punlok Thmey, or Hard Places. That’s the boys center where we go each week. My little one got really sick so we have been out a few weeks and I’m dreading going back because I know my heart will fall to pieces as they hug me and say they missed me and, when they find out we are leaving, beg us not to go. That one will be the hardest for sure. Those poor kids have to say goodbye too much, to too many people and it just isn’t fair. We will be giving them lots of presents and hope that makes it easier. On them. Only Jesus can make it easier on us.

There are the apartment guards who protect us but are also give a smiling welcome each time we come in the building, the cleaning ladies in the building who play with the boys, the church members, the staff at our favorite restaurants and stores, and I haven’t even mentioned the amazing IJM staff or expat friends yet.  There will be parties to say goodbye to those last two.

When we return, people will ask us what Cambodia is like. I’m not sure what I will say. It’s hard to express in words. Even as I type this my tears are soaking my keyboard. I still have 21 days of goodbyes left to try and manage. I don't know what will come out of my mouth when I start talking about Cambodia. One thing I know:  It is the place that will forever hold pieces of my broken heart.

But God is my healer, and He is my strength.  Just as He has restored my heart over and over again this year and with it, made me stronger, He will do it again, and this time... 
this new heart will be my strongest one yet. 

Please pray for our family over these 21 days, and beyond. 
We're gonna need it.
Love ya!