I’m told we’ve been rather silent on the blog front, lately. Most likely you have not noticed, but on the rare chance you have noticed, know that it is on me. Doug, your faithful documenter of events, thank you note writer, and all-around good guy, gets a pass. I told him I’d write the next one, and then I just didn’t.
I’m trying to think why. Yes, we’ve had a lot of visitors. But that has been such a joy – plenty to write about there. We’ve traveled a lot. But again, such a joy – plenty to say. Work has been both busy and at times slow, again – lots to say about that, and time to do it. Then there has been homework help (Python programming — really?!?). But I’m sure lots of you know about that and still manage to communicate with those around you. So what is my hold up?
I wonder if it is because I’d like a blog to be able to tie this experience up in a nice neat package with a pretty gold, sparkly bow on top. To list out “Three Beautiful Things We’ve Learned In Three Months” or “The Five Ways I Saw God This Week.” And I can’t. Each day, most moments even, are a swirl for me of fascinating and frustrating. I am truly overwhelmed with gratitude that God gave us the opportunity to join in the lives, the struggles, and the pursuit of justice in Cambodia this year. And it has also, without a doubt, been the hardest thing I have ever done. I have learned so much, and continue to realize how much I don’t know.
So here you go – no bow, no tidy lessons, just a tiny glimpse into the mishmash that is my life these last few weeks with God, family and IJM in Cambodia.
“Home” for the Holidays
I love Thanksgiving in the USA. I love the crispness, the fall flavors of pumpkin and cinnamon, sipping coffee and making pies, sipping wine and playing games. And I love watching Doug (that all-around good guy) get excited about getting up at 4 am and filling the house with smells of rosemary, onion and I don’t even know what else as he charts out his basting schedules and temperatures on a giant turkey that he carefully prepares all day long. Oh, and I start playing Christmas music in October. I’m one of those people. First cold snap, and out it comes.
Which brings me to holidays in Cambodia. There is no cold snap. There is no Thanksgiving holiday. That’s not a complaint. This fall alone we’ve had a week to celebrate the Water Festival, and a day for independence from France, a day for the Paris Peace Accords, another for the King’s coronation and another for the King’s Father, and a few more for Pchum Ben which is a time to remember ancestors and take food to the monks and the ancestors in the pagodas. We definitely do holidays in Cambodia. But it is different. Then we walk into the office supply store that caters to “foreigners” and businesses and NGOs that employ foreigners, and there is an entire Christmas section. In a country that is only 3% Christian.
I find myself struggling because I want to embrace the holidays, to play the music and make Christmas decorations with the kids, and find ways to make some familiar recipes. But when I do, many times I find myself feeling sad. I find it is not the music or the smells, it is the feeling of home – a concept that has necessarily become more complicated. And as much as this has been my home this year, I know we are leaving in a month and I find myself caught between at least two worlds. I want to be home and remember those familiar feelings. But to be here, I need to BE here – with haircuts and homework help, washing dishes and planning the next load of laundry because there is only so much room on the clothes drying rack in the next 24 hours and someone will need a clean towel or a gym uniform. And then that Christmas song comes on the player. I feel a quick burst of joy and warmth, and then a sadness that seeps in. Sometimes it overwhelms me. And I realize that it is maybe not the holidays I have loved, but the associations of home and family that comes with them. And those aren’t here. Being here is easier when I don’t remember “home.”
How do I get excited about coming home and still be engaged here?
Even that question I am realizing, doesn’t fully capture my situation. I came to Cambodia thinking I would have 2 homes – Texas and Cambodia. Either/Or. But so much of what we have learned this year is that God is in and around us here AND there. God is before us, alongside us and ahead of us. God may call us only to one or two homes, but God’s people need help all over this world, and God may offer us the privilege of participating in that work. I think I have been approaching “home” as a two-dimensional question when we live in a three-dimensional world.
A beautiful little slice of how this has impacted my family appeared as my boys and I ate pizza at a sidewalk café in Hiroshima, Japan (last, self-funded big trip). This may sound unrelated, but stay with me. I ate my pizza and listened with pride and awe as my 9 and 11 year olds reflected on differences they observed in how they had been taught World War II history, and how they had seen it explained at the memorials in Hiroshima. When we talked about how often vastly different perspectives are presented as “truth” to different groups of people, I asked them how we can be sure we are understanding enough to make good decisions. My 9-year old said, “Well, I think you’ve just got to go to the places and talk to people and see things for yourself.” This is not a statement from my adventure kid. This is from the child who cried most days for our first month here because he wanted to go home. When I see how much conflict we have in the US, and in the world, where we don’t understand each other and rarely try, I love that my children see value in getting into another person’s world and being open to learning their truth. That’s a little step towards God’s heaven, I think. And it wasn’t there before. We are stepping out. We are becoming more three-dimensional.
So in the midst of all this, here are four take-aways (for the tidy bow people among us):
- I miss “home” most at the holidays.
- I will treasure my deep-in-my-soul-and-built-over-years-of-traditions “home” more now, but am more aware of the call to be less attached to it.
- I am so proud of our children and how much they are learning about God, God’s people all over the world, and themselves.
- I miss clothes dryers. You really have no idea.
God made us to serve, and that service isn’t always where we are most comfortable. So this morning, when I would have had the Christmas music blaring through the house in Austin, I sat in the silence, wrote to you, and listened to the Cambodian rain.
God bless us all.