If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty silent the past month. I’m just going to be completely honest: it’s been a rough month. I feel like I’m just climbing out of the rubble of being hit by a ton of bricks. I guess in retrospect it’s been a long time coming since I got here. What exactly hit me? Well, things like this:
- What am I doing with my life? This is my third career shift in ten years.
- What do I do next?
- Seeing poverty all around me all the time and wrapping my head around so much need. Seeing excess at its worst and seeing poverty at its darkest in the very same city.
- Wondering what it is I can do to help with the million different plaques I see: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, slavery, rape, environmental desecration, malnutrition, lack of education, healthcare, animal abuse, corruption….the list seemingly never ends.
- Wrestling with all kinds of issues related to sexuality, sex, relationships, in relation to not only my own personal experiences, but now against the backdrop of the field I work in and what I see/hear/read on a regular basis.
- Feeling guilty that with all the opportunities I’ve been given and the life I have had- what I have done thus far?
- How do I go back to life as usual in the US, if that’s what I’m meant to do? How do I not judge my own lifestyle and that of those I love around me?
- I finally went to the genocide museum and the Killing Fields here in Phnom Penh, and it was a sobering reminder of what this country has been through and what all the atrocities currently happening globally look like behind their respective countries’ borders.
- Since my first month here I’ve seen constant similarities in the struggles of Cambodia with those of Iran (my birthplace). I’ve always felt a love and longing for my birthplace and being here has increased that. In Cambodia I see a beautiful nation, with so much history, and once called the Pearl of Asia, beginning to develop and move forward after more than 30 lost years. And this is a culture that is new to me. I can’t help but think of the joy I would feel if I could help Iran after more than 30 lost years in its movement towards regaining what was lost and rebuilding for a brighter future. Am I supposed to go there with what I learn here?
- Why did God call me here? I know I’m doing something day to day, but am I learning what I’m supposed to? Am I really being prepared for a “next step?” Am I wasting this time by missing some big revelation in front of my face?
All this has made me remember the speech one of the SVPs at IJM gave us at orientation before heading out to our respective placements. He talked to us about knowing “this year isn’t about you” and that we were going to get the stuff kicked out of us. I didn’t really know what he meant by that. I assumed it obviously wasn’t about me, since I was coming to serve and of course I’d get my butt kicked since I was dealing with anti-sex trafficking work and it’d be hard. I’m realizing now, what he really meant though. Here’s the thing, sex trafficking is a HUGE multifaceted deep rooted problem. It can be fought, and the fight can be won. But not by me, and not in a year. So what am I doing here? I’m just going where God lead me, to serve in any way possible to be a small (miniscule even) part of the whole army fighting this global battle. Do I have a purpose? Yes. From the cop busting down the brothel door, to the lawyer fighting to convict the perpetrator, the social workers helping restore victims, the legislators fighting for better protection laws, the finance manager helping her NGO run ethically, efficiently, and sustainably, the administrator relieving the million little tasks needed for his boss who’s “in the trenches,” to the janitors who keep the offices of all these people functional and habitable…they all have purpose, and as such: so do I. Now, knowing this in my head and getting it in my heart of two different things. It’s obviously humbling when you have all these skills and accomplishments and think “but I have so much more to offer.” Well guess what? It isn’t about me. That’s what it means. Do what’s needed and do it the best possible way. And what exactly makes me think I can be so amazing? Pride I guess? Sense of entitlement maybe? I mean, I’ve never worked in this field and I think I can run things or lead things? Well whatever it is, it’s just a whole host of crap I don’t need to be bringing to the fight. I’m now trying to learn to be grateful I get to be part of the fight and do whatever part of it I can and do it the best I can. The same will apply to whatever area God calls me to, if He moves me on after this fellowship is over. Whether I continue in the work I’m doing, move to fighting for ethics and human rights to exist in the private sector, or fighting corruption, or working to develop sound financial markets in developed or developing countries, or chain myself to a tree to stop the deforestation of our world I’ll do it the best I can and be grateful I get to be part of something.
Now about this “getting the stuff kicked out” of me part, well that’s for sure. But again, it’s not solely because of the hard work and being traumatized by seeing the atrocities of man. Yes, I see those things and they do play a part but it’s actually a lot less grandiose than all that. It’s seeing my own crap in a very real, “can’t hide from it” way that’s been kicking my butt the most. At home we all have a million distractions that keep us from dealing with the “stuff’ deep down in us. Busy social lives, traveling, volunteering, over-working, general comforts of the familiar we get lost in. But when the bulk of my energy goes to trying to normalize a life that is not my “normal” the defenses go down to all the “stuff.” Here’s the blessing in this: I get to work through this stuff in a way many never do. It’s getting pulled to the surface whether I like it or not and I’m dealing with it. I’m surrounded by some wonderful people who have been helping with great resources and guidance. As much as I felt clobbered for the past few months, especially this past one, I’m coming out even better than before and am grateful for this time. I was speaking to someone who phrased it so well, when I shared my confusion over thinking I’d already dealt with a lot of this “stuff” before. She said it’s like a spiral staircase, not a circle. I may be going around to where I was before, but it’s on a deeper level. Ya know what? Bring it on! The less garbage, the more freedom I feel and strength I gain. I won’t get answers to all the stuff that’s been racing through my mind the past month, but I’m finding peace that I don’t need all the answers.
My turning point was when I shared my testimony at the end of the month. A group of women I’ve met here have started meeting once a week to share our testimonies. This has been a WONDERFUL! Testimony sharing isn’t sharing our “conversion” story, but it’s been sharing our life story because our whole life is the true testimony. As I sat with my brain spinning one night I realized I wanted to share mine, so I volunteered. This pushed me to sit and prepare with a deadline. I started from birth and thought of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve been through, all the pivotal moments, the successes and failures. WHOA! Talk about cathartic. I realized the whole journey so far has so firmly been in God’s hands and all my worry isn’t going to do anything. Way before I even believed in God, He was guiding me and protecting me. Every step and misstep in my life God works for the best, once I give it over. I saw the same is true through each of the other ladies’ testimonies as well. So, I need to be in the moment and find peace in that, because it’s just where He wants me. I’ll simply keep doing the work I am and do it the best I can and wait for the next step. I’m here for a reason and I’ll miss that if I’m continually looking ahead and trying to figure it out. Whew. Exhale. The final “hand” that pulled me out of the rubble of January came when I read Psalm 139: 9-10 one morning during my stillness time “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” So there it is. I’m not alone, and even on the other side of the oceans my worry is like that of a baby fussing even though safely in her mother’s arms.