A Very Merry Cambodian Christmas

Christmas in Cambodia has been educational and surprisingly sweet.  Starting with Thanksgiving, when all my co-workers and random Cambodians I would chat with, all asked about Black Friday instead of Thanksgiving.  And then as Christmas neared they asked about Santa and presents…this made me question what exactly is it “the West” seems to project as “Christmas?” More than that, it made me realize how I celebrate the holiday and what it really means to me.  I love buying my loved ones that “just right” gift. I love decorating my house and seeing all the decorations around town. I love all the parties with friends and family. I love bundling up in the cold weather outside and flannel jammies inside. I love the movies and songs. I love my mom & sister’s annual “Christmas Walk” around Philly. And I love mom’s Christmas Eve dinner and opening presents with the family Christmas morning. But are these all the things that make Christmas or just traditions I associate with it? I immediately thought of the movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Charlie Brown asks “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Then, taking from another classic, I remembered the Whos didn’t let the Grinch stealing all their symbols of Christmas stop them from celebrating…and who am I to argue with Who logic? I mean in primarily Buddhist and tropical climate Cambodia, can they not celebrate Christmas because it doesn’t get cold and there aren’t decorations everywhere? Of course not! None of that stuff really matters.

So here I am in Cambodia. I can’t act like it’s not hard being far from home. I thought I’d be fine, but as Christmas day nears I realize how much I do wish I could be home with them. I also realized this will be my first Christmas ever not spent with my family. No matter where I moved to (from Cleveland to Spain) I’ve always spent Christmas with my family. But it’s becoming an awesome way to celebrate like a Who and learn to embrace the true spirit of the season. 

This isn’t to say I haven’t done anything to celebrate the way I traditionally have. I had some lovely decorations arrive in a care package and found an adorably ridiculous tree and decorated my apartment. My roommate and I hosted a few Christmas gatherings, including mulled wine, spiked  hot cocoa, and cookie decorating. I’ve also received some lovely packages from home with tokens of love and I went to a WONDERFUL combined churches Christmas service this past Sunday. A bunch of churches around Phnom Penh came together and hosted a beautiful service. I loved seeing churches from all different denominations come together and celebrate the holiday, again showing none of the traditional stuff really matters. 

But I’ve also been learning from the Cambodian Christians I’ve met, better ways of celebrating the holiday. They don’t get caught up in big dinners or gratuitous amounts of gifts or twinkling lights or staring out the window for snow or Santa – they all see it as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ and to give back by volunteering in various ways that show those in need what the gift of Christ actually looks like.  (I sure wish I’d had this revelation before I planned my trip to Burma over the holidays in an attempt to hide from being away from my family)

Regardless of where I am though, I’ll be celebrating and remembering the gift given to the world (including just little me) on this night we celebrate. Jesus really is the gift that keeps on giving. His peace, His saving light, and His unwavering love is always there. As a dear friend wrote in a card she sent me “No matter where you are in the world, God sent His son for you.”  In this I find my rest and love talking to Cambodians about Christmas (like when they ask me why we celebrate and who Santa is).  This is something that carries all year long, especially in the work I’m doing here. This gift is specifically for the lost, the oppressed, the forgotten, the hurt, the lonely, the abused, and this gift is given all year.

So instead of being sad, I’m choosing to use this year as a chance to really celebrate in an unfiltered pure way the only reason for the holiday. In this truth I tear up at the meaning of Oh Holy Night. In this truth I am still able to celebrate the Joy to the World, even if I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'” – Linus “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (aka Luke 2:8-14)

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with a few of my co-workers at a Christmas fair

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cookie decorating with some lovely friends I’ve made here in Phnom Penh

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My little silver tinsel tree (and yes, she’s coming back to the States with me)

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Thailand, Thanksgiving, & Thankfulness

My apologies for the long silence. I had a visitor  (my good friend “MoMo” ) for almost 2 weeks, we traveled to Thailand, I came back and had one of the best Thanksgivings ever, and have been elbows deep at work.  Here’s a quick recap:

Thailand…well that’s a trip best told through pictures.

First we flew down to Phuket to check out the famous southern Thai beaches. MoMo and I rented motos to explore the area, spent a day on the beach, and spent a day island hoping. The rock formations were amazing and I always feel at peace near/in water.

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Our motos in Phuket

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Speedboat island hopping

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The beach from the movie “The Beach”…these rock formations and water were amazing!

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Floating in a lagoon. Is this real life?!

Then we headed up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for the lantern festival. We met up with some IJM Thailand folks and they were amazing hosts.  We all went to the festival together. Standing in the middle of tens of thousands of glowing lanterns floating up into the air, each carrying prayers, wishes, and hopes was just dreamlike. The next day we went elephant riding and got to bathe them, and feed them. My obsession with elephants continues, ha! We explored Chiang Mai the following day and went to Bua Tong Waterfall (aka the “Sticky Falls”).  Limestone deposits make the waterfall walk able. We climbed up and down the waterfalls and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. The water so cool and SO clean, I couldn’t help but take a sip…yum! We also visited the IJM office and I got to hear about the case work they’re doing there (citizenship rights for the hill tribes & child sexual abuse). I had met the legal fellow at our IJM orientation in June, so it was fun to hear how he was settling in and swap stories. Image

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Euphoria after sending our lanterns up…really banking on that wish coming true 😉

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Chiang Mai had all kinds of decorations around town for the festival. I appreciate the unbridled use of color everywhere!

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Riding around in our Songtao. They’re a mix between tuk tuks and buses. I loved them!

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I can never get enough of elephants in SE Asia

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At the Bua Tong Waterfall

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yes, that’s a sheer drop behind me and yes we just climbed and walked through. nature is cool 🙂

We said our goodbyes and headed back to Cambodia. We did a quick 24 stop in Siem Reap so MoMo could see Angkor Wat and then took the bus back to Phnom Penh. It was a whirlwind, but so fun! I can’t wait to go back to Chiang Mai and actually leave the Bangkok airport to actually check that city out sometime soon.

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Just a few days later it was Thanksgiving. I actually wasn’t up for celebrating this year. When MoMo left it was harder than I had expected. It was a reality check that she got to go home, and I didn’t. I realized I was only about half way through my time in Cambodia and started thinking of all the things I gave up and was missing, in order to be here. This also coincided with feeling a bit useless at work.  The past few weeks I was “busy” but mainly doing menial tasks and very support driven/administrative things. While trying to remind myself every little bit I did was a part of the big picture and trying to stay humble, I felt like an athlete warming the bench. Needless to say, all this brought me way down. While chatting with my mom on Thanksgiving eve I told her I wasn’t feeling up to joining my coworkers for Thanksgiving dinner.  She sternly told me (like the true mama bear she is) I would be attending that dinner and I would be celebrating Thanksgiving this year.  I did as I was told and I’m SO glad I did. It ended up being one of the best Thanksgivings ever. There were 22 people, kids, adults, fellow coworkers, every possible type of dish you could imagine. Growing up an immigrant family in the US I haven’t had many BIG Thanksgiving dinners, since we didn’t have any other family around, so this year was even more awesome because I felt like I was in a Norman Rockwell painting. For a few hours, I felt like I was at home in the US surrounded by love and the feeling of belonging. I went home that night remembering that wherever I am, God will always provide comfort when I most need it, in the most unexpected way and remind me I’m where He wants (even if it doesn’t look like it).  I Skyped into dinner with my family the next morning (hurray for 12 hour time zone difference). It was so great to chat with them and see the dinner they were having and laugh with them, like I was right there at the table with them. That day at work a pile of work landed on my plate, thrusting me back into the game and all was right in my world again.  It’s been a busy few weeks since then. We are working on finalizing something huge here at our office and I can’t wait to share it with you!

This year I’m thankful for fun adventures, amazingly compassionate friends who can love me through tough times, the opens door and hearts of people I’ve met here in Cambodia, my lovely coworkers, my funny crazy strong family, and piles of work 🙂 And in big news, I’m SUPER thankful for reaching my fundraising goal!! I am now fully funded to stay in Cambodia for my full year! Thank you to ALL my supporters!

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The Power of Prayer

This one is going to be short, but I just have to share before I head off to Thailand with my sister from another mister, the biggest thing I’ve been realizing the power of the past few weeks.

The power of prayer. I know, I know…this isn’t the exciting topic you were hoping for, but hear me out.  As you know, I am in Cambodia with IJM. IJM is a Christian based organization. This doesn’t mean we hand out bibles and evangelize (not that there isn’t a place for that). This means our mission, the reason we do what we do, the methods we use, the power we root our battles in, the trust we put our efforts in, is biblically based. As a result of that, as an organization we pray twice a day…every day. We have stillness in the morning, where we are encouraged to individually go to God to start the day.  Then later in the day we all gather and share our prayer requests, praise reports and pray together. So obviously, in the past 5 months since I’ve been here I’ve been praying – a LOT. But I couldn’t shake the question of “is this doing anything?” I know I’ve seen prayer work in the past and I know when I really settle in and reach out I can feel God’s presence listening and responding, but does He really listen when we ask Him to do specific things?

I mean, I wasn’t a Christian most of my life. I didn’t really believe in anything most of my life. I sort of thought there was a God, but would only go so far as to say “I’m spiritual, not religious”…but really had no idea what that meant.  Then one day, almost exactly 7 years ago as I sat in a church service (as a favor for someone close to me) I felt/learned/realized there absolutely, unequivocally is a God. It’s been a long journey since that day and it’s a journey I’m very much learning more about each day. So part of this journey is understanding this God that I believe in. How can I believe in something I don’t fully understand? I equate it to love. Not romantic love, but the kind you feel for your parents, your kids, your soul mate. The kind of love you can’t explain why, but you cannot deny its 100% unshakable existence.  But I digress.

As I’m working to learn more about God and the bible, prayer is a big thing that pops up a lot. It’s how to hear from Him. It’s how to grow closer to Him b/c you build a relationship with Him (I mean when you love someone you spend time together one on one right?). So aside from the relationship building is there power there as well? YES! I’ve seen so much happen this past month that I can link directly to diligent prayer and trust in God. It doesn’t always happen the way I had expected, or the time I had wanted but I have to admit I’m not expert on what’s best for who and when. But what I’m seeing is the evolution of what answered prayers look like. They are not always a BOOM moment, but a slow shift. A changed heart of a person. The gradual release of forgiveness or hurt. The unnoticed freedom from previous addictions or bad habits. I’ve seen answered prayer in the changing of loved ones. I’ve seen it through miraculous break through in our rescue efforts here at work. I’ve seen how the prayers of others has worked in me without me even knowing. So yeah. Prayer works and it’s POWERFUL.

But what about when you pray, and what you prayed for doesn’t happen? I think it goes to a deeper understanding of John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” I think that part about “my words remain in you” is one I often forget. God isn’t Santa. As I learn His teachings, His ways, and trust Him by growing closer to Him this will start to be more clear. I don’t have the answers, but I do know it’s worth continuing to learn about. I will say, that I think God answers every prayer. The problem often is that it’s not what we expected or when we expected it. I heard it put best once that “God always answers, but it’s with a yes, no, or wait a while.” My trust that He knows best and my life and these moments are only part of something SO much bigger than me are what I can find peace in when the “no” or “wait a while” are my responses.

Hmmm, guess this wasn’t as short as I thought it be ha!

Strength

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Our IJM Cambodia office has a partner church in the US that supports us financially and also joins us every year for a retreat to give us an opportunity to refresh, recharge, and grow as a team and individuals. Last week we went on that retreat in Kampot, Cambodia. This is a beach town by the gulf, a few hours from Phnom Penh and next to Kep (please see earlier blog post on that trip ha).

The theme of this year’s retreat was “Strength.”  BOY did I get a lesson in what this means, that continues to unfold. The retreat went like this:

  • Day 1- Relax, get to know each other, play some games (I won the Rock, Paper, Scissor contest), discuss the various meanings of strength, discuss biblical strength,  delicious food, and enjoy the views.
  • Day 2-  Team building “Adventure Day” in Kep, then a stunning sunset dinner by the gulf.
  • Day 3- Recap the previous days, meditative stillness time, head home

The retreat overall was awesome. We had some great conversations. I can’t say enough about the natural beauty here in Cambodia. And every opportunity I have to get to know the people I work with, unfolds more reasons for me to love them more. But let’s discuss the “adventure day,” or as I like to call it “The  Day of My Mountaintop Meltdown.”  There were tasks and challenges we had to do, but they were completely ancillary to the task of climbing and descending from this beast. It started with a hike up. The assent was so steep we had to use our hands most of the way (not quite the semi-leisurely hike I was expecting). We were all dripping sweat and rapidly losing our breath. We finally made it to the top and thought we made it through the tough part…nope. The decent was worse, as it was even more steep and slippery. Legs already weak from the climb, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I fell several times. By the second fall I BROKE. I had been trying to joke about how hard the climb was, and hide the fact that I was struggling so much, but I couldn’t do it anymore. A flurry of obscenities flew out of my mouth (I am from Philly after all).  I lost all ability to hold in my feelings. I was hot, tired, in pain and then all the inside stuff came out. More than anything I was ashamed and angry. I was ashamed and angry I wasn’t able to breeze through this task, even though no one else was either. Ashamed I couldn’t keep my feelings bottled up and stay cheery. Angry I had to get through this task, which I just didn’t want to do anymore. Ashamed and angry I was so out of shape that I felt trapped in my incapable body. Thank God I was surrounded by some amazing co-workers. They let me go through my roller coaster of emotions and helped me laugh through it. They never made me feel bad for what flew out of my mouth. They never made me feel weak and when I just needed to be left alone they gave me that space. They were the embodiment of encouragement. Obviously, I survived but when I got off that mountain I felt broken. I felt like such a mess of a person and worthless. To top it off I was ashamed at how quickly any esteem I have can get crushed in a moment. But this opened the door to a lot of internal dialogue. Am I really this weak? Where did my faith and trust in God go when things got tough? What the heck is wrong with me? Where do I draw my strength from?

Talk to anyone and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Strength is being completely self reliant; it’s going to the gym 7 days a week; it’s never showing emotions; it’s not caring what others think…etc. I think these are all delusions. I realized my real strength comes from acknowledging my weakness (ALL of it) and being able to draw from God’s strength.  During my stillness time on Day 3 I thought about what that really means and what that looks like in my life.   To quote my prayer journal (10/18/13) “I am weak, but I am not worthless. But with God and the power of His Spirit I am strong. Now I need to learn what that means and how I use that when I’m really pushed and life fights back.” As we headed back to Phnom Penh I couldn’t help but think I had learned this years ago when I went through several years of difficulty. Then I realized I had a lot more to learn and I only scratched the surface.  The first go around taught me how to keep joy regardless of the storm. I am grateful for that lesson first, because I can’t deny the peace that joy gives me on a daily basis. But now it’s time for me to learn how to be strong and unwavering against a storm. Peace is needed, but so is power and that is something I am lacking.

It only took about 24 hours for the lesson to begin.  Saturday (10/19/13) was a great day. I got a little dolled up, feeling super spiritual and peaceful after my 3 days in prayer, relaxation, and revelation, and met some friends at a coffee shop. The weather was perfect. I had a wonderful lunch with a friend and went to a nighttime birthday pool party. I actually said it was the “best day yet in Phnom Penh.” Hours after that statement I was mugged. I was riding my bicycle to meet some friends for drinks at night. In the blink of an eye, two guys on a moto were next to me, my bag was gone and I was on the ground. There were people around, but no one did a thing but stare at me. I was warned Cambodians won’t get involved if a foreigner is hurt for fear of being blamed, but it was shocking to see for myself. Not even a hand to help me up. All I could do was get up and walk my bike to the bar I was supposed to meet my friends/roommate at. I had no keys, money or phone anymore. I got to the bar and just broke down. As I was telling my friends what happened a young Cambodian guy who was at the bar came over. He was so concerned about what happened. He was upset no one had helped me. He asked if there was anything he could do, if he should get the police, and even apologized for his country. I genuinely think he was used by God to keep me from hardening my heart towards Cambodians, the very people I’m here to serve. I quickly remembered this happens everywhere. I told him how much I appreciated his concern and care and that he had no need to apologize for his country. This was an act of people, the same kind of people that are everywhere.

I got home that night and after sitting in a fog for a bit I remembered, thanks to the lessons I had just learned at the retreat, to go to God. I started talking to Him. Where were you? Why did you let me get knocked down, just as I got this resurgence to grow closer to you? Why would you send me half way across the world, then make me scared to be here? Then it hit me. Silly girl! How will I learn to be strong and unshakable without being shaken? Doesn’t a heavyweight champ toughen up by taking a lot of hard hits? I didn’t receive unshakable joy through my brightest days. It settled into my spirit during my darkest. I went to bed comforted that God was absolutely still with me, and was about to help me learn to be stronger.

So there I was on Sunday thinking I’m a-ok. I’ve gone to God. He showed me He’s still here and I’m ok with having my stuff taken because it’s “just stuff.” But why was I still angry and ashamed again? Angry for being violated. Angry that all the pictures from my retreat were gone with my camera, that was also in my bag. Angry no one helped me. Why was I so ashamed of myself? Ashamed I let myself be a target. Ashamed I didn’t try to fight back. Ashamed for losing pictures I took for people on my camera.  Old Shaz would keep that to herself and try to “work it out” on her own, but I shared it. I talked to a few people and their words were SO helpful. My amazing boss told me to make sure NOT to keep these feelings to myself and to acknowledge them. I realized that it’s this first lie that I tell myself that keeps me from finding real strength. This lie that “I’ll be ok on my own.” This lie that “my feelings are silly.”  This lie that “to be strong I need to keep up a façade of strength all the time in front of everyone.”  This lie that “if I dig way deep into myself I’ll find this magical strength I didn’t know I had.” I accepted how I was feeling, and again took them to God, but not in shame. I went to Him knowing these feelings are just part of being human. I’m weak and it’s part of being human, but He can give me strength beyond comprehension. Strength for everything, the little stuff and big stuff. From the drive to get to the gym and push myself, so I can do His work and experience the life He’s given me to the greatest extent; to looking darkness in the face and pushing back so hard it’s like it was never there.

Here I am, a week after my mountaintop meltdown and my mugging. I can honestly tell you I’m ok.  I’ve still got a few bruises, but they heal. I have a little less stuff in my life, but they can be replaced eventually. I’m not as freewheeling around town as I was, but that’s probably a good thing. I actually feel stronger than I have before.  I’m going to take each punch as a chance to learn a new way to root my strength in more than me and this crazy world around me.  The world is not perfect because it is made up of imperfect people having their own free will, and I just won’t/can’t let that be the ruler of my life. Not just my life, but those I’m here to serve as well. How can I even begin to help those who’ve seen the darkest of darkness find strength and rebuild, if I can’t do it for myself? 

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Mondulkiri-on-my-wayward son

My latest task at work has been researching some related dark issues plaguing Cambodia. On the heels of many late nights and some difficult research making me go through and dig deep into the issues of rape and labor trafficking, I turned in the initial draft of my findings bleary eyed and drained. I needed a break. I was also becoming a bit paranoid walking around, even indoors, and feeling like the danger was closing in. I really needed a break.

The timing was perfect, as there was a national holiday and my co-workers had planned a getaway to northern Cambodia. So, last weekend I went to Mondulkiri with my fellow interns and fellows. This was my first experience with an eco-friendly nature lodge and will not be my last. The lodge was rustic, but had all the amenities one would need. The food was phenomenal and it could not have been a more relaxing, welcoming, and fun spot to chill. We spent our days exploring and our nights at the lodge’s “tree house” eating, drinking, playing games, and we even taught some of the employees a few of our favorite line dances.

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(the “tree house” of fun)

Day one involved a jungle trek, mixed with elephant rides through the jungle. The jungle trek was a definite experience, especially since it is rainy season in Cambodia. I can’t deny I felt like quite the jungle princess walking through fast moving rivers, hiking through mud (which sometimes went up to my knee), and navigating the slippery terrain due to all the rain. I got a nice reprieve when I was able to ride an elephant for part of the way into the jungle and part of the way out. At lunch we also got to go into the river and help wash them/play with them. I definitely had a few of those “is this really my life??” moments and it was pretty awesome!

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(the view from the top of my elephant)

Day two involved going to a waterfall, a pagoda, and one of the famous Mondulkiri coffee plantations. The first two didn’t happen due to the muddy roads finally taking their toll on our van. Our guides took us for a swim at a nearby river while the brakes/wheels cooled off so we could try to make it back to the lodge. When we got to the river, there was a whole group of locals setting up a BBQ by the river. They invited us and it ended up being WAY better than any silly old pagoda or waterfall. They were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and willing to share the glorious spread they had. They cut the fish and chicken up right there and grilled it and made fresh hot chili salsa. Everything was so incredibly delicious and fresh I couldn’t get over it. I also ate my first fish eye. Yup, you read correctly. This is apparently one of the best parts, and it entailed sucking it right out of the grilled fish head. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either. A little slimy, but not much flavor.  I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think I’ll be fighting over that part anytime soon again. After a nice swim in the river, food, and making new friends the van was cooled down enough to head to the plantation on the way back to the lodge. Words can’t describe the plantation, so I’ve attached a few pictures below. The Cambodian countryside really is a sight to behold the more of it I explore. I’ve realized Phnom Penh creates such a skewed view of Cambodia. After the tour and enjoying some of the quality coffee (I’m not a huge coffee person, but I have fallen in love with the hearty mocha flavored coffee of Mondulkiri coffee- YUM!) while taking in the sights, we headed back to the lodge for our last night.

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(posing with the fish head I ate the eye from, at our impromptu riverside picnic)

coffee plant

coffee plant

posing with coffee plants

posing with coffee plants

cafe on the plantation

cafe on the plantation

 

 

The next morning was an early wake up, one last breakfast in the tree house, and then headed back to Phnom Penh quite pleased with another solid exploration of Cambodia. I can’t deny I was pretty proud of myself for a MUCH better second encounter with the jungle, now that I was much better prepared 🙂

Alright, so I’ve saved the highlight of my trip for last. I have to admit I was most looking forward to the elephant rides. I LOVE elephants! Since I saw my first one as a kid at the circus, there has been something about them I find so breathtaking. Riding on one, I finally realized what it was. They move in this slow, steady, and confident manner through mud, across rivers, up and down mountains. No matter how the terrain changed, the onward march didn’t. I could go into an entire blog post on what that taught me alone…but I think you see where I’m going with it. I got to ride Diplao and her confident steady walk created a hypnotic rhythm that was so meditative and peaceful I felt removed from the world, and at one with it all at the same time. This ride started a spiritual renewal that lasted the rest of the trip, through the ride back to Phnom Penh, and I’m still navigating through it a week later.

This expansive beautiful jungle, the breathtaking mountains, and views from on top of them made His presence palpable in every way. Seeing how perfectly God knits nature together, to perpetuate in its perfect way is always one of my favorite ways to reconnect with Him. In the middle of that God showed me how He is knitting together an army of justice and love from all walks of life in the same miraculous way. As I looked at the 8 incredibly different, but uniquely wonderful women, I was there with I could see a part of this army. I thought of the staff back at our office, the people from our partner organizations, my supporters back in the states, and countless others I’ve met that play a part in this growing global movement and I.WAS.AWESTRUCK!

As I sat in the van on the way back to Phnom Penh unwinding to a little Mumford & Sons, two songs just tied it all together:

“But you are not alone in this.
And you are not alone in this.
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand” – Timshel

“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die.
And where you invest your love, you invest your life.
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
You were made to meet your maker” – Awake My Soul

What an awesome God we serve!

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The Book of Justice

I left the corporate world to join the fight for justice. This sounds pretty exciting right? I thought it did. I didn’t do it for a thrill, but I sure thought that’d be an added bonus. I’ve been in Cambodia for 3 months and do you know what I do most of my days? I sit at my desk researching, writing, putting together reports, and tracking cases. This actually isn’t much different than my previous life. Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been some exciting moments. The office has had a few rescue operations since I’ve started (but I don’t actually go to those). We have had some trials, and very exciting verdicts come down in favor of our clients. But these are lightly sprinkled in between my days sitting at my desk researching the law. Research the issue of trafficking. Researching the issue of sexual violence. Trying to figure out where the gaps in the public justice system are, and what we can do to fill them to help those being lost in them. I write about my research. I write reports on the work we’re doing and status reports. I track our cases, and update the files.

I don’t regret coming here for a second, but I can’t deny I’ve had little waves of disappointment. I’ve been digging down and asking God to help me remain humble and diligent. I know I’m not some superhero who can save the world. I really did come out here to be part of the solution. So this is what that looks like. Then I remembered a speech I heard Gary Haugen (founder, President, and CEO of IJM) give at the Justice Conference this past February in Philly. The past few weeks I keep hearing him remind me “the book of justice is long and boring,” and I learned I wouldn’t have it any other way. My love for people, my love for justice, and my love for doing the work God has put me here for will always outweigh the temporary boredom from these labors of love. These long and boring labors of love show those, seemingly forgotten, just how loved they are. Here is an excerpt from the speech Gary gave and you’ll understand what I mean:

“The Book of Love” – Gary Haugen – The Justice Conference – Saturday, February 23, 2013

… you may have noticed around a song performed by Peter Gabriel called The Book of Love. All around the world, wives, daughters, husbands, sisters and sons are posting photo montages to the haunting beauty of this little song. Overwhelmingly these are pictures of old couples holding hands, of scruffy fathers being tender to their daughters, of unglamorous marriages that persevere.

“The book of love is long and boring,” Peter Gabriel sings.
“No one can pick the darn thing up.
It’s full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing.
But I love it when you read it to me.”

The song is a simple tribute to the long, boring work of everyday faithfulness and fidelity to the ones we love. It is a tribute to the love we all yearn for and were made for – to be loved forever, to be loved in all our shabby everydayness, and indeed to be adored – to be known and found worthy of extravagant, long and enduring, work-a-day love.

Love doesn’t make sense, it’s unmerited and is disproportionate – but we love it when it’s extended to us.

Likewise, this work of justice is long and boring – it doesn’t make sense, its disproportionate, it’s hard. But what Raman and Mila say is – I love it when you extend it to me. The book of love is long and boring. Caring for the sick is long and boring. Raising children is long and boring. Fighting addiction is long and boring. Painting the Sistine Chapel is long and boring. Caring for a mentally ill spouse is long and boring. Sitting in a South African prison for 27 years is long and boring. The book of love is long and boring.

Likewise the book of justice is long and boring. It’s full of waiting rooms and signatures and oaths and instructions for persevering. Likewise the book of justice is long and boring. It’s full of waiting rooms and signatures and oaths and instructions for persevering. But I love it when you read to me. And I love it when we read it together, for others. Amen.

Early Explorations

As you know from my earlier posts, Phnom Penh is a concrete jungle. Luckily there are loads of day trips and excursion locations outside the city. I’ve had the opportunity to venture out of the city a few times the past few weeks. I went to Oudong, the former capital of Cambodia.  After trekking up 509 steps (without a breeze to be felt) I was rewarded with stunning views of Cambodian countryside and a whole slew of temples and stupas. It is currently rainy season in Cambodia, so the countryside is at its zenith with the emerald rice paddies and flowers in glorious bloom.

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Other fun excursions have included:

Phnom Chisor, another 400 step climb that lead to even more beautiful views of Cambodia and a beautiful temple.

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Phnom Tamaor Wildlife Rescue Center, like a zoo, safari, wildlife preserve merged into one.  I don’t think I have ever been so close to such cool animals in my life. I was disappointed though that the elephants were the most removed from access (I love elephants). I did get about 100 feet away from a full grown tiger though, and that was incredible. I’m not a cat person, but I do love wild cats.

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And Tonle Bati, I can’t wait to come back here! Apparently this is where even Cambodians escape from Phnom Penh to celebrate New Year and various other holidays. I could see why. It’s beauty was in its simplicity. There are bamboo huts built out over the water that are now calling my name to return to. We made it a little before sunset and I could have sat there looking out at the water for hours.

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Tomorrow I leave for my first proper vacation. It is much appreciated.  It’s been a rough few weeks at work. I’ve been diving pretty deep into some hard issues, labour trafficking, the rape epidemic, girls being trafficked into abusive marriages, the list seemingly went on. I’m so grateful travel is so cheap in SE Asia and I have a few friends who love to do it. I’ll cut out of work a bit early on Friday and head to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia with a little day visit in Kuala Lumpur mixed in. The water is my happy place, so I can’t wait to snorkel, swim, and just relax on the beach. There is beauty in this world, and sometimes a gal needs a little step back to recharge in it.