Flashes of Lightning and Flashes of Clarity

One summer a few years ago I was in Cambodia with a team. Darkness had fallen, and we finished scarfing down fried rice for dinner so we could load up in the van and head back to the hotel. We were staying near the Vietnam-Cambodia border, and as we drove down the bumpy, pot-hole-filled route, enormous trucks full of imported goods from Vietnam would rumble by, shaking the whole road as they passed. Rain began to patter on the windshield. Everything was pitch black, but I knew the road sloped down on either side and morphed into acres and acres of muddy rice fields. As I stared out the windshield, two tiny dots of light slowly enlarged as the headlights of a vehicle approached: another gigantic truck full of imported goods.

Windshield view during the day

Windshield view during the day

Side view of the road during the day

Side view of the road during the day

When we were about 100 meters from the oncoming truck, a flash of lightning suddenly illuminated the sky, the road, and everything around us.

In that split second, we could see everything. We could see the ditches alongside the road. We could see the miles of rice fields and the hills beyond them. We could see the long stretch of road ahead. And we could see the over-sized truck ahead of us. The truck was carrying an extra-wide load that stretched across nearly two-thirds of the road. We were heading straight for it.

One split second, and everything was dark again.

Stock photo from

Stock photo from

But one split second of clarity was all we needed. Our driver swerved to the side of the road as we passed the truck, thunder clapping in the distance and cement road vibrating under us. We all exhaled loudly.

We could have died. But God, in His mercy and in His sovereignty, placed a lightning bolt exactly where it needed to be, exactly when it needed to be there, and we were safe. This single moment of clarity had the power to change a van-full of young people's lives. When I think back on this experience, I marvel at the Lord's providence. I wonder at His power and His goodness. I realize again how a single moment of stark clarity can change a life. 

When I visited Cambodia in July and came back with the decision to quit nursing, I reached a pivot point. Though I didn't intend on resigning my nursing job when I left for Cambodia, my time there provided the right setting for the Lord to provide significant clarity.

Once again, a moment of clarity in Cambodia changed the my life. It wasn't a bolt of lightning, and it wasn't a literal swerving on a concrete road during a storm. It was, however, perhaps just as important a moment of clarity in my life. It eliminated guesswork, extra stress and anxiety about putting in my two weeks' notice. It was crystal clear I needed to reroute the direction of my life to avoid a major wreck.

As I'm following this new route, I'm learning each day that the change in direction isn't as much a switch from nursing to writing as it is a transition from prioritizing my reputation to building my life around the Lord. Each day, I learn a little more about trust.

Slowly, I'm learning to accept that I'm out of my comfort zone in this new line of work. I'm learning to let go of the pride that says, "I have to be the best in my field."

When it comes down to it, I could work in writing/editing for a couple years, and then this career could completely fizzle out. It could take a nosedive. It could explode. I have no idea what the outcome will be, and I'm learning to be okay with that.

Part of surrendering to the Lord and crafting my life around Him means trusting that what He has for me is better than the dreams of success I have for myself. I can't help but think this is the lesson He wants me to focus on over the lessons in marketing, gaining clients, and self-employment. Because no matter what career I land in, this truth remains: He is faithful, He is trustworthy, and He will take care of me. With flashes of lightning and flashes of clarity, He guides my path and protects my life. All I have to do is to keep my eyes open and say yes.


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12 Reflections on the Past 24 Months

I turn 24 today. Two years ago I was fresh out of nursing school and two days into my first nursing job. One year ago I was living in Cambodia celebrating with Khmer friends over a dinner of bun xeo. This year I'm laying in my Cambodian hammock at a park in Waco, sipping Dr Pepper and crunching on baked Lays chips (don't judge. I exercised...sometime this week...). So much has happened and I've learned so muchin the past two years! Here are 12 reflections on the past 24 months:

1. Therapy is not for the faint of heart. I used to think asking for help was weak, but now I know it's one of the wisest things we can do. It's also one of the hardest things. I mean, who wants to spend an hour with someone pushing you to exit your comfort zone (even if it is the healthier thing to do)?

2. Switching cultures can trigger my depression. It's no secret I've struggled with depression overseas, in the workplace, and just in general. I've learned a lot about coping mechanisms and mental health, and I've also learned about triggers. Switching cultures between the States and Cambodia is one of the most thrilling and life changing experiences, but it's also extremely stressful and can trigger unhealthy habits and thinking patterns in me, leading to depression. 

3. Nursing is hard. Every nurse I've met had said they didn't know what nursing was like until they were in the middle of it. I didn't really know what to expect, but it's certainly up there on the list of physically and emotionally demanding jobs. 

4. Boundaries are also hard (but necessary). "Part of being an adult," my friend Jena recently told me, "is knowing what you need and asking for it." I hate causing others inconvenience, but I'm learning doing what's best for me doesn't just benefit me - it benefits all those around me too. A prime example is quitting full time nursing because that’s what benefits me, my patients, and my coworkers most.

5. It’s okay not to be okay. Nursing, along with some rough experiences in a Cambodian hospital, brought out my belief I could be a superhuman (and super nurse). In the past couple years, I've had to face the reality of my humanity and begin to embrace it, leaving people pleasing and HCAHPS scores behind.

6. Khmer language. I've learned lots and lots of Khmer language. I've learned how to make new sounds that aren't in the English language, and I've been stretched to acquire vocabulary because I love the people of Cambodia, and I want to be able to communicate with them.

7. Life as an expat is hard, and so is life in the States. It's all hard because I will always be missing someone. Yet, it's worth it, and it's the people around me who help me make it through the hard parts.

8. I’m not meant to do any of this (life) alone. My friend Erin told me that a long time ago, and it took me a couple years to figure out it's actually true. Jesus wasn't messing around when he prioritized community, and even He allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross part of the way to Golgatha. Life isn't just harder if I do it on my own; it's impossible. 

9. I’m beautiful. The past couple years I've come to peace with insecurities about my ethnicity, culture, and heritage I didn't even realize I had. This has made me more confident and allowed me to relate to others a little more from a place of love and a little less from a place of fear.

10. Rejection. I applied for a job last fall working with students in an after school program, and they never called me back. This program was one of the reasons I felt God has called me back to the US, so it was s pretty big disappointment (ok, also rage-inducer and self-esteem-crusher) not to get the job. However, in lieu of the job I started volunteering at the Cove with high school students, which had been incredibly rewarding and one of the best experiences I've ever had with students!

11. Loving and investing in people is always worth it. I wondered if it was worth loving others when I experienced the pain of leaving and the grief that came with moving back to the United States. I wondered if it was worth loving myself when I was in the pits of depression. In the end, though, it’s worth it. Because loving others (and myself) is only possible through Jesus, and practicing love brings me closer to Jesus. And knowing Jesus more? Knowing Jesus more is always worth it.

12. Fulfillment and meaning aren’t found in a job or a community or a relationship. As “millennials,” we’re often stereotyped as job-hopping to find meaning in the workplace. I wonder though if a cultural shift away from spirituality is the culprit behind what appears to be an enigma. I know it’s true for me—when depression and doubts cloud my view of Jesus, I look to other things (including switching jobs), trying to figure out what needs to change for me to find meaning in life. But when I know I have Jesus, nothing else matters; as long as He’s here, I have everything I need and more, regardless of job, geographical location, culture, or financial status. With Him, I have everything I need and more.

For more adventures from the past couple years, check out my ebook or other posts (and be on the look out for new ones soon!), email me, or get coffee with me in Waco!

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Entitlement and Gifts

It snuck up on me slowly, like a ninja or a stealth aircraft, or a ninja on a stealth aircraft. It ambushed me successfully as I sat down for lunch yesterday at work. The day was busy and stressful, and it was nearly three o'clock when I finally found myself in the break room placing my tupperware in the microwave. When the microwave beeped, I grabbed my food and suddenly realized how hungry and worn out I was.

I deserve this. 

I glanced at the numbers on my watch, nerves still wound up from the craziness on the floor. After all my hard work, not taking lunch until three, taking care of all our patients, two of whom had been transferred to the ICU. Finally, lunch. I deserve this.

Right behind this sense of entitlement came shock, and then humility. I deserve this? 

The term "deserve" jumped out like a red flag waving in front of my face. I exhaled and lowered myself into a black plastic chair and forked baked spaghetti into my mouth while reliving an afternoon in Cambodia:

It was hot. I was tired. Sweat ran down my face and dripped off my chin. I parked my bike by the landlord's house and walked around to the stairs to my apartment. They were steep, but today they seemed steeper than normal. Longer than normal. Why was it so far up to my apartment? Why did I have to climb such steep steps to get to a home that didn't even have air conditioning? I hoped the electricity was working so I could at least stand in front of the fan.


As I climbed the stairs I marveled about how different life was in America. The air conditioning. The refrigerators (sometimes two) in every home. The ability to control the climate inside, and our practice of sleeping with blankets because we keep it so cold. Elevators, escalators. Ice-cold Dr. Pepper. I marveled at how my students and friends in Cambodia didn't long for such things because either they didn't know they existed or they had never lived with these things before. They didn't even know to miss these things.

I was nearly at the top of the staircase, grasping the rail and gazing out over rooftops to inspect the Mekong's appearance that day, when I recognized it. There it was, bold and blaring in front of me, as clear as the coconut trees by the river.


Each day when I felt tired and worn out, hot and sweaty, I would think about American comforts. I couldn't not think about them; they're the context in which I was raised. I would think about how much I missed them and how difficult it was to adjust to life without them.

For some reason though, on this day, as I willed my legs to bring me up those steep, brown stairs, I realized just because I am from America does not mean I am entitled to American comforts. Having lived with air conditioning and my own car and wifi for so many years did not entitle me to that way of life. Until that moment, I had been holding the American standard of living as the standard to which I was entitled. Subconsciously, my thinking was, "Cambodians have never lived that way, so of course they don't miss it, but I do. Life is harder for me in their country than it is for them. They are not entitled to comforts like air conditioning in their homes because they never had it in the first place."

Wham! Reality check.

I am not entitled to any of those things. My background doesn't entitle me to air conditioning, my childhood doesn't entitle me to refrigerators and ovens, and the country listed on my passport doesn't mean I deserve to have access to Dr. Pepper. I am not entitled to anything the people in Cambodia are not entitled to.

Furthermore, I am not even entitled to what I may think Cambodians are entitled to. We, as humans, Cambodian or American, are entitled to very little. Cambodians aren't entitled to wealth or healthy families or homes or farms or jobs. Neither am I. Neither are any of us.

Truthfully, we aren't even entitled to life. We've done nothing to earn it, to deserve it, to pay for it.

Recently, I heard a woman talk about how she realized she didn't deserve anything but death, and as a Christian she didn't even get that. We get so much we have no right to, and we don't even get the one thing we do deserve because Jesus is merciful.

I don't deserve any of this.

As I finished lunch yesterday, I stared out the window at the river of cars on I-35, and both my complaints and my entitlement were cut short. I thought about how I didn't deserve the oxygen I was breathing or the food I was eating. I thought about the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who didn't eat that day, and I remembered I was no more entitled to this hot meal - one of three meals I was eating in a day - than they were.

To clarify, I don't mean we shouldn't have food and life and clean water as human rights or the ability to vote and express opinions as civil rights. I mean the idea I (or you)as an individual, am entitled to comfort, an easy life, a good work day, a happy marriage, and a healthy body, when the rest of the world is dealing with all of those problems and more. Because all of those issues simply come along with being human.

Discomfort is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to comfort - even if what I would call comfort is different from what a Cambodian would call comfort - than the person who lives down the street from my apartment in Cambodia.

Hardship is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to access to clean water than those who walk miles to fetch murky water from a river.

Physical death is part of the deal on Earth. I am no more entitled to life than the patient dying in a developing country's hospital from a condition which is easily curable in the States.

Sickness, pain, depression, death. They are all part of the deal here on Earth.

We have been gifted so many things. Our every breath, our ability to move our limbs and function today, our meals and beverages and hot showers and cold-aired houses.

Spiritually, we have been gifted the offer of eternal life.

Eternal life!

We accept all these other gifts so easily, mostly without consciously receiving them. Here, though, is a gift of another caliber. The gift of not receiving the one thing we do indeed deserve: Death, eternally. Separation from the One who loves us most. The gift of an offer of Life, eternally. Being in the presence of the One who loves us most, who did receive for us the one thing we deserved, who created and hears and cares for us.

We receive all these other gifts so passively, and we begin to believe we are entitled to them. But this gift of Life - this takes a conscious thought to receive because it isn't a thing but a Person. A relationship. The greatest gift of all given out of the greatest love of all. He offers the grand gift of salvation and the daily offer to abide in Him - to sit in His presence and live and walk and breathe with Him. The very exact opposite thing we are entitled to.

All we have to say to Him is yes.


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Life as a Cambodian Christian: An Interview

Though I’m no longer in Cambodia physically, part of my heart will always remain in Kratie, Cambodia. I wish I could bring everyone to Cambodia to visit the country and meet these people I love so dearly. For now, I’ll introduce you through writing. Here’s an interview with two young Cambodian women about faith, the future, childhood memories and more!

Meet the Interviewees

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (pronounced sry [rhymes with “try”] ning) and Cheata (pronounced like “cheetah”) are two advanced English language students and active members of Love of Christ Church. Srey Neang was born in a village quite a distance from Kratie, and she lives with her aunt and uncle in Kratie so she can attend school in town. Cheata lives with her parents and siblings down the road from the church. I’ll let them do the rest of their introductions!

(I’ve edited some for grammar, but most of the interview I’ve left as-is because I love the way Srey Neang and Cheata talk and tell stories. That’s part of what makes talking with them so fun!)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Srey Neang: My name is Srey Neang. I am 17 years old. I’m in the 10th grade, and I am the youngest of seven siblings.

Cheata: I am Cheata. I am 16 years old, in 10th grade, and I have three siblings. I am the second [oldest].

How did you become a Christian?

Srey Neang: Punlork [cousin] invited me to go to the church three years ago. I studied English there, but I not study Bible. I wasn’t interested in Jesus, but one time I was studying with Mommy [Kathy Manoto, missionary], and we study about the job of our parents. And I don’t know the job of my father, and after that I [was] upset. 

After we study, Mommy asked, “What happened to you?”

I said nothing. And I said, “I not have father.”

She said, “Even [though] you don’t have a good father on the earth, you have the best Father in heaven. You also have Daddy [Archie Manoto, missionary] as your father.” And after that I try to learn Bible. Then I study at life group and come worship on Sunday. At life group Teacher Aileen [missionary] asked me if I believed Jesus is the only One, and I say yes, and after that I believed.

Cheata: I saw Srey Neang at school and she invited me to study English. I said, “No, I don’t like to study with the people who believe in Jesus. The people who believe in Jesus, they crazy.” [I thought they were strange because] even when they eat rice, they thank Jesus. They pray. Why [are they] like that? My mom is the one who gives me rice, not Jesus!

A few weeks later, I stopped in front of the church to call Srey Neang to go to rincoo [tutoring], and the [missionary] teachers are friendly and smiling at me. I said I would study there. I go, but I not understand what they are saying because I not know English yet. I told Neang I don’t want to study there because I don’t know [English], but she said she was like that before. So I stayed. When I saw Teacher Aileen talking with other friends…I would listen and get some words and write them down in my book, like “why” and “broken” and translate in Khmer. I got Teacher Aileen’s phone number, and I would talk with Teacher Aileen and practice with her. Then Teacher Aileen invited me to life group. And I started going to life group and knew Jesus.

When I could talk in English a lot before, Pastor had e-camp [annual English camp], and Srey Neang invited me to go, but I was shy, but I also want to go. It was so happy because [there were] a lot of games. After e-camp, some [of my] friends get baptized, but I not yet decide to get baptized (this was 2013). Daddy [Pastor Archie] also ask [me], but I just think about it first. In 2014, I decide to get baptized with Srey Neang and other friends, too.

What did your family think when you first became a Christian?

Srey Neang: The first time when they know [I am a Christian], they all reject [me]. They don’t want me to believe in Him. Even my grandfather. After that, my aunt told me, “If you believe in Jesus, you cannot live in my house anymore.” But I thank God that my aunt’s friend believes in Jesus, and she told my aunt about Jesus, and she [my aunt] still allow me to go to church and [she] not say anything bad anymore.

When I went home [to my hometown], I told to my sister and my family the Good News. My brother and sister listen to me, but my mother was angry with me one time and said, “If you believe in Jesus, don’t call me ‘Mother’ anymore.”

I want[ed] to give up, but when I want[ed] to give up, I talk with someone, and the topic is “Don’t give up on God because God never give up on you.”

After that, I start to share the Good News again and again to my family, and [I told] my mother about the reason I not go to pagoda [Buddhist temple] and worship, and she listen to me. And my family, they also know about it [the Gospel], and my aunt in another province get so angry because she not want me to believe in Jesus because it’s so crazy and not our culture. But I still believe in Jesus because I know He is the One who saves me.

The first time is difficult, but after that God solved the problem, and now it’s okay.

Cheata: My family—they [were] happy when I started to study there [at the church], and they so happy to see I can speak English well. When they know I believe in Jesus, they not stop me from going to the church. One time I share the Gospel to my sister, and I told her about how God created the world and the man and the woman—and the people who don’t believe in Jesus, where will they go? And she was laughing at me. I told her the people who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell; they won’t be able to go to heaven. She was laughing at me, saying, “So many people don’t believe in Jesus and will go to hell, and the hell will get full! Cannot fit any more people!” I told her it’s just in the Bible, and she still not believe. But I thank God I can share with her. 

My cousin and my aunt and uncle, they call me, “Yesu! Yesu! [Jesus! Jesus!]” Now I have new name in my house also: it’s "Jesus." But I remember that verse—it says if the people say bad things about you in My name, you will be blessed.

My mom—now she always wants me to change my mind. She always calls me to worship, and I say no to her, and she a little bit sad and angry. Like she don’t think I really believe in Jesus. But I’m still praying that my mom and dad and yeah, my family, that they will believe in Jesus one day. Because my mom—she hear the Gospel three times already. So I hope she will accept Jesus one day. I’m scared that they will not know Jesus. But I trust in the Lord, that He will save my family.

What are difficulties you face as a Christian in Cambodia?

Srey Neang: The most difficult is my mother. Because sometimes she tell me, “Don’t call her 'Mother,'” like that. And my relatives don’t want me to believe in Jesus.

Cheata: I was thinking that now my mom not know I really believe in Jesus. Maybe she just think I go and learn [English] and not really believe in Jesus. I’m scared that one day, she will really get angry [when] she really know that I really believe in Jesus. And she will stop me from go [to church]. So I’m praying now that even she stop [me from going] I still continue.

If you could tell Christians around the world one thing, what would it be?

Srey Neang: I will tell others, “Don’t give up because all the things you do are not useless. You will receive the things from God when you meet Him. Because we on the earth sometimes want to give up because we face the problem.”

Cheata: I will tell them about my life and I will tell them about the things I thought were impossible. But I keep on doing that and it’s become possible. I will encourage them, especially the people who think something is impossible for them to do…I will just tell them that if you not give up on that thing, if you keep on going, it will be possible.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Srey Neang: Since I was young, I want to be a doctor. But I don’t know the plan of God. I want to be a doctor because my mom [is] always sick. And when she sick, she has to pay a lot of money. And my relatives, also sick and they must pay a lot of money. So I want to be a doctor to help my family. But now I want many things: teacher, police man, tour guide and also the ladies on the plane [flight attendant]. But [what I want] the most is doctor. Also your daddy (who is a doctor) write me [a note] that he will pray for me [and said] “Don’t give up.” I [was] really encouraged. Also Pastor asked about what we want to do the future. He also encourage me, “Don’t give up because of the money. God will provide [for] you.” I think about how my family is poor. And I so discouraged. Because the Khmer (Cambodian) doctor must study for 8 years. I think it is impossible. Because I know my family cannot find money for me.

Cheata: Doctor. Because I can help the people around me, especially my family if they get sick. If other doctor cannot help her [my mom], I will help her what I can. I will do what I can. Yeah. Help the poor people. [But] I think I cannot be doctor because I’m not a good student. I want to have just simple work so I can help my family. Even tik tik, ban [translation: even a little bit is good]. And I really want to go to another country to serve Jesus. Like you. Yeah, that’s what I am thinking.

Tell me one story from your childhood.

Srey Neang: When I was young, people in my hometown have wedding, and I go with my aunt [by bicycle]. That time the bicycle is not updated like now, and doesn’t have something to cover the [top of] the tire. [I sat on the back of the bike] and I just see the tire moving, and I think, “What’s that? What will happen if I put my leg there?” And then… *laughter…and more laughter*

Me: What happened with the bicycle?

Srey Neang: The bicycle?! It’s my leg hurt, not the bicycle. Why you ask about the bicycle and not my leg?!

Me: But the bicycle didn’t fall?

Srey Neang: No, just hurt my leg. *Shows me scar* Because I’m small and I didn’t know…*more laughter*

Cheata: One night I slept outside with my dad and my younger sister, and we slept on the hammock. One up [on top] and one down [below the other]. And my dad, he sleep on the side to protect us. The first night, I sleep up and she sleep under me. The next night, I sleep under her. And that time, she pee on me. Yeah, I woke up, and my dad saw me wake up, and he asked why, and I told him “Have rain.” But she pee on me!! I tell them I will never let her sleep above me because she will pee on me again!

What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?

Cheata: Singing Christian song. [Cheata has a great voice and is in our Sunday worship team.]

Srey Neang: Sleep. *laughter* The thing I like to do most is listen to music. The kind of sound that’s soft and slow. Sometimes the rap song. Khmer or English. [My favorite] Christian song is “Sing.”

Why should people come to Cambodia?

Cheata: To see what Cambodia looks like…

Srey Neang: They want to see me! Because I’m beautiful! …I’m just kidding.

If you have one superpower, what would it be?

Cheata: I would like, if I want to go somewhere, just one second, I will be there. You know that? Just one second only and then I am there.

Srey Neang: Just a funny one: I want just hide myself, like no one can see me. Because sometimes I want to play seek and hide, and I can hide anywhere. And no one can see me! I [will] always win! No one can find me!

How can other Christians pray for you?

Cheata: Pray for my study. And especially my faith. You know, sometimes—especially when I’m sad—I feel I don’t want to share the Gospel. I don’t know why. In my mind, [sometimes I also don’t want to keep] coming to the church, but I keep on coming so, yeah. Something like that.

Srey Neang: Pray I can stand strong in my faith with God, and pray my family and my friends will believe in Jesus and follow Him. Yeah, only this. Because if I fail [in my faith], my family will not trust me anymore. For example, if in the future, my family believe in Jesus, but I stop following Him, they also will stop because I am the first one who followed Him. So just pray I will have strong faith in God.


I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did! Hearing the hearts of these two young women humbles, encourages, and challenges me in my walk with Christ. The Lord is doing great things in Cambodia. Please keep Srey Neang, Cheata, and the other members of Love of Christ Church in your prayers.



*To know how you can pray for the church more specifically, please send me an email or a text!

**The English camp Cheata mentioned will be in August this year. To make the camp affordable, participants are only charged a fraction of the true cost. If the Lord leads, please consider sponsoring a student to go to e-camp and grow in/begin their walk with Christ! This year students’ parents are also invited, which is a huge opportunity for the prayers of Srey Neang, Cheata, and others to be answered for their parents to hear the Gospel again and respond. Sponsorships are $35/camper. Contact me for more info.

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