Reentry: Still on the Road

It's no secret I've had a rough time in reentry the past few months. I washed my clothes by hand and hung them up to dry for weeks, and I binge-watched Netflix and drank Dr Peppers by the case to make up for the time my favorite soda and I were apart.

Now, several months (and seasons of Bones) later, here I am.

Life in Waco is falling into a pleasant rhythm, and for the most part things have calmed down both externally and internally. However, every once in a while waves of grief and feelings of missing Cambodia hit me rather suddenly, like a flash flood with no forecast of rain. I'm still learning to navigate these surprise storms. Recently during one of these waves of grief, I heard a song my friend Marc wrote called "Heading Home." The song begins, "There’s a groaning, an aching in my bones/There’s a longing in my heart to find a home." As I listened, it seemed to gather up within me leftover remnants and threads of reentry--the values I've learned, the pain, the hope, and the lessons I'm still learning now--and place them in a bundle right in the center of my heart.

The lyrics didn't tie up the loose ends or weave the threads into a stunning tapestry. No, they simply brought all the frayed fibers to one place so I could see them. All of them, in their varied colors, sizes, shapes and textures, all at once. The hurts and hopes and tears and shouts, all at once.

All of them, all at once, were beautiful. I no longer felt the need to tug at this thread or change the color of that one. With all their quirkiness and shortcomings and distinct characteristics, they were beautiful.

Stock photo from Adobe

Stock photo from Adobe

While I quieted my soul and listened to this song, I realized a few things. First, even though I'm settling down into life in Waco, I'm still heading somewhere. For a woman with an unshakable travel bug coursing through her veins and wanderlust written on her heart, knowing I'm still traveling is a comforting notion. (However, I am excited for no more reentry processes when the journey ends!!)

Second, the place I'm heading is to be with Jesus in person. To have more of Jesus, to spend more time in His presence, to know Him more. This lines up with one of my greatest prayers and desires lately, which has been to want Jesus more than I want a country, and for my loyalty to be to Him and not to a culture. Home is a Person, not just a place.

Third, I realized the journey home can be beautiful in itself. A road trip by myself through the Texas countryside is one of my favorite things. More than getting to the destination, I enjoy simply driving, soaking in the landscape and praying or listening or singing until my throat hurts. I may be homesick, and reentry may be hard, and I may not truly arrive home for a while, but the journey home can still be beautiful and is uniquely qualified for enjoyment.

As I sat examining this bundle of threads and these lessons learned, I stopped struggling for a moment. Instead of trying to reconcile two very unique cultures and countries, I simply began to thank God for each lifestyle and cultural difference as it came to mind.

Thank You for the communal way of living in Cambodia, and thank you for the individuality of American people.

Thank you for rice and fish and the Mekong. Thank you for microwaves and refrigerators and ovens and pre-packaged food.

Thank you for my students in Cambodia, for the church, for the rhythm of life there; thank you for the job I have in the States, for my coworkers, for healthcare here.

I could keep going for hours, but the point is gratitude humbles me and reminds me how beautiful this world is, even with its pain and frayed edges and tangled up threads. In some way, all those worn out threads create something beautiful in their messiness. I cannot and will never be able to make sense of the disparities between countries and the heartache that hits every time I leave a country. Yet when my focus is on the Maker of cultures rather than on the cultures themselves, I find rest. I don't have to stress about reconciling the differences and similarities and roughness and tangles—because no matter what, I'm still on the road, and I'm still heading home.

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Sometimes...the Bed Breaks

It was several years ago on a typical hot Cambodian day when the conversation happened. I was helping lead an Awe Star Ministries team of students, and it was "promotion day," which basically meant our team's Country Coordinators (aka commanders-in-chief) were stepping down and select students were being promoted to leadership positions for the day. Jesse, one of our two trusty Country Coordinators, announced the promotions to the team and then told them:

"Today I'm just an ordinary student. Don't treat me like your Country Coordinator! Treat me like a student, talk to me like a student, do everything like I'm a student because today, I am one."

Then our 6 foot plus leader proceeded to climb into the back seat of our van, which was quite a humble move considering the leg space and limited reach of the a/c. My sister, one of the team members that year, ended up sitting beside him. She took into consideration what he'd announced and decided to capitalize on it. She had a confession, and since he was a student that day he couldn't get angry!

 "You wanna know something?" she asked.

"Yeah!" Jesse replied.

"Remember you're a student today..." she reminded him. Then she whispered, "We broke our hotel bed." 

"WHAT?!?" came the incredulous first response before he caught himself, followed by a much softer, "I mean, what??"

My sister proceeded to explain how the bed had broken for no apparent reason. Later, Jesse fixed it, and the problem simply ended up being a dislodged supportive slat under the bed. However, the bed was overall unstable, and any time there was too much weight on it or the weight wasn't distributed evenly, the bed "broke."

Later the same week, we had a team meeting in my sister's room, and she had to tell people one by one as they came in that they couldn't sit on her sleeping space because "Sometimes...the bed breaks." 

We all laughed and said, "Oh, Cambodia..." too many times to count. The whole scenario was ridiculous and hilarious, and it led to a catchphrase my sister and I still use today:

"Sometimes...the bed breaks." 

We use it when situations unexpectedly happen that are out of our control, just like the first time her bed broke. We use it when bad, hard, worst-case or most-awkward-case scenarios occur. 

Sometimes, these things happen. They affect us and those around us. They're out of our control. Often they make a direct and disruptive impact on an unavoidable, everyday part of our lives, like our beds or our families or our hearts.

Sometimes...the bed breaks. 

Today, I find comfort in remembering this, remembering it's a part of life that's uncomfortable, even terrible, but normal. Some days it happens in the mental or emotional realm. Some days our happiness gives way without explanation, letting us crash down into depression or grief. Some days anxiety shows up and we duke it out, and sometimes anxiety wins.

Some days it happens in the spiritual realm. Doubts about our calling, our purpose, or our faith plague us. Spiritually dry seasons come and last much longer than we think we can endure.

Some days it happens in the physical realm. We get sick, we're involved in a vehicle accident, we catch the punishment for someone else's crime, or we're simply physically exhausted. In these times, the flight of stairs we climb every day seems a little bit longer and steeper. The alarm clock seems to ring hours earlier than it used to. We're worn out.

Sometimes it happens in a combination of these realms. Some days, the rack we hang our clothes and hopes and dreams on snaps, and everything ends up soiled on the ground, t-shirts and self esteem included.

True story. Photo taken after clothes were re-washed.

True story. Photo taken after clothes were re-washed.

Yet everyone faces these things, these unexpected, unwelcome events or seasons, the broken hearts or shattered dreams or lost relationships. They're a present albeit unwanted part of life, just like power lines in a picture.

In these seasons, I often forget the days exist when everything seems a little bit brighter. The days colors seem to pop more, when the view we see every day on our way home stops us in our tracks because we notice again how breathtaking it is. The sips of cold water and the company of friends and laughter over lunch fill our hearts up till they're overflowing. 

Some days, the small is enough to make the whole world seem wrong, and some days, the small is enough to make it all seem right. Everything comes in seasons, and perhaps the light from the bright times is meant not only for a single day but to last into the dark times, too.

I love these words by author and blogger Sarita Hartz in a wonderful post about suffering:

I cannot escape the beauty that often comes from suffering, any more than I can escape the laws of physics. But I believe, healthy self care doesn’t mean the avoidance of suffering, it means that we have the reservoir of hope and joy to offer when it’s needed.

Sometimes...the bed breaks.

We can't change it or fix it or go back in time to prevent it. But there are two things we can do. First, on the days the bed is intact, we can rejoice and treasure our happiness and appreciate the beauty in life. We can value the good times and practice gratitude while it comes easily. Second, we can offer our presence to those around us, whether we are in a "broken bed" season or others are or we all are. Something beautiful is created when we sit with others through the storm, even if (maybe especially when!) it's on an old, broken bed in the middle of Cambodia.

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