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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Keeping the Power Lines and Losing the Edits: What Telephone Wires Taught Me about Owning my Story

I was standing on the balcony of our apartment building recently, looking down the street at the colorful roof tops and dusty road. I was thinking how I wished I could share what Cambodia is really like with those back in the States. So I leaned against the railing, trying to figure out how I could take a picture without all the power lines and wires in the way of the picture.

All of a sudden I realized how ridiculous I was being. To show what Cambodia is really like, I ought just to take a picture as-is, without finagling angles to cut out unsightly objects. If my goal is to show what it is really like, it should be unedited and unfiltered and uncropped.

Unedited and uncropped. Those words reminded me why the blog is named Beyond the Smiles—because of the huge portion of life that’s lived in that space beyond the smiles and social media posts and the “I’m fine” lies that slip from our lips unnoticed. I don’t want to be captive to masks and false fronts; I want to practice honesty and authenticity and talk about all parts of life, even the difficult and ugly and messy parts—what life is really like.

So I wondered, what if the power lines aren’t making the picture less scenic? What if they are making the picture complete?

When we physically look around, we have an amazing ability to look past the “ugly” things and appreciate the beauty around us. We look past telephone poles and wires and trash on the ground to enjoy a breathtaking sunset or a budding flower. If we waited for a beautiful view without any kind of distraction, we would rarely—if ever—find a suitable one.

Perhaps the power lines are simply part of the view.

Sometimes I edit the picture I paint for people about life here—and often people want the edited version. It’s tempting just to tell about the highlights in ministry and the fun cultural experiences and the delicious new foods I’m trying. Certainly that is part of life overseas! But that’s not all there is. There is also the homesickness and traveler’s diarrhea and culture stress. There’s still the anxiety and depression that comes and goes.

Really, it’s always tempting to edit the stories of our lives, overseas or not. Sometimes we encounter parts of our stories we wish weren’t there, and we want to cut those chapters out.  There are certainly parts of my story I've wanted to white-out or highlight and hit command+x or just take a pair of scissors to. Yet these unwanted chapters are still part of our stories, whether we own them or not. When we leave out the power lines in our stories, we aren’t making them more beautiful. We’re leaving them incomplete.

Each day we face a choice: will we spend the whole day searching for a perfect Kodak moment, or will we embrace life with all the messy (and sometimes ugly) power lines and trash and poor lighting? Will we choose to enjoy the beauty in life even when it comes alongside hard things?

In part, this is similar to giving myself permission to say things I’m not supposed to say, things that are humble and honest. Choosing to accept the less-than-perfect parts of life is much like admitting fears and weaknesses and letting people see the warts and wrinkles behind our masks and makeup. Just as we try to disown chapters or themes in our stories, sometimes we try to orphan unwanted parts of ourselves. Yet when we orphan our imperfections, we aren't making ourselves more attractive, and we're certainly not getting any closer to perfection. We're simply missing out on who we were made to be.

I used to think life was about avoiding pain. I thought the purpose of life was to enjoy the moments that were happy, when everything was going great. But now I see things differently. Now I’m learning to accept that no matter what I do or where I go, power lines will most likely stay in the picture. 

And that’s okay. 

The point of life isn’t avoiding pain and finding happiness. It’s about knowing Jesus. Sitting with Him and walking with Him and getting to know Him. That’s what makes life full and meaningful and worth it. With Jesus here, the power lines can stay.


Are there unwanted “power lines” in your life right now?

How do you usually respond to these less-than-perfect parts of life or situations?

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