Day 31: Love

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I found myself clicking "love" on post after post. In a season largely marked by grief, it was a nice change.

When I clicked it wasn't without thought. It wasn't the kind of "like" given to friends' statuses because they always "like" my posts. It wasn't the kind of click given because of breathtaking photos or witty dialogue.

It was an action driven by a deep love for these people. A deep love for what they're doing, what they're saying, and who they are.

I love that Lauren is following her calling to live in Haiti and serve people there with her nursing skills and passion for Jesus.

I love the actions a female chief in Malawi is taking to break up child marriages and send these young ladies back to school.

I love that my coworker is getting married, and I love the excitement of her friends being asked to be bridesmaids.

I love the life transition and steps forward another friend is taking as she accepts a new job and moves.

I love the reunion Amy is having with her family (and her dog, Simba) after living in Cambodia for almost a year.

I love the way the church in Cambodia is continuing to take food to the local hospital in Kratie and sharing Hope with the patients there.

I love these things because I love these people. I care deeply about what's going on in their lives, and today - today there seems to be so much to celebrate.

My heart is stirred and my soul is moved on a gut level because I know these people. I've been in their lives and walked with them

All of the things above were found on Facebook, but in person so much is happening to celebrate, too!

I love the unexpected visit I had with Sarah last weekend, who was passing through Waco on her way to her parents' house from her home in Amarillo.

I love the way Stephanie with the STARS project at Antioch asked me what part of Cambodia I was in and replied, "Oh yeah, Kratie" and called the Cambodian people "Khmer," just like it's supposed to be pronounced. I love that she's been to Cambodia!

I love the deeper community I've started walking in with friends this week.

I love the talk I had over FaceTime this morning with Jena, who lives in England now.

I am profoundly grateful for these things. They stir my heart and my soul on a gut level. With so much to mourn during reentry, there exists, in a sort of miracle, so much to celebrate.

Culture shock will still be experienced; loss will still be grieved. Yet there is concurrently another culture to celebrate that passes borders and space and time. A culture of community: of walking hand in hand and side by side with other humans, rejoicing in each victory and breakthrough and fulfillment of a calling or dream. In this culture, there is much to celebrate. 

There is much to love

Day 30: Fear and Flexibility

For about almost a week now, I've put off writing post 30 because of fear. Not fear of having nothing to write about, not fear of writing something crappy, not fear of being judged, and not fear of no one ever reading the post. Fear of post 31. Fear of what's after the last post.

Once I complete the thirtieth post, I only have one more post in the 31 Days of Reentry series. And I'm scared. I'm scared finishing this blog series means I'm finishing reentry, and my heart doesn't feel ready. I'm nervous about the things I want to do with these posts when I've finally completed the series - I'm scared about sharing these sacred thoughts.

I'm not ready for this season to be over.

As much as it's been filled with emotional chaos and breakdowns, it's also overflown with gratitude, learning, trying new things, and walking in the freedom of humility.

Last week, I had a meeting at church about mentoring students through a book club. Stephanie greeted me at the door and then told me she'd forgotten she needed to swing by the school to pick up permission slips from a student. She asked if I minded going on a field trip with her. Of course, I replied I didn't mind. "As a nurse," I told her, "I never know what kinds of crazy things are going to happen! I'm all for flexibility."

As a nurse, that's true. I never know what's going to happen in the course of a shift. I'm all for flexibility.

As a traveler and expat, that's true. I never know what's going to happen overseas or during travels. I'm all for flexibility.

As an English language teacher, that's true. I never know how my students are going to act or how many will show up to class or what they remember from yesterday. I'm all for flexibility.

As a team leader, that's true. I never know when plans are going to change or when an issue with a team member is going to arise. I'm for flexibility. I've even taught others to be all for flexibility.

Yet when I look at myself as a person and my life as a whole, flexibility is nowhere to be found. Somewhere along the way, it fell off the train. Or I threw it out the window because I thought it was interfering with achieving my goals. (I think the latter is more likely.)

This season of reentry is teaching me so many things, but perhaps one of the most important is this: this season is flexible. Furthermore, life is flexible. My goals can be flexible. Timing of life events and achievements and jobs and living my dreams is flexible. Rate of learning and number of lessons learned and kinds of lessons learned are all flexible.

What I planned out to be thirty-one consecutive days of blogging to help me process reentry turned into four months of sporadic posts numbered one through thirty-one. Four months and thirty-one posts can turn into thirty-two, or thirty-three, or sixty-five posts on reentry. And that's okay.

I'm learning to loosen my grip on expectations of self and seasons in life because, much like working on the floor at the hospital or with students in the classroom, living life means working at all times with at least one breathing, changing, sometimes unpredictable human being: myself. I really have less control over myself than I'd like to admit. (Why can't I manipulate my feelings into loving life in Waco again? Why can't I force grief to speed up and emotions to stay boxed up?)

The grace I've extended in certain situations and circumstances that I know to be subject to change--it's time to extend this grace to myself, to my life, on a macro scale. It's time I finally let go of the tight hold I have on the to-do list and the deadlines I have for transitioning, moving through reverse culture shock, finding a new job, deciding what I want to do in life, feeling at home in Waco again, and even healing from physical sickness.

Today, I want to start to let go. I want to travel back to the beginning of this series of posts, when I gave myself permission to have a hard time and wrestle through this process, however long it was going to take. I want to recognize how inflexible I've been with myself over the years, how I've held a rigid set of expectations for perfection long after those standards stopped motivating me and started crushing me. I want to let go. Because I have a feeling this reentry process, unquantifiable and messy and confusing as it is, is making me far richer than the numbers 1 through 31 ever will.

Day 29: Peanut Butter M&Ms

They've been my favorite thing recently. Just the right mixture of saltiness under a layer of sweet, chocolate goodness.

I crunch on them while I watch Netflix or read a book or need a pick-me-up at work. (Sometimes I indulge in them at night when sleep evades me.) Salty and sweet, crunchy outer layer and soft inner layer, the perfect blend. It's better this way - with more than just the taste of sweetness.

As I popped another M&M into my mouth the other day, the flavor reminded me of the way my days go. Salty and sweet, rocky and smooth, experience after experience, all wrapped up into a day, and then a week, and then a month. Almost before I've realized it, months have passed since I first began reentry this year.

Salty tears flavor my days. I miss Cambodia always, and I miss the life I used to know in Waco. I'm confused about who I am, and I'm sad I seem to be losing my identity.

Pleasant, comforting surprises flavor my days. I meet a woman who's been to Cambodia and calls the people there "Khmer," just like the word's supposed to be pronounced. I can't hide the shock in my voice when I ask, "You know Cambodia?!" She knows the country that's a second home to me! On the highway, the cars line up by the hundreds, creating a white line of oncoming headlights and red line of taillights. For some reason, it's one of my favorite sights. It reminds me of a candy cane, of Christmas, of Houston, and of traffic to and from soccer practice in the winter.

These things bring salty tears to my days, too. Unbelievably tender gifts from my Father, given moment after moment. I am overwhelmed. 

The grief and gratitude of this reentry come from so deep within me, and the emotions are so powerful, I cannot but cry. Gratitude and grief gather inside me until they spill over in tears and choked-up prayers, in loud praises and angry shouts, in voiceless "thank you"s and whispered pleas. For a long time, I've tried to hold back my feelings, but here they are, surfacing. I'm learning to let tears season days, weeks, months, life.

It's better this way - with more than just the taste of sweetness.

Day 28: Identity Crisis (Code Blue)

Code Blue, Code Blue
There’s a code blue
in this house.

The code isn’t for a person.
It’s for a hospital.

A building,
a construct.

The whole system is
flat    lining.


Grab the crash cart,
call the nurses,
get the doctor
here, stat.

Draw the labs,
draw the gun,
defend this place,

Push epinephrine,
Give vasopressors,
Give bicarb,
Give something!

Start compressions,
Put me on life support.

This place is

It’s crumbling, it’s flatlining.
This place I’ve called home.

The system I operate in is

Burning to the ground,
and there you are, there I am,

Where is your compassion?

It is because of compassion
I stand here and

It is because of
I let it burn down
life is here,


Outside the construct,
outside the walls,
outside the system



Compassion keeps me here
as you watch your system crumble,
and a deeper compassion keeps me
from rescuing this construct.

That framework—
it was a death trap.

I let the house of lies die
so you can see the world of truth.

Reality is,
I couldn’t stop it if I wanted.

Painful thing is,
I wouldn’t want to, anyway.

But I’m here.
With you.

I’ll stand with you
I’ll cry with you
I’ll crawl with you.

I’ll mourn with you.
I’ll walk with you into the ashes,
hold your hand
as it slips away.

The place you lived your life,
where you were birthed,
where you grew up,
where you learned life skills,
where you became who you are.

But the system is not

is outside those walls.

It’s here,
in truth, in the world of
love and
grace and
mercy and

The house of lies you lived in so long,
let it burn down. Let it collapse.
It’s burning around you; I know it hurts you.
I know it feels like
the oxygen you need to survive
is being consumed by the fire.

I know it feels like
a loved one is
being ripped from you
too soon.

A framework for life
is dying.

A Code, A Code!
There’s a code here.
Wait, someone made her DNR.

It’s not
in my nature
to let someone die,
to let something die,
to let anything or anyone die.

It’s my nature to
fight for life, to
fight for prolonging
what is and what was.
To make it what will be,

You’re asking me to do something else?
But something better? You say.

To advocate for life
in a way
only death
can bring.

A Code, A Code,
There’s new life here.



Day 27: What is {Reverse} Culture Shock?

Have you ever been relaxing in the hot tub in the winter, and then jumped into the chilly pool? The shock of the cold water knocks the breath from you, but after you swim around a while, your goose bumps shrink and it starts to feel normal. Then, have you ever jumped back into the steaming hot tub? Pins and needles jab at you all over your body, your body feels like it's being burned it's so hot, and you feel tingly in your fingertips and toes. After the initial thirty seconds or minute, though, you adjust to the hot water again, and it too feels normal.

This jump from the freezing water back into the hot tub is reverse culture shock. 

It's deeper than the way the absence of honking and blaring horns surprises me on the roads back here in America. It reaches beyond the short shorts and difference in fashion and modesty. 

My favorite definition is this: "Culture shock is the disorientation of discovering that all the cultural patterns we have learned are now meaningless" (Paul Hiebert, "Culture Shock: Starting Over"). 

This is why, four months after I returned to the United States, I still feel inklings of disorientation throughout my days. All the cultural patterns I learned in Cambodia - the ones I studied and worked so hard to understand and remember - are useless here. The language, the mannerisms, the greetings, the socially acceptable ways of interacting and the complexities of humor. A lens through which to view the world, a persona outfitted to operate in a certain setting.

Here, though, the outfit I wove for so long to match those around me in Cambodia is set aside. I take it off and fold it and put it neatly in storage, next to my elephant pants. Of course I still have my jeans and t-shirt, but they feel stiff and strange.

What's stranger? The days I wear them again and finding them uncomfortable, or the days I wear them and find them just as comfortable as ever, as though I never changed out of them?

Some people have this amazing elasticity in their minds and hearts. They can transition from culture to culture easily; they don one pair of clothes and switch to another in a heartbeat.

That isn't me.

I'm learning to be okay with this. I'm learning to take life slowly, one day at a time, chewing my food all the way through before I try to swallow.

I take changes slowly, especially changes in culture, countries, language, people. I wade through the change carefully, inspecting and noticing all the differences. I inch forward a little, pause to take it in, and then inch forward a little more.

I still miss Cambodia. I miss the people and laughter and jokes and places and of course, the food. I miss the community. I miss so many things, and I'm sad and sometimes angry all the cultural patterns I learned there are meaningless here. It calls for grieving. This is a huge loss.

Perhaps this is the simplest way to explain culture shock:

Culture shock is experiencing tremendous loss.

Day 26: The Shift

An ominous feeling. A shift is coming. Something is building up, I can feel it. Welling up, piling up, beams and supports creaking and groaning under the weight.

Lost. A haze, a fog. Where are the supports and beams?

The world, my world, is about to change. I want the world to change. A thrill of hope, a rush of adrenaline, a deep seated excitement from somewhere inside me. I don't want the world to change. I'm terrified of the world changing. The floorboards under me are shifting and moving, and what if I fall into the pits below? I can't keep my balance. Everything is out of control. Spinning, spinning. The world is spinning. How can I stop this change? What can I hold onto? Something, anything. Addiction, numbing, perfectionism, crying.

I love my life.

I hate my life.

I'm not bipolar; I'm human.

Here I am again. Sitting across from my therapist, hearing the words come out my mouth again. I don't know why I'm here. It's all I know to do. Maybe if I keep coming back, she can keep this shift from happening. Maybe she can tell me what's shifting. Maybe she can...

The room rocks back and forth, like an earthquake, like an explosion. Everything is sideways, the furniture tilted and the ceiling closer than before.

I leave the room crying. Keys into ignition. Engine starting, I need windshield wipers for my eyes. 

Something is happening. A new set of colors in my palette, but I don't know how to use them. I've never used this color before. I don't know how to mix it, what shade it makes or what texture it creates. My hand paints automatically; I can't hold it back. Tears have fallen into the paints and the consistency is different. How do I keep it from running? The colors are running...the picture isn't right...I can't control the art.

I can't control The Shift. The colors are running, and I am running. One mile after another after another. Two, four, six, eight. Take a break. Drink some water. Something is happening inside of me while I run. These thoughts aren't my thoughts, these attitudes aren't mine, either. Where did they come from? Too much time at Goodwill picking up others' leftovers?

Painting after painting. Canvas after canvas. Messy, spilled colors, wrong hues, new unrefined creations.

Something is shifting. The colors keep changing. Brushes keep disappearing. Where did I place them? Why can't I find my old, favorite brush, and where did this new one come from? I don't know how to use these tools.

Practice. Showing up, using what I have and doing what I can each day because the art cannot stop. The art will not stop. It has a mind of its own, a heart of its own, a will of its own, a life of its own. It is alive in its own right, and somehow my hands have to find the right way to let it out. Bring it to life. Give it its freedom.

Freedom. Is that what lies on the other side of the shift? Or is it the point of The Shifting, as in present tense, state of motion, gerund. The room is sliding again. Books clatter to the floor. In the setting of the sideways, I'm still upright. In the setting of the world, I am sideways with my room.

The Shift.

Day 25: Rest and Hope

Music plays in the background, slow and sweet worship songs with lyrics rich in love. I sit in a white fabric chair in a circle of women who are mostly strangers to me but who all really love Jesus.

We sit or stand and sing or listen or pray, our hearts' and minds' attention on Him. Resting in the Lord is the theme of our worship time.

My mind wanders to conversations of the day. Resting in Him.

I remember talking to Christine, our conversation about this season in life in which I don't have a full time job, or even a part time job. I struggle with feeling lazy and wondering if people judge me or talk about me. On my off days, I sit at home and watch Netflix and slowly piece together decorations for my home. This time in life, I told Christine, is bringing out my inner couch potato.

I feel frustration because I believed I was supposed to wait for this part time job, and I did wait. And I interviewed. And I didn't get the job. Wasted time, I thought. Why did God ask me to wait? Did He even ask me to wait? Why am I not on my time table and on track for my standard of productivity?

Christine gently reminded me of a time in her life when she didn't work. She didn't feel guilty for it, she explained, and she recalled how she had worked nonstop for years before getting this brief break. She reminded me how I've been working nonstop for years, too. Since high school, really. Always going, always having something going on outside of school or work, always working with a full schedule.

This, she said, is a season of rest, and that's okay, and it's not something to feel guilty about.

My mind wanders back to the present, as I sit and listen to worship music and bring my thoughts before God. I bring my pondering over the topic of rest to Him.

This is what comes to mind: a picture of Mary sitting at Jesus' feet. This, Jesus says, is the better portion.

Here is a season for this.

To sit at My feet. To be, just be with Me. 

Living like Mary doesn't just mean a day out of the week or a moment out of a day. It doesn't mean learning to set aside time for Sabbath amidst a lifestyle of overbooking. No, right now it means a lifestyle of rest. A whole, complete season of rest.

I asked to learn to be still, and here I am in this season of rest.

Here is the better portion, He says. It will not be taken away from you. It is not wrong to enjoy rest and not to have a full time job or part time job or regular volunteer hours. There's no need to feel guilty, for here is a biblical example of how I asked one woman to cease her working and simply be with Me.

People will say there still is work to be done. People will say we have to balance sitting at My feet and doing the practical work. People will say to juggle these two things: rest and work. But what do I say in the Scripture?

I say Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken away from her. Can I not take care of the work that needs to be done? Can I not take care of the cleaning, and the cooking, and the bills? Can I not take care of the hosting and preparing and presenting? Am I not the Lord God?

Here, here in this moment, I find rest, and I find hope. To have a Mary season and not a Mary moment, to have months of jubilee. To have days simply to sit at His feet and be with Him.

This is not something to feel guilty for, but only something to be grateful for.

Day 24: Particularly Uninspired

These days, more often than not I have several ideas to write about floating around in my head, but when I sit down with my laptop, I feel nothing but particularly uninspired.

It's like all the brilliant, creative ideas I have shrink into unattractive globs or float in the distance, just out of reach. Most of the time, though, those brilliant ideas simply seem way too brilliant for me to capture today. Too vivid for my current color set, too complex for my weary brain.

So I sit with my laptop, and if I'm feeling ambitious I'll journal, but most days I close out the blank document or blog page, and I revert to the couch potato version of myself, who enjoys crunching on chips and binge watching Supergirl on Netflix.

I've been wondering lately why I feel so uninspired to write even though I have all these ideas and topics floating in my head. Coming up with topics is usually the hardest part of writing for me. As I've pondered this, I recalled a few episodes of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, my recent favorite podcast. The host, Jamie, frequently interviews authors and is in the process of writing a book herself. I remember her saying, "You know how they say you write a book?" Her guest asked, "How?" Laughing, she replied, "You sit down and write a book."

This makes me think perhaps what's missing is not inspiration but discipline. Discipline, and courage. Courage to show up and let my work be seen, even if it's not in vibrant color like I'm used to or well-composed and easy to read. It's not exactly fun, but when I sit down and churn out the words, my soul is still fed, and hopefully others' are too. (But it's more like a whole grain, raw vegetables kind of meal, not meatloaf and mashed potatoes.)

In a way, this dilemma about writing correlates to how I feel about reentry. How do you live through reentry? You wake up, and you live your day. You show up when you need to (to work, to interviews, to church, to counseling), you veg and cry when you can (and sometimes when you're not supposed to), and then you do it all over again tomorrow.

Even when you're feeling particularly uninspired.

There isn't a recipe for perfect reentry or coping with reverse culture shock. There is no secret to feeling inspired for life. You wake up and get through the day, and then you do it all again the next day, and the next, and the next. You choose to be thankful for the many sweet parts of life, and you push through the hard parts.

Reentry is a strange thing. I think one day soon I may start to feel the tingle of inspiration, the warmth of motivation for writing and for the idea of life in America.

Until then, I will pray for strength to show up each day and courage to let myself be seen. That, I think, is enough. And I think it's really all you can ask for when you're feeling particularly uninspired.

Day 23: 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.


Day 22: The Bicycle

The day started out warm and muggy. When I got out of my car this morning, it wasn't raining, but I looked for my umbrella just in case. I couldn't find it. Later, a visitor in the hospital elevator mentioned it had started raining lightly, and I turned to my coworker with a grin.

"I knew it was going to rain because I couldn't find my umbrella this morning!"

We had a good laugh. I went home since I thankfully wasn't working on the floor today; I just had to attend a class. A few hours later, the weather changed from humid and hot to windy and cold. Reverting to my Cambodian side, I grabbed a blanket and tried not to think about going out for a run.

Eventually, though, the afternoon waned and I knew I should get in a jog before evening obligations. Hesitant to run in sixty degree weather, I walked to the apartment complex's front office, where I needed to initial a change on the lease. Behind the office was a small workout room, and I decided to bear the boredom of a treadmill over the wind chill outside.

Two miles later, I was over it. (I'm also convinced the speed and distance settings on the machine aren't accurate, but that's beside the point.)

Positioned in front of the treadmill was a stationary bike, and since I'd skimped on the jog, I decided to hop on the bike.

My legs started pumping, and my mind...

wandered to Cambodia.

I hadn't felt this motion of my legs, my body, since Cambodia. I hadn't ridden a bike since Cambodia.

In Cambodia, my bike was my main mode of transportation. I biked to the church, to town, to eat, to exercise. When I closed my eyes, I could see the brown dirt roads and the houses on stilts flying past me, the dust in the air and my landlord smiling at me as I passed my home. I could feel the heat of the sun and the wind in my face. I could feel the thrill of happiness in my soul and a sense of safety, security.

My eyes opened back up, and here I was. Sitting on a metal and black plastic biking machine in a small, air conditioned room with a tv mounted in one corner and the door leading back out to Waco, TX, in the other.

Grief, my counselor says, is like a pinball machine. The little silver ball gets flung up into the workings, and everything feels crazy for a while, and then it slowly comes back down - until the levers fly upward again, and the little ball is flung right back up into chaos. Over time, she says, the ball gets flung up there less and less frequently; grief gets triggered less and less frequently.

It's funny, though, the things that trigger memories. Today, the motion of riding a bicycle. Tomorrow, who knows what? All kinds of experiences are packed away in this body and mind and heart and soul, and slowly, though now less and less frequently, things will reawaken long dormant memories. With joy and grief both, yes. But mostly, just remembering. Feeling all over again the sweat drip down my face as I biked toward home. Seeing the wide, murky Mekong and the people sitting by the riverside. Greeting once again the happy, beloved students of mine as I coasted through the blue gate into the yard of the church.

I'll remember it, and I'll relive it, and I'll cry. I'll cry because I'm thankful. For the memories and the stationary bike that brought them back up to the surface and the people and country I miss so dearly. I'll cry and I'll pray that feeling will never go away when I get onto a bicycle, the feeling of being back in Kratie, Cambodia.

Day 21: Thankfulness

The pavement was shaded by trees, the sun starting to lower in the west but nowhere near disappearing for the evening yet. Soft rays of sunlight had the touch of Midas, transforming every green leaf it hit into soft, shimmering gold. As I jogged I could hear the sound of parents hollering and cheering, the wind carrying the sounds of a little league baseball game nearly half a mile away.

A deep breath.


For the blue sky. The clouds. The sun. The way the sun hit the leaves above me. The paved road. Lungs, running, breathing.

Before I left for Cambodia, I met my friend Dani for coffee at a place that serves some of the best macaroons I've ever tasted. We sat across from each other at a table and sipped coffee and crunched macaroons and discussed life and creativity and, of course, Cambodia. Dani pulled out a thin paper journal and set it on the table in front of me.

"I got this for you," she told me. "It's a gratitude journal. I know in the past you've had some good times in Cambodia, and you've had some really hard times..."

I nodded. She continued.

"And I just thought this would be a good way to tie everything together. It's made so you can list things you're thankful for each day."

Dani was right. I have had some of the most devastatingly difficult times in my life in Cambodia, and I've had some of the most brilliant, beautiful experiences in Cambodia. 

In a strange, fitting way, the only thing able to tie all these experiences together comes in prayer and in gratitude. In Cambodia, I did my best to write in the journal every night. Often, it turned a discouraged attitude into one of hope. It reminded me I had so much to be thankful for, even with no air conditioning or Dr. Pepper. It reminded me why I was there.

A fan and for the most part, electricity. A room and a bed and friends and students. Amy, my American teammate, who understood American culture and probably the only one who laughed at my dry humor. English students  who loved me and whom I loved deeply. The Word of God and pictures and toward the end, little strings of lights from the Ikea in Malaysia. A flush toilet. Access to the internet and connections to people back home.

Now, back in the States, I often find myself making lists of things I'm thankful for, a habit from the thin paper journal in Cambodia. This is a habit I'm glad has stuck.

However, my list of things I was thankful for looked so different in Cambodia than it does here. That bothers me. It makes me aware of the deep divide between life on different sides of the world.

The fuzzy purple blanket covering my lap as I write. The air conditioning allowing me to be comfortable with a blanket in Texas weather. Friends. Time with them in person, the ability to travel to see them, the laughter, the transparency; the exhale of just being known and understood. HEB, my favorite grocery store. Cookie Two Step ice cream from Blue Bell, though the store always seems to be sold out by the time I make it to the frozen section. A frozen section at a grocery store at all. Cars, my car. My job at the hospital. Rest. All the time I've had to rest. I could start naming people I'm thankful for, but I would for sure run out of space and time. 

Some nights, it doesn't sting as much anymore when I think about Cambodia and how different the things I was thankful for there were. Tonight, it still stings.

I'm so thankful for so many things here, and I also miss life and people and habits and everything Cambodia so much it still makes me cry.

Thankful, and sad.

It's possible to be both. Not only possible, but perhaps healthy. Thankful, sad, conflicted. These are the emotions I will mull over tonight - and, maybe one day, be thankful for.

Day 20: What's His Name?

It was senior year of nursing school. I sat in the auditorium, the huge room able to house half of the entire college of nursing. My peers were scattered throughout the room, seated in every other chair, the way we always arranged ourselves when we were testing. Each test was downloaded on our laptop, and we opened a special software to block out all other applications until our test was submitted.

I sat in my chair and sighed. The software wasn't opening for me. I restarted my computer, and when nothing changed, I raised my hand. Mrs. Gant walked over to me and leaned closer as I quietly explained my software wasn't working. I showed her the icon on my screen showing the critical care test was downloaded but wouldn't open. She asked me to restart my computer again and then sat down in the chair next to me to wait and help me troubleshoot.

Mrs. Gant had short hair and a kind but witty smile. Though there were dozens upon dozens of students in my class, Mrs. Gant knew my name because she'd been my clinical instructor during the ICU rotation at the hospital. The computer screen went blank after the reboot before my desktop screen popped up, colors vivid. My mouse icon spun as the desktop setting loaded. My desktop picture was of a little boy in Cambodia, who was proudly posing for the camera, his hands leaning against a railing and his little face turned upward, right at the viewer. His smile was radiant, with missing teeth and just a hint of mischief.

It was months since I'd been in Cambodia. Still, though, I rotated pictures from this dear country to serve as my desktop backgrounds and screen savers. Not a day passed I didn't think of the other side of the world, the one where this little boy lived.

Mrs. Gant glanced at the photo. She could have been silent - most teachers were when they helped troubleshoot in the middle of a test, since all the other students were already well underway and pondering questions - but she wasn't. She looked at the photo and then looked at me.

"He's cute," she said.

I couldn't suppress my smile. "He's from Cambodia."

"What's his name?" she asked.

A confused expression clouded my face before I replied, "I don't remember..." I could remember exactly when and where we met this child, but I hadn't had time to build a long-term relationship with him.

She nodded. "How old is he?"

"Five," I responded this time. Just looking at his little grin lit up something inside me. Ignited a longing to be in his country again.

The desktop flashed and then all the usual icons repopulated, and when I clicked on the software for testing, it opened up without a hitch.

"Thank you," I said as she wished me luck, pushed back from the desk, and walked back to the front of the room. The thanks was mainly for the troubleshooting help, but that's not all for which I was grateful.

She'd asked me something no one else had--ever. All the people who had seen my pictures, my desktop. All those who knew half my heart was stuck in Cambodia. I suppose they - and I - had come to accept I wasn't in Cambodia anymore. No one asked me questions anymore; it was months since I'd been in the Southeast Asian country. The memories surfaced often, but as the questions stopped coming, I stopped offering answers. Wasn't everyone tired of hearing about Cambodia?

What's his name? How old is he?

She knew it'd been a long time; she knew I hadn't been out of the country in almost a year. But she still asked. And to my surprise, I was still overjoyed to talk about him, this little boy from a little country on the other side of the world which had stolen my heart.

What's his name?

These words whispered care and interest, both in me and in him, and they carried the weight of genuinely valuing relationships and valuing people.

What's his name?


I went to a dinner the other night when I was visiting a life group, and someone asked the woman sitting next to me if she missed India, where she had formerly lived for a while. "Always," she replied.

She said it so naturally, and the conversation quickly glided on to another topic as soon as the word left her lips.


Here was a woman who had been Stateside for longer than me, and away from India for longer than that, and she still expressed she always missed India.


She didn't make a big deal about India, or her memories, or her time there. She spoke more of her life in the present than in the past, but I could tell from the way her voice gained energy when she talked to the girl across from us about food and towns in India that she would be more than willing to talk about it if people were interested to hear.


I will always miss life in Cambodia. I may not talk about it much, and I may not broach the topic often, but I will always miss it. I will always be willing to talk about it. Sometimes it just takes someone asking, "What's his name?", and the treasure chest in my heart storing Cambodian memories opens up, and I get to delight in showing them to other people. What treasures. They're still there! Even now! Days, weeks, months, years later. They're still there. Always.

As more time passes since my return to the States, as the questions become fewer, these queries become more and more valuable to me, like Mrs. Gant's question months after everyone else's interest faded and disappeared. An unexpected offer to show others a glimpse of the beauties of Cambodia. All in a simple question.

What's his name?


Day 19: Doing Good

It was toward the end of my run this morning. The morning was aging and the sun was rising. An older man walked on the other side of the street, headed the opposite direction. We made eye contact just as two cars approached, and I raised a hand to give the "runner's wave," the simple acknowledgement of another exerciser's existence. His face broke into a wide smile as he raised a hand back. And then he yelled across the street,

"Doing good!" 

A second passed as I registered what he'd said, and then I called out a quick, "Thanks" before the passing cars blocked us from each other's view. 

Since I've been running, this is the first time someone's shouted encouragement on the streets. Nods, smiles, "morning"s and often quiet, breathless "hi"s are given and received. Sometimes a quick conversation about a dog. But never encouragement.

I don't know who this man was. Maybe he saw the pained look on my face as I finished the run. Maybe he's just an encouraging type of person. Whatever the case is, I realized this morning it'd been a long time since I'd received a good word. (By "received," I mean taken to heart, not just "heard.") When I received it this morning, it helped me keep going. Two small words are what I thought about for the next half mile.

Doing good.  I can keep going.

This man didn't know me. He didn't know I'd been wrestling mentally for the previous six miles with the grief of leaving Cambodia, the struggle to let go of an identity in performance, the preparation of my heart to go to counseling later in the day. He didn't know these things. But his two simple words have stuck with me all day.

They say actions speak louder than words. Sometimes, though, words are needed too.

I'm reminded of Jesus. He's really good at this. He acknowledged Zaccheus in the tree, Bartameus as he yelled for his sight, the woman with the issue of blood. He acknowledges them, and He speaks to them. Not just an acknowledgment. An encouragement.

Today, know you're doing good. Keep it up. You're doing good. 

Day 18: Cambodian Coffee

One scoop of Katz decaf, brewed in Houston, my favorite coffee in the U.S. One scoop of Cambodian coffee, from Stung Treng Province. 

A can of sweetened condensed milk in the fridge, a hole in the top of the can placed there with the tip of a knife. The milk poured easily a couple days ago. Today, time in the refrigerator has made the liquid thick and slow as molasses. A can opener from Walmart, and the problem is solved.

My favorite mug, the big one with the letter "a" on it, lowercase and simple.

My favorite American mug, with Cambodian coffee and American coffee and Cambodian-style cream and sugar inside. 

The dichotomy is striking, and even now, months later, it doesn't end; everything seems to get more and more mixed up and intertwined. I've wondered who I have become, who I am becoming, and I have to wonder: what if, unlike the dichotomy of Cambodian coffee in a American cup, I am more like the coffee itself: blended together from different places in a new flavor which didn't exist before. The coffee itself isn't a dichotomy, and neither am I. I simply am learning to get used to my own flavor. And, I think I'm starting to like it. 


Day 17: Things Lost, Things Found

Somewhere during the move from Waco to Houston to Cambodia, and then from Cambodia back to Houston to Waco, I lost some things. My lunch bag, my copy of Baby Mama (which was the only movie I owned, so that's extra sad), a book by Brene Brown. Other things reappeared I hadn't even known I'd lost, like a storage rack and miniature fan. When I think of something I know I own (or used to own, at least) and can't find it, I sort through every box in my apartment and scour my shelves. It drives me crazy because rarely do I lose things.

It's been a tough reality to face, but sometimes things simply get lost in the move. They mysteriously disappear, likes socks being eaten by the dryer (I didn't use to believe dryers ate socks till I did laundry in my freshman dorm. They were there when I moved the laundry from washer to dryer, so how did I always come up one sock short when I took them out of the dryer?). As time goes on, different situations arise in which I need different items, and I'm slowly realizing I lost a lot more stuff than I thought I did.

The same is true with thought processes and perspectives and even friendships. Some things were simply lost in the move. Slowly, with time - or sometimes very quickly and all at once -  I realize another thing I lost, and another, and another. The ability to spend a lot of money on clothes, or furniture, or anything, really. The ease of relating to first world problems. The ease of relating to first world people. In the move back to America, I lost the ease of communicating with people in Cambodia. Nearly every single one of my relationships have taken some kind of hit in the past year.

I'm still hoping there's a box somewhere out there I've overlooked with all my missing possessions safely tucked away in it, but there is no box for these intangible losses. This is where grieving comes in.

I've talked enough about grief lately, though. Though so many things have been lost (very important things like Baby Mama), things have been found, too. Unexpected new things I didn't know I acquired, gifts generously given to me by others, and things I had formerly but forgot and now am rediscovering.

The skill of hand washing clothes, the desire to drink tap water and take cold showers, and global friendships. An outlook on life with a looser grip on entitlement. A reality check reminding me I still desperately need Jesus for mental, emotional, and spiritual health during these life-altering transitions. A pair of knock-off Ray Bans, the comfiest t-shirts, a necklace with my Khmer name, a bracelet one of my students made me. Each day I treasure these things, these things found and gained and received as gifts from others. These things I didn't have before I moved, but now I have.

Confidence my God is for me and with me. Belief Jesus wants to sit with me. No matter what. Even if it requires Him dying on the cross, because being with someone is the essence of relationship, and relationship is the Gospel.

A nearness and an experience of the tenderness of Father, witnessing His patience during my anger and temper tantrums and outbursts and breakdowns, seeing He is big enough to handle it all. Seeing how He loves me in it all, and still afterward. Pressing in to His heartbeat as I grieve and He grieves, grieving loss and injustices and death and distance (distance separating me from those in Cambodia, between people and God, between hearts and truth).

An unveiling of my weaknesses and a downpour of humility crashing over my head as I face sin, addiction, and unhealthiness in the core of my person. This, too, is something valuable found. With humility comes the joyful acceptance of grace, with facing my weaknesses and sins comes unbelievable freedom in Jesus, and with changes in the core of my person to align with Truth comes rest. Sweet, peaceful, jubilant rest.

In moves like this, things sometimes simply get lost. But I'm not sure I've ever found so many riches in a move like this before. I still hope I find that Brene Brown book and Baby Mama, and I will still grieve the greater things I have lost, but, too, I will rejoice and cry tears of joy over the great riches I have found as a result of this move.

Day 16: Perspective and Ski Lifts

Once, during an evening of worship and prayer with my church life group, Emily walked up to me and told me she’d been praying for me. Emily was one of our life group leaders, a fellow nurse, and someone who understood the love of Jesus in a way I didn't get, but wanted to.

“As I was praying for you, I got the image of a ski lift,” she said. I listened to Emily’s words that night, her red hair pulled back and her voice kind, inviting. She continued to explain how when we are on the slopes, everything seems big, and we can only see what’s right in front of us. On the ski lift, however, you can see the whole view. I nodded; I loved skiing and had been several times over the years.

“I think this bigger perspective,” Emily continued, “is how God sees your life. He can see so much more that we can't see.” I thanked her for sharing with me, and I stored away these words in my heart. Over the months, I’ve taken them out and found comfort in them.

Tonight is one of those nights. I play the evening again in my mind, the worship as we stood in a circle in Emily and Tyler’s home, a modest apartment which seemed to supernaturally expand each week to fit the growing number of people attending life group. The guitars and the worship songs. I take Emily’s words and turn them over in my mind, like removing a treasure from a security deposit box and turning it over and over again in my hands.

Right now, this image is a treasure to me. For the past few weeks, I’ve mostly felt like I was in the middle of a blizzard on the slopes, and snow flurries clouded my vision even more than usual. Reentry, culture shock, moving, and a slip back into depression have been the snowflakes, cold and wet, to hit my face and sting my cheeks and blur my vision. This week in particular has been grueling, with significant time spent in counseling and even more time on the couch trying to make sense of life and crying out to God for breakthrough.

Graciously, and faithfully, Jesus hears and answers my prayers. Not my prayers to speed up the reentry process or to take away the bog of depression, but the prayer for help right now, right here in the blizzard. He welcomes me into His arms, sheltering me for a moment, for a night, from the snow, and He reminds me how much He loves me. He reminds me how much bigger the slope is than this difficult stretch, and He gives me the gift of faith tonight to believe He does see a much bigger perspective, and He has my good and His glory in mind. He views my life from the ski lift, and He whispers there will be a time when I enjoy the thrill of skiing again.

And I start to get the love of Jesus just a little bit more.

Day 15: 24 Hours

Twenty-four hours is all it takes. 

A hop on a plane
and another one
and trying to keep sane
as the time ticks by.

All of a sudden I
find myself disembarking and
searching for the familiar I try
to make sense of it all.

To make sense of
the loss and the gain
the hate and the miss and the love
the looming, blaring new. 

How could it be
just twenty-four hours ago
I was happy as a bee
in a whole different world,
a whole different continent,
a whole different country, culture, language, people group. 

Just twenty-four hours ago. 

Day 14: what it feels like to be a nurse who's depressed

It feels like a two ton, invisible weight surrounding you. Carbon monoxide sucking the oxygen right out of your blood as you sit in that chair at the computer, the smell of sickly sweet hand sanitizer oozing from your pores. Occasionally, you pass a window, and a fresh wave of sadness descends when you remember what exists outside this place. You feel trapped like in a prison, and your heart can't seem to soar like it has some days, in the past, in this same prison. 

it can't soar because of the overwhelming emotions and difficulties coping and the innumerable choices - not just about healthcare but about how I fit into this culture of America, the hospital, and my floor.  

Depressed on the floor feels worse than being depressed and lying on the literal floor. Because when I'm lying on the floor, I don't have to put up a front. No masks, no facades, no lies. No smiling when I want to be crying. No caring for patients when at home it's all I can do to take care of myself. 

it looks like forced interactions and energy-sapping conversations that leave coworkers and patients smiling and you feeling like you're dying.

it feels like working from a deficit. It can look from the outside like a normal or even great day for you, or it can look like you're tired or burnt out as a nurse, but rarely does it look as bad on the outside as it feels on the inside. 

it looks like letting the lowercase letters go because who has the energy left for that? 

why do I write about depression and nursing on my reentry page? Because unfortunately (for me) it's part of the reality of reentry. It's the part of the story where I have to pay my bills, and after several months of enjoying a dream job, I return to employment I never really had a passion for. One day, I hope, I will find a way to make a living which spurs me on to love life more. Something playing to my strengths, something which feeds my soul and leaves me feeling fulfilled. 

for now, though, I'll show up and do my best, and I'll be grateful for the way Gods providing for my financial needs while pushing me to know my deep, undeniable need for Him and his grace each day. One step after another. Learning authenticity in a difficult season and doing the best I can. And practicing knowing it's enough. 

Day 13: Grief, Welcome

Tonight I sit on my couch with the Olympics on, a tube of Lays chips in front of me, and dishes from dinner by my feet. Blanket, TV remote, fiction book, Bible, phone, journal, and headphones surround me on the couch. It's the essence of a lazy evening.

Yet there's an unwelcome guest in my home. On my right is Jesus, a constant companion in ups and downs - and no, He's not the unwelcome guest. I sit in the middle, and on the other side is Grief. Like a house guest who doesn't know when to leave, she stays regardless of my wishes, and her presence must be tolerated. I suppose I may as well welcome her. In fact, she may have some important things to say, lessons to share and experiences to contribute.

For perhaps the first time, I can think of Grief as helpful. She helps me process my experiences in Cambodia. She helps me start to understand how deeply I care for those in Cambodia. She helps me understand my desire for comfort and a pain free life, and she helps open my eyes to how even Christ was led into grief and difficult seasons by the Holy Spirit Himself, by the Father Himself. Jesus, too, calls us clearly into hardship. Not to torture us but because He knows He's worth it. The pain, the agony, the struggles are worth it because Jesus is worth it.

Grief, me, and Jesus. I'll stop fighting, just for tonight, and make room for Grief on the couch. I'll sit with her, tears forming periodically, and the three of us will share this moment in life together.

Grief, welcome. I guess you can stay tonight.

Sadness, disappointment, all unpleasant emotions: I wonder what I have to learn from you. I'm sorry I haven't listened well, been a willing student. It's not my natural bent, but I will do my best to welcome you, too. Perhaps, eventually, there will be more than a party of three on my couch on a lazy afternoon.