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.