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 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 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 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.