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 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 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 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.

Day 12: A List of Sadness

Here is a list of things I'm sad about:

  • Not being in Cambodia
  • Missing people in Cambodia - students, friends, church members
  • Missing places in Cambodia - the roads I jogged, the riverside, the church, my apartment
  • Missing the communal way of life in Cambodia
  • Missing the foods!
  • Feeling out of place in America
  • Feeling like I don't know myself anymore
  • Erin and Ross moving from Waco. Erin was my closest friend in Waco. I'm sad I didn't get to say goodbye, as they moved just before I got back to the States.
  • Life group not being the same - without leaders, potentially dispersing
  • Church building not looking the same - I feel like I missed a huge chunk of time and life here
  • Things at work are different. A lot of people I knew transferred, were fired, or quit.
  • Things at the hospital are rough and stressful right now because of the above stated
  • Working as a nurse
  • Missing the stability of everything and everyone being the same at work
  • Missing the house I used to live in and my rooommates and how we did life
  • Feeling alone a lot
  • Politics
  • ISIS, terrorism, the way life seems so casual
  • One of my dear friends recently separated from her husband
  • Being fragile, human, and having such a difficult time adjusting
  • Writing is so hard right now

Much to feel. Much to grieve.

Day 11: The Fog

The fog of reentry is thick. It feels similar to what happens when you come down with a really bad cold and headache, and everything sounds muffled and far away. You continue with your day and complete your tasks like you're supposed to, but everything takes two or three times as much energy and effort to focus because your surroundings seem so distant and hazy.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Lynette, my counselor, about how difficult it is to make decisions right now. I'm back in the US, and it's time to make decisions about where to live, what jobs to accept, what jobs to pursue, possible courses to take at church, and what volunteer activities to become involved in. Not to mention friendships and how to balance socializing and traveling with rest.

Lynette validated my struggle and talked about how people returning from overseas are in a fog of reentry, and it's hard to make decisions in a fog.

I didn't completely understand what she was talking about, but now I do. This whole time I've felt not quite right, but not totally off balance. The sense of unrest was like a pebble stuck in my shoe. Annoying and continually reminding me something was wrong, but not debilitating. As I've moved to Waco and come to terms with the fact I now have an apartment - the first place I'm really supposed to feel like I belong since my home in Cambodia - I've been hit full force with the realization I'm not in Kratie anymore.

As I've wrestled with this reality, I've experienced grief all over again, and confusion and anger and depression. Somewhere along the way, I entered into a fog. A fog which not only obscures my view but which also feels like a tangible wall between me and the rest of the world, like a thick piece of privacy glass.

Today, I drove to church and sat with a friend. I returned home and ate lunch. All in a fog. Surroundings seem surreal, it was hard for me to focus during church, and 90% of my choices to be productive come as just that: choices. Choices to be intentional and take care of myself: eat, shower, get out of the house, sleep, and repeat.

Something difficult about the fog of reentry is it doesn't necessarily come with physical symptoms to alert others I'm not really okay. There's no sniffling or coughing from a cold, no stuffed up nose as a telltale sign I'm feeling subpar. Those close to me are aware of my hazy mental and emotional condition, but among the rest of the world, I float through the day, trying to order coffee through the fog, trying to read and write and maybe even manage a conversation.

What's next? Where does the road go, how long does the road stretch? I have no idea. All I can see is fog.

Day 10: Worlds Lost

I'm reading this book called The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It's the first fiction book I've read in a long time, and it's no disappointment. I kept hearing about it, and when I needed a few more dollars worth of merchandise to qualify for free shipping on my Amazon order, I chose to purchase the novel.

It's set in the late 1700s and follows an Irish girl whose parents die on the way to America. She ends up being raised by a black family on a tobacco plantation, where the storyline becomes quite complex. It's really a very interesting read.

Reading transports me to a safe, faraway place for a while, which I thoroughly enjoy. After I read several chapters tonight, I set the book the book aside and started getting ready for bed. 

Suddenly, it hit me. In the turbulence this little girl experiences in the book, it seems her world is ripped away from her. Right now, I feel the same way.

It sounds absurd to say this about myself. That it feels like my world has been ripped away. But that is the exact best way I can describe it.

I tried really hard to assimilate into Cambodian culture, and I suppose I did a better job at it than I thought. I learned humor and customs, and I was starting to learn more about holidays, language, and the natural rhythm of life there. American culture, humor, stores, mannerisms, and certainly price tags are now foreign, difficult to understand, and overwhelming. I feel off nearly all the time, like something just isn't quite right. 

Perhaps as I grieve Cambodian culture and lifestyle, I'm also grieving the comfort and ease with which I used to navigate America. Sometimes the deathly quiet roads weird me out with the absence of honking. Often the sheer amount of food in stores and the number of choices leave me feeling dazed as I walk the aisles. Last week I couldn't handle one more new thing, so I hand washed my clothes and hung them out to dry on a clothesline I set up on my balcony. Transition is hard.

So much has changed and shifted in my church, my city, my state, and my country. America is in disarray, and it wasn't when I left it. How do I fit an international view on politics into a very close-up, inwardly focused country? How do I explain six months abroad seemed to hold years' worth of experiences and changes in my views, my character, my faith, and my heart? To others, it was six months. To me, it was possibly the most life-shattering, perspective-altering, formative time of my life thus far.

Another question: how do I grieve when I'm not even sure where to start grieving?

Truly, it feels whole worlds have been ripped away from me. The world of Cambodia, where the struggles and needs sound like fairy tales when I say them out loud in the States because of how far removed the relevance is to problems here. The world of Waco, Texas, because suddenly cultural norms aren't so normal anymore.

Grace is hard for me, as it always has been. Why can't I adjust back? This is my country. This is where I grew up. But a thick fog blocks my view. I'm trapped moving in slow-mo in the middle of a nightmare. I am a shell of myself.

How in the world can it be this hard? I ask God this question tonight, as my face becomes a mess of tears and snot. Reality is not pretty.

I'm angry with Him sometimes. I don't want to be. Tonight, though, I tell Him it isn't fair. Even if He will sit with me in my grief, He can be there, in Cambodia, when I can't be.

This is when I realize how alone I feel. I feel even God doesn't understand this transition.

It isn't what I expected, this utter lost-ness. Not after six months. After six years, maybe, or even after two years. Not six months. I don't think others expected this either, and helping them understand is both comforting and terribly difficult. Because in the end, they won't understand. They will understand this is dreadfully difficult for me, but even I'm not sure how much more difficult this will get. I am in uncharted waters. Others have walked through reentry, but no one has walked through this exact reentry.

This scares me. I wish I could end this post (which is more like a very raw word vomit) with an analogy of how I'm trusting Christ in these uncharted waters. But the truth is, I'm not. I feel deeply wounded and confused, and though I'm grateful for Him holding me during this time, I'm just trying to survive.

Excuse me while i grieve two worlds I've lost, try to survive, and read some more of The Kitchen House.



Grissom, Kathleen. The Kitchen House. Touchstone Books, 2010.

Day 9: Believe in What?

Today I finally got my TV set up and was able to watch the US women's soccer team play in the Olympic quarterfinals. It came down to a shootout, and my nerves were on edge the whole time. I did that thing where I silently prayed in my head for Team USA to win - because, you know, for some reason we think God doesn't care about the rest of the world's athletes.

I begged God for a US victory, and I found these words forming in my head. "I just need something to believe in."

I need something to believe in because it seems like everything in my life is falling apart. I had no idea how difficult adjusting to American culture was going to be. Although I wish the transition were over, the reality is it seems like it's just beginning. And in any time of chaos, we need something to believe in. Something stronger than us, more stable than us, more powerful than us. (Take a look at political campaigns and the way they pounce on fear and unrest as opportunities to point to politicians as the ones to believe in.)

When I told the Lord this, a quiet but sure answer came.

"Believe in Me."

The US team lost.

One more thing in life to fall short. Real life falls short of my expectations, and perhaps most difficult to accept is the way my own ability to cope falls short. Living in America continues to be unbelievably disorienting and absolutely exhausting.

I am painfully aware of my need for something stronger than me.

Sometimes I get distracted and think the thing to believe in is the US women's soccer team. (After all, it is the greatest sport there is.) But just like all other people and things and organizations and entities and even churches, they will fall short.

The Lord will not. And not only will He never fall short, He is willing to sit right next to me in my pain and tears, laying down His strength and showing me what gentleness truly is.

My name in Khmer means "gentleness," but somehow I think I have a lot to learn about strength and what gentleness is.

Lord, show me how to believe in You.

Day 8: Exhaustion

This morning, I knew I was empty. I felt flat and emotionless, thoroughly exhausted.

I felt like I'd turned my piggy bank over and shaken the very last pennies out, and now there was nothing left. Not a single penny. Just air. No jingle of metal on glass or weight of pennies inside. Completely empty and spent.

It was like the moments after a hard sprint, the kind where I run as fast as I can until I physically can't anymore. My arms pump and my knees rise high as my legs shoot up and down with shorter strides and increased frequency. I always know if I've really given it all I've got because when I haven't, I feel like I could do it again, a sprint all over again. When I do it right, I have no energy left. It's gone. There's nothing left to give.

That's how I feel today. No emotions remain to give. No energy is left to use up. I am thoroughly exhausted.

Until today, I've never been too exhausted to doubt the Lord. It's been an ongoing struggle to trust Him through this reentry and moving and new job process, but today, I found I just didn't have it in me to doubt. The easiest place for my brain to land was to trust Him. To say, Okay, and let go. 

It's funny because I used to think it took a lot of work to trust God. I used to think it took a lot of energy and effort and intentionality, but here in this moment of utter exhaustion, I find it's the simplest - and the only - thing to do. Trust.

I don't generally enjoy exhaustion, but I'm enjoying this aspect of it tonight and the lesson I'm learning about trust. Of course!: seek first His kingdom, and trust He'll take care of the rest. I'm too tired to do anything else. In this moment, I'm aware of my limitations and lack of energy to try to even try to provide for myself.

For possibly the first time in my life, the easiest thing to do in this moment, is trust. This is a wonderful thing.

Day 7: Building Walls or Building Bridges

A few months ago I listened to a podcast of my Waco church's sermon. I don't remember who was preaching or what passage was covered, but I do remember a main theme: build bridges, not walls.

During this season of life, emotions are high, and some days I feel like I'm wading waist-high in change and adjustments. I've been shocked and thrilled and heartbroken by changes I've learned have happened in others' lives and the changes I'm learning about in me. It's overwhelming, and in the midst of being overwhelmed, I sense myself withdrawing, slowly building walls. One brick at a time, slapping on the mortar between the bricks as I retreat from the world, a heightened awareness of just how chaotic and unexpected all of life is.

This is the natural, self-preserving reaction: withdrawing. Building walls. Blocking people out.

The more I think about it, this practice may be self-preserving, but I don't want to be preserved the way I am. I want to change, to learn, to grow! The comfortable, safe option is to hide. The innovative, exciting, healthy option is to stand my ground - not even reaching out and crossing new boundaries, but simply standing still, right where I am. Not moving backward, not retreating, not withdrawing, but holding my ground. Feeling the weight of grief and the amazingly high stress of waiting to find out what's next in life.

Today, it's a victory if I simply don't tear any bridges down. There are some boundaries I've had to set up, like limiting how many people I see and events I go to. However, I think in the long run these boundaries will make for stronger bridges, not towering and isolating walls.

Today, I'm going to try simply to be aware of the bridges and walls I'm building, sitting still and letting my soul decompress and mend and draw closer to Jesus.

Day 6: Grief

Grief is like a punch in the stomach in the middle of a night hanging out with friends. A hard, calculated blow that knocks the breath and the fight out of you. The smiles and laughter which couldn't be held back before suddenly turn into halfhearted attempts to get through the night without calling too much attention to yourself.

Grief is like a thief, robbing you of happiness and joy when you least expect it or most expect it or anytime in between. Grief is a cruel thief, and its attacks feel like assaults on your soul.

Grief is a great big sadness brimming over inside of you, crying to come out but sometimes showing no physical evidence of its presence except a few lone tears.

Grief is red eyes and a wet face. Pain in the chest and the stomach, and a weight 1,000 pounds heavy always pulling you down. Grief is sitting on the floor alone, crying. It's breathing hard and trying to catch your breath between tears.

Grief is missing people, the sound of voices and the laughs and the feel of their hugs. Their sweaty, hot, love-filled hugs. It's knowing you can't call that friend and invite them over, and you can't count on or depend on seeing them at an event or on a regular basis.

Thousands of miles separate you. Twelve hours of time difference separate you. Culture and level of development separate you.

Grief isn't just missing the people; it's missing the experiences. It's missing your favorite activities and way of life. It's missing the bicycle rides and smiles from your landlord. It's missing going for iced coffee in the afternoon or trying to coordinate a trip to the pool to swim. It's not being able to walk to the noodle place down the road, the one that's cheap but you still think is delicious. It's not being able to go get bong ime in the evening. Or bun xeo after classes. Or calling everyone to eat using Tagalog.

Grief is a backpack full of bricks and a knife wound in your gut.

Grief isn't an extra long goodbye. You can't grab that person and hold them one last time. You can't hear their laughter and see their smiles and listen to the sound of their voice as they tell you goodbye and that they love you. Grief is a grasping at memories. A grasping at, not a grabbing hold of. A hand, two hands, grasping at the past and only coming up with sorrow and emptiness and loneliness.

Grief is wondering if it's worth it. If this whole going-all-in and loving with everything you have no matter the time limitations is worth it. It's wondering if the pain is worth it. The pain of grief.

Grief is painful. And slow. And difficult. Does it sound like I'm describing torture?

Grief is to be felt. The only way out is through.

On the other side, I know I'll say:

Grief is temporary.

Grief is healing.

Grief is necessary.

Grief is valuable.

Grief is humbling.

Grief is a process.

At the moment, I think it's a terrible one. One day, when the tears pass and the pain is all felt out, maybe then I'll see the rainbow. Maybe I'll see the clouds as white and not as dark storm-bearers.

But for now, I'll grieve. I'll kick and scream inside my head, and I'll cry until I'm dehydrated. I'll weep until my whole body shakes. I won't push it down; I'll feel it.

The only way out is through.

Day 5: Risks and Sacrifices

I took a few days off because I was with family this past weekend. Today, on July 4, we celebrate America's beginnings. We've come so far. We began as a rebellious colony and grew into a world power.

That's how I feel about my family, too (okay, not the world power part, but you get the idea!). I was humbled to hear stories from my grandparents as we celebrated their birthdays and all they've endured, sacrificed, and accomplished in their lives. They took unbelievable risks and made countless sacrifices of every size to bring my family to the point we are today: in America, educated, employed (well, soon I will be), and with so many opportunities (careers, traveling, higher education, and so much more).

I look back on where we came from as a family, and I'm humbled. I look back on where we came from as a country, and I'm humbled.

I look at these two stories, and I look at myself, and I am comforted. The Lord is faithful. Great risks and great sacrifices make for great living. Rich experiences, unshakeable convictions, deep relationships, and a strong character. Adventure, hearts full, hearts broken, and hearts mended. Great in its depth without regard to its breadth; great in capacity for changing the one living the story and in an unstoppable aftereffect, those around her; great in its quality, whatever the quantity. 

That is the kind of person I want to be, and that is the kind of life I'm encouraged to lead.

Happy Fourth of July. To great risks and great sacrifices.

Day 4: A Poem

Some days it feels like all the anger, sadness, exhaustion, confusion, and mystery emotions get tangled up like an old ball of yarn and then stuck in a blender like the mango smoothies I loved to drink in Cambodia. Except when it’s all done, it isn’t something delightful like a mango smoothie in Cambodia on a hot day. It’s a mush of complications with ingredients that can no longer be separated and put neatly back into containers with labels.

Some days
you just
take any more
well meaning comments,
queries of where you’re from,
or where you live,
or what your job is,
or what you’re doing here.

Some days
you just
bear the thought
of putting your words on paper
for all the world to read.

So on those days,