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,

Day 3: Permissions for Reentry

Here are my permissions for reentry:

Permission to grieve.

Cry, have at it. It’ll be messy, just like all of life. Here’s your permission to have breakdowns in stores and cry in front of strangers and your dad and mom and friends. It’s okay. It’s okay and normal not to be okay when you reenter a culture.

Permission to not do it all right.

You don’t have to grieve perfectly. And you don’t have to do reentry perfectly. Don’t put up a front of being perfect or worry about being “perfectly genuine.” Genuine isn’t perfect in any sense. It’s messy and broken, and it usually involves showing people warts and eyes red from crying Beauty in brokenness.

Here’s your permission—to have at it!

Have at reentry. Swing at it angrily like there’s no tomorrow. Punch it in the face. Cry, and let yourself be rocked to sleep in the memories of your hammock in Cambodia. Daydream too much about Cambodia. Enjoy being in the air conditioning in the US too much. Be bitter. Be human. Do everything wrong, and slowly find out what is right.

Permission for unlimited grace.

For yourself. For yourself when you grieve and mess up and do everything wrong—because you just gave yourself permission to do that. Grace for yourself when you don’t have grace on others because dang it, they just don’t understand and see the world you do. Here’s your permission for unlimited grace: permission to sleep, withdraw, Netflix binge watch, and want to change the world. Give yourself time to rest.

Permission to choose the healthy thing.

To cry and be angry and not do it all right, but also to choose what's right. To pursue healthiness is all its forms.

Choose the healthy thing.

Day 2: A Letter to Myself—Before Leaving for Cambodia

I'm remembering what I felt like before Cambodia—because reflection is an integral part of processing what in the world happened the past few months and how in the world I came to be the person I am now. This letter is a good reminder to me of what matters in this season of transition, too.

Dear Self,

On the hard days, remember all the ways God called you to this and confirmed it was what you were supposed to do. That’s what will get you through.

It’s okay to struggle on the mission field. It’s okay to doubt your faith, God, His goodness, and your purpose. Let’s be real, you’d go through seasons of doubt in the US too.

Transition shakes your very core. Like it says in Hebrew 12, when things are shaken, only what is eternal remains. The same is true for your transitions. Your core beliefs about God and yourself will be shaken. What is true will remain. This will shape your beliefs and who you are. In this way, experiences can be like an accelerated pursuit of truth.

Breathe a little. Sleep a little. Take care of yourself so you can be the best version of you that you can be. The one God created you to be.

You’re going to fail. You’re going to spend too much time thinking of America some days. You’re going to withdraw from America and your friends there some days. We learn by experimenting, by going from one extreme to another. Like a pendulum, we eventually find the middle. It’ll just take a while. And that’s okay.

You’re not alone. I’m with you and for you as your own best friend (I’m working on not being your own worst enemy). And God is with you and for you.

If you ever need something, ask God about it. He’ll give an answer. You’re desperate for Him. He knows this. He’s brought you to a place where you know this, too. He’s faithful, and He will answer. Wait. Trust. Pray. Thank. Love. Do your best. Rest. Rest in Him. It’s worth it. His presence is worth it.

You’re not going to feel like you’re changing, but you are. Each mountain you stumble up and over is a character-changing experience you won’t be able to un-do, and you will come to see the world in new ways you can’t ever un-see.

Be, just be, with Jesus. Let Him sit with you through every single beautiful up and every single ugly down.

He loves you.


Day 1: Conversations in Reentry

This isn't day 1 of reentry. It is day 1 of blogging about it. The goal is 31 posts for 31 days (perhaps but not necessarily consecutive) to help me navigate reentry and invite others into this journey with me. Who knows? Maybe it'll last longer than 31 days; maybe it won't even last that long. In Cambodia and in life, most things are "maybe's" and few things are certain. So for however short or long lived this is, you're welcome to join me here on the reentry journey!

Day 1: Conversations in Reentry

Some of the nicest things people have said to me in reentry include:

1. “Welcome back to America! I try not to say ‘Welcome home’ to people who have been gone for a long time because I’m not sure how they feel about where home is.”

What a sensitive practice. I certainly appreciate it, and I’m sure many others do, too.

2. “The people there really seemed to love you. I read some of the posts they wrote [when you left].”

Wow. Thoughtful. She kept up on social media and recognizes the value of my relationships over there.

3. “If you’re free for dinner, I would like to buy you Indian food.”

Because butter chicken and naan can’t be passed up. Also, authentic Asian food or exposure to anything from another culture is a treat. Too much of America all at once is overwhelming.

4. “Were you scared?”

Yes, I was. Questions like this remind me it’s okay to acknowledge the real-life, hard topics like fear.


That’s right. Nothing. It goes a long way. I’m thankful for those who simply offer their presence—and for those who understand when I take a raincheck on an opportunity to hang out because I’m exhausted or overwhelmed.

Some of the top things I've enjoyed saying in reentry include:

1. “I’m grateful for the a/c here.”

If you want rest from some #firstworldproblems enthusiasts, say this. Disclaimer: it has to be a genuine comment slipping out on accident, or you may sound like a jerk.

2. “All that about politics is true, but in just four years we’ll vote all over again. In Cambodia they’ve had the same prime minister for 30 years, and they can’t get him out of power because of corrupt election processes.”

If you want to give perspective on politics and governments, say this. (Hear them out first, though. Presidents do matter.)

3. “I had a flush toilet in my apartment.”

If you want to impress your friend who has also lived in a developing country, say this. You may also say this to anyone and everyone because, six months later and in a country where flush toilets are the norm, you’re still that excited about it.

4. “I’m really proud of the students there.”

If you want to talk about relationships and discipleship, two of the greatest blessings of your life, say this.

5. “I’d like a Dr. Pepper, please.”

If you want to exist as a happy human being in America for the next 30 minutes, say this.

Till next time, friends. Go enjoy a Dr. Pepper today!