Love and Choice.

CHOOSE YOUR LOVE, LOVE YOUR CHOICE.

I was riding to work on the back of mine and Bibi’s motor bike, zoning out, looking at the sky, the people passing by- my busy and chaotic surroundings- when the guy’s t-shirt on the motorbike in front of us, caught my eye. Choose your love, love your choice. 

I thought about that sentence for the next 20 minutes until Bibi and I arrived at my university.

Because Bibi and I are coming up on 1 year of marriage in just 8 short days, my mind went immediately to him, my love.

I remember standing in our church service in October 2012, praying about this man beside me that I was getting to know. I hadn’t had a boyfriend in years! Lord, what am I doing with this guy? Do I want this relationship to evolve? Is this really the man I should marry? Because we had made it official- I was Bibi’s “girlfriend”- in Khmer culture that is really just synonymous with fiance, so in his mind it was a done deal- we were getting married. That night in church the Lord spoke SO clearly . . . “It is your choice, Kristen. You can choose not to take this relationship any further, or you can choose Bibi. But if you choose Bibi, you are choosing all of him, every day, for the rest of your life.”

I chose Bibi that night, and maybe I didn’t realize it fully at the time, but in that one choice there were other choices that I was simultaneously making as well like . . .

to be forever tied to Cambodia; a country and culture so far away and foreign to my own.

to be okay with the fact that Bibi is not as anal about cleanliness and tidiness as I am, so that means that I will be the one to ALWAYS make the bed in the morning, and pick up his clothes off the floor and put them in the dirty laundry basket. 

for one of us to ALWAYS have to sacrifice being near friends and family because they literally live on opposite sides of the globe. (I found this to be probably the hardest choice, especially around special holidays and times when family gathers together.)

to exercise extra grace in conflict because often our differing paradigms or world views keep us from fully understanding the other person’s heart and feelings.

to always need to compromise when it comes to meals because some days I just don’t want to eat rice and stir fried-something, and other days Bibi rejects the “blandness” or non-spiciness of Western food.

to try to create traditions together as a new family instead of feeling sad and alienated when Bibi doesn’t really get what the Christmas season is all about.

to commit to continually pray for his safety and protection even when I am absolutely ANGRY that he sometimes refuses to put a helmet on!

to work extra hard at communicating and be an eternal student of language because my first language is not his and his first language is not mine.

to be kind even when I come home and there are THOUSANDS OF ANTS in my kitchen because Bibi didn’t wash or rinse the pots and pans he cooked with that morning.

to not be frustrated when I don’t understand Khmer humor or slang, and am the only one not laughing when in a group amongst our Khmer friends.

The list continues.

I have chosen my love, Bibi Leang, and for the last 357 days I have been learning how to love my choice. The same is true for Bibi because I too am a choice that has, at times, been hard to love, but I believe that is what this thing called marriage is all about. We are choosing to love each other and the choice we made to journey together every minute, every hour, every day, even when we act out, and are our most unloveable selves.

Imagine what it would be like if every single person went into marriage knowing that they are choosing their love and, “until death do you part”, will be learning how to love your choice.

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As I was sitting here writing this, I began thinking not only about marriage, but about all the hundreds of choices we make on a daily basis . . . and it brings up so many questions like,

how many choices do we consciously make on a daily basis? unconsciously?

how many of those choices do we love? of those choices, how many have consequences that we love?

. . . work? school? the degree we study? the way we eat? the way we exercise or don’t? the way we spend our free time? what we choose to learn on a daily basis? what we spend our money on? the way we keep in touch with people? what we allow to occupy our thoughts? what we choose to say? how we choose to respond to people and situations?

Think about if we, first of all, made all of our choices conscious choices and secondly, made choices on the basis of whether or not we love the choice itself and the consequences there after . . .

sounds like maybe another blog for another time.

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Posted in Real Life. | Leave a comment

Real Life on Cambodian Streets.

I have been back in Cambodia for just over two weeks now. Last week was my students’ first week of their community health practicum. We have chosen three different communities for them to go into in order to apply their knowledge of community health care. I gave one group an assignment for each student to get to know at least one family in their community. Then they had to introduce me to their family.

Walking around that community I heard so much, saw so much, experienced so much. All of my senses were on overload. I have had days to try to wrap my head around everything, but even still, I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop praying. I am moved and troubled deep within my spirit.

Here is my recount of Thursday 08/14/2014.

Women playing cards, betting, and squandering away what little earnings came from the days work. Not just 5 feet away, their children are doing the very same thing. With 100 riel notes in their hands, they throw chips and kick two flip flops back forth seeing which one can get closest to the chips or which one can knock their opponents flip flop out of the way. The winner snatches riel from hands unwilling to part with the practically worthless- but so dear to them- pieces of paper. Who knows how long they had to walk around collecting rubbish or begging in order to gain what they had.

A naked baby is standing on the stoop to his stilted house. Maybe not even two years old. His back and bottom covered in small pinkish white pustules. He is holding onto the ladder leading up to the entrance. He is wailing. Murky, thick black water is just inches below him as the whole bottom floor of his house is completely flooded. Feces and garbage of all sorts cover the water’s surface making it practically impossible to see the water itself. Such a stench that assaults the senses rises from the hot, standing muck. Crying uncontrollably it looks as though this little man could tumble in at any moment. A man comes to the door, looks down at the child listlessly, and in blank apathy turns around and walks back into the depths of the house. Just then a woman comes along mouthing off about parents who just abandon their kids and leave them crying. She jerks the little child up by his right upper armpit and shoulder, his feet hardly able to touch the ground as she practically drags him into another stilted wooden shanty about 10 meters away.

I have never seen such a head. His hair was shaved. Three large bright red and purple fleshy wounds ooze yellowish brown serum. The back of his head is covered in yellow-green puss-filled sacs. The worst bacterial skin infection I have ever seen. Itchy, painful, crusted and oozing. He is only about three years old. His mom asks me for medicine. I ask her how long his head has looked like this. She says for a long time. When she has money she puts medicine on it. It heals, but then comes back. A cycle. She asks me for medicine. I tell her she could put medicine on it, but he is getting infected by the bacteria in his environment. She asks me for medicine. I tell her it is better for her to keep her house very clean, and to wash his head three times a day with soap and clean water, and do not allow him to scratch it. She asks me for medicine. It’s very important for every member of the family to wash their hands often. She asks me for medicine. I try to reinforce the fact that medicine will only help in the short term. She needs to wash his head, and keep their home environment very clean. She asks me for medicine. She does not even acknowledge the things I am saying to her. She asks me for medicine. I do not have medicine to give. I walk away saddened because I am not able to do anything for her- not able to do what she wants me to do for her.  So many people with the mind-set of just wanting the quick fix. Not life change. Not betterment for ones self in the long run. Just the quick fix. Not change of habits, or change of lifestyle. Just a quick fix.

We are met by a woman in hysterics. Large fat tears roll down her face. She wants us to follow her to her house. Her mother in-law and husband think that my students are members of an NGO- an NGO, they think, she has petitioned the service of in order to help her divorce her husband. FEAR is the most obvious thing coming across this woman’s face. We are led through several narrow streets to a back little out cove, dead-end alley of little cinder block houses. The road is uneven rock, gravel, and mud, soiled and rank. Each house consists of one dingy little room about 12 feet by 12 feet. In Vietnamese she tells her daughter to run and find her grandmother. A little while later a short, gray headed woman with short hair and glasses arrives. We explain to her that we are not an NGO and we do not work on social cases. We are simply here to evaluate the health of the people of this community. Her superficial smile is plastered on her face as she nods in our direction. She smiles at us, but as soon as she looks at her daughter in-law her smile fades. I lean my head into the dark room. A tiny little infant is laying on a blanket on the dirty tile floor. 14 days old. We give a nod to the mother in-law. We turn around and leave. I ask our students as we exit the little alley if they believe the mother in-law and husband were violent towards that woman? Without hesitation, before I could even finish my question my student quickly responds nonchalantly, yes. Then turns around and it is never mentioned again. It’s so normal, even for my students. I later find out this woman has six kids. Two of which have already been sold or given away to someone, anyone (no one knows exactly who) coming in search of children. I ask another one of my nursing students if she knows what type of people come around asking for children to be given away or sold. She answers that those children will most likely be used as servants for sexual acts. She knows. They know. That’s it, there is nothing more to it. Reality. The issue is dropped. I walk on in silence. I am trying to wrap my mind around a mother who gives her children away already knowing what their horrific fate will be. These children are just given away or sold for enough money to support the rest of the family for a month. And when the money runs out, so too their memory is swept away.

We walk to another house where we meet a gentleman sitting on a wooden bench outside his house. He offers us a seat. I would have liked to put my focus on him completely. I try. I really do. But not more than 5 meters from me is a mother and a child. The child is crying. She is sitting in the middle of the road. She has plopped herself down there apparently. She is probably no older than 3. Mum is wielding a wooden stick. There is no compassion nor understanding in her eyes. There is not even an attempt. Mum swats the child on the left side of her back. When the child tries to shield herself she swats her on the right. The child keeps trying to shield herself, twisting and turning, while the mum moves from one side to the other swatting as if trying to kill flies. Finally she gives up, the child is still crying and not making an effort to rise, so the mother just yanks her up by the arms and carries her off down the road.

Afterwards we meet the most beautiful lady. A Khmer woman in her late thirties. She is a  seamstress. She sews together cotton pajamas which are popular among all Khmer people and often worn during midday as everyday wear. She sews twenty pairs a day- shirt and matching pants. She starts early and usually does not finish until 7 o’clock in the evening. She introduces us to her children. Her daughter is at the sewing matching next to her. She helps out between school classes when she can. Her son is playing on the floor. I ask him questions to which he responds non-sensically with gibberish words. She tells me he can’t really speak. He only started saying “mom” and “dad” within the last month when he turned 5. I question her further about her son’s behavior. He has classic mannerisms seen in children with Autism. Mum unfortunately has no idea how to help him. She just knows that it is best for everyone if she does not interrupt his daily routine. It’s difficult to work, she says, trying to sew twenty pairs of pajamas in one day when she has to care for him, go to the market, and cook for everyone. If she is able to sew all 20 pairs together she will receive $4.50 for her day’s work.

We are invited into the home of a woman in her late 50‘s. First off I notice thick scars on both of her legs. On her right leg there is an X shape starting from the side of her knee and winding around her calf to the front of her shin. Her other scar is directly over her patella of her left leg. Her left leg scar is the result of a motor bike accident. Her right leg however is the remnant from the days of the Pol Pot regime. Her leg somehow got infected back then and she said, “There was no doctor, there was no surgery. All we had were the knives we cut the rice with . . . So I cut myself to open the wound that needed surgery. There was no medicine for the pain,” she said. It stayed open for a long time, she stuffed it with leaves and herbs. Eventually the wound healed, leaving behind wide and thick bands of scar tissue. This woman also tells us the story of her nine children. Two of which are dead. One died in the womb, and I try to keep my emotions from leaking out onto my sleeve as she describes how she went to a chinese hospital where they pulled the baby with forceps from her womb through her vagina, bit by bit as they cut him/her into pieces to get him/her out. That was child number 6. Child number 7 was born about a year later, but within a week also died. As we left her house, my nursing student who had interviewed her tells me what the woman herself could not. About thirteen years ago when her youngest child was 9 years old, her husband left her with all 7 children for another woman. My nursing student says, when we first asked about her husband during our interview her face immediately dropped and she began to cry. It was 13 years ago, but she is still very hurt by it, he says.

Finally we have finished our visits in the community and we are walking back to our central meeting location. I am looking down at the ground and I wouldn’t have looked up. I wouldn’t have noticed or been interested if it wasn’t for the sound of the CRACK! My head jilts to the left and I see an infant old enough to be on her tummy and hold her head up, but not yet able to crawl- moving her arms and legs as she lays on her tummy near her mother. The movements of her arms knock over the mother’s plastic cup of bubble tea onto the ground and her mother’s immediate response is to hit her. The infant starts crying immediately after her mother’s hand lands heavily on her lower back, and once again without any compassion or remorse, with complete indifference in her eyes the mother bends down picks up the cup and continues eating and drinking while the little one just screams, flailing her arms and legs, tears rolling down her cheeks. The mother doesn’t give her another look.

By the time we reach our meeting location, I have no physical nor emotional energy left. I ask the students if they have questions. I remind them what time to show up to class tomorrow. And then the only other words I mutter . . . “Just go home. Try to rest.”

I think I was saying it more for myself than for them.

Posted in In no particular category, Real Life. | 2 Comments

It’s a Wonderful Life . . .

So, I have been pretty homesick lately . . . I think it started when my parents’ time in Cambodia came and went in the blink of an eye. Then it progressed to all out crying at the drop of a hat as the Christmas holiday came nearer and nearer. There have been several triggers, like missing snow at Christmas time. Here it is just consistently hot. There is no drastic change in seasons, so things like holidays can sneak up on you and then come and go without you realizing it . . . like thanksgiving did.

I have also missed the “season” of Christmas! I don’t know how it happens in Ohio, it just does, Christmas is in the air. It’s a feeling in the heart. It’s a special time of year. Here, it is one, not very widely acknowledged day, and a program at church.

Also the fact that this is the first Christmas in my entire 30 years that I have not been in Ohio with my family has made that feeling of homesickness extra fresh.

But despite all that or maybe in response to it. Bibi and I have made the absolute most of this season! We had our tree up on December 1st. It has been Christmas in the Leang household for practically a month now. The warm glow of the Christmas lights have reminded me of God’s faithfulness as I have done as I would normally do in the States- woken up before the sun with my glass of hot tea and sat before the warm glow of the tree and thought about all this season truly means- each time God has met me there.

The Lord has drastically turned the temperature down for us here in Cambodia. Most nights Bibi and I have had to boil water for hot showers, close all the windows and turn off the fans. I have had to sleep in long sleeves and pants. I have also worn cardigans and three layers for the last 2-3 weeks! . . . . It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!! . . . .

I was not able to spend Christmas with my family in Ohio, but I have absolutely felt surrounded and loved this Christmas season! My housemate Beth and I spent all day cooking on Christmas Eve, then we sat together with our husbands and shared a meal with our landlord and her daughter. Then we went to a Christmas Eve service kind of like the Methodist services I grew up going to. It was a new experience for Bibi as he has never been exposed to liturgical readings and prayers. The next morning Beth and Brian, Bibi and I shared Christmas brunch together. Then Bibi and I spent the whole day preparing the house and a feast! We received his entire immediate family into our home that night; his siblings and their families, his mother- we were all there! 14 people packed into our little 3rd floor apartment! It was such hard work to prepare, but it was so worth it once we were all gathered on the floor with a delicious meal in front of us.

This Christmas season has also been filled with receiving carolers, teaching a Christmas lesson for our Sunday school kids, hot cocoa, dinner with friends, Christmas cocktails, and desserts with wine, classic Christmas movies, and quiet moments with Jesus.

Last night we were at a friends’ house and we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. This is first time I have ever seen the film, and Bibi’s first time too. I can relate to the main character George Bailey, especially in my 20’s. I was going to conquer the world. I wanted to travel, I wanted to get out and DO things and GO places. I had so much spirit, and so much adventure just wanting to bust out of me. The idea of being “tied” to Ohio and just having a “normal” job made me cringe. But in the film, George sets aside his spirit and his desires to travel and go to school in order to take over the family business, and eventually one thing leads to the next and he is married, with four kids, and starts to feel “stuck”. He is discouraged and needs a new perspective. So an angel is sent to help give him that perspective and he does it by showing George what life in that little town would be like if George Bailey would have never been born.

George realizes his life is not wasted even though it didn’t turn out how he wanted it to, and in fact, not just that it is not wasted, but the life he has is actually A WONDERFUL LIFE!!

As I watched that movie, I began thinking of my own life . . . my life in Cambodia . . . maybe I was not exactly where I wanted to be this Christmas season. Maybe I have felt a little “out to sea” these last two years as things have not turned out exactly how I had thought or planned. Maybe there have been times that I have wanted to throw my hands up, pack it all up and go back to the States. . . .

But last night, as I laid on my bed, I just opened my heart and let the Lord fill it with his truth. In fact, my life here in Cambodia is not wasted. I began thinking of all the relationships I have made, the lives I have come in contact with, the friends here who I hold dear, the family I have here. Nothing is wasted. I am a difference-maker. I am a light. I am His child. I am not a disappointment to Him or anyone. This life here in Cambodia is in fact, A Wonderful Life!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
From Kristen and Bibi Leang.

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Posted in Life in Cambodia | 2 Comments

Before logging onto my blog this morning, I couldn’t remember the last time I had entered this sacred space. It’s been nearly half a year; that coupled with the fact that I haven’t stopped biting my nails (I know, gross right, especially in this country) since June are probably telling me something. I am hiding and I am holding within. Sure my newsletters have gone out with all the joy, “Christian experience” and “God moments” I could scrape together; and while those stories are true and the feelings are true, they are such a small sliver of life in Cambodia. And so they have gone out, but the real me that has the freedom to be me in this sacred space has long since been neglected.

Since my last blog was written:

I have been homesick;

I turned 30;
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I started birth control; which has absolutely wrecked havoc on my body and emotions;

After countless hours, Bibi and I completely translated a whole sermon into Khmer!!! Such a cool project to be a part of;

Bibi and I made two exhausting trips to Goh Kong to get a land deed transferred over to Bibi’s name and were rejected twice because apparently we didn’t have enough money to pay the corrupt mayor under the table.

After months of fighting fatigue, I finally motivated myself to get back on my bike! It has been exhilarating riding all over PP again;

I stopped volunteering with one2one Cambodia;

Bibi and I planned and sometimes argued over the details of our wedding;

The door was closed on something that I was convinced was a promise from the Lord;

My paoun’s family in the slum had to move into an even dirtier, smaller house with only one latrine for all the families on that block because they could no longer afford the $40 rent per month at their old place.

I have stopped going to Khmer school;

My ceiling began to sag under heavy rainfall (my neighbor’s ceilings caved in completely) and the landlord didn’t really care, so that incited my 7th move in 24 months . . . one week before my wedding.
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My paoun Vantha started and stopped working with our wood craftsman friend; it has felt like it’s been one step forward half step back, two steps forward, one step back with him in all areas: spiritual life, school, work, family and respecting his parents.

Bibi and I spent a major Khmer holiday in Goh Kong with all his extended family! It was such a sweet special time. We ate LOTS of food; went fishing; and visited places that were special to Bibi growing up as child!
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My closest friend, confidant, and sister in Christ here was in several motorbike accidents and had to return home to NZ to rest and heal.

My parents and some friends came to Cambodia, which was the most incredible time! I am only sad I did not get to take them to church!!
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I got married!!!! It was truly the best, most perfect day of my entire life!
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Our honeymoon phase lasted only as long as the honeymoon, as I- the independent, self-sufficient, 30 year old- have had to completely redefine what “me” is now that I am one with this other human being who has his own thoughts and ideas and feelings.- hardest yet best journey of my life so far.

I finished a leadership course, our final project being an intentional development plan, in which I stated I would start writing again.

I started a new job as a Nursing professor at a university here in PP;

Bibi and I started going to a Bible study for newly married couples;

I have been homesick again.

I bought a Christmas tree- which made me homesick for Christmas in Ohio.

and I have been recently diagnosed with lupus.

So much good.
So much that is exciting.
So much that is challenging.
So much that is hard.

It’s hard to know what or how to feel on any given day. It’s hard to know how to process all that positively and negatively impacts/assaults the heart and mind here. And even harder to know how to express it in a way that is REAL and not overly glitzed with pomp and circumstance because that is what my self-imposed pressure says those in the States want to hear about my fantastic-winning-souls-for-Jesus-supra-human-missionary-life-in-Cambodia.

But I feel like from my leadership course I have been given some really great tools in my back pack from which to draw on in the future when it comes to processing, self-care, and working through transitions . . . which I feel like has defined my life here in Cambodia, one major transition after another. One major event to process and work through right after another, after another. Thankfully I do know I am not here in Cambodia alone. I have my husband, my best friend. I have my friends and family who are only a Skype call or Viber message away. I have my Khmer family here. My church family. And of course I have the Lord, the one who holds it all in his hands and sees and knows and is not surprised by anything that has happened in the last nearly half a year.

I just need to stop hiding. Stop biting my fingernails. Stop trying to hold it all in. Stop fearing what people are going to think if I am having a hard time working through something- I need to let people in more.

And maybe most importantly, I just need to keep writing. Keep allowing myself the freedom to be me in this place and put it all down, release it here and let it go.

Posted in Life in Cambodia | 1 Comment

The Mosts of My 20’s- Happy Memories.

1. My 29th birthday. The whole day was fantastic with sweet friends that showered me with love. The children at the safe house threw me the BEST birthday party I could have ever possibly hoped for. And I remember giddy excitement and hopefulness begin to stir in my belly for the first time in years when Bibi showed up with 2kg of my favorite fruit and a hand-made card.
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2. The time Keet and I walked to the pub within our Kenyan subdivision to watch the world cup and eat dinner. Thinking we had ordered 1/2 chicken to share- we were so caught up in conversation and the game that it wasn’t until after the bird was wholly consumed that we realized we were looking at two legs bones, two thigh bones, two wings etc etc- we had eaten a WHOLE chicken!! We laughed so hard and had to practically be rolled back to the house we were so full.

3. Tramping the Hillary Trail around Auckland, New Zealand with some really amazing people. We saw some of the most beautiful sites, drank in God’s creation, experienced “rainbow moments” of God’s promise, had some incredible laughs, and not to mention ate some incredible food . . . CRAISIN!!!!!
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4. Experiencing God’s majesty and power first hand as I and 50 other One80-ers worshipped the Lord in midst of pouring rain and thunderstorms on an open field in TX in 2003.

5. Coming home from Cambodia for Christmas (now I can’t remember if it was 2011 or 2012!) and being surprised by my sister and brother-in-law with tickets to see Wicked! We dressed fancy, we had delicious food and drink in one of the most eclectic restaurants I have ever been in, in Cincinnati and enjoyed a beautiful evening at the theater!
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6. The night Heather and I went out on the town in Cincinnati in our little black cocktail dresses. We were celebrating grand life changes and accomplishments- a finished audit-a huge project- for her, and a move to Cincinnati, graduation and a new job for me. We went to the nicest steak house in Cincinnati and spent over $100 each on the most beautiful meal I have ever eaten still to this day. It was a night of celebration and class- we felt like queens, we acted like queens and we were treated like queens for a night!- I mean the waiters were all handsome, dressed in tuxes and escorted us to the bathrooms even!!!

7. Mother-Daughter road trip through GA to see Alisha and on to FL to see Brandi after I came home from the WR. My mom has always been my very best friend, but that trip was really special for me as she helped me process the last 11 months of my crazy existence. She just did a lot of loving and listening during that week.
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8. The night in Romania that my dear friend, who will remain nameless (SonnyAnne) hid behind my bed to scare me and my reaction made her laugh so hard she peed her pants! And then I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants!

9. The day Alison arrived in Cambodia in Jan 2011. I was also there and I went looking for her, but she wasn’t at her guest house and I had no way of contacting her so I prayed and asked the Lord to lead me to her. I then went to City Mall and from a distance I saw a girl from behind who could have been her. As I got closer I saw her leg tattoo and knew it was her. I then took off in a dead sprint running up behind her and hugged her from behind! She jumped so high! And we both freaked out that we were actually standing face to face in Cambodia!
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10. The day I came home from Cambodia in 2011. My sister picked me up from the airport. I spent the night with her, and we drove to my grandmother’s house to pick her up for breakfast- only she didn’t know I was home. When she saw me she screamed and threw her arms up in the air! Then squeezed me tight! “I’d cry,” she said, “if I had any tears!” (She has an autoimmune disorder called Schogren’s which has dried out all her mucous membranes).

11. The night at the bus station when we were leaving Kisumu Kenya for the second time. All our brothers saw us off and as we waiting for the bus we had dance parties, made ourselves dizzy and laughed ourselves silly on the playground equipment at the bus station, particularly a merry-go-round.
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12. I always cherished the walks my dad and I would take in the evenings, but on one particular walk I remember; it was before the WR and I had asked him what his feelings were about me leaving for 11 months. He said, “I believe God has called you to do this, so I trust God. . . “ (long silence) “But I am sad too because I know if you go, you are not coming back.” His words hung thickly over my head, and then the realization of my Daddy’s love for me began to settle deep in my heart and mind. In that moment I realized what a treasure living with my parents again had been for that 1.5 years. I would never get that time with them back.

13. Every single trip to Nicaragua was unique and special. There are so many people in Bethel with whom I share incredibly happy memories, it would be impossible to name them all. But one family in particular, my family, I hold incredibly dear to my heart- The Gustavo family. I have been adopted in. I have the three most beautiful little sisters in the world, and my warm summer days spent with them will always and forever be my favorites. It’s been almost 4 years since I was last able to visit Nicaragua, pero les llevo en mi corazon siempre.
the three most BEAUTIFUL little sisters on this planet.

the three most BEAUTIFUL little sisters on this planet.

 

 

14. It was April 2013. Bibi and I were spending time together. We were just talking about ordinary stuff and he was teaching me Khmer slang. We had laughed so much our guts hurt, and then out of the blue he hugged me tightly and whispered, “you are my best friend.” I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

15. The day I met this wee one for the very first time.
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16. I remember very vividly sitting on the floor of my new dining room in Oakley, Cincinnati when my friend from nursing school, Becky, called me to tell me she had checked the status of our licenses and we were officially nurses. We had passed the NCLEX!! My mom and I were painting the apartment and getting me moved in. It seemed like everything was new and exciting at that time in my life. I loved my place in Oakley; I loved living in Cincinnati, and now I was finally a licensed nurse getting ready to start my dream job at Shriner’s Hospital for Children.

17. This was a pretty happy day.
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Posted in Real Life. | 1 Comment

Some Things I Just Don’t Get.

Every mother I have ever talked to has said that their children have different cries and they can distinguish whether this is a “hunger” cry or a “poop” cry or an “unhappy” cry. I am not a mother yet, but unfortunately, I believe I am growing increasingly more and more aware of the “abandoned” cry and the “completely frustrated” cry here in Cambodia. And it is growing increasingly hard to cope with the lack of parenting and love that I witness day in and day out. This week has been especially difficult. I feel like I have reached this point where I am waiving my white flag. “I just don’t get it, Jesus.” 

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I was in one of the poor communities on Tuesday as part of a clinic with my organization. I was cleaning wounds for the children in that neighborhood. There were two boys sitting near me on the wooden bench where I was cleaning and bandaging. One boy is about 12 years old, and his younger brother who was next to him is about 7 or 8. The 12 year old had a deep open gash above his elbow that I had just finished cleaning and bandaging. I was working on the 7 year old’s foot wound, and not too far from us was a little little guy about a year or so sitting completely naked on the ground crying. It was the “abandoned” cry. I could tell he just wanted someone to come, pick him up, and cuddle him, which I had planned to do as soon as I was finished with the 7 year old’s wound. As I was cleaning, the boys’ mother approached us, and I soon learned that the crying little one was their littlest brother. She demanded that the 12 year old get up and go get some pants for the baby. The 12 year old stared straight ahead and didn’t say a word; didn’t even acknowledge that she had spoken. His eyes were hollow and his expression- complete numbness. She made a passive aggressive remark and then turned to the 7 year old and demanded the same. The 7 year old just turned to the older brother for advice or approval, but he continued to look forward expressionless. And the 7 year old didn’t answer; didn’t move. The woman then proceeded to hit the 12 year old hard on the shoulder and the 7 year old just as hard across the back of the head. She turned to go, and I looked back down to the wound that was half dressed, thinking the storm had passed. But then I was startled; my heart rate instantly jumped at the sound of the loudest crack as the mother’s hand landed hardest on the back of the littlest guy sitting on the ground. His cries turned to full on sobs as tears flooded from his eyes, and she walked away indifferently. I was frozen, my heart racing. Soon the older sister came with pants and dressed the little one and picked him up, and he stopped crying. But for those two or three frozen moments his screams broke the air and shattered my heart.

Then on Wednesday we were in a different poor neighborhood. I was at the pharmacy table giving medication to those who had just been evaluated by our doctors. When I heard the cries of a little one about 4 or 5 years old. She was holding three balloons before, and now I could see only two- one must have burst; the reason for her tears. One of the older women of the community, about 60 or so, thought it was funny to laugh at the child’s misfortune and when the child would not stop crying she picked up a brick and started chasing the child, grabbing onto her should and pretending like she was going to whack her on the back of the head with the brick if she didn’t stop crying; chiding and laughing at the child the whole time. Panic, fear, and shock hit my system all at once and with a racing heart, I yelled at her in Khmer, “Auntie, stop it, put the brick down. PUT IT DOWN. THIS IS NOT FUNNY. YOU DO NOT TEASE  A CHILD LIKE THAT. THAT IS NOT PLAYING!! IT IS NOT FUNNY! STOP IT!” I sat trying to compose myself and trying to understand what I had just witnessed. How is this seen as funny or okay?! This is not okay!! How is it that my team members and colleagues didn’t even think this was odd or shocking?!  The shock lingered in my heart and over my head. Several minutes passed before my heart rate steadily began to slow down.

I sit here writing this just to get my emotions and thoughts on paper, but I still have no answers. I still feel shocked. I have no idea what to think. I am dumbfounded. The shock still lingers. I have no idea what to do with what I have seen. I have no idea how to process it further or what the solution is. There are some mindsets which are so depraved yet so deeply rooted. . .

I have never been so deeply dependent on Jesus for everything- my hope, my sanity, my peace- as I am here in Cambodia. Outside of Him I have no answers . . . nothing makes sense.

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How do we protect and preserve the innocence of these precious little ones?

Posted in Life in Cambodia | 3 Comments

The “Mosts” of my 20’s: Difficult Things I have Walked Through

1. The death of my grandfather- Still to this day, the greatest tragedy of my short 30 years. My grandfather was one of my very best friends.

So many of my favorite childhood memories include him-

Waking up on Sunday mornings to find that a box of one dozen donuts had magically and mysteriously appeared on our door step . . . every Sunday without fail. (my grandfather lived 25 minutes away and woke up early just to make the delivery);

He would hook up this thick belt to the boom of his crane, which sat in the back yard (he was a construction worker) and we would then sit in the belt and he would raise us up, and swing us around and we would pretend we were flying;

He would pull us into the living room floor with a small orange foam ball in his hand. He would make us get down “nose to nose,” and then, “One, two, hut, hut, hike!” He would throw it up in the air to himself, once caught he would charge forward. We would have to tackle him and get the “football” and run it back to the other end, aka the entertainment center before he reached his goal line, aka the piano bench;

Driving lessons in the parking lot of my middle school on Sunday afternoons started when I was about 5 or 6 years old; I learned to drive lots of things at a young age: cars, tractors, motorcycles, golf-carts.
It was just part of going to Pa’s house in the summer;

Pancho and Lefty; Cracker Barrel breakfasts; watermelon seed spitting contests and homemade ice cream;
rolling oranges on the countertop until they were soft and squishy, then shoving straws in the center and sucking all the juice out of them; 

Sunday afternoons at the play ground and then ice cream runs to Caroline’s Dairy stop- my grandfather’s favorite was a pineapple milkshake, and I remember one day he tried my “Nerds” blizzard. He made the most horrific face and complained- something about “breaking your teeth on those things!” 

The memories go on and on. I also remember the day when I got the early morning phone call. At that point everything was still so ambiguous, but I needed to pack a bag to come home. My father arrived at my college in TN at about noon. I was already sitting on the front steps of my residence hall waiting for him when the van pulled up. He sat with me on the steps as he told me about the events of the last 24 hours. His words hit my ears and fell to the ground lifeless. I couldn’t make any sense of what he was saying, “Dad, what are you saying?!” . . . long pause. Tears welled up in his own eyes, “I am so sorry Kristen, but your Pa is going to die today.” Nothing but sobs escaped my lips as I melted into his ready arms. Silent tears dripped continuously from my eyes as we made the five hour journey back to Ohio. My Pa didn’t die that day, but rather held on for three more days as my family camped out in the ICU waiting room. It wasn’t until 2am on Friday morning August 27th, 2004 that we were all gathered around his bed singing Amazing Grace and ushering him into eternity.

Even writing this the tears are flowing and there is so much about that day and the years spent with my Pa that seem just like yesterday. It’s hard to believe it has almost been 10 years since he left us to be with the Lord. I don’t know if the loss felt ever lessens . . . it doesn’t seem that way.

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2. My resignation from Shriners and feeling like I had failed as a nurse. 

3. Rape- All I can say about this is that thankfully, I was drugged, so I only remember glimpses, flashes, bits and pieces. I remember sounds and voices, but see no faces. Physical pain registered, but gracefully all other senses and emotions were deadened.

4. Moving to Cambodia and the year 2012- period- I don’t know how to even begin describing my first year in Cambodia except to say it was the hardest year of my life. God allowed me to be stripped completely of all things that my identity could have been hidden in. I learned dependence on him and him alone in a whole new, painfully beautiful way. I learned that he is my justifier, and he will fight for me. I learned the power of silence- silencing myself before the Lord, and keeping silent in the presence of others too. Even through all the trials that could have made me throw my hands up, and send me packing- a sense that Cambodia is home settled deep in my heart (even long before I met Bibi) and made it possible to persevere.

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5. Doubting the goodness of my own heart and who I am as a person- As I said in a previous post- who I am today (who we all are today) is a result of three things: 1. The words we speak about ourselves; 2. The words others speak about us; 3. The words we speak about others. Part of the reason that 2012/ my first year in Cambodia was so difficult was because of the WORDS others spoke about me. The power of life or death are in the tongue and there were some words from 2012 that produced death in me like: Doubt- I began to doubt the goodness of my heart, my purpose, my gifts, and my relationship with the Holy Spirit. Anxiety- I grew dysfunctionally anxious in situations where I met new people. I felt that I couldn’t be myself because who I was was not good. Fear- I was constantly fearful of how people were perceiving and receiving me, I was walking on eggshells ALL THE TIME with EVERYONE, constantly second guessing myself. A lack of self-confidence loomed over my head like my own personal rain cloud that followed me everywhere. That is a very difficult place to be in. But thankfully the Lord is faithful, and for every wrong word spoken, God brought others alongside me with true authority to speak the right words into my life, truth words.

6. Doubting that I actually hear the voice of the Lord- In John 6:63 Jesus says, “The words I speak to you are spirit and life. . . ” If the words Jesus speaks are truly life, then I cannot think of anything more death-producing in our lives than believing that you cannot hear those words of life- and that is where I was in 2012. I had to relearn that I do hear the Lord’s voice. I had to relearn how to trust the things that I hear him speaking.

7. Getting my heart broken by the first guy I ever fell in love with- I remember his words so clearly resonating in my ears, “One day I am just going to be this little blip on the road map of your life . . . ” he said as he so flippantly dismissed the season of life that we shared together. For me, for years down the road, it was more than that, much more. I have no doubt in my mind that when we parted ways, he kept moving forward without looking back. I was indeed a blip. But for me it took years to get over the heartache I felt and the loss of a dream that seemed like it was becoming such a reality.

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8. The night of my college graduation with Heather and Brandi and the morning after when reality sunk in . . . 

9. Distorted body image and the disordered thinking/eating that followed- When I was in the very thick of this season in life, it didn’t matter what anyone told me- “You’re so skinny.” “You’re beautiful.” “You are this,”  “You are that,”- I believed what I believed. I was never outside a normal weight for my height, but I believed I was unattractive. When I was a size 4, I believed I was beautiful. When I started gaining weight, I no longer believed this. Fitting back into my $300 designer size 4s became my life’s obsession. Looking back on this season now from a place of freedom, I see how distorted my thinking truly was. I was a slave. Living that way was difficult and life-sucking. Breaking free of that thinking was a very long and difficult process; one that was only accomplished through a work of the Holy Spirit renewing my mind. I never want to go back to that place; that place where I believe the lies of Satan over the Truth of God; that place where my outer attributes become a god exalted on the altar of my life instead of the One True God. That sort of idolatry only leads to death.

10. Losing some very important friendships as a result of foolish and immature decisions I made.

Posted in Real Life. | 1 Comment