Sunday, 29 April 2012

Simple Love

Tonight we went out for dinner on the Riverfront of Phnom Penh. The Riverfront is a high tourist area, so there are often lots of kids on the street begging and selling books, scarves, and wristbands. As we were walking along tonight, a few kids came along and asked me to buy some things. I started speaking to them in basic Khmer asking their name and age and where their families were. Soon enough, these kids started trailing along behind me.

My two kids turned into a group of five kids between the ages of 5 and 12. Most said that their families were at home. Only one of the kids was attending school. These kids are all out until late hours of the night trying to sell items to foreigners. They are at huge risk of trafficking or abuse out on the streets at this time of night. At an age where they should be being protected and nurtured by parents, they are instead fending for themselves and bringing home the daily income. And for most of them, this is the only life they have ever known.

So as I walked along with my trail of kids behind me, chatting to me and holding my hands, I was reminded of the simplicity of love. For these kids it was just someone to not turn their eyes away, but for someone to stop and simply ask who they are as an individual. They were someone with a name and age and story, rather than just another kid on the streets trying to haggle you to buy something. For that moment, these kids had an identity. And for that moment, someone actually cared.

Love is not always extravagant acts. Sometimes it is simply being there, language barriers and horrible environments aside. Sometimes love is just basic human connection.

These kids trailed me for a good five minutes. And then we walked past a restaurant full of foreigners and they all got to work, mingling among the tables selling to tourists. These kids had to make their living so they had something to take home to either their parents or their begging pimps.

It's easy to ignore the faces, to see just another kid. It's also easy to become overwhelmed and have no idea of how to help when this problem is so pervasive in this nation. But sometimes it is a smile, a simple question, a short walk holding their hands and listening to their stories. Maybe those simple acts of love are a good start. They identify that child as someone; someone with a past and a future.

So I will continue to practice simple love, even if that is all I can do. I trust that this makes a difference for these kids, that they feel like they have an identity, if only for a moment. I trust that this simple act will not be forgotten. I trust that all my actions in this world count; that I am making a difference.

Be Still

Be still and know that I am God.

Those are the words that broke me during church this morning.

I am a control freak. I like answers. I need answers. The unknown is scary and seemingly unsafe. To be still is to let go of expectations, of the need for answers, of the ability to control. It is to let go and give control to a being who I know through stories and experiences but that I have never ever sat with face to face. It is maybe having questions unanswered, and being able to live with the fact that they are not answered.

It is trusting the unknown. It is extreme vulnerability.

To be still, to give up this control, is to be completely vulnerable. It is putting complete trust in someone other than yourself.

I'm not good at doing this. I'm terrible at it actually. I fight against it as hard as I can. I try to beat vulnerability away with my giant control stick and tell myself that I'm protecting myself. When really all I'm actually doing is shrinking away behind my walls that I put up.

I fight against mystery, unknown, being out of control. But isn't that what faith is? Isn't it the mystery and the unknown that makes faith what it is? Trust in a higher power. Hope that there is more than this.

Brene Brown said this:
"I trust neither the scientists nor the theologians who say we must choose between science and faith. They've abandoned the heart of both - mystery and curiosity."
This is scary. And it's far from easy. It means giving up what I've strived towards - knowing, controlling, protecting. It's being vulnerable to hurt, yet also to love. It's opening ourselves up to something much bigger than ourselves - but it's the unknown of that something which makes it so very scary.

I wish I was one of those people who just accepted vulnerability and mystery and could live with that. I'm not saying I'm the opposite - that I have all the answers. I don't even like those people who seem to have all the easy answers. I think it's that I'm so aware about the mystery and unknown. I'm so aware of how that affects me, how vulnerable it makes me.

So I fight it. I kick and scream and battle. I hold onto control as hard as I can, even if it is just making everything worse. It is not until I'm at my lowest point that I finally cave into vulnerability, surrender, being still.

I wish I was one of those fast learners. An embracer. I'm not. As soon as I feel strong enough again I start to fight against it again, start to try taking back control. I am never still for too long.

I just hold onto the hope that one day I will learn and accept. That I will be able to conquer that fear of being out of control. That I will learn to trust beyond anything. I hope to learn to be still.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Twelve hours in Cambodia

It's so hard to try give a glimpse of Cambodia to those who have never been. There is truly nothing to compare it to - life here is so far removed from life in Australia. Alas I shall try give a glimpse into 12 hours of my Cambodia adventures.

Last night a wedding was happening directly outside my window. Now instantly in your minds you are thinking 'aww how lovely'. Wrong. Weddings in Cambodia are pretty much giant tents which they set up blocking off a whole street. They bang around and construct it all day and then around 6pm the celebrations start. There is loud Khmer music, dancing, yelling, speeches. Now I'm not even sure how to describe Khmer music to those who have never experienced it. But I'll give it a shot.

It's terrible. Like the 'my eardrums are about to commit suicide' kind of terrible. Worst. Music. Ever.

So this was the music that was blasting into my room (and pretty much our whole building) last night. You know those moments when you need to laugh or else you will cry? Well last night was similar. But more of an 'if you don't giggle and dance you will scream' kind of moment. So that's how I ended up dancing around my room to the worlds worst music instead of sleeping. It was awesome. And weird. One of those only in Cambodia moments.

And now this morning I find myself on a bus to Kep (a beach meets forest kind of place). I'm calling it my mini eat-pray-love weekend. And I'm going to get a tan so I'm not the pastiest person in all of Cambodia. Best weekend ever.

So I jump on this bus and get a seat (which is quite fortunate considering the amount of people who are left standing for the 3-4hr trip). My allocated seat is right up the front of the bus so I jump on thinking yay I'm going to have a great view of the beautiful scenery!

I did get scenery views. And it was beautiful. However I'm unsure if I ever want to travel on a Cambodian bus ever again. Sitting front seat also meant I saw how we were driving. I stil don't know how anyone hasn't died this whole bus trip. Now everyone here tells me that I'm insane riding in traffic because I'm the person who will just head out in the road on my pushbike and zigzag my way between the traffic until I get to the other side whilst everyone else waits for a gap in the traffic and prays I don't get hit by a car. They say I'm an insane driver, I say I'm a creative driver. We've agreed to disagree.

But this bus driver is way beyond creative! He is just plain suicidal... Or homicidal. I'm still not sure. Because we're the biggest thing on the road pretty much everyone just needs to give way to us, so he just honks his horn and barges his way through anything! I still don't know how we haven't hit anyone head on yet. Next time I'm totally requesting a seat near the back where I can't see anything.

So I'm going to spend the rest of the trip with my iPod blocking out the Khmer pop music in the bus. And then I shall arrive at Kep and get all relaxed and tanned and ready to head back to the city.

And now I'm not sure how to end this blog post. But I guess I can just say that this is only a 12 hour peek into my life and that 12 hours finished at a weird time with no ending. Sorry about that.

Disclaimer: I am an awesome driver. So don't freak out parental unit. And also I haven't heard of any bus crashes in Cambodia yet. So I think I'm pretty safe. Mum just take a few deep breathes and remember that I'm great at looking after myself. And staying alive.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

How perfectionism is trying to ruin my life...

When I started out on this journey of wanting to be authentic and wholehearted and blah blah blah it was much more sunshine and rainbows. In my mind I would just skip along, tell a few people some honest things which they would smile at and then skip along beside me. My fantasy potentially even involved fluffy puppies riding on the backs of unicorns.

I really like that fantasy.

But as it turns out, the journey is much more difficult. It's hard and it actually takes effort. And although I will admit that I do actually occassionally skip (only because it's impossible to feel sad after skipping), most of the journey towards authenticity is more like pulling myself along by my hair, screaming at myself about how remaining hidden and protected felt so much more safe and comfortable.

That's how I see the journey anyway. I'm hoping others see it that way too... Otherwise you probably all think I'm nuts and are attempting to now get me involuntarily committed.

So amongst this journey I ended up having a facebook chat with a wonderful friend. She started the conversation by asking how my wholehearted adventures are going. This was my reply:

"You know the whole journey towards wholeheartedness and awesomeness and being an incredible person... Well I just want to skip the journey and get there already... Unfortunately the rational side of me tells me that's impossible and the journey continues on... But currently I'm just living in hope that I can skip 20 years or so and be perfect."

And that's when I realised that perfectionism is actually trying to ruin my life.

I can't do this journey if my aim is to be perfect. Because I will fail and fail and fail until I can't keep going anymore. I'll get so discouraged that I'll probably end up curled up in the fetal position in a corner with some orange dark chocolate and some pineapple fried rice (my comfort foods).

Perfectionism actually stops me from achieving. Because the goal is impossible. And it keeps me shut off from others because all I want to show are the bits that aren't flawed. And we all know that there aren't all that many bits...

I still have my love-hate relationship with human-ness. It kills me that I fail. I hate that I can't be perfect. I hate that the world isn't perfect. And I begin to wonder how a perfect God could be surrounded by all of this imperfection.

So I'm trying to search for the beauty in imperfection, the connections within pain, and the moments of skipping within times of not knowing how to go forward. Somehow I want to embrace this journey and all it entails. I want to embrace being vulnerable. I want to be known.

And within the moment of feeling discouraged about the journey I was reminded of this: Even if I am being authentic with just one or a few people, I am progressing, I am on my way to being vulnerable and wholehearted. I'm getting there.

This isn't a microwave journey - I can't be finished in two minutes and cooked to perfection and authentic and wholehearted for all to see. It's one step at a time. One moment of vulnerability at a time. Small, yet huge, movements.


If any of you are reading this and have no idea what this wholehearted thing that I'm talking about is, you obviously have not yet been introduced to the awesomeness of Brene Brown. So watch this: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
And then see all my other blog posts with a Brene Brown tag. And then Google all of her other stuff and watch it too. And read her book. Seriously. Do it.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Suffering. Pain. Sacrifice.

Today is Good Friday. I wonder where that name came from. Because this day was never really good was it? Yes we can say that it is good because it is the day that Jesus died for us in order to give us freedom and eternal life. But on that day no-one was celebrating. Sunday had not yet come. Friday was mourning. Friday was suffering.

Friday was not the typical photo-shopped, beautiful looking Jesus calmly hanging there on a cross. Friday was blood, tears, agony. Friday was death, mourning, hopelessness. Friday was not celebration.

It makes me think of how often we try to look past the suffering. At funerals we are told to celebrate because our loved one is in heaven. When a tragedy happens, someone always finds a way to put a positive spin on it. Sometimes we're so focussed on healing people that we forget to recognise the agony that they are currently in.

But we suffer. We are human. Sometimes life hurts so bad that it's hard to see past that. And in that hurt it is empathy that I am usually seeking. It is someone to sit there, be there, sometimes not even having to say a word. In that place it doesn't usually help for someone to give me the positive spin, tell me that it will all work out for good. In that place it is someone trying to put themselves in my own shoes that always means the most.

I wonder what it is that makes our culture (and not only Christians) avoid the talk of pain, run from suffering. Yeah it hurts, but doesn't it hurt even more to be alone in it? Can't we help both ourselves and others with our voices? Sometimes 'me too' is the most comforting thing that anyone could ever say.

This post may seem quite melancholy - I've been told before that I think too much and it's depressing. But I see the suffering. I have felt the suffering. And to ignore that and ignore that in others is to foster loneliness within suffering. I can't do that. For myself or for anyone else.

I believe healing, freedom, and peace will come. But I also know pain. I see both. We need to see both. We are human. We hurt. Jesus wept.


Missionary?

Since being in Cambodia for almost a month, there have been numerous times in which I have been labelled a missionary. At first I was confused by this; I had never considered myself as a missionary. In my eyes I had a job which just happened to be in another country. I questioned that if the work that I'm doing here makes me a missionary, then the work I was doing in Australia could have given me the label of missionary too.

A couple of weeks ago I talked with a friend about this confusion I had regarding accepting the title of a missionary. His reply was "let's just call you a foreign aid worker then". I said "that will do".

Since this conversation though, I've been thinking about this missionary title. Yes the job I'm currently doing does have a lot of different challenges to doing something similar in my home country. Here I am away from friends, family, and society as I have known it my whole life.

Are these extra challenges on top of the work what makes me a missionary? Is it that my church has sent me? What distinguishes me and my role from someone in Australia outworking their faith in the mission fields of social work, business, teaching, etc.

Is it that we can be missionaries wherever we are, in whatever fields we are in? Is it a posture of the heart rather than a 'position'. I find it hard to make that distinction. I don't know if there is a purpose for the label of missionary - if making that distinction is useful. Maybe it would be better for us all to have that label in whatever profession we are in.

So for now, let's just say I'm working in Cambodia... A foreign aid worker if you want.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Weekend in Vietnam

I had a long weekend this week so took a $12 bus and travelled to another country - into Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore Vietnam. What I didn't realise was how refreshing it would be and how much like a holiday it would be.

I spent the weekend with my cousin who lives in Ho Chi Minh and stayed in his apartment. It was the smallest of things that were refreshing and exciting - being able to brush my teeth using tap water, flushing toilet paper, having a real shower - all the conveniences of the west that I have been missing in Cambodia.

And then there was the fact that my phone was not working. And Facebook is also not accessible in Vietnam due to their communist government blocking it. And I was also completely unaware of time, having no plans, no schedule, no deadlines. I relaxed and wandered and immersed myself in the culture of 'Asia time'.

And the I just took in the greenery of the city. The district where I was staying was full of trees and plants and the beauty of nature. Compared to Phnom Penh with its dirt and dust and almost no greenery, Ho Chi Minh was a beautiful sanctuary. I sat and watched and breathed in nature. Refreshing and beautiful.

But I did not fall in love with Vietnam like I did with Cambodia. It was an amazing place and I will definitely visit it again, however it did not capture me, draw me towards it like Cambodia did.

It refreshed me. It gave me a holiday, a weekend away. However by the end of the weekend Cambodia was calling me back. I was ready to go back. There is something about Cambodia that draws me there, something that not even Vietnam's beauty could surpass. It is home.