Reflections on ideals and reality and living overseas.

A Fiercehearted Woman, by Holly Gerth. I hung this poem up under my bathroom mirror then. Back in 2017. I was determined to learn the lines. To live the lines. To find my way through the lines. I committed to reading it daily. So it would somehow seep into me and then through me. Somehow I thought it might do that in 3 years time. But- today I read over them, and I sigh, a bit wearily. My ideals were high, and they seem to rather mock me now. I came to Cambodia a little bright eyed and bushy tailed. Knowing there would be hard things to face but believing things could be done. I didn’t know what was going to hit me. And that is a good thing. I quote Wonder Woman here- “I used to want to save the world… but I knew so little then.” Now that. That resonates.

There’s no way you can know what awaits you when you move half way across the world with a dream and a vision and a call. I didn’t know language study was going to be so hard. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. People told me that. But I didn’t know just how hard. I didn’t know that no matter how hard I would try to be positive about it, I would struggle every single day to go back to the classroom to continue stretching this brain of mine. It hurt. In every way. I didn’t know that I’d have a moto accident in my first year with not only myself on the moto, but also a little boy and a friend. I knew traffic was dangerous. But I didn’t know how a small accident can affect you for a very long time after. I didn’t know how hard it could be to be on crutches (in a city not made for crutches) for over 2 months as I waited for my leg to heal. I didn’t know that the darkness would take advantage of that time and literally envelope me. I didn’t know that having my phone snatched from my hand would affect me like it did. How I can still feel the tug of war we played for a long second before he forced my phone out of my grip and sped away. This country felt so merciless that night. I screamed after the phone snatcher while stuck in a rickshaw-taxi with my splinted leg. I cried hot tears and life felt so unjust. I knew that you can get sick when you move overseas, catching every virus foreign to your body. But I didn’t know how sick. I didn’t know someone could catch as many infections as I managed to catch. I didn’t know what dengue fever felt like. I didn’t know that I would feel like I lost my health here. I knew life might get a bit lonely at times overseas. But I didn’t know just how lonely. I knew it would take energy to live in the heat. But I didn’t know how much daily fatigue I would deal with. And it’s really good I didn’t know that all.

There’s a lot of other things I didn’t know as well. Things like relationships. I didn’t know how much I’d grow to love my community and neighbours. How they would become my friends and family. I didn’t know how welcoming people would be and how much they’d show their love and care. I didn’t know how attached you could get to little people who call at your gate every day, to ask if you don’t have just a little time to play? I didn’t know how much I would grow to love those skinny little arms wrapped around my knees in a tight hug. Or how my heart would squeeze tight when a little person calls out “cher” while running down the street with arms outstretched; reaching up for a little snuggle. I didn’t know how much Cambodia would change me. I somehow knew it would do that. But I didn’t know how deeply. I didn’t know that God would continue writing His call for me more clearly and firmly as I plodded through day to day life here. I didn’t know that I’d actually love English teaching. I didn’t know how much I’d miss those hours with my students, talking about everything from Malala to bullying to things of God. I didn’t know how much my students would teach me, their teacher. I didn’t know how much it would hurt when my friend’s dad passed away suddenly, and then about a year later another friend’s mom. I didn’t know how much a worldview can expand and grow, how things look different when you share cultures and experiences and life with others, and how you gain new perspective. I didn’t know how much darkness and evil I’d see up close. But in that darkness- I didn’t know how bright the Light would shine, pushing the darkness back, dispelling it, conquering it.

And as my fingers run over the worn paper, I skim over those lines again- and I wonder, maybe it did happen. Just not in the way I thought it might. These lines are certainly true. I’ve found love is risky- but it’s worth reaching out anyway. There are scars that tell stories. But I’d still go. I’d still do it. All over again. Differently maybe. I have looked life in the face, been defeated and told it that it wins. But it doesn’t. The story doesn’t end there. Being kind does take courage. Insane courage sometimes. Choosing gentle over strong is terrifying. Wrinkles in faces are victory lines and skinned knees do hurt.

I am grateful. So grateful. For the lessons I’ve learned. For the patience of my Father. For grace that carried me.

So. Is it worth it? Yes. Will there be pain and hard things? Yes. Will there be dark times? Yes. And in all of that, a deeper knowing of one’s self and one’s weaknesses and brokenness will happen. And through that a greater dependency on the Father grows. And so maybe I’ll leave it up a little longer, this poem, the paper warped from the damp humidity, the tape peeling away. I’ll keep chasing after the goodness of Jesus. I’ll keep seeking out beauty in unlikely places. And I’ll choose to keep believing that the Light does always win. We need it now in 2020 more than ever. Join me?

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