Blessings, Sacrifices & Horse Manure

I hesitated before I titled this blog but it just stuck in my mind so I decided to go with it ūüôā

It’s a lovely Saturday morning here in Cambodia. ¬†There’s a cool breeze which has been lovely. ¬†The cooler weather starts at the end of November and lasts until about mid-to-end of February.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block. ¬†There’s no shortage of things to say and perhaps, maybe, that is why I’ve struggled to put things into words the last couple of months.

I wanted to share a little story with you though. ¬†I don’t know if it will be as profound to you¬†as it was to me; one’s own¬†revelations seldom are, but I will try anyway and hope that the essence of it will speak loud enough.

I have always loved horses. ¬†I grew up in a horse family. ¬†My siblings and I spent our childhood on horseback, gallivanting all over the countryside. ¬†It was bliss. ¬†It was freedom. ¬† ¬†It was hard work. ¬†Horses were not a luxury for us; they were a lifestyle. ¬†We mucked stalls and hauled water buckets and tended¬†injuries. ¬†I thought I would always be a horse person. ¬†It was in my blood. ¬†I thought I would carry on in the family business and ride and teach for a living. ¬†I actually couldn’t imagine any other life.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how that did not come to pass. ¬†It was very difficult at times but somehow I came out the other side satisfied and fulfilled and not regretting anything. ¬†Save for one thing.

Our move across the world meant that my children would not have those hazy, summer days on horseback; slogging around the farm, learning the value of the outdoors, of caring for an animal, of hard work.  It was all those things from my childhood I remembered so fondly.  The smell of horse in your hair, pieces of hay stuck in your clothes, bone tired from working outdoors all day.  It burned in my chest a little but I knew the sacrifice and I knew where God was calling us.

We spent our first year in Cambodia without ever seeing or touching a horse. ¬†Oh there was lots to discover and a new life to carve so the absence wasn’t really noticed. ¬†That life was no more. ¬†Or so I thought.

Two weeks ago we met a French/Khmer man who is the landlord of a house that we are looking to rent.  He wanted to meet our family so invited us to a BBQ at his house which is about 5 minutes away from both the house we currently live in and the house we are hoping to move to.

While there, he asked us to take a walk around the grounds.  He owns several parcels of land that are all connected.  As we are walking, we notice that there is horse manure on the ground.  Surprised, we asked him about it and lo and behold, he has two horses and a little barn out back in one of the adjoining properties.  You can imagine the horse talk that went on for a while after that as my sister Scarlett, who runs the family horse business back home, was also with us.

Our new friend admitted that he enjoys horses but doesn’t really know much about them. ¬†He also went on to say that he wants someone with knowledge to come out and teach some of the kids in his neighbourhood about horses and how to ride. ¬†Mr. V, I will call him, has a big heart and a big love for his country. ¬†Some of the kids in his neighbourhood, too poor to continue to go to school, need something to occupy their time and give them some purpose. ¬†Already, Mr. V has put aside some land and cleared a volleyball court and riding area for the kids to use.

So guess who is now teaching riding lessons twice a week?!

I really wanted to add a huge line of exclamations to that last sentence!

First, I want to point out how unusual it is to find riding horses ANYWHERE in Cambodia (save for a few ranches spread far & wide around the country that do horseback riding for tourists).

Second, most horses are in the provinces.  Not a 5 minute drive from the edge of town.

And lastly…..isn’t our God so good? ¬†I hope it doesn’t seem too trivial from the outside. ¬†This was a desire that I had; that my kids would be able to have all the benefits of being around the farm and around horses, and I had resigned myself to the fact that that was something that we were leaving behind. ¬† Seriously. ¬†Blown. ¬†Away.

And the best thing about it is that even in this small, seemingly unimportant thing…God will be glorified. ¬†This is an amazing opportunity to build relationships in this community.

It drove home to me again that our Father, the creator of the Universe, the One who put the stars in place….He cares about the small things. ¬†He sees our hearts. ¬†He knows our desires. ¬†And He cares. ¬†It’s such a little thing; probably even a little baffling to others and not even something I would outwardly talk about but my God….He cared.

Oh, and Mr. V said we could come out any time to ride ūüėČ

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Happy New Year!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and since I’ve had a bit of writer’s block this past month…here you go ūüôā

Hope Family Christmas party

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Christmas celebration at Sen Sok village

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Pizza party at Teen Challenge centre

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New Christmas Eve tradition – building a nativity

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Christmas morning

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Christmas celebration at Teen Challenge men’s centre

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SreyRoat, the onsite director at Teen Challenge women’s centre, and her son David

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It would not be Christmas in Cambodia without a dance…or two….or three!

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Little friends

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Checking out the countryside at the centre

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Daddy and the kidlets

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Malee

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Photobomb by Nene

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Birthday party on New Year’s Eve

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Evie wasn’t so sure about sitting on Yiay’s lap

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Pic with the birthday boy, his mom, and great-grandmother

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Chad & Hun

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Sharing some special time with Nana

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Fun in the sun with Clicker

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Happy Anniversary!

We have officially been in Cambodia for one year today! Most of you following along with us have shared in the journey so I don’t need to go too much into details here but we wanted to share about a few things we have learned. Here goes:

1. People are not so different. Yes, there are definite cultural differences and world views but we’ve found that many of the things that people struggle with in Cambodia, are things that people also struggle with in North America. Relationships the world over require hard work and communication.

2. Christianity is not a North American religion. I’ll admit that I held this idea, albeit not consciously, but it has been truly, truly amazing to be a part of an international church with peoples from all the nations of the world that love God and so visibly seek His will. And how blessed we have been to develop relationships with Khmer friends who have a vision to see their country transformed by the hope that is in Jesus!

3. There is power in unity. This sort of ties in with #3. There are 144 NGO’s in Cambodia and that does not include the Christian organizations who have workers here. Our church is packed out every week and most of those people are NGO workers or missionaries…people who are serving the Lord here in Cambodia. Every week is emotional for me as we see the love that people have for Cambodia and the united desire to see God move here.

4. God does not stay inside of one denomination. This was always something we believed but as we answered the call to Cambodia, almost three years ago, it was one of the things that God spoke to our hearts the most. God took us to many different communities as we fundraised and never was it so obvious to us that we are all on the same side. Here in Cambodia, you are a believer. Not a protestant or a catholic, nor a pentecostal or an anglican. Just a believer. It is beautiful and good and right.

5. “Don’t do something for someone that they can do for themselves”. This is now our mantra. Every time we think of doing something or being involved in something, we say this to ourselves first. A lot of “doing” takes away the opportunity to allow nationals to be a part of their own solution; to “own” their own success. Simply doing without research, without understanding and prayer, and without relationship creates paternalism and dependence. Someday I will write more about this; I could write 50 blog posts including firsthand experience on this subject but instead I will encourage you, if you are interested in poverty alleviation and work in the humanitarian sector, to read “When Helping Hurts”.

6. I guess this is a good time to announce that you will probably not find us spearheading any new projects. We will definitely be a part of projects, they have their place and there is great need in Cambodia, but we have felt from the beginning that our role would be more relational and less physical. The reality is that in world missions there are national workers in every country that are capable of leadership and capable of vision. And like every leader, they need encouragement and support. This is where we come in. Our role is mentor, friend, advisor and the helping hand to see the dreams that God has put in the hearts of His people come alive. Now it’s a lot easier to write home about schools and wells and community centres than it is to write about conversations about marriage or advice given on raising up children or times spent in prayer with new friends but we hope those who know us will understand and will hear our hearts in this.

7. God is faithful. I saved the best for last and though it’s the most obvious, I am continually surprised at how often I need to learn this lesson. You may remember me writing about this about a year and a half ago. We were right in the thick of fundraising and though I wouldn’t change that experience for the world, at many times it was disheartening. I remember thinking we would never get to Cambodia. O ye of little faith! This year I experienced a trial of sorts and at one point I said “God, it’s impossible. It can’t be fixed” and God halted me right in that thought and reminded me that nothing is impossible with Him; that He will always come through if we put our trust in Him. Always. I‚Äôm a thinker by nature and I like to have answers but God is teaching me just to trust. Not overthink. Not problem solve. Just trust.

So there‚Äôs my short list of things learnt our first year overseas. Oh there are the cultural nuances and language peculiarities and the ins and outs of mission work but we have many years and many blog posts to cover those ‚ėļ

It wouldn’t be a proper anniversary post if I did not send out a huge thank you to friends and family who have supported us in finances and prayer. Words cannot convey the gratitude and humility we feel. Bless you.
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“Mwarriage, mwarriage is what bwings us twogwever twoday”.

Ok you’ve got me, I’m a huge Princess Bride fan. I loved it as a kid and love it even more now. Inconceivable, I know.

Let me start by confessing that I am not one of those girls that dreamt about marriage. I knew I would probably want to get married one day and I believe I even drafted at one point, a list of attributes I wanted in a spouse. You know, masculine, confident, sensitive, strong, giving, loyal, adventurous, hard-working, strong in their faith, altruistic, great sense of humour etc…etc..Oh I dreamt about the wedding don’t get me wrong! But that was as far as it went for me. I never, ever thought about what it would actually look like to spend my days, my life with another person.

The first thing I learned about marriage was that it wasn’t easy. Newsflash! But really, I hadn’t ever really thought about it and then confronted with the reality of having to live with this other person, to agree on where to put the couch and to share Christmas with two families was shocking! I remember sitting in the airport ready to embark on my honeymoon and staring at my new husband and wondering where my mom and dad were. I mean, could I really just get on an airplane with this stranger and go on a holiday?! Holidays were for family…and I wanted my family!

The first few years were sprinkled with good times and bad. Epic fights and wonderful firsts, heartaches and memories created. We rented our first apartment, got a dog, went to work and tried to figure out how to live our lives as a part of each other. We failed at that…a lot. We still thought independently of our marriage relationship; still wanted and did the things that WE wanted. I believe that was our first test of marriage – to learn to blend; to see the world and our decisions and our wants through the lens of togetherness.

It’s just now, nearly 10 years in that I am starting to contemplate marriage. Now….I actually want to be good at it instead of just surviving it. Maybe it’s because we have four sets of little eyes and little ears that watch our every move. Maybe it’s because at this time in my life I have seen enough friends go through the ringer trying to figure it all out. Or maybe it’s because in my new country, everywhere I turn, I have people telling me how difficult & broken marriage is and how very, very few ever stay completely intact.

Last week I sat across from a friend who admitted to me that she no longer wanted to be in her marriage and that if it wasn’t for her child, she would have left already. I felt really helpless. I mean, I knew what I was supposed to say at this point but I realized, I needed more. I needed to understand more. To know not only the right words but the real truths behind why it was better to stay and work at it than to throw in the towel.

The world says that a person cannot stay in an unhappy or loveless marriage. And the truth is, you can’t. It is unhealthy emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Unhappiness makes people do crazy things. One of the cries I have heard as I’ve read of people struggling is “why would God want me to be unhappy forever”. You can nearly hear the desperation in their virtual voices. The problem is that the world doesn’t believe that that loveless marriage can be restored. And really, who can blame them? On our own terms, it would be impossible to make it back from that place where so much pain and frustration and rejection has pushed a spouse.

It tried my faith to sit across from my friend as she poured out her heart. As I listened, I thought, it’s impossible! How can this be fixed!? It can’t be done! And then, like a proverbial lightning bolt, it hit me that I was underestimating the Doer of the Impossible! God CAN do the impossible! Does it happen in one prayer? No. Is it easy? Certainly not. But as we draw nearer to Him, we find clarity and we find strength.

Perhaps the hardest lesson that marriage has to offer is that the only person we can change in a marriage is ourselves. You hear things like “Well, my spouse did….” or “He just doesn’t understand…” or “She always does….”. As long as we are focused on what the other person is or is not doing we will never be able to move forward. Everybody loses in the blame game. The truth is that in a marriage breakdown, very rarely is one person completely in the right and another completely in the wrong. When we can accept and own the fact that there are areas that we need to improve in and areas that we need to grow in, I believe then and only then can we begin to make any headway in working through our marriage difficulties.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about grace. It’s something I have slowly learned to apply over the years not only in my marriage but in life in general. Most people are not just plain mean (though you might be tempted to believe this when he repeatedly throws his dirty socks inside out in the laundry). Often people act and react in less than admirable ways because of their own hurts and their own insecurities. Once you begin to view people, your spouse, in this light; you might be a little less quick to put on your boxing gloves and it might be just a tad easier to answer in gentleness.

So, there you have it. I’m not a marriage junkie. I read about four pages of ‘The 5 Love Languages’ (I might have even skipped straight to mine) and up until about 6 months ago, it had never really occurred to me that this area of our lives might be something that God would use to help others. After all, my marriage certainly isn’t and hasn’t been perfect. But as my friend confessed to me that she was so glad that she now had someone to talk to and assured me that she would try and incorporate some of the things I had gently suggested I realized that God can use even the simplest things, imperfect as they are.

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Family blog time….wanted to share some pics of the fam; we’ve decided to homeschool the kids and Thursdays are our “field trip day”. ¬†This Thursday we went to a wildlife sanctuary about an hour south of the city. ¬†IMG_6649

Checking out the sun bears

Checking out the sun bears

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The monkeys were the highlight for sure; they are free to wander and you can buy bananas to feed them which they will take right out of your hand. ¬†The kids were completely enthralled…except for Ethne.

After a monkey grabbed her shorts, Ethne was not so sure that she liked the zoo!

After a monkey grabbed her shorts, Ethne was not so sure that she liked the zoo!

Hanging out

Hanging out

Tigers!

Tigers!

It’s a little daunting to be responsible for your children’s education but it was something we knew was probably going to be necessary. ¬†Chad & I take turns doing the special projects; this was Chad’s turn:

Learning about things that grow

Learning about things that grow

We also celebrated Evie’s first birthday this month. ¬†It’s times like these that we really miss family and realize that our children are growing up without those close relationships. ¬†We consider ourselves very blessed to be a part of a great team though and¬†it eases the heartache somewhat.

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

Lovely cake courtesy of Ms. Lisa

Lovely cake courtesy of Ms. Lisa

The boys

The boys

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The Inside Scoop

So what is it like living as a missionary in a developing nation? ¬†I’ve been wanting to write a blog that highlights what life is really like for us here in Cambodia for quite some time. ¬†I’ve actually started it a few times but the subject is so vast that I get overwhelmed and put it on the back burner. ¬†So….I will now attempt to give an accurate picture of what it’s like for us and maybe even debunk a few myths along the way. ¬†Here we go!

First, life, in many ways, is not so different (at least it shouldn’t be). ¬†Regardless of where we live, as believers, we are to love our neighbours, care for the less fortunate in our cities, and be ready to give an account of why we believe what we believe. ¬†That, in a nutshell, is what we are doing here in Cambodia. ¬†The same thing we were doing in Ontario, Canada. ¬†To be real, I struggled when we first felt we were called to Cambodia. ¬†It’s not that I didn’t want to go but I felt we could serve where we were and that we didn’t need to move halfway across the world to live out the mission of God. ¬†And it’s true. ¬†You don’t have to. ¬†Mission happens right where you are. ¬†God eventually revealed to us that this was His perfect plan for our family and gave us peace that this was the right thing to do but I wanted to say all this to point out the fact that if we are living the way God wants us to live…than life serving overseas in a developing country shouldn’t look that different at all, spiritually, from life “back home”. ¬†

In any given day, we study language for a few hours a day with our tutor and than try and find time to study on our own. ¬†Chad goes to the cafe (a student ministry run by friends of ours that are also with the PAOC) a few times a week to chat with the students in English and build relationships. ¬†I go out to the Teen Challenge women’s centre to do bible study with the ladies and crafts with the kids. ¬†We go to Abraham & SreyRohm’s a few times a week to teach sewing and English. ¬†In between these times, we make it a point to do things together as a family and as a couple.

Practically speaking, we still have to wake the kids up for school, go grocery shopping, do homework, run errands & cook dinners. ¬†The biggest difference is that while it might take you an hour to go to the post office, pick up some things for dinner and pay the electrical bill…it takes us about four! ¬†Culture stress is a real phenomenon. ¬†We are continually grateful for the training we received in this area; it helps us to have a flexible attitude and to recognize when we need to take some time to de-stress.

We live in a house, not a mud hut, and we haven’t eaten grasshoppers….yet. ¬†We sleep on beds and have a pet dog; though our Khmer friends don’t really get it! Sometimes we don’t show patience with our children and sometimes we yell at each other. ¬†And we even struggle at times to put meaningful, personal time aside that we can spend with God.

Can I admit that I didn‚Äôt want to put that last line in? ¬†You see, even though we know we’re just ordinary people…there’s a pressure to be or to at least appear¬†extraordinary; to not let anyone know of your struggles. The truth is, we’re just regular people that are trying to be obedient to God. ¬†There’s a beauty in this that is unsurpassed. ¬†It’s all God. We are not here on our own merit at all.

Having said all that, I don’t want to downplay the incredible honour we feel to be a part of what we believe God is going to do in this country. And I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t take our role here seriously. Knowing that we are here for a purpose and that we have people around the world praying for us and supporting us is great incentive to be better, to strive harder. It is our prayer that God will continually mold us and shape us to be people that He desires us to be.

So that about sums it up. There’s still so much more I could share. The challenges. The testimonies. The thoughts. Another blog for another day. Thanks for reading!

He is Risen….isn’t He?

I really love Easter. ¬†I have fond memories of my mother dressing us up in our Easter finery; matching dresses, little white gloves, and sun hats. ¬†It was a tradition passed onto her from her mother and one I thoroughly enjoy (though my goal of making the girls’ dresses this year may not materialize). ¬†I remember the year my parents laid a jellybean trail throughout our farmhouse to lead us to our Easter baskets only to realize once we had awoken that the mice had eaten the entire trail!

I love that my kids always want to hear the Easter story.  There is no other story on earth that fills my heart with such unspeakable joy.  The awe of it never diminishes; no matter how many times I hear it.

So usually at this time of year I am busy sourcing out fun Easter crafts on Pinterest, stocking up on chocolate eggs and jellybeans for the kids’ baskets, searching everywhere for that perfect bow tie to match the girls’ co-ordinating outfits, going to the “Easter park” (a term coined by my children for the schoolyard near my sister’s that she uses to host her annual egg hunt), and looking forward to having a meal with the whole fam after church on Sunday and going for a walk to enjoy the promise of spring!

Things are a little different this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sad. ¬†This is our first Easter in Cambodia and saying that it is a non-event here is putting it mildly. ¬†No cute bunnies or chicks to decorate with, no stores with darling little dresses in pastels and spring-insprired prints (no spring for that matter!), no foil-covered chocolate eggs (though really, who in their right mind would use chocolate in an egg hunt in 40 degree weather). ¬†But more than that, there’s no Good Friday services to attend and this year, there will be no dinner at Nana & Clicker’s house followed by a lovely stroll through the woods and fields.

Here is an entire nation who for the most part, do not celebrate the single, greatest event in human history.  Considering the message, that is a REALLY sobering thought.

We will paint eggs this year and we will do some kind of hunt for something that doesn’t melt¬†because well…it’s fun…but the most important thing we will do for Easter this year is remember the message of the cross and the enormous impact it has to save lives.

Bought with the precious blood of Christ.