Monday, May 30, 2011


I had mentioned several posts back about this new idea that I have been pondering for the past weeks, the thought of thankfulness.  I recently read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a book about learning how to be thankful.  When I was told about the book I was not that interested because quite frankly I was tired of reading Christian self-help books on "how to pray" or "how to be thankful."  I just wasn't interested.  Well it was over Khmer New Year that I read the book, and thought, "what the heck I am going to a beach I might as well read it."  The book was transformational.  I haven't read a book in a long time that has had such a lasting impact on me.  This book has changed my mindset.

The theme of the book is the question, "Is the height of my joy dependent on the depth of my thanks?"  The more I read of this woman's journey to find thankfulness the more I agreed that we find joy, true joy, when we become fully grateful people.  People that are thankful for the small things in life, and not just the things you go around the table at Thanksgiving saying you are thankful for--family, friends, your home, your health.  But begin to be thankful for the everyday mundane things, the things you pass on the street everyday you drive to work.  As I read the book I started to see the world in a new light, seeing the beauty of all the plant and flower shops on the road to Chris' school, the beautiful scarf that covers almost every older women's head, the bright red wall we painted in our living room.

Then came the next mindset shift...Could I become someone that is thankful for the bad, ugly, painful, and evil things of the world?  When life strikes you down, could I still give thanks?  One close friend of mine who also read the book said, she looks at this idea of a life of gratitude as a way to prepare your heart for when life really falls in the dumps.  That as we change the way we see people, places, situations, that maybe we are preparing ourselves for those hard times that everyone knows comes at some point.  Could I look at my thoughts of missing home, the constant stress of finances, or the difficulties in grocery shopping as something I could be thankful for?

The author challenged herself to write down a running list of 1,000 things (or what she calls gifts) she is thankful for.  I was also inspired by this idea to challenge myself into looking at life through a new lens.  At first 1,000 seems like that would be easy.  Well, I have been writing down my list for about a month now and I am somewhere near 200, and see that this challenge is going to take me many years of training my eyes and my heart to see the world differently.  But in one short month I have quickly realized that living in gratitude or thankfulness is a better place to rest your thoughts.  I have begun to see my days, my struggles, and even life totally differently, each day is a day worth being thankful for no matter how terrible it seems. 

To answer the original question, I do think the height of your joy is dependent on the depth of your thanks.  I am always telling Chris when I (or we) face something that seems incredibly difficult or challenging we have to choose joy, because it is too easy to get frustrated, angry, or bitter here, and I want to constantly choose joy no matter what it is.

The author then ends the book in talking about the word Eucharisto, coming from the roots of joy, grace, and thankfulness.  The same roots we get for Eucharist, or communion.  She recalls the story of the Last Supper when Jesus broke bread and poured wine and told his disciples, "whenever you partake in this do it in remembrance of me."  He then gave thanks.  The night before His crucifixion, He gave thanks.  Now that sets the stage of how to truly be living in gratitude.  His life and teachings were full of thanksgiving. Can I do this, be thankful in all things, and not just thankful for all things?  To be thankful while they are going on?

One of my favorite quotes is how she describes the hard things in life, "I wonder too..if the holes in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see. To see through to God. That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave".

Needless to say, I would highly recommend the book to anyone who is inspired by the idea of finding deeper joy in their life, and discovering a lifestyle of gratitude.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Winners and Losers, Pt. 3

I love the winners/losers format, so much so that my only contributions to this blog seem to be in that structure. Efficient, organized, concise - that is winners and losers. Here we go.

1) The Last Days of School

Finals begin this week and I am in good shape. I have learned how to end the school year in a manner that does not make me lose sleep at night. In my first couple of years of teaching, my finals grading and report card misery was often compounded by piles of belated grading and late work. No more! I am a man in control of my own destiny, small amounts of grading, updated gradebooks and an empty grading bin... beautiful!

My extracurricular responsibilities at Logos are also finished. I am the junior class homeroom teacher and we were responsible for throwing an end of the year celebration for the senior class called, ready for a moment of brilliance, Banquet. It was a night full of delicious food, dancing, videos, singing and 100+ degree temperatures. However, the event was held right on the bank of the Mekong at one of Phnom Penh's most elegant hotels and the whole thing was wonderful! Now it is time to run down the clock and take a knee, time is almost up on my 4th year teaching. Wow.
2) American Idol
The only thing I do not like about American idol is that it makes Leanne cry every week. We had never watched the show before but we are avid followers now. Perhaps it is Scotty's smooth, deep voice, Lauren's innocent country spunk or the fact that our only other option is the BBC or Hollywood movies dubbed over in Khmer or Chinese. Whatever the case may be, we are idol fans and it has made Thursday nights feel more like home than I would have ever imagined.

3) Khmer
Last time I did winners/losers, I put the Khmer language as a loser. Now, it is a winner for sure. Leanne and I have learned all 33 consonants and 23 vowels. There are some more vowels to learn but we are able to read simple phrases and words. Last week I went to a bookstore and almost bought a book called Josie and the Duck written in Khmer, which is probably at a kindergarten level. However, it was much too difficult for me to read at this point. Perhaps at the end of the summer I can make it all the way through a picture book. Dream big.

4) Weekends
When we were in the States, Leanne and I loved our weekends. We would carve out a few hours here and there to ride our bikes, go get coffee or go out to dinner. In Cambodia, weekends are like real mini vacations. Saturdays typically consist of hanging out with some friends, taking a mid-morning nap, going out to eat and watching a new pirated movie. Sundays are even lazier, with Granola pancakes, coffee, Johnny Cash, church and naps making up the bulk of our days. We take our recovery time seriously around here, and we need it to make it through the losers!

5) Skype
Over the last few weeks, we have Skyped with family and friends around the world. Leanne's cousin's wedding in Quanah, Texas. Friends in D.C., Denver, Portland, San Francisco, Albuquerque and Guatemala and short chats with people that just want to say hello. I cannot imagine what living abroad would be like without Skype. Probably like Taco Bell before the Chulupa; good without but much better with the new creation.

1) The heat
Most people that have lived in Cambodia for some time assure us that this is the most pleasant hot season in the last decade. That may be the case for April and May as a whole, but the last five days have been oppressive. It is not that the daytime temps get too hot, it is not even the feeling of driving through a hair dryer on my way to work or home. It is the evening, when my body expects a cool down and nothing comes. The breeze stops, the temperature hangs and my sweat poors incessantly. 94 degrees at 9:40 at night is no bueno, but the rain has started to come and with that means cooler temperatures and far less dust.

2) Our little rat friends
Leanne and I live in a wonderful place. I am proud of our home, it is clean, comfortable, well designed and in a good area. However, we still cannot seem to kick our rat habit. Every few days one will scurry behind our tv, under our fridge and 007 itself behind the oven. No amount of banging, Raiding, yelling or poking will get it out. We bought two new traps today and I am sure that I will be in the business of drowning more rats soon, but until then, I am sure that our new roommate will wake me up tonight when it is running around or floors and counters.

3) Being an America in a Cambodian world
We are too big, particular and impatient for this country. Our kitchen is the size of a jacket closet so when I put dishes away I break at least one thing or ram my knee into a drawer or cabinet. I cannot handle the logic behind some drivers, the lack of customer service and the slow pace of interactions. However, these are boundary-expanders which are helping me learn about myself and the people I am working with. Cambodians and Americans are outrageously different and we are still learning how that looks in our lives, relationships and jobs.

There is a little glimpse into our lives. Cambodia is treating us well. I must go help Leanne kill mosquitoes in our apartment, after all, it is 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

This and That

I have been inspired by my friend Allie Pyles' blog about all her crafting projects and re-doing of chairs and such. So about 3 months ago I took on the project of creating a vanity for myself because bathrooms here don't have any drawers, cabinets, or anywhere to put things. So I began the search for finding an old desk, sanding it down, repainting it, adding on knobs, and distressing it.

I have never done anything like this before, but it made me really excited to have a hobby or a craft to do while out here. It was an adventure to say the least. Finding spray paint beyond the standard red, blue, black, or white was a several week challenge (and that is only one of many obstacles I faced). I also told myself I was not going to work on it unless it was a "fun" thing to do, I didn't want this to be a task, but rather a since of "getting away." So it took me about 2 months to finish, but I really like how the vanity turned out. You can't really see the antique look it has in the picture, but I do love it.

Then came the chair...I looked online for chairs I liked and printed off a few pictures to take to the lady who custom makes all our furniture. I knew I wanted the cushion to be built in so I had to go to the markets to look for fabric for the cushion. I looked for months and couldn't find what I wanted because the markets are filled with Asian looking fabrics (who would of thought right?) and I didn't want that. I even looked for some when we went to Singapore, but came up empty handed. I eventually bought a bag/purse I liked and had it cut up to make the fabric. So I sent it off to our lady asking for a petite, feminine looking white chair. I got close...but I am still happy.

It was a fun project to work on for the last few months, and I kinda want another one now. In the mean time I just have to figure out how to keep the rats and lizards out of the drawers. I am one eye shadow and hand cream down :(

On a totally different topic, above is a picture of our time last Sunday at the Khmer church in Prek Pneu. This is our 2nd time we have been to this church, and we always leave feeling blessed that these Cambodians so openly take us in to their service, hold our hands, give us kisses, and ask us to return. We look forward to the years ahead of build relationships with them. The picture is of me talking with the children with the help of the pastor, Sam Rach.

Lastly, here is a video from an organization here called Chab Dai, thats sole purpose is to help link all the NGOs in Cambodia working to end child trafficking to one united front. It is a great community of organizations that share resources, time, energy, people, and money. Asian Hope has gained greatly in being a part of this network. I am in the video for a short bit at the end. This is my claim to fame...about 600 people see this video so I guess my fame might be small. Really this is more for our moms out there :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Are you Kidding Me...Who are These Kids?

A few days back I had the opportunity to talk to Chris' 9th grade class at Logos about the work that we are doing in the community of Prek Pneu to help prevent children from being a trafficking victim.  I gave my little "talk" and then they asked some great questions to better understand how they could be a part of the solution.  However, this group of 9th graders had already done SO much, they had already become advocates long before I came to speak with them.  Spear-headed by a few amazing kids the class raised over $115 for the program and gave me an envelope full of cash as I was leaving their classroom.  With tear-filled eyes, I tried to express my thanks, and help them understand how far $100 goes in Cambodia.  Kids helping kids, it is amazing!

Then two days ago, they brought me to tears once again.  A few of the 9th graders are very musically talented and were asked to put on a small concert at a local burger joint.  They did their thing, and because of their singing skills, they received about $50 in tips from their performance.  Here is what they said to Chris, "well we wanted the money to go to something good, so can you give this to Mrs. Leanne for her project?"  WHAT?  Since when does a 9th grader not want to go buy Nike's at the mall, but rather give to a local ministry?  What 9th grader does that?  Again the tears come...I continue to think about when I was in 9th grade and how much money I spent on stupid stuff like clothes, CDs, and sunglasses, and here they are becoming major donors for Asian Hope! 

Who are these kids?  Well, I have come to one conclusion, they are kids who care.  Kids who want to see their own country change.  Kids who want to see the evils of the world be curbed.  Kids who live with a generous heart.  Kids who have changed my thinking.  I can't thank each of these 9th graders enough, but I hope you can join me in praying for this wonderful 9th grade class.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Good Days

Last Sunday was a great day for us here in Phnom Penh...we started off by going to our church (or the one we seem to attend the most) and then staying after to eat Pho (a yummy Vietnamese soup) with all the other folks from the morning.  Over the past 10 months we have grown and developed our community into one that we love.  A community that we can sit and eat Pho with for hours if the hot weather would only allow.  Then came the visit to another church for the afternoon...

Early last week, I got a call from the Vietnamese pastor, Hue, who Asian Hope has gifted money to in order to jump start his church in Prek Pneu to serve the Vietnamese people. He has finished the church "building" and now ready to open the "doors."  It is a modest facility of a cement floor, a wood planked roof, no walls, and 15 new desks that can hold 30 or so kids.  He invited myself, Chris, Tom (my boss) and his family to the opening prayer for the church/school that will serve many wonderful Vietnamese children.  So at 2:00 in the afternoon (when the sun is at its peak) we drove over to Prek Pneu, and got there just in time to hear the children singing their first song.  The afternoon was filled with songs, a few thank you speeches, snacks, and lots of smiles all around the room!  It was amazing to stand there on that dusty floor and watch Chris teach kids how to flex their muscles, while Tom and I tried to express our excitement about this church opening.  I am still dwelling on the thought of how blessed we are to be here and be a part of these ministries.  We prayed, laughed, gave hugs, and left with grins on our faces as we know amazing work is going to be done in that church over the course of many years.

We then ran some errands around the city, and got them all done!  And in record timing.  We celebrate the small victories, and this one was a victory!  I can only hope this Sunday will be as good as last Sunday...

Enjoy your weekend!
(The above pictures are: the children sitting in their new desks, pastor Hue talking, my encouragment speech to the kids, children during the opening prayer, and the video is one of the many songs from the afternoon.)