Saturday, 16 May 2015

sharing in humanity

I became a nurse because I loved people and wanted to help people.  I had this idea that I was going to help people out of the hardest times of their lives.  I think I subconsciously had rather valiant mind-pictures of lifting people up out of pits or something...?

What it has been, so far, is the least-valiant picture that I could conjure.  I’ve found nearly all words to be completely inept to respond to the life-breaking-downs that I have seen in hallways and behind curtains on the ward and even in the staff tea room.  And I have found so many of the breakings to be so sharp that no word of wisdom or strength of arm could help. 

As a newly-appointed operating theatre nurse, I have quickly found that I am working in probably the sharpest place of all.  It’s the thinnest line between life and death, where we daily celebrate miracles and ache for losses, one after the other.  The Op Suite is an enclosed, set-apart, beehive of frenetic activity full of people pretending they are not thinking about the enormity of what lies on the next bed to be rolled through the doors...

We come in in the morning and change into our pale-blue scrubs and don scrub caps to veil our hair.  As a team – nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists – we gather together for the day, little blue lemmings going about our day job.  We all know our roles and – when it’s good – it’s really really good.  It flows like a river; just so easy and faultless. 

And then other times it doesn’t.  Rarely because of the team and mostly because of the heaviness of life, the grimness of the world outside of those secure-lock doors... peoples’ teetering lives are wheeled into our rooms and our lives are indelibly flecked by them.  Even if we are not in the room and we don’t even see the blood or the mess or the heartbreak... it has happened to our people and we feel the happening.

I’ve always felt a little bit like I’m sinking under what I can feel other people are wading through.  To feel so deeply is a gift, I know... but often a difficult one to steward.  It is likely this very thing that makes me quite unable to reach down to grab someone out of their scary-place...

... but it has taught me to jump down there with them.  Sometimes I think I may just be falling in.  Probably face-first, because it feels bruise-y and painful and uncomfortable... but if that is what they are feeling, too, then it is worth it so they know they are not feeling it alone. 

Nursing has, so far, been a feeling of the very best and the very worst of humanity.  I have been hugged and yelled at and cried with.  I have seen a number of little ones take their first breath into outside-life, with big roaring lungs.  I have seen some slip quietly into the big sleep.  And I have seen others who have gone down fighting, and lost.  This full experience of humanity, near-daily... it’s exhausting and beautiful and an honour and I don’t know how long I can do it for and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Even if all I ever do is fall down into holes with people...  Even if my “speciality” just becomes sitting there in the dark places with my desperate and grieving team mates, with the one whose life changed with a single diagnosis, with the one who just lost their everything...

I’m starting to realise how very very hard this is and sometimes I would like to harden my heart and sometimes I would like to run.  But this life is the only opportunity that we have to share in the experience of humanity with those who walk beside us.  This is the only chance that we have to cry for people and to pray in desperation for them and to hold their hand when they think they are going to lose it. What a waste to become hardened; to run... and how tiring it is to be pulling people to where we are... but how humbling and powerful to let yourself fall – in all of the exhaustion, all of the confusion, all of the heartbreak – and land next to the one who just needs somebody to be exhausted, confused and heartbroken with them.

 ... love the one ...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

too Type A to yoga

This morning I tried to yoga.

Turns out I am waaaaaay too Type A to yoga.  This can be demonstrated by the fact that I mentally wrote this entire blog post while in warrior pose wondering why we weren’t doing more things, and faster. 

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with glandular fever.  It has caused a severe slowing-down of my life that has been less-than-ideal, but has taught me much.  I know God didn’t want me to get sick (nor cause it to happen), but He is redeeming it so that this time doesn’t get lost in a haze of exhaustion and body aches.  In this process, I have also sustained a shoulder injury, a slipped disc and have been sick on/off due to my suppressed immune system... so it’s been an all-round frustrating season.  The illness caused me to postpone my plans of commencing my Masters this year so that I could just focus on my new full-time job as a nurse.  It’s been the first time in my adult life that I have just BEEN in a season.  Like, right here, right now.  Not working towards the next, not investing in the future... but just being here.  In a quite Romantic sense, I love this here-ness; the beauty of the Present; of loving and appreciating this very breath and moment that we have...

But in a much more real sense, I hate it.  I feel like I am treading water.  Sometimes I am keeping above surface, sometimes I am coughing as I sink a bit... but I’m generally just floating about in this one place.  Maybe more flailing about...?  Because ‘floating’ sounds dreamy and relaxing and peaceful and easy... and this, for me, to be in the here, the now, the right where I am?  It is so freakin hard for me.

I am intensely driven, big-picture-thinking and strategic.  I am a dreaming realist: yes, I want to save the world.  And I have concrete plans on how it’s going to happen and where I fit into it. 

As I gently moved into tree pose and listened to the yoga instructor dreamily talk about the journey of learning to honour ourselves and to open our hearts... I realised that she was right.  So I picked up my mat, quietly thanked her and left the room. 

Yes, rest is insanely important.  It is vital that we recognise our body’s need for energy and activity or rest and sleep... and honour that with what it needs.  But it’s also vital to recognise where your own mind is and allow it to be itself.  I have been desperately trying to quieten my mind and to slow down the racing that is my constant scheming and planning...  

But for what?  This dreaming drivenness is what makes me who I am.  The fruit of it is that I’ve lived a life that I am proud of and that I love.  I live each day with purpose and know and am excited for where I am going.  Which could be the exact way my yoga friends feel.  If this is you, please continue to do your yoga thing.  If you are one of my fellow Type A friends, please, embrace your A-ness, if it should also bring you joy. 

And so I left the gym and went grocery shopping for my weekly Sunday meal prep session and then came home and wrote a five-year plan.

... love the one ...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

pulled by love

It’s a love so strong – a compelling, a pulling, a weight – that would drag you to such a death.  In all of your years, you were God, yes... but it was in your humanity that I found the King that I love. 

Because as they mocked you and tested you and belittled you and everything in me rises up in a fierce and fiery fight for retribution and justice... You rose up in a love so pure that I cannot understand.  As a man, you refused to give into anger; to dissolve into hatred.  As a man, you chose to be controlled by love. 

I have, one time in my life, felt physically controlled by love.  On a frosty morning in Darjeeling, India, I was walking up to the town square with a beloved friend after our obligatory steaming hot breakfast chai.  A crowd of people gathered around a Nepali man, who was bleeding profusely and was no longer breathing.  Cerebrally, I knew this was a mess I could not fix and I shouldn’t get involved... but, then again, I had given up living cerebrally a long time before.  As though my heart had been lassoed to the no-longer-beating one of this poor man lying on the street... I felt physically dragged to him.  I lay with him on the cold ground - blood pooling, prayers growingly desperate - as he died.

Love does not always look like what we think it will or should.  But even though he died, this man... He did not die alone.  I can’t fully describe everything of those ten horrifying minutes, except that my mind was flooded with pictures of his wife, his children, his family that I did not know and would never meet... and I knew that if I could not save this man, then I could give him love as he died. 

And as I re-read, this morning, of Jesus on that Cross (also almost completely alone), my heart broke.  As a man – fully God, yes, but also the full embodiment of humanity with all of the choices and pains that that entails – he chose to hang his precious body on that disgusting, humiliating Cross.  And I think of the impossibly strong pull I felt dragging me to this man I had never met and whose name I did not know... and I wonder at the weight of pure love that you must have felt drag you to that hill for people you had known before they even had form and for names you have written on your very heart.

It was for a love that I am doubtful I will ever fully comprehend that you went.

But it is for the great chasm of things that I do not understand that I am so endlessly thankful. 

I don’t understand the Resurrection, but I know I have felt that Emmaus heart-burning.  I don’t understand eternal life, but I know that you are it.  I don’t understand how a single man born in a barn can split eons of time and history, but I know that as blood and water flowed from your side, a new era was born. 

I know Life from this man who gave his.  Mine has meaning because he did not stand up for his.  Mine is full because he emptied himself out.

It is for all these enveloping veils of mysterious truth that I was first, then forever, drawn to such a love. 

Thank you, Jesus, that you chose to let your heart be pulled by love.

... love the one ...

Sunday, 22 March 2015

I''ve noticed...

I am a theatre nurse and work with highly-successful surgeons, many of whom are male.  Last week we all listened on speaker-phone as one of their daughters excitedly called to tell him that she had earned a ribbon at her swimming carnival, whilst another told us about his son’s sixth birthday celebrations.  As I attended an emergency caesarean the other day, I watched the widening eyes of one of the younger surgeons on the other side of the theatre door... the panic-flood of his wife’s recent c-section delivery boiling up in his belly.

I really enjoy working with these men.  They are brilliantly clever, interested, interesting, accomplished people. 

I also work with some top-class female surgeons.  They are also brilliantly clever, interested, interesting and accomplished.  They are strong and determined and have had to be in order to prove their ability to be amongst the best. 

(Insert here some kind of comment that I am not going to make about Dr McMullin’s recent statements regarding the inherent sexism within the surgical field.)

But really, the only difference between them?  The male and female surgeons?  These people who I watch daily create medical miracles in people’s bodies?  Who perform restorative procedures that enable people to live normal lives again and to have healthy self-image and self-esteem?  Who rid bodies of cancer and give hope for healing?  Who fix the seemingly unfixable things that falter in these fragile shells of ours?  Who stand there in the one place for sometimes over ten hours (with no water, no bathroom break), labouring away to give back this person the life they thought they were going to lose?  The only difference between them...?

It’s only the female surgeons who get asked how they can “have it all”.

... love the one ...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

International Women's Day

Today – on International Women’s Day – I am feeling this deep and intense nagging in my spirit.

A mash-up of being inspired and discontented and passionate and frustrated in one wild mess.  It is, after all, the crazy ones who change the world, no?

As I think of all the millions of women and children who are refused education and health resources and opportunity and even freakin pads and tampons... who have no one who believes in them, will back them or champion them as more than baby-makers and rice-cookers.

I know that, if 51% of this world has a vagina, that 51% of this world is being under-recognised, under-appreciated, under-paid, under-valued, under-protected, under-educated and over-abused, over-used and over-looked.

I know – that if 51% of this world is female – that the world is currently severely selling itself short.  There are our time’s greatest strategic minds, literary geniuses, creative inventors, future-altering scientists, nation-building teachers and passionate freedom-fighters trapped in slums across the earth.  Shiny young things with a spark small enough, perhaps, to be missed... but have you seen a bushfire rage on from a single flame?

What if the mind containing the cure for HIV is trapped inside a little body being stunted by malnutrition and chronic diarrhoea? 

What if the first female Secretary General of the United Nations is the daughter of a farmer who can only afford to send his sons to school?

What if the greatest literary voice of the century will be silenced by the humiliating shame of the monthly meeting of blood and the school’s open latrine?

And what if I am made to help chip these jewels out from the rock that has kept them?  What if I am made to be their champion and to speak for them when they cannot?

With all my white, Western, educated, Christian privilege, I hope to hope that I can play even a small part; can articulate even a few words; put legs on even a few dreams dreamt.

Even if I will get paid less for it than my male counterparts.  Even if I have to fight harder to get there and see greater surprise when I do.  Even if it is not the “right thing for a lady” or more of a “man’s world”... even if what I am wearing may be more scrutinised than what I am doing.

I am not against men.  I love men.  Some of my greatest champions are men. 

I am, in fact, indelibly for men.  I am for men who are for women.  Because these men know that where inequality exists anywhere and for anyone, it refuses progress and change for us all.

Let us – a collective male and female ‘us’ – gather together to champion the silenced, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the crushed, the uneducated and unvalued women of this world.

Women, may we celebrate each other’s wins as our own.

Men, may you be proud of us and inspired by us as we step out from shadows.

And to the little girl-minds in those slums across the world: to you, I want to say that you are dreamt for. You are not forgotten.  There is a movement of men and women who want to champion you to succeed far beyond us and to change the world.

... love the one ...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

sometimes, just sometimes... it pays to do something stupid.

Yesterday I got to see a Khmer family that I met many years ago here in Siem Reap.  I love them.  I think it was in 2010 that I was riding my bike for hours along dirt roads behind Angkor Wat and found myself at a dead-end... just fields fields fields, as far as I could see.  And then a little voice popped up from behind long grasses and it was a beautiful, brown-faced uncle with a cow on a leash.  What are you doing here? he asked me in perfect English.  Just exploring.  You?  I love my cow.   

Well, then.   It was on.  How can I not love somebody who is just out there enjoying the presence of his pet cow?  He invited me back to his house for mangoes, picked fresh off his tree, caught in my hands before they hit the red earth below. 

As I sat in their home yesterday – eating rice with them, drinking my first-ever pumpkin juice (!) and talking politics and family and everything else important – I realised that our whole relationship hinged on the fact that I did something really stupid.  A stranger in a village in a place that I thought was hours away from town (though, it turns out was rather close... but, at that time, I had thought I was lost in a beautiful labyrinth of village lanes!) invited me back to his house for “mangoes”.   

Now, I have worked in anti-trafficking; in fact, I think I was still working in an anti-trafficking organisation at the time I met him and his cow.  I know all of the stories.  I know all of the ploys and tales that get wound to lure women (and men) into difficult situations in which they cannot get out... and I know that this does not happen to just Khmer people.  It happens to foreigners too.  I refuse to live in fear.  Actually, I can not live in fear, because I believe that Love drives out fear, and I have been filled with Love.  So, even though I do not live in fear, I do live with a great deal of self-awareness and common sense.  I educate myself about my surroundings and I put in safety plans.  I’m actually pretty anal about this stuff and annoy all of my friends with my precautions that I force them to employ when they are with me.

But on that day, I went for “mangoes”.  And they were, thankfully, beautiful, sweet, yellow, dripping mangoes.  He peeled more than I ever possibly could have eaten and they were so divine.  Besides that, I heard his life story of working as a nurse in Thai refugee camps during the war, to becoming a pastor and now an English teacher... and I got to meet his family, who have now become my family.  His wife who is a dear aunt to me; who shares her heart with me and trusts this foreigner that trusted her husband on a whim.

I’m not advocating for people to make stupid, rash decisions.  In fact, I almost want to write a blog entry on how to stay safe living in a place like this...

But, also, listen to your heart in these moments.  I knew, in that moment, that it would be ok.  I had such a peace in my heart; I knew that all those windy little roads had taken me somewhere special to someone special.  I trusted him, without a second thought.  And they have loved me since, without a second thought.

... love the one ...

Monday, 6 January 2014

finding home in the village-village :)

The longer I stay in Cambodia the more I love it.  People have often said to me that “the honeymoon period” will end soon... but here I am – nine years later – still happy, still intrigued, still fulfilled, still home. 

Nowhere does this hit me more than when I am in the village-village.  I say village-village because I already live in a village.  Although I/my family/our house are very blessed with much that make our lives more convenient and easy, most of our neighbours do not have electricity, running water or money to save beyond today.  We are a few kilometres away from the town, down a mostly dirt road.  We drive through banana plantations and children yell out “hiyo!” (somehow their “hello” always sounds like this to me?!) and I get excited every time I see a cow just hanging out under a tree, a horse-drawn cart, someone climbing for coconuts.

But on new year’s morning we left early for the village-village.  My fellow Aussie adventurer and I banded together with seven of our Khmer brothers, our packs secured to our bicycles with strips of rubber cut from a popped motorbike tyre inner-tube.  We crossed the Mekong on Kampong Cham’s famous bridge and hit an hour and a half of dusty, bumpy roads, my bike clunking along the whole way.  We crossed the river on a local ferry for 12 cents; two old wooden boats strung together with a wooden platform on top.  It pulled up to the bank and we had to quickly push our bikes off across a bamboo lattice and up a mud hill to the last part of our journey.  The countryside up there is lush: fields after fields of peanut trees and corn crops, the river following us the whole way.  Ji Hai village is heralded by some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen in Cambodia; skinny, yet strong things... much like the people who live beneath them.  Two of my brothers are from this village, so they took us through short-cuts to their childhood homes.  We were warmly welcomed into their beautiful stilted houses, mothers and fathers and grandmas and sisters and brothers who miss their boys and who want to meet these curious white girls who speak their language.  It warmed my heart to hear my brothers proudly introduce me to their families, encouraging them to speak Khmer with me... the excitement of this has never worn off me.  I have a lot more language learning to do, but it’s these moments of praying for grandma, of being told secrets by sweet little girls, of meeting the boys’ childhood friends that make all the hours of study so so worth it. 

 One of the “hometown boys” took us for an afternoon stroll by the winding river, through the old Wat (temple) where monks with their headphones in their ears curiously looked at the wandering foreigners.  We stood where my brother had stood as a boy fishing with his friends and I thought of how probably nothing had changed in that place in those twenty years...

We celebrated Christmas (a week late, but still joyfully!) with our pastor friend and his lovely church community; the traditional Christmas meal of curry and bread never getting old for me!  We stayed with him and his dear wife at their beautiful home: a traditional Khmer-style house with bamboo slat floors where you push your banana peel through when you are finished, to be dropped to the dirt ground beneath, devoured by hungry stray dogs.  Khmer hospitality is always generous – amazing food and much care shared with us by this lovely couple.  We washed the day’s dust off in a bucket shower and slept under a mosquito net on a wooden bed, the two of us side-by-side drifting off blissfully after a perfect Cambodian day to start 2014.

As my brothers know me well, we started the next day off with coffee (bless their hearts) and pork and rice.  We then went walking walking walking all around town.  We walked the river, we walked the Wat, we walked the school.  We visited the classrooms of my brothers and they sat in their old desks... both excellent students, they assured me.  Cambodian schools are always built around a beautiful, expansive tree. I’ve always assumed because Buddha gave his first teaching message under a tree (that I have visited in India).  But I like to think that it is the Tree of Life and they build their next generation around it... and as the kids sit beneath it and play in its shade in schools all around the country, I can’t imagine it isn’t so.

On the way back to our place, I got to taste the local alcohol, made from palm fruit (delicious, but strong!) and learned how to make kroma (traditional Khmer scarfs) on a loom!  I had purchased some from one of the boy’s aunties the day before, so impressed at her precision and grace.  In one full day she can make four large-sized kormas, selling each for $1.25.  She was excited to put me behind the loom, coaching me in how to move my feet from the front to back bamboo pedal and how to manoeuvre the hand-piece, how to throw the cotton wheel through the lace of thread.  It is definitely an art!  Not sure I will be giving up nursing for this new career choice just yet... but a renewed respect and awe for these simple yet beautiful creations that are used for absolutely everything in everyday Khmer life: to keep you warm, to keep the sun off, to sling your baby in, to wrap around you as you wash at the well, to use as a towel, to pile on your head to balance the platter of snacks you are selling, to brace wounds, to sit on as a picnic blanket...

We rode back to Kampong Cham together late in the afternoon, the sun beating on our necks, egging us home, fast.  We talked about the scarecrows the villagers put outside their houses to scare off evil spirits and we talked about our families.  We talked about how all people have problems; even the prettiest, cleanest, richest, easiest-looking life can be broken-down and painful and messy... and, somehow, there is a comfort in this.  Not that we all have problems... but that we all have problems, together.

I love Ji Hai.  I love the people there who welcomed me and the trees there that made my soul sigh with joy.  I love the day-by-day of life and being known, even by those I don’t.  But mostly I love sharing in my friends’ homes.  Something is special about being invited into a home, into a family.  Of being fed delicious food lovingly prepared by mum’s worn brown hands on the fire pot outside.  Of being shown photos of precious family moments; faces that cannot now be seen or touched.  Of being embraced by grandmas and sisters who love you considerably, for just being there.  Of seeing where they slept, where they ate, where they played, where they cried, where they grew. 

It seems like we all love each other a bit more now, all of us, after that night away.  Just a night... but maybe them seeing my delight to ride through the dusty heat all the way to their village, my love to carry a little sister on the back of my bike to find the yellow bamboo, my ease at sleeping on wooden slats, my love of their families, their homes, their village, their childhoods, their histories, their lives... maybe they’ve realised that I’m really really in this for good.  And that if they can get to Australia, I’ll show them all the best trees too.

... love the one ...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

nine years at home :)

Nine years ago, yesterday, I saw the quilted rice field landscape of my beloved Cambodia for the first time.  I saw the palm trees peppered across the land, all swayed – but none broken – by heavy monsoon rains.  As the plane lowered, I saw the small wooden stilted huts of World Vision ads and realised that they were more beautiful than devastating.  The plane touched down and as I sat in my seat – still on the tarmac – I felt truly Home.
I remember the wet face-slap of humidity as I stepped out of the plane... which of course just makes my acclimatised body laugh now, as it was “cool season” (though we still enjoy up to 35oC during the few “cooler” weeks of the year).  I remember my mum had said to me that nothing in the world smelled like Bangkok... well, I remember thinking that my earlier morning in Bangkok smelled like roses to the fragrance of Phnom Penh, yet, there was a raw honesty of it, I guess; I could smell the mess of the city, the remnant of a destroyed city yet to be rebuilt... the country had only been open ten years after a civil war and genocide that devastated every heart and every system.  Open sewers and bonfires of burning rubbish outside every home and unpaved roads... I remember getting into the taxi and the entire car was engulfed in dust.  The road into the city was lined with prostitutes.  Children and grandmas begged next to each other on the road.  It was like my heart broke and came alive at the same time. 

I stayed with a Khmer family in a tiny village on the Mekong.  I rode my bike up and down the three streets, past the Wat (temple), through the tunnel of tall tall tall trees and up to the market.  I loved the sound of the language rolling off my tongue (“knyom tov psar”).  I loved the food and that you greet people with “have you eaten rice yet?”.  I loved that the people were eager to show me their homes, their culture, their lives.

In a one-month trip, I realise now that I only scraped the surface of this country.  But it was enough to confirm for me what I had been treasuring in my heart for a few years prior to ever setting foot on this red earth... this place and these people, they are mine.

The beauty of the years spent here after that – developing relationships, learning language, understanding culture – is that I realise that I am also theirs.  I think that is when everything starts to change.  I know it did for me.  It’s when I realised that I was not sent here to save this place, but to love it.  Not to fix these people, but to walk with them.  Not to tell them what to do, but to learn from them.  Not to point out the brokenness, but to sit with them in it.  Not to make them like me, but illuminate the gold that I see in the dust.  It’s in this place that I don’t just love Cambodia... Cambodia loves me too and that is the best thing I could ever have asked for. 

 This happens when we love a people and a nation with our whole hearts.  When we enjoy their company.  When we value the beauty of their culture.  When we give them time to sit, talk and eat rice together.  When they become family, not projects.  When what they love becomes what you love.  (One of my greatest Cambodian achievements is learning to love “prahok”, a fermented fish paste.  My village friends always boast of that to people they introduce me to... for them, no food is delicious without prahok; so, for me, prahok also had to become delicious!).  I am not naive of the problems here, or even day-to-day annoyances... but my love overrides it.

 It happens when our choice to be here overrides any kind of obligation or direction (religious or otherwise) to be here.  I truly believe that God planted Cambodia and the Khmer people in my heart and opened doors for me to be here.  But I know that it is now, with my whole heart, that I choose to stay.  I could also choose to stay in Australia forever and I would be happy and blessed.  But I choose to stay here, because my heart has been stolen and these people have become my family.

I guess I wanted to write this because I used to hear a lot of “Oh I hope God doesn’t send me to Africa!” etc... and I just wanted to share what it is like to be given the people of your heart.  I have long maintained that the poor have enough problems of their own without sad missionaries/aid workers in there trying to fix them.  If you want a nation, a people, this kind of life... fall in love.  Love every single part of it.  Learn to love the parts that are hard. 

I’ve learned to love this place to the point where I’m almost not here for them anymore.  I’m here because it is where I feel whole and most alive.  And then I guess and hope that it’s out of that that some kind of goodness and light radiates around to the ones I come close to. 

 And I think they see it.  I travel a lot of different villages, meeting many people and still, even in 2013, speaking with people who have never spoken with a foreigner, some never having seen a white person.  Let alone a foreigner speaking their own language!  And do you know what I hear more than anything?  No one has ever stood there and told me all the problems of their village.  No one has ever rattled off a list of things I should do to help fix their lives.  The one thing I hear from beautiful, brown smiling faces all over the country is “thank you for loving my people”. 

 Find your people and love them, with your whole heart.  They may be in the country you are from, or from a country far away... but love them.  Love them in their dust, love them in their confusion, love them in their fermented fish paste... love them until they believe they are loved.

 ... love the one ...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

I'm going back to my original heartbeat (Cambodia in five weeks!)

I’m going back to my original heartbeat.

In five weeks – only thirty-five days!! – I will be on the plane back home to Cambodia.

I’m going back to my Cambodian home to spend three months learning Love all over again.  What it looks like, what it feels like, how good it feels when you get it and give it back.  Back to the roots that dug deep into that rich Cambodian soil many years ago, that still tie me to there.  It’s a return in so many ways; a Prodigal-ness to it that seems bizarre yet very apt... and enough to make me anticipate the celebrations on the other side.

I won’t be working, this year... this year I’m just a learner; soaking up all that I can.

I’m going to be spending lots of time in the rural hospitals again, just praying for the sick, bringing them coconuts and noodles and keeping them company.  If you haven’t known me long or do not know me well... some of my life’s greatest moments have happened in these hospitals.  Where near-dead people have been raised, HIV has been removed from people’s blood, third degree burns healed overnight and fractures knit back together before our very eyes (my blog here has lots of these stories if you scroll back through).  The most remarkable things I’ve ever seen and been a part of... in the most unremarkable places... and I guess that’s my favourite part. 

Besides the hospital, my favourite place in the world is a dusty slum full of my favourite little friends.  Dozens and dozens of beautiful, near-naked kids I have watched grow up for over five years.  Kids I have played skipping rope with, eaten shaved ice with, taken for rides on my motorcycle.  Kids I have taken to hospital when they were sick.  Kids who have run to me when they were sad or scared, because they knew I was safe.  Kids who have sat me down to read to me, showing off their new skills. One, in particular – little Leeza, light of my heart.  She stole my heart many years ago and she and her family have invited me into theirs.  She calls me “mum”.  She has been in so many dreams of mine lately that I can tell that my soul is longing to cuddle her and tell her how beautiful and smart and lovely she is.

I will be spending time in Phnom Penh with some old friends, including my Khmer best friend, Dany, who will continue doing language study with me.  It’s been 8 months since I’ve been in Cambodia, and though I haven’t forgotten the language... I feel like some of the vocabulary has been a little buried beneath pathophysiological information that has been more important of late ;)

And the most of my time will be spent with my dear Cambodian family at my Heartlands Church in Kampong Cham.  My home. 

There is so much more where I will be and the beautiful hearts I will be (re)connecting with and all that it means...  but for now, I just wanted to share the shape of this journey with you.  I would love for you to pray for me as I head out, that my heart would be so open to the fullness of what God has for me in this time.  I really want to be stripped back to the core of what it is that He has in me and for me... and that can only ever be a good thing.

Please pray for divine connections for me when I’m there; I feel like there are new friendships coming for me over this time, which is exciting!  And please also pray for provision of finances – uni is not a cheap past time (hehe) so am just trusting that as I go to Love, it will all be ok.

Thank you all and love to you xo

... love the one ...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Living in Cambodia has given me such a deep appreciation and love of rain. 

I live with and love people whose entire livelihood is determined by rainfall and the beautiful rhythm of the monsoon that sustains the rice that fills our bellies. 

The monsoon brings the greatest, other-worldly golden-green to the fields, a crisp freshness to the otherwise-dusty air and clusters of children who bathe in the streams on the street; the only running water so many have.

The monsoon has taught me to slow down; to respect that there are forces greater than me in the world.  For that thirty or ninety minutes each steamy afternoon, I am at the mercy of the monsoon.

Sometimes, I take it on like an old foe.  I climb aboard my moto anyway and wade knee-deep through sewerage-littered-water, my pink polka dot plastic poncho destroyed the second I push my arms through the flimsy thing.  Soaked to the bone, hair plastered all over my face, laughing with the old bpoo (uncle) on the moto next to me at the light while we soak together. 

But most of the time now, I appreciate that it forces me to stop.  It forces me to take cover under a petrol station roof with a bunch of shivering students on their pink motos with matching pink helmets.  It forces me to take a break from work, from study, to pick up a newspaper and enjoy a long, lazy coffee in my favourite armchair of my favourite cafe. 

You can go about your way... or you can relinquish your plans to the monsoon.  The sooner you learn to enjoy doing the latter, the sooner you step into the ebb and flow of Asian life that is both perfectly frenetic and perfectly peaceful.   

The beauty of the monsoon?  Its mercy?  It always lets you know it is coming... your perfect day will soon feel groggy and the air will become thick. 

You have three minutes. 

There’s always been something in this I love; that if you are too busy going about things, you miss that change and you are stuck.  I know, because it has happened to me more times than I can count... that white girl streaming down the main boulevard, her silk skirt stuck to her legs and her shoes on her hands.  I must admit, I do love these moments, because it causes me to laugh.  I truly thought I could outrun the monsoon?! 

But if you take each day as a line of thousands of moments and stay alive to and aware of them... you catch that perfect moment and you hide away in that armchair and order that favourite coffee and watch the rain literally wash your busy-ness away, drop by drop...

... until your yieldedness to the monsoon makes you love the monsoon.

... love the one ...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

the agony and the ecstasy

My friend calls it "the agony and the ecstasy".

I absolutely adore Cambodia, Khmer people and my life.  Daily, I feel blessed that I was chosen to live out this calling and that this is only the beginning... It can only get better from here!

But sometimes it is hard, frustrating and just downright leaves me in tears, feeling helpless, hopeless and very very small.

Sometimes it is "small things".  I put it in " " because, at the time, it doesn't feel small and can be enough to make me crumble... Yesterday, on my way to ticking off a thousand things from my to-do list that needs to be accomplished in the next 7 days, my moto stops right as I'm crossing one of the biggest intersections in the city.  This is after weeks and weeks of moto problems, spending endless amounts of money fixing it and feeling ripped-off and scammed repeatedly... and so, on the side of the road, in the midday heat, i stand, and wait, again, for my tuktuk-driving friend to come and rescue me.  The moto shoved into the back of his tuktuk, off to the mechanic... months of problems fixed in 15 minutes, $5 and, finally, an honest mechanic!

Other times, it is much much bigger.

As I wrote about two weeks ago, a friend of mine in the slum in Kampong Cham lost her baby boy because he had a fever and was hospitalised for four days, after which they had run out of money.  The doctor wouldn't help them without the funds upfront and the baby was left to die.

A few years ago, I adopted a brother.  He had lived a very difficult life and was cut off by his family because of some choices he made.  He was homeless at the age of 18 and had nobody left to love him.  I then met him and promptly adopted this boy who completely stole my heart.  I spent a year investing into him everything I had.  Then, when his life appeared to be better and he had grown leaps and bounds... his family wanted him back.  Onto the Thai/Cambodian border in a town called Poipet, where people are easily and often trafficked across the border... He lost his phone and I lost him over a year ago.  I thought he was gone... and as I thought of all that may have happened to this sweet, innocent boy in the hands of his conditional father, all that was left was to pray.

Last month, I met an amazing pastor in Kampong Thom province.  He has been a friend of my good friend's for ten years.  He is only 33, but looks ten years older; every bone shows in his face.  His body is so weak, he can sometimes barely walk.  He went to the doctor in the village who told him he had a bad heart and gave him Aspirin.  They said he would not live to be old.

Sometimes I feel truly overwhelmed by it all.   It's not that these friends expect me to fix everything for them... but I guess I expect it of myself.  As I crashed out on my hard $8 a night guesthouse bed yesterday, exhausted by the heat and the "everything" of the last two months, it truly hit me for the first time that I am not super woman!  It sounds so obvious: that one cannot do everything.  But, honestly, sometimes it feels like one has to be able to do everything... because if I don't, who else will?

I used to feel the weight of the nation's problems. I wanted to fix the corruption, end trafficking, restore the health and education systems.  Now I just look at the one person in front of me.  It has been the revelation that has saved my life, and others.  If I lived as I used to, trying to fix everything... I would have crashed out by now and have nothing left... home and comfortable in Sydney, doing something to help sustain that lifestyle.  It had to happen, for me.  But it also had to happen, for them.

It's because of this lens that I have these stories of my pastor friend, my friend in the slum, my brother.  It is because I have spent years learning how to focus my heart-energy on the single heart before me that I have been able to embrace their heart into mine and get so entwined in their lives and their problems...

Which means that I get to be all entwined in their Victories too :)

It turns out I had the only three photos in the entire world of my friend's dead baby.  It is not her baby; I wish more than anything I could give her him back... but it is the best gift I can offer.

Yesterday I answered the phone: "sister, it is your brother!"  and I almost wept right there on the street... like the parable, my brother has come back to me!

Yesterday I took my pastor friend to the doctor... after weeks of just praying we would get an answer for him, my doctor knew what my friend had the instant he saw him, even before examining him!  Then, this morning I got an email from a friend saying he wants to pay for the whole treatment, which I had not been able to afford... truly a miracle!

And so, here is the agony and the ecstasy.  It is way too easy to see the agony.  And sometimes I am too in amongst it and feel it so heavily I almost cannot breathe and see the rest...

... but it is a choosing of the lens that you will see through.

I have to choose to see the Victories.  I have to choose to remember mum's face as she saw her baby's face for the first time since losing him... I have to choose to remember my brother's excited voice on the end of the phone... I have to choose to remember that a miracle happened to provide my friend with his treatment....

It's way harder to choose to see these things.  And as I sat in the hot sun on my broken moto yesterday, I just wanted to cry and look at all the bad things and let myself feel the agony...

... but, instead?

LOVE WINS.  It is the only thing I am becoming more and more sure of.  The agony is there.  But the ecstasy forever is bigger.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

where it all began

Yesterday I went back to the hospital where it all began, really. I mean, I had always been interested in healthcare and wanted to be a doctor when I was but a wee little one... but it started to become real to me in this hospital, four years ago, as I sat in the corner of the open-air trauma ward, light-headed, fanning myself, the nurses bringing me water...

My stomach has become stronger since then, but probably only because I am fiercely stubborn. Some days I see wounds that make me want to vomit like the three bullet holes in that man's chest did four years ago... but, for the most part, it makes me resolutely sure - more sure than I have ever been - that I am on the exact right path for me in my life.

I have grown up in immense blessing and privilege as far as healthcare is concerned.  I know I will not be in debt for life if I am in a car accident.  I know that there are world-class surgeons and specialists and researchers in my country who are making phenomenal progress and achieving remarkable things for the industry and for Australians’ health.  Medicine is accessible.   I have been taught first aid over and over since I was about 10.  I can study nursing at university and graduate with a degree that enables me to work anywhere in the world because of the standard with which we are trained.

And I am grateful beyond words for all of this and refuse to take it for granted (though I know I once did).  But I also know that what it really does is completely break my heart.  Because I see that people who were born in another country, through no fault of their own – “an accident of latitude” as Bono calls it – have none of this.

Yesterday I met an uncle who had stepped on a nail that went right through his foot and out the other side.  A nice, big, rusty nail.  As I inspected the wound, it was covered with fresh blood and the flesh was still all ripped up and pulpy and smelled infected and I asked him how many days ago this happened?  Christmas Eve.  Almost a month and it looks like a fresh, new wound.   

I met another uncle who was in there because a piece of bamboo sliced through his hand, piercing up through his thumb, appearing to sever tendons.  Over a month ago. Of course this is a major injury requiring much healing and rehabilitation... but why is the wound open, oozing blood?  And why does uncle not know anything about what the next step in “the plan” is?

Met a guy who had been in a moto accident and had smashed his ankle; it was massive, so must have been in a whole lot of pieces... blood and pus soaking through the bandages.  His body was on fire with fever and his drip, empty. 

Then there was a younger guy; in his late-20s, maybe.  He had been in a gas fire explosion.  A good third of his body was burned in second to third degree burns.  He actually has the best-healing burns I have ever seen in Cambodia! The beautifully baby pink skin was just so perfect and I was so thrilled for this man that he was healing so well!  But he looked at me with worried eyes that were carrying way too much and asked me if his skin will ever look normal again?  How long will it take?  And I realised that no one had even bothered to tell him how great he is doing, how well the healing process is progressing!  As I explained to him how I could tell how his skin was healing so well, lightness came over him and he began to look hopeful.

I think if it was that the workers were incapable of doing something about these things, I’d be angry.

But it’s sadness that’s in my heart... because I know it is not for lack of ability that these things are there, but for lack of compassion and that is much much worse.

I long to see our hospitals here filled with compassion, mercy and kindness.  Where a nurse will stay past the end of her duty to clean the infected wound of a patient.  Where a doctor will take a moment to encourage a patient that they are doing great!  Where someone will explain to them what will happen, what the plan is, what they are hoping for for their healing...

I got all up in some pretty revolting wounds yesterday.  I love this stuff.  I want to see how bad it is and I want to fix it. 

My stomach turns, still...

... but it’s not for the blood.

And so, in my stubbornness, I choose compassion and I choose mercy and I choose kindness.  I choose to value people.  I choose to empower people with information and education.  I choose to let people know they are not forgotten.  I choose to give the poorest of the poor the best quality care that I possibly can because, if not for “an accident of latitude”, it could also have been me.

... love the one ...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

life is best shared

I’ve had a special relationship with this one little girl for a long time... since the first time that I met her and told her I loved her, way back in 2008. Now, seven years old, I still love her, and she, me.  She calls me mum. I come into the slum and all the kids, as well as her biological parents, all shout out “Leeza, your mum is here!” and she comes running like there’s a fire on her tail and I cuddle her like she hasn’t been cuddled since I was here last which, judging from the way she cuddles back into me... she hasn’t. 


Normally, in Cambodia, you can’t go into a slum community and just take presents for one child... but they all know there is something about our little connection and even her sisters don’t get jealous.  Well, they don’t have to, because Leeza is one beautifully special little heart.

Last year I gave her a doll that my mum sent over to her with me... as soon as I put it in her arms, she gave it the biggest squeeze – her first-ever hold of a dolly! – then immediately held it out to the other kids... I thought she was kind of “na na na na na!-ing” the other kids (“look what I got!”) ... but nope, she was holding it out for the others to also have their first cuddle with a dolly, ever.


In July I bought her some puzzles and books... same deal.  As soon as she took them out of the bag, she invited all her friends up onto the little bamboo platform that is her “living room” and we all sat up there reading Khmer folk tales together, doing Khmer alphabet puzzles, all together... life’s more fun when shared, right?


She definitely thinks so.  So, after giving her more gifts yesterday that she immediately pulled out to share with her girlfriends (Frisbees, skipping ropes, etc), I decided this could get fun.


Today I decided to blow some of the money given to me by generous people to bless others, to “do good”.  I went the market and bought four big bouncy balls, four shuttle-cock things that they play with like hackey-sacks, a kitchen/cooking set, a bowling set and four big Khmer alphabet puzzles to give to Leeza, knowing her heart. 


So, Santa turns up – albeit a few weeks late – on her Cambodian moto-sleigh laden with toys and just unloads them onto Leeza... who, with wide, excited eyes, receives them all... and immediately gives them away to share with all her friends!


I always thought that, if you were poor, if you were given something, even something small... you’d conserve it, keep it, hide it, preserve it...


The poor have taught me everything but that.


The best things in life are shared.  If we all have nothing, but someone gives me a little something? How much better that we all share in that little something and all be happy, than only one keep it for themselves and the rest be without?


I love watching her little heart give without a second thought; it doesn’t occur to her to keep it all, not for a second! Her instinct is to give, to share, to play together... and that sweet, generous little instinct teaches me so much.


Everytime I see her in this way, I feel like a little bit of pure gold is dumped in my heart... just the purity of one that dare not think that they should keep what could make somebody else happy.


Then I got home and opened up my bag. 


There were the two small marbles in there that she had been playing with when I arrived, and 100 riel (2.5 cents).


Life is best shared.

... love the one ...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

my favourite "thing"

The older I get and the more people I meet and the more new year's resolutions I write (!), I realise that having quality relationships is by far my highest priority. As a Christian, this includes relationship with God, Who strengthens my heart and makes me whole; Who knows me inside out and Loves me despite all that He sees. But it's the relationships with others that has gotten me thinking lately and really been stirring my heart...


I've just come back from 11 days in Vietnam. I absolutely LOVE going to new countries; all of the "unknown-ness" is like a drug to me; as is change, which I completely thrive on and cherish.


It is a beautiful country: we went to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa... all of them beautiful in different ways, each very unique. Halong Bay is truly one of those must-see-before-you-die things, and Sapa, to me, was like therapy: cold, misty mountains with lush rice terraces all around, tea houses to snuggle in to keep warm.


But, to be really honest, I've left the country feeling a bit disappointed... we had some 'interesting' (or just downright unpleasant) interactions with some locals whilst we were there... and I thought it was because of that, but as I really think through my values and what I love in life, it wasn't really about that so much at all... you can have those ‘unplesantnesses’ anywhere.  It was more the fact that I felt disconnected from the people... it was all quite superficial, as it mostly is, when travelling... and it's left me realising how hard it is for me to just be in a place now, without connecting in with the heart of who and what it is that's going on there.


It also made me realise the beauty of language; or, really, how lacking the language makes me feel utterly powerless... to speak the tongue of someone you've never met is the greatest gift in a relationship.


Two days before we left for Vietnam, I was up in Kampong Cham with my Cambodian family and a visiting American team.  The team were asking me what I was doing there and all that jazz and the only answer I ever have about why I am in Kampong Cham is that I love the people; they are my family.  If I was to end up there in the future, I would be a happy heart!!  But I am not trying to work all that out now... it’s a few years away and some extra unnecessary stress trying to work it out now.  But what I do know is?  I have a few years to invest into covenant relationship with people there that I love, trust, and who have the same heart and vision.  I don’t have to work out what work or ministry looks like... I just BE there with them; I eat BBQ with them, I dance with them, I celebrate Christmas with them, I sing karaoke with them (next week!), I play UNO with them, I go to the market with them, I get my nails done with them, I pray with them, I play with them, I laugh with them, I love life with them.


One of the team said to me, in response to this, that he could see that that was my heart to be there; not to just do work or ministry or tick off the “do good” list... but just to love them and be loved by them.  That he could SEE the closeness of our relationship and how much we loved each other... and it was probably the best thing I ever could have heard.  That our love for each other be visible.


It’s not like I expected that kind of relationship after 11 days in a country in which I cannot speak the language... I’m not that naive.  But, as I thought about it last night, it elucidated for me some of the feelings I had about our time in Vietnam... and made it very very easy for me to choose my favourite memory of the trip to share:


We went on a 14km trek through the mountainous rice terraces outside of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.  It is absolutely freezing up there and the day we went trekking it was misty and super slippery-muddy.  About 10 years ago, I had an accident and broke my tailbone and have been freaked out about doing it again ever since, as it has taken so long to heal... so everytime I find myself in these (literally!) slippery situations, I kind of freeze up and need a whole lot of coaxing along!


Here enters my delightful little friend.  I say “little”, even though she was 40 with two children... because she came up to about my shoulders.  She wore turquoise gum boots (must have been a sign) and was from one of the traditional hill tribe groups there, from a village past the 14km that we were walking... she wore the colourful traditional outfit and had a brilliant smile.  Her English was broken, but sweet and we were able to talk some... I can now say  “thank you” and “duck” in her tribal language.  Chatting was nice... but as she held my hand over these crazy-slippery muddy hills through a bamboo jungle, it was like my heart “got” her and hers, mine, even though we couldn’t really speak in words.  She walked through the much more difficult paths so that I could take the easier one; she would walk one step at a time; lifting her gumboot just in time for me to put my boot down... step by step she lead me, never letting go of my hand.  The instant I would hesitate over a place, she was right there, holding my hand...


Perfect.  I don’t know her name and I will probably never see her again... but of all of Vietnam... of all the things we saw and did and bought and ate, she was my favourite “thing”.  Because she was my little gift of a friend.  The heart of Vietnam that I had desperately wanted to find. 

... love the one ...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Black and White

This morning I watched a beautiful Cham (Muslim) woman veiled in a deep aubergine-coloured scarf beat a fish to death with the back of a machete. It took about half a dozen blows to the head as it squirmed and resisted, and another half-dozen to the tail end. Once the head was cut clean off, it continued to wiggle about in the tray as she de-scaled the body on a wooden chopping board stained with the blood of thousands of other fish before this one...

I couldn't watch it in full. I didn't want to be the foreigner who couldn't face it... But it was instinctual, and before I could even choose, I had looked away and wanted to wretch.

But I knew it wasn't wrong.

I used to be much more black and white. There was good and bad, light and dark. Yes and no. Permissible and wrong.

Cambodia has taught me that that is a very privileged way to view life. As a friend wrote this morning, 'it is easy to be ideological when we are rich'.  So much of what I've been learning this year at uni has been now ethnocentric we are; not just 'we' as in white, western people, but all cultures; ethnocentric unto their own culture.  Cambodians are as much ethnocentric as we are as 'foreigners', but, as foreigners, it tends to be more on ethical high-ground, rather than simply cultural tendencies or preferences. Cambodians think it's ridiculous not to eat rice three times a day... Australians think it's abhorrent to beat a fish to death. Even to use words like 'inhumane' imply that the way in which we do things is humane, and all else... Sub-human.

As I watched that fish die, slowly, I felt convicted by my disgust as I know that the fish that I buy from Woolies all wrapped in plastic in the fridge were also once this. Were also killed without thought. but we just don't have to see it.

It makes me wonder about the honesty of this kind of thing. Are we kidding ourselves that we are more humane? Or is it that we just don't see the inhumanity? That it is invisible, behind doors that we don't want to open because we will be shocked by the blood that our need and desire draws?

Even as I write this, the answers are all kinds of grey and I'm ok with that. A few years ago, I would have had to wrestle with it; to determine the best answer, the superior perspective or way... But I think that, the older I get, the more comfortable I am with the grey areas... In fact, it's the grey areas that help me to better elucidate Truth.

Everyday in Cambodia I am confronted with 'grey things' and it's a day-by-day, choice-by-choice feeling through it all.

Sweat shops are bad...
... But without them 40% of working-age Cambodian women would not be able to feed their children.
Giving to beggars isn't helpful because it keeps them locked into the cycle...
... Going back to the pimp with empty pockets is a guaranteed beating.
Kids should never work; kids should be kids and be free to play and rest and go to school.
... Some kids love working before or after school because then they can buy some yummy snacks to share with their friends.
Those natural remedies and coining, etc, that you use when you're sick, given by a 'doctor' with no training whatsoever are are waste of money...
... If they do not cause harm and they make you feel better (even by placebo effect), then maybe it is not such a waste after all.

I have been staunchly black and white on each of these  topics before... but now I just can't be... There's too much to learn, too much that I don't know to assume that I can know there is black and white; let alone which is which

... Life is too beautifully colourful for us to reduce it to black and white.


... love the one ...