9/9/17

Sometimes time has a funny way of showing that days are special. Today marks the official end of my first week at LSTC (not counting orientation.) Week one of classes out of the way and today, 9/9/17 is the day.

On 8/8/17 I arrived back in the United States. My new journey in a place very old to me was in its genesis. Packing, unpacking, repacking, reuniting…and so much more. It feels like minutes and years ago. But it has been but a month.

On 7/7/17 I left City Church and Rainbow Hostel. A community of people that I knew I would miss from the first day. But life brings us together, and life separates us; it is the way of the world. They are all still with me now, even if not in physical form. Memories both vivid and fuzzy, now two months in the past.

And so today, on 9/9/17, I take a short moment to recognize the sacred. The days that define our journey. These last three months have been full of many, but these are three that will stay with me far longer than many of the others. Happy 9/9/17, everyone. May yours have been as meaningful as mine.

Ashley

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Circles of Life

I would consider myself a person that appreciates the small details of life. Not only the small details, but the ones that seem to intertwine the most minuscule threads in the intricate fabric of life. As this week comes to a close, my first Welcome (back) Week at LSTC ends with it. My life for the next four years will be a flurry of classes, hands-on ministry experiences, essays, parties, interviews, flag-football games, church services, and, most importantly, a desire to learn more about what it means to be called. At the end of those four years, so long as the Spirit still leads me there and my candidacy committee agrees, I will be entering into the world of ministry at my first call. But, that is not where I want to focus today. Rather, I want to focus on the smallest of moments that reminded me where I have been, and who is behind me as I go forward.

On our last day of orientation there was a sending and blessing service for those of us that are new students. One part of the blessing was the opportunity to walk through the baptismal fount at the back of the chapel as a remembrance of our baptism. This walk had us enter from the west side of the pool, and exit through the east side. A minute detail, something that can be easily missed, or overlooked, or taken for granted. However, as I stood in line to take my walk across the pool, I was reminded of another orientation, another sending, another blessing. Just over a year before taking this walk, I stood in the same chapel, in a similar line, waiting for my time to cross the waters. As I stood with my fellow YAGMs preparing for a year of service outside the borders of our home country, we waited to walk through the fount. From the east to the west.

My YAGM community, my family, and my friends were heavy on my heart as I crossed that pool from east to west. I did not know then the path ahead of me nor did I truly understand what it would mean to serve in Cambodia, but with the encouragement of my sending community filling my heart I walked through the water. I started my new journey. Now, I find myself at a new intersection of life. Again, the logistics of my future are clear but the little details, the small moments that will make up the next four years of my path are unknown. But I stepped into the water, and returned to place that sent me while my brothers and sisters in Cambodia enter into a new role. They are now part of my sending community. Their encouragement, wisdom, love, and grace have covered me for this past year, and taught me more than even I know. With them in my heart, I go boldly into the waters, and I return to the side I first left.

All of these thoughts and more come solely from noticing the direction I walked through a pool of water. That moment reminded me of the circle that we live in every day. The one that connects us all. My heart is full of joy at the places I have been, and those who I do not leave behind as my journey continues away from those places. With much hope, I look forward to the barely noticeable things that will make mere moments into meaningful memories. For today, I am thankful for this inconsequential detail that stirs my soul.

Ashley

On Being Independent

Today, July 4th, is Independence Day in the USA. Therefore, it seems a fitting day to reflect on what independence means to me. I have always considered myself an extremely independent person and if you asked my parents, I’m sure they would confirm that once I turned 16, keeping me in the house was uncommon. I constantly was onto my next practice, rehearsal, party, church service, etc. Those last high school years I began to crave independence. I didn’t want to need others for fear that if they ever weren’t behind me, I would fall. This attitude continued into college, and at times I regret the way I handled those feelings. I rarely stayed at home other than school breaks, and when it came time for moving into and out of my dorm room each year I always said I could handle it. I wanted to prove to the world that I was independent. So, I made a sea between my life and others’ because I thought that was what it meant to be independent, but in doing so I shut down the ports from mainland. I didn’t need other boats on my isolated island. Not until the end of my junior year of college did I start to see that there was a difference between independence and isolation.

Anxiety plagued my senior year as I began to plan for life after college and again I tried to handle it myself. Friends were there to tell me I did not need to do these things alone, but a part of me never truly listened. To be independent was to only need myself. But that facade began to slowly crack senior year and finally culminated to an outright shatter on the day of my college graduation. Usually this day is considered a milestone, a start of true independence for young adults, the day when they begin “adulting.” So, naturally, on that dark night 13.5 months ago, I felt the least independent I had felt in years.

As I packed my car it soon became clear that not everything was going to fit as I had thought. My family had left earlier with my assurances that I could handle moving out, yet again. So, rather than call for help, I got into my over-packed car and headed home with an engine that was not doing so hot. About 20 minutes into the drive, I realized that my car was too overloaded by the weight of my books (the reality of a religion major), and there was no way it would make it another 2 hours home. I was crushed. My first night as a college graduate and I had screwed up.

The next hour was spent in a McDonald’s parking lot where I cried while trying to find somewhere to stay for the night, and finally called home to share the news that I had overestimated myself. I needed help, I couldn’t do it alone. The next morning my Dad arrived with his truck, and helped me make it home that night. He never scolded me, even though I considered it a ridiculously humiliating failure. Instead, he started to pack with me and said “I’m glad you called for help.”

Since that fateful day in a parking lot of Wartburg College, my understanding of independence has grown immensely. My families all over the world have proved that being independent does not mean doing it alone.

• When I wanted to learn what ingredients to buy so I could make Khmer food, friends took me to the market.
• When I needed to make candidacy appointments by phone, or mail in a housing deposit for seminary, my parents took care of it.
• When I didn’t know how closed down Phnom Penh would be for Khmer New Year, a sister gave me noodles so I could eat dinner.
• When I had any questions or problems that I could not control from across the world, my family walked with me to answer and solve them.
• When I went to a doctor and couldn’t speak Khmer, Pastor Daniel translated for me.
• When I ate any meal, I borrowed from others to have rice, or dish soap, or even just a plate.

This is a short list of ways I have learned to rely on others this year. The lesson is part of everything I do. And so all that leads me to this one, very important part: this year has taught me the importance of interdependence within a life of independence. I see it like this: I can still be my own island and mainland can still be mainland and no one will try to change the things that independently make us who we are. However, now there is a bridge from my island to mainland that says we are connected interdependently so that we can be better independently. Building up one another’s strengths, filling in their weaknesses. We accompany one another. We rely on each other. An interdependently independent relationship. Now, perhaps I have known this all along and maybe I am still learning, but this 4th of July I am grateful for a reason to reflect on what it means for me to be independent, and not be alone.

Ashley

A New Unknown

A new poem for you as I head into my last week. May this let you into my head, even if only for a few lines of verse.


Recently, my life is filled with thought after thought
their depth and range are far apart
but their centers form one knot
In August I was called to a place I’ve never been
an unfamiliar stranger
who instantaneously was kin

But now I look around and find myself in June
“This can’t be right,” I think
for the close came much too soon
How can I ever reconcile a reality
where a year has come and gone
and the future finds finality?

How should I describe a year that cannot be defined
by actions or by words,
or by thoughts inside my mind?
How do I convey exactly what is meant
by saying unnamed moments
are where my days were truly spent?

Drinking tea on the roof in the pouring rain
Eating rice all the time without going insane
Getting all these Khmer words into my brain
Deciding to be still, instead of choosing to refrain
Creating many friendships I hope we can maintain
Cherishing each moment from gigantic to mundane
Finding a way to trust that all these memories remain

And yet to know that all too soon,
I must board a departing plane

How can it be here?
I thought I got a year.
To live,
To laugh,
To learn,
To love
And yet, a year seems hardly enough

A long time to leave the place I’ve known,
A short time for all of the ways I have grown
A good time to leave my comfort zone
A hard time I could not have done alone
A time where grace was always shown

And yet I reach this milestone
with a deep and curious undertone
of a brand new journey
A new unknown

For the Things Left Undone

I never really grew up with liturgy. This could be because most of my time was spent in youth group other than Christmas and Easter, because my family never attended “traditional” style worship, or because I dedicated my time to worship on Wednesday nights in college rather than on Sunday mornings. Then again, it is probably a combination of all of those, but what is important is that liturgy is new to me. Attending a church for a whole year where we recite the liturgy on Sunday mornings has been something to get used to here. Granted, the words are in Khmer but I am lucky enough to have the English projected as well. That being said, there is a phrase we say every Sunday that has hit me since the first morning I walked into City Church only days after arriving in Cambodia.

It shows up during the section of asking for forgiveness and naming the ways we have sinned (i.e. in thought, word, and deed…etc.). But what has struck me since that very first recitation is the line that reads:

“For the things we have done, and the things we have left undone.”

Now, the first part of this statement makes plenty of sense. The things we do that are sinful, we ask forgiveness for that. This is what Christians are taught when they are little, we do bad things, and God forgives us. That second line though, take a moment to think about what it says. It seems to me that the category of things left undone can be so expansive that I wouldn’t know where to start. How many missed moments are there each week where we could have been doing something different? As this upcoming week begins, I am struck with the fact that these are the last two weeks I will spend in my host community, and it makes me think about this phrase a lot.

My Cambodian brothers and sisters in the hostel are hospitable, kind, silly, intelligent, and full of overwhelming grace. It is hard to reach the end of this year and realize that there will be things I have left undone here. My inner-most self wants to apologize for the many things I won’t do before I have to say goodbye.

For the meals I missed eating with people. The places I never explored. The stories I never heard. The stories I was never a part of. The counters I didn’t clean. The Khmer words I never learned. The presence I may have lacked. The dishes I never got to wash. The people I never met.

I could drive myself crazy with the insurmountable list of things I have left undone here, but that is not what this year is about and that is not what my community would have me do. Rather, they would wave their hands and offer an Aht dte té. This phrase has come to mean many things over this year: it’s okay, never mind, don’t worry about it, but the most powerful and nuanced way it is used can sometimes be lost in translation. I forgive you. Any time this past year I would say sohm dtoh, excuse me/sorry, the immediate response would be aht dte té. I forgive you. Worry about it no longer. With so many times of not knowing the words or the right thing to do, I would think that the answer would change at some point. It never did. Grace was abundant, plentiful, and unbounded.

So, I go into this last weeks thinking about the forgiveness I crave for all the things I have left undone in a place that has done so much for me. And then I remember what the people in this place have shown me over and over again. Love, forgiveness, and grace. My host community here has taught me throughout this astonishing journey that radical hospitality is led by grace. This one lesson lightens my soul and heart. I know that because of these amazing people, I won’t worry about the things left undone, because they wouldn’t want me to. They would tell me it’s okay, don’t worry, I forgive you. With that knowledge in mind, I know that because of my community here, forgiving myself for all the things I didn’t do in the last year is one thing that will not be left undone.

Ashley

The Beginning of Goodbye

I am going to be honest. This has been the hardest month of my year thus far. After language frustrations, cultural learning curves, missing holidays and big events in the states, aching to do something rather than just be, and slowly learning to explain what this year is, I thought the hard part was done. And then came June 7th, the start of my last month. There is so much to think about right now, and my brain begins to forms cracks of separation between Cambodia and the United States like an earthquake disrupting the land. There is so much to feel right now, and my heart overflows from the joy and grieving and hope and strain and love flooding into it. A close friend in college once told me that my heart was a confusing thing. She said it was too big because I left the door to it wide open with room for everything to enter and since pain can creep into even a crack under a door, my heart was ridiculously susceptible to it.  But my heart also seemed to have the ambition of growing even larger for the beauty that was yet to be discovered or the love that did not yet have a home, despite the hurt that may accompany all the good. Times like these remind me of that. With about three weeks left in placement, I continue to take each moment for the beautiful bitter-sweet time that it is. I do not deny myself from feeling anything that I do during this time, because preparing to leave is a strange thing.

Last week I attended a youth camp with six other LCC staff members and one youth from the Tang Krang congregation. Many times during the camp I would close my eyes and just soak in however I felt. Frustrated, joyful, comfortable, tense, reminiscent, thoughtful, emotionless. It was good to open my eyes again and remember that these strong emotions make it clear just how impactful the places and people here have been this past year. It feels nice to know there is still some time left. Time to feel anything and everything that comes along. Throughout the week I was reminded of the Ashley that stepped off the plane in August. She knew about five (very badly pronounced) words in Khmer, she only could say for sure that rice was one important food, and she knew she got to take her shoes off a lot. But now, ten months later, she has grown so much from that place because of the people here. The Ashley that will eventually get off a different plane is both strikingly different, and very much the same. Same, same, but different.

At the end of the week I had to start my goodbyes to people who have been important during my time here, even if only for moments few and far between. When the time came for some of them, they looked at me and said one of the most common Cambodian phrases I have come to love: “See you when you see me.” And then they left, and that was it. There was not a hug, nor even a real goodbye, just a reminder that someday, we will see one another again. It was nothing like I pictured it, and yet exactly what I expected. Some of the tension I had been holding over the week as I approached the first round of goodbyes was dispersed, and I found a strange peace in knowing that my goodbyes were over, if only for a little bit. As my days continue to decrease, and are filled with both memories to cherish and moments of loss, I consider myself increasingly blessed. This feeling can only truly be explained through one of my favorite Winnie the Pooh quotes:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Ashley

Learning Every Day

I have always been reminded that even outside of formal education, we learn something new every day. So, rather than give you a list of over 300 things I have learned this year, I compiled a short list of life lessons, practical skills, and just plain silly things I have learned this year.

  1. When going to the market to buy sugar, it is best to at least know the word for sugar or salt in Khmer
    1a. The words “It tastes like the ocean” are never positive when making a dessert
  2. It is possible, albeit a bit tight, to fit ten people and their luggage into a Toyota Corolla
  1. English is weird
  2. Putting on Tiger balm and then touching anything near the face (especially eyes) is a horrible idea
  3. The differences between outputs, outcomes, and impact in project proposals are really nuanced, and yet simultaneously extremely distinct
  4. Clean handwriting really does disintegrate the longer someone learns a language
  5. The saying about remembering things being like “learning to ride a bike,” is an accurate analogy, based on someone who went from riding no bikes for about six years to riding through traffic in Siem Reap, Cambodia successfully
  6. There is something really special about hearing a worship song sung in three languages at one time
  7. Cambodia’s palace is pale yellow, no matter how many times I convince myself it is blue
  8. When describing the weather, “hot” and “cold” are a matter of perspective
  9. It is important to read the bottle when buying laundry detergent to avoid the possibility of using fabric softener for six months
  10. Height is one trait that is taken advantage of much more frequently when someone is the tallest in the room
  11. There is a way to cook fish that allows people to just bite into it, bones and all
  12. Although cockroaches have been described to me as able to survive the apocalypse or anything else, if they get stuck on their back then they are dead
  13. Drinkable water, especially cold water, is a gift
  14. Don’t know, ask!
  15. Need help, ask!
  16. Things that happen in the United States, even small ones, affect the wider-world in ways that we do not even know or think about
  17. Attempting to explain the difference between conscious, conscience, sub conscience, and subconscious in simple English makes for a ridiculously difficult and ultimately hilarious conversation
  18. People can put sweetened condensed milk on pretty much anything, and it is delicious
  19. How to tie a balloon
  20. The Lutheran understanding of communion is not classified under “consubstantiation”
  21. Mosquitoes are just as attracted to me here as they are in the United States
  22. The “F-word” in Khmer DOES NOT sound like the word for “to help,” despite what someone says, so avoiding the word “help” for fear of swearing is really just going to deplete the number of available sentences
  23. Senses of humor may vary drastically, but smiles and laughter really are universal

 

Ashley

Take A Lap(se) Through My Day

As I approach the end of my year, I realize I never quite got around to telling you about my “normal” day. There are many reasons this could be so. For one, although my days here seem normal in the sense that this is my life, just in another country, my days are far from normal in the same way. Every day is something a little different. If I were to have done this post a few months ago, I would have talked about my English class, but as I now no longer have an English class, my days are different. I also find that as an avid movie watcher (a trait I proudly acquired from my father, although I am quite sure it’s really a gene in the Rosa DNA,) I have come to appreciate the ways that pictures can show things. So for all my visual people out there, this one is for you! I’m going to give you a few glimpses into my days! Here is all you need to know: Each of these explanations has a picture, which is fine and dandy, but you can also click a link for some of them that will take you to a timelapse from my actual day. To know when that is happening, simply look for text LIKE THIS. Click on the big, colorful, underlined text and away you will go! Exciting, I know! So, good luck, see you on the other side!

What day is it?

This would be the first question to ask because I have two site placements. On most Wednesdays and Thursdays I go to LWD and work with their communication team. My morning commute (until we get stuck in crazy traffic) looks something like THIS. 

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While at LWD I work on things like Facebook content (click here to visit their Facebook page and see what I mean/learn more about them), videos to highlight projects, editing English things, and creating fact sheets for each of the five offices out in the provinces. Much of my time might look a little like THIS.

June 8

Other than that I would eat a quick lunch and maybe talk to other LWD co-workers if the office has people. However, usually I am the only one in my office as the staff members go out and conduct training courses all around Cambodia. Sometimes I get to go with too! Here are a couple pictures from a field visit I took last month.

Thursday nights are also filled with tea night on the roof with two of my hostel friends Lita and Sreydav or 3 or us when Johanna (another volunteer from Germany) is here!

Now, if it is a Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday I am in the LCC office most of the day. We start with morning devotional at 8:30. Once we are done, I usually go buy my breakfast. Sometimes I get rice flour waffles, but most of the time I get bai sah-chroo, pork and rice. Then other days I also treat myself to cafe dtuk dah ko dtuk kaw, Iced coffee with sweet milk. It also starts my morning of with a little JAUNT around the neighborhood.

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The rest of the day may be spent working on newsletters, hanging out with other students, Bibles studies (on Saturdays), stamping receipts with one of those cool date stamp things that has rotating numbers/months, or simply being around and open to adventure. Tuesday and Friday nights we meet as a whole hostel to worship together, make important announcements, meet in groups, and talk about different topics.

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Sundays are church days, which means almost exactly what you would think of as a church service, except everything is in Khmer. Sometimes I contribute by doing a prayer, or reading a Bible passage (in English), but usually I merely worship with my hostel family. There is always time for random jam sessions and eating lunch together after church. The afternoon could bring a boys soccer game, excursion to Tang Krang (though not recently), or just relaxing. Most nights I end up in the kitchen to COOK up some food, or try learning to do so.

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The last day to talk about is Monday, and honestly, they always change around. Monday is my day off, so sometimes I watch a movie, or clean/do laundry. Cambodia also has ALOT of public holidays, so that means Monday sometimes turns into more days. In May I took advantage of this and EXPLORED Kampong Cham (a nearby city) for a day with a couple other YAGMs.

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Other than that, what I do here is really just life. Every moment brings an eclectic mix of joys, struggles, laughter, frustration, learning, and memories. Each day something repetitive to comfort me, and each one something new to discover.

If you would like to see how days are different for other Cambodia YAGMs, click on anyone’s name to find their “Day in the Life” type blog: Lindsay, RachelAmanda, Mallory

Ashley

Sensory Immersion: Kep/Kampot, Cambodia

A few months ago I posted a blog where I focused on each sense individually during my trip to Battambang. In said post I also said that there would be more. So, here we are! Over the next week I will have more posts for sensory immersions in different places around Cambodia. So, here is my next sensory immersion: Kep/Kampot, Cambodia. These places in Cambodia were where we stayed for a week during Spring YAGM retreat, and they had some new and fun insights! Just a note that none of these are from one singular moment, but from combined moments where each sense presented itself in a new way.


Music beats at a nearby bungalow, a fellow YAGM speaks. The rushing of water ebbs and flows in the distance. Laughter sprinkles the air. A lizard imitating an overused squeaky dog toy cries in the distance. Repeatedly. Wind rustles through leaves all around, my voice hollers back at me from the surrounding bark of a tree. A beeping to rival the Dr. Beat metronome from high school marching band clicks in the distance. Nothing makes a sound, or if something does, it is too subtle to disturb the appearance of silence. Songs echo in a concrete church.

White sand, ocean waves, and afternoon sun reflect one another in a blinding brightness. From twenty-some feet in the air I can see beyond the forest of the tree that supports me to the city, to the sand, to the beach. A lightless lighthouse welcomes us into its sacred space and I look around to see each face that stares back at me. The clouds create a kaleidoscope from pink to blue in the billowy clouds. Other cream-colored clouds seem to cover the sky and ground surrounding a mountaintop. Graffiti made by those in need of a space to express covers the brick and concrete of a King’s crumbling past home. Sunsets never disappoint with watercolor mixes over Mekong currents.

Cheese, sauce, crust, pizza. I had forgotten about pizza. The Kep crab market offers seafood in stir-fry, tacos, soup, and just as a stand-alone dish. Crab, squid, shrimp, fish. They do not disappoint. A busted open coconut offers fresh flesh from inside the hard exterior. Refreshingly sour lime soda soaks my tongue, I ask for some sugar. Rice and vegetables mix with a texture I can only associate to cheese-whiz, which I was unaware existed in Cambodia. Not a combination I will continue in the states. An ice cream cone described as chocolate makes me question if I have forgotten what chocolate tastes like.

Fresh air fills my lungs as I think about the trees I don’t have in the city. Around me the flowers of the season and the leaves growing anew abound with subtle fragrance like a light perfume. The thick and memorable mix of sunscreen and bug spray assault my nose, while also protecting from the assault of mosquitoes and sunrays. Inside a van full of soaking wet humans who have been hiking all day, I am thankful for deodorant. Still, the dampness makes a musty smell not quickly overcome by cosmetics. Garlic, brownies, peppers, chicken, alcohol, coffee, mangoes, coconuts, and bananas drift on the air from countless restaurants, stands, and carts.

My toes willingly sink into the ground and they are covered with small grains of sand. Cool waves mix with cool breezes, and yet it is hot. The familiar tug of a harness envelopes me into a hug. Tight, safe, secure. Water washes away the worries of my world in a salt-infused fury. A sharp stab on my shoulders from a sun-induced scar signals me to wear a shirt with sleeves today. Water pounds onto my clothes and soaks them to the point where they could hold no more water. I shiver with chattering teeth, not an experience I’ve had since arriving in Cambodia.


Check out any of the other posts in this series on my page dedicated to Sensory Immersion posts. The page tells a little more about the idea and includes links to all sensory immersion posts thus far.

 

Ashley

An Ode to Rice

Rice has become a consistent companion in my life this year, and I think that deserves some special attention. From sun-rice to sunset, it is always there to eat. I suppose you could say that when I think about breakfast, lunch, and dinner, my initial thought is: three sublime rice meals are so fun. If someone were to insult the delicious white grain of my life…let’s just say it would be no more Mr. Rice Guy. So, without further ado, An Ode to Rice.

Good morning rice.
I hope your day is nice,
as you enjoy swimming in my porridge,
steaming with my Bai sah-chroo
for breakfast is not the same without you.

Hello rice, we meet again.
I have joined the rush of lunch in the P’teh-ah bai
Will soup or stir fry or fish or greens join you today?
It does not matter, because you are constant.
Stark white against the vibrant red chilies full of spice.
Bai Saw, Bai Chah
Steamy, fried, delicious rice.
Thank you for each grain.
For filling my stomach.
For another meal.

Good afternoon rice!
Ang Som sits on the office table.
Ang Som Chej. How can I possibly resist a rice and banana snack?
Knyom klee-en bai
I am hungry.
For a snack.
For rice.

Good evening rice.
Everyone settles down for dinner now
See, nyam, hope, pisa, sowey
We eat rice.
Nyam bai Howie?
Have you eaten rice already?
Howie Howee.
I ate already.
Nyam bai tiet. Meean bongaim
Eat rice again. I have dessert.

Again I greet you, familiar rice friend.
Swirling in a sea of coconut milk and sugar water.
Or dried with palm sugar into a tight ball.
Thank you for your sweetness.
Rice is sweet. Rice is nice.
Goodnight rice, until tomorrow.
Bai Bai Bai
 

For more facts about this friendly food and its importance in Khmer culture, check out a post on my language blog where I talk all about Rice, Rice Baby.

Ashley