Thursday, August 18, 2016


At any given moment the world outside my door is shifting, spinning or blaring funeral tunes from a bullhorn pointed at my apartment. It also seems like, at any given moment, the world inside my brain is shifting, spinning, or going into an existential panic. Right now we have one main task: learn language and culture. Yet, doing that one task requires wading into a wild west of cultural differences (Why are people laughing? Why is the post office closed today? Why do people constantly have to keep asking me how much I weigh?) and into a mental marathon, which, with 8 months of grueling, deliberate practice behind me, has only given me the communication skills of a young child.

Culture shock makes it feel like instead of walking through my new world, I can only move via yoga poses. I am getting stronger, but I sure am sore.

All of this can leave my mind and my spirit spinning. I'm constantly processing, interpreting, planning or worrying that I just accidentally insulted or offended someone or that all this work might lead to a spectacular failure.

I recently came across a mantra that Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk, often uses. A mantra is a phrase that you repeat to yourself to pray or meditate on. His mantra is, Just this.

I’ve been trying to live into those two little words these last few weeks. On a sweaty walk to the grocery store, my senses overwhelmed, wondering whether the store will have the things I’m looking for this week, I stopped myself to think, Just this. It causes me to look around, to look up, to thank God that there is a shop within walking distance, for the way the vast, billowy clouds contrast the tightly packed mechanic shops that line the road, that in 10 months here, with all this traffic, no one has run over my toes yet.

As I was reading paragraphs of Khmer script letter by letter by letter, sometimes understanding, sometimes completely lost, I’d think, Just this. Letter by letter. No panic. No worrying I will never be able to read Khmer like I can English. Just beautiful, complex, swirling letters. Just this. Work that I offer as a sacrifice.

I sat in our small Khmer church, trying to make out the thickly accented and quickly paced words our pastor offered. Catching one word each sentence, my mind wandered but repeated, Just this. This beautiful group of God’s beloved community, struggling, gathering and growing together

I find myself...wanting to find the quickest way out of a conversation I don’t understand, but just this; worrying about our future effectiveness, but just this; missing the comforts of home and a culture I resonate with, but just this.

This mantra has encouraged me to stay in the moment. It has helped me look around, with a bit of wonder, and find something to be thankful for. It staves off anxiety and forces out my multitasking tendencies. It allows me to take a moment to recognize and own the emotions I’m feeling, especially when culture shock sneaks up on me. Just this illuminates the fact that each mundane, frustrating, spinning moment can be worship. It can be the place God meets me.

Maybe most importantly, I remember that just this is all I can do right now. While I often wish I currently had more power over my circumstances and ability to help those around me, my situation reminds me that God has power to do things without me (thank goodness!). While God invites us to participate in this ever unfolding kingdom, we don’t run the show. I’m not responsible for everything. In fact, I only have to focus on what has been placed in front of me. Just today’s language lesson. Just this one friend. Just these dishes. Just this moment. Just this