Wednesday, January 17, 2018

THRIVING

If I were to describe 2016, our first full year here, it would go something like: hold on tight and put one foot in front of the other. Go to class, pass your tests, buy your groceries, don't let ants completely take over your apartment...and give up trying to have the energy for much more than that. Culture shock, construction zones, insane heat and the element of unknown mixed into every aspect of our life all combined to make 2016 overwhelming. The year became about showing up and praying for the best. For a chronic overachiever, it was a gut check to hope to only get by.

For me, though, 2017 was about roots. After barely surviving in 2016, I wanted to put down some roots and settle into life and work in Cambodia. Our community here, while still small, grew. Our love and understanding of the people in our church deepened. Our growing language and cultural understanding gave our interactions a lot more nuance. I started to love living in Phnom Penh. We spent the whole year without moving apartments (it's been a long time since that happened!). We bought a car and explored outside of our well worn pathswe saw some of the countryside and a few of the city's hidden corners. We even got to spend 3 months in the US connecting with friends, family and supporters which left us feeling deeply connected on both sides of the ocean.


2017 was still a very challenging, very humbling year, but it was about more than just not falling over. It was about stabilizing, sending down roots, going deeper.

Now that we are already a couple of weeks into 2018, I've spent some time thinking over the coming year, planning and setting goals. So, what's my hope for 2018? My hope for the year could be summarized by the word thrive. After hanging on and then sending out roots, I'm praying this year I'll see many of my relationships, goals and work sprout and send up green shoots. I hope our language abilities finally transition from being able to just communicate to being able to really listen and fully understand the Cambodians we have gotten to know or with whom we hope to build relationships. I hope it's a year where everyday life here not only doesn't drain me, but becomes normal enough that I have the energy to mine the environment around me for the gems of life and inspiration it holds.

As I have begun to absorb the culture on this side of the world, I've started to let go of making big, detailed plans for the days, weeks or even months ahead. I've started, instead, setting goals with an eye toward the next quarter or year, sometimes for the next few years. Before moving here, I never would've guessed it would take two years of ground work for me to even begin thinking about actively thriving here. But now? It makes sense.

I heard a story a while back about bamboo, and maybe you have heard it too. Apparently, there is a kind of Chinese bamboo that requires you to water it everyday, give it sunshine, and maintain it. But for the first whole year there's no noticeable growth. The same goes for the second year. And the third whole year! You constantly care for it, but there are no signs of life above the soil. Yet, in the forth year, a sprout appears and before you know it, the shoot doubles and triples each week until it has grown over 90 feet in 6 weeks.

(Full disclosure: some further internet research gives me some conflicting ideas about how factually true this story is, but I'm going to run with it anyway! It's at the very least a good parable.)

I won't push the metaphor too far, as we have seen some sprouts from our work in much less than 4 years, but this story resonated with me. Sometimes there is a lot of work that has to take place underground before you have any evidence of growth, and sometimes that work takes whole years. It takes patience and faith and a hand to the plow. But one day, Lord willing, those sprouts do come up above the soil. Eventually you have a tall, sturdy, thriving tree.

So, this year I am hoping, praying and working towards thriving. I hope you thrive this year, too. If you're not there yet, take heart. God meets you in the hanging on and the below-the-surface years, too. But, in 2018, I'm praying the ground is finally stirring under us all.