Twenty Seconds

One night this week, we awoke to loud, repetitive banging on our outside door. There were three guys — one at the door, and two others in a big van. They eventually left. But I was as shaken as my poor door, and we later learned it may not have been just a few guys at the wrong house. It could have been people trying to break in and steal from us, by tricking us into opening our front door for them. That possibility shook me even more. I found myself in a very familiar state: Much Afraid.

We usually take our kids outside to play in the afternoon, but that day, I didn’t want to go. I forced myself to walk out the front door. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew if I didn’t go then, that the next time would be even harder. So I picked up my chair, walked over to the neighbor, and sat down to talk with her.  We had a lovely time together. We talked about Bible translation, and how long I plan to live in Cambodia. . . We talked about the differences between Khmer and English and French. . . We talked about missing people who are far away from us. . . And we even talked about the night before.

To feel such community with a Cambodian — one of the reasons we came here — was very healing for my heart that night.

So I’m re-posting what I wrote in last May’s newsletter. I apparently still need those 20 seconds of insane courage.


In the movie We Bought a Zoo, the recently widowed dad tells his adolescent son, “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.”

As the following story illustrates, I’ve often needed courage in my life. Toward the end of 6th grade, I heard an announcement for students who were interested in intramural volley-ball during the next school year. I was interested in intramural volleyball. I hesitated. I looked at the door. I watched a sports-y blonde girl leave for the meeting. I wanted to go. I don’t know why I wanted to go learn about intramural volleyball – hadn’t I always been afraid of balls hitting me on the head?? I looked at the door longer. I was afraid to get up out of my seat and go. I was afraid people would know I was interested in volleyball. I was afraid to leave in the middle of elective and miss some-thing. I was afraid if I went I would be stuck in intramural volleyball for-ever even if I changed my mind. My fear became glue in my seat. Even after I knew it was too late to attend that meeting, I looked at the door and wished I had gone. And I have always been so embarrassed that I was embarrassed, that I never told anyone that story.

20 seconds of courage?? Is that really all I need? The young woman who lives next door seems very sweet but shy. I have been thinking, praying, about getting to know her. I know enough Khmer to exchange a few short, insignificant sentences.

Last week we were playing outside with our kids one evening. I saw her. I hesitated. Was she staying outside or going back inside? Would she think something was wrong with me if I try to talk to her? I haven’t ever talked to her before. Jonathan knows about my fears and my hopes. He gave me a nod. That nod said, take 20 seconds and go talk to your neighbor!

I took a deep breath. I picked up baby Faith. I walked over to the newly married neighbor lady. I said something. I am not sure, but I think I asked her about her baby. I stayed, and we talked a little in Khmer. She talked with her friends in Khmer, too, and I have no clue what they were talking about. It felt. . . uncomfortable.

But I did it, I walked from my front door to her front door. A distance that is farther than the sum of its steps. A distance that is truly an ocean apart. With 20 seconds of insane courage.


“I’ll follow wherever You lead. Where You send I will go, I will go. To the ends of the earth, or down the street, Where you send I will go, I will go”

That’s the 3rd verse to a song Jonathan wrote (If you want to listen, you can click here, and then click on “One Thing” to download). Its piercing truth stays with me: now that I’ve gone to the ends of the earth, I must still go down the street.


Much-Afraid (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 3)

Trust and obey, For there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

That’s the chorus to my favorite hymn as a little girl. I’m not even sure I knew what it meant at the time. But it seems to have followed me throughout my life.

I had lots of worries.

My worries took on a life of their own during pregnancy. I would inevitably contract toxoplasmosis if I so much as walked into a house with a cat (which posed some problems for a youth ministry wife who might need to visit the houses of people who owned cats). I thought I would die of tetanus from a small tape dispenser scrape, even if I was up-to-date on my tetanus shots. I was absolutely convinced my baby would have fetal alcohol syndrome if I swished with Listerine for gum health. Or the cortisone cream I used in early pregnancy? That’ll probably cause my baby to have a cleft lip.

Unfortunately, I am not making any of this up.

But who worries about that kind of stuff anyway??

That would be me, the Hypochondriac.

I’m a Hypochondriac by nature, a Germophobe by trade. My husband even came up with a song for times when the Hypochondriac started taking over my mind: “Hypo hypo hypo, hypochondriac, I’m married to a hypo, hypochondriac!”

And he wasn’t joking.

My fears threatened to swamp me when I was pregnant with Hannah. But the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 have always buoyed me. Words like:

25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.

 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

 30O you of little faith?

34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

After Hannah’s birth, when Jonathan first suggested we apply with Team Expansion, I was Scared.Out.Of.My.Mind, but we still moved forward with the application process. We had to take various psychological tests — you know, the kind where you answer, all-in-one-sitting, exactly 750 multiple choice questions about yourself. Then we sat across the room from the nice head doctor in Louisville as he gave us the results. One of the categories was called Harm Avoidance. (The upside to the Insanely Long Psych Test? We finally had a name for my peculiar behavior.)

I had scored a perfect 100%.

No one avoids harm better than me. No one can top that score.

Jonathan’s Harm Avoidance score was 7%.

The psychologist told Jonathan, rather sedately, “you’ll probably have to be considerate of that in your life overseas.”



If he only knew. Harm Avoidance was the only reason I had reservations about going to Cambodia at all.

But I live here without fear, at least of the daily, hourly, minutely type. (Is minutely even a word? Well, I’m going to use it anyway. Because it’s an accurate description of the hounding power of my former fears.)

Oh sure, I still startle easily. I still have an overactive imagination. And I’m still germophobic enough to bring Germ-X with me everywhere I go. (Hey now, who in their right mind wouldn’t bring hand sanitizer with them everywhere they go??)

But I shave my legs, brush my teeth, and wash my dishes in the tap water. And I don’t die of massive internal infection. (And neither will you, if you visit.)

I “trusted and obeyed,” in spite of my fears. And I said “yes” to God. That is really all that can be said about my part. God’s part was graciously taking away the fears. I said yes without assurance that He would take away the fears. I only knew He would be with me in my fears. And knowing that was enough for me to say yes.

I’m no longer captive to my Fears. This is the most significant part of my journey so far. It has the greatest impact on my daily life, and I cannot take any credit for it at all. God did this. In fact, if you asked me how He accomplished this in me, I would not be able to tell you. I only know He did.

I might not be Fearless. But I’m no longer Much-Afraid.


Perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18

An American at a Khmer Wedding (Part 1: A Trip or Two to the Seamstress)

— by Elizabeth

The seamstress on my street does my mending, and each time I am happy with the quality of her work (and with her exceptionally low prices). While she speaks no English at all, she does speak her own language rather rapidly.

I’d been admiring the purple dress (my favorite color!) in her window for weeks but didn’t have the courage to ask about it. Asking about it would expose my ridiculous lack of Khmer language. But there was a wedding coming up, and I wanted something more formal than what I owned.  So three days before the wedding (can you tell I brought my whole self, including the procrastinating part, to Cambodia??), off I marched to the sewing shop. And this is how it happened:

I tell the seamstress I like the dress. I stand there next to it, unable to think of the word for “wear.” Because of course I want to wear it before buying it. Oh why didn’t I study first? That’s what Jonathan does before he attempts something new.  I have a limited Khmer vocabulary, and only the most used portions come to the front of my brain during a conversation. Words I don’t use much — like words about clothing — stay way in the back. Think think think. What is the word for wear?? The only thing I can think of is the word for clothes. I stand there unproductively, actually waving my hand in circles as if it could help me. She talks at me while I think. I have no idea what she is saying. Then poof! The word I need comes to me.

I tell her I want to wear that dress. I tell her, if I like the dress, I will buy it. She looks a bit confused, but she teaches me the word for “to try on.” I stand and think some more. Suddenly I know what to say: “I want to try it on now.” The light goes on, and she pulls the dress off the mannequin. I have found the Magic Key. (Magic Keys are an essential part of my life. The Magic Key asks a question that forces the hearer to answer me using words I already know. Or, as in this case, the Key asks someone to do the very thing I want them to do.)

I try it on, and it fits (hooray!). But the back shows too much skin, so I tell her I don’t usually show my back, because I am “shy.” (That’s the only way I know to explain my desire for more coverage.) She teaches me another new word, which literally means “skin for enclosing.”  She’ll basically make a wrap to cover my back and shoulders.

Then it’s time to hem the bottom. I don’t have my dress shoes with me. (Um, again, why did I not think to bring them?? I am so unprepared.) I’m not sure how much she should cut off, so I ask for her advice. She doesn’t seem to understand that I want her help in deciding the length. So I ask her to make it the normal length for dresses. Again, her face registers no understanding. I stand there, think think thinking again, about how to do this hemline. (Have you noticed yet that I do a lot of standing around and thinking??)  At one point she even tells me I should have my husband come (she knows he’s a better speaker than I am).

Finally I tell her, cut just a little bit. She seems to understand that. (Magic Key alert!)

But when I go to pick it up later, it’s not ready. She seems to be concerned that the dress and wrap materials are not exactly the same color, so she hasn’t sewed the wrap yet. At first glance, they look exactly the same to me. But as I examine them closer, I notice a slight difference. She is very concerned, so I start wondering if the slight color difference is a big deal to Khmer people and will I show up to the wedding looking extremely inappropriate?? (Insert internal freak out moment right here.) I stand there. Thinking. Asking myself what to do, as if I could possibly help myself. All this time she is talking at me again, and I understand nothing. Finally I say, sort of questioningly, “they’re close to the same color.” She agrees, “yes, a little bit different color.” I ask her if that’s good.  She says yes. (There’s that Magic Key again. Because let’s face it, all I really care about is covering up that back.)

In the end, I’m very happy with my new dress and wrap. And I’m very happy with my seamstress.satnight (2)

Culture Days

— by Elizabeth

A week ago a high school student came to my house for math tutoring. I noticed the neighbor children pestering her as she waited for me to unlock the gate. When I let her in, one of the girls grabbed a handful of my stomach and yanked. As my student pushed her moto into my house, a boy followed her inside and began examining some of our stuff. I told him, “ot tay, ot tay,” which means “no, no.” Then I tried to lead him out of the house – I had not, after all, invited him in. He just laughed, repeated my request in falsetto, and shuffled out slowly.

A day like that makes me want to lock my doors, hide myself in my bedroom, crank up the air conditioning, and watch a movie.

It’s what I call a “bad culture day.”

The next few days I didn’t want to go outside, or even unlock the gate for our house helper in the morning. In fact, I asked Jonathan to unlock it. I just couldn’t handle another neighbor kid violating my house or my body. (These neighbor kids live in the boarding school next door – and I had never seen those two before. They don’t have normal social boundaries, even for Cambodians.)

But today I had errands to do, so I called my tuk tuk driver and walked out my front door. I paid the bill that was due and bought the items on my list. I even talked to my driver. (He wanted to know my opinions about the U.S. election. Opinions I will not be sharing in this blog. : )

Fast forward to this evening. This evening our children begged us to let them play outside on the street. We initially created a play space for them on our roof in order to avoid playing on the street, where children and adults alike touched them too much. We’ve spent a lot of time on the roof in the last several months. Lately, though, they don’t want the roof. They want the street. (That desire in itself is a huge step forward into the culture for them.) So out we went, culture-avoiding-me included.

First Jonathan stopped by a local Khmer restaurant to pick up some supper. We love their fried rice (and its price!). We started eating it in front of the house while the kids played. That’s a very Khmer thing to do. They cook in front of their houses over an open fire, just like they’ve done for thousands of years, and then eat outside as well. Nobody touched me or my children rudely. We talked with the older ladies. One of them particularly likes our children, and told us tonight that it makes her happy to watch them play. Later, when Nathaniel slipped on the wet pavement, they were very concerned for him to clean his scrapes well.

Even Faith, my shy little one, played and laughed with the girl next door. (That was a first, by the way.) We felt a sense of belonging in what we did tonight — eating Khmer food, speaking the Khmer language, and playing with our Khmer neighbors.

It was what I call a “good culture day.”

A day like today gives me the courage to go back out and try again. It gives me the courage to interact with the people – unwanted touches included.

God, give us more good culture days.

Waiting for our fried rice carry-out at the local Khmer place.

How to be a Temporary Trailing Spouse (or, How One Husband Lives with his Wife in an Understanding Way)

– By Elizabeth

While I played with Faith in the church nursery recently, a mom asked me why I decided to homeschool. I paused for a second. It’s been a long time since I’ve pondered my journey to homeschool motherhood, a choice that’s just as uncommon among ex-pats in Phnom Penh as it was among church-goers in Kansas City. (Most parents in this city send their kids to international schools.)

As many of you know, Jonathan was homeschooled, and I wasn’t. When we started our family, I just figured we would homeschool because Jonathan would want that. After a few years as a mom, however, I wasn’t quite so sure anymore. I was afraid I’d do it poorly. I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy being with my kids ALL DAY. I was afraid that life would consist of only one thing: schoolwork.

Our school room in Cambodia

You could say I was a trailing homeschool spouse. I’ve previously used the term Trailing Spouse to describe my initial hesitancy toward missions. Jonathan’s desire to come to Cambodia was originally much stronger than mine, but I eventually caught up. It’s easy to see that my trailing pattern had been established before, when his desire to homeschool was much stronger than mine.

I’m a data gatherer. When I trailed behind Jonathan in homeschool-parent-willingness, I joined a homeschool co-op in order to gather data. I gathered data from real women who were educating their children at home through varying styles of homeschooling but who were all satisfied with their choices. I pleasantly discovered that homeschool didn’t take over their lives. I realized that there were a lot of available options, but most importantly, that we could still be a happy family. My new knowledge gave me the courage to try it. Now I love homeschooling. I love it so much I forget there was ever a time that I didn’t want to do it. My desires did catch up with Jonathan’s.

In these trailing situations, Jonathan has truly been a husband who lives with his wife in an understanding way (from I Peter 3:7). It’s not one of the more commonly quoted Bible verses on marriage (Ephesians 5, anyone??), but it’s my personal favorite. It perfectly describes my husband’s behavior. He understands that I’m a data gatherer, and he lets me gather data. He understands that I will follow him, but he also understands that from time to time I might trail temporarily. He understands that I often have fears, and he waits for them to dissipate. He makes it easy to be his wife – he’s got 12 years of experience in living with me in an understanding way.