Pink Fog

PINK FOGA magical walk through the pink fog this morning, led me to another realization of how truly fortunate I am, and to pause and wonder about those we will serve in Cambodia.

As we climbed up the 800-something steps of the Dipsea, a father and two small children stepped past us, as they made the downhill trek to their school bus stop. The kids, well-dressed, carrying over-sized backpacks filled with books and lunch, talked about their plans for the day. The dad followed, watching their every step, mumbling an affirmation along the way – “Keep up the good work guys; you’re making great time today!”

I greeted them as they passed and said, “Hey, do you walk UP the steps everyday, after school?” One of the children said “Sometimes.” The dad chimed in, “Only when this mean old dad is home and I make them!” I said, “That is fantastic! You’re going to be so fit!” And the dad smiled and said, “Yes! That is what I keep telling them!”

We watched as they disappeared down the long flight of stairs and then continued on our way.

It dawned on me that this is simply something you would never see in Cambodia. In 2009, fewer than 20 percent of Cambodian families who lived outside of the cities had access to a toilet or clean water. At least one-third of the people lived on less than $1 a day. By 2010, 80 percent of Cambodia’s people remained desperately poor and barely educated. The situation has not changed much today.

As much as I’ve prepared, I realize that I have so much to learn. How can I be of service? What in the world can I do to help the children we will be serving? Their needs are so great!

In Joel Brinkley’s book, Cambodia’s Curse, he says: “Nine Cambodians out of ten may not hope, or care. But change is coming. Even for a nation lost in the past, the modern world encroaches, far more slowly than in most any other place, but inexorably still.”

Well perhaps our team will bring hope. As Brinkley says, “…for Cambodians, that’s more than anyone has offered in a very long time.”

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Fifty Paper Angels

photo (3)I spent last evening and this morning cutting out fifty paper angels. This is in preparation for the mission trip to Cambodia coming very soon now. We just learned that we will have at least fifty more children than we anticipated — so a total of 250 paper angels. And this is just one craft, of at least 20, that we will share with the children while we are there.

As I carefully cut each angel out of a paper plate, I pictured myself and our team sitting in a room, surrounded by 200 to 300 Cambodian children of all ages. I could see our leader instructing them in English: “OK, everyone fold the angel in half, this way!” and an interpreter running back and forth, yelling the same instructions in “Khmer” (the native language). Older siblings help the little ones understand the instructions. The noise from chattering children drowns out the next set of instructions….

So exactly what is the point of this exercise?

This week, I attended an all-day forum on human trafficking and child abduction in the US, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Marin County in partnership with the Jeannette Prandi Children’s Center. We were fortunate to listen to four survivors. One of them said, “If you leave with only one thing today, it is this: We don’t want you to be perfect. We don’t care if you are perfect. We want you to listen. We want you to be an active listener. Sex trafficking and slavery is not WHO we are. It is WHAT happened to us. We are people, just like you.”

I am pretty sure that if the children in Cambodia could talk to us, they would say the same thing. I will not worry that my 50 angels are not as perfect as I wanted them to be. I won’t worry that I’m not “the perfect missionary”.

I will listen with all my heart.

I will love with all my heart.

And I will pray.


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Ministering Cross-Culturally, or…

How to take care of your teenage grandchildren! 

In preparation for our church mission trip to Cambodia, I have been studying the how-to’s of ministering cross-culturally. I have learned that if we are to be truly effective in serving others, we must first understand their culture and be willing, to a certain degree, to accept their way of doing things. It is important to not pre-judge and make assumptions solely because they do things differently than we do. This does not make them wrong. This does not make them less than us.

Well who would have thought that this new knowledge could be so instrumental in caring for my two grandchildren, ages 12 and 14. As I flew across the country, I made plans for the week ahead. I wondered, how can I make this a good outcome for all concerned? In visits past, my approach to the kids has not always been received that well, and I wanted to do better. It dawned on me that I simply needed to follow the steps of ministering cross-culturally!

In the spirit of helping all grandparents out there, I want to share some of what I learned:

Getting Up in the Morning: Believe it or not, the 14-year old has to catch a 6:30 am bus and the 12-year old, a 7:15 am bus! Really? Who is in charge? I mean, really, are they trying to destroy perfectly decent parents? This was not going to be pretty, and I knew it!

Well this is what I did: Instead of yelling at the top of my lungs: JON! DANIELLE! IT’S 6:00 O’CLOCK!!! TIME TO GET UP!! HURRY! HURRY, OR YOU’RE GOING TO MISS YOUR BUS! I casually poured a cup of coffee, and looked up ‘teen music’ on Pandora and set my laptop up on the kitchen counter, and turned it up so the sounds would travel to their bedrooms. Done. They both arrived in the kitchen, sat down at the counter, staring at Beyoncé on the computer screen and ate their cereal with about a minute to spare. B R E A T H E!

Dress Code: In the land of teenagers today, the rules are different. The kids are allowed to wear just about anything they choose. After careful consideration, I figured the best tactic here was to just keep my big mouth shut; no communication whatsoever, other than PRAISE when they arrived at the kitchen counter fully clothed. So when Danielle arrived in short shorts and a teensy top, I bit my lip, smiled and told her that she looked very nice and that her hairdo was so pretty. (She did look pretty. It’s just that when I was a kid, girls were not allowed to wear pants, let alone shorts! I know you’re with me on this, but it falls on deaf ears, right?) When Jon walked out in shorts, a wrinkled tee-shirt and tennis shoes with long, red shoe strings trailing behind him, I said, cleverly, “Good morning Jon!” (I watched Jon as he walked to the bus stop, certain that he would trip over his shoe laces and readied myself to race up the street and rush him to urgent care, but low and behold he made it all the way to the bus stop, where he stopped, leaned over and tied his shoes. Again, it’s a different culture. Be open to your differences.

Cleaning Your Room:  Now, helping a teen to clean their room, or even discussing this chore, requires advanced training in cross-cultural ministering. Be very careful here. In fact, I suggest that you don’t even attempt this with your grandson. It’s fruitless, and you will find things that scare you and it will undoubtedly end up in an argument. Granddaughters are another matter. They LIKE to clean their rooms with your help. Sort of. Some highlights:

“Dani, why don’t we put that little throw rug on top of the huge stain on the carpet?” “Oh Grandma, you can’t put a rug on top of another rug!” she said, looking at me like I came from another planet!

“Grandma, I don’t like the comforter. I think we should just take it off.”  I said (without thinking), “But that will look ugly. There will just be sheets and it won’t be pretty.” The look of disappointment clearly communicated to me that I was in a foreign land and truly did not see what she saw. B R E A T H E… I suggested that we take the comforter and fold it neatly and place it at the foot of the bed. She agreed. For some reason, this compromise broke through the barriers of unknown territory. We both relaxed and admired our handiwork.

Bed Time: I’m sorry. I have not had enough training in this department. When in doubt, announce the bed time hour once and then pray. Praying works in most cultures.

Finish Your Homework: OK, now on this one I’m completely stumped! Each day, no exceptions, the kids walked in the door, sat down at the table and did their homework. I never had to say anything! I know! I don’t get it either! My daughter tells me that she started that habit when they were small, and it stuck! Go figure! (She must have had a wonderful role model! Ha!)


Happy Ending: Every now and then, something happens or something is said, to remind us that we are all from the same planet. My precious granddaughter and I took a walk in the woods. We waded in the river and searched for cool (as in “groovy”) stones. We lay on a towel, shoulder to shoulder, and stared up at the canopy of trees above us. “Grandma, isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Yes, sweetheart, it sure is.” And in that moment I knew that I had done my job well. For once, I had let go of all the old tapes in my head. That long, and ancient list of rights and wrongs. I did my best to accept our differences; to speak her language. And in doing so, we were both able to enjoy each other – and to love each other, unconditionally.

To Jon and Dani, With all my love, Grandma  September 2014




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Just Call Out My Name

Just call out my name, and wherever I am, I’ll come running to you!

I feel the tug in my heart. It makes me swallow hard. I fight back the tears, but they come anyway. It’s just too hard. Please show yourself to me somehow. Let me know that you are here. Let me know that you are happy. Let me see you once again. Let’s run in that meadow like we used to! OK?

You’re a few steps ahead of me, slapping your sides with your hands, prodding your imaginary horse to go faster. You yell at me at the top of your lungs, “HEY, PONCHO!” We race through the Eucalyptus trees, angel caps flying, our tennis shoes sprouting wings! “I’M COMING, CISCO!”, I scream, trying to keep up with you.

We fly through the field of wild flowers, beads of sweat on our foreheads – and you come to a screeching halt. Look! A dandelion!! Oh, cool, Sis! Let’s make a wish! You proceed to pull it out of the ground, root and all. We admire it for a few seconds and then bow our heads in solemn wish-making mode. Wishes made in silence, we count to three and then blow!


I miss you so much, sweet Sis! May God hold you in His loving arms and sing Happy Birthday to you, like you’ve never been sung to before!

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The Dark Side

dark oceanOne of my daughters has practiced the art of painting for a number of years. The most recent series of paintings have been quite dark, and when she asked me if I liked a particular painting, I said, frankly no, it was so dark and depressing. She said, “Well, you’ve always had a hard time facing the dark things in life.” She’s right. And as we talked, the subject of James Foley came up. He is the journalist who was so gruesomely murdered by the ISIS. My daughter was surprised that I had been following the news and was fully familiar with what had happened.

In fact, as we prepare to leave on a mission trip to Cambodia (see earlier posts), I have become much more aware of the dark side. As I’ve studied Cambodia’s history and have begun to learn of its grim past, I have had no choice but to take the blinders off and pay more attention to the world. If I’m going to travel to the other side of the world, to one of the darkest places there, and try to do some good, then I need to “be smart about it”, and know what I’m getting into and who I’m dealing with.

And so, we sat and talked about James Foley. I asked the question, “How did this young man face this terror? How does anyone, for that matter, face such evil?”

My daughter said, “Mom, they do it knowing that they are loved. James Foley knew that he was loved unconditionally by two great parents back home, and surrounded in that love, he was able to face that evil.”

As I become more aware of the horrific things that go on in this world; of people so filled with hate, and the unimaginable crimes they commit, I can’t help but feel a bit weak in the knees. But I am reminded, thank God, that for every one of those lost souls, there is a person filled with love, ready to put their fears aside, and do what they can to help others.

My daughter reminded me that not all art is ‘about the decoration’. It’s about making people aware. It’s about helping people to remember. And so, I remember James Foley and his family today. With my deepest condolences and prayers for healing.

I will also pray for the little girls that we will meet and work with in Cambodia. Many of them, sold into slavery by their own parents, have faced horrors we cannot fathom and have done so, void of love.

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Excuse Me, Do You Have the Time?

mickey mouse clockI woke up to the 6:00 am alarm with a grunt and laid there for a few moments, contemplating the day. I had an appointment at 10:00 am. I made a mental note: four hours until appointment — check! As I got dressed I outlined in my mind what I needed to do to prepare for the meeting, and also, guesstimated the time it would take to get to the appointed place. Better leave around 9:30 to make the twenty minute drive just to be on the safe side. You never know, you may run into traffic, even though it’s an “opposite commute”. You just never know. Gotta be safe. I arrived at the meeting place with ten minutes to spare. I sat in the car and waited exactly eight minutes, giving myself two minutes to make it inside the building and up the elevator to the office suite. I knocked on the door at EXACTLY 10:00 am, letting out a little sigh of approval. In this country, we call it “Clock Time”. I have lived by clock time all my life. I like clock time. Clock time is my middle name!

In Cambodia, (as in many other countries) people run on what is called “Event-Time.” People run their days by an internal clock; they are focused on one task at a time and the present.

In clock-time cultures, showing up five to ten minutes after the set time is considered permissibly late, 15 to 20 minutes after is late, and 30 minutes after the set time is considered insultingly late. But in event cultures it is considered permissibly late if someone arrives thirty to 45 minutes after the set time. One to two hours after the set time is considered late, and two to three hours after the set time is considered insultingly late.

I’ve got a lot to learn! Hope I have enough time!

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What do you do?

Jeanette MacDonald's photo.

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