I can tell you exactly how many words I can write in the Khmer script: twenty-seven. I’ve been studying the language spoken in Cambodia for just over five months now, and those twenty-seven written words—with curls to the left, squiggles on top, silent letters, and incomprehensible spelling rules—are hard won. Also almost incomprehensible is that just about one year ago a book that I wrote was published. A whole book. This year, even after lots of hard work, I cannot yet write my name in this this country’s script.
Life and ministry has changed a lot in the last year.
Almost nothing in my life these days looks like my life in Colorado a year ago. Back in the States I was operating on high octane—juggling to-do lists, completing side projects, meeting up with people almost every day of the week, occasionally speaking publicly. I can only look back with wonder at that pace and all I was able to accomplish. At this point in my life and ministry in Cambodia, I consider it a win if I can make a moment’s worth of small talk with our building’s security guard. If there’s food in our apartment’s mini-fridge, and the ants haven’t completely taken over the kitchen—a success. If I only have enough energy to make it through language school and homework, and all I can do is collapse on the couch in front of the fan for the rest of the evening, I’m thankful.
I was prepared for the first few weeks of our life here to be an exhausting time of transition, and it was. (I’ll spare you the story of our first meal in our apartment that took two hours to cook and almost that long to clean.) Yet, weeks turned into months, and though my cooking times improved, my energy level were still not back up to where it was in a country with central air-conditioning, a language that I understand, and Amazon Prime. David and I have worked hard to learn how to say hundreds of words in Khmer but found that still only left us with advanced-toddler level communication skills. While I knew our transition would be full of new and challenging situations, when those challenges persisted I had to come face to face with the narrative I have absorbed from a young age that tells me that limits are placed in our path to push us into another gear, to get us to work harder. I had to question whether not conquering those limits—in life and in ministry—meant I wasn’t succeeding.
If Cambodia has taught me anything in these last six months, it’s that God did indeed make me with limits (food poisoning is a potent reminder, should I forget). Not learning to respect those limits makes me a fool, not a hero. In a season full of learning, God has been showing me that limits are not always something to conquer and push. Slow is often an appropriate pace. It’s ok not to know everything. Feeling like I don’t have much to offer might be just where God wants me. I’ve learned that ministry does not mean that I always know what I am doing or what’s going on around me.
What have I learned better than ever? Ministry is about showing up. Showing up with a stutter. Showing up embarrassingly sweaty. Showing up with a limp. Showing up to church week after week without much more than a smile to communicate with.
Ministry has changed a lot for me in the last year, and so has my capacity. Yet, despite the changes and my limitations, I’m showing up—with twenty-seven words and counting.