Wednesday, January 31, 2018

To Remember

This morning in yoga class, this song came on during the shavasana (cool down) and it broke me.

I was mid-way through tears before I could even recognize why.
It's like my body knows that part of us is still in Cambodia.
And I wept for that.

Not over the sadness that I was ever there.
Not because I regret going.
But just because it was.
It happened.

January 2014 visit to Cambodia

And now it's in the past.
And a piece of my heart still lives with a pig farmer in kompungseu province.
And a new mother in Phnom Penh.
And an economics student who is engaged to his high school sweetheart.
And I can't get those pieces back.
And I don't want them back.
But I'm not completely whole without them.
And I feel that.

I lived in Cambodia from August 2007 to July 2008.
It was a tremendously painful and life-changing year.
My body knows we are in the thick of a ten-year anniversary.
Like beyond July of this year, maybe it will feel even more odd that I'm still talking about this.
That I'm still feeling this.
Like, perhaps, I've been given 10 years to reconcile this.
And I think I will always need more time.
I will always want more time.

January 2014 visit to Cambodia

Music is a powerful force.
Like that song in yoga class this morning.
It evokes feelings we didn't know we had.
There is this "Cambodia soundtrack" of songs that pop up in my world today via Pandora or iTunes or wherever, and I'm brought back to that time.

Time and time again.

Songs like, "Stranger Girl" by Peter Bradley Adams.
And "There is So Much More" by Brett Dennen.
And "Stay Alive" by Jose Gonzalez.
And "All I Need" by Mat Kearney.
And "Every Age" by Jose Gonzalez.

 September 2015 visit to Cambodia // riding moto with Kanya

These songs are in my bones and that's where they will stay.
Because beyond those songs, or the occasional Facebook memory popping up on my computer screen, that's about all I have to remind me that:
-it happened
-it was real
-I'll never be the same

 September 2015 visit to Angkor Wat

Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and the first thought that crosses my mind is Cambodia.
A memory.
A student.
The school.
That time.

Wherever you've been. Wherever life has taken you. These recollections demand to be known. To be remembered. It's like our subconscious is saying,
"Yup, here it is. Don't forget. This is worth remembering."

And so, on mornings such as this, I sit and I remember.
And I weep.
On a yoga mat.
Ten years later.
Because little parts of me will always be spread around the world.
Where they belong.
With people I love.

And maybe that's less about lacking wholeness,
and more about possessing great courage.

Because people who don't want to be known, find ways to play it safe. But as Brene Brown says, "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."And so fragmented hearts are the "price" we pay for having shown up in the world.

I may never be a person who jumps out of an airplane for fun.
Or makes a bold character for a reality TV show.
But I can tell you that what I lack in entertainment value, I make up for in heart.

Because showing up and letting myself be seen is the most courageous thing I've ever done.
And will continue to be the most heart-breaking and important thing I ever do.
And that makes it all worth it.


Saturday, January 13, 2018


There's an idea in yoga practice based on the Sanskrit word "drishti."

I'm no expert, but from what I understand based on classes I've been to, a drishti is a focal point that is unmoving somewhere in the room and if you fix your eyes to that place, you are less likely to wobble. Maintaining a drishti is usually suggested during a particularly difficult balancing pose where if you were to move your eyes around (or close your eyes for that matter) balancing would be particularly difficult. If not, impossible, for some of us.

I don't know about you, but the last year or so has me feeling pretty wobbly. There are endless things to look at these days that are completely throwing me off balance:
-intense school requirements
-a heavy internship load
-watching Donald Trump be so embarrassing and unkind
-two man-children holding their fingers on nuclear launch codes
-mass shootings
-being aware of the news at all
-my upcoming graduation
-my upcoming job search
-all the existential questions that make a life, a life

So for this coming year of 2018, my drishti--the one, unmoving place where I am choosing to devote my attention--is hope.


I need all the hope.

Definition of HOPE
hoped; hoping

intransitive verb
1. to cherish a desire with anticipation, to want something to happen or to be true

transitive verb
1. to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment

2. to expect with confidence, TRUST

Sometimes, my 75 year-old friend, Carole and I will take long walks around the park near her house. And often she will chuckle (with love...) at all the things I may be worrying about on that particular day. The things that consume my thoughts. The ways I'll talk so incessantly about "running out of time." To which, she usually says something like, "Why are you always talking like you're my age?"

Probably because I've always felt older than I am.
Which doesn't leave much room for hope, constantly thinking that your world is about to end.

The Bible has some helpful things to say about hope.
Like Hebrews 11:1,
"Now faith is confidence in what we hope 
for and assurance about what we do not see."

And 2 Corinthians 4:18,
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, 
but on what is unseen. since what is seen 
is temporary and what is unseen is eternal."

Hope cannot be held in your hand.
But it can be felt in your soul.
This is a spiritual practice.

There's a quote by Jennifer Michael Hecht that my sister and I pass between us from time-to-time:

"Have some respect for your future self who's 
going to know things you don't know."

The poet, Nayirrah Waheed, writes:

you are.
is not
you are.

And Henri Nouwen, the priest and theologian, writes:

"Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. 
As we grow old, there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, 
a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have 
chosen the wrong road. But don't be surprised by pain. 
Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its 
beauty in the midst of a barren dessert, and be surprised by the immense 
healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water 
from the depth of our pain."


This makes all the sense in the world to me.

I think I grew up with this idea that life would be mostly good, mostly manageable, except for those few ornery bumps in the road (death, illness, betrayal, heart break) and they were to be feared and dreaded. But I hear Nouwen saying, maybe the whole journey is bumps. So maybe we've got it wrong to expect an otherwise peaceful life. Maybe we should expect bumps. What's really worth being surprised and grateful for are the flat and smooth and picturesque parts of the trip.

I think that if we view life as mostly manageable and then, completely lose our shit over difficulty, we might have a tendency, as Brene Brown says, to "dress-rehearse" for tragedy. We think we might be able to predict difficulty and, thus, be better able to handle it. But she has an entire chapter in her book, Daring Greatly, that pretty well debunks that theory. Because what preparing for those "random" bumps in the road does, is it keeps us focused on the bumps in the road.

But maybe we would be better off anticipating, trusting, hoping for the joy in the road. And being delighted by that instead.

My drishti for the coming year is hope.

Sing us home, Brittany:

"So, bless my heart,
Bless my mind,
I got so much to do,
I ain't got much time
So, must be someone up above
Saying come on girl,
You got to get back up.
You got to hold on.

Yeah you got to hold on."

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Sometimes when I'm driving home at night, I look into the illuminated houses that pass me by. I see couples cooking dinner or a family huddled around the glow of a television. I see art on the wall. And book shelves. And dining room tables. And hanging pots and pans.

And all the things that make a home. 

And often, I feel like a lost, little girl--not a day over ten years-old--with her nose pressed against the toy store window and I think, "I can't begin to imagine what would have to happen in my life for me to ever have such beautiful things."

And, to be clear, it's not just about things. It's not just about longing for possessions or status or wealth. It's about security. And comfort. Health insurance. Peace of mind. Just knowing that we have enough money in the bank to buy what we need.


We are not homeless. We have good health. We have things we need. But we are living below the poverty line. We are on Medicaid. On a daily basis, I walk the university campus of a multi-million dollar enterprise. I am a student with a right to be there. Just by being there, I must look wealthy. And in many ways, by some standards, I am wealthy. I have money in the bank. What a gift.

But hope is not a feeling that comes easily for me.
Call me a pessimist.
Call me a realist.
But this season of graduate school and standards and curriculum and expectations and career and "turning 30" has me feeling scarce and desperate and less-than.

I shared this with my 75 year-old friend, Carole. She laughed hysterically. "But you're so young," she said with surprise. "What do you have to worry about? There's so much ahead of you. There's so much to feel hopeful for."

And she's right. She must be. She's old. She knows stuff. And hearing it was hard. It's like I've adopted a posture of "never enough" that clouds all of the opportunity in front of me. I'm struggling to see clearly. I'm desperate to graduate and move forward to all that "hope" out there somewhere.


I spent the morning re-reading some blogs I've written over the past 10 years. But mostly, the past four. About Korea and Cambodia and Vietnam. About things we were able to experience and witness and learn. We felt so "rich" in Korea. We were both working and making money and paying off student loan debt. But alas, in the United States we aren't valued in quite the same ways.

And so now we scrimp by. And to say the shift has felt disorienting would be an understatement.

We went from having a large apartment, making more money than we needed, and being valued simply for speaking English to living in a tiny apartment, making less money than we need, and being valued only for what a graduate degree on paper might get me.


I think a lot about money.
And debt.
And retirement.
And the cost of health care.
And the cost of having a child.
And mortgages.
And the cost-of-living.
And annual income.
And career.
And whether or not we will have what of my peers have.
And how we chose degrees we were interested in.
But not necessarily degrees that make money.
And whether or not I'm okay with that.
And what we've gained.
And what we've lost.


I know security doesn't just fall out of the sky if you wish for it. I know that nice things require hard work and regular income. My parents haven't just wandered into a sense of financial security. They've worked for it. And so at this moment, we have accumulated enough birthdays to be adults, we just don't have any adult things to show for it.

And maybe I'd feel more secure if it weren't for the Internet and the regular reminders that people ten years younger than me have careers and homes and families and a dog. I made other choices. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've been given. But let's be clear: it's a trade-off. For sure. 

And I know that life is about more than just material possessions and making money. Because when I drive by those houses in the neighborhood, I get this familiar ache in my chest. 
I'm longing for a home.


And so, as we enter a new year.
As Jeremy and I conquer the last five months of graduate school.
As I look for a job and a career.
As we become a two-income family.
As we continue to find our way on this side of the world.

I have to practice gratitude for all that we have.
Because we have so much.

And I have to hold onto hope.

For all its ridiculousness and youthfulness.
For all the ways I want to talk down to the silliness of hope.
Hope is where I'll be.

Hope that we can crawl above the poverty line.
Hope that we can make enough to be okay.
Hope that the security I've felt before, will find me again.
As it always does.
As we always do.

Hope. Always.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


This is the month that I turned 30 years-old.

Thirty sure feels a lot like 29, if you ask me. But I always feel that way about age. Like the numbers never quite mean what I think they will.

As the band Joseph says in their song "Hundred Ways":
"These are the times, when growing up is not a straight line."

I have blogged about my birthday every year since 2007 when I turned 20 years-old
(a third of my life ago!):
Twenty when I was a volunteer in Cambodia and struggling hard.
Twenty-One when I was back in college and super melancholy.
Twenty-Two when "content" felt impossible.
Twenty-Three and trying to find "happy."
Twenty-Four and being proud of those years I'd accumulated.
Twenty-Five on "growing up" as a privilege denied to many.
Twenty-Six written after two months living in South Korea.
Twenty-Seven and reflections on my existentialist self.
Twenty-Eight and landing back in America
Twenty-Nine on feeling exactly the age that I am, for the first time.

And now thirty.

I post these more for me than for you.
Just to take the time to remember.
That's 10 years of blogging.
And 10 years since Cambodia.
And 10 years that I'm proud of and still surprised by.

About a year ago, my sister's husband told her he wanted a divorce because he was in love with my best friend.
A few days later, I turned 29 years-old.
A few days later, Donald Trump was elected president.
All of this happened in about a week.
It's been a season of incredible loss and disorientation.

But on my 29th birthday, I started taking 1-second videos every day for the past year. Perhaps, out of an attempt at gratitude during a difficult time. Mostly, out of defiance. Like, "If this what I have to feel this year, at least, I'm going to make it beautiful."

And so, I did. I made this video of the last year of my 20s:

What I learned in the process of making this video:

-The practice of paying attention 
It's amazing what you notice about a day when you start looking for the one-second moment that feels important. And I don't mean, "important" like valuable to most people. I mean "important" like valuable to me. For example, the clip at 4:10 where there were geese slowly meandering their way across the street, oblivious to morning commuters and our agendas. That moment mattered to me. I stopped and took a breath and laughed out loud at the geese "disrupting" our world.

To pay attention has meant waking up most days and surveying the potential of my own happenings. Thinking about moments that might be worth capturing. Experiencing moments that took me by surprise. Getting to the end of a day, realizing I hadn't yet taken a video and then finding something, even a small something that is familiar and significant and worth noticing.

-The practice of letting things go
Some days I completely forgot. Some days I borrowed from other days. Some days I took 10 or more videos and then, I had to pick just one for that day. Some days I had this great idea for a video, and  then, perhaps, arrived at that moment and decided something else was going to make the cut instead (like geese!).

The perfectionist as identity in me died when I was 25. I stopped using "perfectionist" as a badge of honor when I realized how seriously it had negatively affected my mental health and well-being. She comes out to play sometimes, but I must say that this video-making process, in general, has been a healthy reminder to hold all of this lightly. To be gentle. To move on when I forgot a day or to be accepting of a simple, and not terribly exciting day. To not turn it into a practice of homework, but a practice of letting go.

-The practice of being grateful
Isn't it interesting how theatrical a life seems to become when set to music? Some of the most mundane moments during the past year feel SO IMPORTANT when they are all strung together to music. I feel differently about the year seeing it all put together than I did even while living it. There's something about watching your own life on repeat or fast-forward or even, rewind. There's something about noticing. About paying attention. And reflecting. Moments that I captured where I wanted to actually scream at the injustice of it all, are not visible in that second of that video. They breeze past. They are one in a drop of 365. Stringing these seconds together puts them in a healthy perspective as but one moment among many moments.

Looking for these 1-second moments in everyday made me notice and appreciate:
-people on the train
-lazy mornings in bed
-good food
-laughter with friends
-the outdoors
-random acts of kindness
-sunshiney days
-rainy days
-all the things

Essentially, this video-making process was a spiritual one. A daily practice of paying attention and letting go and being grateful. If there's a better way to spend my days, I haven't found it yet. And so on the day after my birthday, I kept shooting videos. I kept noticing. Who knows how long this form of this practice will last. I'm not terribly concerned. For now, it's keeping me alert and grateful.

My hopes for the coming year:
-to help Jeremy get more regular, day-time work hours
-to avoid going seven weeks again without having quality time together
-to graduate with my masters degree in social work
-to get a job that I enjoy
-to feel more stable financially
-to be okay


*to be fair, I just looked up the Joseph lyrics and it's actually "going up" instead of "growing up", but I'm pretending like I didn't know that, because I like my way better


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

Today marks the 33rd year of your life.
Today is the celebration of your birth.

I couldn't be more grateful that you exist. That I met you 11 years ago. That we started dating 9 years ago. That we've been married for 5. You are an incredible gift.

I'm regularly in awe of you.
Of your kindness.
Your playfulness.
Your gentleness.
Your listening ear.
Your ability to say just the right thing.
    Or the "wrong" thing, but eventually, the right thing.
Your thoughtfulness.
Your patience.
Your knowledge of things I didn't even knew you knew.
Your practical abilities to fix, like, anything.
The way you observe and take things in, without immediately reacting.
The way you let things slide off your back.
The way that you are calm in a crisis.
The way you adore our niece, Scarlett.
The way you jump in and help my parents.
The way you take care of my sister.
The way you poke fun at my brother.
The way you hold me in your arms and everything feels right with the world.

Years from now, we will say, "Remember that time we conquered graduate school?" And "we" will be accurate because there's no possible way that I could be doing this without you.

You work 70+ hour weeks to provide for us.
You get very little sleep.
You don't always get to do the fun things.
On the weekends, you sit beside me while I do homework and rub my shoulders and pretend like this is exactly what you hoped our Sunday would be.
And you do all of that for me.

You, my dear, are a wonder. 

You are my one true love.
You are my best friend.
You are my favorite feminist. You support me. You believe me.
You love me: mind, body, and soul.

Let's live 33 more years together.
Let's reach the time when we've been together more years that we've been apart.
Let's snuggle hard on the weekends.
Let's live a simple life.
Let's take care of each other.
Let's build community.
Let's make the world a little brighter.
A little kinder.

You make me better.
Here's to you, on your birthday. 

I love you.

Every part of me,

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It Will Come

I've wanted to be a therapist from the first time I needed a therapist.

I was eighteen years-old, oblivious to the need for any outside help, swimming in my own denial and invisible shame. I remember arriving to the address, sitting in my car, and being so embarrassed of walking inside. Wanting to crawl out of my own skin and into anyone else's to avoid this appointment, this feeling that there was anything so wrong with me that I had to be here. But I went inside because my attendance was required before I would be allowed to go out-of-state for college.

And I met Jane. Who was kind and gentle and sincere. She didn't push. She didn't prod. She just listened without judgment. She actually affirmed things that were hard or unjust or unfair. She made me feel like I wasn't crazy and I was going to be okay.

Later, I met Teresa.
And Stella.
And Marsha.
And Lynn.
And Katie.

And these women set aside an hour at a time for me. Just for me. To listen. To observe. To notice. To comment. But mostly, just to be with me as I walked my own path.

Therapists are some of the kindest people I know. They are also some of the wisest people I know. They are interesting. They write fascinating books. They seem to have a presence about them that is calm and comforting and safe. And what I gathered from the hours I've spent with therapists, is that you have to be a certain kind of person. Like, in the book The Giver, (or, now that I think about it, Divergent, too), how everyone is given a profession--a purpose--and there's no getting out of it. That's just what you were born to do. And so I imagined "The Therapist" up on a pedestal as some kind of sage for society. A voice of reason. A role unique to their DNA. Like the Dalai Lama. But wearing clogs.

And then, I found out there were schools where you could go to learn to be a therapist! There were places that would allow everyday people like me who really, really wanted to be wise, a chance to be so lucky. A chance to be wise.

But what I've learned in graduate school, and most recently in my internship is that they'll let anybody be a therapist! Within the boundaries of ethics and proper education, it turns out nobody really has wisdom just flowing through their DNA. Therapists will steal your lunch right out of the fridge, cut you off in traffic, and make mistakes just like the rest of us.

Darn it.

So I've found myself asking out of absolute necessity: Well, then what does it mean to be a therapist?
Because now I'm in the other chair.
And I need to know.
Like, yesterday.

If this thing is not something a select-few are born into.
It it's not an elite club.
If therapists don't have a corner on the market in terms of wisdom.
What gives us the nerve to try to be helpful at all?

I find myself wanting more assurance than is available to me. I want a philosophy. A lens.  An outline. A cheat sheet. And when I express this to my supervisors (and just about anyone else who will listen to me), they keep saying the same annoying thing:

"It'll come. 
You know more than you know. 
Trust your intuition."

I know, right?

Apparently, it's less about interventions and theoretical perspectives and inspiring one-liners that clients will stitch onto a throw pillow. What I need to do right now, is exactly what I already know how to do:
Which is to sit.
And listen.
To be present.
And curious.
To be affirming.
And compassionate.

Just like others have done for me.

I trust that the rest will come.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Want to Be a Therapist

It's August 18th and the year is 2017.

This week, I pep-talked my way through the morning drive to my second year clinical internship. It's starting. I am now a registered psychotherapist with the state of Colorado. This is the year where I become a therapist. I will conduct intakes and assessments for potential clients at our sliding-scale and Medicaid-friendly counseling center. Because you know, behavioral health should be a basic human right. Right? I will have a case load of my own. People will come to me for help. And then, I suppose, I should have something to offer them in return.

But as I drove there this week, I needed more consoling that I expected. This feels huge. This feels important. This feels like the culmination of ten years of experiences that made me want to become a therapist to begin with.

Ten years ago. 
It was August 18th and the year was 2007.

On this day exactly ten years ago, a little 19-year-old-120-pound-anorexic-Christian me climbed on a plane and flew to Cambodia. What followed was the absolute hardest year of my life (I wrote a book about it if you haven't heard...).
I thought that the problem was Cambodia.
It was that guy who sexually assaulted me.
It was the driver who hit me with his car.
It was the God that deserted me.
It was the religious community I grew up in.
Or something.

Either way, I made it through the year and waited in the Phnom Penh International Airport for my flight home. I bought a smoothie. I sat down. A young, white woman with red hair started talking to me about her travel plans. She asked how long I'd been in Cambodia and I told her.
"A whole year?" she exclaimed. "You're so lucky. I love Cambodia. I wish I could stay longer."
And then, she asked me questions about my time there and she wanted to hear stories about this "wonderful" place that I'd been so "lucky" to experience. But I didn't have anything to say to her, because I didn't know what she was talking about.

I returned home a 20-year-old-150-pound-bulimic-agnostic me. Apparently, the same person, though completely unrecognizable in the mirror. I bought new clothes. I got new friends. I didn't go back to church. I returned to college. I moved on.

My life has been divided into two parts ever since: B.C. (Before Cambodia) and A.C. (After Cambodia). Everything else finds its place in one of those two categories. And while I would never re-live that year, I've had the honor of returning to the country (twice!) and realizing that the fault of that difficult year was drastically misplaced.
The problem wasn't Cambodia.
The problem wasn't even me.
The problem was the mental illness that moved in and took control of my ability to see clearly, to live fully, to feel anything other than depression, anxiety, and despair. That eating disorder changed the way I saw everything. And it took five more years before I could call myself truly "recovered" (whatever that means in a society where I've never really encountered a woman with a healthy self-image).

I used to think Cambodia was the villain in this story, but it turns out she was the mother who nourished me back to health. Thirty-pounds of health. It felt like force-feeding. It was. I'd never been this size before. Around the time that anorexia moved in (18), my body was trying to grow bigger and stronger. So it was actually Cambodia that brought me to the healthy weight that I've maintained ever since.

Thank God for that nourishment and the six mental health therapists who have brought me back to life.

I want to be a therapist more than I've ever wanted anything (besides recovery). This is exactly where I need to be and exactly the program that will get me there. If that's not pressure, I don't know what is. And yet, as I drove to my internship where I will receive the training to become half the therapist that those women were to me, I repeated again and again out loud to myself,
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."

I don't know what your "Cambodia" is. But take heart, that we can do hard things. Because we've done them before. And we will do them again.

In November, I will turn 30 years-old.

I will leave my 20s behind. A decade that has brought trauma in Cambodia, mental illness, recovery, college graduation, marriage, South Korea, and this awkward stumbling into adulthood one-damn-day-at-a-time. I don't have kids. I don't have a house. I don't have an established career or a salary of any kind. The tangible milestones I thought I would've reached by now, are still miles ahead of me (if I ever get there at all). But the understated, more delicate milestones like wisdom and discernment are things that make me older than my years and I carry them with me always. Things I have earned. I have miles and pounds that prove the rigor of this journey that took me around the world and back again.

I think I'm supposed to be sad about turning 30.
About being called "ma'am".
About being overlooked by the lascivious male-gaze on the street. Oh shucks.
This dread over "being 30" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be sad that I'm still here.
Bummed about continuing with this business of being alive.
Which I am not.
I'm so relieved to still be here.

We get to be here.

I get to be "recovered"
and healthy
and married
and well-traveled
and a student in graduate school
and a therapist in-training
and almost-thirty.

But still here.