Both of the images here were taken on my walk to the office in the morning. Some of the roads in Phnom Penh are paved, some are not. More on that later...

There are a few things about arriving that astounded me. The first was the profound sense of relief I felt when the plane touched down. The second is the strange permanence that set in a few days later.

First, the relief. It is good to be here. It is good to have all of those onerous tasks that comprise leaving completed. Once I arrived, I realized that there was simply no way to finish up the unfinished. No way to pay the Blockbuster fine I forgot to clear up. No way to call one more person to say goodbye. And being finished with the process of saying goodbye was, I will admit, a relief. Leaving was emotional, it was scary, and it was overwhelming. Arriving was exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying.

I don’t get to post a “first impression” of Cambodia, because I’ve been here before, and I knew a little of what to expect. I was interested, as I told someone before I left, to compare the Cambodia I left last summer to the one I anticipated. I was also interested in how the true Cambodia would compare to my reflections and hopes. Arriving was the meeting point for all these thoughts. Several things were the same; moto traffic on the roads was crazy. The humidity was immediately sweat-inducing. Even the road into Phnom Penh was littered with little things that seemed the same. Yet, there were differences too. For one, I was alone. No team to chat with, no one who could exclaim over differences with me. I was welcomed into a home, and this is where the permanence set in.

I’ve told myself that I will be honest here, so I will share that the first three days were some of the hardest of my life. On top of jet lag, settling in to a new routine, and trying to understand a new country, my emotions went crazy. At some point on Tuesday, it finally dawned on me that I’m not leaving Cambodia. I have no home in the US any longer. All that I own is with me, and there’s nothing left behind. After living in LA for so many years, it’s now strange to be gone. Particularly since I am not going back anytime soon.

Two years is stretching out before me like an endless road. There are benefits to this. I think about how the partnership can grow, the things that can be accomplished, the friendships I can make. I also think about how long that seems, how separate I feel right now from everything I know and love. That separation will grow more profound in two years. Ties will be cut, friends lost. I will not be intimately involved in my friends’ lives anymore. How is that possible? To suddenly be in a new place, starting over. Despite all my anticipating and preparing, I never really thought about it this way.

At some point, it struck me that to miss home for two years wasn’t why I left in the first place. And while God can use those feelings, He also wants me to be here, in Cambodia, doing the work I feel called to do. I was reminded of these verses in Hebrews: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” For me, to fix my eyes on Jesus here, is to walk with purpose in this new life. I have endeavored to be present here in Cambodia, shaking off feelings of homesickness to embrace this new place. I have realized that I must persevere through the emotions that have swept over me, for the joy set before me. I do believe that joy is coming. I do believe that God desires not just for me to endure Cambodia, but to love it.

Upon reflection, it was only after the plane touched down, I unpacked my bags, surveyed my surroundings and cried my tears that I think I fully arrived here. In the words of Barry Manilow… “looks like we made it.” Indeed.



I thought to do this in a two-part series. It seems important to separate leaving from arriving. The thought processes and emotions are different, and in a lot of ways I am still processing both the coming and the going. Plus, more pictures that way. Get excited.

The turmoil of packing, discarding, and cleaning has not given me adequate time to process my departure. If I had thought about it, I would have photographed the piles of belongings that left my house in the past few weeks, simply to astound everyone with the enormity of what is gone.

So, here's the list:

A carload full of clothing, housewares, and electronics (to Goodwill);
A television (which felt a bit like aiding and abetting a theft);
A couch (in the back of a pickup; I defy anyone to secure it better than we did);
A bed, refrigerator, some bookshelves, and assorted odds and ends (to a trio of needy grad students);
My car (quite nearly in a puff of smoke—in actuality, simply gone from the lot by the time I left the dealership).

At the moment, I’m finding it hard to be sad that “my” things are no longer “mine.” I’m just relieved all the stuff is gone.

What I do miss, though, is my community. I have to say, I have great friends. Not only did they send me off with multiple dinner parties (what can I say?… we love to eat!), but they have prayed for me and served me as I packed my bags and sold my stuff. This motley group, from academic pursuits, church family, and weekly ultimate Frisbee games completely served me, kept me laughing, and watched me cry with such compassion in my last weeks. Though I want to say that I fully appreciated these individuals—who both know me well and barely at all—during my time in LA, I think I’m only realizing how great I had it now that I’m gone. Whether it was cleaning my oven, packing my bags, or helping me drop off my cable box, these folks kept my heart light while doing the very tasks that cemented my departure.

Erissa somehow managed to help me fit everything into my bags. And at midnight, no less!

Some pictures from our times together are here. Despite some of the faces people are making, we really did have a great time eating Matzo Ball Soup at Canter’s in Hollywood (two years without mishmosh is certainly a sacrifice) and while Mi Piace wasn’t necessarily the best dining experience, the company was great and I felt truly loved.

In case you missed it, that's me in the corner, not paying attention...
Mi Piace just a couple of hours before I left for LAX.

The airport, as one person put it, was a bloodbath. We all sobbed, we said nice things, and in the end, I somehow found the strength and courage to get on the plane and go. I’m not one for whom tears come easily. It takes a lot to get my eyes all misty, and even more to drive me to sob uncontrollably. Nevertheless, I did it. Children gaped in horror at my puffy eyes and sniffles. No doubt some thought I was overreacting. But even though the pain was acute, the people who stood by me as I checked my bags and cleared security made sure that in leaving, though I felt sad, I was also incredibly blessed. The words and tears they shared with me have endured these past few days. I feel so gifted with that time.

So I did it. I finished with the anticipation and the preparation that prompted so much reflection. All those emotions met their match, first in the empty apartment, and then in the three suitcases stuffed with my few belongings. I was reminded of the story in Matthew 19 of the rich young ruler who is told to leave all his possessions, and follow Christ. I now understand his sighing, because leaving possessions is certainly a lot of work. Yet, he missed out on the joy in owning only three bags (and if I’m honest, it could be less) of property. And as I looked them over before getting on the plane, I wondered, is this too much? Would it be better to follow with less?

It is painful, this leaving. Yet it is liberating. Though I walked away from my friends standing at the airport, now it is their prayers, encouragement, and love that sustain me. These are the things that don’t fit in a suitcase, and aren’t contained by time zones. I left, but in some ways, I’m not really gone.



I am writing from Phnom Penh. I have been here for 24 hours... and I still don't know what to think. As soon as I can form coherent sentences about leaving, arriving, and beginning, I will be posting. Pictures, too. Everybody loves pictures.



If anticipation is a feeling, then preparation must be an action. Just three weeks from my departure, I am becoming well-versed in the tasks that compose preparation. I have begun divesting myself of my worldly possessions. I am suddenly overwhelmed at how much I own, and how worthless it is. There are a few big things to be rid of, my car, some large furniture items. But then there are the little things, trinkets, decorations, things that only matter because they add depth, character, and completeness to the little apartment I call home.

These little things, strangely enough, are the ones I am sad to part with. These are the small objects received as gifts, admired at boutiques, and purchased on a whim. These are the items that no one thinks to buy, but somehow ends up owning. As I prepare to leave them behind, I feel almost ashamed. These knickknacks are not the staples of life, not the necessities, but they make my home feel more comfortable, more mine. I didn’t intend to think of this as an exercise in allegory, but the more I think about the small “things” that I am leaving, the more I realize that I will miss other small, intangible parts of life here as well.

I will be sad to leave my students. Over the past couple of years, these young people have been the ones to say hello when I go to lunch, to stop me in the hall, or to laugh at my silly jokes in class. There are hundreds of students I have met in my time at USC, many I will not remember. There are a handful who have become truly important, people I will keep in touch with after I leave. Then there are the rest, the ones whose futures I would wish to know, though I will probably never see them again. These students are the ones that I would have liked to appreciate more when they were in my class; these are the people who should stand out more, but will fade into the background of my memory. They are significant, but ultimately, they are only small a part of my life and I cannot take them with me.

For the past few months, I have been contemplating what it means to hold people with an open hand. Something about that image, of not grasping or clinging to relationships or asking too much of the ones we care about has resonated with me. I desire to be in community. I desire to be known and loved by the people in my life. But I do not wish to be held. In the same way, I want to appreciate the friendships that have come into my life while I’ve lived in California. I want to stay in contact with the individuals I have grown close to. However, I refuse to grip them tightly. I am all too aware what happens when we hang onto something too tightly for too long. Eventually, our fingers become pained, they spasm, they falter, and they relax. We can’t hang on forever. When we finally let go, our hands hurt from the exercise, they are painful, sore and we are unhappy with being parted from what was in our grasp.

I do not want to leave like this. I do not want to let go painfully, regretfully, or angrily. I want to release the friendships, the possessions, the memories, peaceably. I have chosen to move away, and I don’t want to be angry at making such a choice. I am excited at what lies ahead for me, and eager to see what the future holds. A friend told me that in every box I pack, every item of clothing placed into my suitcase, I am submitting to God’s will and plan for my life. In doing these things, there is peace. I am choosing to look at my preparation to leave as the act of letting go willingly, peacefully, and hopefully. I am offering my possessions, my friendships, and my future to the Lord with open hands.