Who knew a bar of soap could change a life?
I didn’t. Maybe that is why God used it to completely turn mine upside down.
If I really trace it back, this journey began when I was eleven and unloading Scotty (a family horse) from our trailer, and he backed out so suddenly it led to a burn on my hand down to my tissue and a broken pinky (Note to self: Don’t wrap a rope connected to a skittish horse around your hand). Of all the fingers, I suppose the pinky is the one to break, because you look classy as you write and as you drink from a cup with a stiff pinky up. After that incident I decided I didn’t want to follow my mom’s passion of horse back riding competitively. Not long after my hand had begun to heal a family friend recommended we get involved in the local 4-h club that had a goat project. I started off with a meat goat who I christened with the name Willy. I soon found out that I didn’t have it in me to sell Willy for meat, or have an actual meat goat project. Willy lived a good life, getting fat and becoming best friends with my horse Buddy. They would eat together, and when it rained Willy would stand beneath him.
After I found out I had a strong affection for goats, and was much better at collecting them than selling them, I looked at the dairy goat project. I did some research to find what kind of breed I would want (there are 7 different kinds) and from there I started my herd. As the herd grew we had extra milk, and my brilliant mom decided to utilize it. She started making goats milk soap, and other bath and body items. She taught me her trade, and I went around and taught lotion making classes in elementary schools and community centers from time to time.
When filling out my application for a short term trip to Cambodia in 2013 I put down lotion making as one of my skills, although I didn’t give it much thought. The one skill I hadn’t put much thought into is the one they ended up choosing. Over a three week period I went around and taught lotion making in the villages to interested women and men. It was amazing the way their eyes lit up as they scribbled down ingredients and the steps of lotion making. I saw through those moments that God could use anything, even lotion, to show people his love! There are many stories that provide greater context for those three weeks, however I prefer to sum it up in a sentence or two. Those three weeks changed my life, because God planted seeds that would bloom into something I never could’ve imagined. Those seeds are still being watered, and as those seeds have grown, I have grown with them.
I moved to Cambodia in the summer of 2014, fresh out of college and filled with expectations and ideas. I had an idea of what I thought Cambodia was like, in all that I had managed to gather in a three week timespan from my short term trip (aka fairly clueless). I’ve been here almost two years, and looking back at 2014 me, I just laugh. It is amazing the things that have become normal now, it is amazing all the ways that I am changing. This time has been hard and sometimes i’ve crumbled underneath it all. This time has been amazing, and i’ve realized there is not another life I would want to lead, another place I would rather be than where God has me.
For possibly selfish reasons, I prefer to live in a third world country. I prefer to work here (I of course wish poverty and its side effects did not exist- but it does as of now). I cannot say I am exactly the same as the people in the community I work amongst, because things are not the same for us. I can choose to leave and go to a life of comfort. How I wish our birthplace didn’t create such a difference in so many things, that divide which motivates me to demolish it. We were raised differently, but at the end of the day we are all human. They have as much to teach me as I do them. I am no better than them, and them no less or better than me, as the only difference between us is we were born in different places. Here I see stories that play out closer to bible stories, I see a different kind of hope and faith. When I’m in America I get preoccupied by things that when i’m here I find irrelevant. There is a kind of adventure and simplicity that I can’t find anywhere else. There is a part of myself that I really like when I’m here. I attribute that to following God wherever he takes you (ha- simple in words, not in deed!). In his heart, there is a peace even amongst the greatest of chaos.
I’ve felt a lot of chaos, firsthand and secondhand. I’ve realized in comparison to many people I haven’t experienced much chaos. I’ve realized that things aren’t about me, that pride does more harm than good, and that love through word and deed is something that should be given out unequivocally and without ceasing. When I started the soap project I hoped it would change lives. I know God will use it to empower girls, and to spread love. All this time, I never gave much thought about how it has changed me. I understood how I had changed at the surface level. How God had helped me realize fault lines running through my own life (some of which are still causing cracks). When I think about it I have learned so much more than I have taught. I’ve been transformed and humbled by how much the people I’ve worked with have taught me. My western savior complex (which even in my hearts best intentions still exists) thought I would be coming here to teach, but how i’ve been put in my place, how i’ve been shown that it isn’t about me coming to teach at all. My faith is possible because of the people I work with, I see God in them. They teach me about forgiveness, about grace, about love. God has shown me about his character through them. God has brought me closer through this. I could not have reached where I am now without God bringing me here, and he knew that.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but I do know that I have much to learn. I know that life requires grace for oneself and for others. Every human deserves love, and we should all seek to give that out. We all seek love, acceptance, validation, and we can live our lives giving out to others what we all need. Through the ups and downs, and side to sides, I am thankful God is still watering the seeds of my heart.
Here is a quote I love by a Hindu poet and theologian from a long time ago. I find it beautiful, as we all come from the same God. I find it beautiful because we should all seek to live at the empty heart of this paradox.
“Find the real world, give it endlessly away, grow rich flinging gold to all who ask. Live at the empty heart of paradox. I’ll dance there with you- cheek to cheek”
With love and the desire to dance with you- cheek to cheek,