White sand beaches, streets of Western bars and restaurants, yet another hotel under construction. These are not the pastoral scenes I idealized as a little girl dreaming of being a cross-cultural worker. When I signed up for the seemingly perfect service role, this is not at all what I imagined. And yet, to this broken yet beautiful place I have been called … or at least it is where I am.
I live in a Cambodian city shaped by the ocean, developed around a seaport. It’s a place full of people drawn by water. People come and leave here with the regularity of the tide.
Backpackers and expats come, drawn by the beautiful beaches. Unskilled migrants come, drawn by the jobs the tourists and the port bring. If you came here, you might see a white sanded paradise. Or you might see struggling families, damaging industries, exploited children, and shattered dreams.
I ended up here, in the middle of this broken, messy, beautiful city, trying to find my place somewhere in-between the partying backpackers and way too many casinos. Trying to live intentionally with a Cambodian family on a street filled with friendly little children and food sellers, a world away from the Westernized, touristy beaches 15 minutes down the main road.
I have doubted, wondered how I came to be here, questioned my purpose, struggled to hold beauty and brokenness together, and asked where God is in all of this mess. Through all of it, the ocean, the water that has drawn life to this little city has also drawn me in and become an unexpected teacher.
Sometimes I go to the ocean to feel small and vulnerable. The wind blows and the waves crash and I am reminded that I am not in control. God is so much bigger. Life here has often felt like a windy, wave crashing storm. Sometimes I am just sitting, clinging, waiting out the storm, counting down the days until it is over. Other times I enjoy the pure immensity and challenge of the storm, marveling at how it is shaping me.
Life here has also brought other (more rare) moments that are like swimming in phosphorescence on a perfectly calm, warm night – floating in a sea of stars. Then all I can do is worship, in awe of the amazingness of the creator. Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
No matter what, whenever I go to the ocean and feel the waves lap on my feet, I am reminded of God’s consistency. The tides come in and out, in and out. Whether I’m feeling the water on my feet in the moment or not, it is still there, moving with utter steadfastness. Sometimes I’m just not paying attention, sometimes I’ve moved far away from the water. But that doesn’t change the presence of the ocean, or the presence of God’s movement in my life.
The bible is filled with the words remember, remember, remember. Remember what God has done for you, for us, for God’s people.
Look at a rainbow, make a pile of rocks, break bread together…. find something so that you remember.
I believe God is revealed in the intricacies of nature; I feel his fingertips in the sand and salt, mist and breeze.
I go to the ocean to remember.
So when I am lost in what ifs, regrets, wonderings – I go to the beach and dig my feet into the sand, feeling the graininess, remembering that this is the place my feet are at, the place I get to love for now. And I watch those waves come in and out, in and out.
When I’m feeling far away, consumed by doubts – I climb up the hill by my house and see the ocean off in the distance and remember to trust a God so much bigger than I. And I watch those waves, barely even visible, come in and out, in and out.
When I’m thankful and amazed and need to worship – I go to the beach and run into those waves with joy and abandonment, swimming and laughing. And I feel those waves come in and out, in and out.
I wander and wonder, delve deep and doubt, pray and pout, give thanks and give undue criticism… and yet somehow those waves are still there, lapping at my feet or breaking in the distance. The ocean water – God’s steadfast, consistent, moving love made visible.
What physical signs in your life can you find to remind you of God’s steadfastness?