But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
In the past I’ve thought a lot about my weakness. About the difficulty of working with street children. I’ve cried and raised my fists in the air, sometimes angry even with God for the life that these kids often live. I struggle with how people write off so many children here merely because the parents are always looking to exploit people who help the kids. There are indeed times when I feel like I understand why so many other people might give up and am ready to do so myself.
Right now it is the end of June. In just a few more days the school year will end and we will have completed our first year of sponsoring students. For 11 months we have been pushing these students to study. We have dragged them out of bed, we have bathed them, taught them to do laundry, helped them with their homework, reprimanded them for acting foolishly, dealt with times they acted out, laughed with them, cried with them, and overall we have loved them and continue to do so. And after 11 months we are exhausted.
At times it feels as though we are pushing each other and drawing up energy from long hidden caverns in our bodies that we didn’t know existed but will soon also be depleted. And often times it is when we are at our weakest, when we are feeling beaten and drained, just about ready to give up, that things seem only to get worse so that we really do learn to rely on God’s strength, on His plan, and trust Him to keep pushing us all along.
In the last few days one of the parents of our children announced their intention to leave to go stay with a new spouse far away. The new spouse did not want the children from the previous marriage around and so the parent handed the children to us and left. We know not when or if they will ever return.
While I knew something like this might happen one day, there really is no way to prepare yourself for the emotional shock of seeing a parent abandon their own child.
Then we started the process of trying to get all the appropriate legal paperwork so that we can begin to seek out the best possible long term care option for our student. And in spite of our intent just to care for a child that we love, we found ourselves being berated by government officials for wasting our time and money with these kids. Then later in the day I found myself being lectured by other expats who neither lived in Battambang nor knew anything about me or Crossing Cambodia but apparently knew that while I had “good intentions” that this probably was my fault for not knowing what I was doing.
In all the stress and exhaustion and hopefully in the best interests of our student. I just bit my tongue and stayed silent and prayed.
On top of that an old injury from back in 2006 is back with a vengeance. Back in December of 2006 I attempted to get an awesome photo while jumping off a rock somewhere in Vietnam. What I assumed was a bad sprain turned out to be a small fracture that never quite fully healed and has regularly caused me moderate foot pain ever since. Then Thursday morning that foot pain suddenly became debilitating to the point of being unable to even walk.
So just as I am exhausted, just as I am figuring out how to deal with a child whose mother has given up, as I am spiritually and emotionally depleted, my body also has now been disabled.
And while this might all sound like bad news, it is a reminder that in my frustration and confusion, in the times when I literally am incapable of doing much at all, that God is working.
As I sit, stuck upon the couch in my office, taking time out with God, I reflect on all that has happened in the last week. I recall my burning desire to physically injure certain parties when they spoke without thinking and read my own words I typed and while it might seem like the appropriate time to have a mental breakdown or an anxiety attack, I type this out with a renewed sense of calm and trust in the Lord because in my weaknesses, Christ’s power rests upon me.
For now our student is safe. They are at our center and we have the legal permission to keep them while we work out the details of a long term arrangement. My foot hopefully will heal soon and now in Battambang there is an orthopedic surgeon so I can finally afford the operation to get my foot straightened out. And short of a student physically assaulting the teacher, all 5 of our kids are set to pass and go up to the next grade level. We get to keep them around a while longer and get to keep on caring for them as we share God’s love and compassion with them on a daily basis.
Even in the cloudiness of all that has happened, there is still a glimmer of something awesome that happened about 2 weeks ago. For most of the last 11 months we have been struggling with the oldest boy in our program. He acts out frequently, he is arrogant as pre-teen boys tend to be, and has consistently tried to quit. But recently we had a chance to ask his parents to share their stories with him. About how hard they have worked and what they hope he will do one day. He asked to come into my office, and tearfully he said, “thank you” to me. Something I never expected in my lifetime to hear from him. He told me what his parents said and handed me a note that said he thanked God for bringing us into his life and putting him in school.
I have tried very hard to live my life according to Romans 8:28. Accepting that I have no control over much of what happens but that in “all things” God is going to work, that He has a plan in mind, even when I can’t see it.
As I type this now I am reclined on a couch with my foot in the air. I am thinking about everything that has happened and I am listening to kids and staff laugh raucously as they dance to a video game on the Wii a good friend recently gave us. In my broken state I am reminded that God is working and that He has a plan. That through all the struggles and frustrations and when my limits have been reached and even exceeded, His strength will carry us through. He is refining me, He is refining our staff, He is refining our students according to His plan.
When I am weak and broken I stop relying on myself, trust in God, and that is when I realize that He has given me peace. And in the face of everything else, that makes me smile.