I first came to Laos as a permanent resident on August 26, 2012. Two years seems like nothing when I think about it. I was in high school for twice that long. Spent three times as long getting my college degrees. I’ve been alive for 13 times as long as I’ve lived here. Laos is a drop in the bucket of my life, chronologically speaking. Chronologically speaking.
I remember parts of who I was before I came here, who the previous 24 years of my life made me to be. I remember how I always had to sleep with a flat sheet, never had gas in my truck, and wore flip-flops in the snow like any true Colorado girl. I could not be in the presence of an insect, no matter the size, and had no emotions regarding the words “air conditioning.”
Then there are things that I can only remember a glimpse of through journal entries or others’ stories. Even then, it’s hard to connect to that person. So I mean, what happened? What has transpired in the last 2 years that not only has changed who I am, but has made it hard to remember who I used to be? Laos. Laos, like a new lover, came into my life and turned it upside down. It changed the way I think, what I think about, how I act, what I care about, and everything. Then, like an ex lover, it chewed me up, spit me out, and left me for someone else to deal with.
Life is hard, am I right?
Oh wait, that’s something I remember about the old me. I refused to admit that life could be difficult, or have periods of intense struggle. Poor, sweet, naïve, baby Emily.
While Laos may make up so little of my life in years, it has blessed me with what America tried, but never fully could give—struggle. Yes, I am very consciously, painfully, at times even regrettably aware of my use of the word “blessed.” I don’t feel blessed. Not today. Not really yesterday or the day before, or the week before, or the months before I left for summer in America (which ruled). I haven’t felt blessed by Laos for a long time.
I feel tired, and confused, and so discouraged that after all this time—the rest, the counseling, the prayers—I still struggle to find joy in my daily life. There are moments, when I’m doubled over crying from laughter at our team Madlibs, or when I see a long forgotten acquaintance at school, that move me forward. But joy and peace sometimes feel like that old me that I can’t remember anymore, and that hurts.
Maybe, you’re thinking, it’s just time to be done with Laos. You’ve done enough. And you would give me a long and understanding hug. And if we were good enough friends, I would melt into your arms and moisten your shoulder with my tears. If anyone reads this and is within hugging distance of me, I’d love a hug like that. Like every day. But in the safety of your embrace, I would know that leaving wasn’t the answer.
Suffering is good. It is also promised. It gives birth to strength and endurance, and even joy. To run from it would be to run from the blessing that I spoke of earlier. I don’t feel blessed. But I know that I am, because the Word of God says so. I am blessed to encounter various trials, because I know that the testing of my faith produces steadfastness. And if steadfastness has is full effect, I will lack in nothing (James 1:2-4). I don’t want to leave that blessing for the temporal delights of this world.
Two years ago, my world changed. It became real and difficult. It also became rewarding and so, so full. But I write to you today from the former perspective. I’m writing to tell you, and myself, that I’m grateful for this place because it’s taught me to suffer. It’s taught me to pray like I’ve never prayed before, and to kill bugs with my bare hands (just did it, not even kidding).
One thing I remember about the old Emily: she couldn’t wait to be in Laos. She loved it so much. I’ve forgotten her too often and disappointed her probably a lot. I hope I can both honor her and arm her for the future, let her know that it’s ok to feel discouraged, and throw a spider at her just to see her scream.