December 20th, 2013. Cambodia.
I slipped fast and hard. I wouldn’t catch myself this time. With darkness licking the air around me, I fell into the mud. The only light lay a kilometer in the distance. I was so tired. My jeans slick with dingy brown soil. Night had fallen sooner then I had hoped.
When the rain falls, the dirty village paths are unforgiving, slippery and unwalkable. Every muscle inside ached. Delirious, my abdomen throbbing, nauseous. I knew I was really sick. The last few hours consisted of dragging my body through this journey. I wouldn’t find out for a few more days that I probably have typhoid.
God, this was beautiful.
I didn’t feel that way earlier…
The ramshackle collection of wood and tin was not unlike the Swiss Family Robinson. Huddled together inside, a gaggle of Cambodians stood singing.
Off key and out of tune, they cared not. If trees could clap and mountains sing they would have joined in. Brown skinned beautiful people humbly worshiping God.
Half the world away from home, I had seen temples that make Indiana Jones salivate like the dog he is named after. I had climbed volcanoes and looked down upon a creation that defies every explanation. I had held orphans of every size, variety, and age. I had seen the battlefields of Vietnam. The war-torn soil of Cambodia. Monkeys, elephants, villages, snakes.
Adventure was merely the oxygen around me.
And here I was watching these wonderful people worship Jesus.
In the most amazing and epic circumstances, an overwhelming dullness had risen inside of me.
“There is nothing new under the sun.”
God, some days I long for something new.
I stood among the epic worship scene.
Beautiful people doing beautiful things.
I knew that this moment was magical. And yet I felt nothing.
The Cambodians hit hands together, grinned, and danced. Maybe simplicity has left them unspoiled from the slick oily dreams of American life.
Here I was though, tired, exhausted. Sick, broke, eating Ritz crackers for meals and nursing my own entitlement.
I had lost the wonder.
Jesus, as He always does, whispered into my heart.
“Never let this get old.”
Had I really let life get this old?
We are a generation overloaded with information. There is no great battle to fight for our kings. There is no new land to explore. No dragon to slay.
Where the majority of men grew up in history with a sword on one hip, I grew up with a controller. Pixelated displays have beamed information into my mind since childhood. Facts, data, pictures. The most majestic and powerful creatures on earth have been denoted to discovery channel documentaries and zoo visits. Where as once nature encroached upon us, and we rode out to conquer it, nowadays we merely pay it homage and feed peanuts to the Goliaths.
Here I am, 27. It is hard not to believe I know everything. That I have seen everything.
As I get older the wonder has began to fade faster than ever. It seems as if the preservatives of innocence and youth are nullified quicker then they are produced.
The Internet and age of information has gifted me.
I bear Solomon’s burden, without his wisdom.
“Jake, never let this get old.”
My mind flashed back to hazy sepia memories. A couple years ago, I stood amidst the sandy dunes of a Florida beach, the stars beaming. I remember my friend Noah saying something astounding,
“It’s impossible to believe we are big, when the universe declares how small we are. Maybe that’s why we build cities. To block the stars.”
At some point I became hardly aware, running on autopilot, stuck in my head, nullifying life with digital information and unmet expectations.
Fighting to be aware is the hardest battle I have ever faced. Everyday feels as if I drift beneath waves trying to break free, as I claw and push desperately to the surface, I take one breath of air.
It’s freeing, beautiful, serene, I see the world as it is.
And then I fall back beneath the waves.
Seeing but never seeing. Hearing but never hearing.
If we refuse to see the world around us as bigger, intimidating, awesome, wonderful, the natural conclusion is always the same.
At some point we disengage.
Food is no longer an experience; it is a combination of chemicals. The synaptic nerves gathering impulses of data that convince us of joy and sweet and yum. Our mind jumps further than the illusion of reaction will take us. We stop believing there to be any value in those experiences. We stop eating for joy. We eat merely to stave off biological cravings.
Games, art, music, sex, drugs, cream of wheat, Oprah. Take anything and add in a dash of sterilized disinterest and it will merely leave us numb and hollow.
Have you ever been there? The desert of the soul, where food has lost its flavor, music is merely noise, and satisfaction a taunting long distant memory. Stay too long and life will be forever unsatisfying. Drifting from one high to the next.
The next day we rode through pouring rain to a distant village. We would interview people on how God has helped them, but it would be a long journey.
As the chintzy metal cart pulled up to the muddy dirt road, it slowly sank in. The Tuk Tuk was kaput.
We had to move on foot. I didn’t feel very healthy. I didn’t want to journey anymore.
As I walked, frustration bubbled softly underneath my skin. It’s filthy. I’m sick. I don’t want to keep on slipping. It was exhausting to walk, let alone fight this slippery icy mud.
Shouldn’t my environment change me? Shouldn’t everything I am seeing make my heart come alive? Can I really see so much and only find myself sighing, “vanity of vanities!”
“Only I will make your heart come alive Jacob.”
“Ok God, then teach me! Teach me, I am desperate to feel alive again.”
“You think you know it all Jacob, you think that YouTube and discovery channel have shown the wonder of my creation. Stop existing and start being present. Stop dreaming of life and live it. Stop waiting for an incredible journey. You are on one.”
He was right. I mean God usually is, He has that whole infinite being of unimaginable power thing going on.
It was there in the small muddy village, I felt a supernatural joy rise up. The crisp air. The wandering chickens. I deadened my pace. Took a deep breathe.
I had to stop expecting the world to thrill me. It was already thrilling. I had to just slow down and experience it.
Villagers ushered cows and oxen. The sky was immense and stretched out further than I could fathom. A hazy cloud layer lit the world with blue and gray. Rice paddies and junk hobbled together for houses. We rode boats from one shore to the next.
Just closing my eyes and absorbing the hot Cambodian heat. Soaking up the sensual delights of Earth. The explosive flavors and smells and laughs. Getting lost in the experience of now. It was all so wonderful.
I thought of the pain in my muscles. The malaise. Even sickness was thrilling, a mixture of bad feelings that subside leaving an appreciation for days I am healthy. I take so much for granted.
I began to look around. People walking for hours to get home. Buddhist shrines. Hollow eyes. Few of them had electricity, let alone clean water and finished walls. They need Jesus so bad. How could I ever feel cranky and tired when I have the very words of life? Oh Jesus, save these people.
It was true. Only Jesus would make my heart come alive. Everything pointed back to Him. The universe stood before me declaring the master strokes of an artist. My mind frantically swirled around. Everything so beautiful. Everything so Him.
After that, everything was so beautiful. It didn’t matter, the mud or the darkness. It was gorgeous.
The next few days I stood during worship. Enamored and in awe. People worshiping the same God in a different language. Life is beautiful. It is filled with glorious expressions and feelings.
Maybe you bought into the lie that adventure will make you come alive. Maybe you bought into the lie that living in America is the reason you are unhappy. Maybe you are waiting for more movies, video games, Facebook news. Life has become one perpetual checking of the fridge. Going back and forth, looking for something new.
Stop checking the fridge. Grab something and enjoy it. Life is wonderful!
Look and live.
Newness is all around us. It’s in our friends and family. The people we love. The little things are robbed of value so often. Taste the food you eat today, listen to the music you hear, kiss the people you love. Be thrilled by the ordinary. Because even the most mundane aspects of life are quite extraordinary when you think over them.
Life is new everyday.
I wrote this overseas last year and this morning I was approached by my friend in Cambodia. He needs help to rescue his village. They are starving and I didn’t know how to help so I thought I could write. At least I could write. Pray for Thyvenn as he raises the funds to buy some chickens and pigs to save this village.