something had to give

No one is telling us what to do here in Cambodia. Not a boss, not a coach, not a parent. We’re on our own. (Oh, unless you count the Holy Spirit.) (We count the Holy Spirit.) No one’s really telling us how to do it either. (We do ask for/get advice from people who’ve been here longer than us. So helpful. And we have a missions agency handling the money side of stuff.)

But mostly we’re asking God to give us his rhythm, his pace, his agenda. What should we do? When? How? When should we rest? How much? What’s up for tomorrow? Next week? Five minutes from now? Who do you want us to serve?

We have quite a few Things on our plate. Here they are (in no particular order).

The Things: 1.) ministry/serving people. 2.) meeting new folks/socializing. 3.) shopping for food/things we need. 4.) preparing food/cleaning up food & dishes. 5.) washing clothes & hanging them to dry. 6.) sweeping/mopping/wiping/cleaning. 7.) earning money (Gabe-web design, me-writing). 8.) resting/relaxing. 9.) keeping in touch with people we love back in the U.S. 10.) trying to build up a team of people who support us financially so we can eventually do ministry full-time here. 11.) learning the culture.

(Wow, that seems like a lot once I write it all out.)

So far, it’s gone pretty well. We go to bed at the end of the day tired, but not exhausted (okay, sometimes exhausted). Our days are full, but not crammed (okay, occasionally crammed). We get most things done that need done (usually).

But things take longer here (laundry, cooking). And they require more effort (getting places, finding what we need). And need to be done more often (mopping, I’m talking to you).

Before we started school on Friday (the 13th), we kind of had it down (kind of).

But school.

It’s awesome (we love it so far! five days down, a million to go!). But it’s time consuming. We leave the house at 8am and get back around 12:30. (Five days a week.) We prepare lunch & eat it. By this time, it’s close to 2pm. Our homework takes us anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours (depending on how much we want to practice–the girls are much more studious than their parents).

We cannot fit #1-11 into our schedule + school (#12) and survive (and school is every day minus holidays for the next year). We need some sort of help. Or we need to cut back somewhere.

I will cut to the chase. We hired a cleaning lady. (gulp) This decision has been giving me fits. I won’t go into all the reasons this bothered me (some of them are lame, some judgmental/prideful, some valid), but it is what it is.

The girls and I could clean our entire apartment at Abbey Lane in about 15 minutes. A little dusting, some quick vacuuming, sweeping the kitchen floor, wiping down the counters, loading the dishwasher. Boom. Done. Company-ready in no time flat. (Confession: we were notoriously bad about cleaning the bathroom. It looked okay–as long as you didn’t open the toilet lid or peek behind the shower curtain. Ew.)

But here? In Cambodia? Oh my. Our living space is about 1100 sq. ft. maybe (Abbey Lane was 800). (We only have 2 bedrooms, but we have LOTS of room for people to come stay with us. Hint hint.) And it’s all tile. And the shower is open (the water just goes all over the bathroom and down the drain). And the windows are always open. And the dust just comes la-la-la in. And our feet are always filthy. And the floors are soooo hard to keep clean. And we also have two balconies. One gets filthy when the water from the washer runs all over it, and the other is covered in fresh bat guano every morning.

(I know, cry cry cry me a river.)

There’s no quick little fix for keeping things clean. The one (and only) time we did a whole deep clean of our house, it took 3 hours. And we wanted to die. (I cleaned a lady’s house once a week for a few months before I was married, and it was my least favorite job in the history of ever.)

Then one of our friends here told us about the sweet girl who cleans her apartment, and she wanted/needed more work. I talked to Gabe and the girls, and we decided to hire her. She’ll be coming on Tuesday & Friday afternoons to sweep/mop the whole house, mop the front and back balconies, and clean the bathrooms (we have 3–ack!). We’ll keep doing our own cooking, our own dishes, and our own laundry (and sweeping most days & spot-mopping as needed).

I could’ve paid her more to do it all (dishes, laundry, changing sheets–so tempting), but I don’t want our girls growing up spoiled. As it is, they’re cleaning more than they ever did in the past. Even with a cleaning lady. It’s just the nature of where we live now.

She came for the first time Tuesday and did an amazing job. It took her 3 hours. I can write/edit for other people for a few hours/month and pay her to clean my house twice a week. Her wage is a fair one (she set it herself–$60/month) but is crazy low compared to what I earn as a writer/editor. I am giving her an opportunity to support her family while I support mine.

Win win, right?

Except. Okay, I’ll just say it. As much as I like to do my own thing and pretend I’m all, “who cares what people think of me?” I care what people think of me. And this is what I imagine them thinking:

“Oh, really? They’re asking people to support their ‘ministry’ financially? And they’re hiring a cleaning lady? I wish had a cleaning lady. Must be rough being ‘missionaries.'”

So I write a whole 1100-word blog post justifying myself and the decision we made and blah blah blah.

I know some might say, “Hey, Marla. Relax. You don’t have to answer to anyone.” Except, when sweet, generous, sacrificing folks are supporting you each month, I think it’s only fair. (We’re working on keeping track of our spending so we can share our expenses with our supporters.) And I’m thankful for the level of trust people have placed in us. I don’t ever want to mess that up.

So, this is the last time I’ll talk about this particular budget line item. And, for now, I feel good about our choice. Sweet S. is saving us hours & hours of work each month, and I’m paying her out of money I’m earning myself (doing something I don’t hate and even love). I don’t have to give up writing/editing/ministry to mop my house (thank you, Jesus!), and our girls are still spending 1-2 hours/day on chores.

Speaking of our girls, they are amazing. Such great helpers. We couldn’t do this Cambodia gig without them. I hope they don’t ever grow up and leave the nest. (Kidding. Or am I?)

If I’m honest, we still can’t really fit everything in, but we do what we can and say “no” or “wait” to the rest. (It helps to own minimal possessions, own no vehicles, have no yard to maintain, and not watch TV.)

What have you had to give up/hire out so you could manage your life without going crazy? OR if you’re a missionary (or have ever been one), am I being ridiculous about my need to justify hiring help? OR what other questions do you have about life in Cambodia?

(or just read & smile without commenting like I usually do on other people’s blogs)

41 thoughts on “something had to give

  1. Katie

    I think it is hard to understand if you haven’t necessarily lived in a culture that is so “dirty” – literally. We had a house helper five days a week for half days when we moved to China. She mopped our floors, cleaned our bathrooms, and cooked us dinner. We did our own laundry and made half of our meals (which sounds like nothing), but the rest of the time was spent working full time as teachers and traveling to buy supplies, etc. When you don’t have vehicles (or even if you do), it takes so much longer to get to where you need to go – and you have to go so much more often because your refrigerator is only so big, etc. I love that you are helping her by hiring her. She needs the work and you need the help! I love that you are sensitive to the people who are supporting you too. Sometimes they need that little bit of explanation. But most of them are supporting you, knowing that you will steward your money well. I love hearing about all that you are doing over there! Thanks for continuing to share/keep us updated! 🙂

  2. Pingback: be gentle. | Marla Taviano

  3. Melinda

    I love that you guys are hiring a local, improving her livelihood, having a local in your personal space…sounds like the ministry of Jesus to me! In the US I’ve watched evangelicals often be very frugal thinking it was next to godliness – but I wonder about the people whose lives we could be improving by hiring them, connecting to their lives, starting conversations and having an opportunity to be Jesus in their lives. Keep it up in Cambodia! We often think missions work is going TO people when sometimes it might be bringing people to us.

  4. Brooke

    my $0.02 – we have things around the house Jay could do himself, rather than hiring it out. stuff that NEEDS doing. only he could make more money applying himself working on real estate than it would take to pay a professional. we go this route UNLESS he’s just feeling like he needs to do some physical labor.
    we’re not missionaries. we just track our expenses and live as frugally as possible. and sometimes, that does include spending money to allow the opportunity to make more.
    i love you for feeling a need to explain yourself. and yes, i think it would be very nice to have a cleaning lady. sometimes “its nice” and “it works best for God’s kingdom” come together like this. enjoy. and praise Him for it. <3

  5. Lori Witham

    While I was in PNG for 20 years, one of my best friends was my “hausmeri”. She only did basic cleaning of my house, but she blessed me ten fold when she shared her spiritual struggles and faith in God. This job was her only source of income, and when I moved to the USA, she felt hurt that the new missionaries wouldn’t hire her because the women wanted to do the work by themselves. It is a cultural misunderstanding. On the other hand, my friend didn’t believe me when I explained that in America few women hire hausmeri’s but do the work themselves.

  6. Terri C

    Good morning Marla.. I am on the WOP team and met you at the 2014 retreat 🙂 You and your sweet family are precious and just ooze Gods love and grace!! The way you spoke was authentic and real… We need that in today’s world! I pray that your language school goes well… It is not easy as an adult ( your girls will pick the language up much faster) … but with God all things are possible.. Don’t be too hard on yourself in that area or any other area for that matter!! You are striving to be in the center of Gods will and that shows. Language, laundry and life are all an adjustment… It seemed like when I finally felt “comfortable” in Germany… It was time to go home…
    Language … Was difficult for me (the rest of the family picked it up better ) …
    Laundry… Oh my goodness– took forever! And Life… Well… It was a journey!
    I did hire help in Germany and not only was it a huge blessing to me, it was to her as well :))
    You are doing a wonderful thing by loving people well…
    I pray abundant blessings on you and your family !!!

  7. Jenn

    I feel guilty taking a vacation since Wes is paid as a pastor with money given to God. But I’ve learned (am learning!) to look at his salary as God’s provision for ALL of Wes’ needs. And sometimes? The pastor needs to go far away on vacation so that he’s not always on call. He would go crazy and work himself to death otherwise. So using God’s money, given to you for your provision by God and His people, is WELL used when it frees up your valuable time and sanity. Do what He’s calling you to do, and be free from the need to please others. (Said to me, too!)

  8. Jan

    I love how you just put it all out there! I totally know how you feel! I had to hire a cleaning person because I could not keep up with everything. Working full-time and all kids and church activities it seemed like when I was home I was cleaning. It just wasn’t fair to the kids. We have her come every other week and we cut back on eating out. Your getting a great deal! We pay $54 for 4hrs a month!
    You are always going to have people disapprove of something your doing. Try not to focus/worry about them and follow God’s plan.

  9. Christy

    I love that you’re able to help someone else out and get help in return. I imagine that language school is going to get harder, not easier, as well and you’ll need someone even more than you do now. Seems like a smart decision to me. BUT, that’s not what matters anyway. You know your family and budget best and you have to make decisions that make sense for your family.

  10. Kim

    Oh, friend!
    I have been wanting to write you about this for a couple weeks. I felt every single thing you are feeling about hiring someone. I eventually broke down and did it, too, but even still have trouble telling people about it! Anyway, I wanted to encourage you and tell you that our “helper” (because she did so much more than clean!) became pretty much my best Cambodian friend! And, she could go to the market for me and get way more than I could for the same amount of money! I would give her a list and send her off! She always surprised me how little she spent! So, that saved money. Also, my kids grew to love her and she began to open up to me about SO much. She’d survived the Khmer Rouge as a baby and her mother was still living with incredible stories of survival. We also invited her to church countless times. She never went but who knows what seeds were planted. God is working in your family! Your new cleaning lady’s life might have just changed forever with you choosing to hire her! Don’t apologize to others or feel bad about it at all! I was there, I know. It still gets to me sometimes even as I write this… I dont regret it for a second but I DO wonder what people think when I mention her here in the US.

    Enjoy it! Learn each other’s language in conversation, invite her to church, consider having her cook Khmer food for you or buy groceries. You will grow to love each other!

  11. Carrie

    I don’t think hiring someone to help around your house is out of line at all- while in America, it might be looked at as an extravagance, it seems to be very normal in other countries. Anotherfriend of mine just moved to Ethiopia a couple of months ago for mission work, and immediately found someone to help around their house. In the process, they have been able to help the lady financially but also minister to her and her family, and she has been able to help them make contact with Ethiopians who need their help as well. You never know what opportunities may arise through this! 🙂

  12. Jamie Nygaarf

    No judgement here chicka! In every place I’ve ever done mission work, all the missionaries I stayed with had cleaning people. It’s unheard of for us N. Americans…but not in most other countries!

  13. Tara

    Just to add my two cents to what everyone else has already said: my husbands family includes several missionaries (grandparents, aunts,uncles and cousins) and they all had/have different hired help around their houses. It was normal and expected. Don’t feel guilty!

  14. Sarah Farish

    Sweet, sweet friend. I love you. I appreciate how you are laboring over every decision – truly seeking Him. Of course, I agree with the cleaning lady decision if for no other reason than it’s ministry. Her interaction with you – her fair wage – it’s relationship and connection. But, above all, I will continue praying, praying, praying for you and all these decisions that bump up against what you thought would be or how you thought God would do this. I LOVE YOU!

  15. Mckenzie

    Hey Tavs!!!
    You can use our support money for that! 😉 then no fuss!
    But truly, I remember being in India thinking… How will I have time to make any difference?! I love your list of things to do especially since laundry is in its own category! I remember all the little things take up so much more time than in the US. A whole day to mail a letter, what?!
    I remember hiring a cleaning person was a discussion by many missionaries and families. As you said, it is almost culturally inappropriate to not hire someone. You are there to not only minister one way. Ministry can involve being a functional member of society like creating an addition job for someone or actually having time to do ministry. We learned people on mission together should also value beauty (beauty in the things around us and ourselves…including your home), grace, and rest! One organization we talked to suggested the first year to be dedicated to learning the language, culture, neighbors, and just how to DO life in a place so different. A WHOLE YEAR. You guys have been there, what? 2 months? (Not that I am reducing the gravity of those 2 hardest months of your lives) But give yourselves more grace and rest so you can delight in accomplishing the “simple” things. You guys are used to the American pace of life and achievement, but take heart! You’re in Cambodia (of course you already knew that. But just a reminder!)
    Love you guys much! And praying for you all the time!

    1. Cindy Terry

      Well said, McKenzie! Being a missionary is a lot different than doing a misssion trip visit. You have to give this time.

  16. Lisa

    I am so happy for you all to have found help with cleaning and it sounds like this is God providing for all your needs. Just hearing about how hard it is to keep a clean home in Cambodia was giving me full on anxiety! I hope you can focus on the areas you are gifted in and continue to find help in the other areas. There is no guilt in that. I hired someone to help me clean and I am a stay at home mom of 5 who is overwhelmed and needed help. No need to justify your decision AT ALL!!!

  17. Kim

    I love all of you! To answer your question about not going crazy – currently I’ve found that asking for help (gasp! Who does that?) to hold/play with/take care of baby Owen several afternoons a week so I can take a nap or get clothes out of the washer without squishing him. I had thought that I would be super mom with perfect babies who would let me take care of the house, sleep as much as I needed (definitely expected lots of night time wakenings, but assumed naps would be easy to come by….) and even have time and energy to fill out baby books and do extra random tasks that I’d assigned myself to do during maternity leave. Not the case by any means.
    I’m glad you’ve realized you can’t do it all and have also asked for help.

  18. Darlene

    Marla!! All of this sounds spot on. I mean that you are experiencing what missionaries experience. Can we say #missionarylife!!!

    So I have a story for you. When we were in Mexico we did our laundry at a laundromat. It took us basically a whole day about three times a month to sort everything, load it in the van, drive to the laundromat, do the laundry, bring the laundry home, and put it away. And all of that with three kids under 5 in tow. So imagine my sheer delight when I discovered that the lady at the laundromat would do our laundry for us for about $5-$7!! (That was what she charged on top of the normal cleaning fees that I would have paid anyway to do it myself.) I was shocked at how little she charged. It probably took her about 2 hours to do everything. And she washed, dried, and folded everything neatly! (Much more neatly than I can!) I then considered that in Mexico, making $5-7 a day for a WHOLE day’s work was the average wage… So while it seemed low to me, it was actually an enormous blessing to her. And it gave me an opportunity to talk to and get to know her better. When we left for Ohio, I gave her a hug!! And not to mention the time she saved us…so we were able to go out and go shopping for groceries, work, do all the other things on our list, that, like you said, seem to take so much more time than they do in the good old U.S. Of A.

    So keep on keeping on. Hire people to help where you can, knowing that you are blessing them and they are blessing you. I’ve been reading your blog posts, and you’ve got your head screwed on straight. Trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you, waiting on His timing. Isn’t that what Jesus did in his ministry? He listened to God and did what he said to do. Boom. Done. Ministry plan complete. May God bless you ever so richly as you seek him and follow him and touch precious lives in Cambodia.

  19. Heather Fryling

    Hang in there Marla! No judgement here! You need to do what is best for you and your family. Plus just think of how you are helping this sweet woman and giving her an opportunity to make more money for her (and her family)!
    I am amazed by you and your family and the journey you are taking!

  20. Kelly

    When we lived in Indo, we had house helpers, too. And so did every single other missionary. It was culturally taboo not to, especially as Westerners, since we were “rich” compared to Indonesians, and had an obligation to provide jobs for folks who needed them. I’m pretty sure my parents did the whole “NO WAY are we hiring people to clean for us!” thing, until some seasoned missionaries slapped some sense into them. And until they realized they’d never get ANYTHING else done as missionaries if they didn’t have help around the house. (Seriously, we all look like we’re about ten seconds from death in most of the pics we have from Indo–pale, tired, dazed…)

    The necessity of help doesn’t really translate across cultures, unfortunately, so I’m sure some people thought we were lazy jerks and judged us. It’ll probably happen to you, too (I’m sorry). Just know that there are people who get that it’s totally different living in Cambodia, and the lifestyle is going to require things that you could do without in the US, land of convenience and excess. And cleaner floors.

    Love you guys.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      You are a hundred kinds of awesome, Kel. And I love what you said about how Cambodia will require things we could do without in the land of convenience and excess. It’s so so true. Hard to explain (I only touched the surface in this post) but so true. I’m so thankful for people who have been there and understand (and the people who haven’t been there but make an effort to understand anyway). xoxoxo

  21. Candice

    I think almost all missionaries have hired help. It’s very wise. Everything takes way longer and is done differently. It helps them spend more time doing what their support team is financially supporting them to do.

  22. Chris Nielsen

    Thanks for sharing how you feel about it! You sound like me, worrying about things like that and I’m glad that you felt you should let people know. We met some people in Thailand who do the same thing, but the person they hired has since become more like family then just the person who cleans. So the same can happen there! And even if it doesn’t, I get where you’re coming from and I would do the same (and have the same worries about it). It takes forever to perform some of the simplest errands though. And the dirty feet thing cannot be emphasized enough for real.

    But it goes deeper then that, it’s a mental, emotional stablilty thing to have an always dirty house that you have to clean added onto 1. just being there and 2. having that long list. Income for her is good too 🙂

    We’re with you as usual! Oh and Hey, Marla. Relax. You don’t have to answer to anyone!

  23. Krysten

    Friend, I love this post. I can feel your angst over this decision, and you have obviously looked at and thought about this from every single angle. One thing I will remind you of: Think of how many folks who have gone before you in the overseas-mission-world told you guys flat-out that if they had it to do over, they would spend their time and energy learning the language of the people? Lots. I think you are right to focus yourselves there and just immersing yourself in the culture at this moment in time. And no matter if you’re a CEO of a giant company here in the US, or a missionary family across the globe, none of us can do everything all the time with equal effort and attention. When I was in India, every single place had those lovely tile floors and open-airy windows and I remember thinking “this would be a nightmare to keep clean!” and it was! So thank you for admitting what we all know deep down inside… we can’t do ALL THE THINGS and do any of them well, so I am glad you are focusing on learning the language and culture and making friends and connections and giving a lovely lady a chance to increase her family’s income while you do what you are meant to do at the same time. It’s a beautiful, connected thing. I love you to pieces!

  24. Amy

    I can’t even imagine how exhausting it is to keep up with all you have to do as you adapt to a new culture. The people that matter– your people– know you didn’t make this choice lightly.

    I’m going to pray that God uses your relationship with this sweet cleaning lady to open doors of ministry. Maybe it will be to her and her family. Maybe it will look like something else entirely.

  25. Beth A. Boehr

    Marla, the writers that attract my time and attention are the ones who allow themselves to be transparent right where they are!! Thank you for sharing openly, honestly. Sometimes we don’t realize all the stuff we have on our plate until we write it out. You didn’t even mention about the emotional stuff you are dealing with as you have totally changed cultures!! I can’t even imagine! Moving away from FAMILIAR and family and friends!!!

    Thanks for living life fully for our Jesus. I’m in a Bible Study where we are studying Lysa Terkeurst’s The Best Yes!!! Learning to say NO to be able to do God’s BEST YES in our lives. Reminds me where you are. So I will pray today for God to guide you to His Best YES for you today.

    I want to get specifics to you on the work I would like you to edit/consult AND I was wondering does Gabe still build websites for people in the US???? I need some help.

    As the wind blows, the snow falls, and the temperatures chill you to the bone consider all this to help give you a tiny wind chill factor from the US!!

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