this hard & beautiful life

When’s the best time to write a blog post?

How about five minutes after you wipe the tears out of your eyes from a big ol’ meltdown?

As good a time as any, I say.

Today was really hard. Our first “official” day of being open as a center. I wanted to quit (like really, really just quit everything somehow) about 17 times before 10am.

“If I cannot survive Day 1,” I thought to myself, “how in the heck will I survive any of the remaining days?”

(I forgot–Gabe reminded me–that actually the reverse is true. “If you got through today,” he said, “it’s just going to get easier from here on out.”)

I mean, maybe not EASIER, but probably not way HARDER.

And here’s what I forgot. I did not start today on top of my game. I did not start today at 100%. I started today barely functioning.

I cannot possibly go into it all here, but if you’ve been following along on Facebook and Instagram, you know that we just moved to Siem Reap a month ago and spent one whole week of that month back in Phnom Penh for training and a wedding.

You know that Friday was the Grand Opening of our new center here in Siem Reap. You know that a WHOLE WHOLE LOT of work went into this thing in the weeks leading up to it.

You know that we had lots of people staying in our home last week (and helping make the Grand Opening a SMASHING success). You know that almost 300 people came which was AWESOME but also whew.

You know that we live out in the middle of nowhere and getting what we need and getting where we need to go is kind of exhausting (and often expensive).

You know that we deal with things like dead lizards and thousands of mosquitos and spiderwebs everywhere and two broken toilets and very low water pressure and not-so-hot drainage systems and a huge house I cannot possibly keep clean with all this dust and the aforementioned spiders (and, as of an hour ago, a busted shower head in our one working bathroom).

You know that we had THREE teams from America visit us in three days (2 on the day before the Grand Opening and 1 the day after), and even though they were kind and wonderful and really, truly a blessing, it meant leading tours of the center and sharing our story over and over and over again.

Or maybe you didn’t know all of these things. (I sometimes can’t keep track of what I share and what I don’t.)

There’s more.

On Saturday my sister had a baby. A beautiful baby girl named Jovie Love. I have prayed for Jovie more than any other baby (besides my own). Her big sister, Jubilee Kate, was stillborn in June 2014, so we prayed extra hard for Jovie to be okay. And then we got some news a few months ago that something was wrong with her umbilical cord and labor and delivery could hurt, possibly kill, her. We cried a lot and begged God to let her be okay.

She’s more than okay. She’s perfect. THANK YOU, JESUS!!

But I’m half a globe away. And it hurts my heart.

The teams from America blessed our PANTS off with snacks and things for our family and lots of books, toys, and supplies for the center. I’m in awe of everyone’s generosity.

And completely overwhelmed with where to put it all, how to ration it, etc.

I have this humongous stack of receipts from the Grand Opening and I don’t even want to go through them, because I’m afraid of how much money it cost to put on this big thing, and it’s better if I just ignore it a little bit longer.

One of my daughters had a meltdown of her own on Saturday, right before one of the team members, a photographer, was ready to do a family photo shoot of us. We had to turn her down (she photographed me and Gabe–we’ll see if she was able to work magic).

This sweet daughter was exhausted. And missed all of our wonderful friends from Phnom Penh who spent a few days with us. We keep seeing them again, bonding with them even more, then they get ripped away from us. Again.

This is not an easy way to live.

She was also DREADING our trip to the States this summer. She’s super sensitive and I can see her mind and heart swirling with all of the transition and hellos and good-byes and questions she doesn’t know how to answer. With saying good-bye to her friends here for two months, then having to say good-bye to loved ones in America all over again. With feeling scared that “no one is going to understand us, Mom.”

Holy hard.

Today at 8:45 (we don’t open until 9:00, but they saw us outside trying to clean up the trash that got blown everywhere off our burn pile), we had kids streaming into our center (it felt like a hundred, but it was really just 29). We’re supposed to be open for one hour in the mornings (for now), but we had to register all the new kiddos and that took two hours. Sitha and Channorm did a thorough and amazing job interviewing all the parents about their kids.

Keeping them entertained felt really, really hard. Keeping them from fighting over toys felt really, really hard. Keeping them contained in an area where we could watch them felt really really hard. Communicating in Khmer felt really really hard.

I was sweating and exhausted (and trying not to cry) at the end of the two hours.

The afternoon was better. A few less kids. Most were already registered. Gabe was able to help (he was in bed most of the morning in a lot of pain from his moto wreck yesterday).

After the kids left, I cleaned out our fridge which REEKED of curry and garlic and spices left over from the Grand Opening. We wasted a ton of food, but there was nothing I could do. We couldn’t eat it fast enough, and we were sick to death of it. And every single thing in our fridge (even our ice) tasted like curry. Yuck.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I don’t know.

To get it off my chest.

To process it.

To just let you know, in case you were thinking to yourself, “wow, what a charmed, purposeful life Marla and her family lead–lucky ducks!” that our lives are purposeful, yes. Charmed, no.

Beautiful, yes. Easy, no.

I wouldn’t trade this life for the world. But I’m struggling right now.

I’ve got to figure out what to let go, where my expectations of myself are too high. When to swallow my pride, what to prioritize.

Because, as it stands right now, I’m heading for a mental breakdown. Exhausted. Frustrated. Overwhelmed.

It’ll all get worked out though.

You know why?

Because God.

He’s the one and ONLY reason we can do ANY of this stuff we’ve done.

And he hasn’t failed us yet, so I don’t reckon he’s going to leave me high and dry and completely fried this time either.



But it doesn’t mean that I can just take a deep breath and everything’s fine. I’ve got a lot of well-meaning people in my life who like to say things like, “Oh, you know everything always works out perfectly for you guys!” Or, “You really have no business being in a bad mood!” Or, “Why do you worry about things? Where is your faith?”

(I sometimes want to smash those people in the face.)

You want to know what I’m thankful for right this minute?

The sweet people who say things like, “I’m so sorry things feel so hard right now.” Or, “Aw, friend. That’s a lot. I love you.” Or, “I will carry that burden for you, okay?” 

I have a lot of those kinds of friends. I’m a lucky girl.

Thanks, God, for this hard and beautiful life.

25 thoughts on “this hard & beautiful life

  1. Sharon

    Marla, Thank you for always being so real and writing about whatever is going on. It is so refreshing. And, helps me know how to better pray for you and your family. I’m sorry things are so hard. I would never (I know that’s a strong word that we aren’t supposed to say – ya know – never say never!) say what the people you want to smash in the face might say. And, it’s not because I don’t want to be smashed in the face. I don’t. BUT, I wouldn’t say them because it’s not helpful or supportive. I have been amazed at all God has done in and through you all and also how he’s come through for you all. I think it’s good to remember the specific things he’s worked out for good, but at the same time, I understand that sometimes we just feel overwhelmed and don’t need to feel preached at, or perhaps, have your feelings be brushed aside. Was praying for you as I read this. My 6 year old and I also prayed for your entire family at bed time, too.

  2. Shelley Davis

    Marla…..I have been following your posts over the past few months …I can NOT begin to tell you how heart-warming, intriguing, gut-wrenching and most of all up-lifting and inspiring they have been. To be honest …your story about paying off all your bills and selling everything here in the states like you did….because of the Lord’s calling on your heart to follow your heart to Cambodia. Nothing shirt of Amazing! And to INCLUDE YOUR FAMILY…..WOW!….All that to say …Look how FAR you’ve come….the LORD has blessed your every step…..he has begun a good work in the hearts you have touched. The harvest is ripe yes …but One Step At A Time….
    So melt down…cry it out and then raise it back up with the sunshine of a new day! God’s mercies are new every morning. You and your family are laying the ground work for a FOREVER kingdom. What better, hard, messy work to do!? Now shed happy tears for that beautiful baby and your Ohio family because they love you and will be waiting with open arms for you this summer. You are ALL such wonderful witnesses. Trust the Lord and thank you for all you’ve done and have yet to do. I’ll continue praying for strength and clarity in the days ahead for you and your family…you can do this!

  3. Shari

    And we know for certain that to have a meltdown is not the unforgivable. (Go ahead, melt, and be raised) And we know that it truly is in our weakness that Christ’s strength shines. Strength and peace to each and every one of you in the hard spots. And don’t dispose the hard spots, they are growth and they are glory. And many won’t understand, but carry on. And that is glory. Glory to our Lord and King.

  4. Sue Oda

    Really, Marla, when I think of you and your family, I cannot imagine doing what you’re doing. God has to be in this new life of yours, or you would be home. The Hard Places Ministry is an apt name because hard is not a strong enough word to describe it. Friend, I wish we were close and I could come and help you, but because that is not possible, I will intercede for you to the only One who can. His mercy and grace are new every morning. Praying!

  5. Charise

    I don’t know if I can carry a burden for you, but I can smash someone in the face? Okay, not that either. But I get it. Thank you for always being honest about how blessed and challenged you are. How life in its beauty can still be really damn hard. Thank you for posting this as I felt a spiral (why are they always downward, can’t I spiral UP– if just for variety’s sake?) coming on and this helped me to slow slow down. To recognize the signals and only do what is necessary today. List what is necessary and then cut it by at least half. So you lose things like “plan how to ration the supplies” and you keep things like “breathe, eat, hug without words.”

  6. Renae Lyons

    Oh, I hear you sister!!! We’ve just returned from being out in the field for the last nearly 7 years and my own children are experiencing what your daughter is experiencing. Not to try to fix things with easy-to-me solutions, but have you linked in with Thrive Ministries? It’s for Global Women (missionaries and other global workers for Christ) and is still a great resource I use when I need encouragement as well as linking up other Global Women in your part of the world. Lori Neff just shared your blog post so I’m only now hearing about your journey but you can sure know I will be praying for you and your family from here on out! I look forward to seeing how the days get a bit more, well, maybe “smoother” is the right word though I doubt anything on the field feels smooth at the time. I’m praying for God’s steadying hand to help the rocking of the boat you’re in right now. That, and angels with lots of eyes and hands to help you deal with your hundreds of kids coming in!

  7. Tina

    I’m going to echo your Amen. You and your family will continue to be in my prayers. You all have been brought up more and more in my prayers and in my heart. Only God. ONLY GOD! He loves you so much, this I know. <3

  8. Cheryl

    Marla, you communicate the complexity So very well. Life following after Christ in bold obedience is a rollarcoaster, mostly because we’re human. I struggle with doubt and weakness and frustration just like you. Just because we have taken huge obvious steps of faith in ministry does not automatically make it so the rest of our lives are downhill from there. I feel like for me it’s a daily choice of walking in faith. Do I believe that God’s leading is good enough, that His strength is deep enough? Will I rest in Him when my emotions run wild after a super intense ministry day/week/month? The answer is not an automatic yes because I’m human and still working it out. Thank you for your vulnerability. Most of the time when I am feeling down I wait in silence instead of writing to our supporters. Perhaps I shouldn’t do that. I’m glad you didn’t.

  9. Mary Nowlan

    How is it possible to love someone so much, that you hardly have ever spent physical time with? But I do. I love you and your family. I feel the same way about our compassion boy. Love you, praying over you.

  10. Julie Barnhill


    Here’s a bight side to consider, Marla, those children don’t know if what you’re doing is “right” or “wrong”. They don’t have a dozen other Marla & Family’ to compare their experience to or against. There is incredible freedom with children’s enthusiasm and decidedly generous ability to forget what they don’t know they don’t know 🙂 as well as forgive the small stuff that trips up many an adult.

    This admitted North American woman who doesnt have a honest inkling of what it is to walk in your sandals will continue to whisper the same short and sweek prayer for all of you: “Give them strength. Be their strength.”

  11. Kate Ward

    I cried reading this too. Especially missing holding that sweet baby!!! Hang in there mama! You are stronger than you feel because you are in the palm of our Big God who called you to where you are. Your kids are in his hands too. God, please help this beautiful family feel your Hugeness today!!!!!! Love you guys and thanks for your faithfulness!!!!! And your authenticity.

  12. Paula Colbath

    Beautiful Marla, I don’t know you, but I can hear you. It is hard. So many days will be the hardest hard we have ever known. I always ponder- the yoke is easy and my burden is light -on those days. At the end all I can say is, for love. His love for me, for you, for those kids, for those lives. For love. And a little ways down the road from the hardest hard is the most beautiful beautiful we have ever lived. He is faithful to weed out, tweek, and prune. He will give you endurance for the things He has called you to put your hand to, and He will show you what to take your hands off of. Love from Honduras.

  13. Corinne

    I had a meltdown 2 weeks ago. The ‘I miss my mom, I don’t want to do this any longer, I’m packing my bags and going home’ kind of meltdown. Then things got a little better… It seems that living here means the highest highs come along with the lowest lows.

    Sending you and your family lots of love and prayers from me, asking Jesus to send you a giant hug that will empower and strengthen and calm all the feelings.


  14. Stephanie

    I don’t have any advice for you, but I cried reading this, so know that I feel for you and I love you and you’re never far from my mind! 😘

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