Family Travel

One of Our Best Family Travel Adventures

Me Ra Koh

He was sitting next to me.  The plane was headed to San Diego.  It was the middle of December, and I felt so exhausted I chose not to introduce myself—just close my eyes and rest.  Little did I know our new friendship would lead to one of our best family travel adventures!

But first the storm came. 

It was the worst storm that month for San Diego.  The wind knocked our plane around like a cat batting at a toy.  I thought I was going to be sick.  The pilot came on the intercom and said he couldn’t see the run way until he was right in front of it.  He said he was going to try to land, but if he found himself to far up the run away he was going to pull up as fast as possible.

He tried this FIVE times, and I thought I was going to die every time. 

People were crying in the rows across from me.  What types of things do you think in this kind of moment?  I was thankful Brian and I had checked in with our life insurance that week—but the timing of this alone made me wonder if my life was going to end.  I thought about Brian and the kids, and I found myself thankful that if something did go wrong, there were hundreds of images that I would leave behind.  Images that show the kids, I saw them.  Their mama saw who they were.  And then the pilot gave up (thank GOD!) and flew us to LA. 

When we landed he gave us the option of getting off the plane and taking taxis to San Diego.  But when the storm passed he was going to try again.  I turned and looked at the man next to me. That was the first time we talked.  His name was Randy.

Randy said he was going to stay and wait out the storm.  I got my stuff and got off the plane, standing on the ramp for 30 minutes as another pilot told me things were much better than they seemed.  I called Brian and cried my eyes out. And in the end, I decided to get back on the plane, IF I could sit in First Class.  🙂

We arrived in San Diego, and as I got my suitcase I spotted Randy.

He didn’t know I had moved up to First Class.  We joked about how crazy the flight was.  I remember him saying he was coming from Cambodia.  I asked him more about this.  It turned out he runs an orphanage in Cambodia’s capitol, Phnom Penh.  He had a home for little ones and an Art Center/Home for teen boys called Water of Life.  I was so taken by the five minutes we talked that I asked if we could come see him and the kids someday.  We exchanged info and that was it until…a few weeks ago.

Brian and I decided to find this orphanage. 

Remember how Brian realized our flight to Thailand was leaving at midnight and not noon the next day?  We had six hours to get everything together, so I ran to the stores to finish shopping for things that we could bring to the children.  We had to prepare fast for one of our best family travel adventures!

My girlfriend, Jill Hansen, owns her own dentist practice and at the last minute drove out to her office and got toothbrushes and toothpaste for all the kids.  Brian got a duffel bag from Costco dedicated to the things for the orphanage, and we dragged it all over Thailand. We brought this duffel bag on ferries, into long tail boats, almost losing it in the water at one point, and then into small propeller planes until we arrived in Phnom Penh. That was last week.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

We had left Koh Phi Phi and decided to find the orphanage in Cambodia.

But we showed up, in a third world country, without having made a hotel reservation and no idea where Randy was.

Randy had not answered my email in a few days.  We didn’t know at the time that he was returning from Vietnam.  So we rented this random hotel room, exhausted from the travelling and stifling heat, and collapsed on the bed.  But first we shooed the spider out the window that was BIGGER than life.  Have your husband put his two hands together, fingers outstretched, that’s how big that sucker was.  Ugh, it gives me chills just remembering it now.

After we were safe from the spider, I looked at Brian, and I said…

“You are the BEST husband in the world.  You’ve carried this 50 lb. duffel bag all over everywhere.  You agreed to come to Cambodia.  And when you think about it, I only talked to this man for five minutes in Baggage Claim at the San Diego airport.  I’m not even sure that we’ll find him.  I have no idea what to do if he doesn’t email back.”  Brian looked at me and smiled, “It will all work out Me Ra.”  (He is an amazing husband.)

And then the next morning, Randy answered his phone.   He was back from Vietnam and so excited that we had made it!  So we all bagged up 80 gift bags for the kids.

Our kids were more excited about this part of our journey than anything else. I could tell their hearts felt like this was one of our best family travel adventures. Brian heaved the duffel bag into a Tuk-Tuk and made our way through the city.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

We had no idea what to expect, or how we could help. 

Brian and I felt like we should hold off on booking our flight to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and just see where this experience took us.  We hoped we could give in some way to the children.  But we didn’t expect to be given to so powerfully, to be inspired and empowered like never before, to bond relationships that will last a lifetime, and to have more confidence because of what the staff and orphans gave us.

The children were so beautiful!  Their sweet faces. They all wanted to sing for us when we showed up.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

Their inquisitive eyes.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

The joy they had when they opened up their gift bags.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

All you wanted was to hug them, as many of children, as possible. I feel so small, so very small—in a good way. 

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

The teens we worked with blew my mind and heart. 

By spending time with them, I felt so convicted of the doubts I’ve been struggling with.  Their courage for life put my personal doubts for my own life to shame.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

To think I doubt God’s call on my life—that I may be to damaged or broken from my past to fulfill the desires of my heart. I believe this at times, and then to be with these beautiful orphans for a week who have nothing—nothing, and yet live as if they have everything.  To see these children overcome and build their dreams.  The joy in their smiles…to see my ability to hope expand and stretch and be changed from being with them.

I want to take the next couple days to share on the blog what happened during our stay at the orphanage in Cambodia. 

We taught a condensed version of our CONFIDENCE Photography Workshop to the teens…

and I must-must-must share their images with you.  Be prepared to be inspired friends by the images and stories of these young men and women.

Taking supplies and teaching a photography workshop to Water of Life Orphanage in Cambodia for one of our best family travel adventures by photographer and mom, Me Ra Koh.

And to think that it all started with a five minute conversation from a flight that almost crashed. 

We never know what conversations, no matter how short, are meant to change our lives. We never know what seeds they will plant.  I must confess that I never had this BIG sense of “we need to go there.”  It was more of a tickling on my brain, that settled into my heart.  And it just seemed like something to try.  I never knew what was really going to happen or meant to be.  And I am stunned at how important it is to give those little ticklings on the brain and heart some attention.  Instead of waiting for the sky to part and the answer to come as the voice of God, what about the subtle nudge that really and truly almost goes unnoticed.

Does this make sense?

Read more about our Cambodia Adventures here.


Me Ra


  1. Gina says:

    Yes, it makes sense and I can barely write here, because I’m crying buckets. May God bless you abundantly during your stay in Asia, Mera!!

  2. I thought about Brian and the kids, and I found myself thankful that if something did go wrong, there were hundreds of images that I would leave behind. Images that show the kids, I saw them. Their mama saw who they were.

    WOW i read those three sentences and almost cried…. i want to SEE my kids, to truly see them, attend to them… and my camera can be a conduit for that. this last impromptu “shoot” with my girls is a perfect example of how i want to see them, experience who they are:

    thanks again for inspiring to dig deeper and go further with photography and life

  3. Freida says:

    “I feel so small, so very small—in a good way.”

    What a powerful line. I really don’t even know where to start… I am (as always) beyond moved by you… & how you translate your life experiences into lessons… reminders… insight… and how you have this amazing ability to touch, inspire… move all that come into your path. Looking forward to the images from the teen boys… and your writings on that topic.

  4. Marla-Dee says:

    Me Ra,

    Wow, this story has touched my heart beyond words! and I actually understand how your heart feels, as I felt this way when we traveled to China to adopt our daughter. These children are so amazing and resilent and they really do make you appreciate LIFE. We all need to open our hearts and connect with an orphanage in any country. It truly changes your soul. I remember visiting a kindergarten and taking candy to the kids and how excited they all were. They even learned a to sing a song in English for us! It was an experience I will never forget.

    You are such an inspiration Me Ra in so many unbelieveable ways and I can’t wait to meet you in May! ? xoxo

  5. It sounds like an amazing experience and I can’t wait to hear more. I love that you don’t deny those promptings, no matter how bizarre they may seem at the time.

  6. Rin Yame says:

    Thanks to you MeRa and Brian for sharing… It was really good journey…
    It does make sense to me… Thanks for coming to my Country and have shared the gifts of God to us… We all love you and miss you.. Hope to see you and your family again..
    Rin your younger brother in the Lord!

  7. Lee says:

    Thank you for the goose bumps! Amazing story. I am going to share it with my 10yo son. We have been talking about unconditional love the past couple of days, what it means, what it looks like. Now I can show him – it looks like Me Ra Kok and family!

  8. You have hit on everything — my fear of flying, my fear of leaving my kids. Followed by my desire to be used by God, to love ALL children, to hold my life with an open palm (even though I am much more practiced at gripping things tightly).

    The last 48 hours has been a doozie over here. Thank you for grounding me this morning.


  9. Ashley J says:

    Love this post. I love that you and the family spent time at the orphanage. Can’t wait to here more about it. I’m crying over here…this is good stuff.

  10. Addie says:

    Beautiful story! It’s always amazing to me how, in those moments that we take the tiniest step toward life there is always a reciprocal response from the world. Those few moments of discussion were the equivalent of putting on your “cosmic” hiking boots. Taking that tiny step towards something new without even being totally aware of starting a journey that would yet again change your lives as well as those of so many others. It’s simply why we love you so much! And I can’t wait to get to “know” these kids through your coming posts! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Melanie says:

    You and Brian are utterly awesome! I am so happy that you, my photography hero, is most definitely NOT one dimensional. You are a true inspiration, Me Ra. And Brian is a fabulous husband!

  12. shawna says:

    sigh. it’s beautiful to watch you follow your heart. i truly hope someday we’ll get to travel as a family like this – the rewards are so much more wonderful than the discomfort (and giant spiders!).

  13. Amy says:

    I know exactly what you mean and cannot wait to hear more about your tome there!

  14. Melissa says:

    Beautiful post, Me Ra. After spending many of my college spring breaks and summers at an orphanage in Mexico I’ve developed a very special place in my heart for orphaned and abandoned children. I’m so glad that you were able to experience this…

  15. Michelle says:

    Wow..this post gave me chills. I LOVE what your 5 minute encounter led to. I LOVE that you wanted to do something and actualy did it. I LOVE that you were able to use your gift to give something so priceless and wonderful. But..most of all, I LOVE this quote.. “I feel so small, so very small—in a good way.”

  16. Erin says:

    Me Ra, I send you a message on Twitter as well: could you please tell me more about the little girl in pink in 1st and 3rd orphanage pics? I saw her and started crying. She is on my heart.

  17. Cori says:

    Wow, you are truly an amazing women. And so inspiring. Your joy and love for life is such an amazing thing. Thank you for sharing this with us, through your photography and your stories.

  18. Gretchen says:

    “Oh the places you will go” Thank you Me Ra for your spirit and insight.

  19. This was a breathe of fresh air amongst my blogger roll…but then again, you always are. I am so inspired by your journey and so very thankful that you have an amazing talent for sharing it in such a beautiful way to the world. I will be thinking of you and your b-e-u-tiful family on your travels and keep praying that I will make these kinds of trips happen for me and my family. Thank you for helping me dream! Kathy

  20. Lisa H says:

    It makes ABSOLUTE sense. We all would rather hear booming voice of God give us exact instructions, wanting to know we’re making the right decision… ultimately, afraid to fail. But most of the time, we hear him as Elijah heard him: as a quiet whisper (or subtle nudge). I’m so glad you and Brian acted on the “nudge” and I can’t wait to see the kids’ images.
    Many blessings! And may you continue to live out Proverbs 3:6.

  21. Me Ra Koh says:

    your comments are totally making me cry. Thank you so much for letting me know you connected with today’s blog. this means, you are that much more connected with the teens and children in Cambodia.

    Erin, you wanted to know more about the little girl in pink. Invite the director, Randy Fleming, to your friend on Facebook. He can tell you the story of EVERY child there. Randy is amazing, and I’m working on a blog post just about him because I’ve never met anyone like him. But the great part is that once your friends with Randy, you will see all the teens on FB, and you can be their friends too. They LOVE FB.

    It’s amazing that people from the states have adopted them in a virtual sense by writing the teens on FB, praying for them, letting them know they are thinking of them. Isn’t that amazing?! The teens don’t have to feel isolated and alone in a third world country but can feel connected to people everywhere, and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes in their life.

    More to come tomorrow! Hang tight! Working on it now. 🙂

    love you all,

  22. “Instead of waiting for the sky to part and the answer to come as the voice of God, what about the subtle nudge that really and truly almost goes unnoticed.”

    MeRa- I want to share two songs that came to mind after reading your post today. I got chills thinking of your words and the message found in these lyrics. I listen to these on my daily walk… you just helped bring them to life. Sending much love, thankfulness and prayers for hearing the gentle whisper more clearly each day.

    Life’s Noise – Bluetree

    And many winds blew his direction,but the Lord was not in the winds. and after the wind there was an earthquake,but the Lord was not in the quake. and after the earthquake there was a fire,but the Lord was not in the fire. and after the fire there w…as a sound of a gentle whisper. he wasn’t in the fire,he wasn’t in the quake,he wasn’t in the wind, he’s in the whisper here.

    Traveler’s song – Future of Forestry

    If you travel here, you will feel it all
    The brightest and the darkest
    If you travel here, listen to your heart
    And take with you what lasts forever

    Sleep, and dream the dream of when you fly(when you fly)
    See through travelers eyes who want to give
    To love and give

  23. Charisse says:

    You continue to amaze me MeRa! I am so glad to know you through this internet world. You are like a breathe of fresh air.

  24. Julie Watts says:

    Me Ra! The first picture of the suitcase of all the goodies totally made me cry…the manifestation of potential. That concept what I am fascinated and drawn to. It’s why watching American Idol makes me cry too, I bet. I have known those little nudges are the miraculous secret opportunities (MSO for short)…but I always thought of them in the context of working on my self and my own photography business. Privately, individually, one-on-one with my clients and closest friends. I am very intimately aware of MSO, but to read you speak of it in such a vast, wide, social, way…it’s the other side of MSO I hadn’t really walked around the corner to see as completely as I do after reading your post. In the 3 years I’ve known you, you never cease to effortlessly BLOW MY MIND!! lol! xoxo

  25. jeramy says:

    there’s nothing i can say that’s going to do justice. proud of you and brian and your kids. i’m so happy for your experience. that’s it. i have to stop….

    take care….

  26. Erin says:

    Thank you, thank you! I sent him a message already.

  27. a “Chance” meeting on an airplane over San Diego, and here you guys are in Cambodia.. playing with orphans and inspiring otherwise helpless and future less kids to dream.. Last night the kids attended the wedding of one of the Orphanages directors and it was so great to see them fiddling with the camera and changing settings. They could hardly wait to get home and get on facebook to post share their “new talent” Lyheng, the one very skinny boy , now calls him self “photographer” in English. He is looking at pics on the computer and seeing different ways to see them. The little girl in the pics, is at the orphanage, we have her uncles (Thean 17 and Theara 15) at our center, but the little niece is at the orphanage. Her family simply didn’t want her. For us , she is way to cute and we knew, funds or no funds, we would take this little child and love her in a good home.. She is in first grade. Thank God for You guys for coming and reaching out side your comfort zone and blessing us and the kids here in Cambodia. Brian, the kids look at the pics on the disk for hours you left.. Brighter futures because of a little love.. (and cleaner teeth to boot.)
    “when you did it to the least of these you did it to Me ” Jesus

  28. Christina says:

    Wow, God works in such amazing ways. I have tears in my eyes and you NEVER cease to amaze & inspire me. What an incredible experience for your family. You are instilling values and memories for those children to build on for a life time. GOD BLESS YOU!!

  29. […] my family and I have been put through the ringer these last few weeks.  Oh, nothing like almost perishing on an airplane or facing the harrowing reality of orphans being sold on the street for $10.   And especially […]

  30. Tiffany says:

    Me Ra

    A friend of yours in Mandeville, LA sent my a link to your blog. I just wanted to share that I have had the opportunity to experience the love and joy of the people in Phnom Pehn last October. You were so right when you said that they have nothing, yet live as if they have everything. I went there to Reach People and Build Lives but in return I left there with such an appreciation and a grateful heart for where God has taken me, for what He has given me, and for what He is doing through me.

    I know that my life has been forever changed by that trip. Because I owned a Nikon, I was in charge of capturing images of our mission trip in order that I would share these with the whole team. I came home with over 2000 pictures over a 6 day period. That is where my interest in photography really went from recreational to this is what I want to do as a career.

    I look forward to purchasing some of your instructional DVDs, and I hope to attend one of your conferences in the near future.

  31. liza says:

    your dedication to people is so profound. you are soooooooo awesome to do this!

  32. Ann-Henley says:

    Me Ra,

    Wow. I am overcome. Anne forwarded me your wedding photos (which are stunning, by the way), and I somehow found my way to your blog. You are incredible. God must’ve been smiling on me when we met.

  33. Patty Taylor says:

    Awe the quiet whisper of God in the gentleness of a breeze. Your mention of that gentle nudge reminded me of the story in 1Kings 19:1-13. God is such a gentle God. I love His ways and His nudging just when we need it most. I don’t get time to follow you consistently, but I do enjoy reading your blog every now and again. Traveling is so much fun and something of my youth I miss. Especially opportunities like the one you just had. You are blessed my friend, truly blessed!