Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sacred Connections - my afternoon with Emily and Glenngerman


Every once in awhile, I hear a voice telling me to do something.
Yesterday, it said “Help them.”
I took an unusual route home from work yesterday, as I had a pile of bills I wanted to mail and had forgotten to swing by the post office that’s right next to work as I left. Ever lazy, I went to the only other drive up mailbox I could think of, which is downtown, and requires going around several blocks in a dizzying maze of one-way streets and leaves me heading the opposite direction of home
when I’m done… But still. Drivethrough.
So there I was, next to our lovely downtown mall on a sunny day and I noticed a couple cross the street in front of me. Dreadlocks. Guitar. Black hat. Tattoos. Dog.
“Help them.”
This has happened before.
I drove forward as the light turned green and they kept going down the block in the opposite direction. I had the usual argument with myself:  “I have to work.” “They might be dangerous.” “What could I possibly do?”
And then I swung around the block.
It took several one-ways and around-the-blocks and a prayer for an open parking spot, but soon enough I found myself running toward them as they crossed yet another intersection away from me. Jaywalking is up there with bank robbing on my list of offenses, but I had to. I was supposed to help them.
They stood on the corner next to the swankiest hotel in town, looking down at a painted-too-long-ago-to-read-clearly map of downtown.
“Can I help you find something?” I began.
“Yeah. The park.”
“Riverfront?”
“I think so.”
“That’s going to be back the way you were coming… about 4 blocks that way.” I pointed. Looked them straight in the eye. Argued briefly with myself again and then said “Do you guys need anything else? Do you need to do laundry or something?”
They looked at each other. She looked at her dog. He hesitated “Well…”
And then they both broke out in grins. “Actually, that would be great.”
I had an appointment in two hours and a car full of frozen food from Costco, but I piled them and their huge backpacks and Teeker, the dog in my car and we drove home.
“When’s the last time you called your moms?” It’s always one of the first questions I ask in these situations.
The girl, Emily said she talked to her mom about four days ago. The boy, whose name was long and new to me, and I suspected not his real name, didn’t answer.
We drove up the hill to my house. My mind was racing as I kept up a dialogue of small talk with my homeless friends, running through all the things I know my mom would want me to consider… the things my husband would say. Things like “Are you crazy?”
My only defense? “Jesus told me.”
We got to the house, found a place to tie up the dog since she didn’t think Teeker would play well with my dog, gave her a bone, then unloaded the car together (yay for help with a Costco load!) and started their laundry.
They stood awkwardly in the kitchen.
“Sit down! Make yourselves at home! Relax. We’re here for awhile anyway since you can’t go anywhere until your clothes are done.”
I made them lunch while we talked. They got their pick of all the food they helped me unload. They chose chicken strips and watermelon. I gave them each a San Pellegrino and sat down with them at the table.
And we talked.
We talked about how they get around.

Busking.

Philosophy.
Religion.

Drug use in the homeless community.

Their families and mine.
She had matching symmetrical tattoos on her face. Tiny words in ALL CAPS on her cheekbones at the outer corners of her eyes. “F---  YOU.” I don't think she meant it.
He had the worst teeth I’ve ever seen. Including in Sierra Leone, where we volunteered for a dental screening with Mercy Ships. He said “No ice please” when I offered him a drink.
He also said “Thank you so much for your hospitality” Three times.
And “I’m having this surreal experience with my surroundings right now. I can’t remember the last time I ate a meal at a table instead of on the ground.”
We laughed together.
“People probably don’t make much eye contact with you, do they?”
“Oh hell no,” Emily said. “They want us to not exist. Not looking at us makes us less real.”
She told a story of asking a man next to her the other day for the time.
“I don’t have any,” he replied.
“I’m sorry, I just need to know what time it is.”
He repeated, more brusquely, “I don’t have any!” and walked away. He never looked up from his phone, which displayed the time just far enough away that Emily couldn’t quite make out the numbers.
They don’t do drugs. Well, except weed. But that hardly counts anymore, right? Emily told me she was addicted to meth and heroine until the guy that used to shoot her up (she never learned how to do it herself) disappeared one day. She didn’t realize he wasn’t coming back until two days into withdrawls, and she said she saw it as an opportunity. “You have to go cold turkey. Those people who go the methadone route just end up addicted to it. It never ends. I’ve been clean two years.”
I learned about Barterfests, which is how they will spend their summer. Traveling from one huge fair full of likeminded folk to another, trading skills, dancing, camping, making friends. I shared my only quasi-experience with something like that, the infamous ‘Country Fair’ outside of Eugene, Oregon that we used to hear horror stories of when we lived there.
The dryer finally buzzed, about ten minutes after she said “Do you think the clothes are done?”
She was getting antsy. It was a beautiful day and the park was full of people who might toss them a coin for a song.
“I’ll go get it.”
As they folded their tiny pile, (“It smells so good!) I wrapped the leftover chicken strips in foil and grabbed a handful of Clif bars from the pantry. We put their backpacks in the car, Teeker jumped in the front seat, and we drove back down the hill.
I asked them to write their names down on a post-it pad I keep in the car. “I want to use your names when I tell my husband about you…” (I needed to see Glenngerman’s name written so I could remember it.”)


We got to the park. They got out, retrieved their backpacks from the back and Teeker from the front. I rolled down the window.
“It was great to meet you both. Good luck this afternoon! You should get lots of passersby since it’s so nice out.”
They both gushed thanks… “Thank you for everything. That was so nice… it was great to meet you too.”
Glenngerman looked me in the eye and said with conviction: “God. Bless. You.”
Indeed, friend.
Indeed.


Thanks for reading. I know some of you really want to give me a little lecture about safety and self-protection and common sense. I'll ask you politely to restrain yourselves and answer you with this:
1 John 4:18 & 19
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
We love because He first loved us.



Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent.

I feel my faith very deeply. I always have. I have a personal relationship with the baby Jesus and I love Him intensely.

But yesterday I found myself angsty and upset and lost.

I am in a wilderness of sorts lately with my relationship with church.

And even with Christianity, I guess.

Because what most people think of as 'Christian' in our current society, I don't want to be identified with.

Right-wing.
Kim Davis approving.
Refugee fearing.
Planned Parenthood attacking.
Hypocritical.
Bible thumping.
Hateful.
Closed-minded.
Self assured and sanctimonious.

And church... well that's another thing. I wouldn't call my past church any of those things. But I find myself lost at church as well... feeling so 'over' the politics and the effort of the modern church to try to stay relevant in today's culture. I feel like so many progressive churches are trying so hard to be cool and edgy that I don't feel at home there anymore.

Where is the balance? Are we supposed to be cool? Or are we just supposed to be honest and admit that we're really messed up? And then unapologetically introduce people to Jesus? Because HE is cool. And HE loves fiercely and perfectly.

Life is hard. I don't begin to claim to have it figured out. I don't understand much of the mystery of the gospel - of grace and redemption and unconditional love and sin and mercy. I just know it's not my job to figure it out. It's my job to love God and love my neighbor. I don't know the answers to the tough stuff - things like transgenderism and refugees and poverty and suicide and whether someone is born gay or whether we're in the end times or whether Rob Bell is completely off his rocker.

And so I feel lonely a lot of the time. Because I don't know very many Christians who are willing to admit that we don't know all the answers. And that we're embarrassed about what much of society thinks of us. And that church can be a place of deep hurt as often (or more) as it can be a place of belonging and healing.

Advent is a time for Christians to reflect on the gift of God-made-man.

I need time to reflect this year more than ever. Because when I'm feeling lost I know that I am right at home in a stable with a baby who came to look at my messy heart and my over-active-introversion and love me completely and fully.

So I'm off. Off the internet. Off my phone. Off the news and the constant influx of confusion and frustration with society and humankind.

I'm off to sit quietly with Jesus and reboot my soul with His words.

And His life.

He is Life, friends.

Happy Christmas to you all. I'll be back after the New Year.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Six months

This is the longest I have ever gone without posting on my blog.

I have no explanation, except to say that I have occasionally opened up a blank page to write and then clicked the "X" in the upper right hand corner and walked away.

It just wasn't time to write, I guess.

This is the first year since 1992 that I am working full time - and that's been quite an adjustment for me. Finding balance and time for myself has been a challenge - and then prioritizing how I spend that time once I get it - well, I'm still figuring that out.

To be honest - there's not really a lack of time. I have loads of time compared to when the kids were little. But knowing myself and what brings me solace and nourishment for my soul, I was somehow propelled away from blogging and into a more private and quiet space.

But today, I feel compelled to put something on the page. I'm not sure what will come out, but I'm determined to hit the publish button.

There have been many times I've paused in the past six months just to absorb and wrap my head around the milestones and reality of this life:
  • I have two adult children and one quickly winding down his last few years at home.
  • Having adult children can be really hard - not because there's anything wrong, but because it's difficult to pull back and let them make choices on their own - with real life consequences that are completely out of my control
  • My husband turned 50. Wait, what?
  • I work. A lot. I sit at a computer and oversee stuff. And I travel. Quite a bit sometimes. On business. With a briefcase.
  • My home is starting to take on that tired look of a home that has been lived in by the same family for 16 years. Projects that we did soon after we moved in (just the other day!) now need to be redone. It feels overwhelming. And sometimes now I can understand how people just leave things as is, even if it's tired and dated, because it's easier. I can't imagine finding the time for these projects.
  • I have a backyard I love. After dreaming and wishing and planning and procuring and hiring and paying... I love everything about my outdoor space. It has comfy places to sit, and flowers, and blueberries and lettuce and tomatoes and a fire table and a swing and twinkly lights.
  • I still struggle/fight/work really hard at being healthy and choosing healthy living. Parts of it are much, much easier than they used to be. And parts of it I am working to figure out. I'm proud of the fact that I haven't given up on this. And I'm discovering (still) the freedom that comes from truly owning my choices. It's ongoing. And good. And hard.
  • Sierra Leone. My heart longs to go back. I'm so thankful for technology that allows me to talk to Tejan often. He is also growing up and living as a young adult - making choices on his own and living more independently. I'm so, so proud of him and excited for his future. I'm so honored to be his mom. I'll never take for granted the tremendous privilege it is to have had the opportunity to love and support him all these years.
That's all for now. I do hope to make time and space for this more regularly. I have things to say... to process. I've missed the resolution that comes from getting things out of my head and onto the page. So we'll see how it goes.

Thanks for reading, friends. I'm always amazed that anyone has any interest in my musings... and yet it warms my heart to hear from you. Smooches, all.

Friday, January 16, 2015

...

Waves of change sweep over me
disturbing the delicate balance
erected over years of false
security
held together by
tradition
heritage
expectation.
Those strong
stalwart words
that blow so
easily away
at the slightest
crack.
Revealing
betrayal
secrets
testing
carelessness.
What I thought
was
is
not.
I
cannot begin
to adjust my
sails.
I am breathless,
the wind
knocked
clean out
of my heart
and I gasp.
Hollow
chest
slowly
fills again
with
holy
Breath.
Peace
in the crest of the swell.
I still fear where
the wave will
land, but I ride
it knowing
I will
not
drown.
I
worship
because
It is all I know
for sure.
I will
live in the pain -
experience
it fully
knowing
there
is
Promise
in it.
There
is
nothing
I
can control.
But
I know
that
knowledge
is the beginning
of true Peace.
The fullness
of Life
comes when we
feel dead.

Monday, January 05, 2015

New Year

I've not blogged in ages.

Sometimes I'm just out of words - or maybe struggling to formulate them - or not sure what I want to share, or how much. Asia always accuses me of living my life really un-privately, on Facebook and with my blog... but there are plenty of things I hold onto, until the time is right.

So perhaps I'm just in a more private space lately.

Needing more time to process and work through my thoughts in a different way.

But today, the first day of the new year that I have any quiet and space to actually write (yay for husbands back to work and kids back to school!) I want to document. And share.

I've done a lot of crazy things over the years, inspired by the new year.

Some have been wildly successful, and others, not so much.

So I always approach a new year carefully, asking myself what it is I'd like to accomplish. How I'd like to change. What I might want to tackle.

And this year, I read a quote on Pinterest that caught my eye:


It all seemed good and sort of trite until I got to the last line.

Because I'm not a very surprising person.

I find safety and comfort and security and identity in being steady, constant and predictable.

I'm not a risk taker.

But packaged up in the idea of 'surprise', somehow risk taking becomes strangely appealing to me.

I've done some out-of-character types of things, here and there... I ran a half marathon. Applied for a high-level corporate job. I go to Africa (even in the midst of an ebola crisis!)

But my M.O. is safety.

So I'm hoping, this year, to do one thing a month that surprises myself. That takes me a little out of my comfort zone and expands my tight little definition of safe and secure. That, maybe, even terrifies me.

I'll be honest, I need ideas. There are a lot of things I've written off over the years - for so long, really, that they're just not on my radar at all. So if you've got any suggestions, hop in and share them.

I think, just maybe, that I'm going to start with snow skiing.

I've never ever gone. It scares the crap out of me.

It would definitely surprise me to try that.

And so begins a year of surprises.

2015.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Community

I've been thinking about Community a lot lately.

It's a pretty popular word in my circles.

community

  [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]                                                
noun, plural communities.
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the):
the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage:
the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.:
community of property.
 
I have community. At work, with my members and fellow staff.
At church.
With the families and loved ones we've come to know in Spokane.
 
I have community.
 
But sometimes, having community is hard.
 
Because people are really complex. And sometimes we do stupid things. And sometimes we make mistakes. And more often than not, stuff gets messy.
 
Sometimes what I think is my community ends up going a direction I'm not comfortable with. And so I have to adjust. Or compromise. Or leave. Or wonder if I should leave.
 
See? Messy.
 
Sometimes I feel lonely in the midst of all the communities I'm supposedly a part of.
 
And that's kind of where I'm at right now.
 
My life is full of people but I feel alone most of the time.
 
I'm not scared of being alone... I'm actually quite good at it. But too much alone tends to wear on anyone.
 
So I'm a little weary.
 
Content. But weary.
 
There is some stress that lies beneath my contentment that I'm discovering is pretty exhausting.
 
And some confusion that is downright exhausting.
 
It's life, isn't it?
 
I have a wonderful community of people that I know love me and care for me. But the stuff I carry, I carry alone, pretty much.
 
I'll be okay.
 
I AM okay.
 
I.
am.
okay.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

On time...

With the past weekend and it's extra hour behind me, it feels fitting to write about time today... specifically, about how I spend my time. How we spend our time.

It seems our culture is one where time gets away from us... where we wonder 'where the time went' or complain that we 'don't have time.'

News flash.

People around the world all have the same amount of time.

One of my favorite things about being in Sierra Leone is the difference in the perception of time. In the States, we value efficiency to a fault. How much can I get done in as little time as possible? In Sierra Leone, they value relationships. So what I accomplish there takes second place to who I've been with... the conversations I've had... the love I've shown.

I can't begin to say I've brought that value home and implemented it perfectly into my life here. But I can say I'm learning. Learning to rest. Learning to value peace and calm. Learning to let my priorities revolve around relationships instead of productivity. Choosing to be in the moment, even if in the back of my head the 'next thing' is threatening to distract me, I'm getting better at pushing it aside to give full weight to the moment and the people I'm with.

I'm also challenged to consider how to still accomplish the things I need to accomplish - lately, it's been TONS of extra work at home prepping and training for three new job responsibilities I'm taking on - while still being present with people and investing in relationships.

It's something I'm working on... this concerted effort to connect with people. I have, for years, used my introversion as an excuse to stay secluded. But there is a gentle prodding to push myself outside myself a bit... to invite people in... to love the ones I'm blessed to know in a more proactive way. In the long run, the people I spend time with are much more important than the checklist I have in my head or the projects I think I should tackle.

I don't pretend to have this figured out. But I do believe I'm on a journey where God is stretching my heart... and I'm learning to view time differently... to be patient with myself and with the people around me and try to honor each day - each moment.

I'm thankful for the place I'm in. Thankful to still be learning. Thankful for the peace I have knowing there is grace for all the stupid ways I'm inclined to spend my time - and grateful for the blessing when I know I've spent it wisely and lovingly.

I'm inspired by the way Jesus spent his time. Reading the gospels lately has been SO good for my soul... to reflect on how generous and giving Jesus was with his time... and how careful he was to still care for himself and those closest to him. What an amazing role model. He had the same 24 hours a day that I do...

How can I best spend my time? It's what's on my heart...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Spent.

(A series on how we dispense ourselves, our resources and our time.)

Lately a common theme has arisen in my thought life and my conversations.

A thread that keeps pulling loose, demanding my attention.

Like a phone call that needs to be returned, or a bill that has to be paid, I have this nagging, underlying discourse running through my mind, impacting me with a persistence that demands attention.

How am I spending?

My money.
My time.
My life.
My body.
My relationships.
My reserves.
My thoughts.
My devotion.
My energy.

It's a deep, deep well, this thought pattern I'm working through.

I hesitate to pull up a bucket from this well and spill it out because I fear a flood of consequences I'm not sure I'm ready for.

But in my experience with how God works in my life, when I feel a profound, almost burning need to explore something, it's in my best interest to take the leap... to trust. To expose the vulnerability I feel and lean on the Promise that I will never be led into anything that takes me away from God's goodness - even if it scares the heck out of me.

So I'm going to tackle each of these... in a way that may produce more questions than answers. In a way that may rustle some feathers. In a way that may betray my North American sensibilities and unveil things I'm not proud of... but hopefully, in a way that gets the wheels turning as we consider how we are called to be counter-cultural.

I come at this from the world view of a follower of Jesus. The Jesus of the bible. The Jesus who chose sinners over religious leaders. The Jesus who gave himself - who spent his life well - who modeled the answers to these questions I'm pondering. The unsafe, radical leader who refused glory for a narrow path that ultimately led to his betrayal and death.

Let me be clear. This blog has always been a way for me to process my own stuff. I don't see it as a venue for influencing others. But I've been told many times that the stuff I write has been impactful to others. So I put it out there in this public way - not to leverage my opinion or sway others, but to convey my heart and begin to traverse a path along which I suspect I may need like-minded companionship and support.

And so I begin.

Expect a post soon tackling the first of many thoughts about the idea of Spending.

I'm looking forward to the challenge. Thanks for joining me.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Twenty-two reasons to pray that the Ebola outbreak ends soon...

I think sometimes when we hear the news of faraway places, it's hard to care.
 
I understand. I do the same thing...
 
But the current news about Ebola and the potential it has to wipe out a whole generation of people in West Africa hits VERY close to home for me... for obvious reasons.
 
Today I want to introduce you to just a small sampling of my loved ones there and ask you to pray not only for them, but for their country and region.
 
Ebola isn't just a disease in a far off land... it's a disease that's just miles away from these beautiful people who are in my heart and on my mind every day.
This sweet little girl on the left is named Cecilia. Her mother was our cook while we
were in Banta this trip.
Cecelia is a little shy, but has the most beautiful smile.

Aminata is a beautiful, statuesque young woman who is waiting
to take her senior secondary school exams and hoping to go on to
university after the Ebola outbreak ends

Idrissa (Spengy) is one of our sons. He loves Michael Jordon and basketball,
but because the basketball courts got ruined, he now plays soccer almost every
afternoon. He aspires to be a neurologist AND a pastor.

Meet Becky - one of the youngest children in the Children's Home.
She is the sweetest little imp.

Jeneba is a dear, dear girl that I would sponsor in a second if she wasn't
already fully sponsored. She is thoughtful, kind, well-spoken and
extremely generous. I adore her.

Phillip is the newest of our sons, since we just sponsored him upon our return. He is
a quiet, hard worker. Asia fell in love with his personality and his work ethic. It wasn't
unusual to see Phillip by Asia's side... he latched on immediately after Asia told him
he wanted to sponsor him.

Henry is on staff at the Mallory Jansen Memorial School as the primary headmaster.
He is a young teacher, finishing up his schooling during school holidays. His
enthusiasm and leadership are absolutely infectious - and the example he is setting for the younger
children in the school is so powerful, since he grew up in a neighboring village and is
now employed and leading the school into the future.

Hawa... what can I say about this girl? She is one of the first faces any team
visiting will see, since she is on the welcoming committee. She always has a smile
on her face and is truly a light in her home. Her heart shows in the way she cares for
the younger children... she's a bright spot for sure.

This is Marie... who is a ball of energy... and full of laughter.
I love seeing her because I never know what funny thing she will
say next. Isn't she beautiful?

Mustapha is a wonderful young man that we met in 2011. He is from a neighboring
village and is currently studying to take the entrance exam into nursing
school. He has so much potential and we are so excited about his future!

Adamsay was Kyler's favorite child in the home when we went as a
family. You name it, she's full of it... laughter, energy, spunk... she's
a powerhouse that is stepping out as an amazing leader amongst her peers.

This is Capri... a young musician who leads the youth choir, helps with worship
at church and hopes to pursue a career in music. He is a strong leader.

This is another of our sons - Alhassan, and his twin sister, Assanata.
They are both currently needing additional sponsors. They are
such sweet kids...

Massah's laughter is identifiable from across the room... she is a tiny
little powerhouse of God's love. She is also waiting to take her senior secondary school
exams. Massah is one of Tejan's very best friends. Their relationship
brings tears to my eyes, the way they care for each other.

This lovely woman on the right is Esther. The last time we visited, Esther
sewed me a beautiful African dress in less than a week. She is currently
in vocational school studying catering. She is beautiful through and through.

Isatu is one of the shyest girls in the children's home... but my persistence
has paid off and I have such a sweet friend in this lovely teen. My parents sponsor
Isatu, which makes me so happy.

Here is Charles... the self-declared barber in the children's home. He is
hoping to study accounting after he passes his exams and goes to university.
He has a quiet strength to him... I believe he will accomplish much with his life.

This is Steve Michael. He had polio as a child and is confined
to his wheelchair. He lives in a neighboring village and hopes
to be a pastor someday. He is also studying and waiting for the
same exams.

On the left is Ali, the driver who managed to get us all over Sierra Leone in the rainy
season and with a van that really didn't want to run. He has four children and lives
miles away from his family in order to work and provide for them.

On the right is our dear friend Magnus Beah. Magnus is a pastor
and works for COTN as the in-country host. He is a problem solver, a people lover, a treasured
counselor and an amazing man of God.
And of course, this is Tejan. The boy who started it all for me... my son. My
treasure. My amazing gift of patience and perseverance and servanthood... I am
SO proud of who he is becoming. 
If you'd like to donate to help fight Ebola, providing protection and resources not only for these lovely people, but for the surrounding hospitals and villages, you can donate HERE. I sent a donation just this morning... will you join me?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Building a school, one donation at a time

In 2011 when we went as a family to Sierra Leone, they had just gotten this amazing machine... which takes the beautiful, plentiful red dirt and creates bricks. At that time, they were building some new classrooms for the Mallory Jansen Memorial School - the onsite school where not only the 93 Children's Home kids attend, but roughly 600 children from surrounding villages.

Since we went last time, they've built two guest houses, a senior staff housing building, a staff home for long term international staff, a store for the kids to buy things and more classrooms. All from those beautiful red bricks...

Currently, work is progressing on a remote school in the village of Mokpangumba, a warehouse, and a brand new secondary school. You can read more about that school in this incredible article: Mokpangumba School


We had the privilege of seeing the kids pitch in on one of their last days of school to carry bricks to the new secondary school site. Our son, Spengy, told us he can carry five bricks at once on his head. "I carried six once. I will never do it again, my neck hurt!"

The work ethic in Sierra Leone is amazing. These kids were essentially on 'recess'.  The ones who chose to, carried bricks during their whole break.

Education is highly valued in Sierra Leone... most children know young adults who lost out on years of schooling during the ten-year civil war. They understand without an education, there is little hope for their future. The school is reaching kids that would otherwise not have an opportunity to receive education. Many of them are sponsored by COTN's Village Partnership Program, which pays not only school fees for kids, but also offers them medical care, feeding, community development, family support and social services.

Something I really appreciate about COTN is that they have great dreams for the future of all their ministry countries. We had an amazing dinner with the Sierra Leone country director, Mr. Yambasu, and his vision for their ministry there is incredible. There are so many things he'd like to do. ALL of it comes down to resources. Something like this brick-making-machine can change SO much in a setting like this. People taking on village partnership sponsorships or donating to the Secondary School Fund is the only way things like this happen in this impoverished country. With the Ebola outbreak essentially grinding the local economy to a halt, the need for resources is going to be more profound
 than ever.

I had an amazing experience at work today... a dear member that's been coming to my meetings for several years and recently worked with me to get back 'on track' gave me an envelope. She explained that it was a way for her to give back for all my help - and that it was a donation for Children of the Nations. Folks - if you've EVER wanted to give back, there's nothing you could do that means more to me. I was brought to tears by her simple act of generosity. AND, inside the envelope, she explained that for every ten pounds she loses, she will make another donation. That, my friends, is music to my soul. Not only do I get to help someone succeed at her weight loss journey, I've impacted people in a way that makes a difference in the country I love.

I know some of you probably get tired of me looking for sponsorship and donors. But when we go, the people there are SO kind, and SO excited that we've come... and over and over again, they say "Go back and tell people about us. Tell them our stories. Tell them how their resources make a difference." And so I do. Unapologetically. Because I know, first-hand, that there's no better way to give your money away. I've invested thousands of dollars, choosing to spend my vacations and my money and my heart on this amazing place, these amazing people, this amazing ministry. If I can get one, or two, or three people to also give, I feel victorious. I feel I'm doing my part. I'm honoring the people I love who appreciate all we do for them SO wholeheartedly. I don't want to selfishly keep the blessing of giving to myself. I want to share it. It's the best feeling in the world.


Could you donate today toward the building of this school?
Could you join in the Village Partnership Progam?
Could you give $5, or $10, or $100 toward the fight against Ebola?

I'll keep asking. And I'll keep telling you stories about how much richer I am because I've given. There's nothing like it in all the world. What others gain is exponentially bigger than what you give away. I promise.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Sierra Leone - Part One


Oh Sierra Leone...

I never quite know how to share after a trip.

I could talk your ears off for hours. Or, I could give you the elevator pitch version. Either way, I'm not sure I can effectively communicate how blessed I am to have this second home.

Asia and Phillip, the newest member of our family
How can I begin to tell you the deep sense of family I feel there... how each time we go back, the relationships go a little bit deeper... the love becomes stronger... the affection is freer... the sense of home fiercer...

Alhassan, the first boy we ever sponsored
The kids we work with and sponsor there are growing, as children do. This trip it was very evident that what used to be a home for lots of little kids is now home to big teenagers and young adolescents... it's similar to the change I feel in my own home. Which is maybe while things feel so familiar there...


We now sponsor four boys at the Children of the Nations children's home. We went with three and came home with four... Asia 'adopted' a new son, Phillip on this trip.

While we took care of Tejan in our home in 2007- 2008, he was not the
Mustapha, our friend from Ngolala Junction
first child we sponsored. He was fully sponsored when he left our home to return to Sierra Leone, so I went on the website and chose someone - this sweet boy named Alhassan. The last time we visited, he was 8 years old. All cuddles and love. I thought, going this time, that he would be more independent at 11 years old... and that he might hesitate to spend time with us. But within seconds of seeing him again, his hand was in mine. Alhassan is a delight - a boy who loves football, cars and his friends and I'm so proud to be a part of his family.

Our boys: Spengy, Alhassan, Tejan and Phillip
Soon after, I discovered that Tejan did need a sponsor, so we jumped in and added him.

The last time we visited, Asia fell in love with Idrissa, whose nickname is Spengy. We started sponsoring him shortly after we returned. Spengy is now 19 and working toward finishing secondary school. He leads the hospitality team, taking care of the guest house whenever visitors like us come. He receives a stipend for his work and gives most of it away to pay school fees for his friends who live in a nearby village. Amazing...

Mama Josephine - my dear friend



  This trip we were also thrilled to connect with others on staff and in the surrounding villages that we had met previously. One young man, Mustapha, came to visit as soon as he heard we were back... telling us he's studying to get into nursing school and immediately asking about our kids. What a treasure it is to know such ambitious, kind, and resourceful people. I also was so excited to spend time with Mama Josephine, the house mother for all the children in the home. She has been a dear mother figure to Tejan over the years and I feel a real bond with her as we co-parent this amazing boy together. Her sweet spirit, her beautiful garden, her friendship are so dear to me. I cannot wait to see her again. The affinity I feel with her is so strong.

Tejan and I with a blanket we brought for him
covered with pictures of our family



  I wish I could take you all there with me... to show you the beautiful landscape and touch the red earth together. To wander together down the path to the children's homes, around to the back of each house where the aunties are cooking and the children are doing their chores... as soon as we rounded the corner, the kids would say, "Auntie... come and sit!" and vacate their chairs so we could sit with them. Life there is a constant rhythm of chores and gathering and caring... one girl may be butchering a chicken while another is sweeping... two or three may be playing a game while someone is sitting on the floor with her head in another's lap, having her hair planted. It's hard work and community and laughter and love and family and food and smoke from the fires and laundry lines and affection and teasing all wrapped up in the loveliest place on earth.

Being included in this rhythm can mess with your heart... it makes our busy-ness and our technology and our striving seem silly. These people focus on what matters. We focus on what makes us look better. Every time I've gone I've longed to bring the simplicity and beauty of their way of living home, and every time I've disappointed myself with how quickly I get sidetracked by the pace of life here.

I'm thankful that I've experienced it. And it has made a difference in how I live my life. In how I spend my money. In what I value. But the truth is, I still lose sight of the things I love most about Sierra Leone. It's just about impossible not to.

But I want to remember a few things... so I'm writing now while they are still fresh... more as an encouragement to myself than anything else.

  1. I have never felt more beautiful than when I'm there. My face is unmade, my hair is in a perpetual ponytail and I wear the same basic uniform of skirt and t-shirt every single day - no heels, no makeup, no jewelry, and I hardly look in the mirror. And yet I feel better about myself there than anywhere I've ever been in the world. It's a huge relief and an amazing feeling. I wish I could bring that freedom home with me. Here, I care too much about what people think about me and I get caught up in fads and Nordstrom ads and stupid, stupid stuff. I tell everyone I talk to how beautiful the people in Sierra Leone are. Without malls and makeup and manscaping and makeovers. We don't even see people here... we see who we are all trying to be. In Sierra Leone, you see, and are seen. That is beauty.
  2. People are really, REALLY resilient. Folks, life there is HARD. Really, really hard. And yet, this nation of people has found ways to get things done. Their chores take hours where mine take minutes. And they don't complain. They just do. I was talking to one of my friends there who was cutting a chicken apart for dinner and I told her when I want chicken, I just go to the store and buy it, already all cut up, no skin, no bones. And she said "Yes, but your chicken isn't sweet like this..." And she's SO right. I don't think much of anything is as sweet, as appreciated, as respected and honored here as it is there. When you work hard for something, you value it and are conscious of it. We walk through life so terribly unconscious... hardly noticing anything because we just haven't had to work for it.
  3. Independence isn't all it's cracked up to be. In Sierra Leone, everyone relies on everyone. In the states, everyone lives in their own house with their own cars and their own private lives and their own selfish sense of space. And we have famous people who have all of those amazing things who take their own lives because they're so alone... there is something to be said for true community. For cooking and sharing meals. For sacred moments when the young are helped by the old. For sharing. For common property. For giving up some privacy in exchanged for being understood, accepted, and truly loved.
  4. I simply must make time for quiet. Every morning in Sierra Leone, I would make my Nescafe (which, by the way, tastes better when it's all you've got) and head out onto our veranda to read my bible and soak in the view of God's amazing creation. I was thankful every morning for how BIG the world is - and for the privilege of knowing a corner of the world very few people will ever get to know - and for the expansion of my heart as I have opened myself to truly love people a half a world away. I should be so grateful every day...
That is all for today. I have to break it off into small chunks... otherwise I get really sad. Or frustrated. Or overwhelmed. There are days the tension between life here and life there is almost too much to live between - and it feels nearly impossible to communicate it to you.

I will keep trying. And I will keep recruiting others to join me in the tension... we live in a REALLY big, big world. Open your heart. Let the inequality bother you. Notice your own tendencies to want to be comfortable. I've taken the plunge and while there are days I wish I could go back... days when caring feels exhausting... days when I'm so heartbroken for the people I love who are so far away... but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not for ANYTHING.

Thanks for indulging my stories. It's an honor to share them with you.

Smooch you all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Off we go...



Alhassan, one of the boys we sponsor - he
was 8 in this picture - now he will be 11!
A week from today Asia and I will be back in this beautiful place. The village of Banta. Sierra Leone. West Africa.

My to-do list this week is quite long... lots of last minute shopping, laundry, organizing, packing.

I am SO excited to be going back.

I've shared with so many people about my heart for this place... that I am blessed to have children on the other side of the globe... a beloved family of lovely people who live out their days on this red earth.

But some of you do not know the story. And so I offer it to you here.

You can click HERE to get the whole back story to my love affair with this beautiful country and it's people...

This trip was originally scheduled so we could be there for Tejan's graduation from high school. Unfortunately, the government of Sierra Leone changed the exam dates for seniors this year, so instead of taking the exams that qualify them for graduation in April and May like they have done every other year, now the exams will be held in November. So no graduation. The team of people we are going with will be hosting an 'encouragement retreat' for the students instead of a graduation party as originally planned. We are just happy to be going to see our 'kids' there.

Spengy, another boy we sponsor
In addition to Tejan, we also sponsor two other boys - Alhassan and Spengy. They are SUCH great kids. If we had the money, we could easily sponsor 10 or more other kids who have won our hearts. I'm always advocating for people to sponsor them... because they are real people who get real benefits (like school! and clean water! and clothes! and a home!) from an organization that in my opinion does an incredible job of empowering people in one of the world's most impoverished nations. Your money is well-spent sponsoring these beautiful children. If you're at all interested, you can go to the Children of the Nations website and get involved.

Asia will also be doing some training with the social workers who are on staff with Children of the Nations. Not only does COTN operate a children's home, they run a school for over 700 children from surrounding villages. Many of these children come from homes with lots of needs - and the social workers spend time identifying those needs and working with the families to provide assistance. Asia gets to bring his expertise on child welfare and trauma to those workers while we are there.

Our visit in 2011 was an incredible opportunity to show our kids the reality of poverty in the third world. This time, Asia and I are going alone. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime trip for our family and frankly, very, very expensive to take everyone. We had many people who came alongside us and helped with expenses for that trip. This time, we chose to pay for the trip ourselves. It is a personal value we hold to continue to return to Sierra Leone, and we feel strongly that our values need to play out in the way we spend and save our money. So we go without financial backing this time. However, we still covet your prayers as we head there.

If you would like to pray for us, here are some specific needs:
  • our kids will be home alone together for the duration of our trip - we have pretty awesome kids, but we'd appreciate your prayers that no one gets sick or hurt and that there aren't any household catastrophes in our absence
  • you may have heard about the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The CDC has issued a stage 2 warning, which does not prohibit travel to the country. We (obviously) would like to avoid the disease and have some anxiety about entering a country with an outbreak of such a deadly disease. While you're praying that we can avoid contact with ebola, please pray for the country at large, as they have a lot of suspicion of doctors and access to medical care in general is limited - this outbreak really does have the potential to become an epidemic in a country that is already one of the lowest on the Human Development Index and only recently recovered from a 10 year civil war.
  • pray for our travel - it takes 27 hours to get to Freetown, the capitol of Sierra Leone, from Seattle. We will spend the night there and then have an 8 hour drive out to the village. It's a LOOOOOONG haul. I already suffer from insomnia and am seeking grace in the area of good rest and high energy while we are there. The trip home has typically been even harder on my body - pray for endurance.
  • please pray for Tejan specifically - having lived with us in the US for 8 months, he always struggles with the reality of his home being Sierra Leone. I'm sure when we come to visit it reignites that struggle. He has suffered from depression in the past. We are unsure what the plans are for his future now that he will be graduating from secondary school. We want him to go to university and continue his education but are always aware of his desire to come back to the States. We need to make it clear to Tejan on this trip especially that we love him, but that we will not 'sponsor' his return to the US, or support him if he chooses to move here on his own. It's a tough call, but we support COTN's vision and desire to raise strong leaders who will stay in their country of origin. Obviously, we cannot stop T. from coming here if he has the ability to get here somehow on his own. And we would love on him if he chooses someday to move here. But we need to be clear that he will have to have the ability to support himself if that's what he decides to do. That won't be an easy conversation to have, but I suspect we may need to have it on this visit. Just as we expect our adult children to be self-supporting, we will encourage T. to also do what is necessary to be a productive, contributing member of society, whichever society that is.
I cannot tell you how eager I am to be there again... to walk the red earth and smell that familiar, sweet smell I've only experienced in beautiful Salone. It's a dream that I've had the privilege of traveling there three times now... I wish I could take you all with you and introduce you to the beautiful people and land that is Sierra Leone.

We will be completely 'off the grid' while we are there... there will be no way to update you on the trip as it is happening. (Which I'm actually thankful for... it's a blessing to be fully immersed in the culture without the draw of technology and any 'connection' to American culture.) I will write when we return. I will tell you stories. I will show you pictures. I will share my love of this amazing place. I will ask you to sponsor children unapologetically. I will return again changed by this beautiful country I call my second home and the incredible people who are my family there.

Thanks for coming along with us... we leave Friday night for Seattle and our international flight leaves Saturday morning at 7:00 am... that's when we go off the grid. I can't wait to tell you all about it.
Our family with Tejan in 2011. Yes, my hair is 'planted.' (As well as Kyler and Savannah's)
Not my best look!