Monthly Archives: January 2014

Your Red Dirt Has Forever Stained my Heart

If you dig down deep inside of yourself and find a desire to come to Africa,

Please do.

The red dirt will stain your feet.

The people will grip you in such a way that you will be forever changed.

But, I don’t want to sugar coat anything.

There will be days that you’ll cry,

Feel inadequate,

Used,

Exhausted ,

And just in dire need of an honest to goodness hamburger with real beef.

But, at the end of the day chances are you’ll experience life at such a different level that you won’t want to ever return to “normal.”

You’ll see joy in the midst of poverty.

True, deep joy.

Courage in the face of daunting circumstances.

Community in a world full of selfishness.

Yes, the giraffes walking against sun tinted plains will stir your heart, but what will really change you is,

The people you encounter.

The stories that break your heart.

The people with nothing who welcome you ready to share everything that they have with you.

 

Bring a scarf, a jacket, leggings, whatever  you need to stay warm because the African sun doesn’t always shine.

When it goes down for the night the air will chill your bones.

 

Learn to love the rainy season.

Even when flood waters block you in and force you to wade through muddy, make shift streams.

Learn to love the sound of rain dancing on a tin roof.

 

People will call you “brother,” “sister,” ‘auntie,” “mama.”

They will help you when you’ve lost your way and try to sell you everything from bananas to peanuts.

 

The languages that at first sound like music will become a complete puzzle often leaving you tongue tied and

happy to sound like a two year old as long as you are able to communicate.

But, try.

Try to break the language puzzle.

Learn some phrases and be OK with not being able to say everything perfectly.

People will love you for trying.

 

It will change your very soul in a beautifully painful way.

So if you can.

If you want to experience a world of contrast and beauty then come.

Africa is waiting.

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Filed under Contemplations, Kenya, Travel

It Hurts to Love this Deeply

I woke up the next morning with a throbbing toe. That’s when I realized that I had kicked some of the loose rocks in the driveway a lot harder than I thought I had. I was heading to town when he called. “You have to let them go,” he told me.

Let them go! How do you “let go” of two of your kids? How do you go from kissing them goodnight, braiding their hair, and helping them with their homework to possibly never seeing them again? God, I’m just not strong enough for this.

We’d made an exception when a mother with a paralyzed husband begged us to take her youngest daughter along with her granddaughter who was being raised by a single mother with epilepsy. We don’t normally take children with parents at the children’s home where I work, but in this case Pastor Simon had made an exception. An exception that was now causing all of us a lot of pain.

A year later the mother changed her mind. She wanted the two girls back. She didn’t like the fact that she couldn’t come and take the girls whenever she wanted to. She was threatening to cause trouble if we didn’t return them that week so that they could start school where she lived. That’s when I realized that it’s possible to love someone so much that it hurts.

I wanted to fight. Take it to the courts. Legally the children were under our guardianship, and I didn’t want them to go back to a home where they wouldn’t be taken care of like they had been over the last year. But, the decision was not mine and while everything in me wanted to fight it deep in my heart I knew that a judge would end up rewarding the children back to their biological relatives, so was it best to go down that road?

I felt like a robot packing a backpack for Esther while Richelle packed one for Michelle. Their toothbrushes, dolls, jump rope, shoes, and clothes. This was it. Our family was being split apart. I tried to hold it together for the other kids , but I wasn’t doing a very good job. I love my girls. Sometimes when I would be cooking breakfast on a Saturday morning Michelle (who is usually very independent) would come up to me, jump into my arms and hold on to me like her life depended on it. Esther is not much of a cuddler, but when we walked down the road she loved to hold my hand and when I’d tell her that I loved her she would always flash me one of her beautiful, bright smiles. I loved her giggly laugh, her cute cubby checks, and her sweet personality. When I told her that her mom wanted her to come and live with her again her eyes immediately filled with tears, and then she got very quiet. The brightness in her eyes disappeared and was replaced with a vacant stare. How do you explain to a child that you have no control in some situations? How do you say goodbye to one of your children knowing that if you do ever see them again everything will be different. They belong to someone else now. My mind still can’t fathom that.

I cried a lot—confused, desperate, angry tears. I felt numb, powerless, and broken as I watched the car drive away. “I’ll come back when it’s over,” Michelle had said quoting a line from “The Call” one of her favorite songs.

“I hope so,” Richelle had told her.

“What is hope,” she asked.

“I want you to,” Richelle said.

Ruthann had the hard job of riding with the girls and Pastor Simon to give them back to their relatives, and then it was over. At least as over as something like that can be.

I sat with little Kevin and held him as he cried over the loss of his sisters. Later, I sat with my arm around Niko when I found him sitting on the edge of the driveway in tears. I had no words, no answers, nothing to give but my presence and at that moment it didn’t feel like enough. The rest of the day is a blur.

One of our older boys gave me a pep talk about how God sees everything and knows everything. “I know,” I told him, “But, I’ll never see them I again.”

“Two mountains never meet,” he replied, “but people, people will meet again.”

Maybe we will meet again. I have no guarantee but maybe. In the meantime we are all still praying for God to get us through this, to hold us, to bring some good from this heartache. He sees. He knows even when we don’t. That doesn’t lessen the pain, but as least it is a whisper of hope. Right now, by God’s grace, we’re surviving one day at a time. Sometimes people think that working in a children’s home in Africa is some kind of romantic adventure full of wet kisses and fun little adventures. Some days that is true, but other days it just plain hurts. It hurts to love this deeply.

My beautiful Esther

My beautiful Esther

My precious baby girl Michelle

My precious baby girl Michelle

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Filed under Contemplations, Grief, Kenya

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Hardly anything surprises me any more—not finding two bones in my slice of chicken pizza, not the fact that the lady in front of me on the bus is holding a bag with a live chicken’s head popping out of it, not the feeling when the bus we’re in slides completely sideways in the mud as we drive up the mountain. Things like that used  to cause a reaction, but now I barely blink. This is Kenya, you just have to go with it. Like when you’re told you are getting two four year-old girls and two six year old girls come instead. You just stick the clothes that you had pulled out for them back and try to find some new ones. Or, when you realize that you ruined the days milk supply by adding some old milk (which had apparently soured over night) to the new milk oops! Some day we’ll get electricity and then a fridge. When that happens, you just head to the duka (shop) to buy more and then realize when you get there that you should have brought a container with to carry the milk home in. Fortunately, the shopkeeper let me borrow his.

Life is eventful. Like on New Years when we waited for over an hour and a half for the bus that was hired to come and pick us up to attend some New Years field events in a town about an hour away only to find that the bus was stuck in the mud about a half a mile away. So, I grabbed a stack of baby wipes, changed shoes, and our small tribe headed down the road to help push the bus out of the mud. We finally arrived (a little muddy) and just as the majority of the games were finishing, but what is life without a little excitement.

Sometimes a healthy dose of excitement turns into too much, and I end up asking God “why,” and “how in the world do I handle all of this.” Like tonight when one of our boys flipped out over something small and punched his brother—hard. I separated them, sat on the floor in front of the door to the boy’s common area so that he was contained, and tried to talk to him while he screamed in Kykuyu. After about 45 minutes, he finally calmed down. I rubbed his back, told him that I loved him, and prayed one of those desperate “God, help” prayers. By devotions he had finally clamed down, and by bed time he had almost returned to his smiling self.

It’s during those moments that I’m reminded that the kids I help take care of aren’t exactly normal kids. They all have painful pasts, come from broken families, and sometimes don’t have the words to express what is hurting them. Sometimes they over react, get angry over something small, or cry for no apparent reason. I’m not a perfect parent. We’re not a perfect family, but God works even through our brokenness, and His perfect love always shine through.

I’ve been reminded of that so much this week as our kids welcomed their two newest sisters to our family. The transition has been amazingly smooth. No tears, only smiles hugs and laughter as Elizabeth and Ruthie have been taking in their new surroundings and enjoying playing with their new siblings. Yesterday as I was mixing up a pineapple upside down cake for John’s birthday. Ruthie came in the kitchen, ran straight at me, and gave me a huge hug. I just held her and thanked God for smooth transitions. It’s amazing what just a little bit of love can do in a child’s life.

About 15 minutes later our elderly neighbor came over to get her daily jug of milk and lectured me in Kiswahili about how I hold the children too much. I smiled inside and hugged Michelle just a little bit tighter as she rested her head on my shoulder. I don’t think there is such a thing as too much love. Some days these kids from broken homes just want to be held, and I’m happy to do just that.

So far 2014 (all two days of it) has been a year of surprises good and bad. I’m learning to react and take each situation and surprise as it comes. It’s a messy, confusing, heartbreaking, scary life at times, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it because God is moving in these kids lives, and it is a beautiful thing just being involved in that.

Richelle with one of our newest girls Elizabeth

On top Richelle with one of our newest girls Elizabeth and our other new girl Ruthie on the bottom

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Since writing this blog. My small world has been shattered. Yesterday we had to give up two of our children and return them to their biological relatives who suddenly demanded them back. Sometimes you love so much that it hurts. Yesterday was one of those days. I feel helpless, and my heart hurts so much that I can’t wrap my mind around what happened. It this point as a family we are surviving but very shaken, so a blog of those evens will have to wait for another day. In the mean time everyone at Abba’s House would appreciate your prayers.

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Filed under Contemplations, Kenya