Category Archives: Kenya

Feeding my Soul

IMG_2564Laying in the sun—palm trees, a pristine pool, tropical flowers. It feels like a different country, almost a different world. The sun feels so rejuvenating and the cold that has refused to go away for the last three weeks has finally started to break up. There’s nothing like a break in the sun after months of working non-stop. Not that I mind. I love my life, the kids at the children’s home, the daily routines. But, with such an emotional job it’s healthy sometimes to get away; and Mombasa is the perfect place to recharge. The food is amazing (yay a break from ugali and beans). The weather is deliciously warm.

For the last three days I haven’t had anyone really need anything thing from me which feels so good after spending the majority of the last nine months constantly on call caring for 17 of the most wonderful kids in the world. Even though I love the kids I work with to death, it’s a physically and emotionally exhausting job. It’s nice to get away from all the pressure, expectations, and endless needs. I’m already feeling so refreshed after just three days, so I know I’ll be able to do a better job when I return.

Travel, new places, cultural, all feed my soul. There is something so incredible about getting to discover or rediscover a new place. Tuesday we spend the day exploring Mombasa’s Old Town. We bartered a price with a great guide who took us all over the city. We saw the spice market, hundred year old buildings, and even ducked our heads into the fish market where we saw everything from dried shark meat to live lobster.

I ate Swahili prawns for lunch fresh shrimp cooked in coconut sauce. It was heavenly. I’m glad I live in such a diverse world. Full of such beauty and flavor. Last night we sat out in the gazebo chatting with our neighbor and new friend from Germany. We talked about life, God, and the challenges and joys of working in ministry. I love those moments. I feel so alive, at peace, full of purpose, and happy in the presence of my creator. He has made such a beautiful world, and I love being able to enjoy different pieces of His work.

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Seasons

I was sitting in her living room with the voice recorder rolling and so many feelings running through my mind. It was my last artist interview. I was about to turn 26, move to St Louis, and hopefully start a new job with the plan of saving up money and moving to Kenya.

She carved beautiful, intricate gourds, another incredibly talented artist hidden in the small town where I had run a newspaper for the last two years. She told me how sorry she was that I had decided to close the paper. I sympathized but knew that God was calling me to a new chapter in life, and to be honest the last two years had been the hardest two years that I had ever lived through. After the interview she gave me a parting gift—a delicate gourd intricately carved with tiny butterflies. She had fit a small light at the bottom of the gourd so that the butterflies glowed softly through the shell.

“Butterflies,” she told me. “A symbol of new beginnings.” I smiled and embraced the idea. I needed a new beginning and a symbol of hope as I was about to take a step into the dark beginning a journey that was going to take me across the world and require a whole lot of faith.

The butterfly theme kept popping up through out the year of 2013—stickers on a letter, the gift of a butterfly shaped cookie, the exquisite little insects themselves fluttering across my path at unexpected moments. All signs from God that He had me on this adventure. It really was a year of freedom, beauty, and adventure the compete opposite of what the last two years had been.

I just turned 27, and as I look back over the year I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better one. I met my boyfriend in Northern Ireland on my way out to Kenya. I’ve had the privilege of become a parent to 19 amazing Kenyan kids who have absolutely captured my heart. I’ve learned what it means to trust God every day and to simply rest in His presence. I’ve gotten to work with an incredible team of people as we’ve learned what it means to live in community and serve God and these kids even through the hard days. I’ve learned true contentment and what it means to take each day as it comes.

Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. God has blessed my life so much and every day I am more and more amazed by His goodness. He loves me. He has held me through the hard times and brought me to new places. I’m exited for what this next year will bring as I open my hand and watch the year of the butterfly flutter away. I feel refreshed, free, and expectant as I wait for all that God has in store for this new year and this new season of life.

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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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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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Reactions

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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Some Days it Just Hurts

Nothing is normal about our family of seventeen kids, three “aunties”, one “uncle”, a cat, two Germany Shepard’s and puppies on the way. We had to say goodbye to our uncle this week as Jeremy returned to the US. Goodbyes are never easy, but they are even harder for a child who has seen too many people in their life come and go. But God calls different people to come for different amounts of time. As hard as it is for the kids to say goodbye, it is beautiful to see that even though goodbyes get messy (literally) with tears, wailing, and snotty noses. It means that the kids have opened up their hearts and let in love—a risky thing to do when you’ve been abandoned, abused, and neglected.

I start to feel physically sick when I think about having to say goodbye to these kids in May even though I’ll only be gone for a short time. They have wrapped their fingers so tightly around my heart that it hurts to think about being separated from them even if it is only for a couple of months. But, I miss my family too. I can’t wait to go home for a visit to catch up with friends and  to spend time with the people I love in the US. I just wish there was a way to be in both places at once. When I booked a plane ticket back to the US, I didn’t realize at the time that I would be leaving on Charity’s birthday. Charity, the one who sobbed when I took a weekend trip to Uganda and begged me not to go. The one whose eyes teared up yesterday when Richelle asked me what time I was leaving in the morning (she was asking about my trip into town to buy school shoes for the boys). Charity panicked for a second thinking I was leaving, leaving.

God help me. As much as I love my family and can’t wait to see them, I don’t know how I’m going to have the emotional strength to do this. I love these kids even with their off key singing, mood swings, and muddy shoes. We’re a family. An odd family, but a family still and every day I thank God that He has allowed me to be apart of helping raise these kids. Some day in heaven there will be no more heart wrenching goodbyes. God will wipe our tears and our snotty noses and all the pain will dissolve into joy. That will be a beautiful day. Until then, we have to survive this emotional rollercoaster of life; and get used to the fact that our hearts will often be left in multiple places. But, as hard as goodbyes are they show that love exists. If you never had to say goodbye it would mean that you never met anyone new or that you never traveled outside of your own small world. Yes, goodbyes hurt; but I’ll take the heartaches along with the adventure.

I don’t want to stay so safe and protected that I become stagnant. I want our kids to know that God brings you through the hurt of goodbye and adds new people and experiences to every day He gives you. It hurts, but it heals, and until we reach our final home in heaven goodbyes are going to have to be apart of this process we call life.

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Brown Paper Packages

Stockings

The stockings are hung on the windows. Popcorn chains wrap the tree. There’s a roll of brown paper just waiting to wrap the carefully sorted out presents. Christmas eve—the count down chain finally says one day remaining until Christmas. It’s finally here the day to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Apparently we are going to grill a goat and enjoy some nyama choma, that and lasagna to get a little taste of America at Christmas as well.

The kids are excited. They keep calling the homemade stockings socks and ask what goes inside of them. They are excited about the tree. When I came home last week from taking a day off the first thing George told me was, “our tree has torches that light up.” Good job Richelle for finding Christmas lights in Kenya. I didn’t have as much luck finding wrapping paper. The only paper I found was very shinny and had pink hearts all over it. Not very Christmasy, so we’ll have to do the brown paper packages tied up in strings look. But, no worries it’s Christmas and that is all that matters.

I love Christmas the music, the presents, the time together as a family everything just seems extra beautiful at Christmas. This will be my first Christmas away from my family, which will be hard, but I’m excited about spending my favorite holiday with my kids and the other volunteers here at the children’s home. It’s going to be a day of memories, laughter, and love. What more could you ask for on Christmas.

Some of the kids around the Christmas tree

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He’s Got Me

I was getting ready to exchange my last 100 dollar bill. I’d tried to get money out of the ATM but for some reason it declined my card, and I was left lamenting once again the fact that my bank in the US is so secure that I can’t even get to my money. Oh, the problems that come with traveling more than the average person. I am constantly getting locked out of my email (yes, that was me trying to access my account from Uganda) and my bank card gets declined more than it gets accepted.

So there I was, running low on options. I had a kid with a dentist appointment and not enough Kenyan shillings to pay the bill. I knew I’d stuck my last 100 in a pocket in my journal during my recent trip to Uganda to get my VISA renewed, but instead of just grabbing my journal and sticking it in my bag, I reached for the book where I used to keep an envelope of American cash (back when I had American cash). I flipped through the pages and saw just an old bank receipt. As I went to put the book back on the shelf, something fell out. 3100 Kenya shillings ($38.00) 3000 exactly the amount I needed for the dentist and 100 for transportation into town.

Some days working at a children’s home can be emotionally and financially draining. I love it, but some days I just feel spent after dealing with a child whose having a panic attack when a repressed memory suddenly surfaces, or when I’m straightening out the same bookshelf for the third time in the same day. It’s easy to get frustrated when you find one of the kid’s brand new sweatshirts outside soaking in the rain, or when your computer battery dies in the middle of a movie because the generator wasn’t on for very long the night before. It’s usually little things, but those little things add up and it’s easy to wonder some days when you find yourself picking tennis shoes out of the mud if anything you are doing is actually making a difference. But, it’s on those days when I really wonder if I can handle it that God has a tendency to show up. Like yesterday when I was struggling with dealing with a staff member who wasn’t doing her job properly and causing a lot of stress. I stewed over the problem as I attempted to tidy up the living room before one of our volunteer’s parents arrived from America. I was on my knees straightening out the bookshelf and mourning the death of yet another hard covered book (these kids have a talent for destroying even the most sturdy of books) when our youngest boy came running through the living room. As he raced past me he stopped ducked his head back out from the doorway of his room and said, “hi, I love you.” I almost cried.

God has a way of bringing little bits of encouragement to those days when you feel like you are about to lose it. He’s got me. He sees me. He knows and even if no one else at the time seems to notice or is too busy with their own problems to fix yours God is never too busy. He takes care of even the little things like making sure there is enough money for the dentist and making sure that you get enough smiles during the day to keep you going.

The smiles keep me here

The smiles keep me here

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Kingdom Work

I sat on the floor surrounded by purple walls covered in calk—drawings, encouraging words, scripture verses. It was my first week in Kenya and everything felt so right. We talked, prayed, and then a girl I’d just met read me like a book.

“I see you being a constant person in these kids lives,” she told me. “Meeting them at the door when they come home from school and creating a journal for them with a section for each child a book that will really encourage them later in life” I smiled because as a writer I liked the idea of that project and as soon as I arrive at the children’s home I know that it was the place where God wanted me to be. I had done a lot of different things in life, but now I was more than ready to be that constant person for these kids who had had so many traumatic experiences in life.

Her next words blew me away. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “Whether that be financial or just help with something small through out the day. It’s all kingdom work.” Her words blew me away because they cut past my calm exterior and broke me open revealing one of my greatest insecurities—asking for help. I hate asking for help I don’t know if it’s pride (I can do this on my own) or insecurity (I don’t think I deserve people’s support). It’s probably a mix of both. I don’t know, but what I do know is that one of my greatest struggles is asking for help. Maybe I try to do it on my own because I’m afraid of rejection if I ask for help and no one responds. Maybe I try to do things on my own because I feel an unwritten responsibility to solve the words problems. Irrational I know, but aren’t most fears irrational?

What I do know is that I do need help. I can’t do this on my own because the work that God has called me to do is so much bigger than myself. It takes a body. Whether that be the day to day work of taking care of 17 kids or the financial strain of taking four kids to the dentist in one week when only one out of those four kids is financially sponsored. You don’t tell the other three kids, “Sorry you can’t get your teeth fixed your not fully sponsored.” You just take them to the dentist and pray that God will provide. He does provide, and He usually provides through people because He wants to use His children. He wants them to be blessed by become apart of something greater than themselves. It’s a beautiful thing, yet scary at times when your bank account starts to get really skinny.

I’ve added a Support Me in Kenya link to the top of this blog because I do need help, and I want to allow those who God calls to help to be able to support me. I don’t even like to talk about money, but God has been teaching me to do things that I don’t like in order to serve a greater good. Thank you for those who have supported me. You really are doing kingdom work as every day I am blessed by being able to see the kids at Abba’s House live changed lives. It’s rewarding, and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to extend this rewarding experience to others as well. Thank you for investing in His kingdom.

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To the Unsung Kates

“And she’s only 24,” I asked for about the third time as I stood in the kitchen of Serving His Children a malnutrition clinic that reaches out to children in Uganda suffering from malnutrition. I didn’t get to meet Renee while visiting my cousin who is volunteering at the clinic Renee started. But I didn’t have to meet her to know that she is an incredible woman. I looked at the walls and walls of pictures showing what the children looked like when they came and what they looked like when they left. It’s hard to argue against pictures. Renee’s organization (which she first had a vision for when she was 18) educates mothers and relatives about proper nutrition, gets kids back to a healthy weight, seeks to meet families spiritual needs, and checks up on the children once they have returned home to ensure that they stay healthy.

 

Just a few of the children whose lives have been saved by Serving His Children

Just a few of the children whose lives have been saved by Serving His Children

It’s facebook trend at the moment to post the story of Kate Davis author of Kisses from Kate. An incredible story of a young girl who came to Uganda and ended up adopting 13 girls. I haven’t read Kate’s book. I intend to. I’m sure I’ll be able to relate to a lot of her experiences. The longer I’ve lived in Kenya the more I’ve discovered that there are many, many “Kates” maybe not as celebrated but they are definitely making a difference in this crazy world that we call home.

People like Reah whose husband died suddenly leaving her to take care of their young daughter and over 30 children who live at Morning Star Children’s Home. She’s dealt with no money coming in to pay for food, the government threatening to take away her kids, and too many other stories to tell. At the end of the day she trusts in God, and He has brought her through each day.

Or people like Ruthann who manages Abba’s House the children’s home where I work. She’s 24 as well and has been here from the beginning when the youngest boy (who was around 5 at the time) thought it was ok to go to the bathroom in the middle of the living room floor, or when one of our girls thought that taking a shower meant dumping a huge bucket of water over her head flooding the bathroom just before everyone arrived for the grand opening. She’s had to go after a child who ran away because he didn’t want to eat cabbage for dinner and has had to break up fights in the beginning when the kids thought it was ok to settle their differences using physical means.

I could go on and on telling more stories of more people (young people) who are quietly making a big difference in the midst of difficult circumstances. Not to take anything away from Kate Davis, my cousin has met her and she sounds like an incredible, down to earth person who really should be celebrated. I guess my point is that there are a lot of “Kates.” They may not have time to write a book at the moment, but they all have incredible stories. They may not have their story passed around on facebook, but that doesn’t make their story any less inspiring. They make me stop and ask what more can I be doing with my life because they are all younger than me and are living so close to God that’s it’s hard not to feel changed just by knowing a piece of their story. So thank you to everyone who is quietly making a difference in life no matter your age, no matter how celebrated or uncelebrated you are. The world does not appreciate you enough, but your reward in heaven will be great.

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