Tag Archives: Children

Planting a Legacy

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It was a single seed planted before I was born by a man I never meet. A simple act, but as I ran my hand over the wood that formed the structure of our home I could not help but be thankful for that simple act that gave us so much.

It is common in my husband’s tribe for fathers to plant trees for their sons. Years later those trees are harvested for wood which are then used for building. On a wet, cold evening my husband grabbed a bush knife and a raincoat and headed out to plant trees for our son. He had just turned six months old. We were about to leave the village, so he made it a priority to finish before we left.

We spent a little over a week sleeping in the house built from that tree. The house has come along way, and I am so thankful. Not only do we now have a permanent house for our little family, but we also have a place for teams to come and stay and a place for family and friends to sleep when they visit.

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I never had a chance to meet my father-in-law. Sadly, he passed away the year before my husband and I met. But, he left a legacy with that simple act of planting a tree for my husband when he was just a boy. I think about him when I walk past that huge tree stump still sitting in the churchyard. He never had the chance to meet his newest grandson, but he left a legacy, and we are all grateful for that.

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That Not so Innocent Green Eyed Monster

Two blog posts caught my attention this past week, and I can’t seem to get them out of my head. The first post was from a mom with a special needs child writing about how she is unable to like pictures posted on facebook of her friend’s children doing things that her own child will never be able to do. It was a touching, honest piece about the struggles of raising a child with unique challenges. But, while I felt for the author, her conclusions did not sit well with me.

The second piece was an equally honest post also by a mother. This mom wrote about her struggle with feelings of heartbrokenness when she saw her friends’ beautifully decorated nurseries while she raised her two kids in a cramped trailer. Due to a tough financial time, she and her husband were unable to give their kids the space and material comforts that they longed to be able to provide which left this young mom feeling inadequate and unable to rejoice with her friends who were blessed with more spacious accommodations.

I feel for these two ladies. Clearly, they love their kidos and long for them to have as “normal” lives as possible. What I cannot agree with is their conclusions that sometimes your own life is too painful to rejoice in other people’s happiness and that these feelings are some how ok. I just can’t agree. It’s good to be honest about struggles, pain and disappointments in life, but allowing a mindset of, “I can only be happy for you when things are going well for me,” is pure poison. Don’t swallow it.

Last month marks 20 years since my beautiful twin sister Allison passed away. The hurt is still so real that I often find it hard to even talk about her without tearing up. It will probably always be this way, but interestingly enough, I’ve often found healing through allowing myself to be friends with other twins. Yes, there are moments that my heart simply aches when I see twins interacting because I miss that special closeness in my own life, but I’m happy for them. My story also adds a perspective to the lives of twins that I’m privileged to meet because in a way it serves as a reminder for them to be extra thankful for their twin which some have taken for granted.

We are all asked to walk different walks and of course most people would not choose the hard path if given a choice. So many couples passionately declare the vows, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” but do we really mean it? When financial struggles actually hit or one partner’s health mars the dream of a perfect happy-ever-after, too many times divorce follows. The vows were empty syllables. Someone leaves, seeking their happiness elsewhere, claiming that this wasn’t the life they signed up for even though they had previously vowed to stick it out.

Hard times are a reality. It’s unrealistic to expect a fairytale life in a world that is broken by sin. This is why we need people to walk through life with us and not alienate ourselves when things didn’t turn out as expected. The wisest king in history wrote there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Be there for the tears as well as the celebrations even when it’s not your celebration. We need to stop entertaining the lie that we deserve certain things in life like healthy kids, a picture perfect house, and the perfect marriage.

Each day is a gift. Each life is different from the next, so live yours not someone else’s. Sometimes the best way to work through pain is to take the focus off yourself and be there for someone else. Cry with them in their pain but also be big enough to rejoice with them when something good is happening in their life even if that same thing isn’t happening in yours. Comparison often leads to jealousy and jealousy can lead to hatred of other people’s lives or even your own life. That tenth commandment about not coveting is there for a reason. God doesn’t want us looking around at other people’s things whether that be a well developing child or a perfectly decorated nursery and wish that it was ours. He gives daily grace to handle what life brings and that should be the focus, not alienating people from your life because they have what you wish you could.

Not to say that life is easy or that pain does not cut deeply. It does, so deeply sometimes. But, it’s not healthy to stay too long in that place of pain. Of course, it’s harder for someone who is struggling with infertility to rejoice with a friend who announces her third pregnancy, but what love when the person is able to do so. There aren’t easy answers at times. Of course we all wish for healthy children and financially secure lives, but Jesus said in John 16:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world.” The first part of the verse says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace.” Maybe those trouble will come now, or maybe they will come later down the road. The question is how will you handle it—with grace and peace or with bitterness? What will you learn from the painful times? Will your response inspire others up or push them way? The enemy wants us to think that we are in this alone. No one else can possible understand our pain, but that’s not true. When one part of the body of Christ is in pain the whole body feels it even down to the tiniest toe. That’s why we need each other. That’s why it’s important to weep together and also to laugh together.

Each situation is unique. Each special needs child has something to teach the world that only he or she can teach. Every financial struggle is a building block for later in life. Honestly, your children will remember your love and time spent together more then they will a cutely painted nursery decked out in pinterest’s latest.

Be YOU and let your friends be them. Your story, especially those painful parts, is unique. Live your life not someone else’s. Laugh through the fun parts and cry through the hard times. Let people cry with you and be open to rejoicing with them as well. It’s a way to heal your own heart. Don’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy take your eyes off the good things that your life has to offer which includes having the grace to rejoice with those around you.

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You Wreck Me

Every time I think I have it figured out—

You wreck me.

God, every time I think this is it,

The wind whips in and flips the stableness into 62 different directions.

So I stand—teetering—balanced on my toes with my arms stretched out in the air

Groping for truth,

Groping for stability.

Teach me Father

For I try to do this on my own

And I feel myself falling.

Hold me God for you are the only stable thing in this life.

I slowly lower myself back on the ground.

The shaking starts to subside.

My pounding heart begins to quiet.

 

I’m here God

 

In spite of it all.

In spite of people and their opinions.

In spite of people’s expectations.

 

I’m here God

 

In spite of the crazy, chaotic, the unknown.

Hold me Father

In your steady, stable hands.

You’re all I need.

 

I wrote this a little over a month ago, but it’s been the theme of my life this month. So many changes that I’m not sure where to begin. So much that I’ve had to let go of and give to God. But, I’m here wrapped in God’s presence, thankful for this last year, and hopeful for God’s future plans

The children’s home where I have worked for the last 10 months is now being completely Kenyan run. I’ve said bye to the kids, and in ten days I’ll be back on US soil. I’ve had such an incredible year here in Kenya that I’m almost not sure how to return “home.” I’m excited to see family and friends but not sure how much reverse culture shock is going to happen when I step off the plane. Life here is so simple. I feel so close to God here. I’ve learned so much. I’ve changed. I’ve grown.

Of course I’m looking forward to hot showers, tacos, catching up on the last season of Psych, and turning on a light switch whenever I want to. But, I already miss the kids. I already miss the feeling of riding on the back of a motorbike with the wind whipping through my hair. I already miss the ladies who work at the supermarket. They would tease me about getting lost if I missed coming into town on a Tuesday and would make me order my food from the café in Kiswahili even though I sounded like a two year old. I haven’t even left the country, and I already miss it so much.

I do plan to return to Kenya in the fall although, I’m currently praying about different ministry opportunities. I know that God has a plan, so I’m trusting Him to show that to me in His perfect timing. In the meantime, I’m spending a couple days in Mombassa processing everything and enjoying some time on the beach. Then I’ll be packing and on a plane before I know what happened.

So many things have happened this year that it would be impossible to fit it all into one blog. I made a short video (which I will post below) of some of my favorite picture just to capture some of the memories from my time here at the children’s home. As this door closes I’m lingering a bit in the shadow almost ready to take the next step, but already missing what I’m leaving behind.

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What do you do Anyway?

“So, what do you do?’ she asked as we sat sipping chai and killing time until lunch was ready.  It was the second or third time that week that I’d gotten this question from visitors stopping by the children’s home where I volunteer.

“What do I do?” I thought. Here I was talking to the nursing director of the entire Kijabe Hospital. To someone as busy as her, I’m sure my life looked fairly mundane. Well, today I was spending the morning entertaining guests that I had no idea were coming until I saw a car drive up the drive way. “Every day is different,” I answered. How do you explain being on call 24/7, starting your day at 5:30am but then having the kids gone for the majority of the day? Some days it does feel like I sit around all day, go for walks, and just exist until the kids get home. Other days I’m so busy that I barely have time to breathe and fall into bed at 8:30pm only to have my alarm jolt me awake telling me that it’s time to do it all over again.

As an “auntie” to 17 children, ranging from the ages of 6 to 17, I do everything from braid hair to clean up throw up. I cook a little, clean a little, help tutor the kids, try to teach them what it means to take care of their things (a never ending job). I pick puzzle pieces up off the floor and beat the living room rug after a weekend leaves it filled with enough dust and dirt to fill a sandbox.

What do I do? On Mondays usually do laundry which involves a couple of buckets, some Omo, and a whole lot of clothes pins. But, I don’t have to do the kid’s laundry. Mama Jane (my hero) does that. That woman is amazing. She can get the entire house mopped, the kids laundry (a literal mountain) washed, and cook a mean pot of rice (another mountain), all before lunch.

Tuesdays are town days. Catch up on emails and usually blog while we have fast Internet, stock up on fruit from the fruit market, and get some somosas (sometimes the only meat I get all week). Wednesdays are worship Wednesdays. We’ve been teaching the kids new songs, and I absolutely LOVE hearing them sing their hearts out when we worship. Thursdays are mandazi Thursdays. We head into our little town of Maraigushu to go to the local eating spot for some chai and mandazi (a doughnut type food just not as sugary). As we walk to town we inevitable end up walking with the local neighborhood kids on their way to nursery school. They like to grab our hands and by the time we reach the school we’ve usually collected a nice little string of kids. Friday is movie night. One of the kid’s favorite days of the week. We pop in a movie, sometimes Richelle makes popcorn, and we enjoy some family time.

The weekends are always a blur. Our cook doesn’t work on the weekends, so my Saturdays start at 6am. I get up, heat up water for the man who milks our cow, and then I typically start making pancakes. As the kids wake up, the little kids trickle in the kitchen to “help” me. I usually start burning the pancakes when I have 6 kids hanging on me, but most days the majority of pancakes turnout alright. The kids usually work in the shamba (garden) for awhile in the mornings. I typically braid one or more of the little girl’s hair (always a long project). Sundays involve church, sometimes walks, and whatever else happens to happen.

Then it’s Monday again- beautiful Monday. The kids head off to school. I typically clean up the kitchen and living room area, and it stays clean for the rest of the day! So that’s what I do. That and clean up bloody noses, put on a lot of band aids, give lots of hugs, and just live the day being flexible and taking care of whatever comes my way.

“It’s an emotional job,” Ruthann reflected the other day. “Not a job that can be easily measured.” Some days I do feel like I spend the majority of the day chilling, reading, doing whatever, but then the kids come home and I think, “What don’t I do!”

What do I do? Some days I’m still not sure, but I love it being here for the kids, watching them grow, and doing whatever needs to be done in a day.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

Walking to town for mandazi Thursday picking up a string of kids as we go.

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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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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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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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