Open mouth, insert foot.

Extroverts get in trouble for talking without thinking.

Introverts get in trouble for thinking by way of writing and publishing without editing. The internet only encourages this habit for introverts.

After receiving a barrage of emails, it has come to my attention that I need to explain a few things.

Why am I still blogging? The journey is over. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong. The journey has just begun. This blog will morph throughout the rhythms of my life and will look a bit different as I continue.

It will serve to document my days adjusting back in America.
It will be a place for me to sort out the thoughts clouding my mind.
It will be a place where I strive to keep a Vertical focus in this horizontal world.

So, what is the aim of my blog?

To reflect and react.
To notify and inform.
To engage and inspire.
To open eyes and touch hearts.

The underlying purpose of this blog is to share my story with you. At times, the storybook of my life reads more like a tragedy than a fairytale.

I pray that my story bears witness to the sighting of God.

I am not held back by shame or brokenness. I know others encounter similar struggles along the way. So I hope…

to bless

and encourage

and walk alongside

until we see His glory revealed.

Disclaimer: The purpose of my blog is not to evoke shame or pass judgement on America. Having been away from the States, I can look at things with a fresh pair of eyes. That doesn’t mean that my vision is 20/20, but that I tend to see things from a different perspective. If you disagree with a statement I’ve made please comment on that to generate a broader discussion among other readers.

Reverse culture shock is a sticky swamp of emotions. Wading through the swamp is messy. And if it’s too painful for you to read about the process, I understand. But if you’re willing to watch me embrace this season of re-entry, feel free to stick around.

Freedom

For the first time in my life, I’ve joined a book club. Sort of. It’s actually a blog read-along.

The book we’re reading is a raw, transparent story about finding your true identity (Your Secret Name, Kary Oberbrunner).

In Congo, identity comes from names. Birth names are descriptive, defining, even prophetic. This past year I sought to understand the significance behind my name and discovered hope in its meaning. You can read more about that here.

So far I’ve only read four chapters in the read-along, but a few passages have caught my attention and beckoned me to ponder at greater length. Like this one:

“…we’re more in tune with our stomach pains than our soul ache. We think more often of our need for food than our need for freedom.”

Deep down in our souls we’re all yearning for something more, no?

  • Maybe we’re too involved in the world to notice the longing in our souls.
  • Maybe the voices around are so loud we cannot hear the cry of our hearts.
  • Maybe, as Kary suggests, our hunger for food is deeper than our hunger for freedom.

And even in America—land of the free—most Americans aren’t living in freedom. No, our lives are just the opposite.

In the prosperous west, we’re in bondage.

  • We’re in bondage to technology, appearances, materialism.
  • We’re in bondage to our schedules, our careers, our goals, our 401Ks.
  • We’re in bondage because of finances, fears, false beliefs, and faulty vision.

But Christ has come to set us free from all that. Maybe discovering your true identity will help loosen the strongholds. May you experience freedom in Christ.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

Disjointed Thoughts

My mind has been reeling with a steady stream of incomplete thoughts waiting for further development.

Writing is the way I typically process, but lately the words no longer flow.

Several thoughts remain stranded. This is a feeble attempt to begin the process of reconciling my heart with my mind.

NUMB.

As I unpack my heart I find a deep ache in my soul. A longing without knowing what it longs for.

And the location where my heart currently resides resembles the dentist’s office.

Numbness. Indifference. Apathy.

I don’t quite know the root of the numbness, but I imagine it must be something along the lines of protection, self-preservation, a coping mechanism.

Perhaps if I allow myself to feel the emotions, my soul will succumb to despair.

One of these days, I know that the anesthetic will wear off.

In fact, I can already sense my heart beginning to thaw; I just hope I’m ready to deal with it when it starts to melt.

Year in Review

An entire year has passed. Don’t worry about reflecting though, the media will do that for you.

Significant moments from this past year will be compiled into a variety of lists: Best and Worst Dressed of 2010, Top 10 Google Searches, Most tragic news stories, Most retweeted Twitter posts,

In America, we excel at filling our lives with distractions. It prevents us from having to deal with the brokenness of our souls.

Because if we really sit down and reflect on our own lives, we know it will be uncomfortable. Painful, even.

Can you remove the distractions long enough to sit still and reflect on your life this past year? It’s not easy, but I’m trying.

Here are some of the questions I’m asking to help me review the year:

  1. What experience brought me extraordinary joy?
  2. What was my greatest sorrow this past year?
  3. What was the most encouraging thing I did for someone, as measured by their smile?
  4. How did I serve at my church? in my family? in my community?
  5. Who have I cheered for?
  6. Who have I listened to carefully?
  7. How did I demonstrate love to an enemy?
  8. When was I most comforted during this last year?
  9. When did I say, “I’m not sure I can do this” and then discover that I could?
  10. When did I trust God with more faith than I had in the past?
  11. Where, geographically, did I find the most delight this year?
  12. What was the most satisfying $5 I spent this year?
  13. What three people had the greatest impact on my life in 2010?
  14. What attribute of His character did God demonstrate to me?
  15. What was the best conversation I had?
  16. What do I understand better than I did in January?
  17. What was the smartest decision I made?
  18. In what areas of my life have I become more disciplined? Less disciplined?
  19. What book did I read that was written before 1846?
  20. How did my presence in social media (facebook, twitter, blog) impact God’s kingdom?

Ask yourself these questions. Be real with yourself. Then be vulnerable and share them with a friend. (Questions added to and adapted from here.)

Try again.

My mind has been all cattywompus since returning to America. The dates on my previous posting about the Amani Ya Juu Holiday Sale are incorrect!

Please note: I will be selling Wednesday – Friday, December 15-17

Is HOPE on your Christmas list?

I went over to Africa thinking that my small efforts just might change the world. Quickly I discovered that the journey was more about self-change than world-change.

Experiences along the way left frayed ends within my heart, unable to make amends with my head. And although my mind fails to reconcile the things I saw and experienced over there, I now know too much to do too little.

As I rolled paper beads with women in Congo, trained with women in Kenya, and taught sewing skills to women in Burundi, I recognized this:

Its trade, not aid, that will help bring change in Africa.

And this week, I’m spreading that message in Milwaukee.

I returned with suitcases full of handmade products from the women I worked with in East Africa. Handbags, jewelry, accessories. These items will be sold December 16-18 December 15-17 at the US Bank Center.

Come check out the products. Find some last-minute holiday gifts. By purchasing these items, you’ll be providing HOPE to women in need.

Good news: If you don’t live in Milwaukee you can still buy products online!

Bridge Over [Africa’s] Troubled Waters

Two weeks ago my journey through Africa concluded as I returned to America. Two weeks I’ve been back in the Midwest adjusting to a society of convenience, overstimulation, impersonal exchanges, and hectic living. Two weeks since I last put pen to paper in an effort to document my thoughts and feelings during this new phase of transition.

Today I muster up courage to write even though I’m still processing. Today I break the silence to tell you about some good news and bad news.

The bad news?

  1. Today 1 billion people without access to water. Clean, safe water.
  2. This week 38,000 children under age 5 will die from unsafe drinking water and unsanitary living conditions.
  3. This year African women will walk over 40 billion hours, carrying over 40lbs of water. Water which is usually still not safe to drink.

This issue violates the basic human right to clean water and sanitation.

clean water africa

photo courtesy of Living Water International: http://www.water.cc

This issue hits close to home…
Because in the village I called home, I watched my neighbors drink water from the same creek in which they washed clothes, bathed children, and dumped waste.

Because most days someone I knew was hospitalized, suffering from any number of diseases spread through unsanitary water.

Because even though I was diligent about boiling and filtering water, I still contracted typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, among other parasitic infections. May I never again take clean water for granted.

This issue has changed me. I’m trying to stop wasting water…
Before I went to Africa, I used to take long, hot showers.

Before I went to Africa, I used to leave the faucet running while brushing my teeth.

Before I went to Africa, I used to throw clothes in the washing machine even when they weren’t visibly or smellably dirty.

The good news?

This issue can be changed. And YOU can help change it…

  1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts.
  2. Find out how much water you use and discover ways to conserve water. Calculate your water footprint. Use the Web calculator or download the iPhone app
  3. Follow San Francisco’s lead and stop drinking bottled water (1/3 of which is actually tap water).
  4. Clean up our water. Dispose of hazardous products correctly.
  5. Consider making a donation to a reputable water project like Charity: water or Living Water International.

FYI: Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event which unites bloggers worldwide. By focusing on the same issue, blogs are able to generate discussion and encourage social action. Its a wonderfully noble, forward-thinking concept, put forth by change.org. Today the global conversation is centered on water. Clean, safe water.

Animal Planet

Before Africa, the only type of animals I knew where either caged creatures at the local zoo or domesticated pets. No comparison.

mama ostrich and her babies

You don’t talk during a safari. You become mute like a giraffe because your mouth just hangs open, speechless at the sights.

what does a giraffe say? nothing…it makes no sound. giraffes communicate entirely through gestures.

Guess this is why they call it wildlife. How does one control a herd of elephants like this? They don’t. They get out of the way.

stampede of elephants

zebra, eland, impala

Parting Gifts

I’ve been meaning to write, but honestly, it’s been difficult. Those beatitudes that I mentioned. Yeah those? Well, they were tested. More accurately, my faith was tested.

Perhaps Africa just wanted to say goodbye and leave me with a few souvenirs before I returned to America.

During my final three weeks in Burundi, I suffered an onslaught of illnesses: malaria, amoebic dysentery, intestinal infection, typhoid fever. These came very nicely packaged with severe symptoms, painful treatments, and a delay in my travel itinerary.

The temptation to succumb to despair was overwhelming.

It’s always easier to give up than it is to persevere under trials. Nevertheless, I’ve been working on changing my attitude. So I decided to look for blessings in the midst of the mire; find a way to persevere. And as I gazed into the flames of a fiery furnace, I saw God’s presence by my side; His hand upon my life.

His presence was manifest through presents. Corny, I know. But that’s how I saw it. I saw eight gifts in eight days…kind of like Hanukkah in Africa.

The Gifts

Gift 1: Chicken soup
Olivia, an expat working with GLO in Burundi, became a very close friend over the past few months. Through Olivia, God gave me the comforts of home during my illness (running water, quietness, chicken soup, toast). Although my Burundian host family was entirely generous and caring, beans and rice aren’t usually on the menu of “comfort foods”.

Gift 2: Bedside medical care
Hospitals in East Africa are not the most cleanly, welcoming, or warm environment, if you catch my drift. And praise the Lord, I didn’t have to be admitted for inpatient care. God gave me Adam, a trained medical professional from South Carolina serving as a short-term missionary. Adam was willing to administer IVs and medical treatment at my bedside in Olivia’s home.

Gift 3: Get out of jail FREE card
Due to these unforeseen medical conditions, I was leaving Burundi a few days later than anticipated. I was leaving Burundi with an expired visa. I was leaving Burundi, a nation ranked as the most corrupt among all others in East Africa.

Departing with an expired visa has the potential of reaping severe consequences including steep fines or even jail. God gave me Sadate, police officer and friend of my host family. He was able to negotiate our way through the immigration offices and I was able to leave the country without any financial penalty.

Gift 4: Faces of Joy
Having finally left Burundi, I returned to the Amani headquarters in Kenya for a few days of debriefing. Upon arrival, I was surrounded by an exuberant group of women eager to see my face again. God gave me joy through reunion with these women who had become so dear to me a few months prior.

The women had been informed of my illness. They told me they had been praying for me daily. Knowing that these women—women who have suffered much more pain, illness, and devastation than I will ever know—have been on their knees for me was humbling. And encouraging.

Gift 5: Mini-safari
My final day in Nairobi was spent with some Kenyan friends exploring the 30,000 acres of Nairobi National Park. God gave me an up-close and personal view of His creation.

I have been forever ruined for American zoos. Caged creatures have nothing on animals in their natural habitat.

Animal Planet: zebra, wildebeest, eland, giraffe

Gift 6: Familiar Face
Returning to America was supposed to be straightforward: Uganda to Chicago. That was before the British Airways financial crisis which caused a mis-connect in my itinerary and an overnight stay in London.

One week prior to my departure, a former college friend who had relocated to the UK contacted me. Miraculously we were able to re-connect during my day in London to enjoy a lovely Italian meal at a quaint restaurant overlooking Windsor Castle. God gave me a friendly face in a foreign city.

Gift 7: Cleanliness
This may not sound like a gift, but for a girl who’s been bathing out of buckets (a.k.a. splash baths), this was heaven-sent. God gave me a hot shower at my hotel in London. Oh, the things we take for granted.

Gift 8: Reunion
Tonight, I got to see my family again. That was the greatest gift of all. The look on their faces at the airport was priceless. Friends decorated the house with signs and flowers to welcome me home. God gave me sweet reunion with loved ones. I feel utterly cherished.

Goat’s Meat and Beatitudes

With a new blessed mindset, I’ve been studying the beatitudes that I might truly take to heart a new attitude concerning the blessings of Christ.

hunger

neighbor boy in Beni, Congo

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And in thoughtful discussion with a new-found friend, I processed that passage (Matthew 5:3-12).

Like tough, fried goat’s meat, I had to chew on. And chew. And chew. Until finally, it was broken down enough to swallow, be digested, and nourish my body.

“Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.” Pretty straightforward. And though my character has not yet mastered any of those qualities, I understand them.

But I was still stuck on the very first bite of this goat-meat: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?

I don’t think it means lacking in spirit. We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, how bout you?

To my interpretation, it might be phrased, “Blessed are the people who have a spirit like the poor.”

I’ve spent some significant time living among poverty throughout East Africa. And here are a few general observations:

  • The poor will never, ever decline food.
  • The poor wait in eager anticipation for their next meal.
  • The poor are always hungry; they can always eat more.

So what if my spirit was like that?

What if my soul was always craving, always wanting more of God?

What if my soul had an insatiable hunger to feast on His Word?

Oh, that my soul would be as desperate for God as the poor are for food!