Tag Archives: america

A Deeper Longing

deeper longingDo you ever have one of those days when your soul longs to be someplace else? When, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, there remains a disconnect between you and the place you are?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house or a new city.

Maybe your ideals and values have changed and so you’re struggling to connect with a former group of friends.

Or perhaps your church is morphing and even though you’re in the same place, the body of believers is in constant flux.

Today has been one of those days where I long to be back in Congo. Although the reverse culture shock comes and goes in waves, there is one constant feeling which never seems to dissipate.

It is an unrelenting nagging which reminds me that I’m a stranger in America, this land I call home.

I wonder if this isn’t God’s nudging. A gentle whisper reaffirming that my soul was never designed to live in America. Nor was it designed to live in Africa, Argentina or Southeast Asia.

This world, as I know it, was never meant to feel like home. This land is temporary and I’m a stranger here.

I was meant for so much more. I was created with a longing to live in God’s kingdom. And only with Him will my heart finally feel satisfied because my citizenship is in Heaven.

So until that day comes, I struggle to fit in. But if I desire to see His kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, I must figure out how to live for the sake of God’s glory whether in America or in Africa.

I must figure out how to live in the now and not yet.

Purpose Driven Job

woman windowAuthenticity has become a buzzword in the business community. Authenticity is the new black.

But I’m discovering that in America, genuine authenticity is hard to find.

Part of my struggle since leaving Africa and returning to America has been discovering my mission here. What is my purpose?

How do I unite the lessons I’ve learned with the passions of my heart while residing in America?

But most of the job opportunities I’ve received over the past several weeks have left me dismayed.

▪ Dismayed because the goals and missions of many companies don’t align with my purpose and passion.
▪ Dismayed because the few companies with which I might align well don’t achieve alignment with their own stated goals and mission.
▪ Dismayed because the companies which tout authenticity don’t actually practice what they preach.

Yet amidst all the rubble, there seems to be a gem.

From the first time Performa Higher Education contacted me and began the recruiting process, they cast their vision…a meaningful mission: helping small, private colleges and universities become healthy

One way they do this is by ensuring student success. If students thrive, the university thrives. I was introduced to the four stages of student success: attraction, belonging, engagement, community.

In a similar manner to how a college might recruit a new student, Performa began wooing me. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself emerging through those same four stages.

1. Attraction

Please consider meeting us to discuss the opportunity at a quaint cafe not far from Milwaukee.

Caffiene and a convo? I can do that.

Over a hot cup of coffee, they inquired about my passions, interests, and goals. They helped me conceptualize how I could utilize those passions with Performa.

I was intrigued. Eager to see how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Attracted enough to visit thier Green Bay office the following week.

2. Belonging

Come spend a day at our office. Join us for a workshop with innovative consultant and pioneer of residential colleges, Frank Shushok.

During introductions, I was presented as Performa’s new recruit. But rather than a bystander content to watch from the sidelines, I found myself quite vocal in the consulting sessions, brainstorming ways to translate research findings into architectural solutions.

I could see myself fitting in with Performa and providing meaningful contributions to their work.

3. Engagement

Travel with us to a job site. Observe what we do. Interact with students. Offer insight and suggest a few practical design solutions.

At a reputable college in Iowa, I was introduced not as a recruit, but as a consultant. Even more, I felt like a team member. Touring the campus and chatting leisurely with students, I listened to their stories that I might speak on their behalf to resolve some of the campus issues. My mind continued to ponder concepts which would promote the goals of this college for several days following my visit.

Fully engaged, I was ready to come on board.

4. Community

Come and work for us. Use your talents at Performa and help influence the world by impacting higher education.

Before long, I had become a case example of student success.

So in just a few days I’ll be joining Performa Higher Ed as a campus planner and designer working to enhance environments and hopefully, affect lives. Ready, set, go! 

Ideally, this opportunity might merge my two worlds (Africa/America).

And I wonder, could we at Performa provide an even greater impact by sharing our knowledge and success with higher ed institutions in the developing world?

Maybe someday we’ll help institutions in Africa. Institutions with an incredible potential to produce students who desire to be transformed and in turn, will transform the world around them. Institutions like Congo Initiative’s UCBC. Maybe someday…

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.

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.

Here is the church, minus a steeple…

Ever since Solomon built the first temple, places of worship have been important landmarks. The design enthusiast within me has long appreciated liturgical architecture. Some of my favorite structures are churches: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Most sacred buildings of the Western world are intricately designed, opulent, grandiose structures. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the religious architecture of Africa. I haven’t yet figured out why, but Africa has never excelled to the architectural standards of Europe, Asia, or America.

African Liturgical Construction
Church buildings in East Africa are all of a similar model. If they came as customizable standards from a development company, the product description would read:

New and Improved Protestant Church Model
Long, rectilinear box. Four mud brick walls with irregular and intermittent punched openings to provide light and airflow. Honoring simplicity, this design has just one entry door by which everyone will come and go.

New model includes a tin metal roof to make the atmosphere extra warm and cozy. More than merely a sauna, this roof will make church an oven. Congregants will bake to a crisp. Nonetheless, the celebration happening inside will be so captivating that none can resist entering this cooker.

Aesthetically speaking, the color scheme is an unembellished, endless sea of brown which allows each congregation to add a personal flair, adorning the drabness with the bright colors of their clothing.

Bonus: For a limited time, this layout comes fully furnished with rough-sawn wooden benches and pulpit.

Perhaps poverty is the reason for Africa’s rudimentary building design.

But maybe its not.

Maybe construction is basic and spartan because they realize that church is less about building size, acoustics, or furnishings and more about unity among believers. From what I’ve observed, there are only two major Christian churches here: Catholic and Protestant. Other than that, little distinction exists between denominations. You attend the church to which you can travel easily.

burundi churchWelcome to the long eternity of an African Sunday…Last week I attended this rural Burundian church.

Church begins when the pastor and choir arrive. Church ends when the congregation has exhausted their voices from singing and shouting, “Hallelujah! Amen”.

You think pews are uncomfortable? Try sitting on a backless, wooden, unstable bench for five hours.

The place has nothing extravagant about it, yet the atmosphere was far from bare.

A Cornucopia of Contributions
The tithes and offerings given by this impoverished people nearly brought me to tears. On a reed mat near the front of the sanctuary, alongside a woven money basket were various items which had been offered to the Lord during service, ranging from fabric to a live chicken to beans.

Oh, how rich these people were in their giving. May I never forget that visual display which redefined my limited understanding of an offering.

During the message I gazed out the windows, marveling at the beauty of this landscape. To my left, the shores of Lake Tanganyika. To my right, the great hills and mountains.

After service, the pastor and elders present me with a gift on behalf of the congregation, expressing their thankfulness for my presence.

Honestly, I still don’t know what, exactly the gift is.

My host family told me we’ll eat it.

I told them they’ll eat it. I’m not putting that thing within 2 feet of my mouth! Okay, I didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s how it went down in my mind.

So, any guesses as to what it might be? I’ll give you a few clues:

m

  • its roughly 16″l x 10″w x 8″d
  • it weighs about 6 kilos
  • shape is amorphic, but reminiscent of a baby seal with a large appendage in front
  • color is brown, skin is coarse and covered with…hair?

A Birthday Sikukuu (see-koo-koo)

To my knowledge, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’. Imagine that. Throughout much of Africa, the anniversary of one’s birth is not really a Hallmark celebration.

So why then, in America, do we make such a big deal about birthdays? Maybe to make us feel significant, esteemed, loved…

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper opened my eyes to realize that our Western culture has a distorted view of love which tells us that to be loved is to be made much of. And making much of ourselves seems to be our specialty.

It makes perfect sense then, that we raise the roof on occasions such as birthdays. We don that golden Burger King crown, announcing that the world ought to serve us on OUR special day.

Think about it. When was the last time you attended a child’s birthday party? On that day, life revolves around them. They run the show.

I wonder, are we not perpetuating selfishness and materialism at these birthday hooplas?

We start this training early on by throwing a bash before the child can even talk…Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

As the child grows, so grows the party. Not to mention, the quantity and quality of presents. Soon enough, parents are spending exorbitant amounts, hosting extravagant parties at expensive venues. Don’t even get me started ranting about those Super Sweet 16 birthdays.

For the record, my favorite birthday was 1988, the year I turned six. Mom made a She-Ra birthday cake and all my friends gathered at the local swimming pool. (Not sure how those two were even related, but Mom did her best to fulfill my every bizarre request…why wouldn’t she, it was MY special day?)

I suppose if we’ve fallen into our culture’s notion that to be loved is to be made much of, than why wouldn’t we want to use a day to improve our children’s self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves?

    Happy Birthday to Me

    A few days ago it was my birthday. And to be brutally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Its not that I feared turning another year older, in spite of the fact that I’m now 28. The reason I wasn’t eagerly anticipating my birthday was because I had no one around to make much of me. I longed for fellowship with family and friends, yet here I was in a brand new country, alone.

    I feared that without cake, candles, or song—not to mention the absence of friends and family—I would feel unloved, worthless, unappreciated. Would I even hear one live voice wish me a happy birthday?

    A subtle reminder

    On that day, I awoke early to the sound of the children singing. I can’t yet understand Kirundi, but the familiar tune brought the lyrics to mind.”This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In His grace, God reminded me that its not about me. Lord, this is Your day. Its not my day. Help me to decrease so that you might increase. Thank you for giving me life through your Son. May I delight in Your love today.

    And much to my surprise, God gave me a birthday sikukuu. (As I mentioned, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’, but it certainly was a sikukuu = festive and eventful day; contraction of two Swahili words: ‘siku’, meaning ‘day’ and ‘kubwa’ meaning ‘big’.)

    Here’s how the day transpired:

    • In the morning, I sat with Goreth as she hand-washed mounds of dirty clothes. Yes Mom, I watched Goreth wash. Please don’t be too disappointed. Numerous times I offered to help, but she wouldn’t allow it. So I sat beside her. And as we sang hymns together in perfect harmony, God washed over my heart and saturated it with peace.
    • Arriving at Amahoro, the remainder of my morning was spent combining fabrics for new handbags. My presence and advice brought reassurance to these women who have longed for design direction. Seeing the delight in their faces was mental encouragement which energized my creative spirit.
    • Returning home in the afternoon, I snacked on fried plantains and pineapple juice. Goreth’s children insisted that we dance to African music videos and in doing so, they gave life to my weary body and planted joy deep in my heart. Such laughter. Such good dancing…those kids got rhythm.

    If I had it my way…

    …I would’ve been in America, celebrating with friends and family. Even here in Burundi, I was tempted to take the day for myself. Enjoy some ME time.

    But by allowing God to use me on that day—though I would’ve much preferred to stay in bed, curled up with a book—He showed me that “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but of self-forgetfulness.” (John Piper)

    Christmas Retrospective, part 2

    In America, we presume to understand Christmas for what it truly is:

    • We strive to focus on Christ. We attend church and have pageants which share the message of God’s love in sending His only Son.
    • We strive to focus on family. We gather with relatives to play games or eat a feast.
    • We strive to focus on giving. We lavish gifts on family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, postal workers, acquaintances.

    Somehow, despite our best efforts, we have still missed the essence of Christmas. Perhaps America — in and of itself — is an obstacle to truly understanding Christmas.

    So here’s a glimpse into my mind and the things which I’ve been pondering:

    • How can we comprehend the degree to which God humbled himself when we live in the very luxury he forsook in lieu of a lowly birth? How can we understand what God gave up when He came to earth if we give not out of sacrifice, but only from our abundance?
    • How can we seek the Incarnate if we are seeking the citadel of Self? Christmas in America is a “feel-good” holiday and thus, the sacred has become self-centered. (We spread the Spirit of the Season, stuff our bellies with rich and lavish foods, gather round the glow of a fire with friends, and sing carols of joy, snow, presents, and reindeer…all in an attempt to experience a heart-warming feeling.)
    • How can we worship, giving Glory to God in the highest, if He doesn’t have preeminence as our greatest treasure…that in which we value the most, pour our greatest efforts into, have the deepest longing for? Have we altered our priorities in such a way that we worship Christmas shopping (or food preparation or family)?

    I challenge you to contemplate such questions and re-evaluate your focus this next year.
    May this retrospective be an encouragement to you. May it refresh your perspective about celebrating Christ.

    So this is Christmas…in Congo

    Last week, the only sign of Christmas (other than the homemade snowflakes hung to decorate the house) was Ella Fitzgerald crooning “Let it Snow!” on my iPod…which just seems wrong since the weather outside is frightfully hot.

    our Christmas decorations: just one string of snowflakes cut from scraps of paper

    But today, Christmas is here…whether or not I can see any visible sign. On the surface level, this Congolese Christmas feels foreign, so far from all I know Christmas to be. At the same time though, it is exactly what I know. The underlying and foundational message transcends culture, continent, and language. The message of God’s Son sent to Earth to save us from ourselves.

    Congo allows me to experience this message more clearly than ever before. Nothing clouds or distracts from the birth of Christ which is honored first and foremost. Congo has no newspapers or magazines to advertise the best gifts of the season. There are no shopping centers, no Christmas decorations, no presents wrapped beneath an evergreen tree, no postal service to send Christmas cards, no stockings full of candy, and no Christmas feast with family.

    The absence of distractions allows me to experience Christmas as it was intended. Seeking God in silence and allowing thankfulness to flow freely from my heart in response to God’s glorious gift. The Congolese refrain from all work on this day and the Christians celebrate with utmost reverence. They dwell in the promise of God’s presence, Immanuel, and bask in the light of His Glory.

    Although I yearn for the presence of my family and friends, carols sung round the fire, and snow (okay, maybe not the shoveling part), I am enjoying a renewed appreciation for Christ’s birth. Perhaps God had to physically remove me from the many distractions in America for me to truly understand the gravity of His sacrifice.

    “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32

    Worshipping Without

    My first exposure to life in Beni, DR Congo was at the Congo Initiative/UCBC church service on Sunday. As I observed the worship team leading the congregation in song, I noticed a lack of instruments. My initial reaction was pity because they had such limited resources, however, I quickly experienced the most joyous worship time I have ever known: voices raised in glorious harmonies singing songs without words, clapping hands with various rhythms, and dancing feet to keep tempo. My heart leaped with joy as I was keenly aware of God’s presence.


    How contrary to our American notion that musical worship requires a myriad of instruments played with the highest level of technical skill, perfect intonation, and flawless rhythm. I am caused to question whether it is DR Congo or America which is truly lacking. Do we know how to worship the LORD in America without our man-made instruments, sheet music, and technology?

    Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family in America, I have brought with me a guitar and new drum heads for Congo Initiative. Oddly enough, I now feel reluctant to share these resources for fear that it will somehow taint the Congolese style of worship…

    To Be, or Not To Be? (indecision at its best)

    indecision

    For those of you who haven’t met me, I’m a terribly indecisive person. I waver back and forth all day long. I evade making a decision until the last possible second. Why don’t I like making decisions? Because I fear that I won’t be pleased with the outcome or I worry that an alternate selection would have been better, smarter, less-expensive, more appropriate.

    Check it out:

    A few months ago, I was that girl you saw who was paralyzed in the Target aisle while trying to purchase bleach. This should be a simple decision, right? Wrong. In purchasing bleach, one must make 37 decisions:

    Brand: Clorox Regular, Clorox Ultra, Chlorox Plus, Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers Organic, Generic
    Scent: Regular, Lemon Fresh, Mountain Fresh, Clean Linen, Lavendar
    Ingredients: Chlorinated or Chlorine-free
    Size (oz): 24, 32, 64, 96, 182
    Price: Regular, Sale, Coupon-valid
    Extra features: Splash-less, Child-safe
    .

    Okay, maybe 37 is a bit of an exaggeration. But seriously?!?

    Lately, there seem to be a multitude of decisions to be made…and suddenly, I feel overwhelmed. Even as I type this posting (which in turn, reminds me of the amount of decisions still left undecided) I feel entirely overwhelmed.

    Just for once, I wish someone would select for me. Tell me what type of coffee to order, which shoes will be most comfortable, which laptop bag will be most adequate, which medication has the least side effects, what store has what I’m looking for, when to go to bed, how much shampoo I will need to last me 12 months, who should I meet with one last time, what coverage of sunscreen will suffice….

    Here’s what I’m trying to say: I am SO eager to experience the simplicity of African culture. Perhaps too idealistic, but I hope to be cured from this plague of decisions I face here in America.

    Let the countdown begin…7 days from today I will be en-route to DR Congo and hopefully less decisions.