Monday, December 15, 2014

Community

I've been thinking about Community a lot lately.

It's a pretty popular word in my circles.

community

  [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]                                                
noun, plural communities.
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the):
the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage:
the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.:
community of property.
 
I have community. At work, with my members and fellow staff.
At church.
With the families and loved ones we've come to know in Spokane.
 
I have community.
 
But sometimes, having community is hard.
 
Because people are really complex. And sometimes we do stupid things. And sometimes we make mistakes. And more often than not, stuff gets messy.
 
Sometimes what I think is my community ends up going a direction I'm not comfortable with. And so I have to adjust. Or compromise. Or leave. Or wonder if I should leave.
 
See? Messy.
 
Sometimes I feel lonely in the midst of all the communities I'm supposedly a part of.
 
And that's kind of where I'm at right now.
 
My life is full of people but I feel alone most of the time.
 
I'm not scared of being alone... I'm actually quite good at it. But too much alone tends to wear on anyone.
 
So I'm a little weary.
 
Content. But weary.
 
There is some stress that lies beneath my contentment that I'm discovering is pretty exhausting.
 
And some confusion that is downright exhausting.
 
It's life, isn't it?
 
I have a wonderful community of people that I know love me and care for me. But the stuff I carry, I carry alone, pretty much.
 
I'll be okay.
 
I AM okay.
 
I.
am.
okay.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

On time...

With the past weekend and it's extra hour behind me, it feels fitting to write about time today... specifically, about how I spend my time. How we spend our time.

It seems our culture is one where time gets away from us... where we wonder 'where the time went' or complain that we 'don't have time.'

News flash.

People around the world all have the same amount of time.

One of my favorite things about being in Sierra Leone is the difference in the perception of time. In the States, we value efficiency to a fault. How much can I get done in as little time as possible? In Sierra Leone, they value relationships. So what I accomplish there takes second place to who I've been with... the conversations I've had... the love I've shown.

I can't begin to say I've brought that value home and implemented it perfectly into my life here. But I can say I'm learning. Learning to rest. Learning to value peace and calm. Learning to let my priorities revolve around relationships instead of productivity. Choosing to be in the moment, even if in the back of my head the 'next thing' is threatening to distract me, I'm getting better at pushing it aside to give full weight to the moment and the people I'm with.

I'm also challenged to consider how to still accomplish the things I need to accomplish - lately, it's been TONS of extra work at home prepping and training for three new job responsibilities I'm taking on - while still being present with people and investing in relationships.

It's something I'm working on... this concerted effort to connect with people. I have, for years, used my introversion as an excuse to stay secluded. But there is a gentle prodding to push myself outside myself a bit... to invite people in... to love the ones I'm blessed to know in a more proactive way. In the long run, the people I spend time with are much more important than the checklist I have in my head or the projects I think I should tackle.

I don't pretend to have this figured out. But I do believe I'm on a journey where God is stretching my heart... and I'm learning to view time differently... to be patient with myself and with the people around me and try to honor each day - each moment.

I'm thankful for the place I'm in. Thankful to still be learning. Thankful for the peace I have knowing there is grace for all the stupid ways I'm inclined to spend my time - and grateful for the blessing when I know I've spent it wisely and lovingly.

I'm inspired by the way Jesus spent his time. Reading the gospels lately has been SO good for my soul... to reflect on how generous and giving Jesus was with his time... and how careful he was to still care for himself and those closest to him. What an amazing role model. He had the same 24 hours a day that I do...

How can I best spend my time? It's what's on my heart...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Spent.

(A series on how we dispense ourselves, our resources and our time.)

Lately a common theme has arisen in my thought life and my conversations.

A thread that keeps pulling loose, demanding my attention.

Like a phone call that needs to be returned, or a bill that has to be paid, I have this nagging, underlying discourse running through my mind, impacting me with a persistence that demands attention.

How am I spending?

My money.
My time.
My life.
My body.
My relationships.
My reserves.
My thoughts.
My devotion.
My energy.

It's a deep, deep well, this thought pattern I'm working through.

I hesitate to pull up a bucket from this well and spill it out because I fear a flood of consequences I'm not sure I'm ready for.

But in my experience with how God works in my life, when I feel a profound, almost burning need to explore something, it's in my best interest to take the leap... to trust. To expose the vulnerability I feel and lean on the Promise that I will never be led into anything that takes me away from God's goodness - even if it scares the heck out of me.

So I'm going to tackle each of these... in a way that may produce more questions than answers. In a way that may rustle some feathers. In a way that may betray my North American sensibilities and unveil things I'm not proud of... but hopefully, in a way that gets the wheels turning as we consider how we are called to be counter-cultural.

I come at this from the world view of a follower of Jesus. The Jesus of the bible. The Jesus who chose sinners over religious leaders. The Jesus who gave himself - who spent his life well - who modeled the answers to these questions I'm pondering. The unsafe, radical leader who refused glory for a narrow path that ultimately led to his betrayal and death.

Let me be clear. This blog has always been a way for me to process my own stuff. I don't see it as a venue for influencing others. But I've been told many times that the stuff I write has been impactful to others. So I put it out there in this public way - not to leverage my opinion or sway others, but to convey my heart and begin to traverse a path along which I suspect I may need like-minded companionship and support.

And so I begin.

Expect a post soon tackling the first of many thoughts about the idea of Spending.

I'm looking forward to the challenge. Thanks for joining me.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Twenty-two reasons to pray that the Ebola outbreak ends soon...

I think sometimes when we hear the news of faraway places, it's hard to care.
 
I understand. I do the same thing...
 
But the current news about Ebola and the potential it has to wipe out a whole generation of people in West Africa hits VERY close to home for me... for obvious reasons.
 
Today I want to introduce you to just a small sampling of my loved ones there and ask you to pray not only for them, but for their country and region.
 
Ebola isn't just a disease in a far off land... it's a disease that's just miles away from these beautiful people who are in my heart and on my mind every day.
This sweet little girl on the left is named Cecilia. Her mother was our cook while we
were in Banta this trip.
Cecelia is a little shy, but has the most beautiful smile.

Aminata is a beautiful, statuesque young woman who is waiting
to take her senior secondary school exams and hoping to go on to
university after the Ebola outbreak ends

Idrissa (Spengy) is one of our sons. He loves Michael Jordon and basketball,
but because the basketball courts got ruined, he now plays soccer almost every
afternoon. He aspires to be a neurologist AND a pastor.

Meet Becky - one of the youngest children in the Children's Home.
She is the sweetest little imp.

Jeneba is a dear, dear girl that I would sponsor in a second if she wasn't
already fully sponsored. She is thoughtful, kind, well-spoken and
extremely generous. I adore her.

Phillip is the newest of our sons, since we just sponsored him upon our return. He is
a quiet, hard worker. Asia fell in love with his personality and his work ethic. It wasn't
unusual to see Phillip by Asia's side... he latched on immediately after Asia told him
he wanted to sponsor him.

Henry is on staff at the Mallory Jansen Memorial School as the primary headmaster.
He is a young teacher, finishing up his schooling during school holidays. His
enthusiasm and leadership are absolutely infectious - and the example he is setting for the younger
children in the school is so powerful, since he grew up in a neighboring village and is
now employed and leading the school into the future.

Hawa... what can I say about this girl? She is one of the first faces any team
visiting will see, since she is on the welcoming committee. She always has a smile
on her face and is truly a light in her home. Her heart shows in the way she cares for
the younger children... she's a bright spot for sure.

This is Marie... who is a ball of energy... and full of laughter.
I love seeing her because I never know what funny thing she will
say next. Isn't she beautiful?

Mustapha is a wonderful young man that we met in 2011. He is from a neighboring
village and is currently studying to take the entrance exam into nursing
school. He has so much potential and we are so excited about his future!

Adamsay was Kyler's favorite child in the home when we went as a
family. You name it, she's full of it... laughter, energy, spunk... she's
a powerhouse that is stepping out as an amazing leader amongst her peers.

This is Capri... a young musician who leads the youth choir, helps with worship
at church and hopes to pursue a career in music. He is a strong leader.

This is another of our sons - Alhassan, and his twin sister, Assanata.
They are both currently needing additional sponsors. They are
such sweet kids...

Massah's laughter is identifiable from across the room... she is a tiny
little powerhouse of God's love. She is also waiting to take her senior secondary school
exams. Massah is one of Tejan's very best friends. Their relationship
brings tears to my eyes, the way they care for each other.

This lovely woman on the right is Esther. The last time we visited, Esther
sewed me a beautiful African dress in less than a week. She is currently
in vocational school studying catering. She is beautiful through and through.

Isatu is one of the shyest girls in the children's home... but my persistence
has paid off and I have such a sweet friend in this lovely teen. My parents sponsor
Isatu, which makes me so happy.

Here is Charles... the self-declared barber in the children's home. He is
hoping to study accounting after he passes his exams and goes to university.
He has a quiet strength to him... I believe he will accomplish much with his life.

This is Steve Michael. He had polio as a child and is confined
to his wheelchair. He lives in a neighboring village and hopes
to be a pastor someday. He is also studying and waiting for the
same exams.

On the left is Ali, the driver who managed to get us all over Sierra Leone in the rainy
season and with a van that really didn't want to run. He has four children and lives
miles away from his family in order to work and provide for them.

On the right is our dear friend Magnus Beah. Magnus is a pastor
and works for COTN as the in-country host. He is a problem solver, a people lover, a treasured
counselor and an amazing man of God.
And of course, this is Tejan. The boy who started it all for me... my son. My
treasure. My amazing gift of patience and perseverance and servanthood... I am
SO proud of who he is becoming. 
If you'd like to donate to help fight Ebola, providing protection and resources not only for these lovely people, but for the surrounding hospitals and villages, you can donate HERE. I sent a donation just this morning... will you join me?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Building a school, one donation at a time

In 2011 when we went as a family to Sierra Leone, they had just gotten this amazing machine... which takes the beautiful, plentiful red dirt and creates bricks. At that time, they were building some new classrooms for the Mallory Jansen Memorial School - the onsite school where not only the 93 Children's Home kids attend, but roughly 600 children from surrounding villages.

Since we went last time, they've built two guest houses, a senior staff housing building, a staff home for long term international staff, a store for the kids to buy things and more classrooms. All from those beautiful red bricks...

Currently, work is progressing on a remote school in the village of Mokpangumba, a warehouse, and a brand new secondary school. You can read more about that school in this incredible article: Mokpangumba School


We had the privilege of seeing the kids pitch in on one of their last days of school to carry bricks to the new secondary school site. Our son, Spengy, told us he can carry five bricks at once on his head. "I carried six once. I will never do it again, my neck hurt!"

The work ethic in Sierra Leone is amazing. These kids were essentially on 'recess'.  The ones who chose to, carried bricks during their whole break.

Education is highly valued in Sierra Leone... most children know young adults who lost out on years of schooling during the ten-year civil war. They understand without an education, there is little hope for their future. The school is reaching kids that would otherwise not have an opportunity to receive education. Many of them are sponsored by COTN's Village Partnership Program, which pays not only school fees for kids, but also offers them medical care, feeding, community development, family support and social services.

Something I really appreciate about COTN is that they have great dreams for the future of all their ministry countries. We had an amazing dinner with the Sierra Leone country director, Mr. Yambasu, and his vision for their ministry there is incredible. There are so many things he'd like to do. ALL of it comes down to resources. Something like this brick-making-machine can change SO much in a setting like this. People taking on village partnership sponsorships or donating to the Secondary School Fund is the only way things like this happen in this impoverished country. With the Ebola outbreak essentially grinding the local economy to a halt, the need for resources is going to be more profound
 than ever.

I had an amazing experience at work today... a dear member that's been coming to my meetings for several years and recently worked with me to get back 'on track' gave me an envelope. She explained that it was a way for her to give back for all my help - and that it was a donation for Children of the Nations. Folks - if you've EVER wanted to give back, there's nothing you could do that means more to me. I was brought to tears by her simple act of generosity. AND, inside the envelope, she explained that for every ten pounds she loses, she will make another donation. That, my friends, is music to my soul. Not only do I get to help someone succeed at her weight loss journey, I've impacted people in a way that makes a difference in the country I love.

I know some of you probably get tired of me looking for sponsorship and donors. But when we go, the people there are SO kind, and SO excited that we've come... and over and over again, they say "Go back and tell people about us. Tell them our stories. Tell them how their resources make a difference." And so I do. Unapologetically. Because I know, first-hand, that there's no better way to give your money away. I've invested thousands of dollars, choosing to spend my vacations and my money and my heart on this amazing place, these amazing people, this amazing ministry. If I can get one, or two, or three people to also give, I feel victorious. I feel I'm doing my part. I'm honoring the people I love who appreciate all we do for them SO wholeheartedly. I don't want to selfishly keep the blessing of giving to myself. I want to share it. It's the best feeling in the world.


Could you donate today toward the building of this school?
Could you join in the Village Partnership Progam?
Could you give $5, or $10, or $100 toward the fight against Ebola?

I'll keep asking. And I'll keep telling you stories about how much richer I am because I've given. There's nothing like it in all the world. What others gain is exponentially bigger than what you give away. I promise.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Sierra Leone - Part One


Oh Sierra Leone...

I never quite know how to share after a trip.

I could talk your ears off for hours. Or, I could give you the elevator pitch version. Either way, I'm not sure I can effectively communicate how blessed I am to have this second home.

Asia and Phillip, the newest member of our family
How can I begin to tell you the deep sense of family I feel there... how each time we go back, the relationships go a little bit deeper... the love becomes stronger... the affection is freer... the sense of home fiercer...

Alhassan, the first boy we ever sponsored
The kids we work with and sponsor there are growing, as children do. This trip it was very evident that what used to be a home for lots of little kids is now home to big teenagers and young adolescents... it's similar to the change I feel in my own home. Which is maybe while things feel so familiar there...


We now sponsor four boys at the Children of the Nations children's home. We went with three and came home with four... Asia 'adopted' a new son, Phillip on this trip.

While we took care of Tejan in our home in 2007- 2008, he was not the
Mustapha, our friend from Ngolala Junction
first child we sponsored. He was fully sponsored when he left our home to return to Sierra Leone, so I went on the website and chose someone - this sweet boy named Alhassan. The last time we visited, he was 8 years old. All cuddles and love. I thought, going this time, that he would be more independent at 11 years old... and that he might hesitate to spend time with us. But within seconds of seeing him again, his hand was in mine. Alhassan is a delight - a boy who loves football, cars and his friends and I'm so proud to be a part of his family.

Our boys: Spengy, Alhassan, Tejan and Phillip
Soon after, I discovered that Tejan did need a sponsor, so we jumped in and added him.

The last time we visited, Asia fell in love with Idrissa, whose nickname is Spengy. We started sponsoring him shortly after we returned. Spengy is now 19 and working toward finishing secondary school. He leads the hospitality team, taking care of the guest house whenever visitors like us come. He receives a stipend for his work and gives most of it away to pay school fees for his friends who live in a nearby village. Amazing...

Mama Josephine - my dear friend



  This trip we were also thrilled to connect with others on staff and in the surrounding villages that we had met previously. One young man, Mustapha, came to visit as soon as he heard we were back... telling us he's studying to get into nursing school and immediately asking about our kids. What a treasure it is to know such ambitious, kind, and resourceful people. I also was so excited to spend time with Mama Josephine, the house mother for all the children in the home. She has been a dear mother figure to Tejan over the years and I feel a real bond with her as we co-parent this amazing boy together. Her sweet spirit, her beautiful garden, her friendship are so dear to me. I cannot wait to see her again. The affinity I feel with her is so strong.

Tejan and I with a blanket we brought for him
covered with pictures of our family



  I wish I could take you all there with me... to show you the beautiful landscape and touch the red earth together. To wander together down the path to the children's homes, around to the back of each house where the aunties are cooking and the children are doing their chores... as soon as we rounded the corner, the kids would say, "Auntie... come and sit!" and vacate their chairs so we could sit with them. Life there is a constant rhythm of chores and gathering and caring... one girl may be butchering a chicken while another is sweeping... two or three may be playing a game while someone is sitting on the floor with her head in another's lap, having her hair planted. It's hard work and community and laughter and love and family and food and smoke from the fires and laundry lines and affection and teasing all wrapped up in the loveliest place on earth.

Being included in this rhythm can mess with your heart... it makes our busy-ness and our technology and our striving seem silly. These people focus on what matters. We focus on what makes us look better. Every time I've gone I've longed to bring the simplicity and beauty of their way of living home, and every time I've disappointed myself with how quickly I get sidetracked by the pace of life here.

I'm thankful that I've experienced it. And it has made a difference in how I live my life. In how I spend my money. In what I value. But the truth is, I still lose sight of the things I love most about Sierra Leone. It's just about impossible not to.

But I want to remember a few things... so I'm writing now while they are still fresh... more as an encouragement to myself than anything else.

  1. I have never felt more beautiful than when I'm there. My face is unmade, my hair is in a perpetual ponytail and I wear the same basic uniform of skirt and t-shirt every single day - no heels, no makeup, no jewelry, and I hardly look in the mirror. And yet I feel better about myself there than anywhere I've ever been in the world. It's a huge relief and an amazing feeling. I wish I could bring that freedom home with me. Here, I care too much about what people think about me and I get caught up in fads and Nordstrom ads and stupid, stupid stuff. I tell everyone I talk to how beautiful the people in Sierra Leone are. Without malls and makeup and manscaping and makeovers. We don't even see people here... we see who we are all trying to be. In Sierra Leone, you see, and are seen. That is beauty.
  2. People are really, REALLY resilient. Folks, life there is HARD. Really, really hard. And yet, this nation of people has found ways to get things done. Their chores take hours where mine take minutes. And they don't complain. They just do. I was talking to one of my friends there who was cutting a chicken apart for dinner and I told her when I want chicken, I just go to the store and buy it, already all cut up, no skin, no bones. And she said "Yes, but your chicken isn't sweet like this..." And she's SO right. I don't think much of anything is as sweet, as appreciated, as respected and honored here as it is there. When you work hard for something, you value it and are conscious of it. We walk through life so terribly unconscious... hardly noticing anything because we just haven't had to work for it.
  3. Independence isn't all it's cracked up to be. In Sierra Leone, everyone relies on everyone. In the states, everyone lives in their own house with their own cars and their own private lives and their own selfish sense of space. And we have famous people who have all of those amazing things who take their own lives because they're so alone... there is something to be said for true community. For cooking and sharing meals. For sacred moments when the young are helped by the old. For sharing. For common property. For giving up some privacy in exchanged for being understood, accepted, and truly loved.
  4. I simply must make time for quiet. Every morning in Sierra Leone, I would make my Nescafe (which, by the way, tastes better when it's all you've got) and head out onto our veranda to read my bible and soak in the view of God's amazing creation. I was thankful every morning for how BIG the world is - and for the privilege of knowing a corner of the world very few people will ever get to know - and for the expansion of my heart as I have opened myself to truly love people a half a world away. I should be so grateful every day...
That is all for today. I have to break it off into small chunks... otherwise I get really sad. Or frustrated. Or overwhelmed. There are days the tension between life here and life there is almost too much to live between - and it feels nearly impossible to communicate it to you.

I will keep trying. And I will keep recruiting others to join me in the tension... we live in a REALLY big, big world. Open your heart. Let the inequality bother you. Notice your own tendencies to want to be comfortable. I've taken the plunge and while there are days I wish I could go back... days when caring feels exhausting... days when I'm so heartbroken for the people I love who are so far away... but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not for ANYTHING.

Thanks for indulging my stories. It's an honor to share them with you.

Smooch you all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Off we go...



Alhassan, one of the boys we sponsor - he
was 8 in this picture - now he will be 11!
A week from today Asia and I will be back in this beautiful place. The village of Banta. Sierra Leone. West Africa.

My to-do list this week is quite long... lots of last minute shopping, laundry, organizing, packing.

I am SO excited to be going back.

I've shared with so many people about my heart for this place... that I am blessed to have children on the other side of the globe... a beloved family of lovely people who live out their days on this red earth.

But some of you do not know the story. And so I offer it to you here.

You can click HERE to get the whole back story to my love affair with this beautiful country and it's people...

This trip was originally scheduled so we could be there for Tejan's graduation from high school. Unfortunately, the government of Sierra Leone changed the exam dates for seniors this year, so instead of taking the exams that qualify them for graduation in April and May like they have done every other year, now the exams will be held in November. So no graduation. The team of people we are going with will be hosting an 'encouragement retreat' for the students instead of a graduation party as originally planned. We are just happy to be going to see our 'kids' there.

Spengy, another boy we sponsor
In addition to Tejan, we also sponsor two other boys - Alhassan and Spengy. They are SUCH great kids. If we had the money, we could easily sponsor 10 or more other kids who have won our hearts. I'm always advocating for people to sponsor them... because they are real people who get real benefits (like school! and clean water! and clothes! and a home!) from an organization that in my opinion does an incredible job of empowering people in one of the world's most impoverished nations. Your money is well-spent sponsoring these beautiful children. If you're at all interested, you can go to the Children of the Nations website and get involved.

Asia will also be doing some training with the social workers who are on staff with Children of the Nations. Not only does COTN operate a children's home, they run a school for over 700 children from surrounding villages. Many of these children come from homes with lots of needs - and the social workers spend time identifying those needs and working with the families to provide assistance. Asia gets to bring his expertise on child welfare and trauma to those workers while we are there.

Our visit in 2011 was an incredible opportunity to show our kids the reality of poverty in the third world. This time, Asia and I are going alone. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime trip for our family and frankly, very, very expensive to take everyone. We had many people who came alongside us and helped with expenses for that trip. This time, we chose to pay for the trip ourselves. It is a personal value we hold to continue to return to Sierra Leone, and we feel strongly that our values need to play out in the way we spend and save our money. So we go without financial backing this time. However, we still covet your prayers as we head there.

If you would like to pray for us, here are some specific needs:
  • our kids will be home alone together for the duration of our trip - we have pretty awesome kids, but we'd appreciate your prayers that no one gets sick or hurt and that there aren't any household catastrophes in our absence
  • you may have heard about the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The CDC has issued a stage 2 warning, which does not prohibit travel to the country. We (obviously) would like to avoid the disease and have some anxiety about entering a country with an outbreak of such a deadly disease. While you're praying that we can avoid contact with ebola, please pray for the country at large, as they have a lot of suspicion of doctors and access to medical care in general is limited - this outbreak really does have the potential to become an epidemic in a country that is already one of the lowest on the Human Development Index and only recently recovered from a 10 year civil war.
  • pray for our travel - it takes 27 hours to get to Freetown, the capitol of Sierra Leone, from Seattle. We will spend the night there and then have an 8 hour drive out to the village. It's a LOOOOOONG haul. I already suffer from insomnia and am seeking grace in the area of good rest and high energy while we are there. The trip home has typically been even harder on my body - pray for endurance.
  • please pray for Tejan specifically - having lived with us in the US for 8 months, he always struggles with the reality of his home being Sierra Leone. I'm sure when we come to visit it reignites that struggle. He has suffered from depression in the past. We are unsure what the plans are for his future now that he will be graduating from secondary school. We want him to go to university and continue his education but are always aware of his desire to come back to the States. We need to make it clear to Tejan on this trip especially that we love him, but that we will not 'sponsor' his return to the US, or support him if he chooses to move here on his own. It's a tough call, but we support COTN's vision and desire to raise strong leaders who will stay in their country of origin. Obviously, we cannot stop T. from coming here if he has the ability to get here somehow on his own. And we would love on him if he chooses someday to move here. But we need to be clear that he will have to have the ability to support himself if that's what he decides to do. That won't be an easy conversation to have, but I suspect we may need to have it on this visit. Just as we expect our adult children to be self-supporting, we will encourage T. to also do what is necessary to be a productive, contributing member of society, whichever society that is.
I cannot tell you how eager I am to be there again... to walk the red earth and smell that familiar, sweet smell I've only experienced in beautiful Salone. It's a dream that I've had the privilege of traveling there three times now... I wish I could take you all with you and introduce you to the beautiful people and land that is Sierra Leone.

We will be completely 'off the grid' while we are there... there will be no way to update you on the trip as it is happening. (Which I'm actually thankful for... it's a blessing to be fully immersed in the culture without the draw of technology and any 'connection' to American culture.) I will write when we return. I will tell you stories. I will show you pictures. I will share my love of this amazing place. I will ask you to sponsor children unapologetically. I will return again changed by this beautiful country I call my second home and the incredible people who are my family there.

Thanks for coming along with us... we leave Friday night for Seattle and our international flight leaves Saturday morning at 7:00 am... that's when we go off the grid. I can't wait to tell you all about it.
Our family with Tejan in 2011. Yes, my hair is 'planted.' (As well as Kyler and Savannah's)
Not my best look!




Tuesday, July 01, 2014

10 on Tuesday

  1. It's been a million years since a Ten on Tuesday post. But insomnia woke me up at 2:30 this morning and I can only lie there awake for so long... so here we go!
  2. Cherries. Wow - can God create some amazingly delicious food or what? I'll pay $4 a pound for these crazy good little orbs every summer. There's just nothing like them. Favorite fruit, hands down. Especially when they're dark rich red and super sweet.
  3. Summer. Last summer was super hard for me as I worked through some confusion about how to deal with the reality of  having kids who were always gone. This year I haven't felt nearly as blindsided and am trying (and succeeding!) to really enjoy the freedom to spend these beautiful long days on my own. Some days (like yesterday) that means taking three walks and a lot of reading on my back deck. I'm not complaining...
  4. Asia turned 49 on Sunday. Friends - that is one year from 50. What??? He's the best almost-50 year old I know... full of life and laughter and vigor. I'm planning a bang-up party for his 50th birthday. I really want to celebrate him. Can't wait.
  5. Kyler is living life pretty independently these days - he's been out of the house since March... paying his own bills (mostly) and plugging away at his degree. He has two jobs right now - with a potential management opportunity coming up at one of them. There are little slip-ups along the way as he figures out budgeting and what-not... but I love the freedom of allowing him those learning opportunities. Parenting adults is not always easy, for it's own set of reasons, but there's a certain degree of satisfaction in saying "I did my part..." and then trusting God to take over from here. I pray. A lot. I believe it's the most effective thing I can do for him at this stage. I'm enjoying the challenge of loving him right where he's at and not over-parenting him... I want to be a trusted advisor and ally and friend... and not so much a lecturing know-it-all mom. I bite my tongue a lot when we're together and ask a lot of questions to try to encourage him to come up with his own answers. There is a new challenge in that and I'm enjoying the process as he figures life out.
  6. Savannah is off at Ghormley Meadow again this year... she got three weeks off from her job at Spokane Therapist and is passing her days overseeing archery and paintball and whatever... and water skiing and hiking on her days off. It was the highlight of her summer last year... I'm praying for another amazing three weeks of growth and fun for her. She's pretty stinking responsible all the time and I love that she gets to let her hair down for three weeks and have fun.
  7. Ethan just got back from a week at Cougar Strings Camp... an orchestra camp at WSU Pullman. Later this summer he has another camp in town with the Spokane Youth Symphony... and he has the distinction of being the only bass player at church all summer long so he's got LOTS of bass playing on the agenda. He gets better all the time and I LOVE watching and listening to him play. I'm so excited for this school year and his involvement in the Chamber Orchestra at Lewis and Clark. It's so fun to have another musician in the family.
  8. Robins. Our back deck robins are back after their first brood met with tragedy in the form of a predatory neighborhood cat. We have a second batch of eggs that just hatched and I've secured (MacGyver'd) their nest so no cat can knock it off the wall this time around. Hoping they'll be starting to fly before we leave for Sierra Leone so I can watch that magical process. Their ugly little pink bodies are so sweet and vulnerable...
  9. Ebola. This nasty little sickness has spread to the eastern region of Sierra Leone and we're watching it like crazy. At this point there is little concern that it could get to where we are going... but if you're the praying sort, you could sure keep that on your list of ways to pray for our upcoming trip. It's a pretty nasty disease that kills about a third of it's victims and we'd like to avoid it, for sure. But the bigger picture is that it has the potential to become an epidemic in a country where people are suspicious of doctors and have very little access to sanitary, reliable health care. That's our biggest concern...
  10. I've been in a weird place with my weight-loss journey lately and have essentially been rebelling against the fact that I have to be so careful with food to succeed at maintenance. Which, by the way, never ends well. I was about ten pounds over my 'ideal' weight at one point and have had to really buckle down and apply what I know. Sometimes it just makes me really cranky that I can't eat whatever I want. But my reality is just that - in order to walk around in a healthy body, I have to work at making healthy choices all the time. If I try to make up my own version of what I know works it always catches up with me. And so I surrender again. Much like an alcoholic, I have to own my behavior, ask for help, have some accountability, and apply what I know is a proven method of managing my addiction. Dang it. But no - I'm thankful for the tools I have... and I'm thankful for the ongoing struggle... because it means my head is in the game and I'm not giving up. I was down 2 pounds at a weigh-in yesterday. 8 more to go. I WILL do it.
Happy Tuesday, friends! Smooches!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Anniversary eve

Tomorrow Asia and I celebrate 22 years of marriage.

I was 23 years old, naïve, hard-headed, determined, and pretty sure I knew how life should go.

He was (two days from turning) 27, optimistic, confident and controlled.

We were just a couple of goofy kids.

I look back on those two people and am amazed at how God has used our marriage to mature us and create true union.

I look at our lives now and cannot begin to tell you the ways I've loved and been loved over these 22 years.

But I'll try today, because I want to honor this miracle of life together.

I came into marriage with a pretty entitled attitude... that it was just what good Christian kids did... they got married (virgins, of course), had kids, grew them up, sent them to church camp and youth group, served in the church, never straying. Steady. Stalwart. Faithful.

Asia came into marriage knowing what he wanted but having never seen the kind of steady example I took for granted. His childhood offered him lots of examples of what he didn't want his home to be like, and left some deep wounds in his understanding of sex, protection and stability. He had never experienced what I assumed would just magically happen because it was all I had ever seen.

So our expectations and hopes were the same - but how we got there ended up being radically different than we imagined.

And amazingly, God multiplied our efforts and we made it through a lot of hard conversations and learning to trust and love each other. Patience reigned in our home as we gave each other space to figure out what it looked like to meld these two radically different lives. Our foundation never faltered - and our commitment pulled us through. But it wasn't magical or automatic or easy.

Asia taught me to welcome tension - to seek change - to live in the space of the unexplainable - to accept challenges knowing they would transform us... he brought me out of my cookie-cutter, safe understanding of the world and introduced me to the beauty of not always knowing all the answers.

And now I live life alongside this man who beautifully carries my heart deep within his... who gives himself away by loving people deeply and still protects and cares for me in the most amazing way. He has brought me outside myself in the gentlest ways, expanding my ability to use my gifts to complement his in this crazy, organic, free-flowing way of living that blows me away. We have loved people together SO beautifully - and I'm so honored to walk through life with this incredible man.

We have chosen together to value relationships in tangible ways - with food and listening ears and availability and openness and vulnerability. We have opened our home and our family to countless people, giving away privacy in exchange for the honor of helping repair brokenness. We value honesty and real-ness in a way that has allowed others the gift of a non-judgmental place to own their own struggles and hope that healing and progress is possible.

Friends, marriage is this crazy thing that in my life has taken a couple of silly, selfish kids and made them WAY better than they ever could have possibly been on their own. It's nothing special that we've created, it's this absolutely ridiculous picture of redemption and God's grace that somehow we can live this life together. I marvel at it.

It's better than all my hopes and dreams.

Happy anniversary, babe. You're the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Out of the valley...

It's been awhile.

This season sometimes feels so powerfully unpredictable... there are days I'm positively full of pride and joy and hope for the future and days when I am so desperately lonely and bored I just cannot find the strength to pull myself out of the depths of self-pity.

I've refrained from writing mostly because I don't want to sound whiny or confusing... and frankly, because of pride. I have a fear of appearing ungrateful. Because my life is SO good.

You see, I've been in a bit of a valley.

Losing my sweet Gracie opened up this wide space that's been slowly growing in my heart... this sense of loss and change and a struggle for purpose. It forced me to mourn the loss of not only my beloved companion, but my clearly defined role as mom as my kids move further and further into the world. Kyler moved out within weeks of Gracie's death and Savannah bought her first car and got her license shortly after that (which as any parent of a 17 year old girl knows, means she has essentially moved out as well because she is never home...) I come home to a completely empty, deafeningly quiet house and lack motivation to do anything... because no one is around to take care of or feed or talk to or be the mom to... and there have been many days I've simply crawled into bed to pass the hours.

I went through a bout with depression shortly after we moved to Spokane. Living through our first snowy winter in a strange city with two preschoolers in a duplex I hated and no community to draw strength from pushed me into a pretty dark place.

I found myself there again these past few months.

So I haven't written. Or created. Or taken care of myself. I just didn't have the gumption or the desire or the wherewithal to push myself out of gloom that surrounded me. It was as though I was encased in a fog and I didn't know which direction to go so I made no effort to look for a way out.

It took a couple of months to recognize and admit I needed help.

And I've sought it.

And slowly, the fog is lifting.

I really am SO supported and loved and have so many people who have reassured me in this place. Even people who have no idea what I've been facing have played their part in the healing. I have an incredible community of people who build me up and believe in me. And I have a faithful God who knows me better than I know myself and who loves me completely with all my faults.

And so I look upward. There are days that are better than others. And there are days I slip backward. Many choices are made out of sheer determination and a reliance on what I know is TRUE instead of what I feel.

Friends... I always try to write from a place of vulnerability and openness. I've received much feedback over the years I've maintained this blog (almost ten years!) that it is GOOD to be true and honest about life - when it is good and when it is hard and when I feel triumphant and when I feel defeated. So there you have it.

Another post revealing the truth in my heart and the reality of my situation.

I don't completely understand why it is so beneficial for me to put it out there. I just know that when I do, it allows me to move forward.

Life is quite a journey, eh?

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Metamorphosis: a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly.
 
I wonder if pupas are ever afraid. Or lonely. Or confused.
 
Or if it hurts inside the cocoon... as they transform from one shape to another.
 
Or if somehow, their tiny brains possess some divine knowledge that the process they are involuntarily facing is just exactly what they were made to do.
 
Does the caterpillar trust the Creator?
 
 
I am in a cocoon, of late.
 
I am unsure of the process. Skeptical that something beautiful could emerge from this dark, confining space. Suspicious of the unknown. Scared.
 
I have a love/hate relationship with the cocoon.
 
I am swathed in its silky warmth but confined by it's darkness.
Safe, but at the same time made crazy in it's encompassingly protective wrapping.
Dangerously desirous of the kind of shelter it provides and yet strangely eager for freedom.
 
 
It is sacred space, the cocoon.
 
A place of trust in uncertainty.
 
A place to believe in new beginnings.
 
A place to hope.
 
Some days it feels so dark here. Doubt and despair and pessimism swirl 'round in a confusing and powerful storm.
 
And other days there is a glimmer of hope.
 
A tiny crack in the layers where sunlight appears.
 
Assurance. Confidence. A whisper of expectancy.
 
 
I sense that I am being watched. That there are noses pressed against the glass, anticipating something beautiful and complete. Eyes finely focused, looking for movement.
 
 
I will have to move at some point. I will have to push and fight and emerge from this insulated and transforming space.
 
 
I wonder how the butterfly knows it is time?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A list on Sunday morning...

It's been ages since I've written just a 'catch up' post... my heart and brain have been processing a lot of deep emotion and when I'm in that space, I find it hard to write lightly. This morning, however, I am feeling hopeful and uncluttered and thought I should cash in on that.

So here's a random list of happenings around here:
  • I recently won a contest for staff of Weight Watchers and get to go to New York to hang out at our corporate offices for a couple of days. I'll be working... helping to conduct a search for new names for our Leaders and Receptionists to better reflect the roles we play in the lives of our members. I've never been to New York and am THRILLED with the opportunity. It will be great to understand more about this amazing company I work for!
  • We're heading soon soon to a lovely resort to meet up with extended family for a very belated Christmas celebration . I'm SO excited to meet my great-nephew for the first time. It's his fault we couldn't actually get together in December, since that was when he was due... I love my brothers and their wives and kids and my parents so much and it's been WAY too long since we've all been together. I.can't.wait!!!
  • Asia's therapy schedule is full, full, full with a waiting list. That year (2013) of working two jobs while he built his practice paid off and he has more clients than he knows what to do with. I am SO happy for him - and so blessed to be married to a man who (after 18 years of doing very life-draining work) is so fulfilled and has complete job satisfaction. Thank you, God!
  • Savannah has taken the plunge into car ownership - last week she bought the cutest little 2001 Honda CRV. She got her driver's license the same day and now I have this amazingly willing errand-runner in the house. It's so fun to watch her enjoying her independence. I remember that amazing feeling of freedom that came with being able to drive...
  • Kyler just got back from a week in Salt Lake City. He went on a Spring Break mission trip with Eastern Washington University CRU. (Campus Crusade's new name) He had an amazing time there with 28 other college students - sharing his faith and building friendships. I was so delighted that he wanted to go... and loved hearing all about it. He was able to take some paid vacation days from Safeway - which was a HUGE blessing that he could go without losing a week's worth of pay. 
  • Ethan has grown a ridiculous amount this year. I haven't actually measured him, but I suspect he's around 6'2" now. The pants I bought him at the beginning of the school year are all too short for him and he's slimmed down as he's stretched out. Sometimes I look at him and just cannot believe how HUGE he is. His legs go on for days...
  • Asia and I are fully committed to a summer trip to Sierra Leone to see Tejan graduate. We're so excited to travel back there and see all the lovely kids in the children's home in Banta. We should be purchasing our tickets any day now... our passports are renewed and we'll be getting our shots soon... I can't wait to step back onto the red Salone soil again and smell the warm sweet air... it's become a second home to me.
  • I'm thrilled that spring is finally here... I'm a Spring/Fall lover... I love these two transitional seasons and find myself renewed when they roll around. I have tulips poking their heads out of the soil and huge buds on my lilac bushes... so much promise to behold...
  • Kyler just got a second job working at Game Stop... a dream come true for him. He's hoping to be able to get lots of hours this summer in an effort to avoid taking out a student loan. He's been able to pay cash this year for school (all his own money!!!) and would love to get his bachelors without taking on any debt. It's a tall order, but I'm so proud of him for trying. He's only got (probably) 5 quarters left... and enough cash to pay for this coming quarter... I'm praying he gets TONS of hours of work this summer and can save loads of $$$.
  • That said, since he's moved out he has WAY more expenses... it's been an exercise in parental relaxation to step back and let him figure out his own budget and make his way in the world. It's also sort of fun to just pray and let the chips fall, knowing he will learn lots of lessons along the way.
Time for church... happy Sunday friends.
 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Empty / Full

The house is emptier than it's ever been.

With vacant rooms and clean floors and only a little bit of laundry to fold.

We're one dog less, one boy/man less, one daughter with a new car and a license less.

We've walked through other losses recently, having to accept hard new realities.

If deafeningly quiet and my heart has felt despair many, many days.

I've had many, many hours to ponder and mourn.


Today, I feel a teeny bit of hope.

Hope in the courage to finally clear out an empty room, packing away remnants of a childhood.

Hope in dreaming about how that space could provide an opening for new possibilities.

Hope in healing.

Hope in purpose.


I'm believing again in Faithfulness and Provision and Love.

Feeling a renewed desire for the One who gives and takes away.

Finding more satisfaction in the gift of being a vessel of encouragement and hope.


The darkness lifts to reveal a bright future.

And a merciful Guide.


In this empty house.

Full of Grace.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Raise a child up...

There are boxes and bedframes and piles of stuff all over my house today.

We are walking into a major change this week as my oldest man/child leaves home.

He's moving in with some other guys... not far away... but he will most likely be going days without stopping by.

Oh.my.heart...

There is so much change/loss/sorrow/peace/confidence/confusion swirling around in my head right now. It's so strange to know something is right and not want it to happen all the same.

I know this is what I have raised him to do.

I'm sure it's time for him to step out into the world and begin to take responsibility for his own life... to start learning bigger lessons and making his own way... and there have been MANY days over the past year when I've been SO ready for this change.

But when the anticipated change becomes reality there is so much to process as a mother.

I read a blog this morning written by a young, overwhelmed mom. I remember those days SO well... and completely understood her exhausted rant. I was there SO many days. Days I longed for older kids who would be self sufficient and leave me to myself.

And now that I'm in that space, I find myself longing for those needy babes... with their slobbery kisses and their simple needs and the complete dependence on me. It's HARD. But it's predictable. And straightforward. While it brought me to the end of myself in many ways, I never questioned my purpose. I knew I was called to be the mommy.

Now in many ways my role is to step back. Away. Out. To be available but not meddle. To encourage but not solve. To be a sounding board but removed. To watch hopefully. To pray. To let my heart walk out the door and believe in my deepest soul that I've done all I can to protect, nurture and entrust this piece of me to the One who gave him to me in the first place...

I was blessed to hear the story of an older mom this past week... and as she talked about her grown children the words I heard over and over again were "You watch. And you keep your mouth shut. And you pray and encourage."

So I will try that...

But there's a definite loss theme happening right now in my life.

Gracie.

Friendships.

Definition.

Financial stability.

It's forced me to look myself right in the eye and confess that I have sought comfort and satisfaction from things other than the ultimate Source. And as those things are ripped away, I have had to surrender to the loss. And let sorrow flow.

I have full faith that God is with me. And that He knows my heart. And that I've done what I should do.

And that tonight, as my son sleeps in his own bed across town, he is exactly where he should be. Where I raised him to end up.

Even though it hurts to let him go.

It's the right thing.

And sometimes the right thing is the hard thing.