A look in the rearview mirror…2013 recap

So, I completely failed at blogging in the year 2013, so here’s a quick re-cap of the challenges and blessings I faced this past year! 

In 2013…

  • I had 25 job interviews
  • I was was totally unemployed for 6 months, part time for 4 months, full time for December and counting… 😀 Praise God!
  • I got a job with Ndoto: For Africa’s Future (the ministry I served in Kenya with for 6 months in 2012) using both my degrees. 
  • I got really hand, foot and mouth disease (a virus that is normally only for small children) in July and found out in August that I had a vocal chord injury. I stopped singing, had vocal therapy and am still going… 
  • I went to China with my dad in October for 15 days, and therefore, stepped foot on all the continents except Antarctica before age 30. 
  • I spoke to a classroom of Chinese 7th graders, climbed the Great Wall, Hiked the yellow mountain, had tea in a home of a woman in an unreached people group in China, froze my behind off in Lijiang, shared the gospel with my tour guide outside a buddhist temple, went on a boat ride in the West Lake, saw Giant pandas, walked in Tiennamen Square and the Forbidden City, and laughed so hard with my dad and our 16 tour friends! 
  • I had a fourth of july family party at the lake with my dearest loved ones and my sweet niece and nephew, Shane and Callie (6 & 3). Laughed so hard, watched our dads blow up fireworks and not catch on fire, and soaked up memories! 
  • I joined Gateway Frisco, started volunteering and found a great group of ladies to share life with! 
  • In November, my dermatologist noticed a nodule on my neck near my ear/jaw line. Turned out, I had a 2cm tumor in my parotid gland. I had surgery December 11 to remove the tumor after having a sonogram, ct scan, and biopsy. Turned out, the tumor was benign (again, praise God) but the tricky part was that during surgery, my surgeon found that the nerve which controls the movement of my face was completey wrapped around my tumor. So, it took tedious work to remove the tumor and keep my facial nerve in tact. BUT…my surgeon did it! God guided his hand in such a way that my nerve didn’t even have temporary damage! Now, i’m totally healed, my voice is back to full strength, and I have no cancer! YES! 
I know it’s a short glimpse into the past year, but I wanted to just recap the struggles I’ve had, and the blessing that God has shown in my life.  In the last year I have learned that His plans are good, and they have perfect timing! It’s hard to see it sometimes, but looking back always makes it easy to see what He was up to. 
I have learned in a new way (not to say I have learned it completely) how to be content whatever the circumstances. Maintaining joy in serving cute kids in Kenya, and in a life of unemployment is difficult, but if it’s from the source of all life, Jesus Christ, it is possible.  In my mind, in those months of 25 job interviews, I had no choice but to rejoice in the Lord, trust for His provision, and let His presence be my joy. I guess you could sink into a dark depression and self pity, but I’ve been down those roads before and this time, the Lord refused to allow me to go there, and I’m so grateful! 

When I think about where the Lord has brought me, I am in awe. He has grown me so much. Even in the past few months, a dear friend told me that she can see the difference in my attitude and my heart, just by talking with me for a moment.  I’m glad the Lord’s footprint on my heart is visible to others. … what a ministry to those that are suffering. Like I always have heard since college, there is no pit too deep that God can’t get you out of it. Or, like Priscilla Shirer said at the Gateway First Conference, you cannot wear God out. His patience is unending. I am so glad I can’t wear Him out. I wear myself out, so I’m glad He’s never lacking in margin to deal with me! 

In the last year I have been bratty, broken, bruised and hurt. I’ve also been joyful, happy, full of faith, full of doubt, full of anger, full of chaos, and full of peace. I have been blessed beyond measure to experience the presence of God in my life in 2013, though I was happy to say “see ya sucka” and welcome the year 2014 with high hopes.  Though 2013 was a hard year, full of hope deferred, God was still good, gracious, near and faithful. 

Here’s hoping that 2014 is a year of favor, blessing, joy, and abundant life! 🙂 

He makes all things new!

As I am sitting here bundled up in a blanket with a hot cup of chai, I cannot believe that I’m in the USA and I cannot believe that it is New Year’s day, let alone the year 2013! I have been back in the states from Kenya for a week and four days…and what a week and four days it has been.

Upon leaving Kenya, I walked through the international terminal at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and cried as I walked around the stores waiting for 11:40pm to arrive. I was so sad that I had to leave this new life I had made, these people that I had fallen in love with, and the ministry that my heart had become attached to. I am sure that everyone that saw me thought “This girl has completely lost her mind”, but I obviously did not care! Strangely enough, 2 flights later, I was crying in the DFW airport as I got off the plane and sprinted to the customs line.  The sweet, old texas customs agent with his precious accent, looked at my passport and then looked at me and said “Well welcome home sweet heart” and I just tearfully said “Thank you sir”. Then when I walked through the doors at the arrival area and burst into tears when I saw my family, my best friend, and some others welcoming me home. I think that this will now be tradition for whenever I am going to Kenya and coming back (not that I know when that will be).  My heart has officially straddled two continents and will not hop over to onto one or the other.

This first week home has been full of things that used to be so normal to be but now are strangely unsettling.  As I struggle to re-enter my culture and adjust to the United States, I am struggling to figure out who exactly I am and while that is so difficult because I have changed so much, the Lord has encouraged me with some deep spiritual truths! There is this battle to be pulled back into the person I was before I moved to Kenya.  When I read 2 Corinthians 5:17, I was reminded that I don’t have to be pulled back into the old me. Therefore if anyone is in Christ,  He is a new creation. the old has gone and the new has come.”  I can just rest in the reality that I am a new and improved version of myself, and that the new has come! I also am resting in the fact that God says HE is creator, redeemer and restorer. He creates and He makes all things new and He restores and redeems things in my life to newness and likeness to his son. I’m so incredibly encouraged by that! I don’t have to worry about how I will fit in America now, nor do I have to worry about what’s next or what this year will bring, because I know and love and trust the One who makes all things new. If I have learned anything in these last 6 months, it’s that the Lord Jesus Christ is more than able, and He WILL redeem and restore everything in my life that is broken until His return. He WILL lead, guide and direct my steps. He WILL speak. He WILL make me new because His word promises that in HIM, I am a new creation. 
Isaiah 43:19 says “See, I am doing a NEW THING! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?! I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” I am certain that this year will not be what I expect, but I am certain that it will be a new thing, and that He is making a way…whatever that looks like.  I have decided that if it’s back to Kenya, or off to some other state, or another crazy land…wherever He leads, and whatever He asks, I am ready to obey, because I have seen with my eyes, and know in my heart that his promises are true and that He can be trusted in this new year and this new season. Whatever he does, he will take this life and he will help me create a new normal again in the US. He will give me new purpose as He has shaped me and molded me these last months. So, while it may change tomorrow with the way my adjustment is going, today, I am choosing to look forward with expectancy and joy at what the Lord Almighty will do!

I hope you are encouraged to do the same this New Year’s day. While you may not have lived in a foreign country, you, just like me, are not the same person you were 6 months ago. It may be more subtle, but you are constantly growing and changing. For those of you that know they Lord Jesus, there is no way you are the same that you were last week even. He is constantly at work in your life, your heart, your situation and circumstances. Don’t be discouraged, but be encouraged that the God who causes the sun to rise every day, will move and show Himself strong in this new Year. 

If you’re happy/sad and you know it…write a blog?

As I sit here at a little cafe in town called Laughing Buddha, I am overwhelmed that in around three weeks I will be leaving this country and heading back to the USA. In these very short 6 months, the town of Kisumu has become home to me. My life consists of wearing chaco sandals, having curly hair, and riding in tuk tuk taxi’s daily where I am greeted on the road to Obunga by tons of little kids shouting “Mzungu, Mzungu, Mzungu!!! How are you!?!?”
My driver is one of my best friends I’ve ever had in life, and I’m actually used to the bumps and bounces on the roads now. I was in Nairobi for thanksgiving, riding in a car on a smooth road and I actually found it quite strange. This is my first time to make a life for myself apart from my family except for those brief 4 years of college. There is a sense of maturity and “grown up-ness” that I feel when I think about it. I’ve figured out in a lot of ways how to get along here in Kisumu without so many things that I’m used to and while there are times where I greatly miss things in the US and even more so, people in the US…the life I’m living here is nice. It’s simple, yet so complicated sometimes.

Now, I don’t say this to mean that I don’t like the states and I don’t want to come home at all. It’s just a very strange dichotomy. I love this place, and I love home too. How do you straddle two continents when there is one ginormous ocean separating them? How do you experience sadness at leaving and happiness at arriving home all at the same time? The emotions are completely contrasting and don’t go together at all…but somehow I am going to be forced to deal with them simultaneously. For right now, I’m just avoiding it at all cost. I simply am enjoying every moment and enjoying christmas decorations in kenya for the time being.

This time separated from all that I’ve known my whole life has really caused me to evaluate what I value and who I value in my life. It’s funny the things you think you love so much but in the end, half way around the world, you realize that they are seriously not valuable. Then there are other things that you don’t even realize you enjoy until you’re gone. Same with people. It’s interesting the friends that I have stayed in great contact with and the ones that have significantly dropped off the face of the earth in my life. Not saying that as one who is angry…it’s really just quite interesting to me! I think it’s good for everyone to take that time away from what they know as normal, and evaluate who and what is really important in life. Not only do I have a new profound love for certain people that I may have under valued before, but I have re-prioritized my relationships in such a good way. When you’re in a place like this, you are forced to rely on Jesus in ways that you never knew you needed before. And what I have learned is that when Jesus is the biggest and first priority, he brings into place everything else and puts them into the right place. I know that’s a simple spiritual truth but it has taken on a new profound meaning in my life. I won’t take this place or these people for granted and I also have such a great appreciation for some folks back home that I didn’t even realize were so wonderful in my life.

I’ve also seen and known God in such precious ways that I have never experienced before. I don’t even know where to begin explaining those things, but when you’re in a foreign land away from everything, God takes on a new closeness. I think He’s probably always that close, but we have so many things in the way. He has become all things to me. He’s my friend, my family, the lover of my soul, healer, sanctifier, companion, guider, listener, he speaks, he rejoices with me…I almost feel him wrap his arms around me in times of deep sadness and struggle. The closeness of my God who is living, in this place, is something I am desperate to hold on to. I don’t ever want to go backwards with Him. It’s like any other relationship…the deeper and more sweet it grows, you don’t ever want it to be shallow or distant again.

I am hoping and praying that God in his mercy will give me the strength and grace I need to experience and handle the strange combinations of emotions that I am starting to feel. I am also praying that He will never again be removed from first priority in my life and most valued. When he’s not there, nothing else makes good sense. What I know to be true is that Jesus rules and reigns and while I am nervous and anxious about the emotions and the leaving and my future and what I will do next, I know that He is the one who provides, protects and prepares my heart for all that will come my way. Thank you Lord Jesus, for you are good and your lovingkindness endures forever! Amen!

A Masai kind of thanksgiving!

Last week was Thanksgiving week as you all know and we had the great joy of experiencing it a bit early with our kenyan staff in the Masai Mara!! For those of you who don’t know, the Mara is one of the greatest vacation spots in the world. It is the open Savannah where the wild and exotic african animals roam. It is the place where the disney drawers came to draw the Lion King, and it is home to one of Kenya’s biggest incomes….Safari’s!

The crazy thing about this is because it’s so expensive to go on safari, a lot of Kenyan’s have never been! It blows my mind because this is what everyone thinks of when they picture this country. You think of Lions and Cheetah’s running through the wilderness inhibited. It was such a joy to me to be able to go on Safari with our staff as it was all of their first times to be in the Masai Mara and to see animals like Lion, Cheetah, Buffalo, Elephant, Zebras and Giraffes. Watching their faces light up at every animal brought such joy to my heart. They were like a little kid at Christmas…being overjoyed at everything! We saw secretary birds, hired them and sent them back to the office to do work for us while we were away, and we got such a kick out of Warthogs running and Hippos swimming all around!
We stayed in a tented camp where you had to be careful or else the zebras and hyenas might come up at night and disturb you! ha We had great food and so many laughs that it was a trip I will never forget!

We even had an early christmas party and had a great white elephant gift exchange. The way they do snatching of gifts is serious business! You have to fight for it…you don’t just get to steal the gift in an organized fashion like I’m used to. You have to seriously fight for it and make it happen. I tried to steal cool sandals from Susan for about 5 minutes and she would NOT let go! I ended up getting a flamingo puppet, that was stolen…believe it or not, and a thing of roach poisoning. It was funny because the staff have seen me flip out at roaches, and mice and they just don’t get it! I wouldn’t even touch the roach poison box because of the roach on the picture! haha Luckily, someone else grabbed it to meet a genuine need in their home haha and I ended up with a scarf from Allison, which is perfect for me as I am a little obsessed with Scarfs!

At night, we sat around the fire at the camp and talked about all things from Jesus to Luo cultural traditions, to Would You Rather questions! All in all, I would say it was a beautiful surprise to the staff to take them to the Mara, and it brought Team Ndoto to a greater closeness and unity than we had before! They took loads of pictures, as did I. However, my silly camera broke on the way. The lens won’t close and it’s at a shop in Nairobi where I am hopeful they will fix it and mail it to me before the week is up. I will be so sad if I can’t take pictures of my last weeks here.

One more quick thing…Allison and I had the privilege to go to Nairobi for actual thanksgiving and spend a few nights at a super nice hotel that someone paid for! It was incredible to sleep with AC…and a fluffy pillow and a down comforter. I mean, the things I’ve taken for granted in life. Wow. I was so blown away that I used to expect those things and now they are just such a sweet blessing. I hope I don’t ever get sucked into that again, but who knows! For thanksgiving, I had a delicious pumpkin muffin, chicken fajitas that tasted like home and warm apple pie! I’d say almost all the necessities! ha I’m thankful for those few days of rest where I slept like a rock, worked out in the gym, and laughed seriously with my dear friend Allison. I’m thankful for this life that God has called me to live regardless of the unexpected twists and turns it takes…and I am so thankful for Team Ndoto and the blessing that each one of them are in my life. They have impacted me and changed me for my good and God’s glory and I’m grateful.

I’m also thankful for the way He provides for my friends here. Our very own staff member, David Omondi got married today to sweet Sheila Ouma! We are so happy for them and cannot wait to see what God will do in their future together! Praise Him, for He is faithful!

Lastly, I heard a rumor that Baylor beat K State, and RGIII beat the cowboys…. Happy Thanksgiving and SIC ‘EM! 🙂

sodas, swings, and surgeries

Well, I have been here in Kenya for 4 months and I can’t even believe it!  The time is flying faster and faster every day. I am completely mixed about this because I am so excited to see my family and friends, and yes…my puppy when I come back to America, but the thought of leaving this place, these people and not knowing when I will be back absolutely cuts my heart to the core.

The past couple of months have been extremely full of so many memories and blessings and heart breaks that I almost don’t know where to start when I sit down to write a new blog. So, since I can’t give you anything but glimpses into my life here, I’ll try to just hit the highlights!

Since the day we took Tony, student #114, to buy his backpack and first school uniform, God has been rapidly on the move.  We accepted 75 new students into the Ndoto sponsorship program in September, and have since been getting to know them and their families.  We have also started asking for new sponsors, and God has been so faithful to raise up around 15 in just around one month! Watching these students learn that they were accepted into the program has been one of the deepest joys during my time here.  I have watched them smile from ear to ear and praise God with every ounce of their being. We had students bring every member of the Ndoto staff hand written thank you notes, and since they’ve been accepted, we have even had students show up on the compound and work hard slashing and cleaning up around.  I am so blessed to see God working in their lives. These students have such a tangible joy in the Lord, a rare, genuine gratitude for everything He does in their lives. They thank Him for each day.  They praise Him for being the God who provides, who heals, who protects, who saves, redeems, and makes their life new. If I have learned anything here in these past 4 months, it is how to genuinely thank God and how to see him in everything. There are moments where it is hard or where satan and sin get in the way and cloud my vision, but I am seeing the Lord Jesus and His work even in the small things in every day.

Also, since #114 got his backpack and uniform, we have seen the completion of one of God’s miracles! Emily, the girl I told y’all about months ago, finally had her surgery to remove her tumor.  On the way to nairobi, her bus flipped over, she was injured, even lost for almost 12 hours… The Lord took care of her, and brought her to surgery and she came out of an 8 hour operation with her hand in tact! After a giant tumor that was suspected to be cancerous, they were able to remove it and keep her hand in tact! I have shown the pictures of her tumor to doctor’s in the USA and they have guaranteed me that it is cancer. I firmly believe that God healed her body and restored her health, and provided a doctor who was risky enough to try to save her arm.  He has been so good and not only has He healed Emily’s body, but He has healed her heart! The joy in her heart leaves me completely floored. When I moved here, Emily barely spoke, was in so much pain, and was deeply sad in her soul.  Today, she is so full of joy that I truly don’t even know how to explain it! Praise God for He is Jehovah Rafa! The God who Heals!

One day in September, we had the joy of taking about 15 of our primary school kiddos to a playground in town.  It’s so fun to see them lighten up and be able to forget about fetching water, doing chores, washing utensils, cleaning clothes etc…and just play. They were so excited that they sang the entire way there and the entire way home.  At the playground, as we discovered the swing sets, and the rides that spin around really quickly, the kids got over eager and we ended up with 5 or so of them laying in the grass trying not to throw up! They just were too excited and they’ve never been to such a playground! It was quite hilarious, but it was a blessing to just be able to love on them for a while. A few of them had never even been to town before from Obunga, so it was fun to see their eyes light up just to have a soda and play.  I am learning what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a tangible way and combining it with speaking His word in the process.  Sometimes, I think I’m just playing with kids in a foreign country, but then God reminds me that He is loving them through me and teaching them in every day situations as I interact with them. I’ve been challenged to not be so hard on myself, but to just remember that as a believer in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in me and therefore, He just is in everything that I do. He’s just in me and as I love, it’s Him loving through me. I remember that there is no way on my own free will I would love these kids the way I do. So I am just praying and trusting that He will use me in whatever ways He sees fit in this time.

The day that changed #114’s life!

Last Sunday was a day that I will never forget! After a beautiful church service, we loaded up in the Tuk-Tuk and headed to town with our newest Ndoto student! Tony is a 6 year old who is a brother to one of our primary school girls, and he is deaf. After a few visitors have come to see what God is doing at Ndoto, God has stirred in the hearts of some to help Tony go to school.  
Each student in our program is given a number when they enter, and Tony’s been given the number 114 and for a reason we cannot seem to come up with, his number has stuck as a new nickname! We are overjoyed that #114 is going to school!!!
We went to town to the big school store to buy his first EVER uniform, shoes, and backpack! For a kiddo that can’t hear and can’t communicate, I was so blown away by the moments in the store with Tony. His face said it all. He was completely enamored with all the clothes, soccer balls, and backpacks hanging in every corner. Tony was so stimulated with these new sights he was seeing, that I think it calmed our normally rambunctious kiddo down so much that he stood as still and quiet as a mouse the entire trip to town. The minute we gave him the tiny baby backpack to try on for size, he held on to it, smiled so big and never wanted to take it off.  He tried on tiny shoes, and saw that he was getting so many new things. He just smiled and giggled.  He may not say much, but as I learned in college and from good ole Will Smith in the movie Hitch, 90% of all communication is non verbal! So, I think Tony was communicating just fine with us! He was essentially telling me “I know I need to be on my best behavior. This is a special day. I’m really going to school?!?  I love you guys!!” At one point, he even was so excited to try on new pajamas that match the uniforms for school, that he just dropped his trousers in the store until the lady helping us told them there was a dressing room. I don’t think it helped that he had no underwear on, but I also did not care because it was one of the most hilarious and precious things I’ve seen. His excitement about things is completely contagious!
He always wants to ride in Joshua’s tuk tuk and on Sunday he had his moment! He seemed to take in every second and every visual on the ride to the store. We even got him a small ice cream after we were done shopping, and his face seemed to scream, “this is the best day of my life”. 
I think about the number of kids in his situation that probably will never get the chance to go to school in this country, and I could just weep. The generosity and the love that people have felt toward this precious kiddo blows my mind. Even more, the love that Jesus Christ has for Tony, to show him that he is not forgotten and that the creator of the universe cares about little Tony in Obunga…it leaves me simply overwhelmed. This kid has grabbed not just my heart, but I think all of us that have met him. There is a special light in his eyes and spunk in his step, and I am so excited to have him come back from boarding school in December and see what all he has learned and how he has grown! I have no doubt that I will again be overwhelmed with love and praise for my Savior!
It’s moments like this that I am so blessed to be in this place for this time. I’m seeing lives changed one by one, moment-by-moment all for the honor and glory of Jesus! As I think about Tony and the joy that he has about starting school, I am reminded that we have about 70 students that we want to enroll next year, and I am reminded of 70 faces that have heart-breaking stories and need hearts moved by love and generosity so that they can have the same joy. The joy of not being sent home for school fees or the joy of having more food in the house because their family’s burden is lightened financially is one I can barely fathom. This is the joy that awaits them as Allison and I and the team in the U.S. seek to find new sponsors to join us on this journey. I pray you will be willing to help or even to ask your friends or family. After seeing how it’s changing lives first hand, and sponsoring a girl who I see daily here, it is one of the greatest joys in life to change the course of someone else’s days.

 

trying out his new backpack and enjoying a treat in town in the tuk tuk!
 
As soon as the teacher’s strike is over, #114 will go to school (we’re praying it’s soon!), and he will come back changed. He will grow and learn, and we will learn how to communicate with him better. He will join us on retreats and he will hear the gospel…and maybe understand it for the first time. In this place, I am certain of a few things. God is able, Lives are changing, and the Love of Christ conquers all things. 

Texas and Gold Medals

His name is Joshua Odhiambo Odenga and this past saturday, he turned 28 years old! Joshua is the Ndoto driver, a dear friend, Ndoto volunteer who has a heart of service, grace and love like any other I have ever seen.  I have mentioned before that my morning Tuk Tuk rides with Joshua have become a favorite part of my life here in Kenya. We always laugh at some point, lately about how I hate that the Chinese are beating the US in the olympics. He also cracks up every time that I mention that he could win a gold medal for the Tuk Tuk Olympics!
For his birthday, we wanted to celebrate him well and surprise him quite a bit! So, we just played it off like it was no big day….and when we asked Joshua what he would want to do, he said that He just wanted to buy a crate of sodas and have us all sit around the office and drink a soda, and celebrate and thank God for his life.  That might be one of the most precious birthday requests I have ever heard!
We said of course, that sounds lovely…but we were planning a much bigger celebration! 🙂 He had no idea, but we were all waiting for him at a restaurant in town called Mon Ami, with a cake from Nakumatt (the local grocery store), happy birthday hats, whistles, pictures of him and his family that I had printed out, and dun dun dun duuuuuun…..a GOLD MEDAL! I actually found a gold medal at the grocery store that said world’s best friend on it. Now, this not only is true of Joshua, but it also stood for his tuk tuk gold medal, and the first gold medal Kenyan had won in the real olympics! Joshua was so shocked and surprised, and overwhelmed that he just laughed for a long time!
Even a mzungu man from Arlington Texas stopped by and said happy birthday Joshua, and gave him an I AM SECOND bracelet! What are the odds?! This past week, I have seen two mission teams in Kisumu from Texas! The first, was from Amarillo and they knew all these people from the BRH choir I was in at Baylor! This woman told me she was so happy I had been in the choir and that she knew some people in it, but she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. I just looked at her, laughed, and said “I love and miss Texas so much right now!!” The beautiful thing about the team from Amarillo, besides their fun west texas sayings, was that my dear friend Ashley Marble was leading the trip for her job! We are good friends in Dallas, and I didn’t know she would even be in my city! It was such a blessing to see a friend from home unexpectedly in my new place of residence on the other side of the world, and such a blessing to just be around Texans…That is ALWAYS a good thing!!
The team Saturday at Joshua’s birthday was from Arlington, and were also with the same organization, Buckner International, going to see some orphans in Busia, an area outside of Kisumu. Just always a blessing to see Texan’s in africa! We really are our own breed of people, and it’s hard to explain to those who’ve never lived there.

All that to say, my favorite gold medalist was surprised and I am fairly confident that he felt well celebrated!! He received some extra love from Texas, Kenya’s first gold medal, and a wealth of love and appreciation for his life, with some added blessings of cake, lunch, and a soda! 🙂 Pictures are coming soon, and will be accompanying his sweet birthday celebration, but for now…Here’s to you Joshua!!!! You’re a blessing to all of our lives, and we are all changed for the better because of knowing you!