16 October 2012

Sometimes By Step

The idea of taking life step-by-step seems to be an idea that's come up a lot in the last few weeks, in one way or another. 

I've lost track of how many people in the last three weeks have asked me what I'm going to do when my 3-year contract is finished here at Rosslyn...in June of 2014.

A friend posted a comment about taking life one step at a time as a lesson learned from the book of Joshua.  

Another friend told me he will "still enjoy this season" even though he has no idea what God has in store for him past the end of the year.

While it doesn't bother me at all for people to ask what I'm going to do in two years (I have no answer for that question, by the way!), if I focus on it too much, it can very quickly cause me to become anxious about the future.  I'm a planner.  I like calendars and lists and organizing people and events to make things happen.  The thought of showing up to school without lesson plans is almost more than I can handle!  I also DON'T like NOT knowing how things are going to work out, so having to speculate about the future isn't something I particularly enjoy. However, one thing I have learned in my life is that things WON'T always happen the way you think they will...and I have also learned that following God's leading is always better than following your own plans.  

As humans, I think it's our nature to want to know what lies ahead so we can plan, be prepared.  There are certainly Biblical examples of planning for certain things, such as Joseph planning for years of famine by storing food in times of plenty (Genesis 41),  the ant storing food in summer to be ready for winter (Proverbs 6), or Jesus planning for His departure from earth by teaching and investing in his disciples, so they would know how to carry on without Him. 

Clearly planning can be good a good thing.  However, we have to realize that there are times when God is going to call us to trust Him one little obedient step at a time, without knowing or understanding what lies ahead.  Even if the little step means big changes, we have to just trust Him step by step.  Too much focus on OUR plans, or impatience about where we are in life, can keep us from "enjoying this season" of life if things aren't just the way we want them to be, and our plans can then become an idol--demanding our focus and commitment away from God, and causing fear and anxiety in the meantime.

I was prompted to write this tonight as I was listening to the Passion White Flag album.  The song that kind of tied all these things together for me was Chris Tomlin's "No Turning Back." (Click here to listen.)  Much of the song is just the repeated lyrics of "I will follow You, no turning back."  Listening to those words helped me remember how I got here in the first place, reminded me of God's faithfulness, and brought to mind all these ideas of "one step at a time." 

The verse that keeps coming to mind is Proverbs 16:9:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD 
determines his steps.

This is a good reminder to me that the best plan I can make is to continue walking in the path God has laid out for me and to trust Him to guide my steps from here.

I borrowed the title for this post from Rich Mullins' song of the same name.  It helps me to remember that sometimes, MANY times, the best way to approach this life is one step at a time.  No turning back. 

"And step by step You'll lead me, 
 and I will follow You all of my days."


28 August 2012

Back at It!

The last time I wrote, in early June, I was sitting in a room in Rome, and wow, has a lot happened since then!  This post is mostly an update to catch you up to what's gone on in my life over the last 12 weeks or so.  So if you're still interested, read on!

Colosseo, June 2012

After leaving Rome, I headed home to central Kentucky.  I even made it home in time for the annual Beer Cheese Festival in my hometown!  Yum!  It was a great way to run into a bunch of people at once to say hi for the first time in a year.  I was in Winchester for a week, then I flew to South Carolina to spend some time with my family.  We had a great time catching up, and I got to help Susan (my sister) get a little more settled in their new home! My dad and I found a great Indian restaurant in Columbia, Mom took Susan and me to high tea at Laura's Tea Room in Ridgeway, and Susan and I even got a special trip to the Biltmore Estate and Winery, provided by the family of one of my Rosslyn students.
Kovachi's, "Christmas in June," and Laura's Tea Room

I returned to Winchester, attended a friend's wedding, and two days later, I headed to the Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee with Candy and Julianne for a few days of some girl-time, great food, and bargain shopping!  Oh, and I can't forget the laughing.  There were multiple instances of laughing so hard we couldn't breathe!  Good times.  :)  They missed their families, but we didn't want to leave!

At our cabin at Oak Haven Resort in Sevierville, TN

After our little trip to Tennessee, I stayed in Kentucky most of the rest of my time back, however I was able to spend a day in Indianapolis seeing my grandmother, cousins, and some high-school friends.  Being able to settle for a few weeks in Kentucky allowed me to catch up with a bunch of friends, eat a lot of Mexican food (Don Senor five times, I think??!), and even participate with the praise team at my church for two Sundays.  I had a surprise early birthday "party" (cake included!), and then my awesome friends had ANOTHER party for me with some former colleagues, so I got to see even more people before I left!  When I left the States on July 25, I headed to Paris to spend two nights there (where it was affirmed that I can't speak French AT ALL!), and then I made my way back to the cool air of Nairobi, where, upon landing, I was greeted with the tune of  "Jambo, jambo bwana..." (listen to Jambo Bwana here!) and my friendly, ever-so-helpful taxi driver, Charles.

Tour Eiffel, July 2012

While I was "home," the weird thing was that it didn't seem weird.  I really wasn't sure how it would be to go back, but in many ways it just seemed like friendships and activities picked up right where we left off!  I was very thankful for this and for the amazing hospitality shown to me by so many, especially the ones who let me crash at their house for weeks on end!  ;)  I'm also thankful for my church family who welcomed me back, let me tell stories of Kenya, allowed me to participate in leading music, and prayed for me as I left again.  They have been, are, and will continue to be such a blessing to me!

Closing prayer on July 22; 3 of us on stage headed to 3 different countries!

One other big event for me was graduating with my master's degree from Georgetown College on August 12!  After working on it for three years, my coursework was finished in early June, but the graduation date made it official.  I received my new teaching certificate yesterday, and now I'm fully certified for eight more years!

Now I'm back at Rosslyn, beginning my second year here, and my eighth year of teaching--where has the time gone?!  The weather here in Nairobi right now is a little all over the place, but tends to be more on the cool, wet side.  I spent Sunday afternoon melting at the pool, but I've worn sweaters and scarves the last two days!  It's a little unpredictable, BUT it's NOT the hot, humid air I left! Woohoo!  One of the highlights for me upon returning to work was one of our staff orientation days when the school took all of us whitewater rafting on the Tana River.  WOW!  I love rafting, and this had to be the best "ride" I've had so far!  No pictures though, which is a bummer.

School started August 9, and I currently have 18 students in my fifth grade class, which is a great size!  If I've counted correctly, those students have collectively lived in at least 23 different countries--amazing!  This is one of the times I'm especially glad that I moved around so much growing up.  While I didn't experience the drastic cross-culture transitions that they have, I understand a little bit about how it feels to not know how to answer the "Where are you from?" question.  I hope I can help them appreciate where they've been by letting them share from their memories and experiences and validating those in the classroom. 

Something that's blessed me as the school year has started is getting to see former students.  I had such a wonderful class of kids last year, and seeing them again warms my heart!  Formerly, teaching 5th grade in the States, I usually didn't get to see students again, since they went to middle school at a different location, unless I ran into them around town.  Here, the middle school is only a few hundred yards away, so I've seen "my kids" often!  On the first day of school, almost all 24 of them stopped in to say hi and give me a hug, and a good handful of them have continued to do that a couple times a week!  Love those kids!!

My kids from last year--now 6th graders!

I'm looking forward to the opportunities this year will bring, including getting a student teacher for the first time next semester! Another first for me will be being able to participate in singing Handel's Messiah.  In October, combined choirs from around Nairobi, along with the Nairobi orchestra, will perform the Messiah for Voices for Hospices, with the proceeds of the performance going to Nairobi Hospice.  Practice for that starts next week, and I'm really looking forward to it!  I've also been given the chance to attend the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) educators' conference in Johannesburg, South Africa at the end of October, and I'm super excited about that as well!  Until now, the farthest I've been able to go for professional development is Hazard, KY, so perhaps you can sense my joy! Haha!

Our theme verses for our school year here at Rosslyn this year come from Romans 12:9--13.

 "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality."

On one of our staff orientation days, we were asked to think and pray about what stood out to us most about those verses. There are SO many good things in there, but the part that I had to think about the most was "honor one another above yourselves." It's really easy to be selfish, even in the little things that no one else would notice. And honoring other people isn't always something that will be noticed. For example, at times, keeping my mouth shut honors people much more than it could by what I could choose to say. I think selfishness is a very natural human characteristic, which is why for some of us, it's a hard habit to break. I pray that God reminds me of this verse throughout this year so that I can actively honor others above myself.

I have so much to be thankful for right now. As the rain was pouring a few hours ago, I was thinking about how blessed I am to be living somewhere warm and dry, that I have a bed to crawl into at night and blankets to pull over me. I got a message last night that a girl in my class in college was in her last minutes of life as MS finally won the battle in her body. One of our custodians and his wife who were to welcome their first child to the world in the next few weeks lost that baby last week. I have some friends struggling with jobs and some struggling with personal issues they've battled for years, others trying to get out of a hurricane's path. A few friends have lost a parent in the last few weeks or have parents who are very ill. I'm sitting in a city where possibly millions don't have electricity or running water in their homes. There is a lot of heartache around me, and I earnestly pray for God to comfort all of those affected and to give me a thankful heart.

If you've read this far, thanks for sticking with me!  Until next time, God bless!

Night sky above my apartment on my birthday



05 June 2012

Headed Home

Michael Buble has a song called Home, and the first words are, "Another summer day has come and gone away in Paris and Rome, but I wanna go home," and that's exactly how I feel tonight!  I'm sitting in my room in Rome, getting ready to try to sleep for a couple of hours before I get picked up to leave for the airport at 5 a.m. to begin my journey home.  I've had a great couple days here, although I don't think I've ever walked so much in 2 days in my whole life!  I am READY to go home!  Lord (and British Airways) willing, I'll be there tomorrow evening.

I promised this update over 2 weeks ago, thinking I'd have time to write it over a week ago.  I severely underestimated how much I had to do before leaving Kenya!  So while I'm pretty worn out tonight, I wanted to take the chance to post this before I get back to the States, especially because several of you have been asking where my update is!

I also decided that in addition to the "Things I'm Looking Forward To" list, I have a "Things I'll Miss" list too.  Please know in advance that many of these things are just silly, I have lived perfectly fine without them for nearly a year, and they are certainly not necessities, or for the most part, things that actually matter at all in the grand scheme of life.  I just won't mind getting to enjoy them again!  Obviously a few are a bit more serious, and those are mostly the people who matter most to me.  :)  And maybe it will help you realize how much we take granted, even little things, in America.  Ok, here goes...

Things I'm Looking Forward To:
  • Calvary Christian Church!!!
  • ice
  • ordering cold water with one word: "What would you like to drink?"  "Water."  See?  Done.
  • Tide and dryer sheets...well, and a dryer!
  • pollo bandido at Don Senor
  • beer cheese nachos
  • REAL Heinz ketchup
  • friends
  • family
  • stop lights...more than 2...and people actually stop at them
  • less honking (although I've discovered Italians honk more than Kenyans!)
  • water that flows continually in the shower and stays the same temperature
  • consistent internet service
  • smaller potholes
  • fewer (or 0?) power outages
  • drive thrus
  • not paying for parking every time I have to buy groceries
  • Target
  • being wakened by things other than leaf blowers  ;)
  • not having to worry about stepping on a gecko in the dark 
  • being able to drive significant distances at decent speeds
  • free refills
  • no speed bumps!

Things I'm Going to Miss from Kenya:
  • mochas from Art Caffe
  • Pick N Peel juice (SOOOO good!)
  • super inexpensive, really fresh produce and flowers
  • dinner at Diamond Plaza and Anghiti...gotta find a good Indian restaurant in Lexington!
  • Jico
  • the low humidity and temperature
  • "my" pool
  • cheap "mo-bile" phone service
  • the "Hi, fine." conversation  :)
  • falling asleep to the beat of drums in the distance
  • Kenyan rain
  • my "Kenyan" friends
  • the Rosslyn guards welcoming me home every time I pull in
  • cheap movie tickets
  • not being at Joseph and Mary's (yes, that's right) wedding
Well, that's what I have for now.  I'm sure I could add more if I spent more time on it, but that gives you a little bit of an idea of things I'm thinking about.  Like I said, this is meant to be more humorous than anything, so please don't take it too seriously.  :) 

18 May 2012

Wrappin' It Up

 "Those who walk by faith usually don't know where they are going, but they do know the One leading them. That will be enough." - Gary Black

My friend Ashley Wingate posted that from Haiti the other day, and it really stood out to me because boy, has that been true for me in the last 18 months!  A few years ago I had no idea this is where I'd be today, but God did, and I'm so very thankful for His direction and His faithfulness.

Earlier this week

It's hard to believe, but my first school year here in Kenya is about to draw to a close.  Two weeks from tomorrow I'll be on a plane headed west!  While I can't wait to get home for a visit, it truly has been a wonderful year here, and I look forward to coming back in July.  As I've been thinking through some things, there are three categories that things keep falling into: things I've done for the first time, things I'm thankful for, and things I can't wait to have/experience during my 7 weeks back in the States.  Some things are humorous, some more serious, but I thought I'd take this chance to record some of them, for myself and my own memories if nothing else.  If you happen to enjoy the lists too, then great!  In this post, I'll tackle the first two lists, and I'll save the things I'm looking forward to for next week!  (Two posts from me in one week?!  Yikes.  Watch out!  It's about to get crazy.  Haha!)  :)

List 1: Things I Did for the First Time Ever
(In Random Order)
  • drove on the right side of the car on the left side of the road
  • hiked and camped along the rim of a volcanic crater
  • walked among zebras and giraffes
  • snorkeled in coral tide pools and caves
  • dined in a cave restaurant
  • helped distribute food to Somali refugees
  • flew in the smallest plane I've been in yet
  • ate Ethiopian food (took a few tries, but now I crave it sometimes!)
  • ate Indian food (found out the secret was to add a little salt--YUM!)
  • celebrated my birthday in another country
  • Skyped with 3 services at my church
  • ate KFC in a country outside the US
  • felt an earthquake
  • had students regularly thank me for teaching them
  • had a student tell me I was "so modern and cool"...while I was wearing PJs
  • shared my faith daily and explicitly with students
  • got "stung" by a caterpillar and had a rash for a month!
  • used a squatty-potty
  • held a baby and thought I was going to break her ribs trying to pick her up because she was so malnourished...and fell in love with her instantly
  • kissed a giraffe (or rather, it kissed me)
  • got up in the middle of the night to watch a sporting event. twice.
  • watched the Cats win a national championship online
  • welcomed and helped host 30 children on their first trip out of their village and watched the same kids experience swimming for the first time
  • drove on a rural Kenyan road in a rainstorm (accompanied by a live chicken)
  • bought a whole chicken with intention to cook it (it's still frozen...)
  • played telephone pictionary
  • followed high-altitude baking instructions
  • said "soda" instead of "pop".   boo.
  • became a certified alien and a resident of another country
  • got a driver's license from outside the US
  • had a complete stranger tell me why I'm not married
  • witnessed a recorder quartet in concert
  • paid over $10 for a box of cereal (at least it was a BIG box!)
  • visited a Masai village
  • got stuck in the mud in a Land Cruiser; didn't think it was possible; it is
  • visited a tea farm
  • had a security guard say to me, "I can see your car is as clean as you," um...thanks?????
  • made my own beer cheese (yum!!)
  • paid someone else to do the cleaning and laundry (love it, but still not really used to it!)
  • got a massage (2 actually, and hardly paid anything for them!)
  • had a bonfire on the beach
  • was asked (along with the entire congregation) to play air guitar during church
  • attended a Christmas Eve pool party
  • held a hedgehog
Those are some of my "firsts" for the year.  I'm sure I've forgotten some, but you get the idea.  :)  The next list is a bit more serious (in most cases) as I reflect on God's blessings.

List 2: Things I'm Thankful For

  • the people God has placed here; there was a substantial number of new staff members here this year, and some of those people, as well as others, have become an important and regular part of my life; this year wouldn't have been the same without them!
  • relatively good health; doesn't appear I've contracted any strange diseases or critters; (this will be confirmed by a doctor tomorrow, I hope!)
  • the ability to stay in contact with friends and family through facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Vimeo, and all those other crazy technologies that keep us connected
  • cheap cell phone calls and texts to the States
  • the friends who have made the effort to stay connected with me and their many notes and comments to encourage me during the last year 
  • my family's support and help with Stateside business stuff--couldn't have done it without their help!
  • Lucy at Central Bank--she's been a life saver!
  • the patient and cooperative professors at Georgetown who have enabled me to complete my degree from here
  • having a school that genuinely cares for its staff
  • being able to live in a place in Kenya where I generally don't have to worry about extended power outages, water shortages, safety, etc.; I'm pretty spoiled/blessed here.
  • the chances I've had to travel within Kenya so far
  • the 25 children I've had as students this year and their supportive parents
  • supportive administrators
  • no state testing!!!  :)
  • I got to see a face from home when Diane came to visit in February!
  • iTunes, for allowing downloads in Kenya!
  • that God provided the Waltons to take care of Bailey and give her a wonderful year
  • the memories I've made here
  • having a pool within walking distance ;)
  • the upcoming opportunities I have to travel this summer and the financial means to do so
  • the chances I've had to watch my students grow spiritually
  • receiving continued confirmation that this is where I'm supposed to be for now
As you can see, it has been a fun, growing year for me.   I've been challenged, and I've definitely identified some ways I want to grow in the coming year, but I'm thankful for where I stand right now and for God's faithfulness all along the way.  Thanks for sharing in the journey with me!  Next week: Things I'm Looking Forward to In the States!  Some things might surprise you...  :)

12 April 2012

Alien Encounters

As some of you already saw on facebook, this week I got my official "Republic of Kenya Alien Certificate." See? Here it is!

To some of you that was no surprise, it simply confirmed something you've known for a while. (Insert smiley-winking face here.) Others of you had much fun generating responses such as, "Take me to your leader," "Live long and prosper," "Keep the probes to yourself," and "I come in peace!" What you haven't seen is the picture that is printed on this card. It seems that the goal of Nyayo House was to make me look as alien-like as possible! BUT since it would be unwise to put a full image of a legal document online, you only get to imagine the picture. I only wish you could have heard Njeri laughing as she handed it to me!

Ok, ok. All joking aside, I do have a serious reason for this post. Call me strange (I'm an alien, remember?), but when I hear the word alien, one of the first things that comes to mind is the verse from 1 Peter 2:11 that says, "...as aliens and strangers in the world...." I remember a song from when I was in middle school, Not of This World by Petra (oh, I know some of you listened to Petra too!). Some of the lyrics stated, "We are pilgrims in a strange land/We are so far from our homeland.../We are strangers, we are aliens/We are not of this world." When we choose to follow God, our true home is Heaven, so we are aliens, outsiders, in this world in which we live.

I was thinking about that this week, with all the "alien talk" and all, and I got to thinking about how my experience living as an expat in Kenya compares to living as a Christian in this world. Before I go any farther, let me say that I know there are people out there far more qualified to write this than I, both as an alien/foreigner and as a Christian. I'm just trying to draw on the little bit of experience I have to make some connections. Overall, adjusting to living in Kenya has been pretty easy for me, and while yes, there are some obvious ways I'm an outsider, I generally don't feel all that out of place.

Please don't take my statements to mean this is the case for foreigners everywhere, and I certainly don't mean to stereotype every immigrant or native. However, ten months of living here has allowed me a little bit of experience upon which to base some generalizations. Also, I don't write these things to point fingers or condemn anyone, but to shed some light on some areas where many of us need a reminder, and to encourage you to make some changes if you need to. And of course, from here on out, the term alien is used to refer to a foreigner, an immigrant, NOT little green guys with one eye. So here we go.

When you're an alien, you look different from the natives.
For this curly-headed white girl, this is very much true in Kenya. It doesn't matter how dark my equatorial tan gets, I'm such a white girl! I'm pretty easy to spot. Proof:

So how does this apply to our lives as Christians and being aliens in this world? Well, we need to look different. That doesn't mean we all have to wear black clothes, or ankle-length skirts, or braided hair all the time (thank goodness!), but when people see us, see our actions, something should be different. The rest of that verse (and the next) from 2 Peter says this: "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." They may SEE your good deeds. Looking different doesn't just have to be about physical appearance, it should involve a lot more of what others witness by watching our actions. Do we treat people, especially the poor, needy, oppressed, and out-cast, the same way as others? Are we honest when we think no one is watching? Do we serve others? Do we do our best in our work, as working for the Lord? I know I regularly fail at many of these things, but these are great reminders of how we can look different from others around us, not for our own recognition, but as the verse says, "So they may...glorify God."

When you're an alien, you speak a different language than the natives.
I've had it pretty easy here. While Kiswahili is widely spoken, especially outside of Nairobi, English is widely spoken, especially in Nairobi. But particularly during my trips out to Makutano, I've had plenty of instances where a translator was essential. While various members of our support staff here at school have attempted to teach me some Swahili words and phrases, the sad fact is that I haven't gotten very far. I'm clearly an outsider in that respect.

Just like my language as an American is different from many Kenyans, as Christians our language should be different from those who aren't. Certainly we don't have to go around saying "thees" and "thous" and "doth sayeth the Lord." But here is a little of what the Bible has to say about what we should be saying:
  • Psalm 19:14 "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
  • Psalm 34:13 "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies."
  • Psalm 37:30 "The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just."
  • Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
  • Philippians 2:14 "Do everything without complaining or arguing."
  • Colossians 4:6 "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt..."
  • Colossians 3:8 "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."
  • James 1:26 "If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless."
  • 1 Peter 3:10 "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech."
Boy, are some of those things hard for me. But it doesn't take a lot to realize just how different our language can be if we take a little time to consider the changes we need to make.

When you're an alien, you occasionally feel out of place.
It's true. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to fit in or blend in, you just don't. And that's ok. For some of the reasons I stand out here in Kenya, there is nothing I can ever do to change that, and I don't need to. As Christians, there are many times we'll feel out of place in this world. And that's ok. Different verses in the Bible allude to the idea of being in the world but not of the world, and this hard, especially in our day and age. But as Romans 2:12 reminds us, as Christians our command is, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." and in doing that, we might feel a bit out of place.

When you're an alien, you're sometimes labeled incorrectly.
Even that Alien Certificate has me labeled incorrectly. It says I work at Pislyn Academu (Rosslyn Academy), and my passport number is incorrect. Besides those errors, there have been a few instances here when people thought I was a certain way simply because I'm an American. Sometimes I might fit the stereotype more than I want to realize, but not all the time. I read a newspaper article the other day that implied that all Americans thought a certain way about a certain issue. No, we don't. I was actually appalled at the situation to which the article was referring. The same occurs to us as Christians--we occasionally get mislabeled. Sometimes it's because others don't understand, sometimes it's because of the actions and words of other Christians, sometimes it's because other people are full of anger and hurt and they just need someone to blame. Sometimes it's because of mistakes we've made in the past. Again, it's ok. Reading through the Easter story last weekend reminded me how many times Jesus stayed silent while he was being falsely accused and mocked. Often that needs to be our response as well as we realize that the world is not going to see things from the same perspective, so they might not see us for who we really are.

When you're an alien, you have to learn to do some things differently.
Guess what? The way you do something isn't the only way it can be done! Shocker, I know. Ha! Some of the things I've had to learn to do differently in Kenya are: drive on the right side of the car and the left side of the road, pre-pay for cell phone service, deal with frequent internet outages, filter water before drinking, use a lot of words to order water to drink at a restaurant, measure metrically, check the bathroom for geckos every morning...the list could go on, but I won't bore you. When we decide to follow Jesus, there are some things we have to learn to do differently: love unselfishly, serve wholeheartedly, sacrifice our will for His, be honest in business deals, have patience, demonstrate self-control, be faithful in marriage. Again, the list goes on, but I think you get the point.

When you're an alien, you long for home.
You know, I became a UK basketball fanatic this year. While I've always enjoyed watching games, in the States you'd never catch me getting up in the middle of the night ONCE, let alone three times to watch a ball game. But now that I'm not there, I suddenly wanted to be sure to be a part of something big that was happening at home. No offense to those of you who are from there, but I never thought Winchester, Kentucky would be a place I couldn't wait to return to! Yet, here I am, counting the weeks until I head back home. I can't wait to see horses and stone fences, UK t-shirts and FRIENDS, taste some beer cheese and pollo bandido. I almost look forward to the first time I hear someone say "They was" or "Krogers" (almost, I said. haha!). When we're away from our home culture for a long period of time, most of us will start to miss it, perhaps in surprising ways.

The same is true many times when we consider our spiritual home, Heaven. Of course none of us has been there yet, but we have a teeny tiny idea of what it will be like. Maybe we know more of what it WON'T be like, and for a lot of people, that's its appeal. I'm not a country music fan by any stretch of the imagination, but a few years ago I was in a friend's car one night when Brad Paisley's When I Get Where I'm Going came on the radio. I don't remember the particulars, but it was during a time when I was really struggling with something, and nothing sounded better to me than to just "get where I'm going." Sitting at that stoplight, that song reduced me to tears because of the ache in my heart to just have the problems go away. While we might not all long for Heaven all day every day, Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that "He has set eternity in the hearts of men." Deep down, we all know there is something better, and when things in life on this earth make it seem like we're getting farther and farther away from eternity, from our true home, we might just start missing this place to which we've never been.

Well, there you have them. Reflections on my life as an alien. I pray God can use something in here to bless you, encourage you, and challenge you. As I said in the beginning, I'm not the expert on any of this, and I don't have it mastered. I simply wanted to share what He put on my heart this week. (Insert alien sign-off quote here.)

For further kicks and an early 90s flashback, listen to Petra's Not of This World on YouTube. :)

04 January 2012

Joy Encounter

It has been ages since I last posted, so I thought it was about time I did. It took writing a whole lotta “nothing” to realize what has stood out to me the most in the last month. So I started over.

Joy. In our churches and Christmas carols, we hear that word pretty often in December. But how often do we truly see it? How often do we truly demonstrate it? And how often do we mistake happiness for joy? For me, I’ve encountered joy in the faces, the tears, the laughter, and the hearts of some of the women and children I’ve observed in the last month—not because of the parties they attended (there weren’t any parties) or the presents they were going to give or get (there weren’t any presents) or the feasts in which they partook (there were no feasts—for most, hardly any food at all). Their joy comes from a different source, and with all the other stuff the rest of us are surrounded with and trying to do, I think most of us miss it most of the time. I know I do. Thankfully God decided to let me witness one display of joy that I couldn’t miss if I tried.

Let me try to give the background story. In late fall of each year, a committee at my school in Nairobi, Rosslyn Academy, accepts applications for organizations to help through our annual Christmas Project—where we collect money and/or other items to help with a need the organization has. Of course I wanted to submit the organization my aunt helps with, Village Project Africa (VPA), but being a new staff member and not really sure how the whole thing worked, I decided I’d hang back on that this year. A couple weeks after the first request for applicants was made, we received another email informing us that we hardly had any applicants and that often the selected organizations were nominated by Rosslyn staff members, so if we knew of any “worthy” organizations, then we were requested to submit them. So I did. I didn’t want to get my hopes up—like I said, I was a new staff member, the organization was pretty far away, etc., etc. Wellll….lo and behold, the selection committed overwhelming chose VPA along with another organization here in Nairobi, New Dawn Education Center. Yeah, I was pretty floored.

There is a lot more amazingness (yes, maybe I just made that word up) to this Christmas Project story—about the cow project and multi-storey gardens and how they’re going to help so many people, about the students who designed their own crazy ways of earning money to give to the project, about how proud I am of my own class for how they alone raised over $2000, about how much money was actually raised in total—but most of those stories have been told through VPA’s facebook site, and they’re secondary to my point in this post, so if you want to find out about them, check them out for yourself!

What matters for this story is that the students from Heritage Academy, VPA’s school, were invited to come to Nairobi to participate in our Christmas Project chapel—a time when the entire Rosslyn community gathers for a time of worship and to present the gifts to the organizations. This quickly became THE news in the village, from what I hear. You see, most of the children from Makutano have never left the village. Ever. That means they’ve never seen a paved road, tall buildings, swarms of people, concrete. For the 30 children who got to come, this was seriously the opportunity of a lifetime.

They arrived here at Rosslyn on the afternoon of December 15. The children walked across campus in two straight lines and hardly made a peep. I can’t imagine what was going on in their heads, but when I’m around, they’re pretty stoic, so it’s awfully hard to tell when they’re excited. They played on the playgrounds and on the soccer field (aka “football pitch”) before dinner. We fed them, some carolers came to visit, and then they went to bed. Friday morning they got breakfast, met a bunch of Rosslyn students, visited some classrooms, and performed on a stage in front of 600 people! (Pictures and video of all of that appear on VPA’s facebook page as well.)

Through all of this, there are a few shy smiles, but mostly straight faces, whispered answers, and hushed “thank yous.” But after lunch, it was all about to change and turn into the most beautiful display of innocent, childlike joy I’ve ever witnessed. After lunch, we took them swimming.

I wish I could recount the details of how it was all possible anyway—these kids didn’t have swimsuits, towels, anything for a pool. But through some “God-math” and some families who answered our pleas for donations, it was made possible, perfectly. I missed seeing the first few kids in the water because I was in the girls’ dressing room helping the last few get changed. But then I heard it, and I had to see it. Thirty kids in a baby pool, squealing and splashing like I’ve never heard. It almost seemed like time stood still for a few minutes while those kids had their first encounter with “swimming.” All of the restraint they’d held in erupted in that pool, and I am SO very glad it did! It was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. Sheer joy. I got some of it on video, but it really doesn’t even begin to capture the moment.

As the kids splashed around over the next two hours, there were a few times when they burst into song. (These kids LOVE to sing! Davis said one of the vans of kids sang the whole six hours to Nairobi!) In the pool, first it was the Hokey-Pokey, then another silly song. But then what I heard, what struck me, is what I’m trying to write about. Those kids, who’d never seen a city, who struggle to have shoes and food to eat, who’ve lost parents and grandparents to disease and death and drinking and divorce, who’ve suffered and hurt more than we can imagine, they began to sing:

“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame, I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.”

And they have, too.

It just took a swimming pool to turn it loose!

In Habakkuk chapter 3, Habakkuk tells of things that will happen—loss of food, loss of crops, loss of cattle, basically total devastation for Judah. But then in verse 18 he says, “YET will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” And that’s what I saw in those kids in the baby pool at Rosslyn Academy on December 16. They rejoice in God their Savior because for most of them, it’s pretty much all they have.

There’s more to this story, because to know where these kids are coming from, you should meet some of the women in their lives—all widows, all living in teeny-tiny houses with mud walls and mud floors, most struggling to survive day-to-day. Irene, Florence, Zipporah, Beatrice, Jane, and Mama Mombasa, just to name a few. But their stories are for another time.

For now, simply take time to give your life some perspective. What do you allow to get in the way of joy? Circumstances? People? Sin? Your job? Finances? Leaf blowers? (That one was for me.) This isn’t a new problem, by the way. Thousands of years ago, King David was missing out on some joy too. His prayer?

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” ~Psalm 51:12

If you’re looking for some joy, I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start.

(To see and hear the kids during their pool time, click here.)