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Here’s to You: When Life is About to Change

To you, 

You are about to leave that place that is safe and familiar. Life is about to change.

No matter what home or family you were born into, you will spend your whole life searching for what home means, creating and recreating it. 

It is ok to search. You are not lost. 

Take big risks. Risking does not mean failing. 

You may feel overwhelming excitement over new opportunities, and be completely terrified at leaving everything you know, at the same time. Your head may know what your heart does not.

Maybe you are ready to leave, ready to go. Maybe you are grieving everything you are leaving behind, no matter what you think lies ahead. You are not alone in that.

But there is something ahead that you don’t know about yet. It is your life.

Sometimes, you will feel safe. You will be surrounded by people who are like you, who know and understand you. Sometimes, you will wonder what safety is, and you will ache for someone who understands you with only what is unspoken. 

You will meet the most incredible people and yet, it will never erase the need for the people who have loved you before. They all hold keys to doors that you have walked through in your life. No one else knows the whispered secrets and the same old movie references you have been quoting to each other since middle school; no one else walked through that hard thing with you; no one else saw that victory or those losses. They are not gone just because you move on to another place in the world. 

There will be times when you are tired. When all of these mixed, jumbled feelings are too exhausting to face, and you wish you could go back to a simpler time. Even here, even now, you are seen. 

You may come to find that this new place holds something new that you never had before. You may find that you belong, and that this was what you were searching for all along. And in that same place you may still ache for the people you love who do not get to experience this new thing with you. 

You may go through times where you are overwhelmed by joy. Maybe life isn’t perfect, but you didn’t know anything could be this good, either. Live into that fullness and don’t spend your time looking back over your shoulder. Be where you are, as much as you can.

When it is time to move on, it’s ok to grieve that. Just remember, there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.1 You are not leaving your best self, or your best life. Your story may not look exactly that way ever again, but it does not mean your best is over. Your best is where you choose to find it, and it is a choice that presents itself every day.

Your world will grow. It will grow and grow and grow. As your life grows to fit more people, experiences, and places, you will be filled with more joy and grief than you knew was possible.

People will try and tell you that you will never be given more than you can handle, but that is not true. You will stretch and you will break, and pieces of yourself will be scattered in every corner of the world that you have touched. This is the way it was always meant to be. 

You may spend your days laughing loud and creating the most incredible experiences with the new family that you have come to find and love. And you may quietly ache for another place you called home, all the while. This is hard but it is beautiful, because you have loved deeply many times over. Laugh all the louder, because the joy in that moment will be what you take with you when it’s time to move on again.

You may say, “I think I’ve finally found it,” only to watch change come in and steal it from you again. You may feel too tired to start over. You may wonder if maybe love is too risky, and you weren’t cut out for this business of holding the stories of so many, many people in your heart. 

You may be content where you are, and then one day wake up and find that you are far from the people you love when tragedy strikes, or when the biggest celebrations come. You may question the steps that brought you to where you are, and wonder if they were right, because they took you so far away.

Some moments will be too dark and you will be in over your head. Maybe that seems hard to believe on a day like today, when the future seems bright or hopeful; or maybe this is exactly the thing that you are fearing and expecting as you look at everything unknown in front of you. I can’t explain those moments, and I don’t know if you will learn to make sense of them, either. But I believe that you are strong, and that grace is stronger. Hold on tight to the promise that you will still see God’s goodness in the land of the living. I don’t know what that will look like in your life and your story. His goodness is rarely what we expect, but it is always enough. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for Him to show you what comes next.2 

You will have days and moments and seconds—years of them. Each one brings you the choice to see hope, no matter how overwhelming everything is around you. You have the choice to see the presence of God, and to let that be what defines your story.

Every time you take a risk, every time you start a new thing, every time you confront the hardest things, every time you love fully and find a community of people to surround yourself with, every new thing is a new opportunity to see God in that thing too. 

I know that new things are scary sometimes, and thrilling sometimes, and they can be both all at once and that is overwhelming. But don’t ever fail to try something new because you fear what is ahead.

You may feel lost many times over in your life, and you may feel found many times over. And at the end of it all, you will find that you were never really lost after all.

It is not yourself that you are searching for. It never was. 

We are all searching for belonging, community, the place in the world where we can be known and understood. We are searching for the places and the people in which we see Jesus. Most importantly, whether we realize it or not; we are searching to find out just who God really is. We are searching for a place to call home in the great, big, wide world. And we will never find perfection in that, here on this earth. But when you choose to be fully invested in all of the imperfect places and moments, loving people and loving God with all your heart, you will come as close as you can. Hold onto that and don’t look back.

You are on the brink of stepping out to find this for yourself.

I don’t know what is ahead of you. But you don’t need to know forever. You only need to know today, this moment, and what is directly in front of you. This is the only moment any of us are guaranteed, so live into it fully. 

We get a life time of searching, and a life time of questions. And then it’s over, and by grace we get to go home forever. No more questions, no more searching, all the tears wiped away. Hope becomes full. This will be the most beautiful moment.

This is my prayer for you—that you find it, all of it. I pray that you find not one place, but many places and people to call home. I pray that even when you are lonely and aching for someone you miss deeply, that even in that moment you know that you are not alone. I pray that you see heaven touch earth when you love other people with all of your heart, even when it is scary to do so.

You are brave and strong, made braver and stronger by the people and places that are shaping your life, and made able by the God who graces your every breath. That is enough.

Here’s to you. 

I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

  1. Quote by Dr. Suess
  2. Paraphrased verses from Psalm 27

This Year

We sit at the kitchen counter late into the night, the only two left awake. We’re whispering stories and he tells me about a man, a prophet, waiting for rain.

This man sends his servant running up to the top of the mountain to scan the horizon. Looking for a sign, a cloud, even a change in the wind, just something to know that this rain is coming. The drought will be broken, hope restored, the promise fulfilled.

But the servant runs back down. There’s no sign of anything on that horizon. The air’s as hot and dry and still as ever.

Do it again, the prophets says. The servant obeys. He runs all the way up that mountain, again. Still, there’s nothing.

Seven times, he will run up and down that mountain.

As he comes down for the third, the fourth, the fifth time, I can see the questions in both of their eyes as clearly as if I were there with them. I hear the confusion, the hurt, and maybe even traces of doubt in their voices. “Anything this time?” “No, Elijah. Nothing.” I hear all of the unspoken questions hanging in the air.

Did I misunderstand something? I thought God told me there would be rain… and I believed it. He promised and I believed it.

So… What now?

God, are you really going to come through for us, after all this time? After all this drought? After all of the suffering I’ve seen in this famine, can I really believe that You’re still good and that you still care?

Don’t You see me, running up and down this mountain? How much longer, God?

But Elijah keeps sending that servant, again and again, and the servant keeps on running. Up and down that mountain, again and again. Until finally, they see it. The tiniest rain cloud appears in the distance. That rain cloud would go on to become a downpour like the land had never seen, an end to years of famine and drought. New life and hope to a weary, dry land.

“Can you imagine a faith like that?” my brother asks me. “Seven times, up and down that mountain?”

I stare at the kitchen counter, and I can hear that prophet’s servant as his steps pound out the questions, the confusion, the weariness, the hope, into the side of that mountain.

“I want faith like that,” I whisper.

And my mind is picturing the journey my own feet have pounded out on foreign soil this year. Oh, what a year. I’ve been witness to miracles out of the impossible. Hope, healing, and redemption out of incredibly broken places. I’ve also seen the famine in the land. All the horrors of watching a world in poverty and suffering takes a toll, gives room to some of these same questions that I can only imagine they might have been asking.

I want that faith, to keep running up the mountain, keep watching in faith, waiting on the Lord. Believing that He will be faithful to everything He has promised.

But some of my deepest prayers sit here in my heart, and they remain unanswered. Healing hasn’t come, redemption is still so far away, and I’m waiting to see what comes next. The faith I had in miracles, so steady and so sure, has gotten rocked a little.

When you’ve gone up and down that mountain with your most heartfelt, heartbroken requests poured out before God in eager hope and expectation, when each time you hold onto the hope that this time you’ll see the rain cloud, and yet again it hasn’t come, how do you not ask the questions? Don’t you hear me? How much longer, God? How many more times up this mountain?

When you’ve seen the famine and you’ve looked into the eyes of those in the deepest suffering, how do you reconcile that to the goodness of God? How do you look into the eyes of children who have lived through abuse and betrayal, and tell them that God sees them and never left them, even in their suffering? How do you look into the eyes of women who have buried husbands and struggle to put food on the table for their children, day in and day out, and tell them that God does still care? How do you carry that hope to the world, how do you find the strength to keep running?

And every trip up the mountain is the sound of me pounding it out, the questions, the confusion, the weariness, as my fists hit the bedroom floor yet again.

This has been the story of this year.

What now, God?

We pull out a Bible and we start pouring over the verses, there at the kitchen counter that night. And the whole Bible is full of them, verses of laments poured out before God, sounding much like my own. How do I hold onto your goodness here, God, in the face of injustice? How do I know that you’ll come through for me here, God, when my situation feels hopeless? How do I know that you hear me, God, when my prayers aren’t answered the way that I think they should be?

And here’s the thing. We can’t answer all of the questions in one night, about why the world is the way that it is. There’s no copy-and-paste answer for that. But one thing becomes overwhelmingly clear in the pages of the text, where God’s heart bled out for us.

In the suffering, and in the waiting, and in the reaching out for hope as we run up the mountain, there in the middle of it all is His presence.

This year there’s been miracles and joy and hope, too, not just the brokenness. I’ve been witness to both and it’s been incredible. But even though He’s in the middle of all of it, this might just be where’s He’s shown up the most, how He’s drawn me closest, the way that He’s truly stretched the endurance of my faith—not in the answers, but in the waiting.

We’re sitting there pondering it all, trying to take it all in, and we hear a sound. Silent, we both listen close.

“It’s raining,” he says.

“Yeah,” I nod slowly. “Yeah.”

It’s the sound of nearness. The sound of promise. The sound of hope.

I don’t know what answered prayers will look like in the long term. When the rain does come, I don’t know exactly what that will look like in my life and in the lives of the people I’m praying for. I’ve grown to expect that miracles are often different than what I pray for, less happily-ever-after and endings tied up with pretty bows, and more new life and beginnings that I can’t see right now. But the promise is that He still cares, He still loves, and He’s still close, and that promise is made good every time. He’s not done working in any of these situations that I’ve brought before Him.

The irony isn’t lost on me that we’re closing out this year (and every year) by celebrating Christmas. This is what Christmas is–the reminder that after years of listening to His people pray for a rescuer, a healer, a savior, He sent a baby in a manger as an answer to all of their years of longing and waiting. Emmanuel was His name. God with us. God kept His promise by giving the gift of His presence among us, and it was everything we ever needed, and yet a gift we never would have thought to ask for on our own.

I look closer at this year, and I start to see it more clearly. This is the real, deeper story of this year. He’s been my Emmanuel, my rain of provision in all the ways I never knew I needed, all the ways I didn’t even know how to pray for.

And somehow, that’s just enough strength to get up and run up the mountain again.

“I am still confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart,

and wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 27: 13-14

 

…..

 

If you’ve been reading with me for a while now, you’ve been witness to me throwing my thankful rocks, an effort to defeat those life-giants of everything hard and heavy with gratitude and recognition of what God has done. Since I’m reflecting on this year, I wanted to close out this year’s journey here by throwing just a few more.

If you feel led, feel free to throw your thankful rocks along with me. Leave them in the comments or share them with me in person if you’re able. I want to hear how the Lord has been your rain of provision this year.

  • Olive Branch Mission, Lenkai Christian School, and Hope Beyond Transitional Center, for allowing me to come and be witness to the life-changing work that they do on the ground in Kenya.
  • My incredible hosts and everyone who accepted me as a foreigner and learner in a new culture, and made me into family.
  • The women in the OBM churches who bravely and vulnerably shared their stories, their cultures, and their hearts with us during my first three months in Kenya.
  • The kids at Hope who showed me what resilience, courage, and strength really look like.
  • Dancing. I can’t even begin to share the way that dancing communicates what it really looks like to worship in the face of tragedy, to have beauty and life out of ashes, but it spoke to my soul as I both watched and learned it this year. I’m thankful to have been witness and even the occasional participant, despite my own pathetic dance moves.
  • Friendships, that I didn’t expect, with such a broad spectrum of people from around the globe.
  • Laughter. There’s been so, so much laughter this year, shared with new friends and old friends. It’s been a blessing and lifted my spirit over and over.
  • An incredible support base of family and friends here on this side of the ocean, who have loved me through everything this year.
  • A God who doesn’t shy away from my messy places and my questions, but instead He meets me wherever I am.
  • Mount Kilimanjaro. I don’t know how to put it into words, but there’s something about that mountain and it’s steady, unwavering presence that was a kind of spiritual experience, in and of itself.
  • Nature. Nature walks. The ability to connect with God through experiencing more of His creation in another part of the world (especially elephants, those are my very favorite).
  • Just hearing from people. This year, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who reached out to encourage and touch my life, people that I don’t normally hear from or connect with on a regular basis. It was just another way that God spoke to me of the power of community, especially the community of believers.
  • Tea. Friends, Kenyan chai has changed my life for the better.
  • The opportunity to go back to school this coming January, and finish my degree in a field that I’m growing quickly to love (target of having my bachelors degree in social work, via SUNY Brockport, by 2020).
  • My parents, brothers, friends, and everyone who’s sat with me just like my brother did in my writing above here and listened, laughed and cried with me, and cared deeply.

I could go on and on. The bottom line is, I’m so incredibly grateful for this year, and everything it’s held. Thanks for following along on the journey with me. I can’t wait to see what this year’s new journey holds.

 

1

 

Mood Level: Freakin

I didn’t want to do it.

Didn’t want to be “that person.”

You know, the one who comes home from the mission trip and gets on her little social media platform to tell everyone how privileged we all are here in America, and how we have so much that we take for granted here, etc.

The one who is overwhelmed by how people with so few earthly possessions could just be so joyful all the time, etc.

The one inspired to tell herself and everyone around her to be grateful for what they had, etc, etc, etc.

I’ve watched people come back from their short term trips over and over again and say these same things over and over again. And since it was cliche, and I hate being cliche, I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to be “that person.”

Prideful, arrogant, self-righteous me, trying to pretend I was anything different, trying to pretend that I could evade all these same rhetorics so reflective of the privilege I’ve grown up in.

For three months now (I’ve been three. months. stateside. which feels crazy to say), I’ve struggled to separate the realities in my mind. Kenya and America are two different worlds, and no ranting on my part was ever going to shift the one into becoming the other. I wasn’t going to go there, wasn’t going to do this.

Who was I kidding?

It took a stupid Facebook video this week to show me what was really under the surface, all the tension that’s been building as my mind struggles to take it all in—everything overstimulating, overwhelming, and frustrating about reverse culture-shock.

It was a video about fruit.

Fruit.

In the video, a girl who complains to her mother of being “hungry” is told that she can go and find a piece of fruit to eat in the kitchen. The girl rolls her eyes and makes a big dramatic deal over her disgust. She wants more than just a piece of fruit, obviously.

And I’ll honestly say that I had those moments myself, as a kid. Maybe not with quite all of the drama in this video, but still, I’ve been the privileged kid who said with my actions and my attitude that clearly fruit, or insert other nutritious food choice that I was offered, just wasn’t enough.

And now I see that video, and the faces of my precious Hope family flash through my mind.

On a really good week at Hope Beyond, we could afford to get one piece of fruit per kid, and that would be their snack (and that was the one day a week that we gave out any snacks). I would have to lock the treat away in the pantry until the appointed time to eat it came, because otherwise someone might “sneak” a piece before it was time, and then we wouldn’t have enough for everyone. When the time for fruit came, everyone accepted their two orange slices, or their one small banana, with so much excitement. They were getting fruit! Not a single one rolled their eyes at me.

We’re not talking expensive fruit here. Bananas, avocados, oranges and watermelon are readily available in the market, and eating healthy and organic has never been more affordable, anywhere. But when you only have enough money to afford the basics, and barely that, even 20 cent avocados are a stretch.

Every time I walk into my kitchen now, or the grocery store, and it’s full of so many, many different varieties of treats (that we hardly see as being treats), I feel this familiar feeling, knotted in the pit of my stomach.

It’s a feeling I’ve come to label as anger.

I’m not a very easily-angered person, but right now, it’s here. Sitting in the pit of my stomach.

A couple days after the video, I found myself out and waiting for an appointment, with a few minutes of time to spare (another luxury). I decided to just jot down a few notes, of things, privileges, that I had noticed in my own life and in the lives of those around me. Discrepancies that I had found between this life and the one that I lived on the other side of the ocean. The list quickly grew, longer and longer as I poured out everything and anything that came to mind.

When we complain about not having food to eat, and yet our cupboards are full

When we complain about not having enough money in our bank accounts, and yet we can afford to live so extravagantly compared to most of the world

When we take education for granted, and even complain about the work we have to do for our classes

When there are resources available for kids struggling with learning

When there are resources available for those struggling with mental health

When I see the police on the side of the road and don’t have to worry about being pulled aside because of the color of my skin 

When I use my debit card and don’t have to worry about having enough money to get gas for my car, buy food and other basics, etc.

When I drive myself in my car, anywhere I want to go, rather than walking or using public transport

When I can eat pasta and call it a “cheap” meal option

When we “need” more stuff, things, and possessions

When I go to bed warm and safe at night

When I see my family whole and complete

When I can surf the internet for endless time (theoretically) and never worry about my credit running out

When I can access the convenience of a laptop or computer instead of just using my phone

When I never have to question the ready availability of a hot shower

When I can choose between more than a dozen pair of good shoes to wear

When I can eat a piece of fruit and not have it considered a luxury

When I have enough money to have ready access to sanitary items

When I can text or call anyone and not worry about running out of credit on my phone

When I can drink water from my faucet, and even *gasp* brush my teeth with that water, and not worry about diseases 

When I think about who I will marry, where I will live, where I will go to college, what job I will work, and I know that I have so many open doors that I could walk through, so many choices

When I wash my clothes in a machine

When I read, anything

When I don’t have to question the supply of tissue and toilet paper in my house

When medical care is accessible and sick people can afford to go to the doctor because of insurance and other options

When I can listen to any music I want, anytime

 

Oh it’s hard, friends. Hard to wrap my mind around it all.

So I am being “that person” right now and I am getting on here to say that we take so, so much for granted here in America. And I’m angry that the world can be so blatantly unfair and unjust.

I’m angry because these precious kids at Hope and at Lenkai, the ones that I spent my days with, are considered lucky for having the very things that I’ve taken for granted as basic rights my entire life—namely, education, food, clothing, and shelter. They’re lucky because they are the ones who at least have something, who aren’t slowly starving to death or picking through trash heaps for their food, who weren’t sold into a life of trafficking and slavery, who are still alive today.

What kind of world do we live in, where the lucky ones are the ones that just barely get by with the basic things, and yet I never even thought twice about whether or not I would go to school, or eat another meal, or have a roof over my head?

What kind of world is this, where the Western world is getting geared up to go into holiday season with cozy sweaters and Christmas music and warm drinks in their hands, and in another part of the world, rescue workers are getting geared up to go into their busiest time of the year for rescuing girls from childhood marriage and FGM, because tis’ the season?

What kind of world, where parents have to pick and choose which of their children even get to have an education, knowing that they can’t afford for all of them to go to school?

What kind of world, where we’re so concerned about our shopping lists and gifts and getting more stuff, where America alone will spend billions of dollars on material things, unable to fathom celebrating the holidays together without all the influx of new stuff in our lives?

What kind of world where we live our day-to-day lives so caught up in our momentary struggles, that most of us here can go to the grocery store and come out with a cartload of foods that the rest of the world would call “luxuries” and yet we complain about our bank accounts?

But do you know what’s the hardest part about it all? I know, all this heavy ranting, and it gets harder still. Hang on tight.

It’s moderately easy, after seeing all of this, to point fingers. To get angry at other people for their insensitive comments and their complaining and the way that they take things for granted. I’ve had some moments where I’ve actually wanted to lash out at people, tell them to their faces exactly how privileged they are, tell them just how much other people would love to have their college GPA be the biggest concern in their adult lives, and how many people I could feed with their freakin’ fruit. (that’s my current mood level right now. I never say “freakin.” But I’m at current mood level freakin)

The hardest part, though, isn’t the people around me.

The hardest part is taking my accusing, angry, shaking finger and pointing it back at myself.

Living on the other side of the ocean, and living out even just a few of the realities on my “rant” list above, for a couple of months, doesn’t give me any kind of pass to escape these hard questions.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’m one of the most privileged people I’ve ever met.

I have grown up with the world at my fingertips. And I hate talking about this concept of privilege and I’ve always wanted to deny its truth in my life. After all, I didn’t just get anything I wanted, as a kid, whenever I asked for it. I wasn’t spoiled. I’ve gone through some hard things. I still have to figure out how to pay for college. Just because my skin is white, something I was born with—I couldn’t help it—does that make me automatically so-called “privileged” in how I was treated, and in what doors were open for me in my life? (the answer is yes, by the way) Etc, etc, etc. Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line is, there’s no escaping it. Privileged will always be a word associated with the way I’ve grown up.

In this honest, hard look at my life, I find that I’m part of the problem. A big part of the reason why this world is so blatantly unfair and unjust.

I can stand on my soap box and preach it to the world all I want to, about privilege and how much we take for granted, but until I point the finger back at myself, real change isn’t possible.

Why is this so scary? Why is letting go so scary? Why is the thought of living simply, with less, so scary? Why is it so terrifying to look in the mirror and acknowledge the truth that’s been there all along?

Why do things and possessions and stuff matter so much? Why do I feel the need to guard and protect and “steward” my resources, afraid I won’t have enough, when I already have so much more than I could possibly need?

Why are the lies so much easier to hear than the truth?

I wanted to keep my realities as separate as I could, Kenya and America. I don’t know how I couldn’t see my own selfishness in this at first, the way I tried to shut out all the uncomfortable questions and just enjoy what I had, while I had it.

And maybe this is why I didn’t want to be “that person.” Because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was that person, I am that person.

Pointing fingers at other people, while refusing to point one at yourself, is called hypocrisy.

I hate the label of hypocrisy more than I hate the label of “privileged” but I know that it’s been true of me, in my life.

The solution to hypocrisy is to first be honest with yourself, and then vulnerable and transparent to the world.

So this is me, being transparent. I don’t have it all together. I take my life here for granted, and I have for all 21 of my years on this earth. I think that I “need” more things that will never end up bringing me joy. So much of my day-to-day reality is lived in willing oblivion to the hardship of other people around the world. So many times I forget to be grateful. So many times I’m afraid to do something, use my privilege, for others instead of for myself. And this isn’t just the before-Kenya version of me. Post-Kenya me has made mistakes too, and continues to do so. That’s maybe what breaks my heart the most to admit, all the ways that I haven’t lived conscious and purposefully since coming back in August.

So what happens next?

My anger starts to subside. I’m left standing here feeling far too vulnerable myself to accuse anyone else.

I don’t know the answers. I feel like I say that a lot here, in this space, but it’s true every time. The next thing isn’t clear and certain. It’s going to take more time and constant learning, to sort out all the jumbled things in my life and in my heart. The process is still hard and still unfolding, and my steps down this path are stumbling at best, though hopefully in the right direction.

But.

There are some incredible world-changers already out there who have pointed their fingers at themselves and walked brave into the face of all the hard questions, and they’re out there doing something about it.

What if we recognized them, came alongside them, and asked what we could do, too?

What if I recognized them, came alongside them, and asked what I could do, too?

Some ideas for thought.

  • Thanksgiving is coming (my personal favorite holiday). Leave an empty seat or two around your table and invite in those who are lonely this holiday, those on the outside, those without family. International students (I can get you connected), refugee families, or just the lonely neighbor down the street. You pick. 
  • Christmas is coming. What if you bought less, but what you did buy, you bought from fair trade stores? There are so many awesome companies and non-for-profits out there that empower people by giving them employment and allowing them to generate an income for themselves. I’ve got lists of places that I could recommend. 
  • Take in a child by sponsorship. Giving a child an education will not only protect them and keep them less vulnerable in their childhood, but also give them a better shot at employment as adults, and help them provide for their own families someday. Sustainability is what it’s all about, people. Again, I’ve got connections to multiple sponsorship connections, including sponsorship of some of the kids that I spent this year with at Lenkai, so if you’re interested just ask.
  •  
  • Look around—there are so many organizations fighting human trafficking, employing and empowering women, combatting world hunger, and so many other social injustices. Get involved, maybe make giving to one of these organizations a substitution for buying actual gifts this season. 
  • Listen to people’s stories. I doubt you have to look far, especially in today’s world, to find someone who has not been super privileged. Just listen to where they’ve come from. Let yourself really hear what they’re saying, and reflect on what it means for you.
  • Reflect. Ask yourself what those hard questions are in your life that maybe you’re turning away from. The ones that hurt the most are your problem areas, the ones that need the most work. Press into that. I know you might be afraid. I am too, and it’s ok. You being brave could just change the world for someone, and so it’s always, always worth it. 
  • Let’s give each other grace. This is me, promising that I won’t lash out or yell in anyone’s face about privilege; I don’t have the ground to stand on for that. In reality I don’t think there’s a single one of us here who could afford to throw the stones; who could claim that they’ve never taken something for granted, never forgotten to be thankful, never pointed fingers at others instead of themselves. God sees that in us and yet still, He loves us. If He can give us grace, we can give each other grace. 
  • And finally, let’s hold each other accountable. Let’s do this together.

Rant, over. Anger, over. Mood level, somewhat less than freakin.

[For more food for thought, you could look up 1st John, in the Bible. All of it, the whole book, because it’s just that good (and only 4 chapters long).]

 

13

Choices in Life, Socks, and Peace

She’s sitting there, and she’s got these three old socks laid out in front of her.

One’s a little bit longer than the others, all are different patterns and colors. They’re the reason for her furrowed brow, during this rainy day craft project.

“Which one is the best one for my sock snowman?” she asks me again, a little bit of exasperation in her voice, that I won’t answer her with a perfect, direct answer.

“I think you could choose any one of those, and they would work perfectly.”

“But which one would you choose, if you were me?”

I sit there and calmly explain why each sock would be a great choice for her craft; that it’s for her to decide and she can’t make a wrong choice with any of them. As I do, the irony of it can’t help but hit me.

Lately, my life looks a little bit like those socks. And I’ve been the one sitting there, agonizing over the choices. Exasperation in my voice as I hit my knees again. God, which one? Which one is the very best, what honors You the most, which one is the most right?

And I’ve been reminded again and again. From trusted people in my life. From going back to His Word again and again. That sometimes God just doesn’t answer the way we want Him to, with clear, precise direction.

Sometimes, God gives us a call. An undeniable voice, pointing us in one direction. “Choose this sock.” I’ve been there before, and I’ve played the Jonah. Running from the call that was so clear and direct, only by the grace of God ending up in Ninevah after all, because He’s a God of second chances.

But other times, He doesn’t give that clear call.

Sometimes, God’s word is the guide that He gives us, to help direct our paths. The answers aren’t precise and the calling isn’t necessarily geographical, but instead it’s a calling to the kind of life He wants us to lead. The kind of people He wants us to become. And I struggle and there’s exasperation, a lot more than hers was that day, because I want exact destinations and a perfect roadmap for how to get there. But instead He gives me the freedom to choose, guided by principles, not by a direct “go here” and “do this.”

That’s where life has been at, these past few weeks. Choices. Decisions. Me wrestling with emotions I didn’t know were there, questions I didn’t realize were unanswered, and carrying it around far longer than I should have. Trust issues, because I don’t like walking when I can’t see what’s ahead. What is it about the ugly sin creeping into my heart, that keeps me forgetting how faithful my God has been, every step of the way; that keeps me questioning if I can really trust Him again?

And just like our rainy day craft project, it came down to a decision. Which sock. Which path. Me grasping at the hope that He who has been faithful before will be faithful again, no matter what the decision about my future.

“He may move you somewhere across the world. Or He may move you to believe again, to dare again, to reach out again. But if the steadying love of Christ moves you, it will move you out into the world with the bravest hope. He will move you to hope for what seem like impossible things, because His closeness is your most cherished thing. Too often we want clarity and God wants us to come closer. Dreams are always clearer when you press closer and see them through the sheer love of God.”

~ Ann Voskamp

As I wrestled, God was faithful and He drew me closer. I saw more of the perfect love of His heart and the brokenness of my own heart in the decision process. I saw His grace, over and over again.

And ultimately, I chose.

It’s impossible to completely describe the way that my heart simultaneously broke and also found peace, in finally choosing.

Now that I have my sock, I have to let go of the idea of the others that I didn’t choose, and that’s hard. But finally, I can begin the craft, the project, living into the choice I’ve made. I can see what begins to take shape in the hands of the perfect Creator, and to be honest I can’t wait for that either.

Here’s the choice, the big thing, the decision that’s stolen a lot of sleep and time, emotions and conversations over these past two months of being home, but no more.

I’m going back to school this January, 2018. This with the goal of completing my bachelors degree in social work, over the course of the next two years (and the potential for a masters degree/licensure is still out there somewhere in the future, yet to be determined).

Here’s the part that I had to let go of, in the process of making this decision. The hardest thing, really, in the whole wrestling process. I thought I was going back to Kenya this January. I planned on it, I talked about it, I told everyone who asked me that that was when I was going back. I’ve pictured the sweet, sweet reunion of being back with my Kenyan family in just a few short months, since the day I landed back on US soil. However, in the end, after so much questioning and counsel and prayer, I decided that completing my education right now is ultimately a bigger step towards my end goal of being back in Kenya, permanently, someday.

Education, especially in this field, gives me so many more tools to take back with me when I do go. It gives me a specific skill set, something to put into practice while I’m there and contribute towards a sustainable difference in the community.

And yeah, God can work through anyone and anything. If I had chosen to go back to Kenya now, without pursuing the college degree first, He could have worked in that scenario too. Though I do believe that Kenya, specifically Kimana, is the calling that’s ultimately on my heart, I think I had multiple paths that I could have chosen from to get back there. Starting school this January is just one choice, and I made it after considering every possible angle (over and over again) of how to steward my resources, time, and calling in a way that would bring honor and glory to Him. And ultimately I came to peace with this decision, this path.

That doesn’t mean I’m waiting two years before I go back to Kenya at all. No way, in the world, could I stay away for that long. Lord willing, I’m hoping to go back this coming summer, June to August 2018. Those plans are still coming together, but it’s my hope and prayer to be back there, wrap my arms around the precious kiddos that have such a huge piece of my heart, and continue building relationships in the community while learning more of the language and culture.

Now that the choice is made, comes the next, maybe harder choice, and that’s to live into this season, here—as fully and intentionally as I did in Kenya. To choose peace. To let God be enough, even in a season where it feels like my heart is in another place. To hope for impossible things, to expect to see miracles here, even the same way as I hoped and prayed for miracles during my time there. To let His closeness be my most cherished thing, the thing that I learn to value more than any place, any people, any thing on earth I could learn or possess or do. To choose to live into now, one moment at a time, and let that daily decision bring it’s own peace.

Choices. Every day, a new day, a new chance, only by the grace of God. I can’t wait to see what the author does with this next chapter, as it unfolds, new day by new day.

Side note: The girl written about above is one of the sweet children that I get to spend my days with right now, and call it my job. It’s been just another blessing during this season, as this job reminds me so often of how I was spending my days in Kenya, with the Hope Beyond family. God is so good, friends. But. I don’t know what we were doing making snowmen in October! 🙂

Side side note: College applications are in. The verdict on where I will officially be attending is not yet in. Stay tuned!

Poured Out

Oh broken, bleeding heart.

I know you thought you could save the world.

The starving children and the people hungry for the gospel. You were going to fix it all, by the sheer weight of every broken tear and every ounce of love in your heart.

You were going to go to those broken places and it was going to be enough.

It was going to be enough for the people that you were going to. They were going to see all that you had sacrificed and given up just to be with them, and they were going to feel so loved, that it would be the start of a lasting relationship between you. A relationship that pointed everyone back to Jesus (and I think we were all supposed to sing Kumbaya somewhere in there, too).

You knew, broken, bleeding heart, that your offering was going to be enough for God, too. You were going to love the orphans and the widows, just like He said. You were going to carry your cross.

So you moved across an ocean. You left your family and your friends behind. You could still communicate with them, but it was just enough distance to push you out of your comfort zone, and make you feel like you sacrificed something. Jesus said something about leaving your family to follow Him, didn’t He? You must be on the right path.

You didn’t need a college degree, a specific skill set, a title or a position. You were going to love everyone you met and it was going to be enough. Your professed love was going to be the only bandaid ever in history to heal the deep cuts and gashes of life.

And as you listened to people’s stories, your tears alongside theirs were going to wash away all the pain they had seen, all the scars burned deeply onto hearts. The friends that you cried alongside of would go on with a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

Oh broken, bleeding heart. I know your intentions sounded so good, to you.

You came with that heart ready to just overflow with all the love. Your love, and God’s love too. Isn’t that what the movies say? Love is the only force powerful enough to change the world? You were prepared, you were ready. You were a world-changer.

A month went by, on the other side of the ocean. Two months. Three, four, five.

Your heart bled, and it bled, and it bled.

It broke, and it broke, and it broke again.

Until you found yourself in church that Sunday in June, pouring your heart out to your King. And you finally whispered those words, threw up your hands and your white flag in defeat.

“I can’t do this.”

There was the girl in the back of the church that day. One of the girls that God put in your life to love for a short time—too short. She was struggling, and you could see it. You could see it in the way she stood by herself. You could see it in the dark shadows of her always-joyful face. You could see it in her body language, as she stood there with arms crossed, instead of dancing like she had every other week before.

In your mind, her face wasn’t the only one that flashed before your eyes. When you closed your eyes, there were 205 school children dancing around you, all wanting a piece of you, wanting to ask questions and play clapping games and hold your hand, all at once. And yeah, sometimes they were also asking that you give them the bracelets off of your wrists, or the necklace off your neck. “Don’t you have another one?” they ask. Yes, but not 205 of them. What you heard, though, was less a request for jewelry, and more a coded plea for love to step into truth and action. You said the words “I love you” 205 times; how would you show them you meant it? Overwhelmed, you changed the topic, or pretended that you didn’t understand the question.

There was a girl that you lived with and you called your sister. She was a single mother, and all she wanted was for you to find her a sponsor for her daughter, when you got back to America. She desperately wanted her to daughter to have a secure chance at an education and a future.

There were sweet friends who bravely, vulnerably told you their stories. You cried alongside them. Your fists pounded the countertops when you went home at night, angry, at all of the pain and the injustice.

Your mind kept racing, people’s faces flashing through your mind. You told them you loved them. You spent time with them. You felt the weight of their pain in your own heart—or at least, you thought that you did. Wasn’t that supposed to be enough?

But the girl, she still stood there, isolated in her world of pain as you wept the tears on her behalf. You were too afraid to approach her and ask what was really going on in her heart.

The kids, they would go on to play clapping games and ask questions and give endless hugs to the next starry-eyed volunteer. And at the end of the day, those kids would go home. Maybe to families that loved them and cared about them, or maybe not. Maybe to homes with clean water and enough food, or maybe not. Either way, you did nothing to change their realities.

Your sister went back to her home and her daughter, struggling another day to provide for her and get her through school. She’s still there, living on a thin hope and promise that maybe her plea for a sponsor will be heard.

Your friends are still facing their realities and carrying on bravely. Your tears alongside theirs on those days where you listened to their hearts—maybe they were a small step towards healing. Or maybe they only opened old scars and left them open and vulnerable. Will you ever know?

Oh broken, bleeding heart.

You thought the answer was in the brokenness you felt, in the bleeding pouring out as you ached with love for hurting people. You thought the answer was in picking up your cross and dragging it a little ways.

You were afraid to do anything beyond that. Afraid to go too far outside of your comfort zone and meet real needs. And so you hid behind your one-time gifts to God, the sacrifices that you thought would be enough to prove yourself and your good intentions to the people around you.

Oh broken, bleeding heart.

All the sacrifice, all of the offerings, all of the hard things you walked through. They’re like a tiny bouquet of crushed flowers in the hand of a pauper, held up to a King.

That day that you stood in the church, that day you finally realized you couldn’t do it all, you met truth. It was hard, uncomfortable truth. It made you realize just how little you really have to offer. And that’s ok.

Because the reality is, Jesus always wanted you the way you are.

Yes, you, broken, bleeding heart.

He wants all of you, every piece of you, poured out before Him. Not hiding behind past “achievements,” but laid out in all of your flaws and inadequacies. He always saw you exactly the way that you were; you were only fooling yourself, thinking you could pretend to be anything different. That’s not the kind of relationship He wanted with you.

He wanted real, raw, authentic communion. And so He pursued your heart. He poured out every piece of Himself. He hung literally broken and bleeding from a cross.

His brokenness wasn’t in words though. It wasn’t in tears. It wasn’t in good intentions.

It was in action.

When you’ve finally poured out yourself, when everything’s bare and vulnerable, you can finally begin to grasp the weight of this vulnerable, bleeding love, poured out for you. You can let it fill you again; fill every broken, poured out part of your being.

It’s in the security of that love that you can find the strength to step out from behind your fears. The courage to say yes, despite all of your inadequacies. And not just once, but daily.

He wants all of you, daily. In His presence, at His feet. Not for seven months, or for a day, or for an hour. Every moment. He wants every piece of you, living into His calling daily with a simple yes. Acknowledging that you’re not the answer and you can never meet all of the needs. But for the one in front of you today, you can love. Not in words or speech, but in actions and in truth.

Here’s the crazy thing, the radical thing.

He already knows that you can’t change the world. In fact, He doesn’t ask you to.

Your professed love can never be the bandaid that heals a gash. Bandaids don’t heal gashes. Doctors do. Go, learn how to be a doctor. Bring something real and tangible to the table. If you really care, if the love in your heart is real. Do something.

Broken, bleeding hearts on their own don’t change realities. They don’t close the gap between privilege and lack thereof.

Broken, bleeding heart. What are you pouring out into?

Are you pouring your efforts and your energy into getting the education and gaining more knowledge, so that you can really do something towards sustainable change? Are you learning, and seeking to understand more about the situations and the issues at hand? Are you using what education and influence you do have to empower others, or only to belittle them? Are you building and investing in rich, lasting relationships? Are you closing the resource gap? Are you using your voice to advocate and speak for those who need to be heard?

What are you doing to say “I love you” in a practical and tangible way, one that others can see? One that shows how deeply you have been loved by your Savior? What are you doing today?

You’re inadequate, yes. No matter how much education or resources, you always will be. So stop trying to do it all, stop trying to be a savior, stop trying to change the world.

Rest in simply being in His presence. Let Him show you what’s next. And in the meantime, take everything He’s given you, everything you have, and let it be all for Him, to be used by Him. Every moment, every day.

I know. You don’t have all of the answers. And this doesn’t answer all of your questions.

There’s so much more to learn, so much farther to go.

And that’s ok.

For today, meet yourself with grace—His grace. You don’t have to have it all figured out right this moment. This is where you are for today and that’s ok. As long as you’re not afraid to keep pressing into the uncomfortable and hard questions. As long as you don’t let your fear stop you from stepping into action.

Broken, bleeding heart, today’s the day that counts the most. Use it to love with your actions, use it to be vulnerable and brave, and use it to press closer into your Savior. Make it count for much.

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Back on Foreign Soil

Three days home now. I’m still trying to scrub the layers of dust off my feet.

The traces of seven months on foreign soil don’t just disappear overnight.

We’re standing in the kitchen today, and my brother says to me, “You know Kaela, if not for the stories you tell us, it’s almost like you were never gone.” He doesn’t look at my feet.

I study the earth worn deep into the callouses on my sole.

Then I study him, my brother. He now stands taller than me, something that’s only just happened in the time that I’ve been gone. His voice is deeper than before, and I think of my tears on the other side of the phone these past months because I didn’t even recognize it. And he doesn’t see it. Now that I’m standing in the kitchen again, it’s like all the months of being gone just melt away. Nothing has changed. Everything the way it was.

I play along.

Drive the car. Go to the grocery store. Make quesadillas in the kitchen. Play my favorite board game with family. Put all my clothes away in my closet. Stay up late watching goofy shows with my brother. All the things I’ve so desperately wanted to do for seven months now.

It’s like nothing has changed. Everything the way it was before.

There have been moments where I’ve asked myself, did I just dream the last seven months? I wake up in my own bed and I look out at the trees lining the street, and it feels undeniably normal.

Except that my soul is silently screaming inside.

It’s not the same. Nothing is the same.

I drive the car, and I almost drive on the left side of the road. I go to grocery store, and the amount of choices in front of me are completely overwhelming. I open the cupboards or the fridge to cook, and I want to cry just looking at all of the food in front of me. Just let me cook rice, or ugali, and I’ll be ok. I sit down to play a board game with my brothers, but there’s an emptiness, something missing. I pull three garbage bags full of clothes out of my closet and put them in the attic, because just looking at all of the options gives me anxiety. I can barely keep my eyes open as I watch tv with my brother, because my body still thinks it’s seven hours ahead.

The list could go on. I thought the rubber lizard on my staircase was a real one. I startled violently when my mom woke me up to tell me good night, and reportedly told her that having a white lady lean over me scared me (I remember nothing of this experience, so I can only recount what I was told later). I forgot that seat belts existed until my family reminded me partway home from the airport. Etc, etc.

And life might go back to the way it was before, eventually. I’ll remember. I’ll learn it all again. But my heart can not go back.

The traces of seven months on foreign soil don’t just disappear overnight. The Kenyan earth is worn into every crack and crevice of my soul.

And it’s made a stranger of me in my own home. Even if I’m the only one who recognizes it. The only one who looks at my feet.

The soil that used to be home is now foreign to me, too.

And even as the callouses wear off and my feet start to return to their “normal” color again, the questions race and the anxiety mounts, whispering of this new normal and other reality to my heart.

What are they doing today? It’s already almost 10pm there. Did they have Bible study this morning? What did they eat for supper? Was it enough? What’s going on in their hearts, today? Which one is quiet, sitting outside by herself today, and who’s listening to her heart? Did they go for a nature walk? I just want to hear their laughter, hear their voices. I know they’re fine. They’re safe. They’re in the best hands. But I hate that I’m missing even a single moment. Did anyone tell them good night? Who told them “I love you” today?

And if it’s possible for your arms to actually ache because you want to wrap someone up in them so much, then that’s where my arms are at today. Achy.

The anxiety, the undeniable longing to be there with them, tells me, even if it doesn’t tell anyone else, that I didn’t just dream the last seven months.

I didn’t fit perfectly there either. Sometimes I silently screamed there, too. Many times, my arms ached for my family.

But there, people looked at my feet. White skin covered with red dust. They saw me for what I was, and they saw the dust on my feet for what it was. Foreign soil on foreign feet.

Here, I’m supposed to belong. Supposed to fit. It’s that knowing that makes me want to weep, daily.

There, small children pointed at me and shouted, “muzungu!” as I walked to the grocery store.

Here, no one looks at me and shouts out “foreigner!” when I go the the store. I blend in. That should make it easier, but it doesn’t.

They don’t see it.

I’m back, but I’m still on foreign soil.

And I could live out the rest of my days here, but nothing will change this reality. I can never go back. I can never regain the seven months I gave up with my family here. I can never regain the moments I’m missing with my Kenyan family right now, by being here. Things can never be the way they were before. The whole earth is foreign soil now.

And I think my heart will be ok, if only people will recognize and see me for what I am. A foreigner. If only they’ll know that it really happened. The stories I tell are not just stories. They’re not just faces in pictures. They’re not just words I type. They’re real. And they’ve become a part of me.

My people, they’re real. So real that my arms literally ache to hold them.

And it might feel like I’ve never been gone, but the things that I missed here, the things that have changed in my absence, are real too. I’ve really grieved for that time lost, and that’s changed me too. My brother, he’s taller than me for the rest of eternity, now. No going back.

My heart is screaming silently but I want to scream it out loud to the world. Look at my feet.

None of it was a dream. And the callouses on my feet might just be callouses to some, but to me it’s foreign soil that’s changed more than just the color of my feet. And it won’t disappear overnight, or ever.

 

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week #1.135

Torn

“If you keep quiet, you will start to think much, and things will eat at your stomach. But if you talk a lot, you will be happy.”

We were standing in the kitchen telling stories after dinner, making jokes, and laughing together, when one of my girls gave me this piece of wisdom. It was said in the context of how loud we were being at the time. What she didn’t realize, though, was how true her words rang in my soul.

I’m an introvert, about as text-book introverted as they come. And when there’s a lot weighing on my mind, as there has been these past few days, I tend to revert into myself. I think a lot, analyzing and overanalyzing. Sometimes I need time to myself to sit and process, write or pray about what’s on my heart as I try to make sense of it all.

These days, the range of emotions in my mind and heart are a little overwhelming. And I’ve found my girl’s words ringing true. There’s a lot eating at my stomach right now.

This holiday has been a whirlwind here so far. For the first week we had a revolving door, kids in and out. One girl would be here for a night before traveling home the following day. Another child would be here for a few days, and then travel home with a relative. Another child would be dropped of to us, and leave a few days later. Friends from school would come spend a day or two here with us. We headcount before every single meal, because what was 21 kids and two adults that morning, could be 25 kids and four adults that night. You just never know.

We’ve had Bible studies, activities, nature walks, and lots of cooking and house cleaning too. We’ve had empty water tanks, resulting in dishes that sit dirty in the sink for hours, before someone comes to pump from the well and rescue us. We’ve had neighbor goats come eat our garden, and some interesting adventures in trying to reconcile the matter. We’ve had friendly visits from our school teachers, and neighbors passing by, and relatives of our kids here, and others. We’ve adopted our school goats, including three little babies (affectionately named Kuja, Hapa, & Sasa). We’ve run to emergency-buy tomatoes for lunch, which for us means a walk down the dirt road with a large group of us (because every trip anywhere is an adventure), trying to find who will sell us tomatoes fresh out of their shamba (field). We’ve been blessed by some really kind people. We’ve eaten some really late dinners (10:30pm dinner, anyone?). We’ve had family work-days cleaning everything, inside and out of the house. We’ve played endless card games and watched the same music videos over and over again. We’ve had a bonfire in our backyard. We’ve made popcorn many times together. We’ve spent a lot of evenings talking in the kitchen, laughing and making jokes and being far too loud.

With all the craziness, I’ve found time to sit and think rather hard to come by. After all, there’s always something going on here to be involved in. And if I leave for so much as a minute to go to the bathroom, I’m hearing my name called out across the house. Quiet time comes late, post-10:30pm when hopefully all the lights are out. At that point, keeping my eyes open is the struggle, because mornings come early and the days don’t slow down.

And yet there’s so much to process. So much my heart’s racing with.

The goodbyes seem never ending here. From sweet little Ita going home to his family, to our Sarah traveling home after a whole summer spent here as a part of our Hope family. It’s hard in and of itself, and I could write posts entirely on that, but it’s also a sharp reminder of what’s coming.

Three days. And when the girls try to tell me that, I tell them not to remind me. I don’t even want to think about leaving.

It’s the strangest mix of emotions. Leaving “home.” Going “home.”

Having people to call “home” on both sides of the ocean is the most incredible blessing and the most heart-wrenching reality all wrapped up into one bittersweet package. I’m more torn than I think I’ve ever been in my life, torn between realities, torn between different sides of the ocean, torn between two incredible families.

I talk to my family, and I feel tears of anticipation at seeing them again. I could actually cry (sometimes I do) when I think about seeing the faces of the people that I love, hearing their voices and their laughter, being able to hug them in person and just be with them, for the first time in seven months now.

And then the girls here tell me daily now, “Kaela, on that day you go, all of us will cry.” Or, “I’m not even going to say goodbye to you on that day.” Or, “Kaela, don’t go back to America. Stay just with us.” Even after being in Nairobi for one night this week, I came back to find my littlest girl in the house, wrapped in my blanket and wearing my jacket. “Kaela, I wear this last night so that I’ll think of you, because I missssss you.” And there are no words for how it rips my heart out to think about leaving them all. Not because they can’t go on without me—they will and they will be fine—but because I want to be here with them and be here for their everyday-life. Only three more days.

Also playing through my head is knowing that this isn’t just a constant, forever family here. I can’t assume, that even in coming back, everyone I have here now will still be here. There are class 8 students who will graduate and go to high school by the time I come back here. There are others who might be home on holiday when I come back. Or maybe they will be reconciled with their families—which, while that’s the goal that I ultimately want—also would mean the same outcome. Who knows what else might come up in between now and then. I literally have today that I’m promised with all of them, and that’s it. Falling in love has never felt so inevitably devastating.

And then I feel the guilt creep in. After all, I’ve known these girls, and all of my sweet friends here, only a few months. My family of forever is waiting at home to greet me with wide-open arms. How can I feel anything but sheer joy at going home to be with them again? These kids—my Hope family—they might have completely stolen my heart here. But in being a part of their lives, how much of my own little brothers’ growing up have I missed this year? How much will be changed and different with them when I come back? What about my friends? Church family? My boys, and all the kids whose lives I’ve been able to be a part of back at home? I’ve missed so much. Coming back here again—my dream and heart’s desire—means intentionally missing even more. How can I possibly rejoice in that?

Then there’s a part of me that’s just tired. The part that says being able to walk away and go home to safety and comfort is something that I’m so ready for. That itself brings more guilt. What about all of the people here who will carry on with their incredible kingdom-work here after I go? Where is their rest, their comfort, and why should I have that privilege when they will be left here to keep pressing on, day by day?

All of it, racing in my heart, daily. Eating at my stomach. And sometimes, my girls tell me, “Kimya.” You’re being quiet.

Maybe their wisdom is something I need to take to heart a little more.

I think emotions are meant to be processed and worked through. I need my time to write and pray and think, and I always will—that’s just a part of me. But I don’t want to miss what’s right in front of me, in this moment, too caught up in my over-analyzation.

Maybe the answer is to talk a little more.

To laugh a little more.

To say “I love you” a little more.

To have that dance party in the living room.

To play that one more game of cards.

To let them tell me a few more stories, ask a few more questions, before I flip the lights off in their room for the night.

To sit out in the backyard soaking up the sunshine together.

To go on that nature walk that isn’t scheduled on our time table.

To sit snuggled close for movie night and cram four of us on one armchair under one blanket, and just soak in being together as they laugh beside me.

If today’s all I have, all I’m promised with our Hope family as I know it here, I want it to count for much. I want to save the sound of us being too loud in the kitchen. I want to talk with them and hear their hearts and their funny stories and the Swahili that they try and make me understand.

I’m realizing—through their eyes and their wisdom—that I can’t spend today with things eating away at my stomach and eating away at our time together here. These moments—every ordinary, adventure-filled moment here—they are what I will treasure the most. I can’t let those slip by.

And when I go home, I want to do the same. Be completely present in my moments there. Even if it takes my heart a little while to catch up and be fully “there” again.

Three days, but only one day that I really need to be concerned about. Today. The best day, and the day that will always count the most.

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Featuring the sunglasses that inspired many a photo-shoot around here.

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We have a tradition here in Kenya of “washing” people with water on their birthdays. Celebrating a new year and a new birth for every year older. This girl here, she turned 12 this week, and it was the first time she every celebrated her birthday (on the day that she chose as her own, since she doesn’t know what day she was really born). First cake, first washing, first time anyone sang happy birthday to her. Look at her face.

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So much water!

5

The Hope Beyond “salon” is open daily!

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First birthday cake! She shared her birthday with her friend, who also has never celebrated her birthday and doesn’t know which day it is. Love, love, love her giving heart.

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Look for the album drop, coming soon.

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Best friends.

10

Afternoons out in the sun.

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Seriously, these girls and their photography skills though.

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Always laundry to do, but better to do it with a smile!

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Included this one because it showcases the randomness of the photos I find on my camera at the end of the day. And also the beauty of the music videos that we watch, over and over and over again (update: this video has not made an appearance in several days now, praise the Lord).

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Nature walk!

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Not sure what I love more about this picture. The use of the umbrella (for shade), or my girl’s stylin’ outfit in the background.

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Nature walks and firewood gathering expeditions are often combined into one trip!

7

Rosemary: “Tomorrow, I go to take picture for Sarah, so I look at it and remember her.”

Result, pictured above.

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Just free, dancing, joyful.

7

Modeling.

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Bracelet-making is pretty much around the clock here (which is why we actually had to outlaw beads in bed, because otherwise it would literally be around the clock).

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When my photographers-in-training discover golden hour ❤

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Another back-yard afternoon… Because I am “that person” and sometimes kick all the kids out of the house, because it’s too nice to stay inside.

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Our little man.

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Proving right my family’s theory that cards can be played anywhere.

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Cooking supper is always a good time for conversations together.

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Currently, we’re working through a chapter-a-day of “The Horse and His Boy” by C.S. Lewis, and it’s a hit!

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Sometimes, we do photoshoots, and I’ve never yet lacked willing models!

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Another day, another nature walk!

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This girl and her color combinations, though. Love it, and love her.

10

Some fun with our mbuzi! (goats, in Swahili)

13

Sometimes, you look up and find Sasa in the toilets. And honestly, it’s not the strangest thing around here.

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Our “littles” in the family, being… themselves ❤

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Our resident veterinarians, hard at work!

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This little one. There are no words to describe the character that she is, and the way she has completely stolen my heart.

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An evening spent chasing baboons…

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The never-ending battle of keeping dust off of shoes (you won’t ever win that battle here, but you can put up a good fight).

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Did I mention that one of the few brothers in our Hope Beyond family happens to also be our champion Bible Quizzer at Lenkai? K. Just had to take a minute to throw that in there.

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Baboon watching again.

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Love this crazy little guy!

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The dust here. We seriously come back a different color after these walks.

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And the photoshoots never end…

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… And neither does the bracelet making.

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Sometimes, even putting cream on an injured foot is worthy cause for a photo, showcasing all our silliness.

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The self-motivation for homework here never ceases to amaze me. I mean, how many kids pull out their books to do their homework, completely unprompted, during a holiday?

 

There are a few of our moment here, the ones that I’m savoring and remembering and living in, for these days ❤

 

Everything New

I want to tell you a story. Honestly, these are words that feel a little deep and vulnerable, maybe too much so for this space. But I also believe that these words are a testimony to my God, to what He’s done and what He’s doing here on Kenyan soil, and in my own heart. That being said, let me introduce you to a girl…

A girl, young, hopeful, naive, convinced that she was going to feed starving children and change the world.

She got on that plane and she met the beautiful people with the deep joy in their hearts, and wondered what it all meant. What God might be asking for her life.

It felt like such an adventure. Taking bucket-baths for lack of a running shower, living without electricity and sometimes communication, and meeting so many incredible people. And the kids—they were hands down the best parts of her entire experience. She was surely in love. This was surely God’s plan for her life.

On August 4th, 2014, she etched these words into her journal.

“For so many years, I have dreamed of serving God in a 3rd world country…. And I begged God to show me when the time was right for me to go… I sit here tonight, writing by the glow of a flashlight. Dirt walls surround me. Crickets sing, and the Swahili language, spoken softly, is coming from the other side of the wall. I am in Kenya. At long last, God has said the time is right, and I can come.”

She had no idea what that day, August 4th, held for everyone she loved back at home.

Three days later and she was back to wifi and cell reception, and God’s perfect calling hadn’t come just yet. But the phone call that did come, it was the one she never could have expected, the one no one ever expects.

She could feel it in the pit of her stomach, as soon as they asked her to step outside the room and talk to her parents. Escorted to a small room and given privacy to speak to her family at home, this couldn’t just be a normal catching-up-with-you kind of thing. This was bigger.

The words hit her like ice as soon as her parents spoke them. “Jake Baxter passed away this week, on August 4th.” She half shouted, half screamed through the phone. No, she told her parents, over and over again. This wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. This was some kind of cruel joke. The shaking in her body was uncontrollable as she searched blindly for some object to steady herself on. This couldn’t be real. Her youth leader, family friend, her brother’s mentor, a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a missionary, a leader, so young, so on fire for God, so instrumental in their church, so vibrantly alive—her mind raced with all of the reasons why this couldn’t be reality. The pure shock overshadowed everything else in that moment.

After struggling to find words to finish the phone call, saying everything that needed to be said, she couldn’t go back in that room with the rest of the team. So she sat on the cement floor in the hallway of the hotel, by herself, and wept. There was no sense of time, no clock to mark its passing. She stood up, she paced the hallway, crying, hitting the walls, then sank to the floor again when she could no longer stand. Sometimes, there were empathetic and caring friends who would come out and give her a hug, acknowledging with their presence that they cared. Then they would walk back, and she would stay there, and the tears would start all over again.

Desperate for something, anything to cling to, she read these promises from her Jesus. They came alive to her there in that space.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old over of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making all things new!’”  ~ Revelation 21:1 & 3-5

No more death. Mourning. Crying. Pain. Everything new. She clung to the promises, even as they felt far off and hard to grasp in that moment.

August, 2014.

And the girl, she lost some of her confidence in what she was supposed to do with her life. After all, she expected a God-calling on that trip, and instead all she got was a devastating phone call. But through it all, she gained a different kind of confidence. She learned how to cling to faith in a new way, faith that this wasn’t the end, faith that she was but a stranger passing through a strange land, headed towards something better, something Heavenly.

It took time, but she learned how to press forwards in the face of fear, fear of the future, fear of who or what might be taken next, fear of losing her grip on her dreams, fear of walking alone. And she learned how to let God loose those chains and free her to follow Him, completely, whole-heartedly, no matter what the cost.

That was three years ago. And it’s surreal to be living this August 4th again here on Kenyan soil. Surreal that He could have woven my story together to lead me back here, again.

I never would have written the story this way. I don’t see answers, and there’s no “why” for everything that happened, three years ago this day. There’s still a hole, a gap where Jake should be, and I’ll never begin to understand why he isn’t here right now. But all along the way, there have been sweet, gentle reminders of God’s love and faithfulness spoken into the midst of what can feel like hopelessness. Promises that this is not the end. There will be a day where everything is made new.

August 4th, 2017. I’m still listening to Swahili and taking bucket-baths, and learning how to cling to faith like I never have before.

Daily, there’s reminders to this [sometimes still naive dreamer of a girl] that she will never be able to change the world. Life’s not so simple and black and white as she once thought it was. There are constant reminders that her calling is not about having a perfect plan for every day of her life, but about daily carrying her cross and saying “yes” to following Jesus.

And His promises, they’ve never been more real than they are in this place, in these day-by-day moments of reality.

It’s the moments where I sit and weep and cry out for miracles in the lives of these girls, because that’s all I can do in the face of the pain they’re walking through.

It’s the moment where I stand at the kitchen sink and work up the nerve to ask what’s going on in her mind behind the sullen, sunken face mask, and she shuts me down with a “nothing,” even as I beg God to be there in that moment. It’s the moment days later when she comes back to me and whispers of the pain in her heart, and it takes my breath away and sits heavy on my own soul.

It’s the moments where I ponder all the could-have-beens, all the have-beens, all the should-never-have-beens, all the might-be’s, and ask myself why this world can be such a dark, dark place.

It’s these moments where I have to believe, the same way I did in 2014, that He will be faithful to His promises.

And it’s in these moments that He comes and He meets me here, reminds me that He’s been faithful before, and He’ll be faithful again.

It’s the moments where I see her sing again, where I see the miracle that He’s worked in her life. It takes my breath away, the way that He loves her, and the way that He woos my own heart by showing me His love at work in her life.

It’s the moments where they’re laughing, dancing, singing together, and there’s a reminder of how far He’s brought them already.

There’s going to be a day, friends. A day where He wipes the tears from our eyes. No more death, mourning, pain, or crying. A sweet, beautiful, perfect day. My hope in this grows, daily, as I see it already starting to unfold. This promise of heaven.

And you can call it my crutch or you can call it my weakness. I’ll readily admit that I am weak and completely inadequate in the face of all the pain and heartbreak I face here. I am nothing without my Savior. And I would quit right now if not for this steady, gentle promise, that He’s making all things new. If not for the evidence of everything new all around me.

My first time on Kenyan soil, August 2014, was nothing like what I hoped or dreamed it would be. It held it’s wonderful moments, but it was overshadowed by this darkness, that phone call, the shock of grief on foreign soil. Here, though, in 2017, He’s rewritten the story and given me a second chance. He’s shown me His love and His faithfulness, over and over again, in this place. He’s breathed new life into pages that I thought were a closed chapter of my life. He’s been so good, friends.

And it’s because of this that I can say confidently that my God is a God of redemption, a God of beauty, a God who works miracles, so that even the most bitter hearts can go out to dance with the joyful again.

For today, I’m in a place where I’m faced with the weight of more pain than I could ever have imagined, in the faces and stories of people who have become infinitely precious to me. And while I hate grief-comparison, I can honestly say that what I experienced my first time in Kenya, August 2014, was nothing compared to what these kids have seen and lived through. But I can also say that He’s bringing His promises to life here, even now. While we’re pressing forwards, Heaven-bound and hopeful, He’s already writing our stories—theirs and mine—into something beautiful. Something that shows us His faithful, tender care. He’s already breathing life into parts of us that have died, and He’s already making all things new.

The dwelling of God might not be with people just yet, but I know that He’s walking alongside of us as we wait for the day where it is.

I suppose you could say that these few years, pressing forwards into grief and fear and loss, hurt and hope and broken dreams, has been a little bit of Heaven on earth. He’s walked with me, and He’s walking with my girls, too. He is making all things new, here and now. And this is just the beginning.

There’s so much more to come.

 

Throwing Rocks

[Today was the start of school holiday here. We’re on break for one month, until the end of August. Which means that the kids I’ve spent three months getting to know are now home with their families. And by the time they come back to school, I’ll be back in the States. That made today a day for a lot of goodbyes. Out of the 200 kids that I’ve gotten to know at school, and the 30 I’ve spent my weekends living with, only 23 kids remain here with us to Hope now (my roommate Sarah and I have officially moved into Hope with them for the remainder of our time here). So many, many mixed emotions on this day. Trying to process it all… So we threw some rocks…]

 

My mother used to tell me

don’t throw rocks.

Not when there are people around

because

you could hit something,

you could hurt somebody.

I listened.

 

But I’m grown up now

and my mother lives

on another continent

in another world

and I haven’t seen her

in a long time.

 

So today

I picked up a rock

and I threw it.

There were people around

and I still threw it

and then I threw another one

and another.

 

I threw rocks because

the tears in my chest

felt like rocks

but they were

too heavy

to fall down my face.

 

I threw rocks because

some of my girls

left

and they went home.

And it hurt to watch them

walk away.

 

I threw rocks because

some of my girls

were left

and nobody came for them.

And it hurt to watch them

stand there silent

while everyone else

walked away.

 

I threw rocks because

of the tears on the face

of one of my smallest girls.

She tried to turn away

and hide

but I saw

and I didn’t know

the words to say.

 

I threw rocks because

the littlest girl

to steal my heart

is gone.

She called me Mama

and we sang songs

and chased golden light

and now she’s home

with her mother.

And I left her

with the biggest smile on her face

safe

loved

and I know she’s exactly

where she should be,

but I wish

she would ask me to sing for her

one more time.

 

I threw rocks because

sitting in our house

watching them

knowing

why they couldn’t

go home

why they couldn’t

be with family

knowing but still

not knowing enough

suffocates me

until I can’t

breathe.

 

I threw rocks because

rejection can feel

like that,

like life

throwing rocks

aimed straight at your soul,

and if life had a mother

telling it

not to throw rocks at people

it wouldn’t

have listened.

 

I threw rocks because

I want to be happy

that for 23

I don’t have to say

goodbye

just yet,

but I see the tears

on faces

and all I can do

is weep

too.

 

I threw rocks because

for 23

I know

that they are safe

I know

that they went to bed

with food

I know

that someone told them

‘I love you,’

but for 23

that should have been

their families,

the ones that didn’t

come for them

today.

 

After I threw the rocks

I picked up another rock

rolled it

in my palm

studied it

careful.

 

My mother also said

you can’t be anxious

and thankful

at the same

time.

Your heart can’t hold

both

and you get to choose

which one

you’re going to hold on to.

 

Worry

confusion

anger

pain

those rocks thrown aside

I gave this rock

a new name.

 

This rock I called

thankful because

of three months

at Lenkai Christian School.

I held it

there

in my hand.

 

I picked another

and another

and another.

 

This rock I called

thankful because

of my girls

all 30

in my heart

and in my prayers

tonight.

 

This rock I called

thankful because

God is good

always.

 

This rock I called

thankful because

God holds us closest

when we are

hurting

and I know

He saw their tears

and mine

today.

 

I threw them,

too,

the thankful rocks.

 

Threw them right back

defiant

in the face of

worry

confusion

anger

and pain.

 

And my mom

she might live

on another continent

in another world

but a mother’s wisdom

knows how

to cross oceans

somehow.

This time

I listen

closer than before.

 

And life

it will keep

throwing its rocks

and I will keep

throwing mine,

and for every rejection rock

life throws

I want to throw a thankful rock

back

to remind my soul

who my God is.

 

And my rocks

they will take down

giants.

 

What Might Have Been

She skips across the schoolyard.

From where I’m sitting, I can see her steps, light and carefree. There’s the brightest smile on her face to match. Easy laughter falls off her lips as she turns towards her friends, and the sunlight catches the light in her eyes, dancing there.

She’s all little girl, this one. From her sassy smiles, to the way that she skips and runs through the day, to her very own unique sense of fashion that’s unlike anyone else’s. A little girl just on the brink of something bigger, and the whole world’s coming alive to her. Life is vibrant and she’s dancing through it to the rhythm of her own music.

I see her swaying to the music. Dress bright for Sunday morning. Her eyes are closed, her hands lifted up, and she’s just lost in the moment there. Suddenly the little girl is gone, in her place a young woman with boldness and confidence before her Father. Her sweet, sincere faith is so much bigger than her small self. We bow our heads to pray and she’s standing there, hands still lifted. She prays desperately, sincerely, and I can only imagine the sound that must be going up to Heaven, how it must sound to her Father’s ears.

And as quickly as the little girl vanishes, she’s back again. There will be a tap on my shoulder as I stand in the schoolyard, and I’ll turn to see her standing there with that bright smile. I’m hardly able to acknowledge before I’m wrapped in a hug. She’ll stand there with one or both arms wrapped around me even as we talk with the other girls, just wanting to be close. Or we’ll sit together in the hall, and her chair will be pulled up besides mine. As we listen to her teacher talk she’ll lean in to my shoulder, idly finger strands of my hair. She’s still that little girl and still has such a tender need to be nurtured and cared for, and I see it in the way she reaches out for touch and comfort.

This is how life should be for a little girl. She should play in the schoolyard with her friends. She should have confidence in who she is, courage to dream and to explore just how much of the world is at her fingertips. She should laugh and love, and be loved and supported and nurtured. She should have childlike faith. She should have the freedom and the joy that makes her heart and her feet skip.

Yet as I sit there looking out across the schoolyard, there’s something else tugging at my heart. Dark shadows cloud a day that seems impossibly bright and sunny and full of life. This nagging whisper at my heart, that this story could be so different.

Right now, my 11 year old little girl could be married.

Married.

Married.

The word keeps ringing in my head as I watch her skip. The thought makes my entire being sick with disgust. My soul shudders to its core.

She could be the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wife. He could be 30, or 50, or 70 (believe me, I’ve heard more extreme even). She could be pregnant by now and carrying her own child. Her days would be milking cattle, washing clothes, and hauling massive loads of water and wood that would weigh more than her tiny body. Her nights would be spent sleeping with the children and the other women in the house, unless he wanted her and decided to summon her to his bed on any given night. And there are no words for the emotions that are making me want to gag and choke right now. She’s just a little girl.

Married.

This isn’t just a hypothetical. If she hadn’t found her way here when she did, if she hadn’t been rescued, this would be her reality right now as I type these words.

I can tell you the story and try to convey it in words. But the reality of it is in sitting here watching her play. It’s in spending weekends watching her weave intricate patterns of beads. It’s in the silly faces that she makes at me sometimes as she catches my eye. It’s in her dancing and her lifted hands and closed eyes. It’s in the reality of loving her as a child, one of my precious girls, and knowing that this so easily might not have been.

And it hits me that for these precious 30 girls that we call our Hope family, this might have been—no, it would have been—the story for any one of them.

Married.

Being married should—and can be—a beautiful thing. Pregnancy and having children is a beautiful thing. There’s nothing wrong with milking cattle, or washing clothes, or hauling firewood and water, either. It’s a part of a beautiful culture and way of life here, one that’s been preserved and kept in tact here for countless generations. The faces of my friends flash through my mind and this is their story. They’ve walked this road. They’re strong and brave and beautiful. Out of my respect for them, I’ve fallen in love with them and their beautiful culture, the way that they value family and community and life together. It’s just that it’s too soon for this little one. She’s too small. She’s still such a child. And it breaks my heart, not to imagine this as her reality, but to imagine it as her reality right now.

How do you empower a culture and build relationships and open doors, how do you affirm and love and respect, when there are these things that you can’t possibly understand? When there are traditions rooted so deeply, which maybe long ago would have protected these girls, but now denies them their basic rights as children? When you look into the faces of these young women in these communities, babies tied to their backs and backs bent hard at work, and the lines blur until you see the faces of your own girls? When all of the might-have-beens come flooding in and just leave you shaken? I don’t know the answers, friends. It’s hard and it’s heavy and it’s uncertain.

This is the line that I don’t know how to walk. The road I’m not sure where it leads.

So I breathe in deep, from where I’m sitting. She’s skipped away now, and the dust settles in the schoolyard once more. I gather my wild, racing thoughts and reach out to my Father. He’s there and He knows. He knows it all. And for the girl who’s there in the schoolyard, and the girl living in the boma, His love is much deeper and fiercer than my own could ever be. The whispers are quieting.

Today, I’ll make every excuse to see that girl and share a big grin with her, watch the light catch her eyes, watch her live into her freedom and her opportunities, as I let the clouds pass overhead.

Here, in the light of all of it, there’s nothing left to do but cling to the hope that my God can make all things new, can turn weeping and sorrow into gladness, can make stone hearts dance again. I’ve been witness to this beauty over and over again—the dancing with my precious friends in the community and with my sweet girls here and so many others who fight to cling to hope, daily.

He’s making all things beautiful.

For today, there’s a little girl skipping across a schoolyard, and this is her hope and her future. It’s bright and it’s open and it’s ready for this little girl turning young woman, ready for her to go out and empower others and change the world.

And “married” is just a story that might have been, and wasn’t.

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