remember this: a letter from Kenya

I wrote this July 30, on the bus from Kitale to Nairobi, on my way to the airport to leave Africa.

Dear Hannah,

You’re on your way home right now. You’re going back, back to a life of comfort and ease. Value it. Realize how much you have, how much you have been given, and be thankful for it. But don’t embrace it. Don’t live in excess. You don’t need it – and someone else, somewhere else, is in need. Think of them a little more often.

Remember today. Remember how you feel. Remember how your heart broke for the orphans, the widows, the poor and needy. And remember how they loved you. Remember how they blessed you. Remember their joy, their faith, their passion. Remember them and honor them by living with joy, with faith, with passion.

Remember how you fell in love with the Word of God. Remember your hunger and thirst for Him. Desire Him. Seek Him. Pursue Him. Above all else. Give Him your time, devote yourself to prayer and scripture, to learning about who He is. Seek Him daily.

Pray. All of the time. Remember: may prayer strengthen. May it strengthen your heart and your mind. May it strengthen your faith and your trust. May it strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

Remember to speak out, in boldness and in courage. Remember that God gave you a voice and He gave you truth to speak. Remember that His Spirit is in you, and He will use you to declare the glory of the Lord.

Remember to prefer others. Seek out ways to serve, daily, in every way. Use your words to uplift and encourage and draw others closer to the Lord. Treat others with love, kindness, respect. Be intentional in your relationships. Remember to chose to love.

Remember to opt in. You’re here, so you might as well do something. Say yes. Give all of yourself. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Ask hard questions. Invest. Get your hands dirty. Do something that scares you. Stop waiting.

Remember who you are. Remember all that He has made you to be, at that He has declared about you. You are beautiful. You are cherished. You are valuable. You are blessed. You are His daughter above all. You are a woman of God. Declare this truth over yourself daily until you believe it. Walk in this confidence of who you are.

Remember to give your life to Christ. Every day, make the decision to crucify yourself. Every day, decide to take up your cross. Every day, decide to abide in Him. And remember to be valorous in all things.

Eshet chayil, my darling. Remember this.

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now what?

I’m back. I’ve been back for almost three days now.

And in some ways, nothing has changed. My bedroom is the same. My street is the same. Two days after I returned, I went back to work at the day camp I’ve spent the past five summers at.

But everything has changed. I’ve changed. I’ve been changed.

And I want to hold onto that change. I want to be the changed me.

It’s so easy, though, to slip right back into my old life. To find myself wasting hours on Facebook and leaving my Bible sitting beside me. To find myself wanting more things and forgetting to be grateful, to be content. To be caught up in concern about tomorrow and the day after and the rest of my life instead of turning it all over to the Lord.

Being home is good. hard. challenging, in a very different way from how Africa was challenging. I feel like a mess of conflicted emotions right now and I love it and I hate it and the past month was just so full of everything that I can barely process it and mainly all I want to do is get on a plane and fly back to Kenya.

back to where I had three skirts to choose from.

back to where I had internet once a week.

back to where I had a team that challenged me, loved me, encouraged me, pushed me towards God 24/7.

back to where I was faced with the desperate need for God daily.

back to where little hands held mine and little faces smiled into mine.

My heart aches for Kenya.

And maybe someday, I’ll be back. I hope and pray that I’ll be back, that God will bring that African red dirt back under my Chaco-clad feet one day.

But it’s not right now, and I want it to be. I know that I’m here for a reason. I know that I need to be here, and be back at school in two weeks. I know that for this season, God has put me here.

So I’m struggling to be content. Fighting for the closeness with the Lord I had in Kenya. Fighting to hold onto the change in my heart, to hold onto all that I learned and experienced.

No one told me that coming home was the hardest part.

woman of valor (or, why everyone needs to read this book)

 I bought A Year of Biblical Womanhood three days before I boarded a plane to Africa. I’d been wanting to read Rachel Held Evans’ book for a while, but something kept me from the instant-gratification act of purchasing the ebook for my Kindle. I had a hunch that this would be the kind of book I would want to hold in my hands, to highlight and underline and dog-ear. The kind of book I would want to press into the hands of friends with hearty recommendations and minor threats of what would happen if the book wasn’t returned.

(I guess you could say I had high expectations.)

And I wasn’t disappointed. I read through the book in a week before passing it to my teammate Andi, who, three pages into the introduction, decided that every girl on my team needed to hear this and instantly began reading out loud. Thus, the nightly tradition of Storytime with Andi began as we worked our way through A Year of Biblical Womanhood together. 

On our second night, we listened to the Valor chapter, much to my delight, as I’d been repressing shouts of eshet chayil for a week, concerned that my teammates would think I was crazy for the random exclamations of mispronounced Hebrew. Once everyone had received the briefing on this blessing, however, I promptly incorporated it into my vocabulary.

(I’d like everyone I know to read this book so they understand my need to yell ESHET CHAYILLLLLL whenever possible.)

I woman of valor’d my teammates for everything from chicken gutting to preaching to making dinner to spider killing. And with the idea of eshet chayil lodged in my brain, I was amazed by the valorous women that surrounded me.

Elizabeth, Pastor Simon’s wife, whose rough childhood made her determine that she would ease the suffering of other children, who rose at five a.m. to prepare the house for the day, spent all day at the school and orphanage she ran, who welcomed us into her house and served us joyfully, who made the most delicious chapati. Woman of valor!

Milly, a young wife and mother who saw her children every other day so that she could be at the orphanage she ran, who loved the thirty-two children under her care, who trusted that God would provide for them. Woman of valor!

Every single woman that we encountered – who invited us in, fed us delicious food, served us cup after cup of tea, shared their struggles and asked for prayer – women of valor, every single one of them.

And every time I gave this blessing to a woman, whether shouted to a teammate for her malaria-defying mosquito-killing skills, or silently prayed over someone whose name I didn’t even know, I was inspired to become a woman of valor.

See, the Proverbs 31 woman and I haven’t ever really gotten along. I’m more of a hit-the-snooze-button kind of girl, not a wake-before-dawn one. I don’t have a husband, much less kids. I don’t plant vineyards, or anything else for that matter, nor do I particularly like wearing purple.

Let me put it this way: if Proverbs 31 was a class, I’d be failing. Pretty sure I couldn’t even earn points for participation. Homemaking isn’t really my forte, although one of my friends has told me I’d be a great soccer mom. I think it was a compliment.

No, I tend to admire the women who do Big Things. Women with thoughts and voices who speak boldly. Women who are strong and courageous and maybe a little bit stubborn. Women who refuse to be boxed in or ignored. To me, this home-managing, clothes-making, garden-tending Proverbs 31 woman rejected that woman. The P31 passage has always made me feel inferior, made me feel that my lack of desire to be a stay at home mom made me less worthy, less valuable.

But eshet chayil as a blessing, as praise, as encouragement? This I could get behind. This reminded me that valor can be found in anything a woman does, from mothering to teaching to working, from running a home to running a company.  Woman of valor, who acts out of love. Who lowers herself and elevates others. Who serves uncomplainingly. Who does justice and loves kindness and walks humbly. Eshet chayil.

The Proverbs 31 woman, after all, is kind of a beast. She’s a businesswoman, involved in everything from real estate to agriculture to trade to production. She is a woman of wisdom, of teaching. She cares for the needy and she provides for her family. She is clothed in strength and dignity, and I bet they look slammin’ on her.

Basically: she’s the bombdiggity. This is a powerful woman, valorous in a million ways.

Eshet chayil reminds me that no act is too small to be valorous. That everything I can do can bring glory to God. That there is beauty in the everyday. That there are always opportunities to love and serve others.

Eshet chayil to the mothers. Eshet chayil to the CEOs. Eshet chayil to my sisters worldwide who are loving and serving, who are making a difference in acts both great and small.

And eshet chayil to the woman who kills spiders, because if you ask me: that right there is an act of valor.

broken | five minute not-friday

You’re broken.
I’m broken.
We’re all broken.

This whole dang world is broken.

That’s all I can think, seeing this world around me. Seeing poverty, seeing pain. Seeing sickness, abuse, hatred. Seeing all the hurt. Seeing it around me in Africa.

Seeing it in me.

Seeing jealousy, pride, anger. Seeing resentment and gossip. Envy. Slander. Spite. Hate. Unforgiveness.

Brokenness.

And it’s easier to see around me than inside me. It’s painful to know that the world is broken, but harder to accept that I am broken.

We’re all in need of healing. Start with my heart, Abba.

———————–

My five minute Friday track record is pretty terrible when it comes to…actually posting on Friday. In my defense, I wrote this on the correct Friday and was unable to post it until now. #africaproblems. Linking up with Lisa-Jo, a little late, over here.

these hands of mine.

These hands of mine are empty.
This heart of mine is bruised.
This body of mine is weary.

Oh Lord, I have so little to offer you. Empty hands, what is there to give? Broken heart, how can I love? Weary bones, what strength can I spend?

But You offer me much. You promise to fill my hands, to repair my heart, to refresh my limbs. You wrap Your arms around me and whisper words of healing, promises of joy.

I’m here, beloved.

And there, in the shelter of You, I find myself again.

Open hands, ready to give.
Whole heart, ready to love.
Renewed body, ready to run.
and You.

I’m here, my beloved.

I miss not caring.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart again his, how does God’s love abide in him?

1 John 3:17

 

There are days I love it here.

Today is not one of those days.

Today, I am tired. I am tired of pothole-riddled dirt roads. Tired of cramming five people into the backseat of a car meant for three. Tired of eating rice day in and day out. Tired of tucking myself inside a mosquito net every night and being surrounded by flies every day. Tired of trying to be the light of the world when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and hide.

Today, I miss my bed. I miss my pillow. I miss my room. I miss having space to myself. I miss my clothes. I miss being alone, actually alone, not the semi-private-World-Race-alone-zone involving headphones, a journal/book/Bible, and at least three other people in the room. I miss being able to go places by myself. I miss understanding the language. I miss anonymity. I miss walking down the street without constantly being stared at.

But truthfully, if we’re being honest – and at some point along the way I think I promised myself that I would be honest on this here blog – I miss my complacency, my comfort of mind as well as body.

I miss the days when people living in one-room mud houses were abstract.

I miss the days when stories of abandoned children were stories, not sitting in front of me.

I miss the days when orphans without their next meal guaranteed were children I saw in photographs, not held in my arms.

I miss the days when it wasn’t all so real. When I could ignore and forget and live in my happy little bubble. When I wasn’t laying hands on those in mud houses and holding the hands of those without parents.

I miss not caring.

I miss the days when I asked myself what I was going to do after graduation, what kind of job I wanted, where I wanted to live, not what are you going to do about this?

Because how can I look into the faces of children abandoned, forgotten, left to die, malnourished, alone – and yet so full of joy and love – and not do something about it?

What are you going to do?

I want to go home. I want to go back to my suburban American life and become busy again, busy with summer camp and school and all those things that can occupy me so easily, that can take all my attention and leave me without time to worry about the world. I want to forget, I want to ignore, I want to leave here with my heart and my post-grad plans intact.

And I’m terrified that it will happen. Scared that I’ll go home and out of sight, out of mind will become reality and I’ll forget the hard truths of the world when they aren’t staring me in the face.

I miss not caring, because caring hurts. Because caring means you lay your hands on a woman, you intercede for her, you beg the Lord to repair her marriage, to heal sickness, to provide for her children, and then you walk away knowing you’ll probably never see her again and you’ll have no idea what will come of her, and your heart hurts. Because caring means watching a young girl cry as jiggers are dug out of her feet, and your heart hurts. Because caring means you cradle a precious baby child – born to a young mother who was raped by a pastor supporting the orphanage she lived in – and you have no idea if this baby will have enough food, will have an education, will grow up strong and healthy and live a good life, and your heart hurts.

Because caring means staring at your empty hands and despairing that you can’t hug every child, much less feed them all. Because caring throws a wrench into your carefully constructed plans to graduate and get a job and continue living your suburban American life. Because caring, plain and simple, means that sometimes, your heart hurts.

What are you going to do about it?

I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but this I know: I do not want to go home and forget. I do not want to leave this place and leave behind the children I’ve loved, the people I’ve met, the pain I’ve seen. I do not want to pick up my life where I left it and tamp down the ache in my heart until I can safely ignore it.

I miss not caring. But I don’t want to stop caring.

Lord, what do you want me to do about it?

#kenyalife

Where do I even begin talking about Kenya?

My time here is already more than halfway over.

I haven’t blogged yet for a few reasons: one, Internet is rare (and slow). Two, typing and uploading a blog from my iPod touch is a great exercise in patience, of which I have little. And three: I don’t know where to start or really how to put any of this into words.

So let’s start with the facts: on July 1, I flew to Atlanta for a night of training. After a few hours in the atrium where I played spot-the-missionary (dead giveaway: camping backpack) and chatted with my fellow Exposure students, we were picked up by AIM staffers and taken to a hotel where we would spend the night.

Most AIM trips involve training camp. For Passport trips, it’s four days; for the World Race, a week. For us, it was a few discussions of how the Race worked, general expectations, living in community, and feedback. Tuesday, we were taken to the airport, handed a post-2005 $50 bill for our visas in Kenya, and waved goodbye to as we headed through security for our flight to Amsterdam.

11 of us were heading to Kenya, while the other 10 were off to Uganda. Getting here was an adventure – our flight to Amsterdam delayed on the runway for two hours (with no a/c), our flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi delayed an hour and a half. After 18 hours on airplanes, four plane meals, seven movies, and one lost (and found) shoe, we finally reached Nairobi on Wednesday night, where we took our jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, excited, nervous selves through immigrations and customs. We were supposed to meet the squad leaders at the airport, and harbored some fears about finding them – but they found us, quite easily. I guess a group of lost-looking white people with huge backpacks sticks out. We piled ourselves and our bags into vans and drove to a hostel where the squad was staying. Luckily, the drive was only an hour – despite the fact that one of the leaders told us we had an eight-hour drive that night. Apparently, messing with the newbies is a Racer’s idea of fun.

When we pulled into the hostel yard around midnight Kenya time, we were greeted by a small sea of tents and a yelling mass of headlamp-wearing people that swarmed the vans. Slighty overwhelmed, I managed to grab my bags and was found by a member of my team who helped me set up my tent in the dark and showed me where the bathroom was, while she introduced me to what seemed like a million people whose names I promptly forgot and whose faces I could barely even see. Once my tent was up and my teeth brushed, I crawled into my sleeping bag without even bothering to change, staying awake only long enough to scribble in my journal, God, what am I doing here?

We spent two nights at the hostel, camping out in our tents, eating whenever the food was ready (which was at 11 pm one night), and meeting lots of people. Also, I killed a spider which had found it’s way into my tent. This is a big deal, guys.

Before we even left Nairobi, I was blown away by the intense community among the Racers. Standing outside the bathroom, one girl asked me what some of my fears about the trip were.  Sitting on the couch, one of my teammates asked about my love languages. Curled up on the floor alongside two other Exposure students, feeling slightly out of place in a room full of Racers that had known each other for six months, I was surprised when one of the guys held up his ipad, displaying a timer set for two minutes, and said “Testimonies from you three. Go.”

People don’t just do that. But apparently, they do.

On Friday, we packed up our gear and crammed onto a bus for the eight-hour ride to our ministry locations, where we’ve been for the past two weeks. It’s been an adventure, to say the least. So far, I’ve petted a baby elephant, learned to make chapati and shave cabbage like a Kenyan woman, held the hands of a hundred children, taken four bucket showers by the light of a headlamp, watched a teammate kill and eviscerate a chicken (which was later served at dinner), ridden on the back of a motorbike over bumpy dirt roads, crammed eight people into a five-person vehicle, lived in ankle-length skirts and chacos, taught at a cell group outside in a maize field, eaten a ton of avocado, spoke in church, prayed for strangers who are brothers and sisters in Christ, been called muzungu more times than I can count, went to a 50th wedding anniversary and vow renewal, and became slightly more comfortable with using a squatty potty. But only slightly. (Talk about out of your comfort zone.)

I’m with the O Squad, on Team Overflow. You can find their blogs on the AIM website if you want to stalk my teammates. Lindi, my exit buddy (aka the other Exposure student assigned to O-flow) blogs at lindibowman.wordpress.com. Lindi, Brent, Jordan, Daniel, Andi, Karilyn, and Christine are already family. You get pretty close pretty quick when you’re spending 24/7 with the same 7 people and packing so many people into a car that you are in physical contact with five people at once.

Six days a week, we do ministry – visiting schools and orphanages, teaching, playing with children, visiting church members to pray with them, attending and teaching at cell groups (small groups), preaching at church. We’re living with Pastor Simon, who has been an incredibly wonderful host. We’re blessed with beds, electricity, a toilet (in an outhoue that you flush with a pitcher – but it’s not a squatty!) and the most delicious food ever. Elizabeth, Simon’s wife, and her daughters Joanna and Sharon have been preparing fabulous food for us, leading me to develop a slightly unhealthy addiction to chapati.

I’ll try to blog as often as I can, but for now I have a prayer request. Some of my team members have been hit with sickness, myself included. My cold seems to have cleared up after a day spent sleeping, but Andi isn’t so lucky. Lindi is even less lucky, having gotten malaria, which I can assure you  is absolutely no fun at all. Please be prayer for the health of my team and especially for healing for Lindi, who is one of the most loving and kind-hearted people I’ve met.

As always, thank you for your support and prayers. Asante!