Oct 16, 2011

10 months

Alot can happen in 10 months. I've had the opportunity to have a little extra time on my hands this week and have been catching up with my email and friends. So much has happened this past year at home, I feel as if not much has happened here. I'm sure I'm wrong, but in general this line of work takes a lot of patience and when you do mostly work, that makes for a slow year. But in the outside world, four engagements have occurred, my nephew is turning FIVE, babies have been born, babies have been lost, jobs have been obtained and left already. Life just keeps moving on.

I can't help but feel a bit left out at times. Of course, I don't want the heartache, only the joyous moments. As I cleaned out my personal emails, I found ones from last year, when I was living in the states. I had a good job, loved that my family was near, living in my favorite part of town. Life was good. But there was an ache inside that gnawed at me every day. I haven't had that ache in 10 months. I love my job here, it's fulfilling, it's challenging, it's what I'm trained to do. It's what I want to be doing. But instead of an ache, there's now a longing in its place to be near my family and my friends. To not be missing out on all the things that have happened in the last 10 months. To wonder what would be happening with me if I was not here. To want to be near my friends as they experience heartache and joy.

But there's never a guarantee. I'm sure you've all heard the saying, if you want to make God laugh, make a plan! I hate making plans. I enjoy having things to look forward to, but in general plans bring disappointment because they never quite happen as you hope. I'd rather be surprised and take what comes.

10 months. It's really a short amount of time.

Jeremiah 29:11-14a: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you."

This verse promises if we seek, we will find. If we ask, he will listen. It doesn't say we find the plan, but that we find our Lord. When I am up against a decision to be made, I often read this verse over and over in frustration waiting to hear His plan for my life, which way to go, what to choose. But I've been missing the point. Yes, it would be easier if he gave us the plan, but would we need him as much? Would we continue to call upon him? I think the point is Him wanting a relationship with us, individually, consistently, and that's what is important.  I hate missing out on the joys and pains of my friends. I'm guessing God hates it even more when we don't ask him to be here for ours.

Oct 4, 2011

coming alive

I at times struggle with anxiety (but who doesn't?). And in this profession, I believe a little anxiety is healthy. Perhaps as you sleep deep in the jungles of Congo with rebel forces watching you from the forest. Or when you're about to get into an old Russian dinosaur of a helicopter and your friendly pilot tells you not to worry, southern Sudan is relatively flat and if you go down, your chances are better than most of surviving. (ok, that hasn't happened yet, but it may next week!) Or maybe when you drive miles through the hot dry bush to stumble across a village where every child has an extended belly and a sunken face because they really are starving to death. Or a hospital with cots full of cholera patients and no water. A little anxiety is good. It kick starts the adrenaline to do what needs to be done. 

The danger in living with this type of anxiety on a regular basis, I've discovered, is depletion. And it can sometimes form itself into what people call culture shock. We learn of it in school, we are warned about it at orientation, joke about it with our friends, but the reality is we all go through it. Whether it's the first time in a foreign land or 10 years into it. A few weeks back at our ministry retreat there were a handful of us going through this "culture shock" at the same time. It's difficult. And you feel really stupid. Many different theories exist as to why it happens and when to predict it may come. Everyone wants to be prepared. In the recent case of my friends and I, the actual causes were different as we are all living in different countries, but many of our symptoms were the same. And for those not going through it, they needed a little extra patience and love with us. Our filters were not on full force and little things that normally would not make us blink were turning on the water works. It's really fun...hear the sarcasm, please. 

One of my proven anti-anxiety treatments is my ipod. Music can speak to the soul and it is delicious. I heart Bebo Norman. His lyrics hit me differently each time I listen. Tonight I was encouraged by his song titled: we fall apart.  

"Today is not a good day 
Stranded in the heartache 
Watching all the world race 
and pass me by"


"Like a wave on the ocean 
Comes a flood of emotion 
And it cant go unspoken 
No it cant go unspoken one more time"

sorry, boys. deal with the tears.  

"We fall apart just to come alive 
A broken heart can shatter all the lies"

maybe the anxiety is there to hit us when the unreal of it all causes everything to go numb. one of my greatest fears doing this work is losing my empathy for those who are suffering. or taking on too much, breaking myself too often. maybe we need to fall apart to see the lies. to see the life.  

"Yeah but this is still a good life 
Standing in the sunlight 
Scattering a long line 
Of fear and shame"

sunshine has amazing healing.  

"Cause underneath the surface there's a heart and a purpose 
And I swear that its worth it 
It's not in vain"

this is my prayer. that it's not in vain. anxiety often rises for me when I am face to face with an incredible need that is too much for me to understand. when the suffering is too blunt - and it often comes no other way. when the workload feels too heavy and the outcomes too few.  

"You save me You save me 
I'm alive I'm alive 
Cause you save me"

The Bible tells us God's healing is as GREAT as his strength. I'm alive because He saves me. Present tense. 

Sep 30, 2011

missing you

This morning I was missing my sister Carrie. Earlier this week it was the Culp boys. Sunday it was little Miss Ada Joy. I used to believe if I was missing people I was not living in the present. I was not content. Of course, it oddly only applied to when I lived overseas. And it always came with a heavy load of guilt. But I don’t really see it that way anymore. I’m living life here – even if I am thousands of miles away. I’m seeing and experiencing all that is around me. I’m in the present. But I still miss my friends. My family. They’re in my present too – just not in the same way as if I was at home. Sometimes they are in a broken connection on my computer screen. :-) It is difficult. This morning I was walking to work carrying my tall Starbucks coffee mug and was reminded of when my sister would come over on the weekends and we’d walk the Grand Avenue and Highland Park neighborhoods of St. Paul – with our Starbucks coffee mugs filled with warm sugary brew checking out cute houses and being at awe of what season was changing. My coffee mug was empty this morning – I was still searching for my hot brew. But the weather was nice. It was sunny, breezy, the birds were singing. And I am in Africa! So I cannot be sad. But I do hope that every once in a while my family misses me too. :-)

Sep 27, 2011

how deep is his love

The woman who lives in this house lost her husband and two small children in a fire during the election riots in Nairobi a few years back. She herself is severely deformed from the horrific happenings of that day. Her story is too graphic to share, as I can’t seem to get it out of my head and I don’t want to burden others who may also be visual thinkers. However, I do want to share that these horrific stories often, in my experience, come with the same message. She is a blessing in her neighborhood. A blessing to those she works with. A blessing to visitors and strangers whom she meets. A testimony to how deep and great God’s love for us really is. She experienced a living hell and is still living; she praises our God and asks for his blessing on others. The community refers to her as a woman of joy. I am face to face with these stories in real life and I still forget on a daily basis how deep and encompassing God’s love for us is.

Sep 21, 2011


A couple weeks back our organization had its annual regional ministry retreat for Africa. It was held at a beach side resort in Malindi, Kenya. Absolutely beautiful. The time was given for staff to rest and restore - emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

I slept a minimum of 10 hours each night until the last night (I awoke at 4am and decided it was time to get back to work!)

To be honest, anxiety swam around the retreat as many of our leadership from headquarters were in attendance and that thus far does not mean rest. It wasn't so bad. Even encouraging at times. And humorous to see very serious men who are forced to wear ties in the office come to meetings and meals in swim trunks and mismatched button down shirts. :-)

The 7 days were spent with friends whom I haven't seen in months, lots of girl time, and a few stolen moments by the seaside. Sunday was the most relaxing day I may have had all year - I slept in until 11a, enjoyed coffee on a beautiful garden view balcony with one of my favorite gals, brunched by the poolside with colleagues who had just returned from snorkeling in turquoise waters, lounged by the beach sipping pineapple drinks with more super fabulous girls (I work with all men - girl time is a huge luxury!), and was encouraged by a humbling testimony of a good friend and a time of worship starting the retreat. Dinner and coffee and traditional music followed to close out the day. Super relaxing.

The retreat was full with words of rest and encouragement, morning and night, and workshops on living this expat life in the context of our organization's mission and our personal Christian faith. The most important take away from the retreat came from a question asked "how is your relationship with God?" I was not asked how I was doing personally, or in my work, how many people's lives I was saving through different projects, how much money I have brought in - the normal things of importance you would hear when meeting up with colleagues and the big bosses. The most important question asked all week was how my relationship with God is. If it is good, strength and rest and perseverance and everything else will follow. That simple truth, the gentle reminder that the greatest importance and responsibility of our life here on earth is not to save the sick and the poor and the hungry. It is not to play god and pour out all our energy at the feet of those he places before us. It is to be in relationship with him. To love him. To allow him to love us. These words were so powerful to me. Many of us in this line of work, and especially in this organization, are driven to work hard and long to bring relief and to provide for those in need. The responsibility and weight of that is tremendously and completely unrealistic. But as I've said many times before, it's nearly impossible not to carry that burden when face to face with the need and the people. Heart-breaking. Gut-wrenching. Many of my colleagues are working because they feel a "calling", an appointment from God that this is where he wants them and to serve our brothers and sisters in the most extreme and vulnerable crevices of this world. To hear that the most important thing is our relationship with God, rather than what we are contributing to saving the world, is the greatest gift we could have received.

The theme of the retreat was "elevate":

“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!" Ps. 27:5-7