Africa

Farewell, Mandela

Nelson-Mandela-Madiba-gritandglory

It is the same with Mandela as it is with pretty much everything:

There is always more to the story than most of us want to acknowledge.

There is much that can be said about Mandela's past (and while we're at it, much can be said about mine and yours as well). His life wasn't one that always stood for peace, yet that is what he is most known for now. He is an undeniable example of the power we each have to change our own story. A life surrendered and transformed has unrivaled potential in the hands of our Creator.

Brené Brown said it perfectly:

“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. If we own the story, then we can write the ending.”

Yesterday we mourned the loss of a great man who rewrote not only his own story, but that of the entire nation of South Africa. Mandela drew a line in the sand that forever changed the trajectory of a continent and inspired hope around the globe.

His life makes it impossible to deny the far-reaching ripple effect of even one solitary life, and his legacy reminds us that no one is ever too far gone for a second chance.

Farewell, Mandela. The world stands grateful...

I stand grateful...

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the best gift

I thought nothing could be more incredible than meeting the kids I sponsor through Food for the Hungry. In July, I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Ethiopia with FH to see firsthand the work they are doing there. The whole trip was amazing and insightful — truly mind-blowing to see the depth and breadth of the transformative work FH is engaged in.

And the icing on the cake was getting to meet my kidlets.

Chaltu was so shy. I think the barrage of "whiteys" intimidated her a bit — understandably.

But she warmed up when se opened the small gifts I brought her. Nothing like Lip Smackers and pink sunglasses to get a girl to open up.

Chaltu's mom was overjoyed by the visit, and continually expressed how thankful she is for the support of Food for the Hungry.

Nathinael was playing in the street when I met him. After quick, tight hugs, he led me inside his home. He showed me which bed mat was his and which was his grandma's.

Nathinael was vibrant and engaging — he has such a sweet and joyful disposition, which stood in stark contrast to the drab one-room mud hut he calls home. Our visit went by far too quickly. I could've talked with that kid for ages.

And then there was Akliku.

I had chosen to sponsor him because of his cautious smile and inquisitive eyes — and also because of his age. At 16, I figured he was typically overlooked for younger, "cuter" kids. He had already been waiting for sponsorship for almost 2 years.

Because of his education level, Akliku's English allowed us to fully engage in conversation in a way I hadn't been able to with my younger kids. He told me about his love of soccer, his favorite subject at school (math), and about the impact FH is having in his life. It was my favorite visit simply because of how easily, naturally, and comfortably we were able to interact.

Fast forward 5 months.

I got Christmas cards from each of my sponsored kids. And when I read Akliku's, my breath caught in my throat.

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Did you catch that? "I learned about Jesus in Bible."

My heart was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, and I was more humbled and proud than ever to support the work of Food for the Hungry.

They gave me the best gift I could imagine by sharing Jesus with my sweet Ethiopian kidlets... And Aklilu got to hear the Good News before he aged out of sponsorship eligibility. My heart is full!

Join me in sponsoring a child >>

What's the best gift you've received lately?

{All photos by David Molnar}

pleading not guilty

I was worried I'd grown numb to it. Maybe I'd become calloused. Hardened. Immune. Because poverty wasn't affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me at a deep level.

I'd return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my "self-absorbed" Christian friends. I soapboxed about America's obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough.

I'm not saying I didn't genuinely have compassion and conviction and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived everyday and to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can't be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

And I mustn't allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I had finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

I realized that it isn't about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well, using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. "Do you just get used to it?" What they are really asking is the same thing I've asked myself: "Did you grow numb?"

And I see now that I didn't. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the "luck" of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What's been your experience with responding to poverty? How can we move past guilt into being part of the solution?

{photos by Daniel White}

gallstones & ethiopia: an update

Some of you probably saw my updates on Twitter and Facebook last week, but I ended up in the ER early Thursday morning. With gallstones. Over 40 of them. o_O I didn't even know it was possible to accrue such a huge collection, but apparently it is. (And it's confirmed: I'm an overachiever.)

I took it easy for a few days until all the pain subsided, and I'm now back to normal. (Well, my normal). Surgery is scheduled for a few weeks from now and I've got meds to bring with me to Ethiopia in case I have another attack there. (Pray with me for that not to happen?)

We leave in a week. A week!

Oh, we are going to host a live Twitter Chat while we're in Ethiopia, and I don't want you to miss it. I figured I'd tell you now so you can mark it down on your calendar or sticky-note or whatever you do to try to remember stuff. Because this you need to remember!

1-Hour Live Twitter Chat with the FH Bloggers Thursday, July 12th 2 PM Eastern / 1 PM Central #FHBloggers

We're going to be answering your questions, sharing our experiences, and giving away local Ethiopian crafts. It's gonna be fun! Help us spread the word on Twitter and Facebook??

Click the text below to tweet it out:

Join the #FHBloggers in Ethiopia for a live Twitter Chat on July 12th! More info: http://bit.ly/N5DgXg

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This video is a great introduction to Food for the Hungry. It's less than two minutes long, so push pause on life and watch this real quick:

 

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Click here to see some of the beautiful children up for sponsorship in the communities I'll be visiting. For just $1 a day, you can make sure an Ethiopian child will receive meals, clean water, medical care, and education. More importantly, you can make sure a child knows he or she is loved, valued, and believed in.

Will you join me for the Twitter Chat on July 12th?

out of africa

{Hello? Is this thing on? Can you even hear me over the sound of crickets?} Hi. It's been a while, I know. And while I could never do it justice, I'm gonna try to fill you in on the past couple months...

My first week or so in Africa seemed like an emotional roller coaster. Experiencing so many conflicting emotions, sometimes all at the same time, made my heart feel like she had whiplash. I was glad to be back, and yet familiar things brought equal measures of nostalgia and heartache. The acuteness of it all faded with each passing day. I feel like the length of my trip -- though long in every respect -- was a gift in that it gave me enough time for things to become "normal" again. In a way they hadn't felt in a long time.

I hit the ground running and was extremely busy with work. Long, full, tiring days were a distraction for my heart, which was both good and bad at times. And then, right when He knew I'd need it, God forced me to process rather than push it off.

I am a contributing author to a book being published in September. (Crazy, right?!) My portion of the manuscript had been turned in a month or so before I left, causing the editing process to fall smack in the middle of my time in Africa. Ummm... Wow. It was no coincidence that God had me revisit my memoir-style piece about following Him to and eventually from Africa while actually in Africa. It was h-a-r-d. So very hard. But so, so good.

I really enjoyed the whole editing process, though it was strenuous and heart-stretching in every possible way. I am excited about the new direction my writing took because I worked on it on my first trip back to Africa. And I am really thankful for the forced outlet of processing. My heart is stronger for it.

I had an amazing time with Love Botswana and Bridge for Hope. I am beyond grateful that I get to work with these incredible organizations, and I'm already looking forward to my next trip back to Southern Africa at the end of August.

I'm pretty sure my body has no idea what timezone I'm in. I arrived back in Nashville on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, I hopped a plane to Oregon to surprise my Best Heart's Friend Cathi with a weekend visit. Her awesome husband helped me plan the whole thing so I could be there for their son's first birthday. Lincoln is my godson, and I didn't want to miss his big day! We had a blast of a weekend, filled with couch time and laughter and hugs and cake. What a gift it was to be there and to have my heart filled up with friends.

And now... I am really happy to be home in Nashville. I love to travel and feel crazy blessed that I get to, but I also love having a home to come back to. I'm a roots and wings girl after all.

From Africa to the west coast and now back in Central Time... Here's to the joys of jet lag (and NyQuil)!

Oh! I've been let out of Twitter purgatory! After 30 days -- with 7 support tickets filed and 0 contact from Twitter -- my account was reactivated just as randomly and explanationlessly as it had been suspended. So weird. (Thank you to all of you who implored the powers-that-be on my behalf!)

Well, I've got a suitcase to unpack and laundry to wash and a roommate to catch up on The Voice with. I'll talk to you again soon.

I promise.