faith

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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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?

chasing community

When I chose to move to Nashville, I said it was "to chase down community". A year later, I'm still chasing it. From a young age, my closest friends lived far from me. I grew up attending a Christian school, but most of the time my morals, standards, and choices were very different than those of my classmates. (I'm pretty sure the fact I received the "Best Christian Witness" award every year says more about the student body as a whole than it does of me.)

So when I went on my first mission trip at 15, teaming up with teenagers from across the country to serve in Nicaragua for a month, I was blown away to discover others my age who strived to live with conviction and character. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who were passionate about following God, serving others, and pursuing a purpose greater than ourselves. I had found my tribe.

This was long before email and cell phones were commonplace, so we kept in touch by writing letters. We exchanged novel-length scribblings, sharing the mundane and the significant, and we did whatever we could to keep our friendship close despite the miles between us. We sent care packages, we made long-distance phone calls, we planned reunions.

Every summer, my next mission trip only further increased my amazing friendships all around the nation. There's something about the mission trip environment that fosters closeness quickly. We shared intense circumstances in close quarters in a short amount of time, and the friendships that were produced have spanned decades.

Then I moved to Africa at 19, again keeping in touch long-distance with those I was closest to. So in this new season of my life, having returned Stateside and, in every way possible, starting over, I knew I wanted to be somewhere I could be physically surrounded by friends. So I came to Nashville. To chase down community.

It's been beautifully rewarding in so many ways, but it's also been hard.

Community doesn't just happen. Friendships don't just forge (even when there's an immediate connection). It takes effort. It takes intentionality. It takes time, and heart, and risk, and trust. It takes chasing.

And sometimes, to be honest, I grow weary of the chase. At times it feels like an uphill climb — a fight, a struggle — to find where I belong. To discover where I fit. To figure out how to meld my life into a church and friendship community that existed long before I showed up. To integrate into already busy lives and full schedules. To feel part of a tribe again.

Even coming to a place where I already knew people (to some degree), it's still been just plain hard. And while at times my heart has felt disappointed or sad, ultimately I know it's okay. That the struggle is part of the process. I know friendships aren't just bippity-boppity-boo'd into existence. I know the investment — of time, of heart, of the chase — is so worth it.

And so I'll keep chasing, whatever that may look like on any given day. And I'll keep choosing to trust, no matter how hard it gets. The journey, even when long or difficult or unclear, is what matters most.

What's been your own experience with chasing down community?

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.