usa trips

departing thoughts

I am not an island. I was hardwired for relationships. I was built to love and be loved. I was created for intimacy. I never knew that as much as I do right now.

This past year has been one that's reinforced that truth in my heart. I've lived in Africa for ten years, and most of that time all of my close friends lived an ocean away. This past year I was spoiled to have a few at arm's length (on both sides of the ocean).

In some ways I think I was better off not knowing what I've been missing out on all these years. But at the same time, I can't imagine how hollow I'd be without all the experiences of the past twelve months. Even with the sadness of their endings, I wouldn't trade those times with friends for anything in the world. I am a better person as a result of them. I needed to know---really know---that it's okay for me to need people and to desire connectedness. I think, on some level, I thought it was wrong. Or not for me. Or something I had to sacrifice in order to be a missionary.

But now I know the truth. And my life is richer for it, with all its joys and heartaches.

And now, as I sit in an airport having just said goodbye again, my heart feels swollen. And I wonder if this is what people with hearts that are too large for their chests feel like.

a special moment

Peaberry's umbilical cord fell off ... on my watch!

It was 2 AM---I was taking "first shift" with the baby. I squealed with glee when I opened her up for a change, and out fell her cord. Amy was hoping it would happen with me instead of her (since it grosses her out). And we both were hoping it would happen sooner rather than later (it seemed to be taking forever!).

I figured the moment was photo-worthy, since Mom was missing it.

And while I knew Amy was skeeved out by it, I didn't think I should make the official decision to throw the cord out. So I put it in a snack-sized ziplock bag and left it on the counter! Amy quickly pitched it in the morning.

Good thing pictures last forever...

tot time

I'm with Silas and still-pregnant Amy at Tot Time at a local rec center. The gymnasium is filled with toys; Silas loves to come here. One wall is lined with bleachers where moms set up camp to watch their kiddos play. Diaper bags, purses, strollers, and shoes litter the rows of bleachers. While Silas is having a good ol' time out on the gym floor, Amy and I are chatting it up on the sidelines (with watchful eyes, of course).

Something in the far corner of the gym catches our eye. An older woman---whom we shall call Fiona---enters alone; she brings no kids, only herself, to Tot Time. Fiona sets up a boombox, flips through a notebook, and stretches out her arms and legs. She hits play on her stereo and cranks up the volume; we can hear the rhythmic music loud and clear on our side of the gym.

Fiona begins an intensive aerobic workout. She's got a whole routine, complete with claps, spins, and stomps. We can't help but stare, and we definitely can't help but laugh. We look down the row of bleachers; most of the other moms are watching and giggling too.

With the change of each song, Fiona turns to a new page in her notebook. Suddenly she is doing belly-dancing moves. We double over with painful laughter.

We just can't imagine why Fiona chose to use the Tot Time gym for her ostentatious workout. "This is a blog post waiting to be written," Amy says with a laugh. "I wish I had my camera!" I reply. Then I remember that I have a camera phone. Of course it has only minimal zoom...

I'm gonna have to get pretty close if I want a decent picture. So I'm off... And I'm on a mission.

Needing a decoy, I say to Silas, "Wanna go bounce that big green ball with Aunt Lizzy?" Of course he does. He heads across the gym, me close behind with my phone in my back pocket. I bounce the big ball; Silas chases after it and bounces it back. We inch closer to Fiona.

I'm only a few feet away. Fiona is facing the wall, with her back toward me. She starts shaking her butt as if she's Beyoncé. I about pee my pants with laughter. I look back to the bleachers to see Amy wiping tears from her eyes. SNAP. I take a picture. I'm laughing so hard, it comes out blurry. SNAP. I take another.

Silas and I keep playing with the big ball, carefully staying in Fiona's quadrant. In an attempt to roll the ball to me, Silas accidentally sends it right toward Fiona. I run after it, looking up at her as I go. Still facing the wall, Fiona spreads her arms out at her sides, leans slowly forward and backward, and shakes her boobs.

The ball rolls right into her leg and she turns around and faces me. Busted! I think. "Sorry about that," is what actually comes out of my mouth.

I look down at Silas, who'd also run forward to catch the ball. He stops two feet away from Fiona, looking up at her. He sways and moves his arms. "Dancing," he says. "That's right," she replies. "You can dance with me if you'd like." Silas stands right next to her and together they get their groove on.

If I weren't hunched over laughing, that picture would be worth a million bucks.

I look back at Amy again; the bleachers are shaking because she's laughing so hard.

Just as quickly, Silas loses interest and runs over to me. Fiona doesn't skip a beat; she jumps right back into her routine. I put up my hand as Silas approaches, and he gives me a high-five.

I get the feeling that he was in on this mission of mine all along...

flying colors

We're staying in Middle-of-Nowhere, Missouri with Granny and G-Daddy. (Note: Their names have not been changed to protect their privacy.) G-Daddy seems to have been testing me since I arrived. The biggest test just got placed in front of me. "Wanna go for a ride?" he asks. A few days ago he told me all aout his motorcycle. When he asked if I'd like to ride with him sometime, I said I'd never been on one before and it seemed a little scary to me. "Oh it's not scary at all," he assured me. "So I just hold onto you or what?" I asked. "Nope. You're not allowed to hold on." My eyes bulged and I started to laugh. Certainly he's kidding... Amid some joking and swift topic-changing, the conversation dissolved.

And now here I am, in the final part of the test to determine whether or not G-Daddy adopts me into the family. (Figurativey speaking, of course.) A quick glance over at Dave and Amy reveals huge smiles and nods. "Do it," Kitty whispers.

I look back up at G-Daddy. "Sure. Let me go grab my sneakers."

Minutes later I am standing outside by his monstrosity of a bike, donned in a leather jacket, black helmet, and bug-deflecting goggles. As I climb onto the bike, G-Daddy whispers, "You can hold onto me if you feel you need to." But I'm determined not to hold on. Not even as we pull away.

We're off, wind in our faces. G-Daddy waves at every car we pass; he honks at a field of cows. We cross the swollen Mississippi into Slightly-Bigger-Than-Middle-of-Nowhere, Illinois. Destination: Wal-Mart. (Can you believe we have to drive to another state to get there?) Distance: 50 minutes. (Am I the only one who thinks of distance in terms of minutes rather than miles?  )

"You doing okay back there?" G-Daddy shouts back at me. "Yeah, this is great." "You're not scared are you?" "Nope. You can feel free to open 'er up!" He starts laughing. "Open her up? We're doing 90!" I smile. I know I've passed the test.

My eyes tear up as we pass the first Starbucks I've seen in days. It was just because of the wind though, I swear.

Errand completed, we head back. He cranks up the music. "Is that too loud for you?" "Nope. I like it. Fast and loud: That's how I ride." He laughs really hard. So do I.

I do the YMCA on the back of the bike when the song comes on. I discover that potholes really hurt on a motorcycle. The fields sparkle with lightning bugs; I keep my mouth shut to avoid eating them.

As we come to a stop back at the house, my face feels oddly plastered back from all the wind. I'm proud of myself for not holding on at all. 'Twas a good ride.

We walk into the house. G-Daddy quickly tells everyone about me asking him to "open her up" and my announcement of "how I ride". I smile and laugh.

I passed with flying colors...

adventures in iowa

This was my first evacuation. Iowa City has had record-breaking floods this week. The day before Kitty and Baby Alece were released from the hospital, the water reached the street their house is on. We knew it was time to leave.

Dave packed up all the valuables and essentials from the house (including all my stuff, bless his heart!) and drove me and Silas two hours away to stay with some friends in Missouri. He turned around and headed back toward the flood waters of Iowa City to spend the night in the hospital with Amy and Junior. They were released yesterday and drove here to join us.

Every time we hear the news or see pictures of the devastation, we're flooded (pun intended) with gratefulness that we left when we did.

We are all safe and healthy; Mom and Baby are doing wonderfully well. I don't have real access to the internet here, so I'm going to continue to be AWOL for a while. I'd appreciate your prayers. No... not for my internet withdrawals, but for everyone affected by the flood, for us to be able to return home soon, and for minimal damage to the Rieps' home.

Thanks, blog family...


Have you seen the phenomenon that is Nestle Toll House ready-to-bake cookie dough bars? I'm sure you have. I live in Africa... so this was all news to me. Kitty bought a package of it yesterday. Last night, I offered to bake them. "I'll read the package and figure out how to do it."

"You literally just break them apart," Kitty explained with a smile, "stick them on a baking tray, and put them in the oven."

"This..." I said as I sat up on the couch with a look of utter amazement on my face. "This is why I love America."

where you are

A few weeks ago we spent a few days with a great friend. She is a talented musician and an anointed worship leader. Over dinner one night, we talked about songwriting and she shared with us some great advice she was given years ago by Amy Grant. (I know---how amazing is that?!)

"Write from where you are."

Simply, yet so profound. I immediately started thinking about how that principle applies to writing---to all forms of communication and expression, really.

When I write from some false position of arrivedness or from the high of my former "glory days", the value of my words are diminished. But when I write with transparency and authenticity, from where I really am, my words bear genuine influence. When I can honestly see and share what's happening in my life, instead of denying it (both to myself and others), then I'm more able to grasp what God is actually trying to show and teach me.

What do you consider the most challenging part of "writing from where you are"? Where would you say you are right now?


Niel and I spot an eyeglass place that advertises "Glasses in One Hour". I go up to the woman at the counter to confirm. "How does this work? Can I really get glasses in an hour?" "Yes ma'am. You get an eye exam, pick the frames, and then there's an hour turn-around time until you can pick up your glasses."

Sweet. I need new glasses, and with us in a different place every two days, the process is a little trickier for me. One hour sounds perfect.

An hour goes by as I fill out paperwork, get my eyes examined, and try on 109 different pairs of glasses. I finally pick what I like, and the friendly counter-woman starts entering everything into her computer.

"Actually... we don't have lenses with your prescription in stock," she tells me.

"Umm... ok. What does that mean then?"

"We'll have to order them."

"How long will that take?"

"Two weeks."

My eyes widen. Trying to make light of the situation even though I'm pretty frustrated, I say, "So it's really like 'Glasses in Two Weeks', huh?"

Her face remains stoic. She cocks her head to the side and says, "Well, the moment we get the lenses in, we'll make them. And that will only take one hour."

Husband decides to take this one. "Aaaah. I see... So it's really like 'Glasses in Two Weeks Plus One Hour'..."

Counter-woman looks pleased. "Exactly!" she replies with a smile.

lessons in parenting

I hear the steady squeak of the rocking chair in the next room. The whirring of the fan creates a steady hum. There's the occasional giggle coming from little Silas. But the most peaceful sound I hear is my friend's voice as she sings to her two-year-old son. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." I picture Silas cuddled in her lap as she rocks. I imagine him looking straight up at her face, his eyes locked with hers, as she soothes him with her beautiful, melodic voice. The singing soothes even me, a room away, as I lay on the couch just listening. I can only imagine the tidal wave of peace it causes to gush over Silas' toddler heart.

I've learned much about the childbirth process in the past few days that I've spent with my nine-months-along friend. Some incredible further-proof-there-is-a-God miraculous aspects of it, as well as horrific I-can't-believe-no-one-tells-you-this-stuff utterly crazy aspects of it. But I've also discovered so much about parenting. I've seen modeled before my eyes the wonder of a patient, graceful, communicative mom. I've been taking mental notes; I can only hope to someday be half the mom that Kitty is.

I can't wait for Junior to arrive, for so many different reasons. I am humbled and overwhelmed to finally meet my precious namesake. I can't wait to hold and carry her in the oh-so-chic baby sling that was handmade just for me. And I'm eager to watch and learn as Kitty becomes an incredible mother of two.

I've got 26 more days here, and I know the lessons have only begun. I'm paying close attention.

everything and nothing

"Wanna go to the park?" Becca asks. "Sure!" I scurry to my room to put on my shoes. I'm barefoot. Well, Alece-barefoot: I've got only my socks on, which is barefoot enough for me. We head outside and walk a few blocks. The sky is gorgeous. It's after 7:00 but it's still sunny. Now I remember what I love about American summers.

The park is small, but quaint. It's right by the Milwaukee River. We walk straight to the swingset; I swing so high it actually scares me. I challenge Becca to jump off her swing, but really hope she doesn't do it. She slows to a mediocre speed and leaps off dramatically. I giggle.

We end up on the merry-go-round. I wish the playground version wasn't called the same thing as the large, ride-a-horse-up-and-down-while-listening-to-creepy- carnival-music version. But it is.

I lay down on my back and look up at the sky; Becca gives us a good shove and hops on. The swirly sky makes my stomach do a somersault; I shut my eyes tightly and let out a lighthearted groan. Becca laughs at me. With my eyes shut, my tummy settles down.

We talk about everything and nothing, both of us laying on the merry-go-round, Becca peering at the clouds and sunset palette, me peering at the insides of my eyelids. Round and round we go, literally and figuratively, until the go-round comes to a stop; we debate over the actual timing of its stoppage. Becca gives us another push; we spin and talk and laugh some more.

It stops again, but we barely notice this time. Contentedly, we lie there. Our conversation is peppered with silence. Not the awkward kind, but the good kind that's indicative of only the best of friendships.

The mosquitoes are out in full force. Now I remember what I hate about American summers. I've swatted, squashed, and shooed about a dozen already. I smack one on Becca's arm. There was a skeeter, I promise! We decide we should head home.

We pick some dandelions as we walk. (I think there should be a different name for the soft, picturesque, gone-with-the-wind ones, so that you automatically know I'm not talking about the bright yellow jobs that older brothers do goofy things with.) We blow them and watch as they split into dozens of delicate pieces and float through the air like little parachuting men. Somehow this turns ugly, and we're blowing dandelions into each other's faces.

Suddenly we're hurling each other around in an all-out wrestling match of sorts. We're out of breath with laughter. That is the best out-of-breath-ness there is.

As the moon comes up, we head back inside.

I love everything-and-nothing friends.

mish mosh

Some very random thoughts: An electric blanket makes everything better...

Did you know that in the Listerine commercials, the actors don't really have anything in their mouths? They make all those swirling, swishing, and gargling motions with nothing but air. Hmph.

Remember my disdain of moths? Yeah, me too. Tonight I had a tiny bit of lemonade left after dinner, which I set on my bedside table to help my melatonin go down at bedtime. A little bit ago I started to hear splashing. Confused, I looked around my room. THIS is what I found:

Demon moth.

It's hard for me to not feel guilty that I'm not doing much (work-wise) and my husband is back in South Africa hard at work. He deserves a break more than I do, and yet here I am... the one on vacation. Sorry, Hombre. I love you!

just one

I just read someone's mission trip follow-up letter. You know the one that's sent to supporters after the fact to reiterate appreciation and to share how much the trip impacted them? That kind of letter. The letter I read was sent to supporters over five years ago.

It was written by someone who was dramatically changed by God on the mission field. This was clearly evident in the letter she sent out after she got home. It's also very easy to see in her life even now, so many years later. Going on a mission trip has that effect. I know that very well.

But reading this letter caused my eyes to fill with tears. It is an amazing thing to see how far someone has come. It is a breathtaking moment when you get a glimpse of the miraculous work of God in someone's life.

But mostly I was moved because all those years ago, the trip she went on was to South Africa, to serve with our ministry. To see firsthand a destiny that was transformed by us---both directly and indirectly---is a humbling thing. To think of the other futures that will also be affected through the ripple eeffect of her life causes a lump to form in my throat.

This girl went on to become an intern at Thrive. And then a friend.

So to get this glimpse back to her first experience with us, so very long ago, was pretty incredible. And more than enough motivation to keep doing what I'm doing.

irrational airport thoughts

I have irrational thoughts when I'm in an airport. I usually have the feeling that I'm going to see someone I know, even when I'm just on a layover. I glance around as we race through terminals, stand in line for Starbucks (mmmm...), or keep ourselves occupied as we wait in the uncomfortable chairs at the gate. I've never actually run into someone I know in an airport (unexpectedly, I mean), so I don't understand why I feel compelled to look around as though I might.

And then there's the strange sensation that overcomes me when I am being picked up by someone I know. When I don't instantly see them at baggage claim, I grab my bags and stand in a good-visibility spot. As the minutes pass by, my mouth gets dryer as I'm overwhelmed with the sense that I may not remember what they look like. They may have changed so much or my memory may be so faded that I won't even recognize them.

Yeah, irrational.

I had that crazy sensation when I landed in Milwaukee the other day. The moment I saw my friend---of course I recognized her instantly---but the moment I saw her, I had to shake my head at myself for even thinking I might not have been able to spot her.

Especially when she's been forever imprinted on my heart.

happiness under where?

I bought some new underwear the other day. I intentionally flew to America with my oldest, holiest (?) pairs so that I could ditch them when I bought new ones. So I left a pile of old (but clean!) skivvies in my friend's garbage pail last week. I intentionally bought one solitary pair of hot pink undies among my pile of white, black, and nude (which, in my opinion, is a horrible color name). Now you need to understand that I don't really like pink. I've never been a very girly girl and have always refrained from wearing all things pink. When Niel saw my assorted collection of new undergarments, he raised his eyebrow and asked what was up with the one pink pair.

"I figured I could wear these on a day when I need unexpected happiness," was my reply. He raised his eyebrow some more, so I explained further that the hot pinkness is so bright and surprising, it's bound to make me smile throughout the day. And I figured that might come in handy sometimes. "Ohhhh..." was about all he could muster in response. It seems that some things only make sense inside my brain.

I wore my happiness underwear the other day. While I was quite amused when I first put them on, I quickly forgot about them. The first time I used the bathroom a few hours later, though, I started to laugh when I was reminded of what I was wearing.

See... They work!

What makes you unexpectedly happy?

flotsam and jetsam

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. I've missed being online, blogging, and responding to emails. (Sorry I've been AWOL!) Here's a quick recap for you... Between back-to-back meetings in Denver we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Red Rocks.

We enjoyed some sunshine in California, and got to spend a day with one of our former interns.

We then headed to Seattle for a bit, where we spent an evening with Sydney & Co. and met Nadine. We arrived back in New York on Saturday night, and the very next day took the train downtown with my brother...

to eat at my favorite Italian restaurant...

and watch the Yankees sadly get beaten by the Mets. (Even though we lost miserably, I'm glad to have made it to a game during the final season at their stadium.)

And who can resist a baseball-game hot dog?

(Which of course isn't helping me at all with my fat arse...)

Niel and I visited a kennel (I'm not really sure what to call it actually...) where we could see and pet a bunch of different breeds of puppies. The discussion continues... but we're much, much closer!

In less than 24 hours, Niel will be on his way back to South Africa and I will be in Wisconsin. Pray for us!

help us to give

Eighty-year-old Nadine asked quite a few questions after Niel and I shared about Thrive Africa at a small gathering of people in a friend's home. When the Q&A time wrapped up, someone asked if they could pray over us. Absolutely yes is always our answer. (We need all the prayers we can get!) As people prayed, my heart felt strengthened by their pleas for our health and strength, for increased wisdom and favor, for many more to be impacted through our ministry.

And then Nadine started to pray. She was crying so hard, it was difficult for her to stay composed. Her words were broken, separated by sniffles and sobs. But her short prayer was so powerful.

"Lord... thank You... that we can... be a part... of this. Help us... to give."

I couldn't help but smile as my eyes welled with tears. This sweet woman's prayer was for help to give. To get involved. To be a part.

Later, as she stuffed $40 into my hand, amid more tears, she told me, "I wish I could do more." She shared that her recent ailments have stopped her ability to engage in ministry and service like she used to; she was starting to feel useless, purposeless. "But now I know what I can do. I can give. And it's just like going."

Nadine's got it exactly right.


When Sydney, my friend Rachel's 4-year old daughter, saw me the other night (for the first time since she was 2!) she blurted out, "You cut your hair---I saw that on your blog!" I started laughing and she hugged my leg.

Rachel explained: She and Sydney sit together often to read my blog as well as look at pictures and updates on our ministry website. That just made my day.

Sydney regularly sends us her saved-up money as a donation "to help the kids in Africa." She even emails me every now and again to ask questions and learn more about what life is like there. (Important things like, "It's morning here. Does that mean it's night there?" and "What color are the school buses?")

Sydney showed me her newest project: She makes and sells necklaces to have extra money to give us. She proudly pulled $20 out of an envelope and presented it to me. Her hard-earned cash, going straight to Africa.

And yes. She's only 4.

As the evening started winding down, I told Sydney I was going to get my camera so we could take some pictures together. Her excited response was absolutely priceless.

"Oh good! Then you can put them on your blog!"

I love it. She knows me well.

So this, Sydney, is for you!

bonus points

It's been pretty cold the past few days here on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle. Cold enough for my friend to turn on the seat warmers in her SUV. I tend to be cold all the time, so I thoroughly enjoyed being heated from the bottom up. With only the front seats fitted with this feature, Niel was missing out in the back seat. I kept telling him how great it was and that it was too bad he wasn't able to experience it.

We parked at the restaurant and as I climbed out of the car, I excitedly told Niel, "Seriously. Feel my butt. It's so hot!"

"Baby... your butt is always hot."

My cheeks (the ones on my face!) instantly turned red and I started laughing. I turned around and gave Niel a high-five. My hombre certainly earned some bonus points with that one.


It was snowing when we arrived at the rental car agency in Denver. The ever-so-friendly associate showed us to our car, a red beast of an Expedition, as she ran through all the details of our rental agreement. "Sign here... and here... and here."

Niel compliantly signed in each spot.

"Now, would you like the basic insurance or the full insurance?"

Niel asked the question that would be on everyone's mind at this point: "What's the difference between the basic and full?"

She quickly replied, "I'd suggest the basic. You really only need the full insurance if you're going to get into an accident."

What's the craziest thing you've heard this week?

flotsam and jetsam

Some happenings over the past few days:

  • We had a great week in Colorado. We'll be returning there for sure.
  • I got to see an old friend whom I hadn't seen in almost a decade. It very quickly felt like old times, and I so enjoyed meeting his wife and holding his baby.
  • I spent an hour with my high school English teacher. Mrs. Warren believed in my writing ability when I was just a nerdy, insecure teenager. (Yes. I really was a nerd. Still am.)

Random snippets from yesterday:

  • I talked to a new friend on the phone for the first time ever. It felt...comfortable. Like snuggling on my couch with a blanket and a mug of lemon tea.
  • A friend sent me a message: Africa misses you. That made my day.
  • We spent 12 hours in the Denver airport because our flight got canceled. We finally arrived in California at midnight.
  • I kept my laptop company while Niel napped during our lock-in at the airport.

Oh---and...uhhh... Have you seen what's going on over at The Anti-Blogger?! Please leave some more puppy love on my site.