When going to Kenya doesn’t make sense

In less than a month, we’ll be on our way to Kenya, and that scares and thrills and excites and terrifies me. wpid-img_20150507_163444.jpg

We’ve been dreaming and planning and thinking about this for about a year and nothing about this trip makes sense. Not really.

15 people taking almost two weeks out of their summer to travel halfway around the world to a continent that is not exactly safe and is certainly foreign in every sense of the word to visit missionaries and serve the students at a school is madness really. It would be so much easier to go to the beach.

If you’ve known Phil and I for any length of time, it won’t surprise you that we do things that don’t make sense.

If we did, then we would have turned around and went home when I wrecked his parents’ car on the way to Pennsylvania the first time, when we were searching for clarity of Phil’s call to ministry, before we were even engaged. We would have gotten married before he deployed to Iraq with the Army. We would have stayed in northern Illinois after we got married so Phil could finish his undergrad and maybe looked at seminaries in the Chicago area. We definitely wouldn’t have moved to Pennsylvania without a guarantee of a place to live. We might have waited to have kids until we were “financially secure.” We might not still be married. We probably would have moved home after seminary when we had no job prospects in Pennsylvania.

The list could probably be longer but I don’t want you to think we’ve totally lost it. Maybe it’s too late for that. Following God’s lead looks foolish sometimes.

But back to Kenya.

I won’t go into all the details, but in a lot of ways, it doesn’t make sense for Phil and I to go to Kenya. We don’t have loads of vacation time to spare. Or tons of extra money lying around. We barely know the missionaries we’re going to visit. And it’s been a long time since either of us has left the country. We have young children we’re leaving behind in the competent care of their grandparents. (But I’m still worried about their health and safety.)

It wasn’t a no-brainer decision for us, but it was something we couldn’t let go.

I was sure that God would close the door anyway when we needed money for the deposit by the end of last year. I gave Him a specific challenge for answering that need, which seemed nearly impossible at the time. And He met it. Exactly as I asked.

That was pretty clear to me.

We couldn’t ignore the nudges we were getting from God. Despite our hesitations and excuses.

There are days I still think this is not a good idea. What were we thinking agreeing to this? (Pictures like this remind me that risks are worth the reward. We’re not just going to see beautiful scenery, but that is one bonus.)

The view from where we'll be | Photo by Alyssa Stoltzfus

The view from where we’ll be | Photo by Alyssa Stoltzfus

And yet, God continues to provide and confirm. He is showing us, at least weekly, that He is in this. He brings donors out of the shadows of our lives–people I would never think of to ask for money are giving generously and sacrificially. Our kids are excited for us and eager to tell others about our upcoming trip. Sometimes I think our daughter wishes she could go. Maybe next time. She’s only 7.

We have a cadre of prayer supporters and while I can’t speak for anyone else on the team, I feel like we’re going to need them. Since we signed up for this trip, we’ve had more troubles in our life than I expected from this year. I try not to blame Satan for every bad thing that happens, but in this case, I’m wondering if there’s an element of spiritual warfare to our fears and discouragements and problems. It could be coincidence, but I’m not sure I believe very firmly in that either.

I wish I could tell you exactly why we’re going to Kenya. Maybe it will be clearer when we’re back. Maybe I’ll never be 100 percent sure. All I know is we couldn’t ignore this press from the Lord and when we stepped out in the uncertain places, He made it more certain.

We will work at the school, assisting with buildings and grounds projects while the students are away. We will support these students whose families give them into the care of the boarding school while they serve the Lord in other parts of Africa. We will visit and encourage and enjoy this missionary family (and we will bring their daughter/sister to them). We will meet Kenyans and worship with them, the same God on a different continent. And we will see things we can only imagine–the beauty of a land half a world away.

If it was up to me, we’d go to the beach for a week. Or rent a cabin in the woods. Or take a week to spend with family back home. We could have made any of those decisions for our summer. But it wasn’t what we were meant to do.

For some reason unknown to us, we’re meant to go to Kenya this year.

If you want to find out more along with us, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter here. No purchase or promise necessary. And if you’d like to be on our support team, for prayer or financially, you can e-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com for more information.

July 2015 seemed so far away  when we turned in our deposits. And now it’s almost here.

Let the journey begin!

Summer fun week 3

This week, we broke our streak of having our horrible, no-good day on Saturdays, and it came on Friday instead. We attempted to clean the house, the children and I, and let’s just say, we failed in our mission. (And in the process used all the dish soap before many of the dishes were clean and accidentally spilled water on one end of the couch, splashing the laptop in the process. If there’s any place I freak out about water being spilled, it’s near the computer because that’s where my words are kept!)

Our cleaning misadventures landed us at Chipotle for dinner because I couldn’t deal with the kitchen or our diminishing food supply. (We only have two kids who live here–where does all our food go???)


But our week wasn’t all tears and sadness. After all, it was VBS week at a local church. Daytime VBS, no less. (There was much rejoicing, yay!) So I had a few hours to myself on four mornings and it was just the break I needed. I even snuck in a breakfast date with a couple of other moms whose kids wpid-20150624_110630.jpgwere at the same VBS. Our shared love of breakfast bonded us. And we had a great time just hanging out and talking about nothing and everything.

After day 1 of VBS, Phil and I had an appointment to get our travel shots for Kenya, which is happening exactly one month from today. (Commence freaking out!) I will not include that among the “fun” in our week because I hate medical stuff and spent significant time for the rest of the week wondering if I was experiencing any kind of weird reaction to these shots. (And wondering more if I was going to be paranoid about every health symptom for the next year after going to Kenya. Pray for me? I’m more than a little bit of a hyponchondriac.)

But after we got that out of the way, we took the kids to the science and nature museum here in town. We had a free family pass to use by the end of the month, so we thought a couple of hours there would do us all some good. (The only down side is we missed the dinosaur exhibit by a day! They were literally dismantling it while we were there. Sad.)


Phil and the kids dug through these explorer boxes looking at rocks and shells and antlers and skulls while I sat in front of the bee hive mesmerized by the activity. There was a ton of hands-on stuff for the kids. At one point our son yelled, “We’re doing science!” I had to laugh.


wpid-20150622_143135.jpgHere, Phil and the kids are looking at a map of our county trying to find our house. I think they succeeded in getting close to it. We also looked at snakes, turtles, lizards, and bugs behind glass, which is my favorite way to experience those sorts of creatures.wpid-20150622_145926.jpg

And speaking of creatures behind glass, the museum has a frightening-yet-fascinating collection of stuffed (taxidermy) birds. If you have any fear of birds, this would be a nightmare, but it was the kind of display Phil and I could have spent a lot more time looking at. The kids had trouble taking it all in. Also in the basement was a rock and mineral collection that astounded me. So many variations and colors inside the earth. Amazing.

Because of VBS, I didn’t plan a lot of extra activities for the kids this week, though Izzy started her summer reading program at school which was a chaotic and fun evening in a school that felt a billion degrees warm.

wpid-20150626_122653.jpgOur garden was a great source of entertainment this week as well. A storm knocked our jalapeno plant over so I had to frantically try to repair it as the rain ended. And one day the kids came screaming inside, “Come look! Come look!”

Our pepper plants (not pictured) have tiny peppers on them and the kids were ridiculously excited. I get it. Because our garden is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. This cucumber plant, especially, amazes me. Not long after we planted it, we thought we were going to lose it. It just wasn’t thriving. And then all of a sudden it took off and it’s a monster.


Our week was a little more low-key than some of the first weeks, but we have a super secret surprise adventure planned for the kids tomorrow. I can’t tell you yet what it is but here are some clues: water, a large rubber duckie, and sails.

Check back next week to see what we fun we had!



Stories of Friendship: The more things change, the more they stay the same {guest post}

Occasionally on Fridays, I post stories of friendship–mine and others’. Today is a story from a former co-worker, Beth Heldebrandt. She was my boss, technically but she wasn’t bossy and we sometimes had lunch together, so she felt more like a friend. Read what Beth has to say about friendship! (And if you’d like to share your own story, send me an email: lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.)

I can’t remember the day we met because my memory doesn’t go back that far, but I know that it was just after I had proudly learned how to tie my shoes. Dawn, Beth and I were three of the 10 girls in our small Catholic school kindergarten class (there were 16 kids in the class total, and three of us were named “Beth”). That was more than 40 years ago (40!), but as the saying goes, the more things (and people) change, the more they stay the same.

I was reminded of that phrase a few times recently when the three of us drove to the East Coast (and beyond) to spend a week in a beach house at Hatteras Island, N.C. I think we all had our moments of nerves in the weeks leading up to the trip. While I had spent time with each of them over the years, the three of us hadn’t spent any measurable time together since college. And now we were going to spend an entire week together? And more than 35 hours in a car?

beth's beach friends

“It’s the same old Beth,” I told Dawn when she expressed her excitement and anxiety a week or so before the trip. “It’s the same old Dawn,” I told Beth, in turn. But, I admit, I also wondered how our adult personalities would mesh on such a trip.  I thought, “Am I the same old Beth, too?” I didn’t think so.

Let’s face it, a lot has happened to us in 40 years – career changes, moves, marriages, divorces, births, child rearing, deaths, and all of the joys and stresses in between.

But in the end, I was right about one thing – life had certainly changed each of us, but deep down, we were still the same.

Within a few hours of the trip I felt that our old friendships had re-formed, and the past four decades were a blur. Despite all the curveballs that life had thrown us, we were still the same people at the core. The morning person was still a morning person. The night owls were still night owls. We were (in turn) bossy, sassy, anxious and moody.

But with Dawn and Beth, there was no need to be polite – we simply called each other on our issues the way lifetime friends can (and we took advantage of plenty of alone time, too!). We bickered and debated and laughed – and by mid-week we all admitted to feeling more relaxed than we could last remember.

A trip like this is full of reminiscing, together and on our own. Dawn, Beth and I were classmates through high school graduation, and then Dawn and I were roommates for four years of college. I remember Beth coming to visit us at our college and us going to visit her.

I remember having my first sleepover at Dawn’s house and being confused when I met her mom because I’d never seen a pregnant woman before.

I remember Beth and I shopping for prom dresses and having to be careful choosing the color because we were both dating boys with red hair.

We played basketball together. We were cheerleaders together.  We were in clubs together and hung out on the weekends. We double-dated, drove each other’s cars and broke plenty of rules as teenagers.

We’ll always have the shared fear of Sister Clementine (gasp!), the hours spent cruising Main Street (gas 99 cents a gallon!) and the music of Meat Loaf (“Paradise by the Dashboard Light”!).

The memories are endless, and I’m proud that we now have new ones.

Pieces of history put on display: Review of Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

Last summer I read a book by Tracy Groot about the Confederate prison camp for Yankees, Andersonville, and I was not the same when I finished. There are certain authors who, when I read their compelling stories of actual historical events, make me angry that I never learned these things in history class.

maggie brightHer latest book, Maggie Bright, gave me the same reaction. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

In all fairness to history teachers everywhere, there is only so much of history that can be covered in a semester or a year. How do you choose what’s important? So, I’m all the more grateful to writers of historical fiction who bring little-known stories into a place of greater prominence.

Maggie Bright tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. How the British army was surrounded on the shores of France and bombarded–literally–on the beaches and in the Channel as they tried to retreat. And how civilian sailors came to the aid of the British navy to evacuate the troops, at the risk of their own lives.

It’s the kind of story that gives me goosebumps, as any good story of sacrifice and a banding together of a group of citizens usually does. Maggie Bright is a fictional boat that answers the call.

The book is a great work of fiction in that Groot wastes no pages with long backstory or explanation. Readers are dropped right into the story and have to figure out how these storylines are connected. There is Clare Childs, owner of the Maggie Bright, who is set on figuring out what a thief was after when he broke into her boat-turned-bed-and-breakfast. And there is Jamie Elliott, who is tasked with escorting a mentally damaged captain who quotes Milton from the interior of France to Dunkirk. The latter part reminded me of Band of Brothers at times as these soldiers made their way to the coast with the hope of rescue.

Groot creates colorful and memorable characters through dialogue and mannerisms. The Milton angle on the captain was both amusing and challenging. And the American illustrator Murray Vance, who shows up in England to bail his friend out of jail, sticks out among the more refined British characters.

I loved everything about this book. If you’re a fan of World War II fiction, this is a must-read. It’s unlike any other story from that era I’ve read.


How I’m finding the me I didn’t know was lost

I used to be the kind of person who would snort-laugh and roll her eyes if anyone would have used the phrase, “I need to find myself.” Humor and sarcasm are coping mechanisms I’ve cultivated over the years, and the truth is that I was afraid and maybe jealous.

Because for a lot of years, I didn’t really know who I was.

Mikael Kristenson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Mikael Kristenson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

That never seemed like a big deal until I started to figure it out. Now, it’s like new doors of possibility are flinging open and chains are dropping off my soul.

I didn’t know that the first step in finding yourself is acknowledging that somewhere, somehow you lost yourself. Once you know you’re lost, you can get on with being found.<Tweet that.>ow_whole

I can’t tell you the day or time I realized I was lost, nor can I pinpoint the start of the “finding myself” journey. But I know that so far this year, my year of “whole,” has been unlike any other. As in years past, when I’ve picked a word to focus on for the year, I see the theme in a lot of places. And those previous years of “release” and “enjoy” were important. But this year is becoming transformational in a way I couldn’t imagine.

I’ve been mulling this quote in my mind for a few weeks now.

When we are fully ourselves, He (God) is fully glorified. – “Longing For Paris,” by Sarah Mae

I think I’ve wrongly believed that God is only glorified when I behave a certain way or follow His lead. And He is glorified in those ways, but I never really considered that the me He created me to be brings Him glory, even if I don’t look anything like what I think a child of God should look like.

I have this same problem with my definition of what makes a good mom. My therapist listed out on a white board all the characteristics I thought would make me a good mom and none of them are realistic or accurate. There were a lot of “always” and “never” type of descriptions. (Always happy, never yells, has a clean house, etc.) She reminded me that God picked me to be Izzy and Corban’s mom and who I am is not a mistake for them. (Summer is giving me all kinds of mom guilt because I’m not crafty or entertaining. It’s draining on this introvert mama, and yet I want to spend time with them.)

Being the mom God created me to be brings Him glory and is much better for my kids than trying to become some other kind of mom. And being the woman He created me to be is a far better way to  live than trying to stuff my personality into a box  or conform to a mold that doesn’t fit.

Trying to be anyone other than who I am doesn’t lead to a happy life. It just makes me tired and frustrated. I am finding freedom and joy in saying “no” to what is not good for me and saying “this is who I am” about other things. It’s not always comfortable, but in the end it is good. It is good to admit that I love my kids AND I need a break. That I love Jesus AND I am full of doubt. That I’m glad I am married AND it is hard work.

I must also say that this self-discovery journey is not a solo project. I am grateful for a husband who gives me space and time to be who I am and discover who I am. (Even when that means he’s uncomfortable with my occasional swearing on social media.) The same goes for our church family. There are no boxes that we must fit into to belong. We are free to explore our faith and wrestle with our doubts in the community of saints who gather each week. We are guided and corrected when necessary but no one is turned out because of who they are. (Or who they aren’t.)

This is a gift we can give each other: the space and time and freedom to figure out who we are. It’s an ongoing process, I’m learning, and I’m not sure when or where it ends. All I know is that I want to keep figuring it out.

I recently read, in the span of  day or two, Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior. I’ve been a fan of her Momastery Facebook page and blog for a little while but hadn’t taken the time to read the book yet. (Aside: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.) Her vulnerability inspires me. Here’s one (of many) quotes from the book that spoke to me, especially in this experience:

We find out early that telling the whole truth makes people uncomfortable and is certainly not ladylike or likely to make us popular, so we learn to lie sweetly so that we can be loved. And when we figure out this system, we are split in two: the public self, who says the right things in order to belong, and the secret self, who thinks other things. (Carry On, Warrior, p. 51)

Her story is in the context of addiction and mental illness, but it’s all of us who do this. And  I’m not saying that everyone, everywhere needs to know our deepest thoughts all the time, but there is a way to make the two line up. I think. I hope.

It’s a slow death, but I’m gradually trying to kill that public self who only wants to say the right thing so she doesn’t get rejected. This is what it means to me to be my whole self. To be unafraid to let my secret self have a voice every now and then. To open the door a crack so that others can see that what they perceive is not how it really is.

This whole self stuff leads to relationships. Like, honest-to-goodness ones that survive the hard times. Melton also says:

I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness, and my life-as-a-wild-goose-chase-to-find-the-unfindable. (p. 21)

Knowing and accepting who you are makes you more approachable. Some of my best moments of connecting with other moms are when I talk about how I struggle and we find out we’re all struggling in the same way.

Just one more book quote that’s been helping me along. (If you didn’t already know this about me, books are my community, too.)

Part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love. – Savor, by Shauna Niequist

This devotional by Niequist is one of my favorite things ever, and her writing touches a deep place in my soul. She said this in the context of admitting how much she loves to make and prepare and serve and eat food around the table with people. When I can say without embarrassment or hesitation, I really love to do this, then a part of me opens wider to the world around me. I used to think as a certain kind of woman I had to enjoy all the same things as other women. But I don’t. It’s okay. And my love for one thing does not have to cancel someone else’s love for something else. We are uniquely created by God, and our love for the things He has made us to love is lovely to Him.

What are your thoughts about “finding yourself”? Do you know who you are? And who you aren’t? What has helped you in this process?

Summer Fun Week 2

Just to be clear: I am not SUPER MOM. I have a shirt I wear sometimes that says otherwise–Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Tired–but I really only identify with the tired part. This is why I drink coffee. Parenting is tiring! Summer parenting is exhausting!

So, do not read these posts and think, wow, she’s such a great mom and I am not! I NEVER think that about me. I yell at my kids. I cry. I throw tantrums. I question the sanity of having had children at all. These pictures serve as reminders of the good times so I don’t try to convince myself it’s all bad.

You can check out our first week of summer here.

This is what this week looked like for us.

wpid-20150614_202319.jpgOn Sunday night, we headed out to a free concert in the park. A trio of fiddling sisters from Texas was the show, and man, were they good! After picking out some snacks from the food trucks, the kids got into the groove and took up a large stretch of the grass to dance. I love their freedom and was only slightly worried that other people might be annoyed by their antics, but whatever. It was a free concert.

And sitting outside on a blanket listening to music with my loves is the best. Even when one of them makes faces like this. wpid-20150614_200551.jpgSigh. Maybe we’ll have a normal picture sometime. But then again, I didn’t marry him because he’s normal.

Sunday night would set the tone for the week. We spent A LOT of time outside. On Tuesday, we got to head out to a park playdate with some friends from preschool at a park we don’t visit often enough. (For the record: park playdates stress me out on multiple levels, especially if port-a-potties are involved, but we go because it’s good for all of us! Even me, the introvert!)

My kids are becoming fearless in their play, and I think this is a good thing.

wpid-20150616_093143.jpgThis same day we spent 90 minutes in the waiting room of the auto repair shop so our driver’s side window would go up again and we wouldn’t have to duct tape a garbage bag over it when rain threatened.wpid-20150616_163940.jpgwpid-20150616_164530.jpg

Fortunately, Chick-fil-a had its monthly family night later that day, too, so the kids had more outdoor fun.We didn’t have to spend any money on rigged carnival games and they STILL got a prize. And time in the bounce house! And ice cream!

The next day we ventured over to Oregon Dairy for their annual Family Farm Days. A wagon ride through the farm and then a fun-filled day of free activities, with free samples of milk and ice cream and yogurt. It’s a really generous day and the kids always want to stay longer, no matter how long we’ve been there. (It was close to four hours by the time we left!)

Corban is happy as long as he gets to see tractors. Izzy has fun no matter what’s going on.wpid-20150617_121015.jpg

And we always enjoy seeing animal mascots.

In this case, Cylo, the Barnstormer. Corban was afraid he was going to try to take his hat. (Don’t be alarmed. We are not Mets fans. Phil and I scored these hats when we went to see the Cubs play the Mets. And the kids love the hats. But not the Mets. Just to be clear.)


wpid-20150617_100245.jpgOur one trip to the library this week was for a Lego program. The kids heard a story and then had to create something having to do with superheroes. They worked together to create a superhero house.


It has a pool on the roof and a weapon hanging off the side of the roof. It must be a wealthy superhero’s house–someone like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

Creativity is fun!

We ended the week having dinner with friends. Our kids played till almost 10 p.m.!

How’s your summer going so far?



This is what a mom sees while watching hockey

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this week. I’m no sports fanatic but even I know it was the Blackhawks and not the Bears who won. (Did you see that picture on Facebook from a newspaper? Too funny!)

And I freely admit that I only watch hockey when it’s important. Like when your “hometown” team is playing for the title. My husband let me know early on what our TV viewing would be as the series progressed, so I knew that at least one night this week, hockey would be on TV and I would be reading or cross-stitching or otherwise occupying myself.

Because I don’t really understand what’s going on during a hockey game. Or is it a match? Put me in front of a baseball game and I’m set. Even football is a little more understandable. I grew up watching those two sports regularly. Hockey is a foreign concept for me.

But on the night of the Stanley Cup win, I found myself watching on purpose instead of checking out.

And you know what I saw?

Parenting! You guys, hockey is JUST LIKE parenting.

Seriously. Here are the similarities:

  • There were grown people chasing a small object from one end of the rink to the other for what seemed like a bazillion minutes. Isn’t this what happens in parenting? Sometimes I think chasing this object while trying to stay upright on ice skates would be an easier balancing act than parenting.
  • And there were time outs! The hockey players who commit a no-no have to sit out for a short time. Our parenting days are full of time-outs, and I gotta tell you, the adult hockey players looked just about as pleased as my kids about going to time out.
  • What about all the hitting and being slammed into the glass? I have a boy child who thinks torture is a love language. He will randomly run up behind me and “pat me” on the back because he wants a hug. Sometimes his sister will throw a punch when she’s frustrated. I had no idea I was grooming hockey players! (FYI, they go to time out for hitting–see above!)
  • And the spectators. Parenting is not a spectator sport, but have you ever noticed when you’re out in public that there are plenty of people who are watching you parent? Some of them love you; some of them hate you. I think hockey fans are the same. There’s lots of yelling and cheering and booing.

Okay, so maybe parenting and hockey aren’t EXACTLY the same, but I think it would be totally okay to put on some padding underneath my clothes and carry a stick just to get through the day. Not to hit anyone with but just to bat away the flying objects.