In search of the lion (part one)

We rose before the sun, our mission for the day–wildlife. The early bird might catch the worm, but the early risers on safari day might catch sight of a big cat, an iconic image of Africa.

Our hands put together sandwiches and other lunch fixings for the day, even if our eyes weren’t totally open or our minds fully awake. We boarded two vans that would drive us the nearly two hours to Lake Nakuru National Park. It was Tuesday, the second to last day of our trip. Our hearts were full of feelings, our minds full of memories and our bodies full of aches and pains from painting and hiking.

By the time we left, darkness was not far from lifting. Still, some of us slept on the way there. The time for seeing would come later. Sleep was necessary now.

We pulled into the game park, eyes open wide now, alert and expectant because this was not a zoo and animals could be anywhere.

First, we encountered ostriches.

I forget how big animals are in the wild

I forget how big animals are in the wild

And then baboons. Monkeys ran rampant at the park. It’s a bit terrifying at times.

Honk if you love monkeys

Honk if you love monkeys

And fascinating. They’re not exactly scared of vehicles, so they’re just going about their business. We would see large groups of baboons  sitting or traveling along the roads. We all fell a little in love with the mamas and babies, but baboons are a nuisance, generally, so best not to coo too much.

I’m not sure I can forget the sight of zebra on the side of the road, both in the park and on the way there. Like we would see horses or cows grazing in fields, Kenya’s fields are full of zebra.

Why did the zebra cross the road?

Why did the zebra cross the road?

A safari like this is not a passive experience, even though someone else is driving. We traveled in pop-top vans so that we could stand up and see out without ever leaving the vehicle. I can’t lie. This was my favorite part of the trip. Outside. Nature. Wildlife. A cool breeze in my face. I soaked up every minute of it and didn’t want it to end.

I promise you, I'm having a good time. I'm just terrible at selfies.

I promise you, I’m having a good time. I’m just terrible at selfies.

Our missionary friends told us where to look to spot a cat in a tree. Low, horizontal branches are ideal for leopards, they said, so our eyes searched the trees on either side of us, desperate for a beautiful and terrifying glimpse of a cat in a tree.

It’s hard work, your eyes ever searching the land around you for a chance to see something that doesn’t necessarily want to be seen. My eyes grew tired of squinting. I didn’t have a pair of sunglasses on me during the entire trip to Kenya. The gentle hum and lull of the van nearly put me to sleep. My eyes were inches from closing when we happened upon a tower of giraffes. (I looked that up–that’s really what a group of giraffes are called!)

No words

No words

They were so close to the vans.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Magnificent. Graceful. Amazing. Whatever word you come up with to describe them, it’s not enough.

We stayed in the giraffe grove for a while, sighing and taking pictures and pinching ourselves. Were we really seeing this? Gorgeous.

It was a turning point in the safari, I think. We had been seeing some amazing sights along the way, but there was an undercurrent of anticipation. We wanted to see some of the good stuff. (As if it all wasn’t good. I personally need a lesson in gratitude and appreciation.)

I’m a big fan of water, looking at it, at least, and I was not expecting Kenya to have so much of it. Africa, in general, brings to mind heat and sand and desert. But central Africa is lush and rich in natural beauty, water included. In fact, the lake for which this park is named, Lake Nakuru, is currently flooded, which has affected the migration of flamingoes and has diverted the roads throughout the park. Flooding. In Africa. Who’d have thought?

Our missionary friends had never seen this waterfall flowing

Our missionary friends had never seen this waterfall flowing

We lunched with the flamingoes as if this was an ordinary day in the park by the lake.

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It’s not as though we found animals around every bend, but every turn, every dirt road led us somewhere that was brimming with possibility. Would it be around the next turn that we saw a lion? What about a rhinoceros? My eyes roamed the fields and the trees, unwilling to miss any possibility, even if the chances were slim.

Each time we passed another touring van, the drivers would stop and exchange a few words, pointing each other in the right direction because no grouping of animals stays in the same place all the time.

This was how we found the rhinos.

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We received a tip from another tour group who told our drivers where a group had been spotted. (Google tells me a group of rhinos is called a “crash.” Seriously? Oh, my word.)

As the day wore on, our chances of seeing a big cat dwindled. No cats had been seen by any group in the park that day. Early mornings are often when the big cats feast on a kill, and while we saw vultures hovering, there was no way for us to get to that spot to see if perhaps a lion was eating a carcass.

We stopped at the lodge in the park, an expensive resort-like place, to use bathrooms and take a break. Our drivers, remember, had been driving constantly all day. Bless them. They were doing a paid job, but still, it was a demanding job. And they both did it well.

At the lodge, they told us they had heard the roar of a lion they day before. I cannot even imagine what that sounds like. The vultures were almost certainly circling over a kill, but it was inaccessible to us.

It was likely our search for the lion would turn up empty.

To be continued…

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Africa changed nothing–and everything

Backs on the grass, faces to the sky, we counted stars as the music from an Irish band on the stage a couple dozen yards away filled our ears.

“There’s one!” “And another!”

We so seldom look at the night sky. By the time the sun sets, we’re usually inside, ready for bed, at least the little ones, and we live close enough to the city that stars are sometimes a luxury.

The half moon shone brightly, illuminating a plane in a way I’d never seen before.

And my thoughts drifted to Africa.

We saw the stars in Kenya, close enough to touch. We looked up one night on our way from one place to another and paused because we couldn’t number them and they seemed so near. We looked for familiar constellations in a different spot in the sky. “Look for the southern cross,” we were told because it’s not something you can see in our part of the world. I think we might have seen the Milky Way, too.

As I lay in the grass in Pennsylvania looking at the same sky from a different perspective, I marveled at how a person could see things so differently but still be on the same planet.

We say that sometimes, when people are disagreeing with us or can’t seem to see what we see.

“Are you from another planet?” “What planet are you on?”

It’s the wrong question because we’re all walking this same earth, but what we see from where we are is just so very different.

The same week we returned from Africa, I yelled at my kids over something that wasn’t important. I was tired, probably, and still trying to process all that happened, and we were adjusting to each other again.

But none of those are excuses. I beat myself up for freaking out at them.

Didn’t Africa change me at all?

It’s been almost three weeks since we’ve been back and I know the answer to that now.

It did. And it didn’t.

I didn’t go to Africa and come back a different person. I’m still the same body, mind and spirit.

But I did come back with a different perspective. Like seeing the stars from a different spot on the earth, I’m seeing my life and God and faith from a different angle.

Fundamentally, though, I’m still the same. Africa wasn’t like a magic potion that automatically made me more patient or compassionate and head-over-heels in love with my kids every minute of the day. There are still roots of sin and selfishness, things that didn’t die just because I left the continent.

Expecting Africa to change everything about me in one trip is an unrealistic expectation. I know that now.

But shouldn’t something have changed?

And what about Africa? Did we change anything by being there?

Two days into our Kenya trip, but we didn’t know about it until afterward, our pastor, who was on the trip with us, received an e-mail from someone who didn’t identify themselves criticizing our decision to raise $30,000 for a mission trip to a boarding school for missionary kids in Africa. Weren’t we wasting our money? the person asked.

It’s a valid question (although I have to question the timing, and my years in journalism have made me unsympathetic to anonymous opinions and criticisms). You can read our pastor’s full response here. Here’s the heart of it, though:

We have concluded, however, that it is vital for first world citizens to get out of their comfort zones and see the world with their own eyes. The impact is much greater than simply watching video or seeing pictures. Are there other local, less expensive means to achieve the same result? Possibly. Perhaps I was totally wrong for facilitating this trip. But I also watched God provide for this trip in miraculous ways. He has the ability to fund this trip as well as the needs of the people in Kenya. Sometimes he uses a trip like this to open our eyes, rend our hearts, so that we can be the means to raise the money for the needs in a place like Kenya.

I think most of us on the trip would agree that we didn’t change Kenya, but Kenya changed us.

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 And I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I’m still discovering how Kenya changed me.

I wrote about how my lungs are different after hiking a volcano, and that holds. I took a lap at the park with the kids this week and I’ve never been able to walk the entire loop without gasping for breath. I wasn’t even winded after two laps.

But it’s more than that.

I find myself talking to strangers more. In Kenya, life is more relational than transactional. I’m a task-oriented person by nature, but just before we left for Kenya, I was convicted about this. How I elevate convenience over people. (That’s another blog post, maybe, for another day.) In Kenya, it’s rude to not ask about people’s families or make conversation before getting to the point. Even while shopping at the local shops, negotiating a price is seen as a relational act, not something to be offended by.

In the weeks since we’ve been home, I hear myself making small talk with people I would have passed by, like the people offering food samples at Costco. Usually I just want to get in and get out, especially if a crowd is gathering, but I’ve made tiny bits of conversation. At the concert in the park the other day, I addressed a couple behind us when we moved our blanket back so the kids could dance in front of us instead of behind us.

“It’s for your safety,” I said. “They get a little wild.”

“They look pretty harmless,” the woman said. “We have two grandkids, so we know.”

It was not an important exchange, but it was human connection. I need more of that, and Kenya helped spark that change.

Whatever happened in Kenya, it’s far more important that I was changed than that we left a mark on Kenya. That sounds selfish, but if I’m changed because of my experience in Kenya, then I can effect more change. If all I did was paint a dorm and hand out some T-shirts to some kids who need clothes, then the impact will only last until the paint peels and the shirts wear out.

The view while painting

The view while painting

Maybe going to Africa looks like it changed nothing, but maybe over time, it will have changed everything.

An invitation to be who you are: Review of Brave Enough by Nicole Unice

“Brave” is not a word I use to describe myself. I’m more of the timid and anxious variety. “Brave” makes me think of warriors and pioneers and go-getters who tackle every challenge that comes their way.

brave enoughSo, I was interested in this book by Nicole Unice, Brave Enough, because of the implication that I might have this bravery thing all wrong. I trust Nicole as a writer. She gently guided me through all my issues a few years ago in her first book, She’s Got Issues, and she speaks as someone who knows what she’s talking about because she’s just like the rest of us. No high horse, here. Nicole shares stories of imperfection and weakness, and for this, I am grateful. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

Brave Enough calls us to “get over our fears, flaws and failures to live BOLD and FREE.” Who wouldn’t want that? And from page one, she inspires us to imagine what that kind of life would look like.

What if, starting today, starting right now, you weren’t scared anymore? What if that worried energy were gone? …. What would you do? Who would you be? How would you live bigger? (p. xiii)

When I started reading this book, I was in the midst of a situation that had me very worried. And I was weeks away from a 10-day mission trip to Kenya. The words of this book were as applicable on that adventure as I’ve found them in my daily life since then. I need the challenge to live courageously in my day-to-day activities.

Nicole breaks the book down into characteristics or actions of brave-enough women. And each chapter ends with questions for reflection and a prayer related to the chapter’s theme. Most are the kind of questions I need to take more time with. (And definitely grab a notebook before you start this book. Lots of opportunity to journal and reflect.)

There’s also a section at the end for further contemplation about the Scriptures she used throughout the book and a space to think about what section might be the most applicable in this season. (A DVD curriculum is also available if you’re looking for a group study.)

Bottom line: Nicole understands the issues and challenges women face because she faces them too! And her heart for leading women beyond those issues and challenges is evident in her writing. I highly recommend both of her books for spiritual growth.

End-of-summer fun

Earlier this summer, I got into a habit of posting weekly about our summer fun, mostly to remind myself that even on the hot, stinky, crabby days when we all wanted to be somewhere else, we had some good times. And also because my memory is terribly short. And the grandparents like to see pictures. It’s all for us, and if you like it, too, well that’s a bonus.wpid-20150825_081856.jpg

Summer is officially over. My two “babies” headed out the door this morning and got on a bus to go to school. Both of them! When did this happen? I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this day, but I have a lot of sadness and tears, too.

It’s been a while since I posted because we had this little gap in our summer called “time with the grandparents” and “going to Kenya” and while I didn’t have anything much planned for our last two weeks of summer, we managed to make a few final memories for the summer of 2015.

Our first week back together was basically an act of survival and overcoming jet lag (for the parents). But our first full weekend together again, we used the tickets we earned for summer reading to attend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire–a first for us.

wpid-20150816_144442.jpgAnd while the joust was definitely a highlight and what we spent the most time on, we had a full afternoon and early evening of fun. Next time, the kids want to dress up. It’s not hard to picture yourself in 16th century England, and what I’ve discovered about things like this is it’s way more fun if you play along.

We hit the park a couple of times just to get out of the house and get moving.

wpid-20150818_085525.jpgOur kids love the exercise stations in our parks, even though they’re meant for grown-ups. They put their own spin on them, and it makes them eager to take a walk with me before we play on the playground, so I’m not complaining.

On Sunday, even though I was wiped out tired, Phil suggested we go to one more concert in the park. We attended one earlier in the summer and had a fun time, and this one was going to be a trio from Ireland. Um, it’s hard for me to say no to anything Irish, so we went.

Our little ginger was right at home with Irish music

Our little ginger was right at home with Irish music

It was a toe-tapping party in the park and swept me away to the few short days I spent in Ireland almost 20 years ago. (Ugh. I am so old.)

Our last day of summer we got to spend all together and we decided to use that time to teach the kids to ride their bikes without training wheels. Yeah, I know, we’re probably a little late to this game, but what can you do. Phil took the training wheels off, loaded the bikes into the van and we went to the park. Izzy took to it right away. She needed almost no help. Corban wasn’t sure he even wanted to try, but eventually, we got him on his bike. We took the advice of a friend and sent him down a grassy hill so he would use the momentum to stay balanced. It worked, too. I’ll admit I had low expectations for this endeavor, but it turned out great and now I don’t feel like a deadbeat parent because our kids are still riding with training wheels. (FYI: I don’t think you’re a deadbeat parent if your kids are still riding with training wheels. I’m so much harder on me than I am on you.)

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One highlight of the week for me was the night Phil and I decided not to watch TV and do a puzzle together instead. (I told him we are like minutes away from being middle-aged and put in a nursing home.) We have a collection of puzzles that we’ve mostly not even opened because we had small children in the house almost from the start of our marriage and kids plus puzzle pieces equal an emergency room visit (that never happened but it could have).

We sorted through the ones we thought were doable and found one that’s a picture from Ethiopia. Since we still have all things Africa on the brain, that seemed like a good choice. We sat together at the dining room table putting pieces together and listening to hits from the ’90s on Pandora, laughing and talking about the songs that played.

We didn’t finish the puzzle in a night, which was fine, because then our kids got involved and we were able to work on it together for a couple of days. Sometimes it really is just that simple–making space, creating opportunity to be together.

So, our family fun isn’t over just because the summer is, but this is probably the last post of its kind for a while. Thanks for tuning in to our summer fun!

What were some of your highlights from the summer?

These are the shoes that remind me what I can do

I woke up sad this morning because I feel like I’m losing Africa already, and we haven’t been home two weeks yet. I opened the bag of Kenyan coffee and inhaled, as if breathing in the coffee aroma could somehow take me back.

I’ve told you how reluctant I am to start talking about Africa. But talk about it I must. In just a few weeks our team will share with our church and other friends about our trip, so keeping it to ourselves won’t be an option. And maybe talking about it will help me not to feel so sad.

The week before we left for Kenya, I bought these shoes for $8 at a thrift store.

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My only other pair of sneakers are gleaming white (from disuse, not because they’re new) and we were told to be prepared for the things we brought to get dirty and possibly ruined. The dirt we walked on was brownish red and everything eventually turns that color over time. These shoes were unrecognizable the day we hiked the volcano.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A couple of good pairs of walking shoes are what I needed. I got these because they fit and were in relatively good shape, and I thought maybe I could leave them behind when we were done. I almost did, but I’m glad I didn’t.

We started painting the boys’ dorm on Thursday of our trip. (If you look close enough, you can see a spot of ginger brown paint on the toe of one shoe. This was my color all week long. Ask me about the adventures of Ginger Brown sometime.) Long hours of sanding, taping and painting were ours for three solid days. On the second work day, we decided to start the morning, after breakfast, with a walk to clear our lungs of the fumes and clear our minds for the work ahead.

One group took the second half of the campus tour; another group took on Killer Hill, the steepest hill on campus. That morning I was struggling emotionally and my lungs were heaving with even the smallest trips up the stairs. We were at 7,000 or so feet above sea level and I’m not in the best of shape physically. I opted for the Killer Hill group, even though it meant I was the only female. And the least fit. (Our group included teenage boys who apparently have super-human strength all the time.)

About halfway up Killer Hill (I wish I had a picture to show you what I’m talking about here), I was sure I’d made a mistake in coming. I was lagging behind on an unfamiliar campus, and though we were all headed in the same direction, I was afraid of being left to myself. (Phil and I were at odds with each other as well that morning, so there was not a lot of compassionate care between us.) Our leader and missionary friend Lamar stopped us to catch our breath. I felt like the only one heaving and gasping for breath, and I nearly turned around. But where would I have gone? No one was back at the dorm and I’m not sure I could have found my way.

I took deep breaths and let myself rest and then we continued onward and upward. I could see the top of the hill, and I put one foot in front of the other. I was determined to make it. Sometimes, I am stubborn. And I needed to cure my emotional state with a physical challenge. Sometimes, this is the only way.

We made it to the top. Me, gasping and heaving. I lowered myself onto a retaining wall to rest up. The view over campus was–well, I was about to say “breath-taking” but it was the walk up the hill that took my breath away, not the view. Already on the side of a mountain, we could see the valley below from wherever we were. It wasn’t the view, really, that struck me, but the physical challenge.

The path leveled out and we finished our walk, and my mood improved enough to carry on with the work I had started the previous day. Later, as I climbed the stairs to our room, I noticed that I wasn’t out of breath anymore. Even taking the stairs at a quick pace, I could breathe normally.

Was I acclimating? Or had I pushed my lungs past their limits and somehow increased their capacity for air? (Tell me if there’s science to back this up. I want to know.)

Three days later, I found myself at the base of a dormant volcano, about to start an hours-long climb to the top. As I huffed my way up Killer Hill, I told myself it was practice for the volcano. But as I looked at the challenge ahead of me, I wondered if I’d made a mistake not going to the tea farm with a few members of our group.

The view of Mt. Longonot before we began our hike

The view of Mt. Longonot before we began our hike

I was confident, sort of, because we had done this before. Phil and I hiked a mountain in the Smokies on our honeymoon. But that was nearly a decade and at least 20 pounds ago, pre-children. What in the world was I thinking?

As we ascended, I would ask that question a lot. We took our time, and watched large groups of Kenyan schoolchildren scamper up the mountain ahead of us. Partway up we would have the opportunity to stop, rest and decide if we were continuing on. My goal was to make it at least to that banta–a shelter-like pavilion. I could see it the whole time we hiked.

The path was dry and a bit barren but reminded me of the Bible. I could almost see Jesus and his followers walking paths like these, telling stories along the way, as much to teach as to take their minds off the climb.

A glance over our shoulders showed us beautiful views of the surrounding land. One of our team was certain we’d found the place where Mufasa died in The Lion King. When we looked hard enough, we could see the profile of giraffes near the river bed.

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I can’t get over the trees in Africa.

We’d been hiking for an hour or more when we reached the place of rest. We had scrambled over some rocks to reach this point, and our guide and missionary friend Lamar assured us that this was the hardest part of the climb, harder even than summitting.

I believed him, and decided that I would regret it if I didn’t try to make it to the top. When might I get another chance to say I’d been on the rim of a volcano? My breathing was labored, but not in the same way as it had been when I was adjusting to the altitude. I felt like I would if we were on a vigorous hike in Pennsylvania–challenged and winded and maybe a little bit affected by the altitude. I did yawn a lot on the hike to the top, not because I was tired or bored but in need of oxygen.

The journey to the top was a different kind of challenging. Steeper, although the path was clearer. And by this time, the school children were on their way down, so we had to stop sometimes and move to the side, lest we get run into. This was also entertaining, though, because a group of white people climbing a mountain in Kenya is as much a sight as the mountain itself. We often shook hands with a dozen children or high-fived them on the way down. One even declared as he walked past, “I am from Washington. I am a black American.” (President Obama’s visit to Kenya was just a week past at this time.)

I was the straggler again, only this time, there were four of us in the final group that ascended the mountain. We stopped often. Every few steps, it seemed at times. A couple of times I thought I might pass out right there on the mountainside. Phil wouldn’t let me sit down. He pushed me mentally to keep going. Lamar said I could do it and it didn’t matter how long it took. Victoria said she needed to rest, too, and I shouldn’t feel bad about needing to catch my breath.

The closer we got to the top, the harder the climb. Earlier in the week, we had talked about mountaintop experiences and how this trip to Kenya might be one, the kind you don’t want to come down from. And I thought of this as we climbed, how much we crave the mountaintop experience, the high of accomplishment, but easily forget how hard it is to get there in the first place.

We set small goals. “Just to the next curve and then we’ll stop.” “We’ll make it to that tree right there. Ready?” Until finally there was just one more stretch to the top. I gave it everything I had. All I could see ahead of me was sky and then suddenly, I was there. At the top. On the rim of a volcano. I raised my arms in victory and exhaustion. (I also may have peed myself a little. Sweat, pee, it’s hard to tell at that point.)

How many feet is that?

How many feet is that?

Inside the crater was a lush forest of green. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was beautiful and worth every labored breath and calf strain.

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We don’t even look happy here, but trust me, on the inside, I’m elated.

We rested on the rim for what felt like hours, and there are more stories for others to tell of climbing into the crater and reaching the crater floor. We walked a little ways around the rim, but I was content to have made it to the top.

Comparatively, the trip to the base was a breeze. It was easier to run/jog and let gravity carry you, and I felt all kinds of free as I careened down the mountainside.

I just hiked to the top of a volcano. I kept telling myself in case later I wouldn’t believe it. I was amazed at what my body–my almost middle-aged, out-of-shape body–could do. It could do far more than I give it credit for.

When we packed up the next night for our trip home, I decided to bring the shoes with me, as a reminder of what I could do. Earlier this year, I set myself a goal to lose some weight and as of leaving for Kenya, I’m fairly certain I had gained weight. Hiking the volcano and walking up Killer Hill reminded me that my body is strong and capable of more than I allow it and that it is possible to push past my endurance and survive.

Now that we’re back, I find that the work my body did in Kenya hasn’t disappeared. The kids and I have taken several walks–the same ones we took earlier in the summer–and I can breathe normally for the duration, even if I am walking at a faster pace or up a hill. I am by no means a star athlete now because I climbed a volcano. But I feel like a warrior. Or at least, a warrior in training.

I can’t wait to get into a rhythm of physical activity and see what my body can do. (After school starts next week, I aim to be active daily.) And it’s not just for the physical benefit but the mental and spiritual as well. Maybe I’ll save those applications for another post.

I didn’t expect to come home from Kenya with a renewed sense of my physical capabilities. But it’s one of the clearest and most amazing takeaways I had from the whole trip.

And just to add to my own sense of warrior-ness, I looked up the altitude of the mountain we climbed in the Smokies and compared it to the one in Kenya. I was almost 2,000 feet higher in Kenya than in Tennessee. (That shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. And it makes me feel like I could take on another mountain. And another.)

2015-08-05 13.15.45Days before we hiked it, we could see Longonot in the distance, from our room. It was my first view of Kenya when I woke up Wednesday morning. It was impressive to gaze at from miles away.

After we hiked it, I took this picture to remember that we had seen it up close. We had, in a way, conquered it.

I’m grateful to have learned something about myself in a place I didn’t expect it.

Why my vocabulary is changing (and so is my life): Review of For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

I may be slightly obsessed with all things Jen Hatmaker. The lady is funny and real and challenging in an inspiring sort of way. Her books 7 and Interrupted have changed my life in ways I can hardly describe.

ftl coverAnd now she has a new book out–there is much rejoicing, yay!–called For the Love and it is all of those things I described above and more. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.) All you really need to know is that I dog-eared every other page, read it in one day and will be going back through the book to re-read and underline.

What Jen has written–I feel like I can call her Jen, even though we’ve never met–is a permission slip to not have it all together and to quit trying to meet whatever standards we women think we need to meet.

She says in the introduction:

I hope to lift every noose from your neck, both the ones you put there and the ones someone else did. We are going to let ourselves and each other off the hook, and in the end, we will be free to run our races well; to live wide, generous days; and to practice the wholehearted living we were created for.

It’s a fun journey, this book. Jen writes with conviction and humor. I laughed as much as I was challenged, and I could feel the freedom descending with each page. The book’s title is one of Jen’s catch-phrases, and I find myself using it more after reading the book. Don’t let that be a deterrent. Just be prepared to give yourself and others grace at the end of the day (and in the midst of it).

I could give you more quotes, but then I’d basically be plagiarizing the entire book. (Okay, here’s one more.)

be kind be you love jesus

I could tell you my favorite parts, but that’s the whole entire thing. I can’t think of a good reason for a person not to read this book. (Our little launch team of 500 even had 4 guys in it, so not necessarily for ladies only.) And if you’re a little iffy about God and faith, you’ll find Jen’s writing accessible and un-preachy.

Graphic by Carlee Ann Easton

Graphic by Carlee Ann Easton

Seriously, just get a copy of this book and let the chains of expectation fall off.

Here’s the website for the book, for more information.

I want to tell you about Africa

We’ve been back in the States for a week now, and I’ve yet to write more than a few words about our trip to Kenya. A week is not much time at all, really, what with the traveling to get our kids back and the recovery from jet lag and the overall re-entry into life. School starts in two weeks, so we are making the final end-of-summer push.

And  yet in this instant world of communication, a week seems like a terribly long time to have been silent about Africa. Especially because we did not get to Africa alone. So many of you supported us with prayers and money. I feel I owe you a return on that investment. At least a report so you know your money and time were well spent.

So, I want to tell you about Africa.

And I don’t.

Our eight days in Kenya was one of the most intense experiences of my life. So much to take in and process. I’ve been journaling multiple times a day for almost two weeks now, so I know there are a lot of words for me to write about Africa. But in my heart I’m a little bit afraid.

I’m afraid that if I start talking about Africa, I won’t be able to stop. (And to give fair warning, if Africa is something you’d rather not hear about, now might be a good time to unfriend or unfollow me and to stop reading this blog.) It’s only been a week and I’m trying to hold on to as much of Africa as I can. I’m drinking African coffee out of the mug made by a student at the boarding school where we stayed. I’ve looked at our group’s pictures multiple times. I close my eyes so I can “see” the people. I touch the things we brought home, including the bracelet I’m wearing around my wrist. I’m seeking out the people who have literally been there and understand. I’m rearranging my to-read pile so that the Africa books and the poverty books take first place. And we’ve made a to-watch list of movies and shows that will take us back.

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The view from our dorm.

I’m also afraid that if I start talking about Africa, I will lose it. All this trying to hold on to Africa is like catching a butterfly with my hands. As long as they’re closed, it is mine. If I part my hands slightly, I can peek at it. But once I open them far enough, it will fly free. Once I release my experiences of Africa to you, I can’t get them back. And I don’t know what you will do with them. I don’t even know yet what I will do with them. So, it’s scary, a little, to hand over these in-process stories, these life-changing experiences. Be gentle with them (and me), would you?

What I can tell you right now about Kenya, and I suspect it applies to much of Africa, is that it is a country of “ands.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is beautiful and heart-breaking.

It is full of faithful, God-fearing people and corruption.

It is rich and poor.

It is peaceful and dangerous.

It is arid and lush.

Our experience in Kenya was not strictly a tourist experience. Yes, we did a couple of touristy things but only after we had been exposed to some of the worst reality Kenya had to offer.

We met a woman who walked through a seasonal riverbed, miles–I don’t know how many–to get to church every week. She showed us her house, a mud hut to begin with, and it is in danger of falling into the river during the rainy season. She believes that God will provide. Another woman who has a three-room tin home, new to her, cannot believe that it is really hers. She asked us to pray for her to believe. I watched young children eat a hard-boiled egg in three bites or less, the best meal they’d have all week. And they smiled wide. The people danced their praise to God and called out with mighty voices during singing and prayer.

The morning sounds of birds chirping and the view of the valley were serene. But the campus was guarded, and at a mall in Nairobi, we had to be searched before we could enter, and police set up checkpoints on the highways for whatever reason they wanted.

We ate Kenyan food and home-cooked meals that reminded us of America. We drank chai in the homes of local people. We peed in holes in the ground. We hiked a volcano to the rim and beyond. We went on a safari and saw animals in their natural homes, not a zoo. Some of us kissed a giraffe.

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There is more to all of these stories. This is just the beginning.

So, I’m telling you about Africa.

Hang on with me, would you? It might be a bumpy ride.