In search of the lion (part two)

To read the part one of this story, click here.

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I think that’s an impala in the picture, but I can’t be sure.

It shouldn’t surprise me that even big cats don’t really want to be found. I’ve been the companion of domestic cats for much of my life and they, too, are good at hiding.

As we drove through groves of acacia and past acres of flat land covered in tall grass, our missionary friend remarked, “I mean, there could be a lion RIGHT OVER THERE,” pointing to the tall grass.

It was a bit chilling to think we could be that close and not know it.

I will break it to you now, we never did see a lion or a leopard or anything cat-like. (Also, there were no elephants in this park. We’ll have to save that for another trip to Africa.)

But this is not a disappointment. Not really. Because I didn’t go to Kenya to see a lion. It would have been icing on an already delicious cake. A bonus. Not the end goal.

It did, however, teach me something about God and that’s never a waste.

Before we left for Kenya, we started listening to The Chronicles of Narnia with our kids. We checked out the audio CDs from the library and started with The Magician’s Nephew. We finished that story on our way back from picking them after our trip to Kenya, with me reading the remaining chapters out loud.

Aslan being a lion has never seemed more appropriate. He is terrifying up close yet surprisingly gentle. (I would never test this with a real lion, of course.) There’s a  bit of mystery surrounding him. In later books, he’s on the move and his movements are whispered among the Narnians, passed along like a secret message. There is evidence of his presence, even if he isn’t seen.

Like the lions in the game park.

Like God and his kingdom.

I don’t know if I have ever searched for God like I searched for lions and leopards in the park. I could spend an entire day with my eyes alert to His presence, searching for signs of Him. But I can’t say that’s the norm for me.

I could ask others if they’ve seen sign of him. I could tell them what I have seen and where.

Could I treat the most ordinary of days like a safari? I wonder what I would see here in this part of the world if I did.

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I think this was called Lion Hill. Where are the lions???

Though our search for lions and other cats came up empty, a search for God never does. He tells his people to look for him with all of their hearts and they will find him.

It did feel a little bit like we had given up looking for the lions too early. A part of me always thinks, well, maybe if we just look a little bit longer. Maybe if we’d have come back the next day, we could have seen one.

But if we keep looking for God, if we ask others if they’ve seen Him, our search will not be empty. As we walk through this world, we can tell others not only that He exists but this is how we know: we’ve seen the evidence in our lives  and in others’ lives.

A safari might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, although I hope that’s not the case. But seeking God is an every-day-for-a-lifetime experience, and it comes with the same sense of adventure that a safari does. You never know what might be around the next bend. Just when you’re about to fall asleep from exhaustion, you’ll see giraffe up close. Just when you’re discouraged, you’ll be awestruck with something beautiful.

And just like on a safari, you  might need a guide, someone more experienced to help you see in unfamiliar territory. (I forgot to tell you about the safari guide who was zipping through the park at top speed and told his passengers they only had two minutes at Baboon Hill, overlooking the lake. He passed us in a cloud of dust later, and I thought how sad it would be to have to try to see the park at that speed.)

A trustworthy guide through life will not speed you through it but will take your time on your time. They will point you in directions you might not have known to go. And they will ensure that you don’t get lost in the wilderness. They will know the best places to stop and take a break. And they will know when it’s time to give up searching for the day.

This is how I will remember our safari.

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.

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.

How to live with unfulfilled dreams: Review of Longing For Paris by Sarah Mae

Ah, Paris. The word itself makes me sigh, just hearing it. And if I hadn’t had the unforgettable opportunity to visit Paris in college while I studied for a semester in England, the longing might be unbearable.

Okay, so there’s still a part of me that dreams of going back, this time with my love by my side. Isn’t it tragic that my husband and I have been to Paris separately, in our youth, but never together? Tragic, I tell you.

There’s something about Paris that hits on my longing for adventure and beauty and meaning. And it’s not just Paris. It’s Italy. It’s travel to anywhere I’ve never been. It’s my dream of writing a book. Of finding purpose in my work and life.

It’s the kinds of things that get pushed down or set aside in motherhood, things I’ve been wondering about: Are they recoverable? Do they fit in my life anymore as a mom?

Not long ago, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and I wanted to escape my day-to-day life–for real–to have those kinds of adventures and “find myself.”

LFPThank God–I really do!–for the next book to come along: Sarah Mae’s Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure Right Where She Is. Pause for a moment and take all of that title in.

In this book, Sarah Mae recognizes our longings and affirms them as gifts from a God who cares about our dreams because He cares about us.

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This book could not have come at a more perfect time. (Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.) I’m in the middle of a year focusing on the word “whole” and my kids will both be in school all day starting in the fall. I have this amazing opportunity to rediscover who I am after feeling like motherhood swallowed me these last 7 or so years.

Longing For Paris encourages moms at any stage of parenting (or any woman with unfulfilled longings) that we can have that beauty, adventure and meaning we’re looking for, right in our own homes and towns. But it’s not just empty platitudes Sarah Mae offers; it’s practical ways to do this.

A few of my favorite take-aways from the book:

  • Adventure can be anything out of the ordinary: dessert before dinner, a French pastry from a local cafe, savoring your food. It’s a call to seek out the “Paris” wherever you are.
  • Beauty is what you make of it. In the ordinary, everyday, we can begin to think that we’re not beautiful or our lives are not beautiful. Taking a cue from the confidence of French women, who seldom worry about what other people think, Sarah encourages us to choose to see beauty. And one way to do this is to get rid of our frumpy clothes or anything we wear that doesn’t make us feel beautiful. I love this suggestion because I know there are clothes in my closet that negatively affect my attitude about myself.
  • Simplicity adds to our contentment with what we have. It’s weird how having more stuff doesn’t make us any happier, just more burdened. She told a story about having her kids choose 20 things to keep out of all their things. That sounded like a lot, but she realized how much more they actually had. Purging and simplifying our things helps us enjoy what we do have.

I took a lot of notes with this book, and I want to plaster some of the quotes from the book in front of me always so I can remember these words.

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It’s a beautiful call to live a full and rewarding life, even if it’s not everything you hoped it would be.

If you love your life–most days–but wonder if there’s still room in it for your dreams, then this is the book that will help you live with that tension, not just in a settling for less kind of way, but in a deeply satisfying way.

You can find out more about the book here.

Why going to Kenya doesn’t make me brave

If you haven’t heard by now, we’re going to Kenya, my  husband and me. We leave today, actually. And because of team policies and unpredictable WiFi and the desperate need we all have to disconnect, I won’t be around much on the blog, e-mail or social media. So, don’t worry if I go silent. You probably won’t even miss me. If you’re on Facebook and want a few updates on what our team is doing, you can “like” our church’s page. We’ll be posting some updates there.

Otherwise, anything you see from me online this week is most likely scheduled ahead of time. (The wonder of the Internet!)

So, we’re packing up and heading out on this wild and wonderful trip. Two weeks ago, I was a mess of emotions when I realized how little I’d be in contact in with my kids combined with all the other normal anxiety about traveling to a different continent and experiencing so many new things in a short amount of time.

I almost wanted to back out of the whole trip. I’m sorry. I was wrong. What was I thinking? I can’t go to AFRICA!?!? 

I’m grateful that God continues to show me He’s in this all the way. Donations keep pouring in from surprising sources. When we set a goal in January of raising $30,000 for the team of 15, I know I thought it was nearly impossible. Now, as of this writing, we’re within hundreds of dollars of that goal.

This trip will be my first time out of the country on a mission trip. In college, I spent a semester in England. And later I participated in two mission trips within the States, but never have I combined the two, and never have I been to Africa.

I want you to know a couple of things, in case I forget to say them when we get back. I’m expecting Africa to give me a lot to write about and think about, so I want you to hear this now.

Going to Africa doesn’t make me a brave person.

I struggle with anxiety in new situations, and I have control issues. Africa is going to challenge me on both of those fronts. We won’t have a lot of access to our kids while we’re gone, and I spent two days in an emotional tailspin over this.

I am not going to Africa because I’m so brave and adventurous.

Honestly, I’m not actually sure why I’m going to Africa. Except that God opened the door in a very specific way. And despite various trying circumstances over the last 7 to 8 months, He has continued to show His approval.

Africaobedience

Going to Africa is not an act of bravery; it is an act of obedience.

Sometimes I think that I first have to be brave in order to follow God’s lead. But more often than not, I think following God first, even if I’m scared, can lead to bravery.

And maybe the people we think are brave are really just obedient.

I don’t know about you, but when I see someone doing something I don’t think I could do, I label them as “brave” so that I can put them in a category that doesn’t include me. That person is so brave. I could never do that. And then it’s easy for me to stay comfortable and not think about what God might be wanting me to do.

We call other people brave so we don’t have to consider what it would be like to follow God like that.

But obedience isn’t only for the brave people. Anyone can follow God, brave or not. Even you. Even me.

Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

Will you remember that the next time you’re presented with the chance to follow God into some unknown place, whether it’s physical or spiritual or emotional or circumstantial? You don’t have to be brave first to follow where He leads. You can be afraid, uncertain, anxious or overwhelmed and still say “Yes. I’ll do that.”

Don’t wait until you feel brave. Don’t count yourself out because you’re not adventurous. Don’t beat yourself up that you aren’t like those other people who are doing the hard/scary/fun thing.

You can do it, too. Even if you have to do it afraid.

So, maybe God won’t lead you on a trip to Kenya, but maybe He’ll lead you somewhere else. When you hear about what we’re doing and experiencing over the next 10 days, just remember that some of us are trembling as we trek.

See you in a few weeks!

There’s a book for that (TV edition): The Bible

This is the fourth post in this series about books-turned-TV-shows. You can find the current series, as well as a series of posts I wrote a few years ago about books-turned-movies, here.

Okay, technically this isn’t a review of the ENTIRE Bible because that would be a massive undertaking. The Bible is a collection of more than 60 “books” and because of a TV series that aired recently, this is a look at part of one of those books: the book of Acts. wpid-20150710_085847.jpg

A.D.: The Bible Continues aired on network TV this spring, and I was skeptical at the start. A lot of movies or TV shows I’ve seen that attempt to dramatize the stories in the Bible turn out cheesy or present themselves as unprofessional.

I can say exactly the opposite about this series, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The episodes were so well done that I wanted to read my Bible along with them just to watch the events come alive. The series encapsulated the first 10 chapters of the book of Acts, the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, when the new church was growing and being persecuted. I loved the emotions and personalities from the characters who are usually just names: Peter, Mary, Joanna, Caiaphas, Pilate, Paul. Seeing them portrayed as flesh-and-blood people–because they were–with human reactions and behaviors renewed my interest in stories I sometimes skim over because I’ve read them before. (I’m not proud of that attitude about the Bible, but it’s true.)

There were no spoilers, per se, in the series, but the drama was still intense. Throughout the series, we see hints of the internal journey of the Roman centurion Cornelius. We see Saul bent on destroying the Christians followed by his miraculous encounter with Christ and the complete 180 turn his life takes as he becomes the apostle Paul. When I read these passages in the Bible now, or when I read Paul’s letters, I visualize these actors and their voices, which make the words more than ink on a page. They feel more like a letter or a story when I can picture the person who penned the words.

I can enthusiastically recommend this series for watching. Even if you care nothing for the Bible, this series is a good historical drama set in first-century Judea. When an artistic interpretation of a historical event or time period makes me want to know more about that event or time period, I consider it a success.

Sadly, NBC canceled this show after its 12-episode run, but I’ve read that some of the next planned episodes are already being written. I hope there are more series like this in the works from Burnett and Downey.

Next week, the final post in this series, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

A book about 3 of my favorite things: Review of Jesus, Bread and Chocolate by John J. Thompson

I have my husband to thank for this book. He heard John J. Thompson speak on a podcast he listens to and the topic of  his book intrigued both of us. (Thanks to the publisher and the BookLook Blogger Program, we got a free copy in exchange for a review.)

jesus bread & chocolateJesus, Bread and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World is like taking a deep breath. We live in a world that “values” cheap, quick, substandard and replaceable. Thompson’s book discusses various artisanal movements–small-batch coffee roasters, homemade bread, craft breweries, gardening, Americana music–and applies its principles to our faith, which in a lot of ways has become industrialized for a consumer mindset.

Thompson offers a lot of observations from these various areas of handmade, small batch goods and how they could apply to faith.

It’s a book that has come at the perfect time for our family. We started our first garden this year, and we are increasingly in search of products that oppose the cheaply made, convenient label. After I read the coffee chapter, my morning coffee tasted different, almost bitter. The observations he makes about cultivating a taste for the “real” stuff are life-changing beyond coffee, chocolate, bread and beer.

“I wonder what would happen to the value of our faith if we could rescue it from the process of commodification. If a life spent in pursuit of Christ could be recognized as a radical and selfless, counterintuitive adventure instead of a carefully packaged and lifeless script, would seekers find something worth following?” (p. 131)

See what I mean? There’s a lot to chew on here. (Figuratively and literally.)

If you crave something more meaningful in your faith, in your food, in your life, then get a copy of this book and let it stir something in your soul.