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.

 

What we give up for life

Last year, I hung a fern on my porch. It was my first foray into hanging baskets. I’m a reluctant gardener with a sometimes black thumb. But I love flowers and greenery, so I got a hanging fern for my birthday and I tucked it into the corner and watered it mostly faithfully. And then one day, I discovered it contained a bird’s nest. The fern eventually died and the babies flew away and my porch was empty of plant life. pansy

This year, we planted a garden and potted some herbs, and I desperately wanted another fern, so I got one. And a sweet older couple from church gave me a hanging pansy plant for my birthday. I moved the fern to a different spot on the porch, and hung the pansy in the same spot the fern had occupied last year. I watered faithfully, all the plants, and felt somewhat confident in my attempts to keep things alive.

Then the birds returned.

Read the rest at Putting on the New, where I post on the 12th of each month.

How to change the story

My kids went through a phase where they loved the PBS cartoon Super Why!. We still will watch the occasional episode on Netflix. Wyatt, the main character, and his friends, turn into super readers to solve problems and change the ending to familiar stories–for good reasons.

I’ve long been inspired by this aspect of the cartoon–that they change the story by changing one word.

And while real-life change doesn’t seem that simple, it really isn’t as complicated as we make it.

Sometimes, we can change the story with just one word. Or action. Or decision. For ourselves, and others.

I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. I loved being able to go back through the book and pick a different outcome through a series of choices. Brilliant book concept. I would constantly try to find the best ending.

Our lives are a little bit like those books. Each choice we make leads to another page, another chapter, another outcome. But unlike those stories, ours are more fluid. Nothing is finished until the final day of our lives. No one’s story has its ending in the midst of living it.

I forget that some days. Especially when life seems especially hard.

It won’t always be this way.  The story isn’t over.

Here’s how I know: I see people who are living as if the story is still being written.

I have some things to tell you about fair trade products in the weeks to come. Here’s a teaser for that:

ChangeTheStory

I’ll be telling you a lot more about an organization that is changing the story for women around the world. What I love about this image, though, is that it reminds me that I’m a participant in changing the story. When I choose to learn more about what I wear, drink, eat and so on, I can help change the story for someone. My friends at Imagine Goods put symbols on their products that will tell you all about the person who sewed your item. I love that connection across continents.

These great organizations remind me that just because things have been done a particular way for a long time does not mean they have to continue. We can change the story.

I see it in my friends who have adopted children, both domestically and internationally. I see these kids in their families and I wonder how their stories might be different if those families had decided not to adopt. (It is no simple action to say “yes” to a child you didn’t birth.) I see it in families who make room for children who might never become part of their families. They are all changing stories by adding love and grace and faith to the plot.

And in the darkest corners of the world, covert operatives for The Exodus Road are helping to change the story of women and children sold into sex slavery. We can become part of the change in their stories when we declare publicly, “Rescue is coming.” This is not the end of the story.

ER-identity

Whatever actions we take, whether it is swapping out our cheaper products for ones that are ethically made from workers given fair compensation or opening our homes to those without families or funding investigations into trafficking in Southeast Asia, we can change the story.

This is nothing new for humankind.

Jesus changed the story more than 2,000 years ago when he rescued us from death with his life. He has changed my story from one of hopelessness, despair and insecurity to one of hope, joy and acceptance of who I am. He is always on the lookout for a spot in the story to change the plot for the better.

Let’s not believe that no one can change, that the world is a hopeless mess, or that we are destined for destruction.

Let’s find ways to change the story. For ourselves. For others.

Our garden is growing–and I can only take credit for one thing

The squealing, screaming cries coming from outside sound like they could be either excitement or terror. As one shriek follows another, I head to the side of the house to find my kids crouched down next to the garden, pointing and yelling.

wpid-20150626_122653.jpgOur plants have produced visible fruit. The pepper plants are sprouting peppers, the tomato plants are drooping with tomatoes, and the cucumber vine is winding its way through the entire garden. Every day, it seems, there is a new and exciting discovery in the garden. wpid-20150626_122534.jpg

Not to mention weeds.

Initially, weeding was kind of a simple process. We took a hoe to the dirt between the plants and attacked at the root, turning over the dirt and tossing out the weeds. It was relatively quick and painless.

Now that we’ve had an abundance of rain, the garden is a mass of greenery. I went out to weed recently and discovered how useless my previous methods would be. One stalk of tomato plants had to be carefully lifted off the ground and tucked inside the cage before I could even think about weeding. Many of the weeds were hidden underneath the healthy plant growth. I had to hand pick the weeds lest I damage the good growth.

The cucumber vines had wound themselves around each other, the tomato plants and some weeds. We carefully unwound them while pulling out the weeds in its path. This cucumber plant is going to need more attention, I think, though it is obviously thriving.

The pepper plants will soon be teeming with peppers, and the jalapeno plant already had to be tethered to a stick after a rainstorm knocked it over and nearly killed it. The broken stem has repaired itself but I anchored it again, and tied another leaning pepper plant to a stick as well.

Those were my contributions. Honestly, I can’t take much credit for this garden. We have had rain and sunshine. Someone else started the plants from seed and we planted them. My husband did the initial clearing of the space.

We weed. We water when necessary. We watch them grow. And soon we will reap a harvest.

Jesus talked a lot about plants and farming and growth, and some things haven’t clicked with me until now.

That whole “vine and branches” thing sort of makes sense when you can see the obvious difference between the main plant stem and the branches hanging off of it. The jalapeno plant cracked at the base of the plant. None of the branches were damaged. But if I hadn’t tried to fix the break, the plant itself would have died and our jalapenos wouldn’t continue to grow.

“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus says, and I’m starting to believe him. If I’m not connected to the main artery of growth, I will shrivel and fade and not reach my full potential.

And there’s other stories in the Bible, about those who plant and those who water and the One who makes things grow. About good soil and rocky soil and the choking weeds that inhibit growth.

So I’m wondering if there are more lessons in this garden for me.

Does the growth I’m seeing in my life hide the weeds that are still popping up? (And can I ever lead a weedless existence?) Do I need to look a little deeper to see the weeds?

Have I tried to hack away at the weeds, damaging good fruit and vines along the way, when instead I’ve needed to carefully tend to the unwanted growth, pulling it out by hand?

Can I really take credit for any kind of growth in my life? And can I bring it about in anyone else’s life?

Here’s what I think I can do: I can prepare the ground. I can shelter and tend and nurture the life in my care. I can water when the ground is dry and cracked. I can pick out the weeds that try to steal the energy needed for growth. I can offer support to the cracked and broken when weakness is evident and death is near.

Here’s what I can’t do: I can’t actually make anything or anyone grow. I can’t do it. It’s not in my power.

And that’s totally freeing because it’s not up to me.

Jesus says something else about us bearing much fruit, not that we have to be the ones who produce it. But if we cultivate the right conditions in our lives, fruit will grow and we’ll be amazed.

Like my son running out to the garden shrieking with delight, we’ll point and holler: Look! Look at what God has done!

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!