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.

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…

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.

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.

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!

Summer Fun Week 4

A month of summer already? And now it’s July? True on both accounts.

Last week, I left you hanging with a teaser about an adventure we were taking on Sunday. So, let me relieve your agony from the anticipation.

wpid-20150628_103831.jpgThe Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, took place last weekend, and we decided to take our family out for the day. (We skipped church because I needed a break, which is probably another blog post I could write, but no one had official duties and that hasn’t happened in months. Family time it was!) One of the ticket options was just for entrance onto the waterfronts on both sides of the Delaware River, but that included access to the ferry. Since we’re newbies to the tall ships world, and we didn’t have an entire day to spend there, we took this option. wpid-20150628_124424.jpg Packed a lunch, paid for parking and wandered around on a beautiful day. (With about a billion other people. Lots of people everywhere. And we spent a lot of time standing in line.)

We didn’t tour any ships this time but it was fun to see the artistry of the boats and learn a little bit about their history. While waiting in line for the ferry the first time, we learned that the U.S. Coast Guard boat that was there was a confiscated German boat from World War II and that the French boat Hermione was an exact replica of Lafayette’s boat.

The closest we ever got to it was on the return trip on the ferry. Still, it was a magnificent boat that sets my writer’s imagination running wild and free. (The costumed people walking around did as well. At times, I felt like I could jump into a story from the past if I wanted to!) Maybe it seems like a bit of a letdown that we couldn’t wander all over the ships or even get close, but for me, this was great. When else do you get to see sights like this? (The next day, friends of ours vacationing in Cape May saw the boats sailing on their way to New York City, which is another sight I’d love to see!)

wpid-20150628_155418.jpgIn-person adventures always make me more interested in the history of those events and places, so I’m adding to my to-read list. (And we have more places to add to our must-visit list.) The Battleship New Jersey “lives” on the Delaware River in Camden, and we’d love to go back sometime and take a tour.

wpid-20150628_124640.jpgOur kids love adventure, and we decided to not tell them where we were going right wpid-20150628_162311.jpgaway. We drove past the church and asked if they wanted any clues. After a few, they wanted to know what we were doing, so we told them.

It was a tiring day of walking and we had a few moments where we might have regretted our decision (standing in line for the ferry for 45 minutes on the return trip was one) but we know the kids had fun when they played ships and Coast Guard for the next two days.

One attraction at the festival was the world’s largest rubber duckie that stands more than six stories tall. But it had some issues over the weekend and never was able to be inflated. We heard a lot of people complaining about that, and though we were a bit disappointed, the ships made up for it. (A couple of women dressed as pirates engaged Izzy in conversation calling her the “dread pirate Izzy.” I think she’s still beaming from this moniker.)

That was our big highlight of the week.

We also managed to make it to two parks this week, despite the threat of rain. wpid-20150630_091938.jpg

We had a super fun playdate on Wednesday in the city. (And because it was so fun, I have no pictures!) And we went to two library programs: one about reptiles and one about insects. Fun times! The kids didn’t get close enough to touch or hold either one, but both programs were informative and fun.

Another part of our week was a rally night at Chick-fil-a for our Kenya team fundraiser. The kids totally stole the show, running the spinning wheel and instructing people on their winnings. As the trip draws closer (almost three weeks now!) our summer plans are dropping off a bit as we try to keep up with housework and packing for our various travels. (The kids to Illinois; the hubs and I to Kenya.)

Not every day or week has to be jam-packed full of fun, but we’re hoping to make a few more memories together in the coming weeks before the school year is upon us again.

How’s your summer going?

 

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!