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.

2015-08-04 15.09.51

 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.

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!

Embracing uncomfortable: Review of Wrecked by Jeff Goins

The subtitle to Jeff Goins’ book Wrecked sounds like the sort of thing you’d want to avoid: “When a broken world slams into your comfortable life.”

And, I’ll admit, this was not an easy book to read. Not because the writing is confusing or the structure unclear.

No, Wrecked is a book that lives up to its name. wrecked cover

If you aren’t wrecked already when you read it, you will be. But don’t let that scare you away.

Goins offers stories and practical life advice for how to embrace what makes us most uncomfortable and live a life of radical obedience, even when the “adventure” looks more like “mundane.” Being wrecked means we’ve encountered something outside of our comfort zone and have made a choice to not go back to the way things were.

I’m afraid I’m not doing the book justice. When I read a book these days, I dog-ear the pages where I’ve read something that resonates. Almost every other page in Wrecked is dog-eared. Goins is a gifted storyteller, and his advice sounds more like gentle yet challenging encouragement from someone who’s traveled the road already than mandates from someone without a clue what they’re talking about.

To be wrecked begins with an experience that pulls you out of your comfort zone and self-centeredness, whether you want it to or not. … Being wrecked means everything you believe–everything you know about yourself, your world, and your destiny–is now in question. (34-35)

Before reading this book, my life got wrecked by a change in circumstances–financial, emotional, spiritual. All of it. Over time I’ve wondered if this is a good thing. Goins’ book offers stories that assure me I’m not alone and that even when it’s painful, being wrecked has the potential to foster deep change.

But it’s not enough to be wrecked. It’s not enough to see and walk away. Goins challenges us to commit to work that affirms what wrecked us in the first place.

Change always happens when you come down from the clouds and deal with the messiness of life. When you turn a mission trip into a lifestyle. … Real transformation happens when you commit. (92)

Although Goins draws from missions experiences and stories, this book is for anyone called to something by God. As a wife/stay-at-home mom/writer, I found the principles and stories in Wrecked meaningful and applicable to my situation.

It’s a small book, less than 200 pages, but each chapter is full of life-giving truth. I judged the book by its length, thinking I could breeze through it. Instead, I found myself reading a few pages and setting it down for a couple of days. In the places where I’d been wrecked already and thought I had moved past, I found the book wrecking me all over again, giving me a gentle nudge to take another step out of the comfortable life.

Even now as I revisit the pages I marked, I find myself lifted by the words.

If you’ve had an experience (a mission trip, a major life change, an encounter with poverty) that has wrecked you and you don’t know what to do now, this book is for you.

If you’re looking for your life’s calling, this book can guide you in finding it.

It would be good reading for high school and college grads who want to live the story God has for them.

As Michael Hyatt says in the book’s foreword, Wrecked “is not designed to make you feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems. Nor is it designed to make you feel guilty for not doing enough. No, it’s more than this. It is an invitation to lead a wrecked life–one that is shaken up but transformed by confronting the world’s most difficult challenges. It’s about living the life we are so often afraid to live. … It’s about stepping into the pain and discovering fulfillment in the most unlikely places.”

You’ve been invited to be wrecked.

The choice, now, is yours.

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In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of Wrecked from Moody Publishers.