Friday, August 9, 2013

Out Of My "Comfort" Zone

I hesitated to tell this story because I was afraid anyone considering a trip to Africa might be 'scared' off if you thought you had to do this, but let me just say, you are free to say 'no' to anything you just can't stand the idea of doing...  So I could have said 'no'...  But...

It was the day we were out in the community around Project Canaan (PC), serving the families of the people who work at PC, and others in their community who were in need.  We had planted the garden of the sister I told you about earlier, A Hug From Heaven, and now we were going to work at the home of a single mom.

Her home was in a pretty remote location, so we reached a point in our journey when we had to get out of our nice comfortable Quantam, it's a van, and all pile into the back of a pick-up truck to go off-roading!  I think a vehicle had passed that way before, but it was the bumpiest ride I've ever taken...  and the most fun too!  (There is a country girl just bustin' to get out of this southern city girl!)

So we arrived at the home to find we had a lot of prep work to finish before we could plant the garden.  We grabbed our rakes and the guys grabbed the pick axes (I think that's what you call them) and we got to work.  At one point I stopped to rest for a minute (big mistake) and A. from PC, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet said, "You need to go into the manure pen and get some cow dung."

Now I have a history of misunderstanding what people say to me whose first language is not English (I am NOT good with language), so I smiled, pretended to misunderstand him, and got back to work...  ASAP!!  I was really hoping he'd mysteriously forget (or find someone else) and I'd be off the hook.

But no...  a little bit later my friend S and I took a break and we were chatting (silly girls)...  A. came over to us and said, "Take the seedlings out of the tub and go into the manure pen and fill it with cow dung."  I said, "A., is there a shovel?"  He said, "No, use your arms, scoop it, scoop it!"  S. and I looked at each other, our eyes big as wagon wheels, shrugged and said 'ok'.  I think we were in shock...  surely we had entered another dimension...  two southern city girls were going to scoop cow dung?!  And then we started laughing...  and we couldn't stop!

Thankfully A. must have realized he had asked the wrong girls and he sent another one of the PC guys to help us.  We raked (ok, I raked and S. who had gloves, scooped with something we found laying on the ground) and the PC guy scooped it into the tub with his hands!  For those who will know to ask the question, "Was it dried or fresh?"  It was both!

Of course I yelled for my mom to come get a picture...  I needed proof for Scott, and for myself too, for when I emerged through the rabbit hole...  or the wardrobe...  or whatever would take me back to my comforts I've become far too accustomed to...

We filled the tub and even managed to spread it in the garden, but I have to admit, I was a little ashamed a few minutes later...  A. didn't send us back to refill the tub, instead a child, probably not more than 10-12, came walking up with a big flour sack that they had filled with cow dung, and emptied it into our tub for us.

I am such a soft woman...  I know it's 'city life'...  the culture I live in...  but I can't stand that doing things their way...  is such a novelty to me...  I hate that bugs scare me...  I hate that the thought of a snake freaks me out...  and I hate that standing in a manure pen (with all of its smells) grosses me out.

A friend of mine (another S.) wrote last year that his comforts are an idol to him...  I have thought about that all year...  and it was so real to me on this trip.  I did my best to 'suck it up' and experience everything, but I really did feel like a visitor from another dimension.  And there were things I couldn't let myself fully enjoy because of the things I was afraid of...

I am thankful for my comforts and I am blessed to have them...  But I need to find a way to stop letting the absence of them limit me (like what to do when you're in a country that has no Orkin man)...  I have no idea how to make that happen, so I'll just start with praying about it... (Ugh...  I wonder if that will turn out to be like praying for patience?!)

I guess we'll just have to see what happens... Who knows, maybe I'll find that country girl in me yet and learn to be a little more like the women who are quickly becoming my heroes... some of the women of Swaziland who are fearlessly, hard workers.  Women who don't complain, but just do...  Women whose joy overflows, and their trust in God is unshakeable, no matter what the circumstances are...  Maybe in part because comfort is not an idol to them!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Still Pondering...

My dad called me yesterday and wondered what happened to the rest of my stories (yes, I love that he was still looking for them!)...  I didn't mean to drop off the face of the planet, but I got really sick when I got home.  I thought I was getting better, but then fever and a nasty respiratory infection hit me like a truck and I just haven't felt like doing much of anything...

That...  And, for some reason, this trip is sitting really close to my heart...  I've always loved Luke 2:19...  It's after Jesus is born, the shepherds have come and Mary must be caught in a whirlwind of emotions, it says, "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."  Everyone is talking about what has happened, but Mary is keeping everything close.  I wonder if she was turning the events over and over in her mind, letting the fullness of them touch the deep places of her soul?  When I let things touch me that deeply, those are the things that change me...

And that was this trip for me...  There are memories...  pictures that are permanently etched in my mind... on my heart...  To some they might not seem like a big deal, but for me, it was God in the whispers...  I still want to tell some stories...  but I think I still need a few more days to ponder them...

I'll say this, there is one word that characterized this trip for me...  Relationship...  It was one of the sweetest trips I've ever made there...  I love the people there more than ever and I can't wait for next year...  If you're still waiting for more stories, like my dad, thank you!  It's a gift when people want to know your stories!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Even When We Think It's Wrong, Part 2

I have to say, God had a lesson for me on this trip, one that I won't soon forget!  Yesterday, I was so disappointed with how it seemed things were turning out...  And not completely out of selfishness, Zack's really close friend and a sweet friend of mine from church and her son came on this trip and I just wanted it to be perfect...  granted, my idea of perfect...  And as usual, God's plan is FAR better than we ever imagine!

Today was one of the sweetest, most incredible days I've ever spent in Swaziland.  It started with a great devotion to look for God in the small moments...  the whispers...  And that's where I found Him all day long!!

Since we couldn't do the TOMS shoe distribution today, and we finished our planting yesterday, all we could do was play and talk to the men and women in the community all day!  Wow...  WOw...  WOW!!

Here are just some of the highlights of the day...  Zack's friend, C., playing guitar and singing How Great Is Our God...  Oh Happy Day...  And so much more!  And them singing with us!!  Children running to hold your hand or giving you a great big smile because you stopped to 'see' them!  Sweet conversations with the women in the community, spending special time with my Swazi sister, M.J. and getting to know the other women even better too...  Watching the young people on our team love on the children and youth of the community...  literally pouring themselves out and shining the love of Jesus!  A visit to a woman who has become very dear to me over the last 3 trips and who is very ill...

That story deserves some special attention...  I have grown to love this gogo SO much...  Her hugs engulf you, she dances with me when we worship, and during church, she pulls me onto the bench right among the other women of the church...  I just love her!

But today, as I watched and watched for her, she never came...  So I asked MJ about her and found out she is very sick.  And then we learned she is home from the hospital and we went to visit her...  Words will never express the sweetness of what we experienced...  The Swazi women walking in the door singing to her, beautiful praises to Jesus...  And then praying for her...  Praying like I don't hear at home...  Pouring themselves out on behalf of their sweet sister...   And then getting to wrap my arms around her and pray for her also...  If we had done the TOMS shoes today, that never would have happened.  Even when we think it's wrong, it may be PERFECT!!  And it was!!  But please, if you think of E., say a prayer for her healing.

I can't believe this trip is coming to an end... The time here just grows sweeter each time, their love is so tangible, Jesus is so evident in them...  They are just so special.  Tomorrow is our last day here, we leave on Monday...  I am not ready!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Even When We Think It's Wrong...

Just yesterday, our VERY wise friend, E., said, "Even when we think it's wrong, it may be right."  It's almost like God left those words ringing in my heart to prepare me for today.  It's not that today was bad, it was actually a really sweet day, but it just didn't go as planned.

When we arrived, we received some sad news, the pastor's sister-in-law passed away and Pastor and his wife had to leave to go to the funeral.  They had to leave early today and they won't be there tomorrow at all.  I love spending time with them and now it will be such a short time.  But more than that, I had an idea of what this trip would look like...

I thought today we would get to go into the community and meet some families... I thought tomorrow we would do the TOMS shoes distribution...  And I thought Sunday would just be a sweet day of worship and feeding many of the children from the community...  I... I... I... thought...  Many are the plans of a man's heart BUT God directs our paths! 

Today one of the women from the church brought her young son who was so sick.  He's been throwing up and diarrhea for over a week.  But she didn't have the money to take him to the hospital.  Do you know how much she needed for the bus ride and the hospital?  70 Rand...  that's a little over $10!!  $10!!  Yes, she's at the hospital tonight with her son!  Do you know if we had followed my plan, we would have been out in the community at a home?  We would not have been where God needed S, one of our team members, to see this sick child.

I have no idea what these next two days hold...  Tomorrow we will play with the children all day!  And Sunday we will worship, put shoes on possibly more than 400 children and feed them.  I have no idea how ALL of that will happen in the few hours that we have, but God is the author of time, so He can stretch the minutes!  

I am thankful that God sees so much more of the picture than I do and that even when I think it's wrong, it's really just perfect!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I'm not even sure how to describe today...  In many ways I was a spectator, in the right place at the right time to see the hand of God...  But I was a participant too and it's one of those days I never want to forget...

The morning began with a devotion and time of prayer.  As we circled up for prayer, I wrestled with the idea of asking that God would put someone in our path that needed to be seen by Him.  I wrestled because those are the things I read about in books, or on other blogs, but I honestly didn't think God would answer a prayer like that for me...  But I stepped out in faith and that was my prayer request for the day.

Backtrack...  8 years ago, mom and another member of our team, Stan, made their first trip to Swaziland.  On that trip, they met a lady, I'll call her B...  my mom has never forgotten her.  Every time we visit her village, my mom asks about her.  She even has our friend E. call and ask about her from time to time.  But she has never seen her again.

Fast forward...  today we were so blessed to pick up the son and daughter of the family we were visiting so they could go with us.  And as we neared their home, mom and Stan saw a woman who had fallen by the side of the road.  As Stan was about to ask the driver to back up to help her, my mom asked the son about B and he said, "that was her."

After 8 years, God literally put her in our path!  I never imagined that God's answer to my prayer and heaven's bear hug for my mom would be one and the same!  He truly does work in wonderful ways!  The coolest part, when mom got out of the van, she squinted up at my mom and said, "I remember you!"  She is 100 years old!

My faith is so small far too often!  I am so thankful for days like today when God leaves me speechless with wonder!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Hug From Heaven!

The God who sees...  The God who provides...  The God who loves...  The God who laughs...  I have experienced so many facets of God's character today and what a GRAND adventure it was!!

This is my favorite story though...  Today we visited two homesteads in the community surrounding Heart For Africa's Project Canaan.  When we do the visits, one of the many things we do is to take a couple of items of clothing for each family member.  You'd think I'd learn by now, but I'm always concerned that we'll have the right size items for the children there, we never want one to leave empty handed, and they never do.

But today was really special...  Our list said that one of the children was a 7 year old girl, but in reality, the child was a 7 year old boy instead.  Most of the children's clothing our team had brought was for babies and toddlers, so we were really short on school children's clothing.  But last night, a member of another team gave us a couple of extra items (just in case)...  Yep, you guessed it, the items were shirts that perfectly fit a 7 year old boy!

But the moment that just made my heart sing was when I realized that we had the greatest jacket and t-shirt for the young woman who was caring for her mentally disabled brother and the children in the home.  She had the most beautiful heart.  She was such a GREAT caretaker for him and it was one of those times when you just wish you could give someone the moon because they are so special...  That was this young woman. She didn't ask for anything for herself, but when I handed her an aqua blue jacket and coral t-shirt, you would have thought she won the lottery!  She was SO excited and SO grateful!  And it hit me...  my mom brought that jacket and when she packed it, she had no idea what joy it would bring to a young woman, but God did!

He saw...  He loved...  He gave her a hug from heaven!  And we just got to stand by and watch it all unfold!


In the story of Hagar in Genesis 16, we find where God met Hagar in the desert of her suffering and this was her response, "So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, 'You are a God of seeing,' for she said, 'Truly I have seen Him who looks after me.'"

Hagar found the courage to persevere because she was confident and strengthened that God saw her.  Today, we are going to visit and spend time with two families whose situations are very dire.  As I think about this day, I can't help but consider the traditional Swazi greeting, how we will greet each family...  Sawubona...  it means 'I see you.'

At the heart of all of us is a desire to be seen, to be recognized.  We will not change situations today, we may offer a small comfort with a new pair of shoes, or a jacket.  We may help provide some food by planting a garden with them, but we will not be able to take them out of their desert of suffering and dramatically change their situation.  But we can follow the example of our Abba Father, and assure them that they are seen.  Not by us, but by Him...  The one that truly matters...  the one who gives each of us value!

I pray that today each member of the family will feel the love of Jesus and know for certain that the God of the Universe has not forgotten them, that He sees them and loves them beyond their wildest imagination!

I am so thankful that I love my God who sees!

Monday, July 15, 2013

An Unexpected Convergence...

Converge:  v. to come together from different directions...  That perfectly describes this trip for me, so far...  When I think about the events in my life that led to the last three days, it was definitely an unexpected convergence!

My life in the US, 50 weeks of every year and my 2 weeks in Swaziland each year, have often felt like two very different lives.  But for the last three days, there have been many times I've forgotten where I was.  For the most part, it's been like a normal day at home...  The creative process...  I sit down, start a jewelry piece...  see another bead that grabs my attention and sparks an idea...  chase that squirrel for a while and eventually find my way back to the original project (or find it in the state I left it in, sometimes days later!).

And that's exactly how I would characterize my last few days in Swaziland.  Beading from sun up to well past sun down...  A mess every where I worked...  For hours at a time, I would zone out in the creative process, but every once in a while, I would look up, look around and remember where I am...

AFRICA...  sleeping in a room with a thatched grass roof...  smashing unwelcome critters in my room (thankfully small ones by Africa standards)...  listening to noises of creatures I can't even begin to identify and a warning sign about a crocodile in my room (the sign was in my room, not the crocodile!)...  Definitely not the usual beading day in the suburbs.

But wow...  never in a millions would I have even thought to imagine these last few days!  It has been wonderful.  I love how God is always working and weaving events together in our lives and we just never know where the paths will converge.  The journey of faith is definitely a GIANT adventure!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Before I Was Formed...

As I'm hanging out in Johannesburg, waiting for tomorrow (SWAZILAND!!!!), I am reflecting back on the words that Pastor Maseko said to our team when we were there last year.  They were profound and it seems the perfect lens to put on as I start another trip...

He quoted from Jeremiah 1:5, "before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart..."  He went on to tell us that before we were formed, God had set us apart for THAT day in his community... that while we were still in our mother's womb, God had a purpose and a plan for us in Swaziland!  I had chills as he spoke to us that day.  That truth brings so much peace!  I don't have to fret and worry about anything, God has a plan and a purpose for me and He will accomplish it!

And as I look to tomorrow and my time back in Swaziland, I am blessed to know that before I was born, God had a plan and a purpose for these days too... that each experience in my life has been a building block to prepare me for the people that I will meet and serve for these next 10 days!  My only responsibility is to wait, watch and obey (under an umbrella of prayer of course!)  I CAN'T wait to see what God has in store for this trip!   

Next stop Swaziland!! 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All In God's Time...

2 weeks from today, I leave for Swaziland!  I'm always excited to go, but this time I am just over the moon! Let me back up a little...  I first went to Swaziland in 2007, I fell in love with the country, but a very special organization grabbed my heart too...  Heart For Africa!  I loved Janine, the director (with her husband Ian).  WOW...  the stories I heard her tell on that first (scary) bus ride, in the rain and fog, in a mad race to cross the border before it closed!  She was fearless...  She was inspiring...  And her love for the people of Swaziland poured out of her (All of that is still true)!  I loved the people who worked for them and I loved their vision.  And as I've watched them grow and change over the years, walking by faith, I continue to love, admire and respect what they do and how well they love the people of Swaziland.

But something has caused me tremendous stress over the years too...  What is my part?  I SO wanted to make a difference, but I'm not a connector, I'm not a fund raiser, and with 4 children (about to have 2 in college), we don't have a lot of extra to give.  I've examined and re-examined my motivations... Do I want something for myself out of this?  Is there pride mixed up in it?  But I keep coming to the same conclusion...  I just love them, there is great need and the bottom line is, I just want to help...

A million times I have wrestled with the question, "Instead of going, should I just give them the money?"  But every time I go to the little community I've fallen in love with, I see what an encouragement it is that we show up each year...  And I can't forget the words of our friend Enoch who said, "We know you love us because you keep coming back."   So every summer, I board a plane and go visit the piece of my heart that I leave behind each year.  If loving them is all I'm supposed to do, then I had to be content with that...  Maybe my part was just to encourage.

But now, I'm starting to see a bigger picture, one that has been 10 years in the making...  It started in a boutique in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  They were selling crystals on sheer ribbon for $36!  I wanted one, but I thought, "That's crazy, I could make that for about $3."  And so my jewelry design business was born, the first time.  But after a short 6 months, a consuming success and 3 small children, I sold it!

Fast forward to the summer of 2010...  I cried most of the bus ride out of Swaziland...  I crossed the border from Swaziland to South Africa, begging God (I know we don't have to beg but I was desperate) "Please, please assure me I can come back next year."  And in the search to figure out how to raise the money to do that, my jewelry design business was 're-born'!

Then, on my trip in 2011, Janine mentioned her vision for a women's center where they could come and learn skills to earn an income, sewing, jewelry making, etc.  JEWELRY MAKING...  maybe someday I could come and teach them, or just sit and make jewelry with them!

And in 2 weeks, THAT'S exactly what I'm going to do!!  And I've learned something important...  You never know what God is doing behind the scenes!  If you are at peace with the path you're on, keep walking by faith, be content with where He has you and trust Him to work out His purposes!

Do I wish I knew lots of people with lots of money to give to Heart For Africa?  ABSOLUTELY!  But I don't...  But I do know how to make a piece of jewelry...  And if God can use that to help even one woman earn some money to feed herself and her family and give her a sense of dignity and accomplishment in the process, then I am THRILLED with what He's gifted me to do!!

We all have a part in this life and I'm thankful that I'm (FINALLY) learning to love who He's created me to be!  Stay tuned...  I'll be blogging from Africa!