Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of a Decade.

Today is the last day of 2009, the end of a decade. 

Throughout the day, I've reflected back on this year and realized that it really has been a good year, all considering.  I went to Africa for the first time.  I grew closer to God.  I learned a little bit more about who I'm supposed to be.

However you're celebrating the end of 2009, I hope you have a blast.  2010 is going to be a new beginning in many ways, and yet it will also be a continuation of what Christ has done in our lives. 

As we start a new decade, a new year, and a new day tomorrow, I hope we remember to shine the Lord's light wherever we go.  Be a beacon of light in a dark world.  Shine for Him. 

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who Does God Hate?

I found something today that I'd forgotten about until now, but it amused me enough to put it on here for today's post.

A few years back, when I was in the ninth grade, I had to write an opinion article about a controversial issue for my creative writing class. My teacher ended up sending it into the newspaper, and they published it within the next week. Here is the link: the amazingness. And here is a copy of what I wrote:

Letter: Hate not part of God's plan

"God hates faggots."

This slogan has spread through America during the past few years, spoken by people who claim to be Christian, spreading hatred toward homosexuals with Web sites, speeches, banners and that motto.
I am a Christian and I believe homosexuality is wrong, but there is no reason to hate someone simply because of a lifestyle with which you disagree. 

God is a God of love and mercy, not hate. 

John 3:16 does not say, "For God so loved the world - unless they are gay." 

God loves the world, homosexual or not, and he would not want so-called Christians going around spreading hatred in his name.

If we really want to change a lifestyle we disagree with, and teach anyone what being Christian means, we need to express our views through love, or we will convert more people to atheism than Christianity.

Now, my dad is a doctor, and he knows a lot of people, and so all day after this was published, random people kept coming up to him and saying things like, "Your daughter's article in the newspaper was a riot!" Now my dad had no clue I had even written this article, and so when he finally got his hands on a newspaper, upon reading the first sentence, he later told me that he had to set the paper down for a moment because he was so afraid that I had written something terrible about gay people.

I tend to say what I feel about certain issues, and so I'm sure that that was a legitimate fear in the back of my dad's mind. But anyways, when I saw this article for the first time in a couple of years, it brought back some amusing memories, and I hope this made you smile too.

I still agree with myself, by the way.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Dollar

Here is a poem that I wrote when I was ten years old.  I think that it shows that I have had a calling to help the needy since I was quite young.  It's poorly written, but I think it has a sweet message.

The Dollar 

A little girl got a dollar for her birthday.
She went out with her mother to spend it.
It was very dark and cold outside,
And the streetlights were brightly lit.

A rabbi at the temple called to her,
"I need that money! Do you know why?
Because my temple must be made bigger!"
But the little girl just passed on by.

A storekeeper selling dresses called to her,
"I need that money! Do you know why?
I have my family to feed, so please buy a dress!"
But the little girl just passed on by.

A homeless child sat on the street, hungry and alone.
"Girl, you need that money.  Do you know why?
So that you can spend it on things to make you happy."
But the little girl didn't pass on by.

What the little girl saw was a humble child,
Who had never had anything new,
So she reached out and gave the money to him.
I would! Wouldn't you?


Friday, December 25, 2009

Alone, Yet Not Alone

The other day, I went caroling at a nursing home along with some others that go to my church.  We wandered the halls, singing loudly and wishing the elderly a merry Christmas. 

At one point, we arrived at a room that belonged to a married couple.  They said that they had been married for seventy-eight years!  Can you imagine?  I've got to say, if I ever get married and live to be that old, I would like to share a room in my nursing home with my husband instead of with some crazy old person I don't even know... 

As everyone left their room, ready to find another set of seniors to serenade, I stayed behind to wish this couple (that I greatly admired) a merry Christmas. 

The woman, whose name was Elda Dean, smiled sadly.  "This is going to be a difficult year for us, but at least we're together, and the good Lord is going to see us through this hard time.  We know He will."  Her husband was listening and nodding with agreement.  It was obvious that the couple was unhappy about something, but I didn't know what.

"Well, would you like me to pray for you?" I offered hesitantly. 

Elda Dean's face lit up when I asked her this.  "If you could, I would like that very much," she replied eagerly. 

So I prayed.  It was a short prayer, but with every phrase I spoke, Elda Dean and her husband echoed my words with "Yes, Lord,"s, and "Amen, Hallelujah,"s. 

After the prayer, I stood up and wished them a merry Christmas once again.  Elda Dean looked at me with tears in her blue eyes, and she said, "This is the first Christmas we won't be able to spend with our family, and it's very hard.  We've got each other now, and that's all, but you've encouraged us both." 

Elda Dean's husband reached out from his bed to touch my hand, and he said, "We are Christians, and we believe in the Lord.  We believe that He will take care of us.  And miss, when you celebrate Christmas this year, please think about us and remember to pray." 

"I will," I promised, and left the room.  A bittersweet feeling flooded my chest.  It felt good to pray for someone and to know that I had encouraged a heavy heart or two, but it was also sad to know that even though I may have been encouraging, Elda Dean and her husband were still going to have a difficult Christmas without their family.

Today is Christmas Day, and I would like to remind you to be thankful for whatever family you're spending your Christmas with, for the nice home that you're staying at, for the wonderful Christmas food that you've been eating.  There are many people who are going without these things this year.  Always remember them.  They need your prayers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I was wrong.

Here is proof that I can be wrong sometimes.  Just thought I'd let you know.

Snow Day.JPGSo yeah, it did snow.  And it's still snowing.  And considering that it doesn't show any signs of stopping (I'm making Christmas lyrics relevant, haha), I figure we're probably going to get our five inches after all.

Aw, man. 

Foggy, Foggy, Muggy, Muggy, COLD

The weather today is just lovely.  The sun is shining.  The sky is a clear blue, without a cloud in sight.  The grass is green.  There's a light breeze, but not enough to keep away the heat of the day.  Do you want to see?  I'll show you a picture that I took from my porch this morning.  Here it is:


Okay, the truth is that the weather outside is nice... somewhere in the world.  And wherever that nice weather is right now, I would sure like to be there!  I think the sun may have disappeared from my town for a while.  Instead of pretty sunshine, all that's left is mug and fog and cold.  Perfect December weather. 

Actually, I'm a bit relieved.  It was supposed to snow at least five inches this morning, and since the morning time is nearly gone, I have this lovely feeling that the snow will not fall today.  I prefer fog much more than snow.

I figure I won't be getting out much today, so I may end up writing another post later on about what I intended to write on earlier. 

Either way, the countdown clock has begun... two days till Christmas.  Hope you've finished shopping.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Poems

Today is one of those days where I do not have enough time to write a full entry, so here is a promised poem from my childhood.  I do believe that I wrote it when I was in the fifth grade.  Enjoy.


Let's take a look at Christmas,
So merry and happy indeed.
Bouncy balls and little dolls
And a storybook to read

Let's save time for Christmas,
Stockings over the fire,
Candy canes for you and me,
Ev'ry year the tree is higher.

Let's not wait for Christmas,
Blanketed in happy snow.
Carolers singing, jingle bells ringing,
And then there's the mistletoe.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

He Will Be Missed

I would like to dedicate today's post to Pastor Don Lane, who passed away this morning from leukemia.  He was an amazing example of what a strong, Christian man should be, and he proudly shined Christ's love for all of Amarillo to see.  He has influenced so many people during his life, and his dreams will continue to move forward.  We know where he is right now, and that is with his Lord in heaven.  Please pray for the family and for all those he touched with his life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

As He Holds You

A couple of nights ago, when I was reading the Bible before bed, I came across a verse in the book of Job that caught my eye. 

Job 14:16, TNIV
Surely then You will count my steps but not keep track of my sin.

In the Message version,
You'll watch over every step I take, but You won't keep track of my missteps. 

I have read Job before, but this verse has never stuck out to me until now.  I think it is a huge example of God's love for us.  He is there with us through every step of our lives, through every decision that we make.  He knows each hair on our heads, and He guides our every step, but He doesn't keep track of each time we stumble, each time we take a misstep. 

Just like everyone, I am a sinful person.  And just like everyone, I have days where I feel completely alone in the world, like nobody could love me for the terrible person that I am.  It is nice to have yet another reassurance from the Lord that when I feel alone, someone is there, and He isn't counting anything against me, no matter how horrible I am inside.  He forgives me each time I mess up. 

I don't know if there are any problems in your life right now.  I don't even know who is reading this.  Whoever you are, and whatever you're going through, I just wanted to remind you that God is still there.  He still cares. 

And as He holds you tonight, He holds nothing against you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Following the Crowd

Today my brother, Luke, and I went Christmas shopping.  Upon arrival at my house, when we were walking up the hill to my house from my barn, we heard a deafening noise, and then realized several hundred geese were flying overhead. 

"Take a picture, take a picture!" Luke shouted, and so I grabbed my camera and managed to take a picture. 
I don't know if this even gives you an idea of how many geese there actually were, as they were in this great long line, and the camera wouldn't fit them all into the screen.  The noise that they were making was incredible, and so Luke and I sat out and watched them for a while before going inside. 
After a few moments, Luke says in a kind of awed voice, "Emily, where are they going?"

"They're flying south for the winter because it's warmer there," I explained in a sisterly way, and he shook his head, pointing as the birds flew into the direction of the setting sun.

"I know all that, Emily.  What I want to know is, why are they flying west?"

I didn't have an answer for him.

As a matter of fact, I'm still a little confused.

All I have left to say is, when you follow the crowd, there's a good chance you're going to get lost.

Exodus 23:2"Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. ..."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rockin' Up There

 I Miss You
Pencil, paper, acoustic guitar...
I write in silence, beneath a sky of stars,
This simple letter in the form of a song.
Just had to tell you before it's been too long.

I still miss you, and I still think about you.
When I close my eyes at night, I still sometimes see your face,
And I still wish you were here right now,
Playing your guitar in this place.
At least I know you're rockin' up there.

December 15th, it seems so long ago.
I'm feeling stronger, but healing's always slow.
Sometimes your memory hurts until I cry.
Sometimes in summer, I lay down and watch the sky,

Cause I still miss you, and I still think about you.
When I close my eyes at night, I still sometimes see your face,
And I still wish you were here right now,
Playing your guitar in this place.
At least I know you're rockin' up there.

And it's true what they say,
Time does heal the pain,
But I'll say this again,
Just in case you didn't know.
I still think about you,
And I bet I always will.
Love you, brother, still,
But I'll keep moving.

I still miss you, and I still think about you.
When I close my eyes at night, I still sometimes see your face,
And I still wish you were here right now,
Playing your guitar in this place.
At least I know you're rockin' up there.
You're rockin' up there.

December 15, 2009
2 years later.
Rock In Peace, Gatlin

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hungry, The Thirsty

The other day, I was looking at a website that hosted all sorts of "dumb laws," such as how it is illegal to go whaling while in Oklahoma and how you cannot lasso a fish while in Tennessee.  Some of these laws were indeed quite dumb, but I came across one law that I did not find dumb at all.  In fact, I think it should be enforced nationwide, instead of in one state.  Here is the law.

In the state of Arizona, it is unlawful to refuse a person a glass of water.

And here is the listed reason for this law:

In the summer-time, with temperatures reaching a topping 120 degrees, often people will need water, but may not have the money to pay for it (mainly applies to homeless). Hence, the law. It is very much in effect today, with businesses being reported (and heavily fined) who refuse to supply water to those who ask for it. Convenience stores are the primary businesses who uphold this law. -Dumb Laws 

Today I read that there are more than 3.5 million homeless people in the United States today.  With the economy being like it has been, it is becoming more and more difficult for America's poor to sustain themselves through this difficult time.  Did you know that homelessness rates have not decreased since 2007?  How is that for the American dream?  These people are living on the streets, when there is the wealthy all around them, either openly refusing to do anything to help or not even realizing what is right under their noses.

I was volunteering at a local soup kitchen a few weeks ago when one of the staff members spoke about how the average age of a homeless person in my city is nine years old.  This past school year, I have been teaching a weekly Bible study for homeless children living in a shelter, and the fact that the average age of homelessness in my town is that young still blew my mind away.  My little brother is ten years old, and I can't imagine him having already been living on the streets for a year. 

When we see a homeless person, it is easy to feel scorn.  Why can't they get a job?  Why do they have to fritter their money away on drugs and alcohol?  This is their fault.  The truth is, it often is the fault of the homeless person, but what about his children?  What about the abused wife who flees to the streets simply to avoid being beaten one more time?  What about the elderly who cannot afford to stay at a home?  What about the veteran who fought for our freedom and is now too emotionally scarred to live a normal life?  What about the man who is disabled and cannot keep a job? 

And you know, even the people who do fritter their money away on worthless things deserve to be able to eat.  They deserve a glass of water when they're thirsty, don't they?  This reminds me of Matthew 25 in the Bible, where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats.

Then the King will say to those on His right, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me."

Then the righteous will answer Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?  When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You?  When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?"

The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." 

Then He will say to those on His left, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me."

They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?"

He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me." 

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. 

There are so many people around the world who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have nothing to their names, and when we do not serve them, Jesus counts that against us. 

Jesus does not specify, "Well, you fed the little children but ignored the lazy homeless men, so that's okay... so long as you fed the innocent ones."  No, He said to help the least of these, which is the poor.  All of the poor.  And that includes the smelly, bearded men who live on the street corner with a cigarette in their hands and a bottle of booze at their feet.  If they are hungry, it is still our job as Christians to feed them. 

The next time you see someone who is hungry, no matter what they look like, no matter what they smell like, no matter how lazy or 'sinful' they are, why don't you buy them a burger from McDonalds?  Why don't you give them a water bottle so they can have something to drink?

There are so many hungry, so many thirsty, so many needy people wherever you look, and this poverty epidemic will not end unless people like you and I work to stop it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Excerpt of "Because"

I remember getting dressed, putting on my black and pink school hoodie and a pair of raggedy blue jeans that I cared nothing about.  Sneakers.  I pulled my dark hair back into a ponytail.  The rubber band didn't match.  Like I cared.

I remember climbing into my car, grasping the steering wheel with a zombie-like determination.  My mom charging out of the house.  "Oh no you don't, Ava.  You are not driving.  Not like this."

"I'm going to the school, Mom, whether you want me to or not."

"Then let me drive.  I'll take you."

I shuffled over to the passenger seat of my car, recalling that I hadn't been on this side since I was first learning how to drive, freshman year.  Cade's seat was the back seat in those days.  I always called shotgun and he always let me.

A lone tear trailed down my cheek, but I rubbed at it until it went away.  I was not going to cry. 

We pulled into the high school parking lot.  It was about one in the morning, technically a Wednesday, six hours after Cade's body was found. 

It took us ten minutes to find a parking spot. 

The football field was filled with a glowing iridescence.  Half our high school had to be out there, and anyone else in town who had heard about what happened.  I stumbled through the moist grass, wading through the thick silence with an expression on my face that showed nothing.  I could feel all eyes pointed in my direction.  I could almost hear the whispers.

That's his best friend, Ava Simone. 

How could she not have known?

Maybe she did.

And then I was swept into the crowd.  A waxy white candle was pressed into my hand, and its flame flickered eerily in the night's gentle breeze.  The entire field was filled with the glowing lights, a sky of stars, bringing purple spots to my eyes.

"I'm so sorry.  We loved him too.  Here, get up to the front.  Do you have anything to say?  He was such a good friend."

We've had six student deaths in the last twenty-three years of our high school, not including Cade's.  Two were car accidents, one for medical reasons, one accidental overdose on crack or something, one was killed in a gang shooting, and one was a complete fluke... he fell out of a tree and hit his head on a rock.

This was the first suicide.

I'm not exactly sure why we all know to come to the football field.  It's not like it's a planned thing.  But when somebody is gone forever, you can't help but feel a longing to find them again.  Like they simply got lost in the woods and you have to search them out.  You gravitate to the place where you best remember them, where they last spoke to you.  When you lose someone like... him, you can't just sit at home, curled up on the couch with a blanket over your head, smothering away reality.  You have to keep moving, keep living, keep searching.  You just keep searching and searching and searching. 

But sometimes, no matter how long or how hard you search, there will never be any answers. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Sunrise

One of the biggest problems for me is sleep.  I have had insomnia since I was eight years old, and when sleep is required in order to function and make good grades at school, it can be especially frustrating to lie awake at night, wishing I could fall asleep. 

Sometimes there is an issue that is bothering me, and that is the real cause I cannot sleep one night.  Maybe I am worried about a test.  Maybe I am concerned for a friend.  Maybe I am simply worrying because I am a worrier, which can be a problem.  Sometimes I can't sleep at night because I'm worrying that I can't sleep. 

I feel almost a sense of despair when I see the gentle iridescence of the sun slowly peeking over the horizon at about six in the morning, and I first begin to realize that I truly have not slept all night.  But if it is a day where I do not have anything going on, and I am free to sleep all day if need be, then the glow of the sunrise can be a comfort.  It causes a sense of peace and serenity to wash over the room, and it can bring warmth to my heart.

I found a verse today that gives me the same sense of tranquility as a gentle sunrise, and I would like to share it with you.  I don't know who is reading this, but maybe you too have a problem with worrying, with sleeping.  If you do, maybe this verse will give you the same level of comfort as it does me. 

Soak in the Lord's presence.  Let Him rain down peace in your life. 

Psalm 4:8In peace, I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Monster

On days like today when I have absolutely no time to write, I will post a random poem from my childhood.  Here is a poem written by my father when I was in the fifth grade.

The monster was scary.
It had big, bloody claws.
It reached out toward Mary,
So I yelled, "Help us, Pa!"

Pa came in running
With shotgun in tow.
He pointed it at the beast,
And boy, did it blow!

There were monster guts everywhere,
From ceiling to floor.
It took days just to clean up
The stuff off the door.

If I recall correctly, I began the first line of the poem and left to go to the bathroom or something, and when I returned, there was this in its stead.  I think I was traumatized for months after this.

I will write something tomorrow.  I will.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The stairs that lead to nowhere.

For my seventeenth birthday, I did not have a big celebration.  Instead, I invited a few girl friends over to spend the night.  Towards the beginning of the party, before everyone showed up, a couple of friends and I decided to go out and explore the old abandoned house that rests on top of a steep hill about a quarter mile away from my own house.
The house has existed exactly the way it is now since before I moved into my home six years ago.  It is only half-finished, but it is filled with all sorts of interesting objects: faded paintings, shower hooks, working toilets, formerly nice chairs, and an expensive Kubota tractor.  All of these things are inside of a house that has no roof, and only partially-finished walls.

My friends, Lauryn and Brently and I, found a gap about a foot and a half wide between the building and the cliff face.  It leads around the entire house, and we spent a while exploring behind the building, looking around and wondering why on earth anyone would build a nice, two story home facing a breathtaking sunset each night, and then never bother to finish the structure.

We soon came across something about five or six yards away from the house that brought us to a sudden stop.  We were stunned into silence as we stared upon the oddity that rested before us.  It blew away everything about the house that we thought was a mystery before.
There was an aging, wooden staircase that led to nowhere.  Literally, nowhere.

It is not uncommon for people out where I live to have ranch-style staircases outdoors that help them better move around their property, but the stairs always end up leading somewhere.  This set of stairs led about half way down the hill, and then stopped abruptly.  It wasn't like they were half built.  They looked finished.  It was baffling.

Yuccas and weeds blanketed the earth right below the bottom stair step, not that you would want to go down any further, as the ground was far too steep. 

Even after my party ended, the lonely staircase continued to linger in the back of my mind.  This may sound strange, but the stairs remind me of something that Jesus talks about in the Bible.  No, He doesn't say anything about a staircase that leads to nowhere, but He does mention something that reminds me of this place in Mark 4:1-20, the Parable of the Sower. 

Mark 4:18-19
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the Word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.

I am only creating a possible scenario here, but maybe the original builders of this property started this house with exciting dreams of a life in the country.  Maybe they wanted a home overlooking the sunset.  Maybe they wanted to be able to see the stars every night, and smell the grass when they walked out their front door. 

But then, maybe their dreams began to fade when the harsh reality of life set in.  Finances, job loss, other shiny things that begged for them to purchase instead.  Maybe they found a fancy condo in New York and decided that city life would be better suited for their lifestyles. 

Whatever happened, this family must have begun the home with excitement, and then the excitement somehow faded away, until the home was nothing but an aging, unfinished structure, something that will sit on the face of a cliff until it crumbles away into nothing.  The stairs, the house, all of it has become worthless, unfruitful.

Sometimes our walk with Christ may become just like the staircase.  We start out excited, following His every command with pure joy.  We build our relationship with God a little more each day and we're happy about it.  But then other things come along- finances, a hectic life, a tragedy- and Christianity doesn't seem to suit our life the way we want it to... it seems much easier to focus on something else.  We don't have enough time for Him.  We find ourselves taking a break from a lifestyle that used to be lived out with eagerness and excitement.  We keep moving farther away until our relationship with Him is nothing but a crumbling structure on the face of a hill, fading a little bit more each day. 

I encourage you, don't let your relationship with Christ become like these stairs.  Don't let it be unfruitful.  Don't let it lead to nothing in the end.  Even when the excitement wears away, stay strong.  Continue the plan God has for you.  Don't let your life end up completely pointless, like useless stairs that will never help anyone.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


When I see the world, its vast sorrows and shame,
And I look up to heaven and see Your pure gace,
I wonder at why our focus is off.
Why, if heaven is great and the world is so tough,
Why we do not desire the plans of Your heart.
Why we go off on our own and think we're so smart.
I know you are God, and I know I am small,
Yet I blow off Your plans like they're nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Room Full of Zombies

Starting on Tuesday (today) of this week, my school has begun something called Spirit Week.  On Spirit Week, there are various days leading up to Homecoming in which you dress up with the special theme of the day to gain school spirit.  Today was International/Tourist Day.  I dressed up like I was a European exchange student. 

Spirit Week is usually a time where everyone is feeling silly and loud and excited about absolutely nothing at all.  Everyone enjoys dressing up and competing with each other for the weirdest costumes.  This excitement usually bleeds through to all of our activities for the rest of the day.  I mean, it's hard to be serious when you're wearing a giant sombrero.

Each Tuesday, my Christian high school gathers together and has chapel.  There is a small, student-led worship service, and a speaker (that is usually our Bible teacher.) 

Today, however, when it came time to sing worship songs, few people did.  As I looked around me, I saw blank faces and tired eyes.  Nobody was moving around or singing.  Nobody seemed to be enjoying themselves.  It usually takes a moment for the speaker to calm everyone down after an especially invigorating worship service.  This week, the large auditorium was dead silent.  Everyone stared straight ahead.  It was like the room was full of empty-brained zombies.  Myself, included!

I could tell that my Bible teacher noticed, and it bothered him.  He said, "This should be an exciting day, but nobody seems excited at all.  Nobody seems excited about anything... maybe not even God."  No one disagreed with him.  In a way, I think it was true.

This year for me, and I don't know why, seems to be more exhausting than exhilarating.  I am finding myself wearied about things that used to thrill me.  Even getting up and going to church is starting to turn into a monotonous, repetitive task- something that I do every single week without fail.  When my alarm clock rings for the morning, I can barely open my eyes.  I read a chapter or two of the Bible every night.  I used to feel eager about it.  Now I just feel... blah.  You may feel the same way.

And why is that, I wonder?

Is this holiday season stocked so full with commercialization and the hustle and bustle of everyday life to the point that it is wearying us beyond excitement?  Are we forgetting the real reason behind why we should be excited about life?  About God? 

The apostles in the Bible were absolutely stoked about Christ.  They wanted everybody to know that they were happy. They sang and rejoiced while they were being flogged with whips.  They weren't satisfied with their lives, but not in the same way that we might be now.  They weren't feeling bored... no, they weren't satisfied because they wanted to do more for Christ, to tell more people about Him, to share until the whole world heard. 

Who have you told about Jesus lately?  Seriously, when was the last time you witnessed to someone?

Over the summer, I have a lot of free time, and because of that, I enjoy going on mission trips and going to the park to witness to kids and volunteering at mission-based organizations.  I get to see the work of Christ unfolding before my very eyes.  It's so easy to become excited about something that is so tangible, something that you are experiencing every single day.

Now, life is so busy.  Many of us may not see God in the same way as we did four or five months ago.  We might not be as focused on serving solely Him anymore.  And that needs to change.

I'm not quite sure yet what it's going to take.  Maybe we need to make ourselves be over exuberant during worship time at church until we start to feel true excitement about praising Him.  Maybe we need to volunteer our spare time more.  Maybe we need to be out there, witnessing to the world, even during the school year, because there are still too many people who do not know Him.

I am going to try and write more about this in a few days, but until then, I want to strongly encourage you to fight against the December blah-ness.  Don't let yourself become apathetic and world-weary.  Find excitement and joy in simple things.  And most of all, shine like a spotlight until Jesus can be openly seen wherever you are.  Shine through the apathy, shine through the commercialism, shine through the lazy contentment, shine through everything until everyone can see Him inside of you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amy's Hospital Trip

I was going to write about the unexpected snowfall today, but something else caught my attention, and so I will write about that instead.  If you're wondering what on earth could make me change my focus, let me give you a photograph that will illustrate my concerns right now:
This is Amy.  She is my thirteen year old sister... and if the photo is too small or too blurry for you to understand what is going on, she is in a hospital bed with an IV in her wrist and a contrast dye drink in her hands.  Yuck.  But I'll start from the very beginning...

We drove to church this morning all stuffed into my dad's pick up because it's our only vehicle with 4 wheel drive.  Amy was complaining of a tummy ache, but everyone pretty much said, "Sorry, that's not a good enough excuse not to go to church."  After church, we went out to eat at a Mexican food place.  On our way home, Amy made us stop the car, and she went outside and threw up.  After that, her stomach continued to hurt, until my parents drove her into town to visit the doctor and make sure everything was okay.

I called my mom to talk to her about something else that's going on, and I suddenly hear loud voices in the background, and she said, "Oh no, I gotta go help.  Bye!" and hung up the phone.  I stared at the blank screen, stunned.  I texted my mother, asking what was going on, and she simply replied, "The surgeon is here."  After that, nothing. 

About half an hour later, my mother called me and said that Amy has an extremely high WBC count of about 18,000 (white blood cell count), and they were admitting her into the hospital overnight for testing.  A high WBC count is indicative of either an infection of some sort or appendicitis. 

Luke (my brother), my dad, and I gathered Amy's stuff together and went back up to the hospital to visit her.  I gotta admit, it was a strange feeling, seeing my sister looking frail and ashen in her hospital bed, curled up into a ball to fight off the stomach pain.  But then the nurse came in and told her she had to drink a special contrast dye so that they could see what's going on in the CT scan, and she didn't look so feeble and weak anymore... she seemed loud enough to me... loud enough to throw a fit and make the nurses and everyone else beg her to drink the nasty thing.  Sigh...

The suddenness of this hospitalization was startling.  We were going through our normal day.  Church, food, shopping, nap time... bam, you gotta go to the hospital.  What's scariest is that nobody knows what is wrong.  Hopefully they will find what is going on in my sister's body and fix it... soon. 

This all reminds me of a Bible verse:

James 4:14-15
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

We honestly do not know what is going to happen in our lives.  Whether you're spending a family Sunday together and someone ends up in the hospital, or you're arguing in the car with someone and you get into an accident that will change your life forever... we don't know what is going to happen.  Only God knows that.  That's why it's pointless to put your trust in anyone but Him.  The doctors can't say for sure what will happen.  The weatherman can't say for sure what will happen.  Only God can.

I'm going to keep my heart and my eyes open, to see what He has in store for us.  I trust Him fully.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

That Sleepy Day

Today is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year.  Everyone is laughing and spending long-awaited family time.  Some people are spending hours in the kitchen, carving turkeys and making stuffing and dressing and gravy and cranberry sauce.  Others (like my family) already went to Cracker Barrel and bought a "home cooked" meal.  Whatever you are doing this year, I hope it lives up to your every expectation.

Some of my family is getting together today; the rest are gathering this weekend to cook and eat yet another Thanksgiving feast.  Right now I have my aunt and uncle, my cousin Jonathan, and my grandparents all in town, and later today we are going to see The Blind Side in theaters, which should be an amazing movie.  I'm excited about it.

I'm thankful for my family, I'm thankful for my friends, and my home and my clothes and my entire life.  Everything I have, I am thankful for it.  Thank you, God. 

I look out my window, the sky is pale blue
The fall air is nippy and cold
But I'm cozy inside with a blanket and mug
And a wonderful family to hold

The turkey is large and it's filling the fridge
Everything else was long since kicked out
And the Cowboys game is blaring downstairs
While my dad cheers his team with a shout

My house is quite warm, the food is all good
Excitement stirs about in the room
For while Thanksgiving Day is a time of great joy
The Christmas holiday is coming soon

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

80% (This Thanksgiving Holiday)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  I am already envisioning the turkey, the dressing, all the wonderful food that I am going to enjoy.  The only damper on this much anticipated holiday is the constant reminder in the back of my mind that while I eat each bite of this Thanksgiving feast, there are those around the world who will be eating nothing.  Not one bite all day.  And maybe not the day after that either. 
Did you know that more than 80% of the earth's population survives on less than $10 a day?  My friends often tease me about saying this when we head to Starbucks or the movie theater and spend a ton of money on pointless things like a caramel mocha or a movie ticket.  I say guiltily, "Here we are spending twenty bucks on nothing, when most of the world survives on less than $10 a day."

It may seem pessimistic, but I want to keep reminding everyone around me, including myself, that we are so privileged.  Everything I have is a gift.  The bottle of water sitting eight inches away from me is a privilege.  The blanket wrapped around my shoulders right now is a privilege.  My family is downstairs, laughing and watching The Biggest Loser together.  They are a huge blessing.  I am blessed with so much that the rest of the world doesn't have.

First of all, I need to remember to not be ungrateful for the things that I have, and that can be such a difficult thing.  When things go wrong, when I don't like something, my first instinct is to push it away, to complain.  But I need to be more grateful for things, because there are so many out there who long for the things that I don't want.

Second, I need to be careful not to waste, not to fritter my money away on too many pointless things, not to 'not care' about the people who truly need money out there.  I don't want to be one of the people I wrote about in my song "Drink the Coffee," where I wrote, "We never stop and think about the hungry.  We never stop and think about the broken.  We just sit around and laugh, and we waste a few earned bucks, while the children fade away... we drink our coffee while Jesus cries."  I don't want to be like that.  I need to have better understanding about the world around me, and have an awareness about everything I am doing.  After all, I am an example of Christ.

Lastly, I need to give more.  That is fairly self-explanatory.  There are people who have nothing all over the world, even in the town in which I live.  These people are hungry.  That shirt that I never wear because I don't like its color... there are people who would love to have something that nice to wear.  Those old shoes that I have just because I don't feel like throwing them out quite yet... millions of children don't even have any shoes at all.

This holiday season has already, and will have, both sad and sweet times for me.  As I continue to grow and slowly transform myself to be a tiny mold of Christ, I need to constantly remember the children out there who have nothing.  I cannot forget them.  I refuse to blend back in to how I was before.  I am being changed by Christ's compassion for His children, and I want my heart to continue to change.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Observing from the Airport

-July 15, Wednesday
Amsterdam, Holland -

In a little less than a day, I will be home in Amarillo! I am very excited.

The flight last night was calm and sweet. I fell asleep before we took off and woke up in time from breakfast. Seven hours of uncomfortable, but fairly sound sleep. It was pleasant enough. We had yogurt for breakfast, our first dairy product in two weeks. It tasted delightful.

It is currently 6:00 in the morning, and we depart at 10:00, so we have four hours to do whatever we like. Some of us are considering going out on the rail to view the actual city of Amsterdam, just to have experienced a little piece of Holland. The only concern is that since it is so early in the morning, there will be nothing much to see.

I enjoy watching people while I'm in an airport. You can usually tell where a person has originated from simply the clothes that they were. The accents are all fascinating, and you can always find the most captivating people to watch when you are bored in an airport.

I am not sure yet exactly where my group fits. Fifteen people of different age, gender, ethnicity, and even American state in which they live. The only common ground for us is Christianity, a longing to assist the AIDS orphans, and a relationship- however so small- with Milton Jones. Jesus and Milton. I am not quite sure how this adds up, but I am sure that I will figure it out someday.

Despite our differences, we are all friends that have a close bond formed by Africa. Really, no one has had much trouble with each other at all. We have all been, at least casually, friends from the start. At this moment, our common bond is that we all terribly, terribly want to skip the nine hour plane ride ahead of us and beam ourselves home, like in some sci-fi movie.


We bid farewell to our Seattle friends, checked into the gate and finally boarded the plane, eager to watch the abundance of movies available in the tiny screens that rested on the backs of the seats in front of us.

This flight is nine hours long, but we will arrive in Houston only three hours later than when we departed. Today will seem much, much longer than a usual day as a result of this. Oh, the joys of jet lag.

-In Air to Houston-

If I lived on a plane, my life would consist of sleeping... watching major motion pictures on eight inch screens... reading The Praise Habit by David Crowder... falling asleep while reading The Praise Habit by David Crowder... eating a perfectly balanced and packaged and cardboard-flavored airplane meal... crawling over people to go to the bathroom... watching movies that I wouldn't ever rent because they really just aren't that interesting... staring at the clock for twenty-three minutes straight, and wishing that I could make time move faster... calculating what time it is in Kenya and in Amsterdam and in Hawaii and in Texas and then back to Kenya... fumbling around in a three by three bathroom stall... sleeping in the weirdest position I have ever sat in before, but that is the only way to feel comfortable enough to sleep... snickering while watching other people sleep in odd positions... listening to the baby in the row behind me scream bloody murder, and thinking, "What in heaven's name was this kid's mother thinking when she took him on this plane?"... and etc.

My mind keeps drifting off to those kids in Africa, and I am beginning to dread coming home. I miss it in Kenya already, and I think it would have been nice to stay longer. My family isn't even home, for crying out loud.

The baby won't stop screaming. I want off this plane.

-In Air to Amarillo-

We had a five hour layover in Houston. Upon arrival in Houston, we were waved through the gate by a flight attendant, who told us with a bright smile, "Welcome home." I couldn't help but grin at her in return, despite my exhaustion. It felt amazing to be back on Texas soil.

We all asked for so many refills of our drinks. Ice is a glorious wonder to us now. I sat at a table with Milton, Barbie, and Christian, and I think that Milton must have had five refills of his iced tea. It was funny to watch. He downed one glass in less than a minute. The poor waiter turned around from serving the rest of us and said in a bewildered voice, "Oh, let me get you another glass, sir."

Everything in America feels so different. The sky looks different. The clouds look different. The air smells a lot different. Africa- Kenya, at least- has a very distinctive smell to it, no matter where you go. Some people were offended by the foreign scent of the air. I, however, didn't mind it all that much.

People have been rushing, rushing around, which has not been familiar to me at all over these past few weeks. I think back on an African saying, one that the Kenyans take very literally. It goes something like, "Americans have watches, but Africans have time," and it is the truth. The calmness, the serenity of Kenya, is something that I will miss.

I do not want to blend back in with my old life. I do not want to become once again the person who I used to be. I think a little differently now, and I want to remain this way, to live this way. I want to remember the poverty, remember the people, remember their faces- young and old. I can't let myself forget.

I do not want to become part of the daily hustle and bustle that has become so common for the modern American lifestyle.

I want to be able to sit down and truly listen to someone, to cherish the value of both time and loved ones.

I do not want to lose faith over something relatively small when there are those who have lost everything and everyone they have, and yet have the faith of Job, even while they know that they will never have their lives replenished back to where it was before. I want that kind of extreme faith.

I do not want to whine about having to go to school every day when there are those who start walking at 3:00 in the morning to make it on time to a classroom with dirt floors and a teacher who didn't even graduate from high school.

Never again will I use the phrase, "I am starving." Not when there are people who truly are starving and do not complain.

Those who believe that it is not our duty as Christians to feed the poor must go and read the book of James. There are those who need us. Jesus would feed His lambs, and we are His disciples, who should be following His example. How else can we live out Christ's love but by feeding the hungry, fulfilling Jesus' will for the least of His children? How else can they be fed?

James 2:15-17, TNIV, says, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." I do not want to be the one who says, "I wish you well," and does nothing. I want to be the one who follows Christ's will and feeds the hungry, and clothes the naked, and shares the gospel with those who do not know.

We are His tools.

We are about to land in Amarillo any minute now, and I feel excitement coursing through my veins and rising up within me. I am home. It has been a long journey- one I never want to forget- a journey that has changed my perspective on the world, on my faith, on humanity. I am ready to be home, to share my experiences with those who are willing to listen. I am ready to continue Christ's purpose for my life.

I am His.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The African Safari

-July 14, Tuesday
Kisumu Airport-

I woke up at 4:45 this morning and turned on the shower, shivering in dreaded anticipation of the icy blast that was sure to come. To my great surprise and excitement, steam began to rise from the scalding hot water. I stepped beneath the faucet, smiling from ear to ear. Despite the early hour, this was a wonderful start to my day.

We boarded our matatus and rode off into the darkness, watching young children walk alone to their schools, moving quietly through the early morning darkness.

When we arrived at the airport, they told us that they did not open until 7:00, a slightly frightening thought since our plane takes off at 8:00, and we have fifty tons of baggage to load and check. They presented us with a small, peaceful patio outside surrounded by a garden. We all sat together, listening to Audie's devotion and watching the sun rise in pastel strokes of color that painted the sky like a morning rainbow.

We gave our final farewells to Jared, giving him the customary both-side African hug and shaking his hand for one last time. "Asante-sana," he said over and over again, smiling at each of us. "Tell my American friends hello. I will see you next year."

Checking baggage was a hectic mess. It took us forever, but we finally made it through, weary and ready to relax on the plane to Nairobi. We are still in the waiting room, waiting for the plane to show up. Everyone seems excited to finally be on our way home and yet sad to leave. It is a bittersweet moment, impossible to understand unless you have seen what we have seen and met the people we have met.

How can we simply return to our old lives, taking everything for granted, after we have seen people who are drowning in poverty? How can we waste our money on things that don't matter? How can we complain about our school, however poor it may be? How can we take our families, our health, and our homes for granted? How can we eat a bite of an extensive meal and not feel grateful? How can we complain about the most trivial problems in our lives and not stop to think of the children at Lakeside Orphanage who have lost everything that they have because of AIDS? How can our lives ever be the same again?

I am so blessed, so privileged, to have what I have. It takes me back to the orphanage, to the children proudly showing us what little they had. It takes me back to the children at Ring Road, explaining to me how happy they were because God had blessed them with food and an education. It takes me back to the bush at KipKabus, to the woman giving Barbie and I one of, if not the most, expensive thing she owned. It takes me back to the church in Eldoret, where the church elders stood in the middle of poverty, hands lifted high in adoration for the Lord, singing, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all..."

How can our lives not be changed in every possible aspect?

-Nairobi, Kenya-

At this exact moment, I am sitting on the curb outside of the Nairobi airport, waiting. I have been waiting for forty minutes now, and I have another twenty minutes left to go before the Seattle team arrives and we leave for the safari.


We went ahead and checked our baggage, and we are again out on the curb, waiting for our matatus to show up. Everyone is hungry and passing out what little snacks we have.

This reminds me of when one of the church elders told us gravely that Americans say that they are starving when they are only a little bit hungry. Africans know what it is like to truly be hungry." Together we discussed this memory, and we all lost a little bit of our appetites. Here we are, stuffing our faces with Sour Patch Kids and beef jerky and pistachios because we're a little overdue on lunch, and there are people living a mile away who are literally starving to death.

-Nairobi, Kenya-

We went to the wildlife park to walk around and view the animals in their pens. Our guide was a young man named Alex. He had a great passion for the animals and took us all around the park, off of the paths and up close to view the wild animals. We saw the rhinos, wildebeests, buffalo, leopards, lions...

Alex paid little mind to the park laws and instead took us behind the tourist fences and into the wild, face to face with the animals with only a chain link fence between us. The leopard lunged at the measly fence, snarling ferociously at us. It was a little frightening.

Alex carried this little baby songbird in his hand. At one point, he handed me the bird and walked away, leaving me standing helplessly, holding the trembling songbird. Finally, after a while, I walked up to Alex and said, "Here, take her back now," and he laughed and complied.

"Have you ever touched a cheetah, the fastest of all animals?" Alex asked us in a hushed whisper. "These great cats can be tamed, but shh... this is a secret. Follow me." With a wide grin lighting up his face, Alex led us past the boundaries and out into the actual park, where another park ranger was waiting. A cheetah sat calmly a few yards away, unleashed, watching us intently with golden eyes. "Go on, touch him," Alex murmured, and one by one, we knelt to stroke the large cat, listening to its loud purr and caressing its head and back in awe while we posed for a photo. The experience was both frightening and wonderful at the same time. The fact that a full-grown cheetah was sitting inches away from me, purring, was a surreal feeling.

Alex obviously enjoyed leading us around the park, introducing us to woman-despising monkeys and letting us hold leopard carcasses and put our feet in scale models of elephant feet. He eagerly pointed out birds and herbs and the tree branches in which Africans use to brush their teeth. "This is the biggest secret in Africa. This is why our teeth are so white and beautiful."

At the end, when Alex gave us our ticket stubs so that we could pass the guards and leave the park, he wrote his email address on the back of mine. He motioned towards the written address with his finger so that I would see it, and gave me a wink before ushering me out the door with the others.

After lunch, we went to the safari headquarters. Some people did not want to spend the money to go on the safari, and so they stayed behind. The rest of us were eager to see the wildlife of Africa in their natural habitats.

The first animal we saw was a warthog, trotting through the tall savannah grass, its tail in the air like a flag. After this, we saw gazelle, antelope, buffalo, and a rhino. There were herds upon herds of dramatically-striped zebra, and even a few babies. We saw the zebra up close, watching eagerly as they crossed the road directly in front of our matatus, stopping for a moment to look at us with wary eyes.

We drove around and around looking for giraffes, but we couldn't see any. We were all sorely disappointed and praying silently, "Lord, let us see one giraffe... just one." At the tail end of the safari, literally to the point where we could almost see the entrance from which we came, we all gasped in unison. A single young giraffe was striding calmly down the road in front of us, ambling along without a care, ignoring our very presence. It felt like a blessing straight from God, a small gift that He gave us us to see His children smile with delight. We were all so excited and happy to see that simple giraffe.

We went straight to the airport, which was a good thing, because the traffic was terrible. It took forever for us to merely arrive, check in, exchange our currency back to American dollars, eat dinner, go through security, and sit down. We had perfect timing, really.

I think that we are all feeling concerned about fitting back into our former lives. We have all been changed by this trip, and it will be hard to live out our extravagant lifestyles when the faces of hungry children are swimming hauntingly before our eyes wherever we go. How can we ever again truly adapt to the hectic, apathetic culture that we were all once so used to? How can we simply move on from this journey when there is so much poverty, so much need, so much hunger in the world?

I don't think that any of us will ever again say, "I'm starving."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Visiting Lakeside Orphanage

-July 13, Monday
Kisumu, Kenya-

This morning, I woke up with a verse spinning around in my head.

"The Spirit of the Soverign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor."

I thought that this was a fantastic verse, but I had no idea where it was from, and so I flipped around in my Bible until I found the verse in Isaiah 61, a chapter in which I had studied a few months earlier, but had forgotten about while studying Psalm 91 so much in preparation for this trip. Even though I had planned to talk about something completely different when I led the devotion this morning, I felt that God wanted me to simply read Isaiah 61 to our group. Now I know what professional speakers mean when they say that they are about to preach on something completely different than what they had originally planned.

Amy was feeling better, so she came down for breakfast today. Thank God for a fairly quick recovery. It could have been much worse.

It is Milton's birthday today, and so we sang Happy Birthday to him this morning. I think that it would be awesome to spend my birthday in Africa. I would totally go for that.

I may be going to leave my guitar at Lakeside Orphanage today. I was going to have it sent back to Eldoret, but Milton said that since they already have one instrument- Connor Deal's keyboard- then I should consider giving it to someplace that doesn't have any instruments at all, such as Lakeside. He has a point, and so I will do what he suggested and find somewhere else to donate my acoustic guitar. The African people are all so musical; I know that anyone would be thrilled to have my guitar. I am excited to sacrifice it to these people who are so humble, so loving, and who are in such great need for even the smallest of things.


I decided to not leave my guitar at Lakeside. I think I will leave it with John and Connie instead, and let them decide what to do with it.

We arrived at the orphanage, and eighty children rushed out to meet us, waving excitedly and chattering to each other- and us- in Swahili or Luo or both. The eager children ushered us into the assembly room and took turns performing songs and reciting poetry and Bible verses for our team. It was adorable.

We had a miniature Vacation Bible School for the nursery children and then for the older children. They all enjoyed making the crafts and singing the songs. We passed out fruit loops to make necklaces, but most of the children ate the cereal before they even finished their necklaces.

We visited the living quarters of the orphans. They were all so proud of their rooms.

We returned to the orphanage, and finished out VBS. Bekah and Olivia and I went outside to teach songs to the nursery children. It was difficult because none of the children could speak any English whatsoever. We finally ended up singing by ourselves while the children cheerfully did the hand motions with us.

One girl named Sandra clung to me like I was her sister or her mother. She played with my fingers. She examined my pale skin. She stroked my hair. She laid her head in my lap whenever I sat down. She held my hand. She refused to let go of me the entire time I visited the orphanage. Every time I caught Sandra's eye, she would beam at me, giddy that I had given her the honor of a single glance. "Mzungu Emily," she would call me, proudly showing me the contents of her school bag. Sandra was the most precious little girl. "She has no sponsor," the teacher told me sadly. I looked down at Sandra, and she giggled and reached up to stroke my face, murmuring something in Swahili. I knew then that I must find Sandra a sponsor. No matter what, my family must sponsor sweet Sandra. She is God's precious little girl, only five years old.

One three year old named Brenda was the victim of terrible teasing. The children would chant in Luo or Swahili or both, "Look at Brenda, look at Brenda!" They would dance up to her and smack her in the face... or they would throw rocks at her and run away laughing while Brenda stood, silent as stone, refusing to say a word. Olivia lifted the small girl into her arms and cradled her against her chest. It was the saddest thing. I have no idea why the children mocked Brenda like they did. I asked a teacher, but he said, "They are children. What can you expect?" I wasn't too pleased with his answer.

We sadly left the orphanage, the children chasing after our matatu. I caught one last glimpse of Sandra grinning at me, waving and shouting out words in broken English. I remember the last thing she told me. "See you tomorrow, mzungu Emily." I wish I could.

We stopped by the equator marker to take pictures. It was weird knowing that not only was I straddling two hemispheres, I was literally standing on the center point of the earth, closest to the sun. This is why Kisumu is so much hotter than Eldoret.

We went to John and Connie's house, and there was a group of several Maasai warriors who were guarding the house. They all had gaping holes in their earlobes, and they wrapped their earlobes around the tops of their ears.

The warriors performed tribal dances for us, hopping around and making wild, unearthly sounds. The dance was fascinating, both to watch and to hear.

I managed to buy one of the elder's clubs for five hundred shillings. Milton said that it may have been used to kill a lion. I now own a genuine Maasai warrior's club, which is awesome. I think I'll give it to my little brother.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Make a Zebra!

-July 12, Sunday
Kisumu, Kenya-

I am so tired. Church is in a couple of hours, and I don't know how I can stay awake through another eight hour service and community teaching. I am not sure how I am going to be able to teach the community's young women when I can hardly keep my eyes open for long enough to even read a page-long devotion before bed.

This place has changed my perspective on everything worth a thought and more. I only wish that at the end of an amazing day, I could return to my own home and my own bed, and then reappear in Africa the next morning. Maybe this is only my exhaustion speaking.

Today is my last day to see Lavin, which makes me very sad.

The hotel doctor visited last night and examined Amy. He said that she has a bad case of food poisoning, but not cholera, thank the Lord. He said for her not to take Finnergan, because she needs to relieve her body of the poison, and so Amy was probably sick through most of the night. I pray that God will heal her quickly and give her rest.


We arrived at the church around 9:00 and greeted the elders before sitting in the second and third rows under a great big tent. We were sitting in our chairs, waiting for the service to begin, when Jared came up to us and said that they needed a teacher for the Sunday school. Nobody seemed to want to teach, and I enjoy teaching children, so I stood up and volunteered. Jared led me upstairs to stand before the children in a small, stuffy classroom. At least two hundred children were stuffed inside the tiny room, and many more lined the windows and the doorway all the way down the hall.

"What do you want me to teach?" I asked helplessly.

"Anything you like," Jared replied. He turned to the children and told them that they had a new teacher from the USA. "And who is the president of the USA?" he asked seriously.

"The honorable Barack Obama."

Jared sent up an interpreter to help me, because many of the children, especially the young ones, struggled with their English. I had never taught with a Swahili interpreter before. I taught the story of when Jesus healed Bartimaeus. I think that the story was a huge hit. I explained to the children that Jesus could heal their problems and their sadness as well, specifically with three things:

1. Hope
2. Joy
3. Peace

I read Hebrews 13:5 and 6 and then asked questions and gave out prizes to those who answered. I finally gave away rubber bracelets to all of the children, who ended up numbering at least three hundred by the end of my lesson.

After the lesson, we went out to the church, stuffing desk after desk after desk into the fairly small sanctuary. There had to have been more than five hundred children squeezed tightly into this room. It was astonishing... and very, very hot and stuffy. I was prepared to return to the main service, but the interpreter asked, "Teacher, please teach them until lunch. Tell them about your life in America, and about the Honorable Barack Obama."

I taught them how to sing The Lord's Army, and then the children joyfully sang the song I had taught them earlier in the week- Yesu ni Bwana. The interpreter had them all tell me what they thought of me, picking children out of the crowd to say, "God bless you," "Thank you, madam," "Please come again," and etc. It was precious to hear.

I went to sit through the last five or ten minutes of the service, and then we broke up into the community teaching groups. Before the sessions began, I pulled Lavin aside and gave her the gift bag I brought and my shoes. She beamed at me and hugged me shyly. Lavin is the sweetest little girl.

We returned to the stuffy church room. Connie, Olivia, and I were in charge of the women. We taught about Esther again, and we broke up into small groups at the end. It was an enjoyable experience. Jared brought in crates of Coca-Cola and Fanta, and we all sang songs together.

We left the hot church feeling sweaty and hot, and I saw a woman with the most precious five month old baby girl named Sarah. The woman, Lynette, must have noticed my adoration for all things small, for while I was sitting on a bench rather forlornly, eying her baby, she came up to me, plopped Sarah onto my lap, and said, "Hold her while I eat." What joy this gave me.

I examined this adorable baby from head to toe, tickling her round, chocolate-colored belly, listening to her chatter, touching her toes, watching her sweet smile. If you did not know this, and I have no intention of being racist in any way, the hair of black babies, at least African ones, is very soft and fine, almost like cotton. I loved to pet Sarah's soft hair, and she was fascinated by my long curls, pulling them with a kind of awe, so we were even. By the time that Lynette returned to take her baby back, my heart was stolen.

Lunch was chicken stew, greens, chicken, and ugali- all without any silverware.

Because this was our last day at Ring Road, we all gathered together with the Ring Road staff in one of the classrooms to sing and pray for the last time. Then we put on our new tee-shirts and went to take a group picture. "Mingle, mingle!" Jared insisted. "We are a zebra- black, white, black, white. Make a zebra. Anything else is dangerous." We took our photos and then got in a circle and held hands, now thoroughly mingled. We sang a resounding chorus of He Has Done So Much for Me, and then it was time to go.

I hugged Lavin tightly and promised to come visit her again one day, and until then, write her often. She held me close for a moment and then let go, retreating behind a corner, from where she watched me silently until I left Ring Road School for the last time.

We visited the Kisumu market, which is a huge, limitless space of land where people simply put all of their merchandise into messy piles on the ground, and eight billion people ruffle through it in the same space of land under a burning hot sun. There are thieves and pickpockets lurking around every corner. Everywhere I went, I heard shouts of, "Mzungu, mzungu!" I did not like that market at all.

Recently, my team has been taking precautions that we had not thought to take before. This is because a rapist with AIDS has been seen around the slums, following us. Milton even hired someone to follow us when we walked to the school. The rapist was hanging around even then, although I did not know it at the time. I am not that concerned for my own safety; I know that I will be fine. It is Lavin I worry about. She lives in the slums with only her mother and her uncle, and she often walks to and from school alone.

We are now at our hotel, exhausted. Supper should be at any time now. Tomorrow is our last day in Kisumu, and then we will spend a day in the capitol city of Nairobi before returning home.


After dinner, Christian and Micah and Milton and I sat at the table for a couple of hours, talking through the nighttime darkness. After awhile, Chase and Cheryl joined us, bringing cokes for us to drink. I swear that I drink more cokes in a day here than I have anywhere else, but when a cold coke is the only drink available, you take it.

Towards the end of the conversation, Audie walked up to our group, explaining that a man who was also staying at our hotel had asked for help on becoming a Christian. Milton left to help counsel the man, and sure enough, the man became a follower of Jesus. It was awesome to hear about.

I truly love it here- the people and the places and the faces- but I still cannot wait to be home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rickety Canoes and Giant Beetles

-July 11, Saturday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today we got up extra early and went to Lake Victoria. We arrived at the dock, only to see a couple of rickety canoes bobbing unsteadily in the water. What makes things worse was not the fact that I am terrified of deep water or that once Milton got a parasite from Lake Victoria that nearly killed him, but the realization that the water was infested with hippos, and hippos kill more people per year than any other animal except for the mosquito... and we were going to be exploring these waters in nothing but a measly canoe.

My canoe carried our two guides, Milton, Cheryl, Amy, Olivia, Micah, Holly, Christian, and me. We were kind of the scaredy-cat boat, and so our hopes sank as we left the shore. The fact that we were required to wear life jackets, insinuating that there was a possibility, however so small, of entering the water, only increased our terror.

Once we were out onto the lake, things calmed down a bit. The smooth water was a pale blue that matched the early morning sky, and the sloping white sails of fishermen dotted the misty horizon.

Our guide was very intelligent. He pointed out the various birds and plant life that lined the waters and shore. He told us about the lives of the Luo tribes who were washing their clothes in the lake water.

At one point in our journey, Christian screamed, causing us all to look up in alarm. A three-inch long cockroach was making its way across Amy's back. "There is something on you," Christian said in a strained voice. Amy stood up in the middle of the boat and began to promptly freak out. The canoe was rocking precariously, and I was sure that it was going to tip. Poor Milton must have been horrified. The guide finally picked the roach off of Amy's back and threw it in the water, and things calmed down some, but everyone felt a little jittery after that.

After the canoe tour, we went to the market and were immediately pulled into a new world of shops and gifts and foreign currency. I enjoyed picking out gifts for my family and friends.

We went to go eat at a local restaurant, and most of the table ordered tilapia and chapati, including myself. I had not expected to receive the entire fish- head, tail, fins, eyes, and all. I ate it.

We went to Jared's wife's tiny boutique to visit her and take a look around. On our way out, we were bombarded by three boys who were high from sniffing glue, one worse than all the others. He stumbled alongside of us, talking almost incoherently, and every few seconds he would lift his glue bottle to take a deep whiff through his mouth. It was heart breaking to see, but also a little frightening. One of the boys was carrying a knife in his hand.

We went to the hotel and had four hours to relax before dinner, which a glorious feeling. Free time. A few of us walked over to the small art shop a couple of blocks away. It was neat to see how they made all sorts of things from rubbish off of the streets- portraits out of crushed egg shells, earrings out of coke bottle caps, necklaces out of cow and fish bones- they recycled everything they could find.

Back at the hotel, Sandi, Chase, Audie, Milton, and I colored foam fishes for Sandi's VBS next week until the wind became so disruptive that we couldn't work outside anymore. Then the downpour began. The sky opened and let forth three million buckets of rain onto the Kenyan soil. I went up to my room so that I could watch the small storm through the window.

We went to John and Connie's new house. It is very big and very nice, and it is guarded by Maasai warriors. They also have their own private cook. We were served spaghetti, which tasted amazing. Everyone stuffed themselves full with pasta until they could eat no more. We all held hands at the end of the meal and sang, He has Done so Much for Me, in both Swahili and English, and then Holly and (Kenyan) Thomas jokingly sang the song in Luo.

When we stepped outside, the stars had tumbled across the blackness of the sky in jumbled patches of white glitter. It was beautiful.

Amy began to throw up almost immediately when we arrived back at the hotel, so I pray not only that she feels better, but that nobody else gets sick after her.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dancing and singing through the slums of Kenya

-July 10, Friday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today we decided to have our drivers drop us off at a five or ten minute walk away from the school, right in the middle of the slums, so that we could get a full understanding of the area in which these people live. People beamed and waved at us, shouting out, "How are you? How are you?" and never, "Hello." If I ever tell a Kenyan, "Hello," the automatic response is, "Fine."

At the school, I took pictures of the teachers and then went into town with James, Audie, and Chase to buy paint supplies. We went to the Nakumatt and two hardware stores.

Lavin follows me wherever I go, and every time I catch her eye, she beams with joy. She is precious. She loves the song in Swahili that I taught them- Yesu ni Bwana- and she sings it all the time.

After VBS, we went to go watch the students play futbol. We walked through the slums to the soccer field and sat on the sidelines, eager to watch the school team play. I got out my journal and began to teach the children surrounding me how to play Tick-Tack-Toe, and then Puppet, which is less morbid term for Hangman.

After we played, we sat down and sang songs until the games were over. Everyone's favorite was Yesu ni Bwana. One little girl named Sarah said, "We will sing this song every day, and every time we sing it, we will think of you, Emily." Lavin stayed by my side the entire time, singing the loudest of all.

We finally got up to leave, and Lavin took my hand. I took the hand of another girl, and then there was a great line of us, holding hands and walking through the slums ahead of everyone else, taking detours and shortcuts, and loudly singing, "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you... Yesu ni Bwana..." (and yes, I realize that it does not translate into the same thing.) Everyone stared at us as we skipped past them. It was wonderful.

I told my dear new friends that Sunday would be my last day at Ring Road, and one girl said, "We will never forget your face." Lavin said goodbye over and over again, holding me close.

Tomorrow we are going to Lake Victoria to hang out with the hippos. It should be an interesting experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Playing Hokey Pokey... in Africa.

-July 9, Thursday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today, as planned, we went to Ring Road School. Whenever we ride through the slums, the children watch us with wide eyes, pointing and shouting, "Mzungu, mzungu!"

Dory, Rose, and the others were waiting excitedly for me when I arrived. When Lavin saw me, she came running and wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace.

The children were all playing a game when we arrived at the school. I quickly joined in, asking them to teach me how to play. The game- which I have christened "Squares"- was surprisingly difficult. There were sixteen squares, and two to four players at a time. They would begin at opposite corners and begin to hop four squares right and then four squares left, and then move up one. This seems easy, but then they go backwards and sideways and add more people... it is too hard to explain. It took me a long time to figure the game out, and it was quite tiring. The children thought my poor skills were hilarious. Lavin and I played the game together, and all of the children would laugh whenever I messed up, which was quite often.

I played the squares game with the children, and then we gathered around and sang a few songs that everyone knew, such as Deep and Wide. We also sang songs that the children did not know yet, but enjoyed all the same, such as The Lord's Army.

Directly in the middle of a song, I heard a boy say, "Excuse me, madam." I turned around expectantly, and he said, "We are requesting that you take tea."

This is the Kenyan custom. No matter what you are doing or where you are doing it, you are required to stop at that exact moment, sit down, and have a cup of tea and maybe a mandazi or two. The children with whom I had been singing urged me on as if taking tea in the middle of singing a song was completely normal, and it was... for them.

I took my tea and then went back outside. We played clapping games and jump rope. I taught the children how to play Limbo, and that was a huge hit, bigger than the Hokey Pokey, even. I brought out my camera and we made "movies," talking about their sponsors and discussing the biggest needs at Ring Road School.

"What does your school need the most?" I asked seriously.

"Emily forever!" one girl shouted.

I ask them what the biggest need is for their school, and they tell me that they want me to stay with them forever. I wish I could.

The children began reciting stories. Dory stood up and recited a poem that she had written about AIDS. It was fantastic. I am astonished by the brilliance of these children- children who literally have little to no opportunity for a decent future.

For lunch, Barbie and James and I went to the Nakumatt. We ate at the upstairs version of a food court, which consisted of three or four little restaurants. Barbie chose to have Chinese food, and I ordered a pizza.

We went to various nursery schools, secondary schools, and universities to visit with sponsored children and photograph them. We even went to a medical school. Everyone here wears uniforms to school, even at college. At Ring Road, when asked if my school wears uniforms, I replied that we did not, and one little girl asked, "If you are killed, then how will they know where to take your body?" The life these children live is another world apart from our own.

Everywhere I go, I hear shouts of, "Mzungu, mzungu!" I am not simply a minority over here- I am a rarity.

We went to the hotel and rested awhile before boarding our matatus and going to Jared's house. We sat outside in lawn chairs and had a delicious meal of chipati, fish, chicken, cake, rice, and mango juice. It was the best meal I've had since I have been here.

The meal was very satisfying and we enjoyed examining the stars that quivered above us. They were so different from our own in the Northern hemisphere. It felt otherworldly to not be able to find the Big Dipper or any of the familiar paintings of the sky. We made up our own constellations, creating images of animals, such as a giant giraffe.

We finally arrived back at the hotel. It was after dark and we were exhausted, but happy, and very much ready for bed.

I must go now, because it is later at night than I thought it was, but I will write more tomorrow.