We go unnoticed, but it doesn't usually bother us.
We realize we don’t exist just to be admired.
But enough is enough.
After all the beatings, the disrespect, and the ignorance will we take a stand. Because we now know that you don't understand us well. You take advantage of our provision and guidance.
You have smothered our soul embers.
For a long time we’ve forgotten, some of us have never even known, who we are.
And you’ve forgotten as well,
even though we held you from the time you were helpless.
Allow me to recall.
We are a juxtaposition.
Strength of a stone is in our bones and our muscle,
yet when we walk we sway like trees.
Our disposition holds such endurance and strength,
simultaneously being full of grace and gentleness.
We’ve been consecrated with the ability to turn everything into beauty,
even our own faces and bodies.
Yet with our braided hair and our glorious physicality
we remain humble and self-sacrificial.
Because we know that one day our bodies will waste away.
But our legacy, though never spoken of,
will continue to the next and the next, and the next.
We're not afraid.
We are patient. We are faithful. We will help make you understand.
We must remind ourselves of this identity.
That we are here, and we matter.
Without us there would be no you.
And when you came along, our strength seeped from us to you. Some of us are glad, but for others the admiration was never acknowledged nor returned.
So we march together; we start a pointed, intentional conversation.
And when we march for ourselves, it’s necessary we march for others.
We march for those who cannot because their abusers are watching them.
We march for those who don’t value themselves enough to.
We march for those forgotten or left behind.
We march for the souls that are no longer.
We march for our children and give them a voice.
Because all of us came from a mother, and all of us were once a child.
We do not act out of fear.
We march with determination. With a smile. With a flash of confidence.
Because as we matter as one individual, we matter as all.
If you see our signs and hear our songs, and you have a sense of fear, good.
Listen to us now. Now. We won’t return your hate, but we will look you in the eye.
Join us or don’t, either way we continue to grow into our skin.
We will move on and forgive. If you are bitter, because you never had someone
to care for you, we will even heal you if you are willing.
But we won’t slip back to the way things have been so far.
See the fire in our pupils. You can no longer stomp it out.
Hear our loud voices. They are waning from all the yelling, but we will continue until something is done.
We are here.
We are humans of uniquity.
We are alive. Our value is beyond measure.
We are women.
A note: I started processing this piece on August 9, Women's Day in South Africa. I was asked to participate in a march in one of the communities I live near, Embonisweni. Specifically, I was asked to document and observe the event through photographs. The experience was humbling, empowering, and left me in awe. If only the rest of the world could take on the attitude of those who participated that day. There was so sense of anger in the crowd. The entire experience had an aura of joy. Even though very real, sobering words were spoken, smiles were the bookends to everything. There was vulnerability in every person who participated.
Interestingly, I have finished this work during a time when there has been a lot of unrest during marches and protests, specifically in America. I have observed in this piece the word woman can be replaced with many, many types of people or groups from all over the world. People who have been marginalized, abused, and forgotten. Please think about your heart and the actions it's leading you to. I hope this helps you to see things truthfully and clearly from someone else's point of view.
Once I lived in a house at the bottom of a very windy, dusty hill. The house had a tin roof, and large cracks ran dangerously across its concrete walls. During the time that I lived there, women ran the house, typically ranging from 1-7 people. At certain points it has housed over 12 in one night, even though it’s rooms were small and the kitchen had no space for more than two. Every kind of person imaginable gathered under its roof. People from all over the world with various backgrounds, skin tones, ages, and stories. The house was often overcrowded for game nights, movie showings, and drinking tea. Other nights it would be completely silent, with only crickets outside the barred windows to keep you company. I cannot recall how many languages I have heard under its roof, or how many times I have cried or laughed in its quarters. Our living room, which is still painted multiple shades and tones of peach and pink, had two couches with sheets thrown over them to cover the torn plaid material underneath. The cushions were held up by wooden planks underneath. By no means was it fancy, but it was beautiful. I was good at stretching it's limits to accommodate. Tucked behind the back door of the house was a small enclosed yard packed with every fruit imaginable. Mangoes, guavas, oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, passion fruit, and who knows what else. The back fence was our clothes line. During the summer, both of the dutch doors were open to let a breeze through the dusty house. The front porch usually was covered in the hot sun, and three large diamond tiles covered it's floor. A number 7 was plastered next to the blue-dyed front door.
Today I am getting ready to leave this house. I’m packing my things to move somewhere with much better utilities, and no cracks in its white plastered walls. Still I will miss the memories from this house. Sometimes being such a sentimental person can be hard. I like change, but as soon as it begins it’s hard to imagine having fun with it. To be honest, I will still probably sneak down to this house and steal some of its fruit, especially since the mangoes weren’t very good last year. But I’m excited to live in a place that will easily hold more people, where I can host and give them good food and memorable times with great pride. Here’s to bigger, not necessarily better things. To change. To home-making. To cleaning out and starting fresh. To new memories made in House 6. After all, it is only a few meters away. How difficult could it be?
A Few Memories:
1. Painting on the front porch.
2. Patchi taking me to the emergency room when I almost cut my toe off. Where would I be without her? She's the order to my chaotic lifestyle.
3. Karaoke singing & dancing with the Aspire girls.
4. Trying to keep my puppy contained in the back yard.
5. Being roommates with Ari in a very tiny room on our huge loft beds. Praying together every night.
6. Making Marula Beer.
7. Watching Chuck, Harry Potter, & Star Wars (pausing frequently to ask for background info.) with Laura.
8. Trying to decorate on a budget of R0.
9. Having Aspire, the Interns, & the Staff under one roof. Fun, interesting, & hard.
10. Hosting Midweek.
11. Finally getting to show Rachel & Jesse where I've been living the past 2 years.
12. Trying to cook on a 2 burner counter-top stove alongside 5 other people.
13. Cramming an entire team into my room to hang out so we wouldn't wake anyone up.
14. Sleepovers in neighboring rooms.
15. Move nights.
16. Hosting volunteers from all over the world.
17. My mom cooking in my kitchen while my dad read from my stack of magazines in the living room.
18. Watching stars & Embon lights on the back stairs.
One of my favorite things with learning about other cultures is how social networking happens. In India, there are small chai shops on nearly every street corner, and these are usually where people will meet up to talk business or life. In South Africa there is no designated space for social networking. If you're driving and you see someone on the side of the road that you know, you pull over for a minute to talk about anything.
When I was a child I never imagined myself being just 21 years old and thinking about the word network and actually getting excited about it. But that’s exactly what is happening these days.
I’ve realized that throughout history and in multiple cultures and societies, people have been the most successful when they work in teams. And not just in teams where all the people have the same talents or passions. Sometimes not even precisely the same values or beliefs. But the powerful people are the ones who work in diverse teams. People who have different strengths, different focuses, different methods of accomplishing things. The one unifying thing in these teams is this: having a common mission, vision, and goal that holds LOVE as the highest value. That is when people have the power to truly make an impact and can work in a fluid, forward motion.
A network is defined as a system of interconnected people or things. On a deeper level, networking is “to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts”. To me, this is so empowering. This is what I want for the rest of my life. That no matter what I’m doing, I know it’s a part of a bigger picture with a community which will help me to be successful because they ground me. In April I have a really exciting opportunity to do just that.
Ten Thousand Homes has invited me to go to a leadership conference at the end of April. The conference is called Growth Resourcing Group (you can check out their website if you would like to know more). Its mission is to “mentor leaders of churches, businesses, and nonprofits to develop healthy cultures that positively influence people’s lives and change the world”. It is a label for people from all over the world from every sphere of society to come together to teach, to learn, and to grow with each other. I’m so excited to be part of this! Some people that I already know from working both in South Africa and Kenya will also be attending this conference.
After April I wish to continue this lifestyle of networking on a regular basis. I hope to challenge myself to continue to make new connections and relationships with other artists, missionaries, and community leaders. In order to do this to the best of my ability, I would love to have a few extra tools. Things like this include a car, some art supplies, training sessions and classes, and some funding to buy new tools and technology. Thus far, I’ve been surviving monthly on about $300. So far it has worked well, but I realize that in order to grow and to have a “networking lifestyle”, I need to have a bigger budget. That being said, I struggle with asking for money. $300 already seems like a lot to me. But the more I prayed and thought, I felt challenged by God to dream big. To think about things in the long run. And so I’m taking an extra big step into that. I believe that if I receive $1,250 in monthly support, I will be better equipped to do my job better, to grow in my skills, to make a deep and lasting impact, and to connect with more people on a deep and personal level. Here is a graph that shows how far I have to go.
Would you consider partnering with me on a monthly basis? By doing this you are not only empowering me to be a leader, but you are also helping me to empower those that I work alongside with. You are being a part of the ripple effect. To help me continue with my work at Ten Thousand Homes and to go to the GRG Conference, you can donate and follow my progress at this link:
Thank you for your support so far. Your thoughts, prayers,
letters, and donations mean the world to me.
South Africa has been in my life for over three years. It’s crazy to see all the ways I've changed since the first time I came. Each year I do something new, experience such a wide variety of stories, and am reaching a whole new level both as a leader and a learner. This past year so far has been extremely difficult, yet at the same time where I’ve grown the most and gained some really valuable experiences. It’s amazing to be exactly where I need to be. I feel deeply tired from all the things I’ve been doing here, yet liberated and content at the same time. While everyday I learn what it means to sacrifice and to give, the things I’m gaining and learning here far outweigh what I have to offer.
The main thing I did last year at Ten Thousand Homes was building our new Discipleship Program; it’s called Aspire School of Artists and Entrepreneurs. I worked with my friend Mzwandile to develop the program because we felt that God was leading us to provide a place of enrichment that related to our generation and its needs. In 2016 we had our first group of students to experience Aspire. We aim at helping young artists and entrepreneurial-minded people to figure out how to use their passions to change the world. We’ve had five really incredible people in the program so far. It’s been awesome seeing how much they’ve grown. They’re from the United States, Burundi, and South Africa. Being a part of Aspire has been a humbling experience. It has shown me a lot of my strengths and weaknesses.
In order to keep this vision going on a day-to-day basis, I learned that it takes a lot of work. Nothing worthwhile is easy to attain. Throughout the day I usually was in the classroom with the Aspire students where we had different guest speakers, or a group discussion on different media presentations. Every week I also had one-on-ones with them about the different subjects in class, or I would meet with them to help develop their skills in their art forms. As a group we also did community work to help some local leaders with their feeding and discipleship programs.
The most important thing I’ve learned through Aspire is this: other people don’t need me to fix them. Very often, as Americans, we have the mindset that other people around the world need to be enriched with the American culture and standards of living. Here’s the thing: every culture has something beautiful to offer the world, even if other parts of it aren’t 100% correct. Who am I to tell people who grew up so differently from myself that they are doing things wrong, especially if that practice isn’t harming anyone? Here’s the other part of it though. I am floored at how open South Africa has been to me. It has adopted me as its own. I’ve never felt so confident in myself or so at home, yet also so outside of my comfort zone. South Africa has molded me into the person I am supposed to be. It has opened my eyes to my dreams and passions, and has shown me my place in the world as both an artist and a Jesus-follower. It has made me more proud of my own upbringing. I can’t believe that I’m fortunate enough to be called to be a part of a movement of people who are making such a deep impact in their own communities that it is shaping and changing the world for the better. What have I done to deserve this? ...to daily be invited into something so life-giving? ...to have other people allow me the space to speak into their lives and help them pursue their talents and dreams? South Africa does not need me. I need South Africa. The world as a whole needs Africa. Let’s start believing in each other’s dreams more. Let’s allow others the space to inspire and empower their peers. Let’s stop trying to fix other people, and start seeking healing and growth together.
Taking this and some other things I learned last year, I've been completely absorbed by my new jobs and roles in 2017. Be on the watch-out for what I will be doing next, and how you can help!
Three months ago, as I was beginning to put my roots down in South Africa, I met a group of seven people who have greatly impacted and molded me. This group of friends are passionate about using the arts and entrepreneurialism to shape this world and empower themselves and others. These seven people are the starting point of a new program called Aspire. Aspire strives to empower artists and entrepreneurs to make an impact in this world with their creative voices.
Something which impresses me about this small group is how diverse it is. Each person comes from an extremely different background from the next. Each one has a wonderful, difficult human story. The two leaders of the group are passionate, yet inexperienced. By the world’s standards, they do not qualify to be teaching or leading by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve abandoned their success for something seemingly much smaller. The students are similar in their choices and difficulties. One is a young single mother, whose daughter has been struggling with being sick. One is an orphan who has chosen to follow God’s calling even though he has no family support. And a girl who traveled by taxi with very little money to get to the group, who was not sure what to expect or what she would gain from the program. Another is a recent refugee who traveled by foot across multiple countries to find a new start. Still another traveled to a new continent foreign to her own comforts and understanding, knowing that the culture adjustment would be an uphill climb. Each one of these people have their own struggles, yet a strong measure of perseverance when it comes to pursuing their dreams.
One thing you should know. I am one of these people. For the past three months I’ve been helping lead Ten Thousand Home’s new Aspire Discipleship School. And I’m not sharing this story as a pity party. I’m not begging for your money. What you read about us before is only part of each of our stories. Here is the other part.
The young, single mother loves fashion and design, and wants to make the world bright with this interest. She also dreams of opening up a center for girls with a story similar to hers where they can find help and counseling.
The orphan has a passion for learning new things, especially in music. He has a heart so filled with compassion for others, and has chosen to have a learning attitude in every circumstance. He wants to use music to connect people to their own stories, and give them hope in their futures. He hopes to someday find his mother and earn enough money to buy her a car.
The taxi traveler is a creative writer. She wishes to spread hope through her writing and other skills in every sphere of society. She has a passion to interpret art and life in a way that others can relate to.
The refugee is a builder and a musician. He has a heart for helping people, whether that’s through his talents or by serving in whatever way possible. Part of that is his passion in teaching and equipping young people with the knowledge they need to be successful.
The continent crosser is an artist. She dreams of painting murals and doing public art around the world that communicates hope and meaning into people's lives. She is a person filled with creative ideas on how to communicate a message through the arts.
The Aspire leader is an entrepreneur. He has a passion to see young people from underprivileged backgrounds reach their fullest potential. One of the ways he sees this happening is by giving them practical learning experiences through business.
I am a storyteller through my words and art. I have a passion to empower people by communicating through stories. I desire to see people all over the world to be more aware of what’s happening with their brothers and sisters. I want to see people reach for and accomplish things beyond their craziest dreams.
And what I love so much about this group is that we don’t forget about the difficult part of our lives. It is a part of our story. And the other part of our story is a result of overcoming the struggle. Our story is wonderful. Our story is a story of redemption and hope.
For the past three months we’ve been restructuring ourselves. We’ve been breaking down the bad, and building ourselves to be stronger. We’ve been learning how our talents and dreams can truly change this world. And now it is time to act. Now that we’ve gained the wisdom, it’s time for us to do things. For the next two months we will be travelling around South Africa partnering with many different organizations. So far we’ve began a couple of projects, and hope to do many more. Right now we’re working with Ten Thousand Homes at their different programs. We’ve been building tables for children to eat and do homework on. We’ve also been painting a mural about family and belonging at the Embonisweni After School Program. We hope to continue to go to Capetown and Durban after we are done at Ten Thousand Homes. We will be doing street art and performances, helping with different organization’s programs, doing different teachings and testimonies wherever we go, and serving however is best at each location. Our goal on this Outreach is to spread the message of Christ in a way that draws people in, in a manner that doesn’t push them away. We want to spread the message of hope across South Africa and help people realize that accomplishing their dreams are possible.
One thing is holding us back, though. Right now each of us are struggling financially. We hope to go forward, but if we don’t have enough money, we won’t be able to. We’ve been practicing our entrepreneurial skills by doing local business with roadside barbecues, car washes, and bake sales. But in the next few days we still need to come up with nearly $10,000 to be able to go on.
Would you consider partnering with us? By donating to these guys and girls, you’re not giving them a free ride. You’re empowering them to develop their skill sets and reach their dreams so that they can then go back to their own communities and bring the same impact; so they can then empower those around them.
By partnering with us, you are a part of domino effect. If you would like to know more, or would like to donate, email email@example.com or message us on our Aspire School of Artists and Entrepreneurs Facebook page. Thank you for your time and interest.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have a home. Home is such an important thing to all people. Everyone desires to have a home, a place more than just a house. What makes people feel at home? Why do we all desire the feeling of home? And what is a home for me personally?
During this past year or so, the meaning and importance of home has changed a lot to me. I think that I've had so much transition and growing up that the desire for a home has grown a lot in me. And because I've been in so much transition, I've not really had a physical, tangible "place" that has made me feel content. As I go to all these different physical places, I begin to have a piece of home in each spot I stay at. And so, I am torn between so many places that I begin to feel like there is no home at all. And when this happens, it's easy to feel that I do not belong.
Here's the thing. I've realized that home is so much more than a constant, physical place. The root word for HOME is a very similar to the word HAUNT. So it's not simply one location. Home is a thing that follows us. Having a home is having a certain mindset. So I've chosen to take on this mindset. Wherever I go I choose to find something in it that makes a home for me. Because I cannot go on without having that certain belonging and comfort. I choose to frequent the company of having a home.
Home is a feeling of belonging, peace, and comfort. Home is having a community around you that you can know and trust. Home is finding the ordinary, seemingly mundane things that bring consistency and comfort into a hectic life. Home is with people and the experiences I have with them. Home is an interactive story. Home is hot coffee in the morning. Home is sitting in a kitchen with strangers. Home is watching the moon and stars roll in at night, and listening to the birds sing at sunrise. Home is finding something physically beautiful and breathtaking no matter the location. Home is the assurance that no matter how much I wander, I can still belong to something and someone.
God's been teaching me a lot about all of these things involving home lately. He's been showing me how truly important it is. He's challenged me to find out what home specifically means to me. He's also made me realize that there's a lot of lonely people in this world. I think that for some reason we all think we are alone at some point in time. But we are far from it. We are surrounded by other humans who have both drastically different or strangely similar experiences to us. People, their stories, and their interactions with each other are what provides space for the feeling of home. And I want to take the time to create that space for myself and others. Because who doesn't want to belong?
*On a random side note, someone please pay me five dollars for every time I typed the word 'home' in this blog. I'd be a much richer person, and very obliged to you.
One of my favorite things about living a life filled with so many cultures is having such a huge family. Living with and having multiple cultures is really difficult at times, but can be the most fulfilling thing if it’s pursued well. When you strive for a multicultural family, it means that you will have family almost no matter where you go. And that is a wonderful thing. To belong no matter where you are.
The other day I had the chance to do something that made me realize how truly beautiful this phenomenon is. I got to sit down with five women who have made my life in South Africa so wonderful. Each of them, plus a few more who couldn’t make it, have been vital to my well being while learning how to function as an adult and a missionary at the same time, into living halfway across the world from my blood family, and into a completely different culture from my own. These ladies have all done something so incredible. They have each adopted me as their own. These women have taken me under their wing with the rest of their family. I know I belong when I am with them. I am not alone because I know that I have these mamas who are always willing to take me in. I also know that when I’m with them I’ll get a decent amount of crooning over and some whipping into shape. A scolding for each new piercing and tattoo; except for Ruth, who has that awesome eyebrow piercing. She’s always got my back. Anyways, an adoration when I wear something that they think suits me. And a quick request for help making pap or scrubbing pots if I’m not busy. What I’m saying is that these ladies truly do treat me like I am theirs. And that is such a good, stable, and lovely thing to have.
While I was back in the states a few months ago, I was telling my own mother about all of these things. That I felt safe and didn’t miss her so much because I had each one of these ladies. I told her all of the hilarious stories having to do with these women, and how having these stories to share with people made me not so lonely. Without realizing it, I was bridging two very meaningful groups of people together. I was building a relationship between my different family members. My mother has become so grateful for these women, even though she’s never met them. She knows that I have a place here in South Africa, and that being so far away from my first home is worth it because I’m making new family members. She knows I am safe, and that I am accepted as a daughter here.
And so she did something about it. I also happened to tell her how much the ladies would complement me on the different clothes that she had made for me. So she decided to sew an apron for each of these ladies. As she cut the cloth, sewed the pieces together, and packed them each in a tight roll to fit in my suitcase she prayed over my aunties. She prayed a blessing over their families, over their work, over every part of their lives. She thanked God for them. She put her love, acceptance, and thankfulness into each seam. By binding these little pieces of cloth together, she had a much bigger purpose. She was building and binding family. She was accepting these women as her sisters.
I wish my Mom could have been there when I gave them the aprons and told them about her prayer over their family. It's not that they were just excited or happy to get the aprons. A tide of joy swept through them. Their eyes were filled with such wonder, peace, and encouragement. In turn, they got to feel the same belonging that I did. And that was such a wonderful thing to be able and allowed to give. Because everyone deserves this feeling, this fact, this assurance. Though none of us are perfect or can add up our strengths to "deserve" love, it is necessary to have love if we are to live our lives well. Because family is what makes a person thrive.
The scene playing out before me seemed to be a perfect fit for a fictional adventure book. The sky was turning from a dark purple to a dark, dusky, gray-blue. As the full moon rose over the hillside filled with gardens and small brick houses, the bats began swinging overhead, plucking small bugs out of the sky to eat. I was sitting on a metal bench in a small village separated from Kruger National Park by just a few winding dirt roads. I kind of felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. A little girl was sitting on my lap about to doze off. The mamas and gogos near me began to sing old hymns. I was surrounded by beautiful people singing, eating, laughing, and getting ready for the last church service of the day. All of this was being done in at least three different languages, none of which were English. I wasn't with a very familiar group of people that I knew. I was basically "by myself", yet in the midst of this craziness I felt so at home. I felt a certain belonging. Even though the moment had nothing very special about it, it completely filled me on the inside. I felt so complete. Words couldn't describe how beautiful that moment was for me.
It was a completely out-of-the body experience for me. The entire weekend was a bit surreal. I spent my entire Easter weekend like this. From Friday to Sunday I woke up in this village to go to up to four church services a day. Each service was about two hours long, and was all in a language that I really couldn't understand much of. The day would start at four in the morning and end at midnight. There was so much singing, so many new things to get used to. I was so tired. Yet I felt so filled with beautiful and unbelievable experiences.
So often it's hard to believe that I'm experiencing these things. It seems so strange to be halfway across the world from where I was born and raised while currently being surrounded and immersed in a completely different lifestyle and culture. It's so exciting. Sometimes it's very stretching to be around so many things that are unfamiliar. It's definitely not always easy, and can be so tiring. It seems like it would be a very lonely lifestyle to live. Yet it is so beautiful to be here in this foreign place, and most of the time I end my days feeling so content. This is my home right now. I feel like I am part of this family, not that I am a strange guest who sticks out like a sore thumb. I feel so lucky to have these experiences nearly on the daily. Many people only imagine their lives looking like this crazy adventure. They never think that it is an attainable thing, but that is just an unrealistic imagination.
The thing is, it's so easy to attain this lifestyle with such unbelievable experiences. The lessons, values, and other things that I've learned while being in South Africa can be easily applied wherever you live. You don't have to be called to a completely different country or culture. You don't even have to move to a different neighborhood. This lifestyle of unbelievable experiences can be lived out in the exact spot that you're standing or sitting right now. This doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
Sometimes it's so hard to reach out to other people. For some reason it can be really intimidating to go deep with someone. But once you dive in, it's so worth it. And you find that it's much easier than you thought it would be. Very often the things that I find the most memorable are the ones that are found in the least expected way. Most of the time it's the everyday things that I stash away in my brain. The times which are most memorable or valuable to me are when I'm sitting under a tree talking to someone. When I'm making my dinner. When I'm doing nothing in particular. When I'm just sitting with people or doing something ordinary.
Wherever you go in the world, you meet ordinary, everyday people. In fact, every person you meet is ordinary. Each person has his own story to tell. It is the choices that the person makes which makes him seem extraordinary. It is not the actual person. You don't have to travel or to really even search to find special people to be around. Every single person that you encounter is normal, yet their story is what makes them special. And the details that you pick out of a situation or a person adds to that value, to that memory. So stop searching to find people who will make your life experiences more unbelievable. Stop finding things to make your adrenaline run high. Just start talking to those around you. Learn their stories, their cultures. Let their lives impact the way you live yours. Let the things you do in your own life affect you. Let the normal things impact you greatly.
South Africa has decided to become home to me. I guess it's official when you start to think about buying furniture. On the serious side though, God has put a huge place inside of me for Africa. After being here for a few months, it is so obvious to me that this place is my home for now. When I realized this, God opened up so many doors for me and placed so many opportunities in my life. Back in February I made the decision to stay at Ten Thousand Homes as full-time staff. This means that I am committed to working here for at least two years. I am so content with this decision! My talents are being used very well here, and I am growing and being stretched to overcome my areas of weakness. God has been teaching me so much, and has constantly been putting me outside of my comfort zone.
With all of that being said, it's time for me to make this place home! This means decorating my space and having things that any person needs to have when he or she lives in one spot for more than a year. So I am looking to buy this beautiful piece of furniture. Many of you ask, "So what makes this piece so special?" Let me tell you. Two of the local guys that I work with at TTH, Sam and Swazi, made this because they are both very passionate for a certain cause. Both of them saw a huge need for schoolgirls in the areas that they live. For many reasons, girls especially have a hard time in school. Being a woman and all that entitles often seems shameful to these beautiful girls. Because they don't have enough money or access to feminine products, they will often miss school when they are on their period. This very obviously puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to getting good daily grades. So Swazi and Sam decided to do something about it. Last year they did a fundraiser which raised enough pads for an entire school of girls. It was a huge success! And so the project continues on. Since we have become aware of the huge need to help these girls in one specific area, we have also become aware that there are many many areas in which they need help. The project now includes raising support for supplying girls in school with both pads and uniforms.
I am asking for your support in this amazing cause. This one piece of handmade furniture only costs about 120 dollars. With that amount of money, Ten Thousand Homes can equip so many girls to do well in school! I encourage anyone who reads this to partner with me. Not only are you encouraging me in my decision to do missions full-time, but you are helping to equip girls in school to be successful and be proud of who they are. If you would like to partner with me in this amazing cause, please send me an email or message me on facebook. Thanks for your interest!
Sem-recently I was given a very fun art project. Ten Thousand Homes had a Valentine's Party and I was asked to make a few paintings having the theme of love. Names were drawn at the end of the party as to who would win each painting.
While the project was a super fun idea and I was really excited to have a new idea to focus on, I was a little put-off by the project. I never really enjoyed the lovey-dovy, mushy, romantic side of Valentine's Day. However, I've always loved Valentine's Day growing up because my family and I would have our own little party celebrating it. So I decided to focus on the aspects of love that I really appreciate in this project. I did each piece about a different aspect about love. I ended up finding out a lot about love; and while I was painting, I discovered new aspects and amazing truths about the power of love. Love is something that people say too often. It is a word and topic discussed so much that it easily loses meaning to most people. This project helped open my eyes again. Here are the different aspects I focused on, from left to right.
The Water Lilly. Love is often found in the strangest places. Something so pure and elegant rises up from a very messy place. A white flower known for its symmetrical beauty grows from water that is very often murky, dirty, and unclear. And so it also happens between people, and not just in a romantic manner. Love for others often grows when acceptance is one's heart falls over the murkiness of another's heart. Love takes places when a person chooses to forgive another's weaknesses.
The Elephant. Elephants are known for their strong memories, and are a symbol of wisdom. Very often people think that a person must have much knowledge in order to know another person. But it's actually the opposite. To persistently love someone, you must have the wisdom it takes to love even when it hurts and even when you have no knowledge of why the other is treating you so poorly. Love is when a person has the wisdom to forgive, even though they can easily remember all the wrongs another person has done.
Tree Roots. This was a very interesting piece for me to do, as it's not usually my style. The infinity sign represents God's love for humans. We can never fully fathom His love and how it never ends, despite all of the mistakes that we make. And we accept that love from Him and desire to have a relationship with Him, our roots grow deeper. Our love will continuously grow and make a significant impact in the world if we are pressing into God's love.
Hands. This is the most significant symbol of love for me. Hands represent so much. Each set of hands and what they are doing is able to tell a story without any words. Hand show hard work. They show signs of endurance through pain. That is what real love is. It is a story, takes a lot of hard work, and must be enduring.
The Human Heart. This organ is constantly pumping oxygen to the rest of the body. Never does it take something in and never give something back. It is a vessel which continually has something pumping into it, and is continually pumping life out of it. This is the perfect picture of agape love. The love that is only possible by one being: God. This kind of love never takes, but is constantly giving life. It is the ultimate sacrificial love.
The Deer. In order for love to last a long time, it must have a certain strange tension. It must be done with a gentle spirit, as a deer. Yet it must also have an edge, a perseverance, a hardness so that it will be able to endure. Like the wood of the place where the deer lives.
It's been a long time. To whoever is reading this blog on a frequent basis, you probably think that I've fallen off of the face of this earth. But I haven't. Still here in South Africa. Still writing stories and accounts of my experiences in Kenya and India. Still growing. Still stepping out of my comfort zone, and not believing that God has called me on this journey.
Life can be insanely hectic. Time goes by so quickly, and even if a person uses it wisely, at the end of the day he or she feels like nothing was accomplished. It seems that no matter who you are, there's so much to do, and it's so draining to accomplish even half of what you would like to. If you're not careful, it's easy to get all of the joy sapped out of you.
That's why being still is so important. It's so easy to measure my life, my identity, my relationship with God by how much I accomplish. When I'm that busy, I forget why I've committed to something in the first place. I forget that it's about being in awe of what He's done in my life and about glorifying Him through everything. My real purpose comes from ultimate humility, where everything points to who I truly am, knowing what I'm not, and seeing how God has redeemed my life. It's not about how much good I'm doing in the world. Because if I'm trying to make the world a better place by my own strength, I will only fail over and over again.
So where does the picture of two boys eating mangoes fit in? Sometimes it's important to do nothing. To sit still and realize that God is still present, is still good, is still love through all the chaos. Sometimes I just have to climb rocks and eat mangoes with two young boys, and listen to their ridiculous and hilarious stories because I really have nothing better to do. Sometimes I need to take a step back and enjoy all of the small and simple things that God has put into my life. Whatever it takes for me to look beyond my current circumstances and realize how good God is, I'll try to take the time to do it. Very often I'll have to accomplish absolutely nothing in order to hear God's voice clearly. I have to be useless in order for the Holy Spirit to fill me with the strength and comfort I need to keep moving forward.
I encourage all the busybodies reading this post. Be still. Sit in God's presence in complete awe. Complete awe of Him, who He is, His creation. Be in awe of all the small amazing details of your life; be amazed at how God has intricately woven your life, your characteristics, your blessings, into an amazing masterpiece. Even through the chaos, He has made life so good. Life is hard, but He's given us so many blessings. His presence is with us in the chaos. He has chosen to love us infinitely, constantly, and so deeply everyday despite how much we forget about Him in all the chaos. So be still in His presence. Be in awe of Him, who He is, what He has given you, and where He has brought you.
If any of have been wondering why I haven't updated my blog for a while, it's because I've been busy travelling around Kenya and India for two months! I've had so many amazing adventures, and my brain is completely filled with stories. While I was gone I never really had access to internet, and so I wasn't able to update my blog. So, during the next two weeks I'll be making a blog about what I did. Check them out if you're interested! Even though I had an amazing time travelling, there's nothing quite like South Africa. It feels so good to be back home! I'm staying in a beautiful house on the edge of the base with a bunch of other ladies that are working here as well. Our back yard is filled with different kinds of fruit trees and plants, including mangoes and passion fruit. I'm so excited and so spoiled to have such amazing people and food around me. Another thing that's so exciting is coming back to new family members of Ten Thousand Homes. There are lots of new faces here, and a lot of new things happening. These next few months are going to be filled with so many awesome projects. I can't wait to tell you all about them, and the exciting changes that are happening around here!
Today marks the day that I leave with my amazing DTS teammates to complete this awesome journey. Today we start our Outreach Phase! I literally can't even fathom all of the amazing adventures we are going to have as we go to both Kenya and India. We know that God has such an awesome plan for us, and I can't wait to tell you all of the things we experience. The focus of the trip is going to be Compassion, and we'll mostly be working with children. You may have read more details about the Outreach in a previous blog post.
If you would like to know more details about what we'll be doing, contact me on Facebook or email me! I would love to tell you more about it so that you could keep my team in your prayers and thoughts. If you would like to partner with us by giving financially, please don't hesitate! We are still in great need of funds. Together the group still needs about $6,000, mostly for eating and travelling expenses in India. Again, please don't hesitate to contact me so that I can send you a donation link.
If you are interested in what we'll be doing, I will be posting updates as often as I can on my travel blog about all of the places that we visit. When I get back to South Africa, I will definitely continue writing blogs about the people I meet, the memories I make, and so much more from over here in Mpumalanga. But for now, goodbye South Africa!
Over the past three months, I've been blessed with such an amazing opportunity. Besidesd taking DTS classes, I've gotten to help lead an after school program in Embonisweni. Even though I don't know every single one of the kids' names in the program, I have gotten to know each of their personalities. Each one of them have such fun quirks, differing characteristics, beautiful smiles, and crazy styles. God has definitely opened up my eyes to see how He views each one of His children on an individual basis. Each one of them is so beautifully and uniquely made! I've had so much fun seeing how much they've already grown, especially the younger ones. These children are so smart, and so valuable. It's so easy to see that they have a true desire to learn, and know how to have a lot of crazy fun while doing it. They each have so much potential!
I've especially noticed how bright some of the boys are. I know that God has some amazing plans for these boys, but there's just one problem. A lot of them are stuck in the cycle. The cycle of being brought up believing that they must act a certain way. That they must fend for themselves, that they must be cool enough, that they must be tough. Too tough. Very often when boys in this area of South Africa reach just the age of thirteen, they are expected to grow up. But at thirteen and even older ages, many do not know what it means to truly grow up. Growing up means caring for others and taking responsibility, not just gaining power. Many boys are encouraged to seek this power in any way possible. This is just one of the many things that contributes to the cycle of a fatherless culture filled with terrible consequences such as AIDS.
These boys deserve so much more. They deserve to grow up having loving fathers in the household, and eventually to become great fathers and leaders in their communities. Pray that the after school program would continue to grow and bring more of these boys in. Pray that they would realize their worth and the importance of their leadership. Pray that they would realize that growing up doesn't mean just gaining power; it means to lead by serving. Pray that they would continue to grow in the right direction, and that they would continue to yearn to learn and grow. Pray that they would never lose sight of the talents and personalities that God has given each of them. Pray that they would come to understand their own personal value in Christ. That they would begin to understand just how much God loves them.
When you live out of a suitcase for nine months, your perspective on life tends to change a bit. I've never been a super materialistic person, but living off of so little and having so few distractions has made me even more so that way. I have realized that very often the things we so highly regard in our lives will not matter in a few years time, and the small yet so meaningful things get brushed aside. I've also found out that the things people obsess over in daily life very often aren't worth the energy or time. The rest of this post will be about the random little "meaningful" things that you come to notice when you decide to have a simple lifestyle.
When you get rid of the unimportant things in your life and begin to be willing to sacrifice your talents and time to serve and have community with others, you have an amazing transformation. Suddenly the smallest things become extremely meaningful. When you have a group of young kids chasing you countless times around the church building in Embonisweni, and then tackle you, you feel on top of the world. You feel like you would do anything for them, and that the world is worth changing for them. When they tackle you and you can feel their little beating hearts against yours, you want to make them know the Being that made those hearts. You want to not only make them know how much you love them, but how much infinitely more God loves them. You are changed by those beating hearts and the souls that they belong to. You could care less that as the kids tackle you and chase you, they are slobbering kisses all over you, that they are rubbing your clothes with the red African dirt. You feel so joyful and content, yet at the same time you are motivated to make Jesus and Hope known to them. You wouldn't trade this spot, this time, this memory for anything else in the world.
When your life is filled with days like this, one of your most valued possessions is a grass bracelet that a little girl, Lihle, made especially for you. When you get rid of distractions and focus on what you're passionate about in life and what actually matters to you deep down inside, you come home at the end of the day so exhausted and with nothing left to give. Yet somehow you wouldn't have it any other way. The days that I'm most happy are when my feet are so dirty that I can't get them clean, when I'm so tired all I can think of is sleep, and when I smell anything but pleasant. The days that I value the most are the ones when I choose to step out of my comfort zone and do something that I'm scared of doing. Then, after doing all of this, I get to eat a meal with some of my closest friends while watching a beautiful sunset. These are the same days that I have chosen joy, that I have chosen to do something that's completely out of my comfort zone. I'm most happy when I've simply chosen to get rid of the things that won't matter and to notice all of the things that do.
All of these things and these feelings aren't because I have found some great cause that is turning the world upside down. It's not because my life is full of a busy, hectic schedule. It's not because I volunteer and give away everything that I have or love. It's not because I'm a holy person. I believe that I love living this life because I've simply given it all to Jesus. My good parts, my bad parts, my strengths, my talents, my downfalls, my worries. I've given it all to Him, and so He has put a purpose into it all. He has allowed my eyes to change; He has let me see things from His perspective. I have realized how amazing life is, and that even the smallest events and details and stories of our lives hold so much value. Even though living in this broken world is extremely hard, it is worth the fight. LIFE IS A WONDERFUL THING, AND EVERY SINGLE DETAIL OF IT IS EXCRUCIATINGLY BEAUTIFUL. Yet I cannot help but notice that the majority of the people in this world do not see this imperfect beauty. They do not notice the small beating hearts, the grass bracelets, the wonderfully dirty toes, the flowers in the ditch alongside the rubble. They see the trudge, the drag of living. They are stressed, they are tied down by possessions and burdens. They are even being tied down by other people. They are not content. They are missing out.
Please don't be one of those people. Please sit down and simplify. Think about what ties you down. What has a hold over your heart and your mind that stops you from seeing the beauty in life? Untie yourself from those things! Sometimes all it takes is you deciding to get rid of the things that are blinding you. Other times you don't have the strength to do this on your own. You have to ask others, and ask God, to lift you up. To open your eyes. To get rid of your chains. To obliterate the distractions. To simplify your life. If need be, to live out of a suitcase for the next nine months. If you are willing to do this with the right heart, I guarantee that your life will be changed. Your and others' lives will never be the same once you are willing to lead this simple life.
For those of you that have not heard about where I will be going on my Discipleship Training School Outreach, I'm so excited to announce that I'll be going to both Kenya and India! God works in crazy ways. I have had a dream of going to India since I was very young, and I definitely did not think that this would happen while I was in South Africa. I've also been so interested in exploring more of Africa for a while, so I can't wait to go to Kenya! I know for a fact that God has put my DTS team together for an amazing purpose, and I'm so excited to see what that is actually going to be!
The main focus of our outreach will be working with children. Our team has started to prepare programs, songs, skits, crafts, and lessons to do with the kids. Our goal is not to just have fun with the kids, but to impact their lives with simple yet such amazing truth. Our DTS theme is compassion, which is defined as when a person's love for God motivates him to have empathy for others and take action because of it. I absolutely can't wait to meet all the amazing people, experience the new cultures, and learn a lot. I will definitely be sharing all of the amazing stories and experiences I have while on the trip.
In Kenya we will be doing work in two different areas. First we will be going to Nukuru, which is northwest of Nairobi. We will be working with an organization called Sure 24 Homes, which has a very similar focus to Ten Thousand Homes. Then we will be going to a suburb of Nairobi, called Soweto. There we will be doing more things like inner city work with an organization called Tumaini African Foundation.
In India we will also probably be going to two different places. The place we will be staying for the longest is in Kolkata, specifically in the Red Light District. We will be staying at and working at a day shelter that takes in women and children from the streets and tries to provide healing in as many areas as possible. We will be spending Christmas at the shelter, and I'm so excited to celebrate and give some hope and happiness to these people! After we stay at the shelter, we also might work at an orphanage in Pune.
I would so much appreciate you partnering with me in this amazing experience! I know that God has an amazing plan for my team. I know that He doesn't want us to just make a dent in this world, but to radically change it! He wants us to radiate His light into all of the dark corners of the earth. If you would like to know more details about it, don't hesitate to contact me. If you would like to partner with me in prayer or donate money to support me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on facebook. Thank you all so much for your interest!
On a final note, if you have the time, I highly encourage you to watch this documentary about children living in brothels in India. I have the amazing opportunity to work in this area in India, and I hope that I will be able to use my artwork to help the voiceless and inform those who do not know what is happening there. The film has a lot to do with art and how it can change people's lives by giving them something as simple as hope. Just a warning, there is a lot of harsh subject matter and strong language used in the entire film. It is not an easy thing to watch, but I think it is very important to know that these things are still happening all over the world.
I'm not going to lie, I thought one of the only downfalls of going to Africa for nine months was going to be not being in America for my golden birthday. This weekend I found out just how mistaken I was! I don't think I could have spent my birthday in any better. I was surrounded by good people, lots of soul food, music, the great outdoors, and much more. I definitely don't think I would change any part of it at all.
The weekend began with me going to what I thought was a DTS meeting. It turned out to be a surprise birthday party. Let's just say it involved many of my closest friends, and a completely homemade meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Even the bread was homemade! It was all topped off with coconut ice cream and brownies. It was so good to get a piece of home from the States while in South Africa. It was a good reminder that in the end, I choose where my home is; it is not defined by location. I definitely believe that South Africa is becoming this for me.
Saturday was a wonderful adventure day. A bunch of my friends and I piled into two pick-up trucks and headed out for some exploring. We first went to God's Window. No pictures can accurately describe the beauty of God's Window and the awe that it instills. It is so aptly named. When I stood on top of the cliffs, it seemed like I could look across the entire globe. As I was perched there, I felt in complete awe of God and His creativity. It was so inspiring. After we finished picnicking and hiking at God's Window, we went out to eat at a pancake house called Harry's Pancakes. From there we began to wander home. From going to a beautiful waterfall, finding a pile of broken sculptures, and picking wild flowers, it is easy to say that my Saturday was very wonderful.
My actual birthday couldn't have been spent in a better way either. I was surprised with a completely streamered room and breakfast in bead. This consisted of my favorite kind of muffin, loads of chocolate, and some of my favorite flowers! After that I went to church and was surrounded by beautiful people, listened to such Spirit-filled music, and had a wonderful little boy named Trevor sit on my lap drawing little pictures of the sun and clouds over and over again. After that the youth of our church went to the monthly Pull-Together. I thought nothing could compare to the Heritage Celebration we had at Pull-Together last month, but I was completely mistaken. This month we had a singing competition, and my church won! I've never seen so many crazy, singing, excited people in such a small space before. Finally, to put the cherry on top of it all, my roommates and I went out for dessert on Sunday night. Even though we ended up going to McDonald's because that was the only place open, I don't think there's anything much better than having your best friends screaming Happy Birthday to you in front of all of the very confused and entertained McDonald's staff while holding a piece of cake with a french fry sticking out of it as a substitute candle.
As cliche as it sounds, I truly felt golden at the end of this weekend. I kind of felt like I was radiating and brimming over with joy and happiness. I realized how truly blessed I am. I am constantly surrounded with people who have a love for others that leads to selfless service. I am surrounded by beauty in both human beings and nature. And even though my life isn't perfect at all, there is something so amazingly beautiful about its imperfection. It actually overwhelms me to think about how loved I am. I am so blessed, and so unworthy to have such an amazing life. I struggle to understand why God has chosen to take me on this crazy journey that is sometimes scary, yet so worth the adventure.