Monday, December 19, 2011

Incredible India

I’m sure you have seen the advertisements just as I have. They are on TV all the time, showing images of the grand Taj Mahal, trying to lure people over to “Incredible India”. Having visited India before, I often wondered why some marketing firm would choose to call India incredible. Perhaps I even thought that it was slightly misleading.

I didn’t intend to write a blog post about my recent India trip. After all, I was in India last year and have a blog post about that trip and my first impressions of the country. I went over for work again, so I just wasn’t expecting to feel compelled to write another blog. But as I pondered the marketing slogan used to describe a country in a way that I probably would not have, I couldn’t help but think about all of things about India that do, in fact, make it incredible.

I think it’s important to first look at the definition of the word “incredible” and its synonyms: so extraordinary as to seem impossible; unbelievable; inconceivable; astonishing.

So perhaps it’s quite an accurate description after all. There are many things in India that I would consider unbelievable. Like the fact that there is such disparity between classes. We would ride to the firm in the hotel’s 7 Series BMW, right past people living in slums and on the street. And it wasn’t just us. There are some seriously rich people in India. While so many countless others live right in front of them, with nothing.

There are many things that I would consider inconceivable. Like how so many of the people in Mumbai live in the conditions that they do, every single day. And in America, most of us can’t fathom living without wifi or our daily Starbucks fix. And I found the crazy way that everything in Mumbai operates astonishing. No lanes on the roads, auto rickshaws weaving in and out of traffic, families of four on a motorcycle, plump, healthy cows standing next to scrawny, dirty goats and chickens. And the list goes on.

And then there are the things that incredible can be used to describe, like the smell that lurked in the air every morning when we left the hotel and got stronger by the end of the day when we left the office. This smell literally made me gag when it first hit my nose. And I still don’t know what it was, other than what I simply call the Mumbai funk. And then there’s the traffic, which is like nothing that I’ve ever seen before. And when you are stuck in traffic, on the streets of Mumbai, in a 7 Series BMW, you get attention. Unwanted attention.

I recall a conversation with one of my co-workers as we were driving to the office one day. She was commenting that her heart breaks for the many stray dogs that are on the street. And believe me, there are a lot. More than I’ve ever seen in any other country. I love animals too, and I’ll admit that it’s shocking to see these dogs just lying down or wandering around hopelessly. But my first reaction, was that it made me feel a bit better that this is the only life that they have ever known. So to them, it’s not bad. It’s just their life. They don’t know that life can be better. They weren’t living in someone’s home and then dumped on the streets.

Then I started thinking about the people of India. Would I say the same thing about them? Should the fact that they’ve not known any different in their lives mean that they don’t deserve better? The answer is a resounding NO! Of course they deserve better! Of course they deserve access to food and shelter and safety and healthcare. And the things that are so basic in life. Of course, of course, of course!

One day driving back to the hotel after work, the traffic was worse than normal. We ended up being stopped right in front of a row of shops. My co-worker and I noticed a lot of men sitting down on the sidewalk in rows. It’s not uncommon for Indian men to be sitting or squatting on the sidewalk or street, but for them to be in such a linear, organized manner was a bit odd. Nothing is linear or organized in Mumbai! Then men started pointing at our car and waving their hands, motioning for us to come over or get out. Then our driver told us that this is the area of town where people come to get fed, and where passers by will give money for this reason. So the men sitting on the sidewalk, were “in line” to be the next one fed. The restaurant owners solicit the money, and then feed the men as money is donated.

So I was conflicted the entire time I was in India. The professional part of me wanted to be in a 7 Series BMW with the doors locked and the air conditioning on. To live in my little JW Marriott bubble and not face the reality of Mumbai. And the human part of me hurt for the people that we passed on the streets every day on the way to work. It hurt for a country with so many people that it doesn’t know what to do. With so many things that need fixing, that it doesn’t know where to start. And with so much disparity amongst the population, that it can seem like a completely different world just around the corner.

But there is hope for India. I don’t want to portray a completely doomsday scenario. India has a lot to offer the world. Think about all of the shared services centers and call centers in India that handle a continual barrage of phone and email traffic from around the world. There are a lot of educated people in India, and they are very hard working. And you know what else? They are extremely gracious and accommodating people. I can’t say a bad thing about a single Indian that I came across.

I made some other observations while I was there:

• Not only do they not eat beef, but they don’t even drink cow’s milk. Imagine my shock when I learned that I’d been using buffalo’s milk in my coffee all week!

• Only about 45% of men drink alcohol, and about 1% of women. And women are generally not allowed to serve alcohol. And because of this, a glass or two of wine is as expensive as an entire meal!

• Places are either air conditioned, or they’re not. Meaning, it’s either musty and muggy with no A/C, or it’s freezing cold when the A/C is on. It’s quite hard to find a happy medium! I struggled with that in my hotel room pretty much the entire first week.

• Everyone in India treated me with very personal service. At the hotel, I was Miss Lisa starting on morning two – everywhere from the hallways at the hotel to the restaurants and lounges and concierge. And at the office, the tea and coffee man knew exactly what I liked and when. I know they are trained to do this, but it still made me feel special.

So will I be rushing back to India on my own accord any time soon? No. Will I count it as one of my favorite travel destinations or experiences? No. But I will say this: it is a very impactful country. One way or another, that country will leave an impression on you. And maybe that’s enough to warrant the phrase “Incredible India”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anchors and Sails

Lately I’ve been fixated with the concept of an anchor. Perhaps “fixated” isn’t the most accurate term, but maybe something like a preoccupied, obsessed, or nagging feeling. And I know that makes it sound like a bad thing, but I don’t really think of it as a bad thing at all. In fact, I purchased an anchor pendant because of it. And here’s why…
The definition of an anchor (according to my friends at Merriam-Webster) includes “a reliable or principal support” and “something that serves to hold an object firmly.”

As I get older and experience new things in life, I am consistently reminded of what the anchors are in my life. When I travel, I sometimes forget those anchors and get caught up in wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. It’s easy to not be a very good communicator (although that works both ways) and to fall under the category of “out of sight, out of mind.” So maybe this preoccupied, obsessed, or nagging feeling is God’s way of reminding me that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I am still anchored at home. And I need to remember that.

I contrast this with the concept of sails. Sails take you places. They are meant to propel you toward your destination. A sailboat cannot get anywhere without sails. But it also needs an anchor, right? To stay in the same place when it needs to or when it wants to?

I miss being home. I love to travel, but I miss having more time at home. I miss cooking in my kitchen, walking to check my mail, snuggling up with the fat cat on the couch to watch continual episodes of Iron Chef on the DVR, and having my life here. At home. And Houston IS home, despite what my obscene amount of Continental airline miles and Marriott points would try to prove otherwise. My sails are certainly worn and weathered!

In this time of almost homesickness, I am reminded of the anchors that I have at home. And that is why I wear an anchor pendant around my neck – the base being a cross and the complete iconic picture of the anchor being everything else in my life that keeps me grounded. You see, without God, and my family, and my friends, and the consistency and normalcy at home, I wouldn’t enjoy traveling so much. If I didn’t have a life here to come home to, going away wouldn’t be the same. That may sound strange, but the excitement of a trip is partly a result of the fact that you get to come home at some point, right?

I’m not ready to give up my sails. I want to keep going places and seeing things. I want to continue traveling to different parts of the world and sharing experiences with friends who are willing to come along for the ride. I want more stamps in my passport, and not for the sake of a stamp, but for the sake of experiencing different cultures and having an adventure.

A book that I recently started reading actually brought up this exact concept. That’s when I knew that it wasn’t just a cheesy revelation that I had, but a real and true obstacle in life that I needed to address. The statement that caught my attention most in the book was this: “Someone who had always wanted to soar with the eagles found himself with fresh appreciation for the steady plodding of the turtle. In a life-redirecting way I came to understand that I needed an anchor as well as a sail.” So soaring eagle to steady plodding turtle?

Was the fact that I happened to be thinking about anchors and sails at the same time I started reading this book a coincidence? Oh goodness, I think not. This is just how our God works. He is making this a conviction of mine. To remain anchored at home and with the people and familiarities that make me who I am, while still trying to be adventurous and free-spirited. To soar like an eagle, while being a slow, deliberately grounded turtle at the same time. To have roots and wings. And to understand that without a comfortable place to land or be anchored, flying away or putting up the sails just isn’t as appealing.

I think it’s okay to have an anchor and a sail. But I don’t want one without the other.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Globetrotting: Norway, Part I

For those of you who are new to this blog, when I started traveling the world with my new job last August, I began a “before and after” blog for each of my trips. The “before” being my expectations of what the country and culture of my destination would be like, and the “after” being the reality that I experienced over there.

I realized that I haven’t done one of my “before and after” blogs in a while. I’ll blame it on the fact that the first seven months of the year, I only traveled to Canada for work. Canada does not count as blog-worthy to me from an expectation vs reality perspective. And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Canada. Truth be told, if it wasn’t located in another country, I would probably move to Vancouver. It’s just not a long flight away and doesn’t have what I consider to be a vastly different culture.

I’m heading to Norway in a few days and I was coming to the realization that I really know nothing about this country. So it’s hard for me to have expectations. But, somehow I have formed ideas and visions of what the country will be like and what my experiences will be over there. So, before I get tainted with the truth, let’s go for a ride through my make-believe version of Oslo:

Cold: this is my first expectation. I will admit that I have been monitoring for purposes of packing, but even without knowing what the forecasted temperatures are, I am fairly confident that I would have still had this expectation. Coming from Houston, this weather change will be quite a shock, but maybe not as bad I was originally thinking – forecasted mid 40’s for the high and low 30’s for the low.

Dark: I know what time of year it is and I know how far north Oslo is. So I expect that there will not be many hours of daylight. This depresses me.

Pickled things: Why do I have a vision of the Norwegians pickling everything? Mainly things like fish. For some reason I think there will be a lot of pickled fish up there. And pickled other things too. I’m not sure what, but I’m pretty sure it will happen. Good thing I like pickled things!

Vikings: How could I NOT expect something related to Vikings? I know they won’t be roaming the streets, and I won’t get to hang out with them over a beer, but I’m pretty sure the history of Vikings will be everywhere and I look forward to learning about them.

Fjords: I don’t even really know what these are. But I know I’ve heard the word associated with Norway and that they are supposed to be beautiful pieces of nature.

(This is where I run off to Wikipedia to see what they are….)

Ok, here we go: "Geologically, a fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created in a valley carved by glacial activity."  I doubt I’ll see any of these in downtown Oslo, but a girl can dream :-)

Expensive: I only have this expectation because I’ve heard it said before, and the per dium allotted to us for Oslo is outrageous compared to everywhere else. So things MUST be really, really expensive. How can pickled fish be so expensive?

I am actually very much looking forward to my little Scandinavian adventure, and I am a bit ashamed that my only vision of Norway consists of cold, dark, pickled Vikings living in very expensive fjords. Go figure. Come back in a few weeks for Part II, the reality!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Churning Sea

I am always entertained with stories about people seeing “signs” in their lives and listening to how they interpret them. Sometimes I think that things aren’t really signs at all, but a person’s desperate grasp at whatever they need at that moment, whether it be encouragement, a justification for doing (or not doing something), or simply a little reminder. I’m reminded of the movie Serendipity with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack. I know you ladies out there know what I’m talkin’ about! She believes in fate and lives her life looking for signs. It’s a cheesy, romantic, often frustrating movie, but in the end, it’s mushy and heart-warming – fate brings them together.

I’m not talking about fate here, nor am I talking about a love story with a happy ending. But what I do want to share with you is a little story about signs. Little hopes of encouragement. Little reminders. And not from the universe, but from God.

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this blog post, then you likely read my recent Restless post. If not, welcome to my blog and you can find the Restless post just a bit further down the page. I’m still struggling with the things that I mentioned in that post, and I’m still not in sync with God, but I’m getting there, and He is slowly working on me.

I was working in the Cayman Islands last week. The location doesn’t really matter other than that it was an island and was surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Work was going just fine, I had a good team to work with, the food was tasty – I mean, what more could you ask for? I’m living in my own little world down there, staring out of a conference room window at the Caribbean all day, and thinking that there could be worse places to be working. I was feeling relatively happy and wasn’t really angry at God, but wasn’t buddy-buddy with Him either. Just kind of cruising along and minding my own business.

Then it happened. Or rather, they happened. Signs. Reminders. Little hints of encouragement. God.

As the week progressed, I began paying more attention to the water. It was getting a lot more agitated. There was no more calm, clear, turquoise gorgeousness. It was heaving and hurling and churning.

A churning sea - Sign #1.

I’m riding in the taxi van with my two other team members on the way from work to the hotel, same as I had every other morning and evening. Uneventful. And I happen to notice that the taxi driver had a bumper sticker on her glove compartment that said “Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.”

Bumper sticker - Sign #2.

A couple of minutes later, I happen to look at her driver’s seat and notice that she has a t-shirt pulled over the seat, and it’s one of those Senor Frog’s t-shirts (which sounds silly in this story), that very clearly stated on the back “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”

Random bar t-shirt - Sign #3. At this point, I just have to smile.

In continuing with the nightly routine, we all went upstairs to our rooms for about an hour before meeting up for dinner. I had brought my daily devotional book (My Utmost for His Highest) with me, but hadn’t turned a page yet. Remember, I’m just happily cruising along, minding my own business. Then I decide to have a look at the devotion for that day. And it said this: “You have no idea of where or how God is going to engineer your future circumstances, and no knowledge of what stress and strain is going to be placed in you either at home or abroad. And if you waste your time in over activity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God’s redemption, then you will snap when the stress and strain do come.”

Daily devotion - Sign #4.

Fate was not at work here. And I’m not going to pretend that my life turned upside down because of what I have labeled as the “four signs.” But for me, in those moments, on that one day, God knew that I needed something to grasp on to. He knew that I wasn’t having conversations with Him, and He was finding ways to have conversations with me anyway.

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite verses. That it was stuck to a glove compartment in a taxi van on Grand Cayman Island could have just been coincidence, and very likely was. But it made me smile. The t-shirt from a bar with the statement about “finding your prince” was likely just a souvenir gift from someone to the taxi driver. But it reminded me to be patient. That the sea grew wilder with each day was, in all honesty, a result of the tropical depression that was in the Western Caribbean. I know that. But it reminded me that life is lived out in cycles. That one day it can be smooth and calm and beautiful, and in the next instant, it can be a churning sea, tossing everything around and rearranging what used to be your normal, and making it into something new.

And that devotion? It’s funny how words can speak so powerfully to you one day and be mere words on the next. That day, those words encouraged me to just hang on. To not stop believing in the might and power of our God. And to not let myself get caught up in a routine, or in my current status in life, but to get caught up in Him.

I don’t believe in fate, I believe in God. Some people would say that what God plans for our lives IS fate. But the problem with that is that we have the choice to screw it all up with the decisions that we make. So in the meantime, I will keep on trudging along, trying harder to keep myself focused on Him and not on everything around me. And by doing this I can hopefully be better prepared to handle the stress and strain that is sure to come and toss my life around, just like a churning sea.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Put Together

Someone said to me a while back, “Lisa, you always look so put together.” And I know that she meant it as a complement. She said it with a big smile and a hug. Really, it was a sweet thing to say and it came from the goodness deep within her.

But I’ve been a bit troubled by that statement ever since. Not that it came from her, but that I hope that I don’t come across that way to everyone. And to be honest, I’ve heard that a few more times since then. But I guarantee you, I am most certainly NOT always put together.

On a majority of weekends, there is a high likelihood that at some point during the weekend, I will resemble a hobo. You know, those people who meander around Central Park with pigeons on their shoulders? Ok well, maybe I don’t have pigeons on my shoulders, but I’m usually wearing a mix match of clothes that most people would not be caught dead wearing in public. And the people at the grocery store often get to see this side of me.

Or catch me up at my parents during the holidays. I usually stay in my flannel pants all day. I eat breakfast, lunch AND dinner in them. And if I do have to leave the house, there’s a high likelihood that I may not shower for the outing. So you can imagine how not “put together” I am at times like that. Or take a trip with me, and I promise you, that by the end of Day 2, you will know without a doubt that I am not always “put together.”

If you see me at work, I’ll probably look decent. Likewise, if you see me at church, I’ll probably appear to be put together. And if you catch me at the tail end of a 24 hour flight? You’ll see a side of me that I don’t even see that often. The jet lagged grumpy, frumpy, I-really-want-a-shower-and-clean-clothes version of myself.

The outward appearance

We all know that someone’s outward appearance can leave an impression. But it’s just that, an outward appearance. It doesn’t tell you what’s going on inside. And often times, the outward appearance does not even reflect the true spirit of that person. I agree that there are times when someone is going through something so horrible that they wear it on the outside. But what about all of the other times, when a struggle is more silent? Or someone is dealing with the same insecurities as everyone else? We all have them.

I do like to look nice. And I will admit that I have a passionate love for jewelry, handbags, shoes, and Banana Republic. And when you put those four things together, you can certainly look very put together. But the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:3-4 that “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” So do you understand why that statement troubled me?

The internal self

Those who are close to me know without a doubt that I am not always as put together as I may look. They know of my insecurities, my doubts, my concerns, my struggles. Trust me, I have them, just like everyone else. And I can confidently say that nobody is always as put together as they look.

I don’t mean this as a negative vibe toward this person AT ALL. I love that she said it. I also think it teaches me a good lesson. One that reminds me that I need to be myself in all situations. I need to be true to who I am and what I am feeling at the moment, and be sensitive to the fact that my outward appearance does not always reflect what is going on inside. To be fair, I can’t let it. There are too many times and places in my life when I need to look nice and put together, and I can’t afford to look how I feel on the inside. But the important lesson is that I need to make sure that the people who are close to me know what is going on in my life. After all, they are the ones who actually keep me together.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I love my job. It affords me the opportunity to travel around the world and visit other cities and cultures. And I get lots of airline and hotel points to use for fun, which certainly is a perk! What I also love about my job is that when I’m home, I can have a life. I can plan things and follow through with them, and it’s very predictable. I missed that for most of the early part of my career.

I have a great group of friends, from all aspects of my life. Some I’ve had since college, some are from my early days at work, some are from church, some are by chance, but in the end, they are all important to me and form an invaluable support network for me. I honestly cannot envision going through life without my friends.

My family continues to be a solid rock for me. It’s refreshing to have parents who always want to see me, even if I just saw them the weekend before. And although I don’t see my sister as much as I would like, we have a history that goes back our entire lives, which is something that I don’t have with anybody else. Sure our family dynamics have changed over the years, but we are still a family and we enjoy the new challenges and opportunities that we encounter. Well, most of them :-)

I really can’t complain about my life.

But I’m restless. Utterly, powerfully, and uncontrollably restless.

Literally and figuratively. I can’t sit still long enough to even notice what is going on in my life. I just live it, day by day, trip by trip, and then I look up one day and things are not the way that I envisioned them to be. Or where I want them to be.

I’m restless because I don’t know what the heck my life is for at the moment.

I’m restless because I keep comparing my life to everyone else’s around me.

I’m restless because right now, I’m angry with God. Really, really angry with Him. So angry that I can’t force myself to open my mouth and talk to Him. I’m afraid of what I would say. And part of me wants Him to hurt as much as I feel I am hurting right now. Even though I know that He hurts watching me live my life every single day.

I’m restless because six months ago, I felt so confident in my life and my direction and my dreams. God was working in me and I was passionate about living my life for Him. And then it all just stopped. It all came to a screeching halt. And I wish that I could pin point what it was that caused it. But it has made be resentful and angry and hurt. And restless. Why? Because feeling that close to God and being in sync with Him got me through each day without thinking about the fact that I am 34 and single and nowhere close to being a wife and a mother. Now, without Him, it’s something that I think about every single day. Usually multiple times a day. I’ve lost the confidence in His plan for me and feel so far away from it.

I see couples in a restaurant together enjoying a meal and laughing over their conversation, and my heart physically aches. I watch my friends playing with their kids, or getting ready to have their first or second child, and I get butterflies. Six months ago, I was content exactly where I was. Now, I’m just restless.

And it’s not just my single status that is making me restless. It’s watching close friends of mine go through things that they shouldn’t have to go through. And being angry with God about that too. It’s having almost too much freedom with my time, no one to be accountable to, and endless possibilities of things to do. It’s putting off things that I know have needed to get done for months, or even longer. All of that makes me feel restless.

I’m in a state of unknown right now. I’m way too prideful right now, and I know that. I have far too many expectations of my life right now. And none of them are coming to fruition because they are my expectations, not His. And I know that. And I also know that none of this is going to get better without me completely breaking into pieces and throwing myself on the ground at His feet. I just can’t do that right now. Certainly not on my own strength. I’m being a stubborn, hard-headed child to my Father. And instead of crying out to Him to tell Him that I’m angry, I sit with my lips zipped tightly in my room with the door closed, pouting in the corner. And you can ask my parents – I’m a great pouter!

So friends, my few blog followers who have been sitting for over two months without a new post, can I ask you to just do something for me? Can I just ask simply that you pray for me? Because I’m not doing a very good job of that right now, and could use some help. And hopefully at some point in the near future, all of this restless energy can be aimed towards something good.

Lots of love and thanks coming your way.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Little Pep Talk

There have been a lot of things swirling around in my head lately. I feel like I have this jumbled mess of a mind and heart at the moment. It’s not good or bad, but to be honest, it just feels confusing and chaotic.

Apparently, God decided that I needed a little pep talk. And who doesn’t love a pep talk every once in a while? This is what He had to say:

Lisa, don’t judge. I make every person on this earth exactly who they are. I love all of them, just as they are. You want to be more like me? Then you must love all of them too.

Lisa, you never know the whole story. You don’t know what people are dealing with at any given moment. What is causing them to act a certain way, or not act at all, is something only I know. Give them a break.

And while you’re at it Lisa, give yourself a break, too. I freely gave you My grace because I knew that you would never be able to earn it on your own merits. Ever. So be thankful for it and use some of it on yourself every once in a while.

Lisa, don’t give up the fight. Don’t ever stop wanting to teach others about Me. Use the personality that I gifted you with to be persistent. Continually pray for those who don’t know Me. For in doing this, you are showing Me that you have faith in Me and believe that I can do anything.

Lisa, talk to me; about anything and everything. I am the best friend that you will ever have. I will always be next to you or on the other end of the line, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. In fact, I care so much about you and love you so deeply, that I stay awake and on call every second of every day just hoping that you will come to Me to talk. I won’t judge you, I will comfort you; I won’t hurt you, I will heal you; I won’t hold back from you, I will provide. And I give great advice because I already know all of the answers.

Lisa, please continue to be patient. Only I know what I have in store for you. Don’t underestimate My plan for you. It’s far better than anything that you could ever imagine for yourself and it will bring Me great glory and honor. In the meantime, do what you love to do – missions, travel, learning more about Me. And rest in the fact that I know exactly what I’m doing, and that when I have finished preparing you, it will be amazing.

Lisa, listen to Me. Strive always to hear My voice, especially amidst the chaos that you experience in life. Ask Me to speak to you. And then listen to Me, even when what I tell you is not what you want to hear; even when I challenge you. I’m not here to make life easy. I am your Father and am here to protect you.

So, I don’t know about you, but that was my Thursday morning. Not bad, huh?  Have you had a pep talk from God lately?  If so, I'd love to hear what He had to say!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Swimming Against the Current

I remember back in junior high I was introduced to the concept of choosing to either go with the flow or swim against the current. I heard the quote "Only dead fish swim with the current", and it must've left a lasting impression on me. I feel like I have spent my life up to this point trying not to go with the flow. It's not that I am fighting the current; maybe it's just that I’m trying to find an entirely different stream to navigate.

This concept has been heavy on my heart lately, I suppose because I’m currently in a small group study that is bringing my attention to different aspects of my personality. And this is one that I have always prided myself on: not being a dead fish – not swimming with the current.

But pride is a tricky thing. Too much of it can lead to all kinds of problems. Not enough of it can create another set of issues altogether. But ultimately, the basis for that pride – what underlies it – is really what matters. I don't know why, but I rarely want to be in the majority. I don't want to live the life that everyone else lives, or shall I say, the "typical American dream." I mean, I DO want the things that come along with it, but I want my life to stand out. And lately I've been wondering, is that a bad thing? Who do I want it to stand out to? And why?

Example #1: My mom, dad, AND sister all went to Texas Tech. I went to Baylor. What is my response when people ask me why I didn't go to Texas Tech? "Because that is where everyone else went."

Example #2: I moved all the way across the world without knowing a soul and lived there for almost 3 years. And I wanted to stay there. Most certainly not swimming with the current.

Example #3: My choices in hobbies. a) I love the zoo. It is my sanctuary. b) I have a love/hate relationship with hot yoga. And I enjoy watching people's reactions when they find out the temperature in the room. It's amusing! c) I enjoy traveling equally as much as I enjoy being at home. I don’t think that’s very normal.

There are a slew of other things that I could mention. But what is it that I’m after? Some sort of wow factor? Or a “shock and awe” plan for my life?

I think what it boils down to is that my parents always encouraged me to stand out. And not in a bad way, but to set myself apart from others. And just be me. And I have learned over the years that I am NOT a dead fish.

On the other hand, I look at some women and they seem to always fit in so perfectly with whatever group they are in. They don't cause issues, they go with the flow, they are agreeable, and everybody likes them. Sometimes I want to be like that. The average woman. The girl next door. Someone who looks and acts friendly and dependable all the time. But then I start thinking, would that imply that I lack passion? Does that indicate that I'm not strong enough to have opinions and feelings of my own? Could that suggest that I let people walk all over me?

These are all good questions, and I don't know the answer to any of them. I don't know that I need to. Because the thing is, I have a different personality than the woman that I describe above. And to her, being agreeable is not lacking passion or opinions of her own. To her, it’s being her. And I’m me. And we are very different people.

If I spend my entire life heading upstream, or along a different stream entirely, in the opposite direction of the mainstream, will I tire eventually? Will it be mentally and physically exhausting on my body and my mind and my soul? Is it worth it? Will I get lonely navigating my own stream?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But based on my past experience and relationships, there are two things that I do know for sure:

1) I refuse to let anyone squash my spirit. If they try to, I need to get them out of my life very quickly.

2) One of the qualities that I find most appealing in a person is passion. So why would I EVER want to not be passionate in my own life? I surround myself with passionate people, so that I have others to be silly, crazy, excited and emotional with.

What is the purpose of this whole blog? Honestly, I’m just thinking out loud. It’s my way of working through what this small group study (it’s called No Other Gods by Kelly Minter, by the way) has been bringing up to the surface. The girls in my “NOG” small group have had the pleasure of listening to me work through all of this :-) And ultimately, I think that as long as I stay focused on Him as I’m swimming against the current, I’ll be okay. It’s when I start becoming too prideful and self-righteous that I know I have a problem. And I recognize that I do that on occasion. Maybe a little too often lately. Maybe that’s why this is so heavy on my heart right now. Yikes.

I will always strive to be perhaps a little bit different. It’s really no effort for me at all actually. It’s who I am. And I love that I have people close to me in this world who are just like me, and those who are complete opposites. I think we balance each other out. And I wonder if it’s not me being different or standing out at all, but me just being myself. And maybe I am going with the flow. Maybe I’m just the fluorescent green fish amongst a stream full of silver ones.  Or maybe I'm not different at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Back in elementary school, the highlight of my morning was often the 15 minute break that gave me the chance to go out on the playground and get rid of all of my energy. That or find the boy that I had an innocent crush on and hopelessly try to flirt with him, whatever that meant at the age of 8. Ohhh the fantastic thing that we once knew simply as recess.

Wikipedia defines recess as “a general term for a period of time in which a group of people is temporarily dismissed from its duties.” Many elementary schools use recess to give kids a chance to take a break from learning, from the responsibilities of the classroom, and to get some physical exercise. It also gives children the opportunity to develop the skills needed to effectively socialize. All of these things become very important later in life. My opinion is that recess is paramount in a child’s education, and to keep teachers sane.

I think I need an emotional recess in my life.

I need a break from adult responsibility. I need a break from gossip, and pettiness, and drama, and emotional roller coasters, and little things that impact me way more than they should. I need to get out on the playground and run around carefree like a child, with no worries other than waiting for the bell to ring to bring me back to real life. And I want to come back eventually, but a nice little break seems to be in store for me.

I think that mentally, I need to STOP every once in a while. Stop holding myself accountable for everything that happens in my life. Stop getting caught up in the craziness that each day usually brings. Stop doing so many things. Stop thinking that I have the responsibility and the ability to solve everyone’s problems. Stop thinking that I can be a super-friend, when really I am just a normal person who runs herself ragged trying to fit it all in. And I’m not actually that great at being a super-friend in the end anyway!

I need to START taking more time for myself. Start treating myself better. Start spending more time in the Word and less time at a restaurant. Start concerning myself with what God wants out of me, rather than what other people want out of me. Start doing things that I want to do, which may include not doing much of anything at all, or it may include tackling a to-do list. Either way, I want my choices and opinions, at least for a little while, to not impact anyone else at all.

I want to be careful here not to cause you to think that I want to be a couch potato. That’s not at all what this is about. When I look around my house, I can come up with a list of things that I’ve been wanting or needing to do for a while now. Like the weather stripping that has come off the bottom of my front door, or the repainting that I need to do in the bathroom, or doing something about my ice maker that has been broken for about 2 years now. Instead of doing all of those things, I go out to eat, or to a movie, or to a party, or away for the weekend – and I LOVE all of those things and the people that come alongside them. But I think it’s just a bit much for me right now. I don’t want to lend emotional support today. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to make small talk. I want to grab a bucket of paint, turn on my iPod, and sing to my cat. Is that ok? Can I take a little emotional recess from my life?

Because I think that I need to. And I think that without a recess, I’m going to continue to turn into someone that I don’t recognize, and to be frank, someone I don’t like very much; the short-tempered, insensitive, impatient being that I feel I’m turning into at the moment. I can’t be a great friend in this state, nor co-worker, nor anything else for that matter. And it’s not fair to anyone.

So, I need a recess, and I don’t know when or how it is going to happen, or for how long, but it must. And it must happen soon. And I have a feeling that many of you out there have felt this way at some point, and have dealt with it, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. And you understand. At least I hope you do.

I think I hear the recess bell now…….

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

When I finished my second blog about Ethiopia, I was feeling like I had one more in me. I realized that I had not really talked about the part of the trip that had the greatest impact on me. I loved the experiences that I had over there, I loved the sweet little faces that I got to spend time with virtually every day that I was there, and I loved spending time with my friend Lauren and her mom Patty, relaxing and learning about that fascinating country. But what impacted me the most, what will take me back to Ethiopia at some point, or on many occasions in the future, was seeing God at work over there.

I had never been on any type of mission trip before, formal or informal. And I don’t really know what you would call this one, but in any event, I was over there to help Him with His work. And I don’t think I even knew what that would be like, how it would feel, or what it really meant. When people said to me, “Lisa, go be the hands and feet of Jesus over there”, I thought to myself, “Don’t you have to be qualified for that? Shouldn’t you have to pass a test to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Shouldn’t I know the Bible backwards and forwards?” Well people, I am NOT qualified, I have NOT passed any test, and I do NOT know the Bible backwards and forwards.

What I do know, is that I love Jesus. I believe in Him. I love Him with everything in me and strive every single day to call on His name and do something that will glorify Him. I know that I still screw up, and that He loves me in spite of that. I know that I do things that He should be upset with me for, but He continues to give me His grace. And it is with this love and this grace, that I stepped out to Ethiopia to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

More importantly, there are so many people at work for the Lord over there. In a country with an overwhelming population of Orthodox people, God is working overtime; He has to! We were blessed to be able to see several examples of His work in a country that a lot of people have forgotten about.

Men of Korah

They are affectionately known as the “Men of Korah”. They are 20 somethings who grew up in Korah and now live to serve there. They are men of God. They have incredible servant hearts. They are handsome and strong. And they are truly the hands and feet of Jesus. I have rarely, if ever, seen a more powerful, impactful, representation of that in my life. These men are part of the Great Hope Ministry in Korah. Korah is a leper community of over 100,000 in Addis. As my new friend Eve so descriptively states on her blog (, Korah is a place “where His precious children are living in oppression; in garbage dumps and makeshift homes filled with darkness. The community is consumed with poverty, where families are broken through illness, death and persecution”. And Great Hope Ministry strives to get them out of that poverty and oppression; to give them hope; and to show them the love of Jesus.

We were fortunate enough to get to travel with Eve to Korah during our trip, and spent the better part of a day there alongside Eve and the men of Korah. During our day there, we participated in three home visits, played with children, and participated in helping Eve distribute new suits to all of the elderly leper men who are served at the Great Hope shelter.

The Men of Korah feed these elderly lepers every day. They visit families throughout the Korah community, taking them items and just visiting with them, learning of their problems, and trying to come up with solutions. They provide a shelter and a church where the people of Korah can go for food and a good, healthy dose of Jesus. They are the hands and feet of Jesus in Korah, every single day.

Compassion Family International

They show up like clockwork every morning. Their bellies are empty and their minds are open. They come for food, but more importantly they come for a shot at life. At Compassion Family International (“CFI”), we spent every day on our trip observing, participating, creating with, and loving on 24 kids who are continually shown the love of Jesus by the CFI staff.

Peter & Elizabeth run CFI and treat each of these kids as their own. They are the poorest of poor kids who need an education before they fall too far behind and will likely never catch up. They are smart, sassy, and enthusiastic. Some of them walk an hour each way, on streets with no names, through dirt and garbage, just to get to this place that is a safe haven for them. At CFI, they can be free to be the little people that they are, without the worries and troubles that live at home with each of them. At CFI, they aren’t put to work, they get to learn. They don’t have to sit hungry in a dark tin shed, they sit outside in the sunshine and eat lunch with their classmates.

One of my most treasured memories of my time at CFI was our surprise “farewell” presentation that the kids put on for us. Each kid presented us with a homemade thank you card, and Peter, Elizabeth, and the staff thanked us for spending our time there. And then the staff asked the kids if they had anything to say to us. And every single one of them raised their hand with complete exuberance! They took turns thanking us for various things, like the witness bracelets we made with them, the foam crosses that we helped them put together, the new clothes and toys, etc. And then one of them simply said, “Thank you for playing with us.” And I was a wreck. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Playing with them and spending time with them is more impactful than anything else. And I truly can’t envision anywhere else I would’ve rather been at that moment.

We were so blessed to be able to spend time with these children. We may have taken them donation items that put a smile on their faces for an hour or a day, but spending time with them has left me with a smile on my face for so much longer. God is so clearly at work with CFI and these precious little souls.

Authoritative Guidance (spoken like a true auditor!)

As a result of this Ethiopian adventure, there have been a lot of discussions around adoption – that is what started this entire trip after all. And there are a lot of orphans in Ethiopia, more than anyone probably cares to know or admit. And they are children – some normal, some not-so-normal, some infants, some teenagers. But they all have a story, and they are all tiny people with the right to have a chance at life.

A common discussion topic with friends and family when talking about my friend’s adoption and my mission work over there, was “why international?” A lot of people have been curious why her adoption, and our desire to serve, were focused overseas. Well, I will not put words in her mouth regarding her adoption, but why did we travel across the globe to serve others? Because we are called to go and make disciples among all nations. The Bible, the only authoritative guidance that this world needs, says so:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

We may not have baptized them, but we showed them the love of Jesus. We told them of that love. And we did it in a foreign land. We served those people. And there are so many other servants in Ethiopia. It really is astounding and such a true testament of the power of God’s love. People like you, and like me, and like the men of Korah, and like Peter & Elizabeth at CFI, who truly are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

I’ll leave you with this: You don’t have to be a pastor to be the hands and feet of Jesus, nor do you have to be an expert on the Bible. What you do need, is to be a believer, and not just within your perfect little world, but in other places too. You need to “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”¬ – Ephesians 6:7 (NIV) and act on what the Bible is telling you to do. It’s scary at times, and it is certainly uncomfortable, but when you walk in a place like Ethiopia, or Korah, or among the streets with no name, or even somewhere closer to home; when you just spend time with people, you will have the opportunity, whether you realize it or not, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that, my friends, is what this life should be all about.

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” - 1 Peter 4:11 (NIV)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: The Day-to-Day Adventures

Maybe I should have done my typical "before" blog post with my expectations for this trip, followed by the "after" blog post with the reality of it. I was so busy up until the day that I left that it didn't really cross my mind, and perhaps I didn't want to jinx myself with formally documenting my expectations for this trip. All I can say is that it was nothing like I imagined and everything that I expected all at the same time.

I arrived into Addis Ababa at 9pm on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt and my friend and her mom were there to greet me at the airport, which was a nice surprise. We traveled to the guest house at which we were staying (, but since it was dark, there was not much for me to see. My friend and her mom had checked in a couple of days before me, so they were all settled in and helped me get that way too. I got the top bunk in our room so it felt a little like girl scout camp. In reality, I was the only one who could reach it! After some catching up, and them explaining the lay of the land to me, we went to sleep. Or rather, tried to go to sleep. The dogs and the roosters outside seemed to have a different plan. The dogs are all strays, so they are scavengers and pretty much sleep all day and are very active at night. Hence the incessant barking. And I don't know what was up with the roosters, but last I knew, roosters are supposed to start the day with their music, not serenade people in the middle of the night! Luckily after the first night, the dogs and roosters behaved much better!

A Background of CFI
Compassion Family International (“CFI”) - - is the ministry that we served with. It is run by Peter Abera, and we worked along Peter, his wife Elizabeth, and the amazing staff at CFI during our three weeks in Addis. Peter and Elizabeth were also often our private tour guides :-)

In a nutshell, CFI provides pre-K and kindergarten age children with an education, so that when they get to government school at age 7, they are not behind their peers. Because these children come from the poorest, and mostly all uneducated families, they have no means of learning English and Amharic as they cannot pay for private school. If they do not know English and Amharic before they enter government school, they will be set up for failure, continuing the cycle.

CFI not only provides them with this education, but also two meals and snacks every day. And these children are provided a safe place to run around and play, all under the umbrella of a loving and caring Father.

So what did a typical day look like for us?
We got to sleep in a bit as we didn't have to be at CFI each morning until about 9:30am. I was usually the first one up and showered. That's the "morning person" in me coming out in true form. We had breakfast downstairs at the guest house every morning, which generally consisted of some type of egg, or pancakes, waffles, french toast, or cereal, and always a glass of fresh juice. And since this was a guest house, it was a group breakfast with whoever else happened to be staying there on that particular day.

Most of the people staying there were adoptive families, so we got to meet a lot of the kiddos that were about to head stateside to start their new lives with their new families. We met some amazing people and kids and enjoyed being the one constant group there for three weeks. And if you never believed in adoption or always thought it was for other people to do, I'm telling you - meeting those adoptive families and realizing that they are just normal people trying to offer an orphan a home, made me think twice and really opened my eyes up to the beauty of adoption.

The walk to CFI was only about 5 minutes away from the guest house. The typical scenery along the way included donkeys carrying bags of cement powder, or other building materials, kids walking to school in uniform, and roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables (none of which we could eat), in addition to the usual road traffic. We were staying in Lafto, which is outside of the city centre, and one of the poorest areas of Addis. The first few days we always got some stares because I don't think the people of that area are used to seeing white people walking around the streets. Before too long, however, we became well-recognized due to our numerous trips along that street! And we also knew at which areas along the way we needed to hold our breath. Some of the smells coming from the drainage ditches were enough to make you lose your breakfast!

One thing I noticed each day is that whoever we passed walking along the street, no matter their age or gender, if I made eye contact with them and smiled, I always got a smile in return. I loved that about the Ethiopians! They didn't hate Americans :-)

Once we were at CFI, we pretty much had the same routine. We did an activity with the kids during morning break from about 10-11am. This could range from playing dodgeball, to blowing bubbles and playing with sidewalk chalk, to blowing up and playing with punch balloons, to making foam crosses or simply coloring, etc. More than anything, I just enjoyed spending time with them. I loved their excitement to see me each morning, the adorable and enthusiastic way that they called out my name "Leeeeeesa!", and the endless hugs and kisses that I received.

I remember the first couple of days I was a little apprehensive about them climbing all over me. I mean, they were dirty, smelly, unmatched, little children, and my Western, semi-germaphobe mind was inventing all kinds of bacteria and diseases that they were probably carrying around with them. (And truth be told, several of them had lice and ringworm.) But you know what? Each one of them is a child of God. And I came to realize that I would rather have a dirty, smelly, lice-infested child climb on my lap and give me a hug if that's what that child needed, then to shun them for something that they have no control over. Who am I to deny them love?

After our morning activity, we generally stayed around CFI for a bit to help out with various tasks and prepare for the afternoon. We walked back to the guest house each day for lunch and then had a bit of a rest before heading back to CFI in the afternoon. For two accountants who are not used to being around and working with children on a regular basis, Lauren and I struggled to maintain energy! And, unbeknownst to me before this trip, Addis sits at an elevation of over 7,700 feet above sea level. So not only were the kiddos wearing us out, but the altitude was affecting us as well since we live at sea level; especially on the walk back to the guest house, which was straight uphill.

In the afternoon, we did another activity with the kids after their quiet time/naps, and then once they left for the day, we hung around for a bit and helped organize the office and all of the donation item and supplies that we had brought and those that were already there. Lauren is extremely gifted at organization, so she was completely in her element! One of my favorite times of day was when we had to say goodbye to each kiddo as their family members came to pick them up. I loved meeting their moms and dads and siblings, and (for the most part) seeing the excitement of each kid in anticipation of being picked up. And more than anything, I loved the passionate little hugs that I got from them as they were bouncing out of the gate, and the endless kisses.

Each evening was up in the air and a little different; sometimes we stayed in the guest house for dinner and sometimes we had a driver take us out for dinner. Addis is not really a city (and in particular, the area of Lafto) where, as a white person/foreigner, you can just walk around and stumble upon a place to eat. The streets are safe, but daunting and intimidating for someone who is not used to them. And we could only eat at "clean" restaurants, so each one that we ate at had to be on a "pre-approved" list. During our time there, we ate at Chinese, Korean, American, Italian, and traditional Ethiopian restaurants. Several people made the comment to me that they were surprised to have all of those types of restaurants in Ethiopia, but really it's no different than having ethnic restaurants in America, right? I know Houston as an Ethiopian restaurant, and I'll definitely be visiting at some point!

The food in Addis was really cheap. We ate a LOT of food when we went out, and generally only spent $5-10 a piece, including perhaps a bottle of wine or a couple of beers, an appetizer and a dessert.

During our trip, we also did a couple of touristy things and took some time out of our weeks to visit some other ministries in Addis to see more of what God is doing over there. And let me tell you, He is doing A LOT!!! Most Ethiopians are Orthodox, so it was inspiring to see Christians living and ministering over there to share the gospel and introduce these people to Jesus; to give them hope and an understanding that they always have Jesus, no matter what situation that they are in. And that this life is just temporary, but there life in heaven will be eternal. And it will be perfect!

Some of the other places that we visited were another program similar to CFI, a street kids' ministry (, a government orphanage, a leprosy hospital and craft shop, Beza International Church, the Entoto Mountains, and Korah, the community in Addis that is based around the trash dump. Each one of these visits, in its own way, was impactful on me!

Leprosy hospital and craft shop

Our visit to the ALERT leprosy hospital (,_Ethiopia)) and craft shop was inspiring! There are a number of lepers, most of whom have a severe deformity (generally loss of fingers or hands, toes or feet), who are able to live in this place where they are taken care of and where they can make craft items to sell and support their home and themselves. It was incredible to see a man with no fingers and just stubs for hands, on a weaving loom. What was more incredible was how happy he was! Smiling and singing and showing off his skills. And it must feel so good to them to be able to contribute to society.

We saw numerous lepers in different stages of the process of making blankets, tablecloths, bedspreads, curtains, table runners, jewelry etc. And we walked away with bags full of goodies, all in the name of supporting those amazing people.

Do you know that there are over 4,000 new cases of leprosy in Ethiopia each year? This is in contrast to the 200 new cases in the United States. There are a total of approximately 6,500 cases of leprosy in the entire United States. So you get the idea. It's still a big problem in Ethiopia.

The government orphanage
I will start by saying that I know that they are doing the best that they possibly can with the resources that they have. But, their resources are simply not enough. It was heartbreaking. There are 150 children in this particular orphanage - it was at capacity. There was no color in the entire place, no toys, no stimulation of any sort. It meets the very basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. That's it.

We walked through the various rooms to see how the children lived. The infant room brought tears to my eyes. Some of them were a mere 3 weeks old and had been left on the side of the road. And they are precious little lives who were created by God just like you and me. The toddler room was probably more difficult for me because they are old enough to actually consciously crave the love and attention. And they look at you, and smile, and put their arms out to you wanting to be held. And others are self-soothing themselves, because they know that crying really gets them nowhere.

Most of the children are taught from a very young age to hold their own bottles and it was hard to see these wee little bodies feeding themselves with a bottle that was propped up on a blanket. There were fly strips hanging from the ceiling full of dead flies – which is better than nothing – but I still would rather see these kids in a place where they didn’t have to worry about flies to that extreme.

The ratio of child to caretaker is 10:1. Everything is so methodical and routine. I guess it has to be with that many children and so few people looking after them. What probably broke my heart the most was when we were leaving, the 2 year olds were finishing up lunch in the main room downstairs, and a couple of them were walking around leaving puddles in their footprints. They had completely soaked through their diapers and clothes and were dripping at this point. And nobody seemed to notice; nobody but the guests who were visiting. So please pray for these children and for this orphanage. They need it so badly!

Beza International Church
Both Sunday mornings that I was in Addis, we attended Beza International Church. This is an Ethiopian church that has one service in English (as opposed to an English church), so we were told that it was quite a bit more of an "authentic" Ethiopian experience. I will say up front that this Baptist girl is used to church services that are about an hour, no more than an hour 15 minutes. Baptists like to eat lunch. Ethiopians....well.....lunch clearly is not a priority to them. Which I guess is a good thing when you are worshipping.

We had been prepared ahead of time for an approximate 2 hour service. So I was mentally ready for that. When we hit the 2.5 hour mark, I shut down. I was angry. Why does this pastor feel like he can keep me in church for now going on 3 hours? At least that's what I was feeling at the moment. I had hardly slept the night before, I was hungry, and there was no end in sight. But you know what? I survived! And I had thoroughly enjoyed the first 2 hours. We spent an entire hour doing praise and worship. And let me tell you, these Ethiopians don't take praise and worship lightly. There was lots and lots of passionate singing and dancing, and an amazing worship band and leader.

I eventually got over myself and happily returned the next week. It was so refreshing to see a combination of Ethiopians and "white people" at church together. A lot of the foreigners were adoptive families, some were visitors like us, and others looked like they had been there a while. In any event, Ethiopians know how to worship and they have a fierce love for their Savior!

Entoto Mountains
Our last weekend in Addis, we headed about 30-45 minutes out of the city to the Entoto Mountains. After spending 2 weeks in a large city that has no emissions standards, I was in desperate need of some fresh air. One of the things that I loved about making this trip out of the city was seeing the different parts of the city as we drove through it - parts that we had not seen before. The further we got out of the main city, the scenery changed to more of the countryside with a plethora of donkeys walking and working along the way.

Once we started on the road up to the top of the mountain, it was instantly more peaceful and serene. There were loads of pine trees, eucalyptus trees that came from Australia, and just that overall mountainous feel. And then.....coming around every corner on the way down the mountain.....was one of the saddest sites that I laid my eyes on during this trip. Women, young and old, were trudging down the mountain. Tied to their backs were huge mounds of tree branches and logs that spanned half the width of the road. These women were hunched over from the weight, some with a look of fierce concentration on their faces, some with a look of agony, but all of them hardened. This was their job. They live at the top of the mountain, and carry down branches and logs to be used for various things, then walk back up the mountain and do it all over again. I’m not sure how many times they do it in a day, my guess is 2 or 3, because that is hard work and a long walk back uphill.

My first question was, why don’t they use trucks or donkeys for this??? The trucks can’t get up and down that mountain very easily, and not everyone owns a donkey. There were some donkeys along the way, but these women need to earn money and this was their only option. We would see them stop along the way for rest, and I just wanted to cry for them. But this is their reality and what they are used to. Somehow, that doesn’t make it ok for me. But who am I to judge; I don’t live in that world. I have not become de-sensitized to it like the people who live over there, and I hope that I never do.

Once we got to the top of the mountain, we visited the historic mud palace and the museum. Both pretty interesting, but even better, was the picnic that we had afterwards! We walked a little ways into the forest and our host (who is American) served us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt, popcorn, fresh mangoes, and cookies. It was divine and just what we all needed! A refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable break from the big city. I wish I would remember to get out of Houston more often for a little chance to recharge.

Livin' Like the Locals
A few things that we experienced during the trip made us feel like the locals. Specifically for me, those included the following:

• Taking the “public transportation” (i.e. old, crammed packed buses affectionately known as “blue donkeys”) to the fancy Sheraton Hotel to go swimming one Saturday. You can pay to just swim for the day, and the day that Patty & Lauren were sick, I went with our hosts. Needless to say, I now understand why Ethiopians win so many races. They come out of nowhere while you are patiently waiting for a bus and beat you to it. Sneaky little buggers. Finally, we caught the 4th bus home :-);

• We decided to cook at our hosts house one evening, so we went to three different stores to get all of the ingredients – one for the produce, one for the meat, and one for the bread. They do have “all in one” stores, but apparently those are only good for certain things, and really expensive for the others. Needless to say, for a girl who loves grocery shopping, it was fun for me to see the different places and walk around;

• Lauren & I came up with brilliant idea to get “corn rows” in our hair. Well, Lauren got a full set of corn rows since her hair is thick and curly. I just got a few on the sides since mine is fine and straight. Our hosts introduced us to a local salon, and we managed to come out looking pretty local and definitely got some stares from the people at church. We realized it was because they had probably not seen many white scalps in their lifetime :-) The kiddos at CFI loved them and could not stop playing with them. We often wondered what they thought of us trying to look like them. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?

• A couple of times, our drivers took us to Kaldi’s, which is the Ethiopian version of Starbucks. It has a similar green logo and everything. The atmosphere is very similar to a Starbucks, except it is not counter service and they have a more extensive food menu. Students would be studying there, friends would be catching up, and white people would be enjoying a nice macchiato :-)

Alright my friends, I think that’s enough for Ethiopia Blog #2. I think there will be one more, and hopefully just one more. This is exhausting! And I truly hope that through these stories, you were able to close your eyes and maybe be there with me for parts of this amazing, truly life-changing trip.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethiopia 2011: Leaving a Piece of My Heart in Addis

I’ll be honest with you up front. Starting this blog is a very daunting task. There is so much that I want to put in here, but I know that I will never get it all in, nor would I subject you to the pages upon pages that would certainly be the result if I did. If I were to tell you everything I wanted to, there would be a lot of emotion, some pretty funny stories, some graphic descriptions of bodily functions, and overall an outpouring of genuine love for the Ethiopian people. But I won’t do that. At least not right now. Because I don’t think I have it in me to do all at once. And I don’t know what this blog post will end up being like, because I haven’t thought it through, so I beg your forgiveness up front for what may seem like a sporadic ramble of stories and emotions.

I will start with this: I left a piece of my heart in Ethiopia. And the story begins…

I played a game when I was in Ethiopia with my two travel buddies (my good friend Lauren and her mom, Patty). I would ask them for the first two words that came to mind to describe a particular something or someone. I liked this game because it was a quick way to understand their impression of something without the opportunity for them to filter things. And it worked great! So I’m curious, assuming that most of you blog readers out there have never been to Ethiopia, what two words would you choose to describe your impressions of Ethiopia?

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that maybe they would be poor and hungry? Or hot and dry? Perhaps you know a little more about the country and the humanitarian issues that it continually faces, and maybe you chose orphans and poverty? All of these would be right. But after spending three weeks over there, they would not be the words that I would choose. Because while all of those words describe Ethiopia perfectly, that is not the impression that I walked away with; that’s not what I felt about the Ethiopian people. My words, to describe this poor, poverty-stricken, hungry, hot, dry country full of orphans, would be compassion and resilience.

You see, the people of Ethiopia have fully embraced the notion of compassion. They truly live it. Suggested synonyms for compassion are sympathy, empathy, concern, kindness, consideration, and care. And these are all words that I would use to describe the people of Ethiopia. It goes without saying that not everyone in Ethiopia can qualify as a compassionate person. But my goodness, I encountered so many compassionate people during my three week journey that I have no reservations in making that general statement. And I’m not just talking about people who are involved in the humanitarian effort there or who are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus serving God’s people. I’m talking about those people AND the people on the streets, the people who work in the guest houses, the poor families and their poor kids – all of the people of Ethiopia whom I ran into and interacted with on a daily basis. They are no superstars, but they are making a difference. And their compassion was apparent.

Ethiopians consider everyone family. Kids roam the streets from dawn until dusk unharmed. They have to roam the streets because they often have nothing but their legs and feet to get them to where they need to go, whether that be school, running errands for the family, fetching water an hour and a half away from their home, finding or begging for food, perhaps working a minor job like shoe shining to help bring in income; whatever it may be. They don’t stay home because at home they are idle. And Ethiopians really can’t afford to be idle. Most of them don’t know how they are getting tomorrow’s meal, or may need today’s wages to buy it. And most of them eat once a day, and that one time a day is anything but a feast. I wonder if all of the compassion hovering over the city of Addis Ababa helps sustain these people? It must, right? Because there really is no other explanation for it.

During my journey in Addis, I was fortunate enough to go on eight home visits. The organization that we were working with makes home visits for each of its kiddos at least once a year, kind of as a general check on the status of the family, but also to deliver some “gift” items such as oil or sugar. We did a few other home visits on our day spent visiting Korah (more info to come on that in a separate blog.…I think). Each of these home visits provided a completely different experience, but the one thing they all had in common was the living conditions. Imagine a tin or mud shack the size of your kitchen (unless it’s really big!) or office at work. Or perhaps your outside patio. Now imagine that with no floor, just dirt, and either tin or mud walls. And there could be anywhere from 2 – 8 people living in this structure. Most that we saw had only one bed and no “real” other place to sit. All of their possessions fit into this one room, which should indicate how many possessions they have. Some had one light bulb hanging from a wire running across the ceiling, and some had no electricity. None of them had running water, but some had access to a pump relatively closeby, where they may or may not have to pay for the water. Others had to walk up to an hour and a half each way to get water. So I’ll stop there, but you get the idea.

Now, here is a brief glimpse of each of our visits: 1) a single mother with one daughter who loves and cares for that sweet girl so much that she left her entire family in the countryside to come to Addis for work, 2) an HIV positive mother with one son who fights her disease every single day, but loves that boy to pieces and is so proud of him, 3) a schizophrenic mother who is not on medication, a father with ulcers who only sporadically works, and two of the most precious girls that you will ever meet, who crave love and attention because they don’t get it at home, 4) a great aunt who loves on her great niece because she was abandoned by her mother, 5) a single mom who tries her hardest to make a happy home for her sweet little daughter and the love that she has for her radiates in that little shack, 6) a room so small that the front door hardly opens, but is home to four people who cling together tightly as a family, 7) an 88 yr old blind leper and his family, and 8) a crazy funny lady who lives with her husband and one daughter in a tiny room with a menagerie of other “collectibles”.

Do you get it? Can you picture any of this?  I’m guessing probably not, because as an American, I would not have believed it until I saw it. And my mind, as quirky and creative as it can be at times, would never, ever have created these images as homes. But this is their reality. And even with this reality, these people are full of compassion.

Where else did I see compassion amongst the people of Ethiopia? When I observed a parent picking up a child from school, about to start the 45 minute walk home, and that child looked up at mom or dad with a big smile and got a loving hug in return, that’s compassion. When I saw parents toting around their little ones in slings on their backs, while carrying bags of other items and clearly burdened by their load, that’s compassion. And I saw an Ethiopian who is physically handicapped, either sliding across the road on skateboard or walking very slowly with a cane across the street, and people were patient and helpful, that’s compassion. I don’t know that the Western world has that kind of compassion; at least that which is not out of obligation or pride.

When I think of the word resilience, I think of a man who gets back up again each time he is beaten down. Or someone who perseveres through trying times, or perhaps a woman who stands up for what she believes in despite the consequences. Synonyms for resilience include flexibility, spirit, hardiness, and toughness. In Addis, resilience is seen in just about every face that you encounter.

Just to give you a frame of reference, there are approximately 100 birr to every $6. So each birr is about 6 cents. A normal main dish at a restaurant costs anywhere from 30 – 60 birr, so give or take $3. And when you are walking along the streets and someone comes up to you begging for money, they ask for 1 birr. ONE BIRR! That’s how precious money is to the Ethiopians. They are resilient. They fight back every day; fighting against the things that continually try to push them down, like a growling stomach, aching pains from hard, manual labor, the struggle to learn English and Amharic, inclement weather than can destroy what home they have, and countless other factors.

I like to think that children are known for their resilience. Maybe it’s because they are so innocent and trusting. This world has not yet robbed them of that. Looking into the faces of the 24 children with whom I loved on, hugged, was the happy recipient of many kisses from, played dodgeball and soccer with, sung with, danced with, prayed with, cried with, blew bubbles with, took pictures of, created with – I can’t help but see faces of resilience. Each family situation is different, but those kids are still young enough to bounce back. They know hunger, they know pain, they no true sadness and hurt. But they know how to love like nobody else. And a piece of my heart remains with each one of them still today. It probably always will.

Being realistic for a minute, it is in our human nature to desire love and affection; and acceptance and affirmation. As children it comes in the purest form. As adults, generally it takes on a different form. But is it any wonder that I was literally on a high over there? I mean, this girl was getting loved on and attention more than I EVER have in my life. For three weeks solid! It felt strange to me, that I was supposed to be putting forth the effort to love on THEM and make THEM happy, yet I was feeling so loved. I guess that is the true meaning of God’s love, isn’t it? It works both ways.

Here are a few other tidbits or thoughts of interest from my trip:

• The streets of Addis work in harmony. Cars, trucks, donkeys, goats, people, sheep, buses, horse & buggies, stray dogs – they all dance together in a weird, fascinating way. There are few stop signs or traffic lights. It works. It’s chaotic and frightening for an American, but it works;

• The Ethiopians generally dress in many, long layers. Even in the middle of summer. Apparently they are cooler keeping the sun off of them then they are with less clothes on;

• The children over there have no concept of gender-specific clothing or colors. I guess it makes sense when you don’t have a lot, but I always did a double take when I saw a boy wearing white socks with green lace, or a pink sweatsuit, or a little girl wearing a Cars hooded sweatshirt ;

• They pick their noses and spit like it’s nothing;

• They love having their picture taken and they love white people. We’ve never colonized or corrupted them.

So here I am at the end of this blog. I will eventually write another blog telling more about the day to say things that we did, work in some funny stories about the kids, and hit the major sites that we saw. I will end this by saying that I was moved like never before. I expected to feel something major in my bones after this trip. And with no doubt, my bones are feeling the impact of compassion and resilience from a people who have every excuse not to be compassionate and resilient.

It is apparent that God is at work in Ethiopia. And I am so happy to have had the privilege to be a part of it, even if it was only for three weeks. And I also know, without a doubt, that a piece of my heart resides in Addis Ababa still today. It resides with each one of those children whom I came to understand and love. And it resides with a people who surprised me with the hope that they hold in their hearts, despite the reality in which they live. More to come, my friends…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Words Aren't Enough

I want you to think of a time in your life when something was so special to you, so impactful, so truly incredible, that words were not enough to express how you felt. You tried and tried and tried to get out what you were feeling in your heart, but it didn’t seem to mean the same spoken out loud as it did internally.

Well, my friends, that is me – right now!!! And it’s been me for about a week, and I will never be able to express the immense gratitude that I have in my heart right now, but I will try. I will try with words like appreciation, awe, blessed, and amazed. And I will say…..

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! There have been so many donations for my upcoming trip to Ethiopia. Thank you for the donation items, and the money, and the prayers, and the encouraging words. They mean so much to me and the two ladies with whom I’m traveling. As if the pictures on here don’t show enough of the goods, here is a detailed list of what we’re taking over so far:

15 soccer balls
3 soccer ball pumps
15 scrub sponges
200 gallon-sized Ziploc bags
1000 cotton balls
500 baby wipes
570 gummy children's multivitamins
13 tubes of Neosporin
240 travel-sized toothpaste tubes
60 toothbrush covers
1 puzzle
26 various children’s books
10 slinkys
144 balloons
37 containers of play dough
76 large pieces of sidewalk chalk
3 jump ropes
10 super balls
15 sticker books w/ stickers
2 packs of foam letters
10 coloring books
17 dry erase boards
84 pencils
360 crayons
312 markers
8 pencil sharpeners
10 pairs of children's scissors
40 glue sticks
400 colored craft sticks
1000 popsicle sticks
300 pipe cleaners
2 large packs of pom pom balls
372 wiggle eyes
48 Silly Bandz bracelets
204 feet of elastic craft cords
800 colored craft beads
225 alphabet beads
29 pairs of boys and girls socks
4 onesies
7 shirts
16 pairs of pants

Ahhhhh, do you see what I mean?!?!? Isn’t that incredible? This is a huge contribution to the needs of the organization with which we’ll be serving! How could I not be filled to the brim with appreciation? You guys have really outdone yourselves. We have filled two extra suitcases so far and there is still room left in the third, so I certainly won’t turn anything else away!

I’m so genuinely happy. Happy that those of us who live in a world where we don’t have to worry day to day how we are going to get by, where we have schools, infrastructure, families who love us and can take care of us – that even if we don’t have as much as we think we should or all of the things that we want, we can still give. Give a little of our hearts to those who have far less than us.

This journey so far as renewed my spirit as a human being, and makes me hold on to the truth and hope that people are decent. Well and truly decent. And I haven’t even traveled to Ethiopia yet! So before I get too wrapped up even more in this, I will stop and save the rest of the sentiment for future blogs when I’ve actually made it over there :-)

And I promise you this: I will try my hardest to capture the children of Ethiopia enjoying as many of these items as possible. I want to show all of you the impact that you will make on each of their lives. Whether it be playing soccer with a shiny new soccer ball, dressing up in a new pair of pants that actually fit, getting a cap for a toothbrush to keep the mold away, having a book to read, or participating in one of what will likely be a million arts and crafts projects – the lives of these children will be better because of you.

Until then, whether you’ve been a contributor monetarily, with physical items, or spiritually with prayer and support, I truly cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart. And thank you for loving ME enough to be part of this journey with me. Words simply aren’t enough!