Thursday, May 4, 2017

GO SA Part 1: It's Waiting There for You

Oh man, it's been a while since I've posted to this blog—at least TWO years. Why am I resurrecting this thing? 1.) Because I have more than a blurb to say about my trip to Africa. Apologies to the 20+ people who've thoughtfully asked me, "So, how was it??" and received something along the lines of, "Well, it deserves more than a soundbite recap..." Here's the full story! (Or the first half, at least.) 2. I strongly dislike using social media to microblog (ie. if you have a lot to say, please stop spamming my feed and start a blog). 3.) It's "permanent internet content." You can delete my recap email but I don't want to forget anything about this experience.

A high five and a drink to the first person who can ID this African flower for me

Backstory: I've dreamed of joining a GO South Africa trip with my church, Crossroads, for a few years. I started to apply to a trip last year but a few things (like the fact that I needed a passport?) got in the way. By the time I got my act together, a different trip for young adults was already in the works. Not gonna lie, the trip description was prett-y vague. I've recently felt the urge to finally start exploring my dream of international adoption (it's a long story, ask me in person) so I could only hope pray that the trip would 1.) open my eyes to the needs of another culture and 2.) somehow allow me to work with kids. Both of these things seem like important steps when considering an unconventional approach to family. I found out during the first official meeting that 19 of us would travel to Johannesburg, South Africa to do some type of service with some organization and probably see some zebras along the way. Strangely enough, my type-A personality questioned none of this. (Although my dad did; "What happens if there's a global crisis and you get stuck on the other side of the world??") Doing my best to ignore unhelpful questions like that, I raised the funds (thank you!), got some shots, overpacked, and set off on my first global adventure.

Friday, 4/14
  • Got myself to the airport, met up with Go Group (7 / 19 people) and took an 1.5 hour flight to Atlanta.
  • Waited around a while (ie. forced everyone to play games with me) then jumped on a 16 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Slept 7 hours in the air! Hallelujah. Honestly, I don't mind flying and never seem to have an issue with restlessness, time change, or jet lag but I was a little worried. Long layovers and inquisitive but well-meaning parents only lengthen the average traveler's worry list.
GO Group: Michael, Breanna, Justin, Alex, Nicole, Molly & me at CVG

Saturday, 4/15
  • Phillip & Clive, Build the Future's founders, picked us up at the airport with a giant sign and two huge white vans. We took these vans everywhere, all week so by Saturday I felt pretty open to the whole living-out-of-a-car thing. Don't knock it 'til you try it for a week, amiright?
  • Ran into my friend, Carly's, fiancĂ© as we were walking through the Johannesburg terminal—how random!
  • Drove to Cradle Moon, the game reserve and resort that would be our home for the next 6 days. On the way I may or may not have questioned Phillip about everything I could think of (trip details, Build the Future, South African culture...) while the rest of the car tried to sleep. (sorry, not sorry) What can I say? I'm my book-reading, history-loving grandma's granddaughter.
  • Were greeted by a dazzle (aka herd) of zebra chilling next to the main building. No fence, no worries, about 10 feet from where we were unloading.
  • Gathered for dinner as a team in the main dining hall where I tried to avoid anything uncooked. (I might have been unnecessarily overcautious about fresh food and water the first few days. Oops.)
  • Crashed around 11pm and woke up at 3am. I chose to view it as the standard South African welcome.
Van #1: feeling chipper and loving life after 24 hours of travel

Greeted by the Cradle Moon zebras

Our "rooms," which were the size of small houses

Sunday, 4/16
  • 7am (which is 1am EST) team breakfast. No comment.
  • Piled in the vans to drive to Grace Bible Church's Easter service at Orlando stadium.
  • Were treated like celebrities by an official escort who proudly paraded us around the perimeter of the field before settling us in the first row at the halfway line. I think this was supposed to be a place of honor but turned out to be slightly awkward during worship. The hundreds of churchgoers behind us in the stands were going to town: dancing, fist pumping, jumping up and down, etc. We couldn't see any of the enthusiasm (since we were, you know, the first line of defense) sooo we didn't quite match their caliber of exuberance. I glanced over my shoulder halfway through worship to realize that we appeared to be the most unhappy visitors ever to grace GBC's Easter service.
  • Amazing cultural experience at church. Most of the worship songs were in one or two tribal languages and only a few were in English. The choir wore kelly green skirts or ties and danced the entire time. The message was delivered in two languages: the first pastor said a sentence in English and then the second repeated it in another language. At the end of the service, they held the most epic alter call of all time: about a quarter of the stadium came forward!
  • After church we picked up lunch and headed downtown to the Apartheid Museum.
  • Spent over 3 hours at the museum but I loved every second. Learning about Apartheid was the context I needed to understand the situations we served in throughout the week. The thing that shocked me most was how the government actively reserved higher education and learning English for caucasians. Non-whites simply weren't allowed to learn enough English to succeed in the professional world, even though they wanted to. My favorite part was the special exhibit on Nelson Mandela. Learning about specific moments in his life that shaped his character and belief system made me reflect on why I am the person I am today and the type of leader I want to become.
  • Insisted on taking a hike the instant we returned to the reserve. We explored the lake, dam, and the mouth of a few trails on the property. Again, I was a total baby and avoided the waterfall mist because I was afraid of getting sick. Lameeee.
  • Dinner, games, bed. Slept the whole night!
Orlando Stadium, ready for Easter

Lisa, John, & me, ready for Easter

All the trippers at the Apartheid Museum

An interactive exhibit demonstrating the beauty of desegregation

Views of the dam and lake from hike #1

Monday, 4/17
  • South Africans celebrate Easter Friday through Monday so it was a holiday! Don't get me wrong, we actually worked the hardest on this day, but the circumstances were celebratory.
  • Piled into the vans after breakfast feeling pretty unsure about what the day would hold. The mood was light: we played games and got to know one another more. But the van fell silent as we pulled into the settlement at Kya Sands. A dump lay before us, covered in rows and rows of shacks, or as the residents would call them, houses. If you've seen the beginning of Slum Dog Millionaire, it's a pretty similar sight.
  • We parked on the edge of the settlement next to a colorful collection of five shipping containers in the center of a green space. The yard was packed with kids between the ages of 3 and 6, piling on metal jungle gyms, cruising around on toy scooters, or getting as close as they dared to peer at us through the wire fence.
  • Phil jumped right in to give us a tour of the property, which was probably a good thing given the shock written across most of our faces. I give him a lot of credit for treating all of us sloooow processors with patience and grace.
  • Here's the gist of what Build the Future does at the container school: anyone from the settlement can enroll their young children at the preschool for the equivalent of $5.24 per month. The school enrolls about 80 kids and it's first come first serve. The classes are taught by 4 women who also live in the settlement. None of them have formal education training but two are being funded by organizations to get their degrees. Each container is a "room" in the school: the kitchen, 2 containers for the 3 year olds, 1 for preschoolers (Grade R), and one for kindergarteners (Grade 00). The kids are fed three meals (breakfast, snack, and lunch) and for many it's their main source of nourishment for the day. Breakfast is typically porridge, snack is peanut butter sandwich squares with fruit, and lunch is rice (packed with extra nutrients) and cooked veggies. On special occasiond, the kids get extra protein like chicken or boiled eggs. Build the Future recently started a garden (complete with chickens) to begin supplying some of the food.
  • After the tour, Clive grabbed the guys for a project in the garden and the rest of us wandered off to "assist" the various activities happening at the preschool.
  • Settled in to play with the 3 year olds on the ground. After 30 minutes of painful shyness (on their end, not mine), I excused myself to see what everyone else was doing. The preschoolers (Grade R) and kindergarteners (Grade 00) had a lot more energy so I jumped into a soccer game and pushed them on the swings for a good hour.
  • The morning was a blur. I think half the team left early for the second site but I was caught up in who knows what. Playing? Processing? Knowing what time it was? Probably all of the above. After feeding the kids lunch, my group was whisked off to the second site as well. Whoever made the snack for the kids (one of us) made extra so we lunched on peanut butter sandwiches on the way.
The container school

Kids eating breakfast out of the school's green bowls

Trying to win Florence's affections on the first day
  • Site two was a settlement in Soweto, about thirty minutes away. This time we drove into the heart of the shacks to a "soup kitchen" run by two local women. Let me clarify: these women were not suburbanites from a church who popped by on occasion to make food for the community. They lived in the exact same circumstances as the people they were helping. Mind blown. Every weekday, these women prepare a meal for the kids of the settlement. Phil gathers food from a variety of places and drops it off at the beginning of the week; sometimes a grocery store donates food that's about to spoil, sometimes Crossroads sends boxes containing rice packs and other non-perishables. (Fun fact: all the peanut butter we served on the trip was Kroger brand, shipped over from Cincinnati, Ohio to feed the kids we were working with!) As the food is cooking, kids from the neighborhood will slowly trickle in from school or wherever. They bring dishes in all shapes and sizes: neon plastic bowls, tupperware with lids, or repurposed packaging like margarine containers. Most children bring multiple containers so they can feed their parents once they return home from work. For many people, the soup kitchen food is the only meal they will get all day.
  • Since it was a holiday, more kids than usual were waiting in the soup kitchen yard when we (the second group) pulled up. I got the sense that there was some sort of nonverbal standoff going on: a herd of unsure young adults hovered near the kitchen entrance while an equally cautious gaggle of children sat against the wall. It was very quiet.
  • So I organized a handful of children into a circle and started to teach them a hand game to the ABCs. Suddenly the whole yard was moving and the circle went from 5 to 50. Ice broken, we spent the next hour learning their games and teaching them ours. It was my camp counseling dream!
  • When the food was ready, the yard transformed from playground to jungle as each kid vied for the best spot in line. We took turns scooping rice, chicken, and veggies into each bowl, plate, and carton presented. After an hour and a half, about 200 children had been fed.
  • The van ride back was pretty quiet—people either napped or silently poured over the events of the day.
  • Dragged a team of Trippers out on another hike around the property because I was crazy restless. None of us were ready to talk about what we'd seen so we distracted ourselves with identifying insects and plants along the trail. We even went so far as to break off the leaf of what we suspected to be an aloe plant to sooth a teammate's sunburn face. We guessed correctly but he declined the organic remedy.
  • Attempted a debrief over dinner, then distracted ourselves with games. I was so exhausted I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow that night.
Me, talking to the kids as they waited in line

The long line and the trippers serving food

Hike #2

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sick & Tired

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: rejoice!  |  Philippians 4:4

I'm so sick and tired of being sick and tired. It seems like the past six weeks I've spent more time in bed recovering from various types of sickness, exhaustion, and anxiety than ever before. Flu season is no joke, and neither is urge to go into deep hibernation during winter months. Summer, hurry back to me.

Normally I would kick the winter blues by burying myself in work and packing my schedule with social events. But since I've been making relaxation a priority lately, those things no longer seem like the best solution.

This year in his annual Christmas letter to me, my dad challenged me to learn how to spend time with the Holy Spirit. I talk to God all the time and rely on Jesus daily—but sitting in the Spirit has always been a tough one for me. I do love a good challenge and knew I needed to try a new way to invigorate my day-to-day, so I made a plan.

Each morning I wake up 15 minutes earlier than needed to read and focus on what the Spirit is saying. Since I have always loved sleeping until the last minute, I've been amazed at how dramatically this new practice has transformed each day. Don't get me wrong—I don't jump out of bed and bounce around the apartment—I'm always tempted to skip a day due to mental and emotional exhaustion. But as I go about my normal routine after quiet time, I can feel my spirits slowing raising to greet the day. By the time I'm walking to work, my mind and heart are refreshed and expectant for what's to come. And when I go to bed, no matter how sick, stressed, anxious, or tired work made me, my day feels complete and I fall into a peaceful sleep. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I doubted something like quiet time could actually transform my day. But it's true and I'm so thankful for the daily refreshment.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Love the New Year, Hate the Winter

Romans 12:2

I'm a summer girl through and through. If it were 80 degrees and sunny all the time I would tan like nobody's business (don't judge) and never complain about a single drop of sweat.

Winter is the worst. December is bearable with the flurry of social gatherings, Christmas, and my birthday. But after New Year, there's not much to look forward to and time creeeeeps alongggg.

So I tend to throw myself into New Year last-hurrah style. From elaborate NYE plans with sparkly outfits to an extensive list of resolutions for January 1st, I'm all about it. This year, a stomach ache kept me from executing my perfectly planned party. But it wasn't the worst. I actually used the downtime to edit my growing list of 2015 goals.

I'm not super strict about sticking to every detail of my resolutions, but I do try to keep them in mind as I make decisions throughout the year. Especially in the realm of health, I love to see how I can push myself harder as each year passes. Last week, my party of one on the couch led to an extra long list.

Zzz...yes, I'm well aware that I have now bored you to sleep. Stay with me! Resolutions aren't just for overachievers.

One of my favorite conversation starters this week has been, "Have you set any interesting New Years resolutions?" 75% of the responses include rolled eyes and a profession of hating NYE. I just don't get it. Why would anyone want to pass up the chance to improve their life? "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." I believe and practice that by reevaluating and setting yearly goals for myself.

Okay okay, I know that January 1st is just one day out of 365. I know that anyone could choose to alter their life at any point of the year. But I also know that humans, organized or disorganized in nature, are creatures of memorial and habit. We could celebrate St. Patrick any old day of the year, but instead we honor him (or green beer) on March 17th. So I see nothing "pointless" about renewing the purpose and direction of my life on the same day, year after year.

Here are some of my goals:

  • blog every-other week (Tuesdays)
  • travel at least three times (Chicago, Nashville, other Landor office, Michigan)
  • read three books (started one last year but I'm still counting it)

  • workout 2x a week (ballet at two different studios)
  • curb sweet tooth (read labels for corn syrup, eat sweets only once a day)
  • eat several fruits and veggies every day
  • drink a glass of water every morning
  • quick sun salutation in the morning and evening
  • begin bedtime routine at 11pm (instead of 12pm)
  • audition for something dance-related

  • learn how to relieve stress and combat anxiety
  • look into essential oils
  • mantra: "You are brave"

  • get up 15 minutes early for quiet time and meditation (instead of doing it before bed)
  • explore Isaiah
  • strengthen prayer rhythms and pray for my friends and family constantly (joined the Crossroads Clifton prayer team)
  • learn how to strengthen my spiritual gifts

  • stick to my budget (less eating out, less impulse buying, more thoughtful purchases)
  • save for a laptop
  • put all under-the-table earnings toward savings (babysitting and freelance)

  • practice hand-lettering
  • take more photos on my camera, not phone
  • learn more braids

  • prioritize others' birthdays
  • share more about myself
  • ask more about others
  • deepen female relationships

It's not too late! I challenge you to renew your mind by setting a resolution or two. Make it concrete and practical. Give yourself grace when you fail. And look back on how it effected your year next NYE. 

If you have any thoughts on the value of resolutions, I'd love to hear them!


Thursday, January 1, 2015


2 Corinthians 5:17

Last night I spent New Years Eve essentially alone on the couch, nursing a stomach ache and thinking about my goals. It was a roller coaster ride of a year if I've ever had one. The highs came in the form of many awesome opportunities and the lows had to do with some emotional wells that began to crack open.

But despite my lack of human company when the clock struck 12, I didn't feel alone. Yes, the kitten was nosing his way around my glass of water and my roommate was coughing in her distant corner of the apartment. But beyond all that, I felt aware. In tune. Alert. I was waiting for the new.

And when 2014 finally rolled over to 2015, I wished the Person who was with me a happy new year. (Super corny, but stay with me.) The past twelve months have done a thorough job of breaking me down, making me vulnerable. I've been getting sick and stressed out so frequently in the past few months.

So I'm looking forward to the year of restoration and fulfilled promises. I know His timing looks different than mine, but last night's serenity gave me a small, sweet taste of the year to come. He tells me we are together in this—that this is our year and the beginning of many more to come. And I believe him. I'm in. We got this.

2014, you caught me off guard. Dear 2015, I'm ready for you.

(I resolved to post every other week so look for much more from me this year! I promise to fill you in on 2014 and keep you up to date in 2015.)

With much hope, 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Easy = Hard

I promised myself, someone, or everyone to write this particular post in August. Truthfully, I've been working it in my head for a long time. However, I felt like I never had enough "final answers" to write a comprehensive piece about the current state of my life. Not that I have all the answers now, or will ever know my future. But a few things have been decided for the next chapter of my life.

Rewind: I got a superfantasticamazing offer to live at a summer camp (Maranatha) for the rest of my life and love on people, plan giant events, design some cool things, and have quiet time on the beach under the setting sun each night. That happened in July. After realizing I might want to move away from my community, post-grad panic began to set in. I did a really excellent (read: miserable) job communicating to everyone what I was really thinking during that whole process because I honestly just didn't know.

I decided a long time ago that I never wanted to settle for anything. I use that driving thought as a sort of compass for most of the decisions in my life. Am I taking the easy route? What am I willing to sacrifice? Will this make me stronger? So naturally my new job offer in a state far, far away from the loving arms of my Cincinnati community felt like true north on my adventure compass. It hardly sounded like a piece of cake, but the job description was pretty close to my dream job. Working closely with people in a ministry, using my gifts of design, organization, and even dance to have a meaningful impact in the Kingdom.

job option A

On the other hand, I had begun mentally preparing to make Cincinnati my home since my fourth year of college. I loved that tiny NYC wannabe and its huge heart for brave little entrepreneurs and fearless creatives. After attending Crossroads Church for over 5 years, I was weaving dreams about all the ways I could infiltrate their community of servants to really give myself away, in the best sense. And finally, through a string of impossible events, my best friend picked up her life in Cleveland to move in with me. Could I leave all those possibilities for new ones?

job option B

Summer: I gave myself an ultimatum to come to some sort of decision by the end of the Maranatha season, even though I hadn't received an official offer yet. Hannah and I worked it out at Taco Bell, the best place to make any life-altering decision. I left Maranatha peaceful; deciding to wait for the official offer, pray about my future, and consider the possibility of one day moving to Michigan. That was easy to go along with for the first month of being back in Cincinnati. I missed that perfect strip of beach more than anything in the world. Who dreams of an office desk anyway? But if anyone could change their mind every single day, I certainly would.

Fall: For six months, I wrestled daily with the question, Where do I belong, Lord? By mid-October it was almost agonizing to answer my friends' kind inquiries. I wished the decision would disappear. My greatest fear has always been letting other people down or causing them great pain. Surely my absence from either place would cause that for someone?

I got the email on a Thursday during the busiest, best, most confusing week of the fall, "We're officially extending an offer at Maranatha to you." Sheer panic enveloped me. I was thriving at work by throwing myself into a charity event Landor was building from the ground up. I worked 55 hours that week and hardly noticed I was tired to the bone. New and old friends found me everywhere and my extroverted heart was overflowing. But still my mind jumped back to the sweet faces of the kids I cared for like siblings. Hannah, Ellie, Jack, Zac...I missed them so much it hurt.

"I don't want to leave," I confided in Emily the next week. I was avoiding calling Maranatha back "But the hardest things in my life have always been the right choices." She knew what past decisions I was referring to.

That weekend I turned the offer down, cried a little, and put on a happy face. Nothing was any clearer after I hung up the phone.

Winter: By December I was sick and tired of my divided mind. I took two weeks off of work, packed five bags, and skipped off to Michigan. Visiting four of my favorite Maranatha families was the vacation I needed. Although it came with more confused feelings and giant fears. After a week of bliss, I arrived at home an emotional mess. "How do I leave them behind?" I sobbed to my dad.

The beginning of the year started unusually. "Landor would like to extend you an offer," They told me. "You just have to wait." That was the catalyst. If I was still jobless (as in a freelancer or self-employed) by May, I would go to Michigan forever. I allowed myself to dream a little of a new start. But wait, what was I running from? The offer letter showed up a month later. No more stalling.

Present: "What if the easiest thing to do is actually the hardest?" I peered over my meatballs at Emily. "I finally know that staying here in Cincinnati is the thing I want the most. But I'm grieving over the idea of closing the door on adventure." Remaining here, as the city girl, close to college friends, and working in a corporate, consumer office, felt like defeat. Surely forsaking my beloved life for the wilderness and solitude of a Michigan ministry was the nobel choice. After all, the kid in me longed to run away to my safe haven once again. But...could God possibly want my wild heart right where it was?

Do hard things. Or, stop living by mantras and lay down your life before the King of Kings.

How strange to realize in this moment that I knew the His desire of my heart all along.

Today is my first day (after three years of interning faithfully) of big kid, real deal employment. Guess I'm gonna be a daughter of the Queen City King for a little longer.