Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Struggle to Find Christmas



The presents have been opened and played with. Some have been broken already and others are slated for return. The ham has been devoured. The button up pants have been replaced with drawstring "comfy" pants with extra room. The family is drowsy on the couch watching a movie.

We are all sated with the afterglow of Christmas.

I don't know why I doubted that I would get here -- to contentment and joy.

This week was not good for me. While in my soul I knew "the reason for the season" and I fervently believe in letting "every heart prepare Him room," I honestly struggled to feel it my heart and mind.

Last Friday was the worst. I found myself banging pots and pans around and being generally grumpy with my children and my husband. No one could do anything right. I couldn't do anything right.

Everything everyone did annoyed me.

The entire "Duck Dynasty" Phil Robertson debacle reallly annoyed me.

And I didn't know why.

So I asked God to tell me.

And He did.

The reason I was so out of sorts was my difficulty in acclimating to the consumerism, materialism and "over-the-top-ism" of the Christmas season in the western world.

For some reason, those short two weeks in Tanzania somehow imprinted in my heart in such a way that coming back into all the glitz, guilt and glad tidings was more of an adjustment than I had anticipated.

The huge outpouring of posts and petitions supporting a Christian television reality star and businessman who had put his foot in his mouth only highlighted my sorrow over what I saw as a lack of fervor by these same Christians to champion the cause of the poor and oppressed around the world and in our own backyard.

I found myself in line at Ross (usually one of my happy places) with a cart full of stuff that I wasn't sure that I even wanted to buy and found myself madly throwing more items into it from the shelves lining the waiting area. It was like I was flailing around without purpose.

And I was.

I found myself looking at recipes and cookie cutters and unable (and perhaps unwilling) to find the energy to crack open the pantry and get to work (See? baking should be fun…not "work.")

I found myself almost compulsively scouring Amazon every day to make sure that I wasn't missing some unknown gift that I still needed to get -- even though I had procrastinated pulling out my gift cache that was stashed around the house and evaluating what I had and what I might still need to get.

I lost myself somewhere between Tanzania and California.

And I didn't know what to do.

Last Sunday morning -- Christmas Sunday morning -- I found myself on stage in front of a music stand, preparing to sing on the worship team and to lead the congregation in corporal scripture reading.

And I wondered why it was continuing to be such a struggle for me this year.

Why was it such a struggle to push through the tinsel and trappings and find the Savior -- the "Emmanuel - God with Us" that I know is there?

My eye fell on the scripture verses…and then I saw it.

The struggle.

Everyone involved in "the Christmas story" was engaged in struggle. Mary & Joseph struggled to travel for miles to be registered with an almost full-term pregnancy.

Struggle.

The wise men left comfortable living situations to travel even further -- summoned to a mad king bent on using them to commit infanticide.

Struggle.

A Deity gave up comfort and adoration and writhed and wriggled His way into a sinful world full of pain with a price on His beautiful newborn head.

Struggle.

So, why should it be any different for me? For us?

What I realized Sunday morning is that there is value in the struggle to find the Christ in Christmas.

And maybe more than value, the struggle is necessary.

The struggle strips away everything that would seek to cheapen and devalue something so costly and profound.

The struggle clears my head and my heart of spiritual cobwebs and creates a laser focus on what is vital and necessary to my very soul.

Christ was born!

For a world in need of someone to pull them out of their confusion and set them free.

For me.

I well remember the struggle to bring my own children into this world and the immense overflowing, all-consuming feeling that flooded my heart and my body when each of them came forth at long, long last and were placed upon my chest.

Joy.

If we allow it, struggle will always bring forth joy. Struggle actually creates the opportunity for it to shine in all its marvelous glory.

Which can look like a sinner on her knees on a Sunday morning grateful for grace. Or like the curled up snuggling of a niece who just wants to be close to her aunt whom she hasn't seen much, but still knows she loves much. Or parents who give, give and give….and then give some more and most of it isn't a gift that can be tangibly unwrapped.

Pure and so very simple.

Joy!

Joy to the World…for He has come!






Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Some Kind of Amazing



There is something kind of amazing about friends coming together to help one another out.

I had a wonderful opportunity to see this in action this weekend.

On a recent trip to Tanzania to work with Character 101 on various educational projects, I got my hands on some hand-crafted bags made from Kitenge fabric -- which is indigenous to Tanzania and East Africa. It was a dream come true for me.

About two years ago, I had the idea of buying bags from local artisans and then reselling them here in the U.S. as a revenue source for this non-profit. I figured that the purchase of bags over here helping students to get books over there was a marriage made in heaven.

However, at that time, we couldn't find what I was looking for and there was too much start-up activity with the organization to think about trying to chart that territory on our own.

So, we shelved the idea (pun intended).

However, a few weeks ago, I believe that God orchestrated a divine appointment with a fellow university alum and I was able to see some bags that she had that had been made by Tanzanian women learning the trade of sewing. I fell in love.

But she only had 21 bags with her.

I took them all.

And I literally just sold the last one.

--

On Friday, I made a Facebook Group page and a mere three days later, they are all spoken for.

I owe a lot of the project's success to a dear friend.

True, the bags sell themselves in many ways. They are fabulously authentic and hand-made by Tanzanian women. They are fully lined with pockets. They have a banana leaf button closure. They are gorgeous.

But presentation is everything and I am no photographer.

Yes, I did my best with my iPhone camera and my couch, but my best efforts produced this:




Not bad, but not amazing. One of my first sales was to a friend who fell in love with the "red one" pictured above. However, I quickly realized that some of the color didn't render correctly. This bag above that looks red, is really more of a rusty-red/brown color. And the most popular one, that looked like a turquoise bag of peacock amazing-ness, was actually green.

Oops.

I didn't have time to fix it before heading out to my children's Christmas musical performance. After that, we headed out for a double date night for fragrant bowls of Pho (yum!) with my friend who wanted the "red bag" and her hubby and while we were there, they asked us to share about our recent trip to Tanzania.

And boy, did we!

I'm finding it hard to hold back and know what is too much to share and when to stop. I literally feel like I could talk about the trip and my feelings about it for hours.

I'm pretty sure that none of my friends want to listen to me for that long. But our friends were kind and patient and interested and engaged in what we were sharing.

I think they caught some of the heart and passion we have for the people and country.

It was a great date night.

Afterwards, our friends followed us to our house so that the "red bag" could go its new home. She came inside and oohed and ahhed over all the bags. But she stuck with her original choice -- even though it was more brown than red.

And then they left.

But not too long later, she messaged me with photos of her bag from her phone (not an iPhone) and it looked fabulous hanging on her chair in her kitchen. She is a photographer, after all.

Did I mention that?

I gave her props for her photo skills. And then, she did the most amazing thing.

She offered to take photos of the bags for me. All professional like. In our downtown area against a rustic brick wall she had found tucked away in an alley.

Can you guess what I said?

No brainer, right?

And here's what she captured...brace yourself. She's pretty amazing.






To say that I love the photos would be a gross understatement. She has the eye and the equipment and in that moment, I saw love being acted out right in front of my eyes as two of our children held the reflector thingies, I prepped each bag, and she snapped away.

She didn't have to do it.

She had a busy day of family things to do. Her time is precious. She makes money doing this.

She didn't ask for any.

She didn't want any.

She did it because she loves me and because she caught a glimpse into the life of a school child in Tanzania and her momma heart responded.

And it made me so happy to think about how amazing it all is when we all use our various skills and giftings to help one another.




My beautiful friend, Amy, took The Bags for Books Project to the next level. Her photos inspired me to find Swahili words that described each bag, Moyo, Kindu, Jua, Misalaba...and then to create some tags that double as book markers.



I know that much of the success of the fundraiser is due to her beautiful photos that capture the essence of a beautiful country.

A piece of her is going with the proceeds that I am going to send on to Character 101 later this week that will go towards educational supplies and programs for public school children.

My heart is so very happy. Much like this Moyo bag that she captured so well. (Moyo means "heart" in Swahili.)



And Tanzania has a piece of mine...and now, it has a piece of Amy's.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In the Nick of Time...


Today I'm grateful for pants.

Pants for my six-year-old to be precise.

We have two boys and two girls.

We have one income.

My husband and I just returned from Tanzania a few weeks ago and every bit of extra money we could leave there, we left.

We got back and apparently, we ran out of pants for the boys. Both boys have grown, it went from shorts weather to pants weather in the last two weeks, additional holes have been ripped in the knees of most of our jeans, or the pants gremlin came while we were gone.

Because of the aforementioned trip, I did not make a big deal of it. There were a couple of pairs that I found and were using. When you know that kids on the other side of the world have only one set of clothes, this is not a crisis.

Until it kinda became one.

On Saturday night, our three eldest children performed in one of two performances of the children's musicals on the weekend.

Once again, the pants issue was...well, an issue. The pair that I had fished out of the dryer after looking everywhere unsuccessfully for the required "blue jeans" needed for my six-year-old to wear, had a big hole in the knee. I didn't think that was particularly "performance appropriate." So, I went hunting for another pair and threw them in my son's direction while I was helping the other kids get ready and my husband drove off to get them there early for rehearsal.

When I arrived for the performance, I was told that my son had his pants rolled twice on the waist to keep them from falling down -- resulting in some grade-A level high waters on the ankles. That made me a bit sad. For about two second, because right then when I heard about the ankle flood issue, a friend with three boys came walking over and said,

"Hey...I finally remembered to bring those bags of clothes for your boys. They are out in the car. Do you want them so you can change out Declan's jeans?"

I think I stood there with my eyes blinking for second or two and then yelled out an "Absolutely!" (And added a mental fist-pump).

Talk about "in the nick of time" -- which is great because one of her sons is actually named Nick.

And just like that, within two minutes, I was changing my boy out of his baggy-waisted jeans and into some new-to-him dark-rinse, super awesome jeans.

We love hand-me-downs in our family. While new clothes are always nice, I do love the packing up of giving our gently (mostly) used clothing to friends and family. I love seeing the clothes my littles wore on other little people. And, I confess to loving getting those bags as well from friends and family too.

Those bags say, "I have something to give and I thought of you."

I love that!!

I just finished putting our "new" pants away in Declan's drawer. And now, his brother gets all the size 5's and 4's we have all to himself.

And what's even better, is that I just stumbled upon the bag left by another sweet friend last week and guess what that one has?

Shirts and pajamas.

It's like Someone knew exactly what we needed.

Phil 4:19 (The Message):
"You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Tis the Season to be Giving

So far, so good with our "Self on the Shelf" Giving Elves that I started this year (albeit a bit late in the month).

I forgot to put them out on Sunday, and figured that they needed a "day of rest" and thankfully, the kids bought it.

I have had a lot of moments of wracking my brain right before bed for the next day's tableau or worse, bolting out of bed just as I was headed towards Dreamville. A couple of mornings, my jet lag has come in handy -- giving me ample time to plot and photograph something for that morning.

We seem to have picked up steam too and the kids actually are looking forward to each morning to see what the Giving Elves, Joy and Noel are up to.

Here are the latest ones we have done (see previous posts for the inaugural and second day tableaus.) You can follow each day's tableau on my Mosaic Momma FB page.


Give your time and energy to help clean up around the house or someone else's house.


Spread Christmas joy and cheer by decorating our tree and helping someone else do the same.


Collect or buy canned food items and donate them to a local shelter or family in need.


Give some thought into what you want to give to others rather than just what you want to receive.


Give a family member a foot or back rub.


Visit and offer your time to a sick friend or family member. Bring soup if possible!

And for today's...I actually have to admit to not doing before I had to leave to take one daughter to an appointment. I woke up feeling crummy with a cold, so I didn't even have it on my radar. The kids understood and when we got home, my eldest actually helped me come up with this one and put it together (which I confess to loving). I also got to use two items from Tanzania that made my heart happy too!

We even worked together to make a repair on Joy's nose -- which you can see in the photo above was almost completely sneezed off from his cold. A little hot glue fixed that right up.

The kids have been so sweet after setting this up and have brought me orange juice and tissues and are convincing me that we need to put off school for today for some mommy snuggle couch time.

I'm convinced.

Happy "Self on the Shelf" to you. I would love to see/hear your ideas and photos! Feel free to post on my FB page!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Self on the Shelf: Joyeaux Noel



The launch of the inaugural "Shelf on the Shelf" a.k.a., Giving Elves, went great today.

The children were surprised to see the elves on the kitchen table today and eagerly read their letter of introduction and request to have them give the elves names.

And so they got down to business and created a brainstorming session and then a democratic voting process for each child to submit their choice.

And it was voted that "Joy" (my fave and fitting after my post yesterday) and "Noel" were the winners (although "Minty" came in a strong third).

We did a very "holiday thing" afterwards by making crock pot hot chocolate and as the normal bickering ensued, I was able to point back to the letter about how "words and names are important" and can give life or death.

After my post last night about my this "Christmas Giving Project," I received a couple requests for my letter and my expanding list of giving ideas/activities.



I am sharing them here for anyone who would like to see and use them. Feel free to modify as you need.

Here are a few of them just so you can get an idea of what I'm thinking:

  • Rake leaves for someone
  • Spend more time thinking of what to give rather than what you want to receive
  • Do someone else's chore for them
  • Let someone else be first

It's really only limited by your imagination and your family dynamics and situation. I'd love to hear your ideas as well, so please comment below if you have something to add.

I just finished up the tableau for tomorrow morning.

Pipe cleaners and feathers work well for brooms and feather dusters


I just spent some time working with my kids' art supplies to make a broom and feather duster. I didn't count on this being so fun...for me!

Enjoy!

---

Follow our journey here for additional posts and follow each day giving elf tableau on my Facebook page.

#shelfontheshelf    #givingelves   #upsidedownchristmas

Self on the Shelf: A Christmas Rebelution



I have been discontented with the way we've celebrated Christmas for several years now.

At first I couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me.

The constant creeping commercialism that seems to show itself earlier and earlier into the Fall months is partially to blame.

And, yes the paper was ripped off and ribbon was shredded all too soon. Sometimes there would be a hummph of displeasure over not getting the anticipated gift, or worse the long silence staring into the gift box that communicates more than words would express.

But beyond that, there was just a general dissatisfaction on my part over what the "holidays" has become in our culture. I knew I wanted more for my children then gorging on gifts after suffering through the "Christmas story" in the Bible beforehand. I wanted more than sick tummies from eating too many sweets from bloated stockings. I just wanted more.

It helped when I introduced an advent called The Jesse Tree. I felt like it really brought some clarity to what we were really celebrating. Each night before the children got to open up their chocolate advent calendars from Trader Joe's, we would read about one of Jesus' ancestors or one of the symbols of Christmas and how he/she/it paved or pointed the way for Christ to be born.

I felt like it truly "let every heart prepare Him room," and that was good.

But I feel like it is still a struggle for us to keep Christ and the giving spirit of Christmas front and center.

That's why I loved reading another one of Ann Voskamp's blogs about wanting to start a "Christmas Revolution" and her beautiful words about creating an "upside down Christmas."

And then today, I saw a link posted on Facebook about a blog written about Kindness Elves: An Alternative Elf on the Shelf Tradition. Intrigued, I clicked through and was amazed.

Someone else felt what I had been feeling!

While I am not opposed to the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, it always bothered me a bit that he was so mischievous and destructive. I do like the whimsy and creativity of it, just not the mess he leaves behind. I didn't really want to leave that impression on my kids, because part of me knows that some of them would probably try react some of his escapades.

But Kindness Elves?

This I could get behind!

Unfortunately, you cannot buy the super cute elves pictured in the blog online. They are only sold in the UK in their version of the Dollar Store. I found a few possibilities on Etsy. But since I was headed to Target later, I thought I'd wait and see what I found. And, find something I did!


There are three different little animal elves, and I chose my two favorite. Ever the bargain hunter, the 20% off sale Target was having made them $4 each instead of $5, making them a steal of a deal compared to the $29.95 price for an official Elf on the Shelf doll. And then there is his clothing and accessories to think about...which stresses me out since I can't hardly ever think about accessorizing myself every day.

And so today, (albeit five days late since we were out of the country until yesterday), I am launching our new holiday tradition.

Self on the Shelf.

Yep. We're going to choose to put up our own wants, needs and desires on the shelf and look around at the world in front of us and find something to give to others instead.

How can we show love to each other, our neighbors, our families, our community, our church and beyond?

We're going to find out.

I'm going to borrow Anna's great idea, but instead of Kindness Elves, I'm going to call ours The Self on the Shelf Elves....or also what's maybe a bit easier to say, The Giving Elves.

I'm off to make a list of "giving things" for the next 20 days. Anyone else want to join me?



Follow our journey here for additional posts and follow each day giving elf tableau on my Facebook page.

#shelfontheshelf    #givingelves   #upsidedownchristmas

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Choosing Joy



I've been home a little more than 24 hours.

Most of the dirty clothing and shoes have been washed. It made me a bit sad to do it, actually. It's not that I wanted to wear clothing that wasn't clean. Rather there is a certain scent to Tanzania and you cannot help but to carry it home with you. Granted, not everything you smell in the city is pleasant, but there is a something that cannot be expressed except to say that when you breathe in a bit of it, you know where you are.

That's why when I mentioned that our suitcases smelled like Tanzania, my sister (who has been twice before) immediately bent on down and took in a big whiff.

It made me a little sad to wash all of that away and replace it with my squeaky clean American laundry detergent.

Thankfully it would take infinitely more to sanitize all of the images, emotions, memories and resolutions that have come from this journey, this safari.

In my last post, I was determined not to forget what I had seen and was afraid that after awhile, I would lose focus of what is truly important and slowly begin to go back to what is not.

I asked God to help me to keep Tanzania and the people there alive in my heart and mind. And not to be consumed and dismayed so easily by things that are maybe...just maybe not the very end of the world. #firstworldproblems indeed.

I asked Him to burn it into my heart, so to speak.

That prayer  is already starting to be answered.

After being picked up at the airport by excited family members, dropping off my mother-in-law and going through a drive thru for dinner, we arrived home yesterday to a cold house.

I figured that our house-sitter had maybe gone polar bear or hadn't needed the heater up to that point. So, I flipped it on and....nothing.

It became quickly apparent that it wasn't coming on. Something was wrong. Upon texting the house-sitter, we found that early one morning, the smoke alarm, smoke and the smell of burning woke him up..

The house was cccooooold, but we were too worn out with jet lag from our 30+ journey back home to consider packing up and spending the night elsewhere. We called a repairman and made an appointment for the following day, put on our warm pjs, and got out and plugged in the electric blankets.

We slept well.

This morning, the tip of my nose sticking out of the blankets affirmed that it was still brisk in our house....57 degrees to be exact. So, sweatshirts and snuggly pants and slippers were worn underneath thick blankets on the couch as we huddled together for warmth.

I made some coffee to warm me up a bit and noticed a package on the counter I hadn't seen the night before. I was delighted to see what was in it.


I had ordered it a few weeks prior and there it was, just ready to be put on and reminded of on a daily basis. If "journey" is one of my personal mantras for 2013, then "choose joy" is the other.

joy - (verb) to feel joy; be glad; rejoice

I was actually thinking about joy on our safari. Part of my year of turning and experiencing 40 (aka "Fab4D"), is reflecting on the journey thus far -- who and where I am and who and where I want to be. When I was a young girl, I discovered that the "bible meaning" of my name is "joyful spirit" and I've always tried to ascribe to be that. So, I asked our driver what the Kiswahili word was for it. He said he would have to think on it. "Raha means happy," he said. "I will have to think about what the word is for 'joy.'" 

Rylie said he thought they it was the same word, because they were the same thing. I looked at him in disbelief. I said that I definitely see them as two different things. He raised his eyebrow skeptically. I told him (and Charles who was listening to us "debate" this issue) that to me, happiness is an outward expression of an internal state of being -- which I believe is joy.

I'm not sure I convinced either one of them, but I did find out later that 'joy' in Kiswahili is furaha, which you can see it similar to the word for happy, but not the same.

I think of the verse in the Bible where Paul says, "consider it joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds, knowing the trying of your faith will bring you patience...."(James 1:2).

I don't think that I will ever be "happy" about facing trials. There wasn't a smile-a-polooza going on last night as we realized we would be facing a cold Valley night. No whoops of delight or high fives either.

But I thought back to the power outages, water issues, poverty and grim conditions I saw and experienced in Arusha, and I didn't feel put out or upset. 

I felt peace and oddly calm about the situation and a certain wonderment about what God would do in and through this situation.

That unshakable solidness I felt -- I think that is Joy.

And it can be chosen or avoided.

We get to make the choice. To choose joy in our days or choose complaint.

To choose to shake your fist over the pen left in a pocket that then splattered all over the dryer walls and thus onto the clean clothes you just washed, or be glad that you have such nifty devices that allows you to wash an entire comforter and a couple towels at one go and dry them to a warm softness after.

To find that your Kindle Fire no longer will charge and when the battery runs out, it will be dead forever, or be grateful that you won it two years before and it didn't cost you a dime to use it all that time.

To feel stressed about having to pick up your children's clothing, schoolwork, toiletries, bikes/scooters and soccer gear from their grandparent's house, or reflect on how amazing it is that they would care for your children for 12 days so you could leave the country to love on other children.

It's your choice. It's my choice.

And, I unequivocally, whole-heartedly choose joy.

----

Post-script: After posting this blog, my cousin from Texas (the daughter of the founder of Character 101 we traveled with) shared this comment on my Facebook post and it literally gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes:

Funny that you wrote about joy vs. happiness. When I was on my first trip to Tanzania in December of 1993, the pastor of the little church in Moshi gave me a Kiswahili name: Furaha. He said it mean Joy. He said he gave me that name because he could see the joy from within. 
He also knew I was Mzee Bruton's granddaughter and that I felt at home and at peace there. I think it's filling that you and I now share it: Furaha.


I love you and am so grateful we all share the legacy and the memories (and know exactly what we men when we talk about "that scent") and understand, without words, this love, this joy, this passion for Tanzania!

A legacy of joy indeed...

Monday, December 2, 2013

In Your Eyes




Yesterday morning when we drove back from Ngorongoro to Arusha, we were oddly quiet in our Land Cruiser. 

There was a lot to reflect on and think about. While I was so thankful to have been able to return to Tanzania (I honestly thought my trip in 2008 might be my first and only), I wondered once again if I would ever get to come back.

The thought of not doing so filled me with such sadness. Even though the car was quiet and the view was breathtaking, I felt like I needed more "space," so I grabbed my iphone and earbuds and tried to find something to suit my mood.

Because of the amount of photos I planned to take on this trip, I pared down my apps and music considerably, so without wi-fi, I didn't have a lot to work with.

I listened to a few songs, but then happened upon "In Your Eyes" which was originally performed by Peter Gabriel, but was sung by Nichole Nordeman on my version.

I've heard this song many times before. It's one of my favorite "oldies" from the 80's (the movie, "Say Anything," anyone?) But this time, as I churned through all the emotions I was feeling, it was like I was hearing it for the first time. You can play it below or while you read on from here.



I was especially struck by verse two:

Love, I don't like to see so much pain
So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

And all my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete

In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches

In your eyes
The resolution of all the fruitless searches
In your eyes
I see the light and the heat
In your eyes

Oh, I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light,
The heat I see in your eyes
In your eyes, in your eyes

And as I heard those words gazing out at the beautiful landscape, I heard it not as a love song between a man and woman, but as a cry to my Father God about how I had been feeling.

Something has to change.

I think about my world back at home and how many people live without purpose. So many who live without joy. So many of us who are not thankful for the bounty that we have been blessed with. How we get helplessly entangled in our "issues" which keep us bound with head bowed and only looking at me. Me. Me.

I am getting on a plane in the next few hours and cannot bear the thought of going back to that way of life.

Not when I've seen what I've seen, and felt what I've felt, and cried the tears I have cried.

I am completely desperate for the "resolution of all the fruitless searches" in my life when I know about how life can be here and how difficult everything is, but how joy flows here despite all of that.

Yes, I am going to step up on my soapbox and sound the call for those whom I love to join in me in this quest. That we would we truly let God burn away our "grand facade" and "reach out from the inside" and share all that we have been given. That we would give our very life away for the sake of others who need what we can give.



Little Eema is worth that. 



And James, who is infinitely more than merely a "driver", is worth that.




And Latifah who wanted us to hear her sing a song of welcome and greeting.




And all the children of Ngarenaro Primary School and the tens and hundreds of thousands of other students in this city and this country.

God...may it be. 

Without a noise and without my pride, I want to be that complete....in Your Eyes.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Carry These Things in My Heart

At long last, I am finally caught up with the week's work we engaged in before leaving for a safari on Friday morning.

To be truthful, going was almost the last thing I really wanted to be doing. Rylie and I had decided weeks ago to splurge on a combined 15th anniversary/40th birthday for both of us this year and use our own money for a two-day safari.

But on the eve of our depature, my thoughts were still back with the things we had seen and the people we had met.

Leaving on safari felt almost obscenely decadent. But we were committed, so we packed everything up and left the apartment at 8 a.m. in the Roy Safaris Land Cruiser with Charles, our driver, who has a daughter who is....you guessed it...four-years-old. (I cannot even make this stuff up!)

The drive out of the city center into the countryside took awhile. By now, we were somewhat used to the congested streets and busy sidewalks full of commerce and bustle. However, no two days are alike and on Friday I again marveled at the women's ability to carry their world on their heads.

Literally.


I feel a bit like a failure as a woman for not being able to do that. Maybe I need to practice.

Finally we were out of the city and headed towards Tarangire National Park. However, it was out the same road we had taken the day before to visit the Shalome Center. As we drove nearer, we found ourselves telling Charles, about what we had seen the day before.

He listened intently and asked a lot of questions about it. He said that he often drives clients from all over the world who come to Tanzania for a safari but find that they also want to do something for the people/country. I marveled at the goodness of our God to potentially send people to this place to invest their hearts and pocketbooks in the future.

He weaves it all together. We just hold our string.

It was a blessing to get on the paved road after 45 minutes of off-roading. The smooth motion of the Land Cruiser after all that jarring was a shock to the system.

We drove past small Masai villages and waved to small children who were out herding their families cows to water. Once again, I marveled at this country who has complete confidence in children as small as age 5 with such a huge responsibility. No one would think of kidnapping a child from the side of the road. In fact, our driver looked midly horrified that we would even be concerned about such a thing

Oh, America! We have so much to learn.

We drove up through "Mosquito Village" that has exploded into three separate sections since I last drove through here in 2008. In fact, I was astounded by the amount of growth and people and houses that I saw. As you can imagine, schooling can be an issue away from the "big city" of Arusha, population two million and climbing. Many children are sent away to "boarding school" in one central location to ensure the best education and consistent meals. Again, I'm not sure what to think about the families that are separated in this process. Yet, I know that education is a necessity.

More food for thought for Character 101 as we move forward.

And then, we arrived at the entrance to Tarangire National Park and were told to be on the lookout for the African Tse-tse fly that can bite and leave you with "African Sleeping Sickness" -- for which there is no cure. 

I whipped out the Deet then and there and got to work.

Our driver then popped up the top of the Land Cruiser and I got that tingly feeling I remember from last time. It was time to explore!



And then we saw the wonder of the beautiful Tanzanian countryside. The first animal we saw was the "Ngire" or warthog. (Tarangire = "Tara" - the Masai word for river and "Ngire" - the Kiswahili word for warthog = River of Warthogs.)

They were cute in their uglines -- the babies crossing the road were adorable.



And then we saw more babies....of the "Tembo" (elephant) variety.



And we even saw a giraffe ("Twiga") run across the road to get away from our vehicle. Their halting, loping running gait made me laugh.



And then, Zebra. Lots and lots of Zebra. This one of them with their butts out to us is my favorite.



And then we were at the Tarangire Balloon Camp -- a base camp for people who want to do a hot air balloon safari and others who want to stay in a "luxurious rustic enviornment." We didn't really know what to expect and were blown away by the accommodations.

We were greeted as customary to these lodges with a hot towel and a glass or refreshing juice. We were the only ones there.

Literally.

They had not had any bookings for the past two days and we were their first and only for our stay overnight. 

It felt like all the eyes of the wait staff were fixed on us which sounds amazing, but was a little intimidating. Our tips would be the only ones the staff would receive in several days.

Due to the "wilderness aspect" of the camp, we had to be escorted by a Masai who was armed with their proverbial walking/battle stick and a spear to and from our room every time we came and went.



As we unlocked the door, I was amazed to see this waiting for us. Luxury in the the wild indeed. 



After a 4-course lunch, we meandered back to our room and promptly fell asleep with the view of the wide-open sky and with the wind blowing through the open (but screened) sides of our tent. It was a little bit of heaven on earth.



All too quickly, naptime was over and it was time to meet Charles for an "evening drive" around the park. We saw hippos, dik-dik, gazelles and beautiful birds.

As the sun settled into the West, we drove back up to the camp to clean up for dinner.



Once again, we were the one and only ones to be served and we were served well. Stuffed, we headed back to our room only to find that the open tent walls had been zippered shut and needed to stay that way -- lest we tempt the animals with our "meat".

I was completely okay with that -- although Rylie was a bit disappointed to not have the fresh breeze coming through.

We got up early the next morning, had breakfast, said goodbye to our new friends who urged us to return bringing our "watoto" (children) with us. We said we hoped we could one day.

We drove back out of Tarangire and over through Manyara up to the rim of the magnificent Ngorogoro Crater -- which is actually a caldera, but that's another story.


After a box lunch provided from the restaurant of the balloon camp, we drove down into the crater and saw lions, a rhino, more elephant, zebras, jackels, hyenas and the fertile (although dry) landscape of this habitat.

All too soon, it was almost six o'clock and Charles had to push it to get us up and out of the park entrance to avoid being fined for being there after closing.

We made it with a minute to spare and then headed to the Sopa Lodge -- a place that I stayed at when I came here in 2008. It was still the same place I remembered. A beautiful overlooking view of the crater. A more luxurious version of a Masai village with it's simulated thatched roofs.

After putting our things in our room and cleaning up, we made our way to the dining room and were treated to a five-course meal of deliciousness. Joseph, our server was delightful and charming. As we wandered out to the reception area to Facetime the children, we heard the opening songs of the hotel choir that serenade the guests during dinner time. Until you've heard African voices blended and raised in song, you haven't truly lived.

And then it was time for bed. But I was too full of everything Tanzania. I had the burning desire to put down all that I had experienced on Thursday before leaving. So I stayed up and wrote and posted and got everything out of my heart and down onto the page.

And only then could I sleep. The water bottles in our bed were a nice surprise and sleep aide as well.

And then the sunlight crept through the curtains and I couldn't bear to sleep when there was life to be experiencing outside. So I left Rylie sleeping and made my way up to the "Coffee Bar" and had some coffee while posting and checking in with the world back home.



I opened up Facebook to see people posting about an actor who had tragically died in a car accident at the age of 40.

I'm 40.

Life is so fleeting. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.

All we have is today.

I was grateful to be sitting a world away and to have seen and done the things I had over the past week. I resolved to do even more.

We are leaving for Arusha soon. There is more to be done there and I'm ready. But before that, I think I'll slip out the floor to ceiling glass doors and breath in the sight of the Ngorogoro crater once again. It may be the last time, who knows.

But I will carry it home with me in my heart.