Sunday, June 23, 2013

The new normal

My hand covers her entire back. Tonight as she struggled into sleep, I covered her with my hand. I could see the whiteness of my skin contrasting with the blackness of hers. Her hair wound up tightly in its natural ready-made knots.

A soft warmth bloomed in my heart.

It was a sweet quiet moment that had been preceeding with much fussing and fighting in the process of bedtime.

I'm choosing to revel in that.

And I'm holding onto all the positive things that we're already seeing:
The trust that she is already showing.
The bonds that are building between her and her siblings.
The new skills and words that she learns with every new day.

It may seem as though these are really great things--and they are. But the sweet moments are surrounded by many, many other kinds of moments.
     The moments where you want to tear your hair out.
     The moments where you just want peace and quiet for five minutes.
     The moments where you would like to not hear a child calling for help because there isn't enough of you.
     The moments that realizes that you are woefully ill-equipped for such a monumental task as motherhood.
     The moments that drive the tears to your eyes and your knees to the floor in desperation.

These past two weeks have been a crash course into the new normal that is our life. We're all in the process of figuring it out--for every single person in this house, there are new skills to learn, abilities to adapt, grace to give, patience to practice. Some moments are good, some are not.

I'm not going to sugarcoat anything to make you think that this new life is the greatest thing ever. I certainly don't feel that way--yet.

But as with every hard thing I've done, I know there comes that sweet moment, where something is realized--whether it be the realization of a goal or a blooming hope that reminds you that this stage is not forever, that things will get better.

I'm holding on to reach that moment.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


We made it!! 

Four weeks, almost 20,000 miles, hours and hours in airplanes and cars, seven people, every piece of  luggage.

We arrived home yesterday (morning, noon, or afternoon? I'm still not quite sure--there's a six hour time difference). The immaculate house we walked into is no longer quite so squeaky clean, instead there's the clutter of unpacking and the reality of a toddler in the house.

We're all still processing many parts of our trip. Eric and I are starting to grapple with the things that we saw and experienced in two very different countries that neighbor each other. Right now, our brains are spinning with thoughts, but also with jet lag, exhaustion and the stretch of adding a new family member.

For all those reasons, I decided that tonight I would copy a few paragraphs from my family email.

As we rest and talk with you and others, it's amazing how the stories are already leaking out. But what I've realized is this very simple, yet profound truth: God went before us, around us, and after us. It is phenomenal to look backward and see all that did happen and didn't happen--how major things were handled quickly and minor problems didn't become big. My biggest prayer was this: that the kids stay emotionally safe. And God answered: as far as I can tell, they haven't been harmed or felt their safety threatened--there seemed to be nothing that will dampen their memories of this trip. Our continued prayer is that in time, God uses this trip to break our hearts for His and allows us to align our priorities with His. 

It is impossible to come home from a trip like this unchanged. Even if we hadn't been in those places to get our daughter, just processing what we've seen is difficult: true, real, third-world poverty, the deep and dividing effects of sin, fear, racism, and hate, the sad truth that mothers hand over much loved children for lack of maternal support, beautiful, wonderful children just waiting--for governments, for families. As time goes on and we gain more perspective on what we have seen and experienced, pray that God allows us to dwell deeply in the brokenness of this world and that each of us is reminded, that even though this is a beautiful creation, this world is not our home. Our hearts are longing for heaven, for peace, for His presence. Yet, while we are here, we want to walk and act closely aligned with His heart for the broken parts of this world.

You may or may not hear from us in the next couple days. We'll do our best to be responsive, but there's a lot going on. Keep us in your prayers. They have sustained us more than anything

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Exploring South Africa

Okay, so it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that we are exploring all of South Africa. Indeed, most of our exploring has been centered around the Cradle of Humankind; specifically the Rhino & Lion Park and the Lesedi Cultural Village.

We visited the Rhino & Lion Park on Wednesday. There are a bunch of stories from that day--but most notably we had to drive away from an approaching Cape Buffalo, a wild dog tried to chew on the bumper of the van, and we got to pet baby lions (10 week old baby lions). We spent an entire day at the park, taking in everything there was to see: from all the wild cats to the excellent kid's play place that they had.

Yesterday, we went to another site within the Cradle of Humankind: the Lesedi Cultural Village. This center was a place to showcase the culture of four of the tribes that lived in Southern Africa: the Zulu, the Pedi, the Xhosa, the Ndebele and the Sotho. I love this stuff. Although I know that it is simplified and adjusted to be made palatable to tourist sensibilities, it was a fun way to gain some exposure to five major tribal groups. Of course, Josh's favorite tribe was the Zulu--'cause he loved their warrior ways. It was fun to explore the Sotho village because it's Mali's tribe (and 'cause we knew a bit about it!)

Today is our last day in South Africa. We are going to explore a museum and an underwater lake. If I get my way, we're also going to a botanical garden with a waterfall.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reflections on a Third World Country through my First World Eyes

Before we came on this trip, I spent a lot of time thinking about the advantages that I have that are inherent just because of where I live. I've considered the ease, the excess, the attitudes, the assumptions.  And I thought, "Well, I'm pretty aware, changing cultures won't be that big a deal." I knew that I couldn't drink the water, that the foods would be different, that language would be a barrier.

Sometimes I still surprise myself with my level of naiveté.

The first few days in Lesotho were not good--they were full of adjustments, cultural and time and family-size. One person commented that they were actually pretty worried about me, I wore a constant "deer in the headlights look." I had to keep reassuring them that, really, I was okay.

Our house
But I wasn't. It was a complete shock to my system. We stayed in a rented house in the neighborhood of HaThatsane--which is a good, middle class neighborhood. But the house was entirely walled and small and not what we were used to. We had constant 24-hour security (one of whom was the neighborhood chief who assured us that if we raised the alarm, the intruder would beaten severely). The food, although it looked similar and had english names, didn't taste like what we were used to. The water had to be purchased or boiled--drinking unfiltered tap water was a sure way to get yucky bacteria that our systems weren't ready for.

However, those things are surface--they have to do with my comfort level.

The things that are continuing to bother me have little to do with me, but with the conditions of those who live there every day. We encountered school girls who were jealous of Mali because she was going to America and they wanted so desperately to go too.

The daily, average wage is 55 Maloti--at today's exchange rate, about 50centsUS. At that wage, every adult has to work, but there is a staggering 45% unemployment rate. I was asked by our social worker in the country, Christinah, how I could be a stay-at-home mom. I tried to explain that we have made very specific choices for that. But she couldn't understand why I would have a college degree and no job. Finally, she asked, what is the unemployment rate where we live--only 11%--and I don't work now because I can go and find a job later. She says they never quit to stay home with their kids because they may never be able to find a job again.

Inside HaThatsane are a number of Chinese factories. The factories start their shifts 7 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. with a break for lunch. Right now, in the winter, they arrive as dawn is fully breaking and leave in the black night. There is no time to run errands after work--mostly because with their wage there is no money for a car. So weekends are spent going to the ATM to draw out funds, going to the store, doing wash (mostly by hand) and cleaning. There is not rest or Sabbath. The leisure time that we have that we take for granted is astounding.

And we, I, are such wasteful people. There is no recycling program in Lesotho, so we had to throw everything away. It is entirely shameful that we threw away as much as we did. Some of it couldn't be helped, and we tried to give away anything that someone would find useful--but in everything, from extra food to pull-ups--to empty cans or bottles, we were extremely wasteful. In Lesotho, people repurpose everything. Because it can be useful. Milk cartons were made into seed starters. Water jugs were used for lugging water from the local water spout. Jars and bottles were used to hold beads. Because if it got thrown away, it was a sure guarantee that someone would scrounge through that same trash bag.

However, in spite of all this, all that I am thinking about, all that has affected me profoundly, I know that truly, my talk and thinking did little to prepare me for the reality of what life in Lesotho is really like. Even still, I know that I have not even come close to the starving belly poverty of people living in the mountains or the scared desperation that forces a mother to leave her newborn at the town dump. 

You really need to experience it for yourself. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Safari in Africa!

So if you asked my kids and they were totally honest with you, one of the top two reasons we were coming to Africa was to go on safari.

I have no idea how to explain this past weekend to you--even I couldn't have understood it without actually seeing it. I'm not sure I can explain the sheer joy of being stuck behind three rhinoceroses who don't care that you are behind them while they eat their way down the road.

Watching a young giraffe scent the air and decide it is safe, bending down to take a drink of water.

Being stopped by a herd of leaping impala as all 30(ish) of them dart across the red dirt road to safety--followed by the male of the group who isn't going to leave his ladies.

Chasing a bothersome vervet monkey away from the open air porch you are on--because he wants a bit of what's on your plate.

Staring at stars--the complete milky way, but from the southern hemisphere and not knowing any of them and realizing again just how small you really are.

Watching the sun set across the African plain with colors so beautiful you want to weep for the sheer joy, magnitude, creativity, and splendor of the hand that made it.

So I could try and tell you, but I won't because in my writer's heart, I know that my words would utterly fail.

Much love,