Just Breathing

Ah, it is so wonderful to break out of the hectic business of life and press the pause button.  
Mom was right - I'm wired to work, and if there's a project to do I'm first to tackle the job.  Business almost becomes a coping mechanism when I'm missing Africa extra badly. 
Though I was really sick during my last couple of weeks in South Africa, I came back thinking I was ready to dive back into summer business.  By the time I was in the States a week and a half, I quickly realized just how weak and burned out I really was. 
For a gal who usually can't nap at all, I found myself exhausted by midmorning and easily slept for hours.  "You need to get away," Mom said.  "It's the only way you'll rest."  
So after one last bang of business while I prepared to give a presentation about my trip in youth group, I took off for my cousins home in the mountains of Virginia.  What a joy that family is!  
I love them like second parents and another set of siblings, and I have a feeling that the feeling is mutual.  Each one of my cousins have grown noticeably since I saw them last Christmas, and best of all, cousin number 20 has made his grand entrance.  
Little Grayson is a doll, and the three days I spent with the family were full of card games, berry picking, dessert cooking, hiking through mountains, and all kinds of wonderful. 
Grayson wasn't too fond of a photoshoot during his busy morning, but the pictures I captured of him make me swoon every time.  Being around Grayson lessened the baby-ache I've been experiencing since leaving SA, big it is still there.  
Mom spent one night with me in the mountains before returning home, and I found myself deep in thought about my little Huncie the morning she was supposed to leave.
"Mom," I mused, "what do you think it would have been like if I had moved to Africa for my senior year to raise Huncie?  Or what if I could have adopted or long-term fostered her?"  Images of the little one filled my mind and made me long for her to be by my side.  What if, just what if, I wondered, what if I was her Momma, and she was mine?  Though I longed for it, I knew the practicalities and logistics of the idea made it impossible, or at least extremely impractical.  
"Well," Mom said, answering my question, "If you had moved there to raise her, you probably wouldn't have been able to get much, if any school done.  You wouldn't be able to finish your senior year, and you'd become a high school drop-out."
I started giggling and Mom joined in.  She knows my heart for that little one, and as my momma, she knows when to use humor to get a serious point across.  The fact is, I cannot adopt Huncie, and it's not God's plan for me to move to SA right now.  I believe that with all my heart.  
Yet, one can dream, and right now those dreams are full of a beautiful, tiny little girl with huge brown eyes and a smile that has my heart.  

Handling Home

            People ask how I’m handling being home, and the truth is, I’m doing well.  Really well. 
Though I have my hard moments, I feel like I am embracing this post-Africa season of life, enjoying my family and jumping back into my place here.  
I watch my life mission solidify piece by piece and my heart soars with the dreams I hold close. 
I smile, look into the face of the joys and challenges the coming months and years hold, and prepare to stand firm.  The challenges are there.  They crash in every so often and surprise me.  
Though I handle it well, being thrown from third-world to first-world in a day, or like in SA, multiple times day, are sometimes hard to deal with.  Even last night, as a thunderstorm storm blew in and crashed around us, I fought with myself and the struggle of it all.  
The violence of the storm mirrored the battle I was facing, but just as all storms do, it raged for a time and then blew on out.  I ploughed through the hurt of not having the African little ones I love near.  
I must sit with fact that I am here, and they are there.  That is the hurt, that is the struggle, and though I know God is their Daddy, and I must give them up to Him.  
God is such a good Father, and I know it’s only His grace that has allowed me to transition well into big-and-busy American life.  The struggle is there, but so is He.  And He outweighs the pain with His grace and love every time, and leaves me so thankful for His Africa and the journey He allowed me to walk through there.   

Welcomed Home

            Home I am, and find myself doing very well.  It’s such a blessing that the afternoon and evening went decently smoothly and I didn’t collapse into I-cant-handle-America convulsions, 
as I just may have feared I might.  

The plane’s wheel hit the runway with a jolt and thrust me back into a life that was familiar and yet felt a million years away at the same time.  Even so, I smiled in genuine excitement, and my heart raced as I it hit me for the 27th time that I was so close to seeing my people and squeezing them tight.

  I scurried from the terminal I had entered five weeks and three days before at the start of my adventure, and within minutes was running through the gate into my family’s arms.  And then there I was, there we were, as it nothing had ever changed and I hadn’t been away for a month and a half.  We hugged each other tight and laughed at the fact that it was all so weird that I was actually home, that after all the waiting and traveling I was really back.  
We grabbed my bags and took off for subs and McFlurries before traveling the last leg 
of the journey home to a beautifully decorated house that celebrated that I was back with birthday banners, balloons, ribbons, and drawings.  Made me a little teary as I realized for the 392nd time just how much these people love me, and just how much I love them back. 

The time change and jet lag are hitting hard, but coffee and quite early mornings have been ordained by Jesus and my Momma, and take them I will.  It’s been quite a journey, and it’s wonderful and heart wrenching to be back.   The trip processing is going to run into 
full swing within the next couple hours.  
FYI, if you have an a free afternoon and have the strange desire to drink coffee, listen to a million stories, and go through a billion photos, let me know.  I have just the opportunity for you J. Until then, much love to you all.   

Instagram saw it first, but I truly have missed ice cream and little minion brothers :)

Kissing South Africa Goodbye

excerpt from my journal on July 5th, 2016 – 5:46 Johannesburg, SA time

            So funny to think that I’m still in South Africa.  
Even now my grand adventure seems like a distant dream to me, and the reality of it leaves me teary.  Yes, here I sit in the Johannesburg South African airport, yet my heart hurts as I begin to grieve Africa already.  
This is weird to me.  
I’ve known and thought I had accepted and understood the fact that I would be leaving.  I wasn’t really eager to go, but I looked forward to seeing everyone back home.  The many videos, pictures, and trips to the lake made me long for them and for summer.  I was ready to go home,
 ready throw myself into fun, summery things.  
But now I find that my heart is breaking with loss I hadn’t anticipated.  
I miss everyone desperately.  
I don’t want to give them up yet… I don’t want to give me up.  Leaving Africa, I’m realizing, means leaving part of me.  Life wasn’t all bliss and beauty here.  Days were hard and long, frustrated me, and made me want to curl up and sleep to escape the exhaustion of the struggle I was beginning to realize.
  Yet this was my life, my beautiful African life.  The life where I became a little missionary, where I became a stand-in momma to many precious children. 
 I was ready to get away from the struggle, but right now 
I’m missing home, missing Africa.  I want to be back.  
While at the airport, I noticed the African sun setting, and realized it would be the last one I’ll see for a while.  The beauty of it was stunning, as it always is, and out came the camera for a one last photo.  The phone clicked as the photo was captured, and I shoved it into my pocket.  
My smile faded then, and I sat down in the airport waiting room, realizing that my eyes were heavy and my heart was sad.  Yes, I am leaving.  I am leaving Africa, and right now, it just hurts

Turning the Page

Reflecting on the past year tonight... 
It's my last day of being 16, and the year has been absolutely amazing.  It has honestly been the best year of my life - two mission trips (one still in progress!), a brand new school, a whole lot of growth, and a boatload of memories.  The year has been incredible!  

 The only thing that's getting me is that it actually is almost my birthday.  It is so odd to think about – even the fact that this is July is hard to wrap my head around.  I’ve subconsciously been beginning to look forward to Christmas... in July.  
The cold weather fools me into thinking that it is October or November, and snuggling down, under a million blankets every night only affirms the delusion.  But tomorrow is 
July 3, and I seventeen I will be. 

 It hit me yesterday that it will me my last year of childhood, as well as my last childhood birthday.  Makes me want to cry a little bit – little me is actually growing up.  
But I am excited.  
Tomorrow morning I will wake up, probably sweating from all the blankets, and smile because it will be my birthday.   Then I’ll hear Stanley screaming out, “Good morning, Bethsaida!  How’d you sleeep?”  And I’ll smile and be so thankful for my two “brothers”, one Swiss and one South African, and the trio we make.  

I’ll bake cookies from the recipe I found on Pinterest today and sit down to coffee and a little pow-wow with Jesus.  Then we’ll head out to church at 11, and I’ll get a little teary as I realize that it will be my last Sunday at His People for while.  But soon enough I’ll be grinning again and praising Jesus for another year. 

Turning 17 in South Africa - how's that for a special birthday?!  After church we'll head out to Ms. Kitty house and she'll give me a huge hug saying, "Good morning, sister!  Good morning!"and I will be so happy because I just love that lady and her beautiful, beautiful heart.  Ms.  Dorah will be there in all of her spunk and personality, and make me laugh with her silliness.  Sweet little John will be there as well, and melt my heart a million times over with the sweetness of his.  And I'll smile and thank God for life and how beautiful he has made it.  My God is good, and I am so thankful for another year to see more and more of Him and His power.  Bring it on, seventeen! 

Light in the Darkness

It was such a sweet Father's Day Sunday to be reminded of the father heart of my God...
I found myself feeling quite down with the weight of my helplessness in Huncie's life.  
Thinking much about her as well as discussing her situation with the teachers and others who may have advice only confirmed the utter silence of our voices against the empty ears of the government.  
And this morning left me wondering just what must I do?
And then we took off for church and the Lord encouraged me so greatly through the message.  Based out of Luke 15, the pastor talked through the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son.  In each case I saw Huncie's mother being sought after in love by the Lord as he waits for her to respond.  I listened to the parable as the Father saw His son so far off in the distance and ran to meet her with arms wide open.  As soon as Huncie's mother turns and looks toward her Father, I know he will, as He promises, run to meet her right where she is and take her home.
So very thankful for this sweet morning when my Father picked me up and reminded of His love.  He is in control, He truly, truly is.

Under the Weight of Helplessness

Coming to grips with my powerlessness to help Huncie and her family leaves me feeling blocked at every turn.  In fact, I am.  My hands are tied behind my back with an endless amount of  legal tape and government corruption, as we make every possible effort to do something, anything,
 that will truly help.  
Just what do you do when a baby you, and everyone around you, has grown to adore is borderline dying and you can do nothing about it?

Sweet little one, right after a much needed bath. 

That baby girl is so much loved...

Ms. Kitty... this lady has such a wonderful heart and loves this little one to death. 

I believe Huncie's mom has a heart to love her girls, I truly do.  But addiction is a monster to deal with on top of just trying to cope with life each day.
I pour my heart out to the Lord for Huncie's mother, begging Him to save her life and the lives of her girls.  But discouragement seeps in quickly as I listen to the creshe teachers fill me in on the parts of the day that I don't see.  
Just as red tape and government corruption has tied my hands, addiction and strongholds have tied hers.  And sometimes I have to squeeze my eyes shut and push on with life because the fact that an 8 month old baby is the size of a preemie breaks my heart. 
Just pray with me... Pray for these little ones who have my heart, and their mother who I want more than anything to experience the Lord's redemption.  
Pray for Huncie's two-year sister, with a long, beautiful  name that I never can remember, and a sweet little smile I saw for the first time this past week.  She's such a little fighter, that one.  I know God has such wonderful, beautiful plans for her little life.  He has kept her strong and safe in His arms for these two years, and I know that will not change.  Pray with me.  Pray hard.  

Huncie's sister. 

Sweet little one, hang on tight.  

Soccer Clinic Scores a Major Win!

South African lives keeps us on our toes - literally!  
Today found us jogging around a soccer field with a ball on our feet and dozens of energetic teens practicing around us.
The soccer clinic is hosted about every other month by Mr. Eric.  He gets trained coaches to come out and volunteer, to help the youth improve their soccer skills.  
Driving up and seeing the open soccer field this morning gave me the jitters!  Just a month ago that was me on the soccer field, pumped up and ready to fight for the win.  It brought back a lot of great memories, and reminded me that a day full of soccer is truly a good day!  
A good sized crowd showed up, all boys between the ages of 12ish through 17 or 18, and they were intense!  Those kids didn't come to mess around, but were determined to learn and show their talent.  I was genuinely impressed.  
The day began with registration, incredible banana bread (baked by Mrs. Mimi at 2am that morning), oranges, and a pep talk by Mrs. Mimi to the boys.  Groups were formed soon afterward and each took off the their own station.  Those of us who are volunteering even we able to form our own group and go from station to station.  So much fun!  
We started with a painfully unorganized team (it was our own fault), but it was still very competitive and enjoyable scrimmage.
I handed the camera off the Mrs. Mynette, and joined in the action.  It is pretty great to finally have some non-selfie pictures with me in them!
  Though we didn't make it through all the stations - ok, we stopped after the third - we got a great feel for South African soccer.  
The day ended with a serious and very competitive game.  Being on the media team (I took the pictures then), I wasn't able to play in the game, but really enjoyed the opportunity to chronicle the experience with photographs.  Mr. Eric, Jock, and Micheal did all get in the action, though, and did really well!  
It was so much fun spending the day with much of our team - from the creshe teachers to Mrs. Mynette to Jock and the McMillains themselves.  Throw in some soccer, and life doesn't get much better!  I know the boys who participate really enjoyed the day, and I look forward to helping out with another soccer clinic when I come back next year.  The fun was real.  

Our group trains at one of the stations

 Mrs. Mimi poses with two of the coaches

Bubbles - the crazy little dog who somehow makes us adore him like crazy.  

 Wonderful memories!  Haven't lost my soccer zeal yet. 

 Alexander - the cutest six-year-old twin in South Africa! 

Mrs. Kitty - my current role model. 

Abigail and Zhenya  being as cute as ever!

Mrs. Mynette and Bubbles

 Taylyn and I pose with some of the coaches

So proud of this little man!  He got into the soccer game with all the big, tough boys and did so well!

 Micheal and I being silly 

 Right before the game began - aka, the calm before the storm. 

Jock participating in the star-down before kickoff 

The concentration is real.  

Jock has got some amazing patience! 

Love these ladies!  From left to right - Ms. Dorah, me, Ms. Kitty, Ms. Malita, and DK

Mr. Eric getting in on the fun

Lunch time afterwards

Photobombed!  Photo by Taylyn.

Taylyn and me. 

Such a fun day!  Cant go wrong with great friends and soccer!

Huncie Update

I met Huncie a mere two days ago, and yet I feel as though she has been apart of my heart and life for so much longer than that.  She was on my mind as soon as I woke up in the morning, and I wondered if she was being fed and cared for.  I have to wait the whole weekend before I will be able to check on her again, and it hurts my heart.
First thing yesterday morning, Mrs. Mimi and I went to buy baby formula and other necessities for Huncie.  I felt like a proud momma as I picked bought starter baby food, bottles, and formula for the little girl.  She is not mine, and can't be.  I know that.  But God has allowed me to be part of my life for this season, and I want to make the most of the time I am given.  The can of formula I bought cost me only about $14, yet would cost a mother the equivalent of about 2 days of working.  After about an hour and half of shopping, we ended up with three bags of baby essentials and went to pick up a friend took off for the creshe.  It made my heart so happy to watch Ms. Kitty looking over the things we bought.  She is the sweetest lady with a huge heart, and loves that baby girl like her own.  

Official mom status?  

Minutes later, Mrs. Mimi and Ms. Kitty went to get the baby, and ended up coming back with Huncie's mom, and two year old sister.  Huncie's mother, Emily, seemed quite uncomfortable sitting with us at the creshe, yet she was gracious and allowed us to bathe and feed both Huncie and her sister.  
It was obvious that the little girls were uncomfortable when they were not right next to their mother, and made me hope that it is not Ms. Emily's heart to neglect her children, but lack of knowing how.  Yet, as Mrs. Mimi explained, young children are wired to love their parents no matter what, and she is probably the only one her girls are around on a consistent basis.  
Ms. Kitty boiled water for a bath as little Huncie worked on finishing a bottle, and her sister and mother ate oranges and "fat cakes" - similar to unsweetened doughnuts.  
I set out new clothes, diapers, baby lotion and soap for Huncie's bath, yet the poor baby was absolutely terrified of the water.  She wailed and arched her back as I dipped her feet into the water, and was so distressed by it that I ended up laying her down on a blanket and just giving her a sponge bath.  Still, she wailed and cried pitifully until we wrapped her up in a newborn size diaper that was nearly too large, and new, warm pajamas.  We handed her back to her mother and she quickly fell asleep, worn out from the stress of the bath. 
After asking Ms. Emily's permission, we also bathed Huncie's sister.  We had set aside clothes for her as well, but forgot to get them out of the car.  I hated to put the clothes she was wearing back on her -   they were so dusty and honestly reeked, but we had no other option.  After cleaning her up, I set her in my lap and breathed in the sweet smell of her now-clean head.  We got another bowl of food for her, which she ate as she sat in my lap.  
She seems somewhat delayed - she never made eye contact, was not very alert to her surroundings, and seemed fairly unaffected by what was going on around her.  The only thing that I could tell she was focused on was her mother - the little girl seemed so tired, yet wouldn't let herself go to sleep.  Ms. Kitty told me she was afraid that her mother was going to leave her.
 A bit later, Ms. Emily stood up and told us that she was going to back to her house, but would come back later.  I watched quietly as the three of them walked out of the creshe's gate and make their way down the dusty red road.  After watching the mother interact with her children, I felt the tiniest bit more hopeful about their situation.  Like mentioned earlier, Ms. Emily never showed any signs of obvious dislike toward her children during the time we were with her, and she did come back in the afternoon as she had promised.  I'm praying and believing for a miracle in Emily's life, for healing and restoration for her and her girls.  As Mrs. Mimi said, it is never the goal to break up the family, but to teach the mother how to be the mother.  
We packed a baggie of formula and starter baby food and gave it to Ms. Emily for the weekend.  Because it is in the baggie, it is harder to sell should the temptation or opportunity arise.  And now I wait for Monday to see my little girl again, while I pray and believe for a miracle on her behalf.  Our God is a God of redemption, and as I was reminded of this while reading Acts 9 this morning.  God spoke to Ananias, telling him to go to Saul as God was in the process of bringing redemption to his life:
"The Lord said to Him, 'Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kinds and the sons of Israel..."  

Emily, Huncie, and Huncie's sister are chose instruments of the Lord, and we proclaim healing over them in Jesus name.  
Pray hard with me for Ms. Emily, Huncie, and her sister.