Thursday, March 28, 2013

Back In Kenya & a Giveaway!

We've been home for nearly an entire month already, but there are still plenty of things I want to share about our time in Kenya. I just haven't been able to post fast enough to stay on top of my thoughts. Darn grad school. But there is an end in sight! I'm working hard on my thesis this semester in order to finish the first week of May. I will take no other route. I will finish at that time. I no longer have an appendix to rupture, so I'm on my way.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed being able to share so much with all of you while we were away. It made the experience even more meaningful, because I  knew we weren't doing things alone. As an expression of gratitude for walking alonside us on our journey, I brought home a few things specifically to share with you, my lovely blog readers. The first is the colorful, paper bead necklace shown in the photo below. It was made by a woman who sells them at the guesthouse of the hospital where Pete was working. I'm in love with her pieces. I bought a couple similar necklaces for myself and two coordinating pairs of earrings. They are bright and completely remind me of the beauty of Kenya.

This giveaway is very simple. All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this blog post or on the post on my Facebook page. Each person can enter just one time, either here or on Facebook. I will randomly select a winner Monday at noon Central Time. Feel free to let others know! If I have a big response, I just might end up giving away two!


So, back in Kenya. The last Sunday morning we were at Tenwek, we were invited to a village church across the river. We had the choice of walking or driving. That's not really as simple to decide as you might think. We had both of the kids and could certainly carry them in our wrap and Ergo carrier, but then it would take longer and they might be too tired and fussy to sit through church. Driving might seem like it would save time, but the roads are a bit crazy, as seen below, and we had to drive a ways to get to a bridge to cross the river. In the end, we did drive. We went with friends and hired two cars.

There goes the first car.

Oops. Ours didn't quite make it. Everyone got out but the kids and the driver.

We did eventually get it out, and you know what? Pete didn't get a speck of mud on his church clothes. That's my man.

photo by our friend Jen

This is just a glimpse of what many of the roads and intersections look like in Kenya.

And this was along the road to the church. A very typical view in rural Kenya.

Before we left for Kenya in January, we met with a surgeon here in Duluth who spends about three weeks in Kenya a couple times a year. She's done this about 15 times and was even there during our stay. It was great seeing someone we had med in Duluth all the way over there! She has a great relationship with this village church and the pastor, Pastor Daniel. This is Pastor Daniel's church.

I believe this was the church choir. Everyone dresses in their very best not only for church, but for any special occasion. This includes visiting the doctor. I saw many fancy dresses each time I walked through the hospital. It is a very formal culture. My long-jersey skirts and t-shirts were very casual (yet appropriate) compared to what I often saw others wearing.

We happened to be visiting the same day that a musical group was also visiting from another town. It was fun to watch them sing and dance.

Sam may have been a little surprised by their loud music. "Whoa, mama! What is that noise?!" I was sure to cover his ears during the music from then on.

After the service, the entire church gathered outside to greet one another and to hold an auction. I don't know that this happens every week, but it does happen often. Various items are donated by church members and others bid for them. Our friend had mentioned this ahead of time, so we were sure to have some money with us. We were really hoping to buy a goat, but none were available that morning. In the end, I bid for a very large cabbage, which we gave to Pastor Daniel's wife at lunch. We would have done the same with a goat. (I had really wanted a goat! We did leave money to buy one at the next auction, but we didn't get to name it or see it. I'm definitely buying a goat that I can meet when we return.)

Ella was excited about our cabbage and wanted to take a picture with it.

Catch that funny expression on her face? She broke off a little piece of the cabbage and popped it in her mouth before we could stop her. Guess she wasn't a fan.

I find it difficult to express my feelings looking at this next photo. I get teary trying to think how to describe Ella's experience in Kenya. While we were there, I couldn't help think over and over that she was made to live in such a place. She begged to play with every child she saw, she shouted "jambo!" out the window as we passed kids in the car, and she gave as many hugs as possible. Some spoke English, but it never slowed her down if they didn't. She naturally and gently gestured to express herself. I learned from watching her easiness with complete strangers, allowing her to open doors into relationships I was too timid to open on my own. Children are amazing like that, but my Ella was amazing in her own way. She was basking in the beauty of love that God has placed deep inside her. Have I mentioned her middle name is Rehema? It's Swahili for God's mercy. I have no doubt that the genuine love and friendship and mercy I saw in her every single day is only the beginning of what she's going to experience in her journey.

After the service, we were invited to Pastor Daniel's home for lunch. His wife prepared an incredible meal of rice with pumpkin, goat meat, chipati (like a tortilla), and fruit. Just writing about it makes me long for another plate. We all gathered around a long table in his one-room home to enjoy each others company.

The room was beautifully prepared for our visit. The cooking took place in a small building next to the house.

photo by our friend Jen
These were seriously the biggest bananas I had ever seen, and they came from Pastor Daniel's own banana trees!

photo by our friend Jen
This next photo was taken by our friend Jen. I can't help but laugh looking at it. Jen and her husband, Todd (such a character!) arrived in Kenya on the same flight we were on in January. They are there for two years with a post-residency program. Todd is a surgeon and Jen is a teacher. She is currently doing work in the surrounding community with health education, I believe, and travels to South Sudan every other month. We really enjoyed hanging out with them and hope to work with them again in the future. (Hear that, Jen? We really do!)

photo by our friend Jen
I hope it's not rude of me to put this bathroom on display, but I thought you might be interested in seeing what they typically look like in Kenya. Poor Ella had a little bit of a hard time with this style. Her little legs just weren't quite long enough.

Ella may not have been a fan of the bathroom, but she was thrilled with the animals.

I captured this cool panoramic photo with the Photosynth app. The path on the left leads to the house and the cooking building. The animals live in the structure on the right, and crops are planted beyond that.

Sweet Ella tried and tried to figure out how Pastor Daniel's niece was standing against this tree. After much trial and error, she got it and was incredibly proud. I love the minds of little ones.

Our visit to Pastor Daniel's church and to his home was very memorable. We hope to visit countless more quite like his in the future. I can only imagine the conversations and life experiences that will be shared during such occasions. While I wait to be in that place once again, I will do my very best to be patient and hear what God has for me now. He doesn't waste his time, of this I am sure.

Speaking of the future, that would make for a great post, don't you think? Some of you know where we're heading and when we're hoping to head there, but I don't want to keep you in the dark, if you haven't heard. Well, okay then, it's set. I'll be sure to get a "future" post up very soon.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Photo Friday

Ah, the return of Photo Friday. Here are a few recent clicks. Enjoy!

a mama/daughter date with my girly at "the library store" aka Barnes & Noble

 celebrating Daddy's birthday last week

all this play is hard work!

 he loves his bouncer

cuddling with my boy on World Down Syndrome Awareness Day

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Video: World Down Syndrome Day 2013

Thursday is World Down Syndrome Day. Why Thursday? Because every year people all over the world who have Down syndrome or love someone who does celebrate on March 21. There is great significance in the numbers that correlate with that day. Down syndrome occurs when there are three copies (instead of the typical two copies) of the 21st chromosome. Therefore, it's 3-21, or March 21.

We have been beautifully touched by our little man's diagnosis of Down syndrome. He has taught us so much in just 10 short months. In honor of Sam and his extra chromosome, I put together a video inspired by the International Down Syndrome Coalition and their "Who I Am" campaign. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

God Is Good. No Matter What.

Dear friends, my heart is breaking as I write this morning. Yesterday morning, while sitting in the waiting room of the hearing clinic with Sam, I received devastating news from friends in Kenya. A few weeks after we arrived at Tenwek (the hospital where Pete worked for six weeks) the Kelleys arrived from Pennsylvania and moved to the apartment right above ours and began to settle in for their two-year stay. That same afternoon, there were three little boys running around in superhero costumes in the grass out front. A short time later, out came Hannah with her mom and dad, Steph and Aaron. Hannah turned one at the end of January and was one of the most adorable little girls I had ever seen. She had a little sprig of a ponytail on the top of her head and such a sweet smile. I spent numerous mornings sitting in the grass with Steph talking about having a little girl, how much fun it is to dress them, and the struggle of keeping cute ribbons and bows in their hair. When we left, Ella gave little Hannah a couple dresses and a pair of shoes, all of which she had outgrown during our time there.

It pains me to share the news that sweet Hannah is now with Jesus. I was shocked by the sudden news yesterday and immediately paged Pete at the hospital so I could cry with the person I knew would understand. We hadn't known the Kelleys very long, but when you're on the mission field together, relationships grow quickly. Just a few weeks ago, we were sitting with them in their kitchen, eating ice cream sundaes on our last night at Tenwek.

Aaron explained on his blog a few days ago that Hannah had been throwing up often enough to be concerned. They began treating for worms or giardia, but her sickness progressed. She was admitted to the hospital where Aaron is an ER physician, and many tests were conducted. She eventually had a CT scan, which revealed an aggressive tumor in her brain. My friend Jen wrote on her blog, "Arrangements were made for her to go to Kijabe Hospital, another mission hospital three hours away where there was a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon - yes, in rural Africa!  He was able to perform surgery that afternoon and remove most of the tumor." It was not enough for Hannah's little body. This is what her dad wrote on his Facebook page:

"My dear friends...God has answered our prayers and Hannah has been fully healed. She no longer has any pain or suffering. I was by her side since 2 am playing music on my phone for her (she loved dancing with daddy). As she passed the lyrics were to Jeremy Camp's King Jesus "King Jesus, you are victorious, you paid the final debt for all of us. King Jesus, you are victorious." He is victorious! He lives! And because of this each and every one of us have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him through a simple act of faith and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Please be praying for us today as we have to tell the boys."

They are leaning heavily on Jesus and his strength right now. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing, which is why I am asking you to please, please pray for them. They are in a new country, so far away from family and all things familiar.

Jen also wrote on her blog that Stephanie posted the following on Facebook, which is our hope in a world that is not yet free of pain and suffering:

"God is good. No matter what. God is good."

About this photo: I was telling Pete last night that one of the very clear memories I have of Hannah is when she was sitting in the grass in front of our apartment shortly after they arrived. Her daddy was lying in the grass in front of her taking pictures. It was an adorable sight. I just found the photo here on Aaron's blog. And in her little hand was Ella's wooden ambulance.

If you would like to read about ways you can help the Kelley family, please visit their blog here. There is even an opportunities to give to Hannah Kelley's Homegoing Fund.

Such precious gifts we are given when God entrusts his children to us.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Beauty of Home

I'm so sorry for not getting a post up before today. Let's pretend that 21 days have not passed since the last time I wrote. So much has happened! I wrote the following post last week but wasn't able to add the photos and get it up before some big things happened that had me setting aside blogging to focus on family. While we were in Kenya, it was discovered that my dear, sweet, little niece, Malena, has a mass in her brain. The day before we left Africa, she had surgery at a large children's hospital in Minneapolis to biopsy the tumor in the hopes of discovering what it was. Just after writing the following paragraphs, my sister called to ask if I could pick the two of them up from the hospital and bring them home. I gladly did just that, but ended up staying longer than I had anticipated so the doctors could do further testing. I am happy... THRILLED share that the mass is not cancerous. Praise the Lord. Miss Malena is having a few symptoms from the mass pushing on different parts of her brain, which is how they first decided to do an MRI, so more visits to the hospital and lots of observations are on the horizon. Please pray with us that all the symptoms (an intense desire to drink liquids constantly, decreased metabolism, increased urination, and dangerously low sodium levels) will be relieved and that my sister and her girls can leave this behind them. I'll be sure to post updates as they happen. In the meantime, you can click here to follow Malena's Caring Bridge page. Thank you!!

Doctor Malena

in training

such a ladies man

someone swiped Uncle Jake's glasses!

be still my heart. i love this boy.

Oh, my dear friends, we made it home. I've wanted to write so many times since we arrived last Thursday night, but either little ones needed attention or I just didn't have the energy. Now I sit alone at a coffee shop, surrounded by freshly fallen snow and the tunes of Jack Johnson floating through the air. I need this. Simple things that I enjoy, so that I can ease back into this Minnesotan life. I'm taking my time, desperate to hold onto every ounce of Kenya that might still exist here.  A crushed package of biscuits in the bottom of my bag. A tea bag to make one more cup of chai.

The journey from Kenya to Duluth went fairly well, beginning last Wednesday night at 6pm and ending at 4pm the next afternoon. A lotta time changes. A lotta snacks. A lotta movies. And yes, for a time, a lotta sleep. The kids snoozed practically the entire eight hours from Nairobi to Amsterdam. That meant cheery playtime at the very cool little inside playground forest at the airport there while Mama and Daddy chatted with new friends from Jordan and sipped a latte from Starbucks. (My man sure knows how to treat this girlie.) At one point I wandered through the airport and ended up buying one of the only magazines of interest printed in English. As it turned out, it was the most expensive magazine I've ever bought. Fifteen dollars for this baby. (I didn't know that until after it was purchased, though. Thanks, Euro.) Worth it? Paired with my Starbucks and happily occupied children flying between Amsterdam and Minneapolis, it wasn't even a question. Yes. So worth it.

best airplane invention: infant bassinet
Am I painting a picture of a blissful flight? Perhaps, but that's only because I'm choosing to forget the stress of keeping a three-year-old busy for that long while she begs to make multiple trips to the bathroom (because she thinks it's cool) and the incessant interruptions during my attempt to watch a single movie. Six hours to watch Argo? Yes, it is possible. No joke. But that's all a part of the experience.

playing on the playground inside the Amsterdam airport. coolest little area.

The first thing I realized when we arrived at our cozy, blue house was that it is a truly beautiful place. It is clean and bright, full of color and memories. After getting the kids to bed, I walked through its rooms, touching decorative jars and hardcover books, staring at framed photos and catching my breath at the sight of a perfect mantle decorated with carefully selected nicknacks and such. I don't know how many times I walked into the kitchen Friday morning, just to catch another glimpse of the sun lighting the bright, clean walls and little pieces I placed along the windowsill months before without much thought. I couldn't help but smile at their simplicity and beauty. I felt so moved that I slowly walked through the house while the kids slept off the jet lag, hoping to capture the feelings of those first moments of being home in a space we had created. It was lovely.



We have slowly let ourselves acclimate to this life again. First it was a trip to the grocery store. Then I wandered alone into Target. Everyone was waiting for me in the car, so I didn't have much time to get overwhelmed by everything, which was probably best. This morning was the hardest, so far. I took Ella back to preschool. I had no idea it would be so hard. It was as though this simple act was admitting to the fact that we've returned to "normal" life. I didn't want to say goodbye when I dropped her off. I felt the need to make sure everything was perfect for her and then to stay with her to explain to the other kids that we had been in a very different place and that Ella had seen incredible things and that her first day back might be hard because she was adjusting. Instead, she ran to her room, tossing a "bye, Mom!" over her shoulder so she could play with her friends. How I wish I could continue as easily as that.

off to school
I'll admit that I cried just a little in the car after that. My Kenya was slipping away beneath the falling snow. I begged Jesus to let the feelings stay. I want the memories to feel new. I want my heart to be all in one place. But just as I wrote over a year ago about why my heart isn't all here, I now know exactly where my heart is and how it felt to have it be whole. Duluth is my home, and so is Africa.


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