Sunday, November 29, 2015

Always Next Year

We had our annual Thanksgiving dinner, yesterday, Saturday, instead of Thursday, as Hubby had to work. I always enjoy getting everything ready, practicing my OCD, making sure the table is perfect. My daughter has inherited some of that disorder – lucky for me but not for her. 

So there is a little bit of mismatch at the table. As long as it is organized mismatch I am happy. 

I try telling myself that it just may be more important that my guests are happy – they get to sit where they want and if they grab the wrong glass so that now the mismatch glasses aren’t every other one around the table, who cares. I try to let it go, and it lasts for at least a little bit. And actually, by the time the meat goes on the table (one plate white meat, one plate dark, because even Hubby can’t help himself sometimes), I have almost given up. 


Maybe next year, I will learn to truly let go. Randomly place on the table whatever odd-ball glasses and plates and silverware I have. Let the tablecloths be crooked and uneven.  And just be thankful for the things that matter like family and food. And at least having matched napkins. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Have an Outstanding Day

I’ve been thinking all week of something original I could write about on Thanksgiving. Of course we should remember all the things that we are thankful for – our families, our homes, our jobs, our freedom, and of course, God. Or the specific things that I personally am thankful for – Dino the wonder dog (who had diarrhea for four days leaving me worried about his health), the beautiful backyard that I sometimes feel I don’t enjoy nearly enough, having had the chance to return to Kenya for the third time, and despite all of my worsening aches and pains, I still enjoy basically good health. Or the really obscure things we all take for granted such as the internet and our cellphones and GPS (which I still am not sold on).

Next I could extrapolate on that list. Or add more obscure items. Or take another tact all together and share the history of the first Thanksgiving (as if you have never heard that before). There is of course the history of making Thanksgiving a national holiday, which occurred during the height of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that all Americans should ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” That doesn’t sound like we were expected to be so thankful.

We also sometimes think that we Americans are the only ones to recognize a national day of Thanksgiving, but other countries have similar observances. Though our Thanksgiving is traced back to 1621, the Canadian Thanksgiving is believed to have its roots in 1578, when the explorer Martin Frobisher gave thanks for the safe journey from England.  

Germany celebrates Erntedankfest or the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival and Japan has a Labor Thanksgiving Day which has its roots dating back thousands of years ago to a harvest festival but which was officially established following World War II and is not only for giving thanks but to commemorate the labor force.  And there are many more such stories from around the world.

Which leaves me where? I’m not quite sure. But in addition to all of this, I am also thankful that I get to share these random thoughts with all of you, whether you are thankful back or not, however, is hard to tell.

In any case, have an outstanding day. 
Lake Superior in Michigan's UP, one of the places I am most thankful for. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Have I Inspired Anyone?

Somehow I lost all of my Sunday devotions from the last year. Actually, they aren’t lost; I somehow deleted them. When I left for Kenya, I deleted most of my files off of my laptop so that there would be enough memory to hold all the pictures I was going to take. I thought my devotions were saved on that jump drive which was clearly marked “devotional blogs”, but I hadn’t updated that jump drive since August 2014. How is that even possible?

I got a little frustrated, but quickly remembered that all of those posts were on my blog, on the internet, where they say things will stay forever, or at least until they replace the internet with a newer technology (microchips in our brains?).

When I realized all that inspiration was at my fingertips, a light bulb went on in my head. I could copy them back into my computer. Luckily I quickly came to my senses. I am not copying them anywhere. Let the hackers and the thieves do that.

Maybe I’m being irresponsible, turning my written thoughts loose like that. Maybe someone will steal them, then shut down my blog site, then compile a book under their own name and sell many copies and get their own TV show. And some day I will run across that show while I am channel-surfing and I will think I am losing my mind because I can swear I have seen somewhere those words they are speaking. Coz, yea, sure that will happen.

Thanksgiving is a few days away and I want to thank God right now for giving me the inspirational words that I have shared here. And if anyone feels compelled to share those words with others, in any form, I would only ask that if I don’t get the credit, that God does. After all they were His words and not mine.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Peace on the African Plain

 Shortly after I returned home from my trip to Kenya, I shared the dramatic life and death tale of scenes from safari. But I thought it was time to share some of the scenes of peace we witnessed as well, such as this adorable elephant family. Our wonderful guide, Tony, thinks the largest female on the right is the grandma, with her youngest next to her. The one of the left is her daughter with the tiny grandbaby.
 Grazing giraffes, zebras and wildebeest.
 A baby Topi with its mommy. And check out the wildebeest with an itch.
 Even cape buffalo babies are cute.
 Zebras and their stripes are always fascinating.
But the animal that I was in most awe of was the rhino. I've written about their plight in the past. This is the first time I had seen one in the wild (I had seen all of these animals on safari in 2006) and he captured my heart.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Land of Milk and Honey

On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. Ezekiel 20:6 (NIV)

The Bible mentions a “land of milk and honey” in 24 passages in the Old Testament. We picture this as a place of abundance, where the grass is green and lush, the trees tall and strong, fresh water flows through multiple streams and rivers. A place like the garden of Eden. A place kind of like where I live in Wisconsin, where we have plenty of dairy cows and quite a few bee keepers.  A place I have a hard time picturing when I think of the hard desert landscape of the Middle East.

Yet, when God promised the Israelites that He would free them from their bondage in Egypt and give them a land filled with milk and honey, that’s just what He meant. The milk flowed from goats instead of cows and the honey may have come from dates instead of bees. Maybe the terrain wasn’t as lush as we would picture it with our Westernized eyes, but it was still a land of great beauty to the Israelites. Wouldn’t any land of freedom look magnificent?

Maybe that’s why I find the desert terrain of East Africa so fascinating and breath-taking. It feels ancient, a place filled with history and mystery, a place to tread lightly. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Home Away From Home

I just realized, looking back, that when I jumped into blogging about our recent trip to Kenya, I failed to write about where we stayed.

Hopefully you weren’t worried about where we spent our nights or if we had hot running water or even a bed. Let me introduce you to the volunteer house in Waithaka, near Dagoretti High School, a half hour drive west of downtown Nairobi and nearly an hour from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.  A simple house, with room for – oh, let me think – at least 20 volunteers. But they hosted from seven to ten of us while we were there. I wouldn’t want to be there when they were packed, but it would be no fun if it were empty either. The other volunteers were from Iowa, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Scotland (but I may have missed a place, it amazes me how international the house was), and their stays ranged from two weeks (like ours) to nine months. I could live in this house for nine months, if only the hubby and Dino could come with.

First, here is the driveway up to the house. Just enough of an incline for a bit of a workout. But the first day we were there, we let Allen carry our water up. 
 No house is complete without the random yard cat and her baby.
 The living room/dining area.
 The kitchen on the second floor hadn't been built yet when I was here in 2013.
Our bedroom. I could have straightened up more before I took the picture. 
 We even had our own attached bath, where we had hot water for a quick shower each day.
 But everyone's favorite part of the house was the roof-top patio, with 360 degree views of the neighborhood.
 One evening we were even treated to a rainbow. That made two rainbows we witnessed while in Kenya.
It was an amazing two weeks and I feel blessed that this is the place we could call our home away from home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Safe Place

The day before we left Kenya to return home, we took yet another different kind of tour. Denise, I, and another volunteer from our volunteer house visited a women’s shelter.

Though they call it a women’s shelter, it actually is a safe haven for girls ages 8 to 20. Many of them are orphans. Many of the girls have been abused or exploited, and some of them came to the shelter pregnant and have since delivered their babies, raising them in the secure environment of the shelter. Some have parents but have run away and cannot return home. Because of all of these reasons, there are no pictures of the girls here or any details of where their haven is. Those who have aided in making their lives miserable have been known to try to find them. 
But like I said, it is a haven for these young ladies, a place where they can get an education and learn skills which will help them survive once they are back out in the harsh world. 
Two dairy cows provide milk. 
And chickens provide eggs. 
A garden supplies the shelter with vegetables. 
The living room is a place to relax in the evening and learn what it is like to be a kid again. 
The grounds surrounding this safe house are beautiful, right down to the over six foot tall poinsettia plant. A reminder that Christmas is always just around the corner. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Day to Relax

Last time I posted here, we had visited the Kibera Slum, where it is believed that the largest concentration of people in the world may live. The very next day we drove down through the Ngong Hills out to the Maasai village of Saikeri. What a contrast between the two days!

My daughter Val volunteered here for a month when she was in Kenya for six months in 2010. She dragged me out there for several days in 2013 to stay with her friend Maggie and I immediately understood the draw. Maggie’s home has no electricity, but she has a few solar panels on the roof, enough to light a few lights in the house in the evening. She also has a nifty portable solar panel packet, the size of a tablet, which she uses to charge her cell phone and a flashlight. Her water comes from the large tanks which collect rain water from the roof, during the rainy season. The rest of the time, a water tanker truck makes the trek out to her home to fill her tanks.

Oh, but first I should describe the ride there. Another typical Kenyan road filled with potholes, ruts, rocks and boulders, but worth it for the view.

And cattle who know that they have the right of way.

When we got to Maggie's house, the goats also seemed to think they had the run of the place.

As does Maggie’s son LeShan, but isn't he adorable.

Though he is only three and a half and doesn’t know any English, he took us on a walk down the road and even visited with the neighbors. 

Downtown Saikeri, not exactly hopping that afternoon, but there were Maasai behind those doors watching us pass.

It was hard to leave.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Jungle

I don’t know if I am going to be able to find any words for today’s blog. Anyone who has lived in a big city in America thinks they know what a slum is. They think it is that rundown neighborhood where thugs and drug dealers hang out. Or where the government built subsidized housing, where the poorest of the poor would live, but those apartments only attracted rats and other lowlife. Or the working class section of town became the lower class section when industry in the city went belly up.

But travel to a third world country. Find out what a slum is there.

Welcome to Kibera Slum, the largest slum in Africa and one of the largest in the World. Home to anywhere between one quarter of a million to a full one million people, depending on who you talk to and what time of year it is.

There are no real buildings. Homes and businesses are constructed of handmade bricks and corrugated tin and sheets of warped plywood and the sacks which 50 pounds of flour or cornmeal had come in or plastic shopping bags.

Welcome to a world where there is no sanitation system, no garbage removal.

There are electric wires running into the slum, and resourceful people will splice into these wires for free electricity into their homes. Sometimes these wires are live, sometimes they aren’t. On any given day there won’t be any electricity going into the slum.

There are two water lines going into the slum. Two! For a quarter of a million people, or four times that many. Two water lines.

There are schools in the slum. Some even claim they are free to attend, but the children still need to wear uniforms, which their parents cannot afford, and supply their own supplies, which their parents cannot afford.

The few medical facilities in the slum are run by charitable organizations, organizations with limited funds and even more limited staff. The number of HIV residents is extremely high. ARV drugs are available but many people don’t get them.

You can imagine the crime, the drugs, the unwanted pregnancies.

Somehow, the residents rise above all of this. One group of men run a business making jewelry from bone.

The name Kibera comes from the Nubian word for forest or jungle
Seems appropriate. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (New International Version)

When I was at Lifest in 2005, as they were handing out packets of children to be sponsored through Compassion International, I decided that it was time to sponsor a boy or girl in a third world country and I took the next packet which was given to me. Randomly. The child was a scared, thin young girl from India. She was the one who God had chosen for me. I had always been fascinated with India, and before getting all wrapped up in Kenya, that was the first third world country I thought I wanted to go to.

Shortly after returning from Kenya in May of 2013, I received a letter from Compassion explaining that I might lose my child in India and that they would keep me up to date. (It’s a long story which I won’t elaborate on here, but you have to realize, stuff happens.) A few months later, one Friday evening Compassion called to say that due to circumstances beyond their control, my little girl in India was out of the program. Did I want another girl from India to sponsor?

“Well, I just got back from Kenya, so could I sponsor a little girl from there instead?”

“Sure,” the woman answered. “Let me pull up a random girl from Kenya.” She came back on the line a moment later. “I have a little girl for you and believe it or not, her birthday is next week. What an amazing birthday present for her.”

Well, when I got done crying, I thanked the woman and told her I would wait to get the information on my new child. And when her picture arrived, she looked just as small and scared as the girl from India.  

Two years later, as I began planning this trip to Africa, I contacted Compassion about going to see my child while I was there. A quite a few emails went back and forth, but the arrangements were made. At six o’clock in the morning on October 12, the Compassion representative who would be our guide for the day picked Denise and me up at our volunteer house. Five hours and many rough roads later, we arrived at the Compassion center which works with my child.

She is so beautiful. Beautiful beyond words, don’t you think? And more precious than anything.
I’d been to two different Compassion centers when I was in Kenya in 2006, so I knew the drill. We met my child, toured her center, they fed us, we drove out to her home, met her family, gave them gifts, and then they gave me gifts. Which I knew was coming, but looking at the poverty they lived in, I thought, oh, honey, your family doesn’t have to give me anything. 

Just like the widow who gave her two mites, they gave me everything they had – a gourd, a hand-made doily and four small chicken eggs. Nothing, no gift I have ever received has ever meant more to me, or ever will. Ever. 

Then, to top that all off, we planted a tree to commemorate my visit (just as they did back in 2006). That was cool. A tree to grow and supply them with fruit and so that she can remember the day I came to meet her.

Then, her mom came over with THE most precious thing they have. Kenya has been going through a drought, but most places get at least a short rain shower every week or so. In this part of the country, though, they said that they hadn’t had a drop of rain in over a year. Not a drop. But yet her mom pours this clear, clean water out for me to wash my hands.

I have never been so humbled. I thought that I would give them something, but they gave me so much more.

Lord, God, Heavenly Father, thank You for allowing me to live a life of plenty and giving me the chance to share what I have, though my sacrifice is so insignificant. And please, Lord, let it rain in that part of the world so that this precious daughter of Yours and her family can have fresh water and so that their little tree grows. Amen
Several hours after leaving the center, as we were driving home, it started to rain. We looked back and wondered if it could possibly be raining back there as well. A rainbow appeared in the sky. God is good.