Our Big News

I have this new theory that this ‘grown up’ life is code for “lots of transition”. The first 18-ish years of my life might be the most everything-is-the-same years of my life. I think I got used to it and have been slightly caught off guard at how different each year post-college has been. This year is no different. In fact, 2014 has shown to be one of the most whirlwind years yet, and we’re only five months in!

A two-year calendar to give you a frame of reference:
– August 2012: we get married!
– October 2012: we move to Kajo Keji, South Sudan
– February 2013: we move to Juba, South Sudan
– July 2013: I go back to the States for three months
– October 2013: we come back to Juba, South Sudan
– December 2013: we get evacuated from conflict-torn South Sudan
– January 2014 – March 2014: we live in Kajo Keji (out of a backpack that we packed for the evacuation in December)
– March 2014: we visit our Juba house for the first time in months
– June 2014: we move back to the States………

moving.2014-01Yes it is true! As of the end of June 2014, we’re going to be living Stateside. We were about to POP with excitement to tell our friends and family once we knew it was official, and our excitement has only increased as so many precious people have now shared in our giddiness of all living on the same continent again.

We’ve been asked questions as we’ve told people the news, and I’m a firm believer that if one person is asking, there are probably more who have the same question. If so, here you go:

Why are y’all moving back?
Biggest answer: we feel God is leading us elsewhere. We have been praying for months asking what might be ‘next’ for us, and we have seen confirmation that God is leading us back to the States. Neither of us believe that we’re finished with living internationally, but for now, we’re headed back to Texas. There are a lot of gifts and interests that Grant wants to cultivate and learn to increase his skillset both personally and professionally, and we long to do that within a healthy community. We moved to South Sudan together only six weeks after getting married and though we have cherished learning everything together, just the two of us, we are really, really excited to live life within a community of people. We are completely confident of God’s plan and His leading and are really excited to see what lies in this next step.

 

Where will y’all live and what will you be doing?
We are giddy (read: over-the-top, out of control, unbelievably excited!) because we’re headed to Pine Cove! We have been praying for months that God would open a door for us to live in Tyler, Texas and for Grant to be offered at job at Pine Cove. To our great delight, that’s exactly what happened! We were honestly surprised at the job that Grant accepted, but could not be more excited for the skills he will learn, the people he will work alongside, and the work community he will be a part of.  As of the first week of August, Grant will be the Director of Recruiting for Pine Cove!! He will be responsible for leading the charge of the summer staff recruiting process for camp. Pine Cove hired 1,500 college staff from 37 states and 200 different universities for summer 2014, and is expecting that number to increase as years continue. Grant will have his work cut out for him! He’ll spend time networking with college/university ministries and campus pastors, speaking to different groups about the investment they could make at camp and how it can impact their own lives, working with amazing men and women within the PC network, and investing into both staff and students alike. As for what I will be doing, that is still unknown, but I’m hopeful to find a job somewhere in Tyler town. We have seen how we need balance in our lives, and to work in different places would help bring some balance as well as open our community to people outside of the PC world.   I plan on being as involved in PC life as they let me😉 , but would love to be invested within town too. We’ll see where God opens a door. (Shameless plug, Tyler friends: anyone know of a fun job opening in town??)

 

How are y’all feeling about leaving South Sudan?
I responded to a friend’s text earlier by saying “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such opposites so strongly at one time.”  We honestly could not be more excited about every perk that comes with living in the States: living in amazing community, having an incredible job alongside even more incredible people, being close to family, experiencing four seasons (so maybe I’M really excited about that), having any food we want, using a washing machine, etc etc etc.  But how do I accurately express the grief I have, we have, leaving these people who have become our family.  We work with these men and women, they are our community, they are who we share meals with, laughter with, holidays with, they have become our family.  To be raw, I cannot even process leaving Gloria, Agnes, and Jillian yet.  Those girls are not our extended family; they are my sisters, my people.  I will miss nothing more from life here than those three girls.  I assume there will be full blog posts on the people and things we miss about life here once we’re back in the States and it all sinks in.  As for now, the ‘strong opposites’ are very real and fully felt.  We are overjoyed and completely heartbroken, all at the same time.

 

We fly out of East Africa on June 20th. We’ll be in the EAM office for a few weeks and then we’ll take a few weeks to rest, decompress, process, and prepare for this exciting new step.  We’re planning on starting life in Tyler a couple of weeks Grant starts at PC in the beginning on August.  Everything is happening so quickly.  We are asking God for wisdom on how to end well here, as well as asking that He will prepare us to ‘reenter’ the States too. Everything is a process right now; it’s all a transition.  We are taking it one day at a time, and are so thankful to follow a God who leads us in each day’s step.

Our Escape to the Cape (and your next big vacation)

You know how some vacations are really more trips rather than vacations? They’re fun but you’re happy to go home when it’s time to go home. And then there is a real vacation. The kind where you leave, completely vacate all things normal and routine, and live a total dream for the extent of your time off? Yeah, we totally just went on one of those and it was complete bliss.

We decided that while we live on this side of the world we need to save up and travel to at least a few places on the bucket list. This year’s big trip: Cape Town, South Africa.   South Africa is my new favorite country, and we’re currently dreaming of how we can move there. The people are super kind, the seafood is fresh, the US dollar can stretch pretty far (right now at least), the winelands are breathtaking, the ocean is magnificent, and the mountains are majestic. And if you so choose, you could see all those things in one day – because Cape Town has everything!

As I post, I’m treating these photos as ‘air chair traveling’, as my mom calls it.

Armchair Traveling (noun): a way to visit a place from your current seat.

So, let’s go: our favorite parts of our new favorite country!

 

First stop: Car rental. Grant and I have had only ridiculously hilarious experiences with rental cars. Our first was in Philadelphia when we landed in a copper-poop colored Cube. Quite possibly the ugliest of vehicles. This go-round, we were walking out to the lot, completely in awe of the mountains in the background, and after rows and rows of grey, white, slate, white, grey, white vehicles, we see this little guy. “Oh Grant, what if that was our car! …wait… does that say 067?? Grant!! That IS our car!!!”  Insert both of us buckled over with laughter. Does it get any more ridiculous?!  EVERY car in Cape Town is white or grey. And then there was ours. My only regret is that we didn’t get a photo from the front. It was by far narrower than the car to the right in the photo. He had many names throughout the trip. Green Fever was our favorite.

 

Ps. His gas tank was 8 gallons. EIGHT. That is a single digit.

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Bloubergstrand was our first outing. Yes we are wearing jackets and scarves with our shorts because it was chilly (did I mention it was pure bliss?! I don’t think I sweated once while we were there. (take me back!) ) This place holds a beautiful view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. How cool is that mountain, by the way? The clouds are actually behind the mountain… it really is that flat.
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We had to keep up our Seifried family tradition! I had to include the attempts this time – too good to be left out!

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The next day we headed to Camps Bay. This is kind of the ‘see and be seen’ stretch of beaches, but wow was it beautiful! This was still during the end of the ‘malaria + unknown virus = 3+ weeks of misery’ stretch, so we just went and put our toes in the super cold water and sat and watched the sunset. Did I mention it was pure bliss?

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We stayed at the most quirky of homes in Cape Town and it had the most lovely back patio. Mornings spent there, again in long sleeves (jackpot!), were lovely.  Slow, no schedules, no interruptions, and completely lovely.

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The Garden Route is a famous drive down the whole eastern and southern part of South Africa. It’s famous for it’s beauty, clearly. We only drove a portion of it but couldn’t keep all the “Oh my!”s and “THAT is BEAUTIFUL!”s quiet. I think it was on this drive that we started our “how can we move here?!” dreaming sessions.
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We stopped in a really quaint little town called Kalk Bay.  Crazy fact: Kalk Bay, and an extensive amount of neighboring beach/water, is known for its Great White shark population (insert every kind of ‘not interested, but thanks’ face you can think of).  Since the water is too rough and too shark-infested for swimming, they’ve made these awesome public wave pools.  The waves crash into that far wall and spill over into the pool.  Now anyone can come and swim in ‘the ocean’.  We didn’t get in, but that brave guy did!
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Next stop: Stellenbosch – one of my new, all-time favorite places. We had the sweet priviledge of staying with our dear friend Miemie (who lives in Juba with her husband).  She toured us around the university town, took us hiking (with a beautiful waterfall picnic included!), wine tasting at local vineyards, and even to a chocolate tasting.  Can we say best day ever?!  Our full day in Stellenbosch might have been our favorite full day of the trip.  Ps, did you know you can drink mountain stream water?  Like hold your Nalgene under the waterfall and then drink the crisp cold water?  Yeah, again with the pure bliss status.
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We got to visit with our sweet friend Louise too!  She and her husband used live in Juba, and it was so good to catch up.  This is where she grew up.  IMAGINE seeing this EVERY day of your life.  We have GOT to move here!
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The next day was bungee day!  Miemie had mentioned the world’s highest bridge bungee jump was a few hours outside of Cape Town.  I immediately signed Grant up.  It’s the world’s third highest jump overall, but the world’s highest bungee bridge, but either way 216 meters is WAY up there.  I’m pretty sure I was way more nervous than Grant, and both my feet were on solid ground the whole time!
DSC_0282^ THAT is the bridge Grant JUMPED OFF of… !!!!!

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DSC_0251 ^ Can you see him?? (Look for something tiny and blue at the bottom of the photo — left of the second or third flag.)

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The last thing we did on our way back into Cape Town was detour to the southernmost tip of Africa. We were excited, but the closer we got the most excited we became. It is pretty bizarre to look out across the ocean and try to grasp that there is NO land between you and Antarctica.   And because my man won’t let a good opportunity go by, he jumped in!  It was more of a thoughtful approach, but who wouldn’t with crashing waves and the thought of Great White sharks?? (We don’t know if the sharks are in that region, but it’s a hard thought to shake.)
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And so concludes our dream of a vacation.  If Cape Town is not on your list, go write it there right now.  One thing is for sure: we are not finished with that place.

 

My First Real Field Trip

There were five kinds of days in elementary school that would keep me awake the night before due to excitement: days when we did crafts requiring glue and scissors (known as ‘big craft’ days), holiday class party days, Read In days (Remember those? Bring your sleeping bag, pillow, snacks, and favorite books for a day full of reading.  I was totally in it for the snacks and sleeping bag), spelling test days (spelling was my jam, y’all), and field trips.  I thought on-site learning was were it was at – especially if we got to go see a play or production.

This last week and half though, might trump all other field trips.

Being in the field with the drilling crews is a legitimately awesome experience.  There are many things to glean from extremely rural life and from watching people see clean water spray out of the ground.  I literally watched people’s quality of life get better.

Just as a general update: The crews have been here in northern Uganda for exactly 14 days today and have already completed 10 wells. They are currently drilling #11 and #12 (of 20) and have had no dry attempts.  God has given them huge amounts of favor in finding water and in relationships with the community.  Would you stop right now and thank God for what He is doing for these communities? The crews are very encouraged by what is happening.  All glory goes to God!

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^ THIS is why we do what we do.  Look at the color of that water.  That is stream water — sometimes a running stream, sometime a stagnant collection of runoff.  It’s the closest source of water to this village, so people use it.  For everything.  They gather it, let it settle, and then use it — to drink, to cook, to bath.  THIS is why our crews leave their families for extended periods of time, why they give up better paying jobs, why they work through really difficult situations.  That water has all sorts of disease and sickness-causing bacteria in it.  This is why we do what we do. Clean water changes lives.

 

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^ There are a lot of clean water initiatives that advertise with statistics like “These people walk 3-4 miles one way every time they go to fetch water!”  We hear that but it almost becomes ‘normal’ to hear from clean water organizations.  But when you’re among a community of people that you’ve lived life with for a few days, laughed with, and worshiped with, realizing that they are about to spend  one hour walking to fetch water, and one hour walking to bring a 30lb jerry can of water back just so you can take a shower, the reality of what they have to do everyday for water becomes so far from anything ‘normal’.  The good news: this community will no longer have to spend hours each day walking to fetch water.  Their 6-mile round-trip walk is now a 50-200yard walk.  The joy in their eyes when they realized what was happening is honestly indescribable.

 

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^ The mister and a few of our crew during the drilling process.  The actual drilling isn’t visually dramatic — it is just a lot of tiny rocks being sprayed out of the ground.  The flushing of the well, once fully drilled, is the exciting, water-spraying-out part.

 

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^ While in the field I became the self-titled HDIT… Head Driller in Training.  It is honestly a really amazing process to see a borehole drilled.  And it was really incredible to have visual connections and pictures of everything I’ve heard Grant and guys talk about for the last year.  I feel like I really get it now.

 

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^ I never understood people who wanted a certain kind of shoe tan, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the inevitable ‘tan’ I got from the rock during the drilling process.

 

IMG_6216^ Bakers wear flour, painters wear paint, quilters wear thread, drillers wear rock dust?

 

IMG_6217^ God loves very personally.  Even smack in the middle of a place where celebrating and/or decorating for little holidays seems a little ridiculous to people, God gave me an opportunity to pack Valentines bagies… kind of.  We are giving rock samples to a geologist for study, and to do that, the guys collect and package rock from every meter of their drill.  Not only do the little compartment boxes look like a craft waiting to happen, but I got to help the guys put little rocks into cute little craft paper bags, and label them.  Could it get any closer to packing candy into name-labeled craft paper bags, my people?? If only I had brought some bakers twine to tie on each package…  I’m joking… kind of.

 

IMG_6157^ The pump installation is my favorite!  Each drilling crew is split into two ‘teams’: Drilling and installation.  Since both crews, Juba and Kajo Keji, are in northern Uganda right now, we basically have four teams moving around — 2 drillings teams, 2 installation teams.  The drill guys go into a village, punch the hole in the ground and then move on to drill the next hole.  After the drill team is finished drilling, the installation guys come in and lay the pedestal, instal the actual hand pump over the hole, and set it up for use.  I was completely fascinated by every set of installation.  I helped lay brick and mortar and pour the concrete for the pedestal.  These guys are so detailed and accurate.  Excellence is their goal.  It was like one big craft project.  I loved it.
IMG_6145^ A note on the benefits of rural living: Less schedule.  Y’all, we’re all kinds of stressed out and confused in America.  People have their schedules and to-do list buzzing in their ears and glued to their sides.  We just can’t seem to pack enough in our days and no matter where we are, we’re most likely thinking about what’s next.  But people who live deep in the bush are fully present in everything they do.  Take these women for example.  Their agenda consists of fetching water, hand-farming the ground, gathering fire wood, cooking meals, and this day: they danced.  I’m not saying the way they live is 100% better than the American way of life, but I do believe that there is a happy medium between their less scheduled yet hardworking lives and our ultra-scheduled, instant gratification lifestyle.  They have flex room in their lives, and because of that, they were able to set down what was in front of them and ‘properly greet’ us, their visitors.  We were so humbled.

 

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^ I made some friends, via laughter and proving I could cut cassava, with these girls.  Through broken english and lots of pointing and gestures, we figured out two of the girls (in the top picture) were named Kathleen and Lillian.  I then tried to explain that that meant they were my African Mom and Grandmom.  Two things are true here when language isn’t a common bond: laughter and working alongside people makes instant friends.

 

IMG_6193^ Two weeks ago we had (AMAZING) professional photographers here to document MHI and WHI, and for these few weeks we are part of a few videographers’ documentary.  They are making a film for a few film festivals in the States, and WHI is one of their subjects.  I’ve been amazed at the equipment and detail they’ve put into the shots and interviews — the photo and video lover in me is just a little giddy (ok, a lot giddy) about the final product!

 

I just figured out today that we were only in Juba for 8.5 weeks before being evacuated.  We’ve been gone from Juba for right over 9 weeks as of today.  Life in a suitcase has it’s moments, and I miss ‘life in our own nest’ more than I’d like to think about, but this field trip has been amazing.   Please keep praying for our crews, for abundant clean water, for transformed communities and villages, and that God would use all that we do to draw people to Himself.

Packin’ Bags and Headin’ Out

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I packed my bags this morning.  Not everything, but the “essentials plus”, which translates to ‘the things I really need, plus hairspray, leggings, tennis shoes, and a bag of craft supplies’ [see
this post for better understanding on ‘essentials’ vs ‘ essentials plus’].  And yes, I am officially an African because as of yesterday I am an owner of a giant zipper travel bag.  Believe it or not, this is the second-to-smallest size.  And yes, I am aware of my heightened diva status by owning and using such an animal print.  It was either zebra, Disney princesses, or Obama’s face.  I think I made the right choice. 

I’m going to the field, folks!  First-timer and quite excited.  Yes, it’s true: my man has been the WHI Project Manager for over a year and I’ve never been the field to see a borehole drilled.  Ridiculous, yet reconcilable — and happening today!

There are a few projects going on with work that call me to being in the bush, but there’s also a fine human being who I haven’t seen in two weeks who I am quite excited about spending some time with.  Plus I’ll get to see him in his ‘playing in the dirt’ element.  Being in the field drilling is the part of his job that he gets to do the least of, but loves the most.  I’m excited to see it all happen firsthand!

In this case, no news for awhile doesn’t mean anything except that we don’t have constant internet in the field.  But I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to share to make up for lost blog time after this couple-of-weeks adventure.  Until then, suitcase living continues!

 

 

What to Pack for an Evac

 

(I’m sorry I’m not sorry for the cheesy, rhyme-y title — I have to keep myself entertained somehow!)

Many people have asked what we packed when we were evacuated in December.  What kind of luggage did we take, what kinds of things from our home did we bring along, how much did we pack?  All very good questions, and rightly so that people are curious.  I mean, I now have personal experience with the process (something I never imagined being on my ‘be there, done that’ list), but when I hear the word ‘evacutation’ I still think of helicopters landing everywhere and military people signaling and yelling to jump on, and then being chopper-ed away to safety.  (**NOTE: That is not how our evacuation worked. AT ALL.**)  So I totally understand that people want to know the details.

When we initially understood that fighting was happening in Juba town, we packed ‘go bags’ so if anything sudden happened we could just grab them and go.  But (thankfully) nothing urgent or sudden happened, so then we lived out of our go bags for the next two days.  By Wednesday morning, when it was time to leave, it was time to repack and really go.  Grant was already at the airport (dropping someone else off for a purchased-ticket-scheduled-flight) so I had to do my best to get everything he would need as well.  That was a success and a fail. I’m still learning how to think, and pack, for two.

Here it is people, the essentials. Or at least what I thought was essential when packing. DSC_0405
Clothing:
– 1 pair of shoes… If you don’t own Chacos, I think you’re wrong.  I live in them. They’re basically all-encompasing. Good for errands, working outside, nice dinner out (hey, I didn’t have options here) — everything shoes.  They are essential.
– 1 travel pillow… I normally sleep with 3-5 of them. I settled on bringing just one.
– my favorite black knit dress… I tell you, no matter where you live, a black dress is a must.
– a neutral scarf… I’m not an accessory girl, but I knew I would need something, and actually remembered to pack it. #victory
– 2 knit skirts
– 2 ‘cute’ shirts
– 2 dry-fit shirts
– 1 pair of athletic shorts
– 3 sports bras
– 4 undies
– 1 pull-over jacket

DSC_0408Non-clothing:
– my water bottle… heck, I can’t walk from one room in our house to another without this. It’s my ‘security blanket’.
– iPhone & Africa phone
– my burlap bag and elephant bag… full of cords, chargers, earbuds, connectors, etc.
– my planner, Bible, and Kindle… I would be lost without these.
– laptop
– drawing tablet & stylus pen
– contact solution, contact case, & glasses
– matches, scissors, & pocket knife… I was trying to be prepared for the worst.  And yes, all the airlines let me take them in my carry-on…
– washi tape… one of the best, unknown, packed items. The joy that consumed my body when I found I packed this was overwhelming.
– q-tips… can’t go a day without them.
– hairbrush
– toothpaste
– deodorant
– toothbrush
– 6 bobby pins… I protected and kept track of these as if my life depended on it. …though my life doesn’t, my sanity kind of does actually.  Hair in the face or on the neck = psycho me.
– triple antibiotic ointment… This is a must. I’m not super accident-proned, but I learned as a child that I can’t go anywhere without getting hurt. Minor, but hurt.  This evacuation proved no different.  I trip and ripped all the skin off one of my toes.  It got nasty infected too. Triple antibiotic ointment to the rescue!
– tweezers
– nail clippers
– 2 headbands… Again, like the scarf, I was trying to be functional yet fashionable… the case is still open as to whether I succeeded in the latter.
– 1 Sharpie… Life Rule: don’t go anywhere without one.
– external hard drive

And it was all packed in my backpack (photo 1).  It’s doable, y’all.

Things I really should have included:
– leggings… I think this every time I’m in Kampala without them.  It’s foolish to leave them behind when we’re riding around on the back of motorbikes. Sister is lookin’ a fool trying to hold on and keep her skirt at an appropriate length. Note to self: never forget leggings again.
– tennis shoes… I just didn’t have room this time.  There were SO many instances that I wished I had had them. There are great places to go for long walks in Kampala.  Next time.
– a swimsuit… I thought about it when I was packing, but then forgot to grab it.  I ended up (spending all my fun money and) buying one, so it worked out.

Things I grieved not packing but got over a few weeks into it:
– hairspray… you can take me out of the South, you can even make me sweat all day, everyday, but I love my hairspray and want to use it.
– mascara… Kampala is the one place on this side of the world that I’ve been to, can live an entire day, and can be not completely nasty and covered in sweat and grim by the end of the day.  Therefore I enjoy attempting to look put together there (i.e., use a brush, hairspray, and mascara).  I was bummed not to have my ‘essentials for attempting a put together look’.  Let’s just say I really depended on that scarf and those headbands to work magic.  The case is still open here too if they did their part.

Things I forgot to include in the photos:
– a year’s worth of contacts… I didn’t know how long we would be gone, or if our house would still be there when we got back. Gotta take what you can’t get over here.
– a year’s worth of a prescription
– my camera… used to take said photos.

I was overall pretty pleased with how I packed.  Of course I wished I had packed the other 5 dresses I was originally planning on bringing, but Grant was right that I would survive without them.  And I did. And we both knew I had overpacked my backpack with what was in it already.

If you haven’t read Jen Hatmaker’s book, Seven, you need to (she’s brilliant, and hilarious).  And if you have read it and taken her up on the month challenge of wearing the same 7 articles of clothing for one month, then you know it’s possible.  I guess I can’t speak 100% intelligibly about that, I had a few more than seven, but I believe it’s possible.  Less-than-normal, no matter what you’re speaking about, always shows me two things:
1. I don’t really need the ‘normal’ amount.  It always proves a little more excessive than what’s needed.
2. I really appreciate the gift of what I have.  And if those things have become normal, I am quick to recognize that my ‘normal’ is actually ‘very privilege and blessed’.

So no, we didn’t take anything from our home, we didn’t take luggage, but had more than enough.  And even having one of the guy’s bring one box of additional things to us here in Kajo Keji, from Juba, has reminded me that we have a whole house’s worth of things that we’re not  using, and we’re fine.  Now don’t get me wrong: I will be giddy to use those things again, but we’re not dying without them.
(Hear me on this too: there should be no guilt in you for what you have.  Maybe it’s time to simplify, or fast from something for a bit, but please don’t let it be guilt driven. Guilt is stupid.)

We’re so grateful for the ways in which God protected us and provided for us during the evacuation, and for how His grace has surrounded and ushered us over the last two months.  I’m not quite ready to live my entire life out of a backpack, but it’s doable.

Think BIG

I think of of the reasons I’ve been in this funk lately is because I’ve been too in my own head.  You know when you start thinking about only you and then everything gets cloudy and ugly?  I think that’s part of my problem.   And I actually think it can become a major problem if we don’t start thinking bigger than ourselves.

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Have you been there before?  “Would someone PLEASE tell me something about themselves or let me do something for them, because if I think about me for one more second I’ll explode!” Anyone? Bueller?

I have a proposition.  I know we’re already a month into the new year, but it’s never to late to start something good. This might sound like a selfish request, but it actually has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the people of the world’s newest country.

Did you know that over 413,000 South Sudanese have been displaced in the last five weeks alone because of the current conflict?  Did you know that 1 out 7 mothers in S.Sudan die during childbirth, and 1 out 4 babies who make it out of his/her mother’s womb safely does not live to his/her 1st birthday??  And on top of that, over 2/3 of South Sudan’s people rely on unclean water sources for daily use (food preparation, drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, etc)?  Did you know the majority of children who start going to school never make it past a second grade education?? Second grade.  I don’t mean to get all “save the children” commercial-y on you, but there is great need in the world, even in this one country! There is need bigger than ourselves.

SO, my proposition:  what if you gave up something small and gave it towards something big?

**Now hear me, please, I am sooo not about guilt-driven decisions.  In fact, I loathe guilt and I do not support this “Well, I probably should do this” way of thinking   ‘Should’, in that type of context, is guilt.  No me gusto guilt.  No no no.  SO, know there is no guilt or persuasion involved here. This is simply an opportunity I’m giving you to consider. **

This opportunity is 3-step:
1. Click this -> Think_Big_2014    (It might take a second to load, but it’ll come!)
2. Really think about and pray over the idea of giving, even a little, to a cause bigger than yourself, bigger than us, bigger than our comfortable worlds.  (And remember, don’t let guilt weigh your decision.  Guilt is no bueno and has no part in this decision.)
3. Decide if this is something you’re going to be involved in this year.  If it is: rock on!!  If it’s not, for whatever reason: no sweat, no guilt, no shame.  Think big elsewhere.

There are a lot of people who need help in South Sudan, and many people are receiving help through the organization we’re a part of (and even better: they’re hearing the gospel of Jesus, and seeing it physically displayed!)   This is not about y’all giving to us — this is about you being a part of something bigger — of giving to people who really need.

Just consider it.  Take your time.  Ask God if He might be leading you or a group you’re a part of to give, even a little, be that time in prayer or something in your wallet, to support an organization who’s mission is to help and love people in this new country in the name of Jesus.

And whether it’s this opportunity for you or not, I challenge you: How can you think big today, this week, in 2014?

The Search for Lemonade

You know they say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”  But have you ever felt buried in lemons?

Vulnerable preface time: I’ve been in the most awkward of funks lately.  The root is still unknown, but the fruit of said awkward stint is very present and very undesirable.  And it’s keeping me from blogging, from sharing life, from a lot of things, and I’m not ok with it.  So with that being said, I have no idea where this post will go, how to give an update on our life, nor feel like I have any brightness to share today.  However, seeing as it’s been a long time since a life update has been given, and with a desire to keep you, our community, close by our side, I figured I’d attempt to share, and maybe in that, some of these lemons would get squeezed into lemonade.

I’ve got to rewind a bit, but we’ll catch up quickly:

So we were evacuated from our home mid-December.  Monday, December 16th, 2013: We woke up just like any other Monday.  Grant beat me out the door to go work out, so after breakfast when I left our house, I heard popping sounds from in town.  I asked the cooks what that noise was when they told me there had been fighting in Juba Sunday night.  That popping sound was joined with bigger ‘kabooms’ so we all packed our “go bags” and got ready incase an evacuation was necessary.  We were informed to stay on our compound, which we did, for the next three days.  By Wednesday morning, December 18th, the US Embassy strongly encouraged us to evacuate Juba. So we did.  This is the very condensed version, but basically we grabbed our go bags, made our way to the Juba airport, waited for 9+ hours with a lot of other people trying to get out, were evacuated to Kenya, and then flew to Uganda.  It wasn’t my favorite day of my life thus far, but even in the midst of stress and minor chaos, we were so thankful for God’s provision and protection and to be someplace quiet and peaceful at the end of the day.

We spent our Christmas holiday in Kampala.  God graced us with the most idyllic house on a lovely compound with, who I am believing to be, angels for neighbors.  We joined in with these new friends in their Christmas cookie decorating party, in their Christmas day lunch (homemade pork ribs, what’s up!), and to drink hot wassail and watch a Christmas movie.  They even brought us a tiny tree to have in our little home.  We had a completely normal, abnormal, Christmas.  (And for those of you who know me, that was a really really sweet gift!)  We lived it up over the holiday… we got massages, ate good food, went to a pool, hung out with friends in Kampala, I got a manicure, we rested, we reflected on 2013, and we made goals and looked ahead to 2014.  We have experienced a whole lot of emotion over the past month; we trust that God is good no matter what’s going on.
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We’re posted up in our old home of Kajo Keji now (read more of God’s great kindness about how we got here in the previous post). It’s one of my favorite places on this side of the world.  It feel so much better here than Juba – physical temperature better, but also just how the town feels.  The people are precious, the market is calm, there’s laughter everywhere. We love this place and are thankful to be here.

Thankful to be here.  We are.  I am.  Thankfulness is something I’ve never really struggled with.  Even in crummy situations.  I think if you were to ask any of my closest closes, they’d tell you I could see the good in anything.  Without totally beating this little lemon analogy, I really believe that thankfulness is the sweet that makes the bitter lemon turn into lemonade.  So why can I only see lemons, LOTS of lemons, right now?

This little season of awkward funk has me feeling all sorts of disoriented.  I feel like the ‘normal’ me has up and vanished and that I’m left with this new, sad, bitter, apathetic, passion-less version of myself.  Nothing really feels normal anymore.  I don’t know why this season, these feelings, are here, I cry and pray for it to pass, and mid-last week I was given a challenge to help fight it: make a list of what you’re thankful for.

I was almost offended. “What I am thankful for?? Do you know who I am?! Do you know what characterizes me? I am thankful! Thankfulness is like, what I do!”  But then I thought about it.  This person had told me that the enemy of my gratefulness is my comparison.  Enter all sorts of bells ringing and lights turning on.

I have become the most ungrateful person over the last eight-ish months.  Life is totally different than planned for, certain hopes have been postponed, the fire has been turned up and all sorts of ugly human dross is rising to the top of this girl.  God is doing some seriously refining work, and instead of being grateful for His intimate and personal dealings with me, I have chosen to compare my life to others’  and pine after the comforts of what I’ve known in the past.

So though I would love to proclaim that this revelation has been the deliverance from this season, that I have been set free from this present heaviness, that it’s all said and done…. I’m not quite there yet.  I speak of these things from in the thick of it, not yet from the mountaintops.  But I’m daily reminded there is hope, and I find my comfort there.  Here are a few of the little reminders I have been clinging to:

“Hope is a person and his name is Jesus.” – unknown

“The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God will be enough on the sad days.” – Matt Chandler

“Patience to wait does not come from suffering long for what we lack but from sitting long in what we have.” – Beth Moore

“The LORD will do great things for me, and I will be filled with joy.  I will sow in tears, then I will reap with songs of joy.  If I go out weeping, Lord, carrying seed to sow, I will return with songs of joy, caring sheaves with me.” – Psalm 126.3, 5-6, prayed in this book

I am able to give thanks, in all things, only and simply because GOD IS GOOD. No matter how I feel.  His love endures FOREVER. There is joy found here.     “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 106.1 

So I’m on a quest for lemonade in the midst of lemons.  Relearning how to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess 5.18).  Asking for this cup to pass but wanting God’s will above my own.

Here are a few things from last week that make my ‘Things about My Life that I’m Thankful for’ list an actual list:
1. Baby Jillian.  She can make almost any low point better.  I mean look at her. We’re buddies and I love her and she brings such joy to my days.
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2. Laughter.  Put these three together, in a tiny storeroom with three mice, or just together in general, and you are guaranteed feel-it-in-your-stomach laughter.  I’m thankful for these three. ….and Grant’s mouse-killing skill with flip flops alone.
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3. Baking.  Some things are true all over the world: sweet, warm treats, fresh out of an oven, taste really good.  There’s something very homey and normal and good about baking.
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4. Painting.  I used to paint all the time — like multiple times a week.  I miss it terribly.  Good news: a box of really good paints was uncovered on the compound yesterday, which meant therapy time for all! This heart was so thankful.
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If you’re pinned down by lemons, lots of them, whether reason known or unknown, join me on this little journey.  God gives abundantly.  We have lots to be thankful for.  Let’s make some lemonade.

The Best Turn of Events…

(Clarification: this is still not my first post of the new year…)

OH what an above-and-beyond God, who loves so sweetly, and gives and “does immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3.20).  Y’all, I just have to share what happened today. As mentioned in the last post, we were supposed to go from Kampala to Kajo Keji via a little puddle-jumper plane, but it involved being dropped in Yei, and then driving on not-actually-made-for-vehicles, really rocky and rough road for 5-ish hours.  We were prepared for this.  I had been asking God for grace enough for each moment, to give me joy in the midst of a crazy and uncomfortable ride (especially with said tailbone/lower back issues), and to take us to Kajo Keji with no added hang ups.

We walked into the flight office to find out the pilot was taking us… straight to Kajo Keji!! Y’all, I wanted to hug the two men at the little check-in desk (I chose enthusiastic high-fives, as to not freak them out. I’m learning to put a little cap on my excitement.)  We hopped on this little 12-seater plane with three other people and made our way north.  An hour and a half later, we were in Kajo Keji!  No stop in Yei, no horrible roads, no tears in my eyes due to my tailbone/back.  Such a gift!!!

Added bonus: we drove into the compound and guess who I saw?!  My dearest of hearts, Gloria, is back at work!  And because Jillian is still nursing, she and Agnes were on the compound too! A day in which I thought would be a great test of my endurance and patience and joy turned into a day of great thankfulness and pure delight.  I mean, look at this little one that I snuggled and carried all day — how else does one say “Best!!” ?!

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I’ve never understood why people put their babes in cold-weather beanies here… but I learned today that it’s “for the dust”.  It helps in keeping the dust out of their hair and ears during the dry season. An extra hot solution, but a solution nonetheless!

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Uncle Grant was teaching Jillian how to be cool…. We love love love this little one!
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So clearly there’s more going on over here than just sweet baby Jillian (I realize the last 15+ photos on this blog have been about her), and I’ll get to those things soon, but she’s just too sweet not to note!

Thank you all for praying for us, especially in these past few weeks — we are overwhelmed at God’s graciousness and lavished love. He is so abundant.

 

Headed Back

*This is not counting as my first post of the new year.  That will come soon and with much more ‘beginning of the new year’ type of content.  This is just a little “here’s what’s going on” update.*

After a really lovely and very Christmas-full vacation and break, we are headed back to South Sudan tomorrow via a little MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) plane.  We are going to Kajo Keji, not Juba, for the time being.  Our flight leaves Uganda at 10:00pm Wednesday CST (7:00am Thursday our time) , and after a few little stops we’ll arrive in Yei, then drive to Kajo Keji… the plane can’t make all it’s stops and make it back to Kampala if it stops in Kajo Keji, therefore we’ll stop in Yei and drive the route to Kajo Keji.

 

We ask for your prayers for a few things:
1. Safety as we fly, as we drive, and that we make it to KK all in one day.

2. Though this might sound like a little thing, rumor has it that the road from Yei to Kajo Keji is rough… like really rough/worse than any other roads we’ve been on… and because of that little slip that happened in November 2012, my tailbone and lower back is a constant pain.  Rough roads make it worse.  Without sounding like too much of a Whinnie Whinner, I ask that you pray for my body as we ride the roads for 4-5 hours.  I trust God for grace enough for those moments. (You are invited (please!) to pray for my attitude too.  Grant will tell you that such roads bring out the worst version of me… #roadsofrefinement)

3. Please, please, please continue to pray for peace and growth and nonviolent resolution in Juba/South Sudan.  We hear many different things (as are you, I’m sure, if you’re reading the news) about it’s current status and what could be happening in the near future, but we are trusting God with great hope that He will bring peace to that place and these people.  Please continue to pray with us.

4. For Grant and the drill crew guys who will be meeting up in Kajo Keji to drill in KK and in northern Uganda for the next few weeks.  That God will give them wisdom, health, protection, discernment, and success and they prepare to drill and make their trips to the villages.  (More on all that in coming posts🙂 )
THANK YOU for praying with us, for us, and for these people we love.  Gosh.  So much to process, so much to hope for.  What a gift to follow and trust the one, true, Living God.  More from Kajo Keji soon (Lord willing!)

 

Something Like an Auntie

I spent the whole month of June 2012 in Kajo Keji.  It was just two months before we got married, which kind of seems crazy now, leaving wedding planning for five whole weeks (sorry if that was super stressful, mom and dad…).  But everyone involved thought it wise for me to actually spend some time on the ground in the place I was going to call home before actually moving here. (The beginning of this might be a repeat for some of you faithful readers… but keep going, the pictures get really good at the end!)

Sitting in the airport, I asked God for a friend.  A mentor.  A girl in Kajo Keji who could teach me the ropes. You know, how to cook different meals from the same four types of produce, how to buy things in the market, how to wash clothes by hand, how to be a real African woman.

Enter Gloria. If you’ve read any posts from pre-life-in-Juba, you know her well. She is the dearest of dear. A real heart connection for me.  We can talk serious talks, we can laugh until our muscles hurt, she is a sweet among sweets and a God-given mentor/sister/friend to me.

Now though I don’t know if I mentioned this via blog, when I left in early July I was on the edge of my seat with excitement, because by the time I returned to South Sudan, Gloria was going to be a momma!!
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Ladies and gentlemen, everyone in the world, let me introduce to you my new favorite little human being: Jillian Wuute (Wuute is pronounced Ehwt-Day… local language phonetics, I can’t explain… sorry.)
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So I’m not a biological aunt yet, and because of that I have previously been one of those people who don’t quite understand people’s obsession with their new nieces and nephews via social media. You know, the people who post photos and write things like, “Being an aunt is the best thing ever!!!” I just didn’t get it. (And for that, I ask the forgiveness of all of you who have ever posted a photo of you and your precious niece and nephews with similar descriptions)  Yep, didn’t get it. …until now.  Gloria and I chatted throughout her pregnancy about how I was going to be Jillian’s “mizungu mum”, i.e., the baby’s white-skinned momma.  And of course, since there is no momma for this baby like Gloria is, if I don’t get to claim ‘mom’ status, then I definitely get to claim auntie status. …and I will! …and I do!!

Y’all, I’m completely obsessed with her. She is so tiny, and so sweet, and has the most captivating big eyes ever. I just didn’t want to give her back!  Spending the afternoon with Gloria, Agnes, Jillian, their family and the neighbor kids was one of the best parts of being back in Kajo Keji this past weekend. Time with these girls is food for my soul.

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DSC_0300^ Sweetness: This is grandma (more locally known as “ah-boo-bah”), mom, auntie, and baby. Three sweet generations!

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papoose-01^ If I’m going to be a real auntie, I’ve gotta learn to papoose!   [Africans call it ‘tying’, and it is the most normal, common way to carry a baby around East Africa. But I often wonder what an American would do if I strapped a baby on like this to shop the aisle of a grocery store in the US… ]

 

Because Agnes proved to be the master at Uno and Pass the Pigs when we lived in Kajo Keji, she got her own set of both games. …which we quickly put to use. DSC_0223
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And because the neighbor kids are beautiful and I delight in hearing their giddy laughter when they see photos of themselves, here are some snaps of their sweet faces.
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Oh and one more precious fact?  In July, after months of name talk and research, Gloria asked me to get a list of five girl names and five boy names from “Momma Elizabeth” (my mom) so that she could pick a name from that list for the baby. What name was on that girl’s name list as well as on the ‘potential baby name’ list in my baby book?  Yep! Jillian.  So my parents don’t have any biological grand babies yet, but they have an African one! Too sweet!

Yep. I get it now. Auntie life is the best.