freedom.

i’m on a bumpy bus ride from livingstone to lusaka, zambia. wide awake with a million thoughts from the weekend, running through my mind faster than the blur of trees passing by.

…i bungee jumped victoria falls…

ah! i’ve been dreaming of this moment since i was twelve years old. i saw some pictures in a national geographic magazine and knew, even as little lauren, that my first bungee jump would have to be victoria falls bridge. so with almost seventeen years of anticipation, and fewer straps than felt necessary, i hopped [like, actually hopped?] to the edge of the bridge. my dream was about to be fulfilled, and all i could think about [and tell the camera!] was that i might pee my pants. standing there on the edge, i started to doubt my dream. i wanted to back up, to back out. so many things could go wrong. i’m too young to die. i can’t feel my legs anymore. fear.

…five, four, three, two, one, arms out, camera on, bungee…

with arms spread wide and my voice raised high, i dove through the fear, head first into my dream. joy flooded every part of my being and i was giggling with euphoria. it was better than i had ever imagined.

…bounce,bounce,bounce,taking in the beauty, and freedom came out of nowhere…

literally. the guy who came out to get me, hanging in the middle of my dream, was named freedom. and isn’t that always the way? we jump through our fears, and freedom sweeps in. it’s the most beautiful promise.

of course, every great adventure reminds me of times past, and so i began to think about climbing kilimanjaro. i lived in tanzania almost three years before i got the chance to climb. the wait was shorter, but the dream was no less precious. you see, the peak of mt. kilimanjaro, the highest point in all of africa, is called uhuru, which means freedom in swahili.

those first three years of memories in tanzania are painted with kilimanjaro as the backdrop. before the courage house ever opened, i would see the mountain and pray psalm 121. that wherever girls were trapped in prostitution, they would get a glimpse of uhuru peak and know that their help, their freedom, comes from the lord.

eventually, i got my chance to climb, and fear also met me at the brink of this dream. i wondered if i would make it, if i had what it took. i wondered if the courage house would ever open, if i had what it took. i wondered and i walked and i prayed. finally, surprisingly, i found myself within view of the summit, freedom. i practically ran to uhuru peak [let’s be honest for a minute, my exhausted run was like a person trying to run with a treadmill on the lowest setting. embarrassing]

with arms spread wide and my voice raised high, i ran through my fear, and stood atop my dream. joy flooded every part of my being and i was giggling with euphoria. it was better than i ever imagined.

sometimes the journey to freedom is a long, steady climb up a mountain. sometimes it only takes a small hop off the edge. whether i’m climbing a mountain, jumping off a bridge, or walking across a country, i pray my arms will always be spread wide, my voice raised high, and giggling. because freedom isn’t in a weak whisper. it’s meant to be loud and exhilarating and the most beautiful, joyful adventure.

the bumps.

so i started riding my bike to work.
it’s slower (and harder).
and i love it.

there’s something i realize with each new day on the same route.
that one place where the sand makes peddling impossible.
the crack in the pavement at the ditch by the round about. slow and steady.
the bumpy dirt road by the dukas. snake around the holes and hold your breath.
the huge hill. maybe i sing the rocky song as i climb? maybe.
there’s the adorable kids strategically placed to distract you at the same moment that you near the thorny bushes. you can fill in the blank of how this ends.
then there’s the smooth road with the beautiful ocean beckoning beside me.
and the long awaited downhill coasting as the wind cools you off.

it’s all part of the same journey.

of course as i ride, i think and i pray.  life here is not so different than this ride to work.  there are beautiful things that take your attention and your breath in an instant.  but it doesn’t take long to find the bumps, which also take your attention and your breath in an instant.

the beauty and pain in this life is the most profound paradox. i went to lunch the other day and filled my stomach with delicious beans and rice, then spent the afternoon at an orphanage where a girl with malaria was refusing to eat because she wanted her mom, her mom who died a month ago. bump. i heard reports of a young life camp where forty something kids began a relationship with jesus! the same night, another young life kid in kenya was shot by muslim extremists. bump.  i’m getting paid to do a job that’s better than i could dream! on my way to work, i pass guys making brick after brick day after day. bump. a woman tells me with pride that her grandmother is 100 and still as strong and smart as ever.  i go outside to hear the cries of a woman who just lost her mother too soon. bump.

i don’t have an answer for the paradox, but i’m not anxious to move from this bumpy road. in fact, as i write this, i’m listening to the lumineers sing:

“it’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
the opposite of love’s indifference.
so pay attention now…
keep your head up
keep your love”

and that’s the point, isn’t it?  keep your head up.  look around. slow down enough to notice what’s happening around you. then commit yourself to love. love extravagantly. love unconditionally. love love love.  because the greatest of these IS love.

karibu tena.

welp. here i am. back in the land that i love. well, the other land that i love.

i was shocked at the (lack of) transition in the past few days. as the plane hit the ground, my stomach flooded with butterflies.  ok, so maybe that was mostly a result of the roller coaster landing.  but, it triggered an excitement in my heart that hasn’t stopped.

i remember my first time in tanzania… i sat outside the airport, waiting for my ride (and coming to terms with “african time”). i saw a girl with a tanzanian flag pinned to her backpack, walking and talking with such ease. i wondered if i would ever fit here, if this place would ever feel like mine in that way. two years away was quite a test, but as i walked around town on friday, i realized that this country is part of my home. maybe i won’t ever have a lame flag-badge on my backpack to prove it, but it has been so comforting to feel my heart come alive here, in places that have been still for two years too long. and bonus, my swahili is still pretty decent!

i don’t think i can articulate exactly how perfect everything aligned for this summer, but the chance to stop in moshi first was the cherry on top of an unbelievably delicious cake. i stayed with the helblings, my home away from home, and i guess rafiki was the only one missing.  i tried not to have too many expectations or make too many plans, just wanted to see what would happen.  well, i woke up bright and early the first morning (no jet lag!) in time to go jogging with stacy.  we laughed and talked as kilimanjaro hid behind the clouds and sweat dripped onto the ground we’ve traveled so many times. what a sweet start to the simple life i’ve missed.  we greeted the banana ladies…and they said thank you, because, well, i have no idea why they said thank you, but it makes me laugh.

sunday i went to church then met the courage house girls for lunch. it was the most joyous reunion.  editha is away at school, but i got to talk to her on the phone, and we couldn’t stop laughing at the goodness of god to bring me back.  stella’s son joshua is so big now, and watching him laugh and explore was the best gift.  to know that he continues to live with purpose and celebration is one of the most beautiful miracles i’ve ever been privileged to witness. all of their lives are miraculous, and i still can’t believe god let me be a part of their stories. the craziest life.

i thought i would have some super profound things to say by now. observations of life and of time. nope. i’m just happy. really happy. so here’s some pictures to tide you over. oh. one last thing. if you’re wondering why i’m in tanzania for the summer, well, it’s not your business. just kidding, calm down.  here’s a link to the project i’m working on: ylfreedomwalk.org

a little joy ride on the old scooter.

stella and joshua.

stella and joshua.

 

i got to see luka! growing fast and speaking english.

i got to see luka! growing fast and speaking english.

 

hey there

yep. i’m still here. alive and well.

i’m teaching kids to swim again this summer. reach. kick. pull. legs together. face in the water. bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.    i learned the same things way back when. somewhere along the way, it all fit together, and swimming became a mindless activity for me to exhaust my body when i needed to think.

i drove through an empty parking lot this morning and laughed at the thought of my dad teaching me to park (and drive…such a fearless man!) in the heat of the summer.  oh, the arguments were heated too.  why couldn’t i just put one foot on each pedal?  what did it matter if my hands were at ten and two?  and let’s turn the radio up, for pete’s sake.  who’s pete anyways? how am i ever supposed to remember all of these things at once?  the insecurity and frustration seem comical as i drive and daydream of days gone by, completely unaware of the thousand tasks i’m doing at once.

this evening i’m thinking about all the parts that make up the whole.  there’s so much richness in the process.  in an instant my thoughts drift to the simplicity of life in tanzania. american life seems like the mindless whir of a long swim or the daily drive to work. my life in tanzania was about practicing the parts that make you better at the whole of life.

in tanzania i learned to dig into the dirt and bury the seeds.  to bite into the miracle of life and growth. it was sweeter than i expected.  i learned to collect the eggs from the chicken coop each morning. i really actually enjoyed the chopping and slicing and dicing.  the boiling and the peeling.  it seemed much more creative and exciting than just adding water and heating for five minutes. it wasn’t  just about food.  i learned to wash my clothes by hand.  i learned about solar electricity and how the whole system works. nights were often lit by candles, and full of conversation as the hours melted away.  i walked to town before i drove, memorized the trees and the bumps and cracks in the road.  all the things that used to seem so inconvenient quickly became my favorites.  not so much because they were easy, but because they reminded me of all the hard work that goes into life. they helped me to slow down and appreciate the little things.  to take it all in. haraka haraka, haina baraka.

welp, i’m nine months back into the land of the free and the home of the brave.  working out the kinks.  how do i continue to practice my kicking and breathing until i can effortlessly swim again in these american waters?   is that even what i want? maybe practicing simplicity will equip me to drive well in any country…and i’ll turn the radio up, for pete’s sake.

IMG_1637

between dreams

so i moved to america. that’s crazy, right?

it’s been 47 days. i just counted, and it blew my mind. in the middle of the night, somewhere between the prayers and the thoughts, comes an intense feeling of missing that beautiful place and those beautiful people.  the girls at courage house. the kids in the village. the missionary community. the mighty mountain always the backdrop. that was my life for so long, and i was so entangled in it all.  i guess leaving feels a bit like being ripped apart.  

and now i’m here. redding, california.  trying to tangle myself up into a new lovely place and new lovely people. there’s still so many strands of my head and my heart that are tangled across an ocean.  and it’s not like i expected.  this in between dreams, it’s bittersweet.

so i’m practicing gratitude.  just a meager attempt to stay in the moment. so here are seven sweet things recently.

fallen leaves, hearts laid on the path.
swahili nobody understands.
chalkboard painted walls.
yardwork. sun and sweat and slow, steady progress.
the river with rafiki.
sunsets on the hilltop.
christmas lights in my room.  constant electricity.

anashida na wewe

he has a problem with you.

he needs to speak with you.

he needs to ask you for a  favor.

you won’t know what to say.

you won’t know what to do.

you’ll try your best to help with the solution.

this cycle is becoming all too common lately.  there’s a part of me that longs to not hear it.  with the first murmur of anashida na wewe, my heart starts pumping faster and i can hear dixie chicks  singing “ready to run” in my head.  just kidding.  that’s what i do when things get serious, i tell awkward jokes.  oh well.

so yesterday, the cycle beckoned, and i couldn’t avoid.  i stood on the shores of redemption and new life, and listened as the chief talked about fading life.  there was a woman in his village that tried to have an abortion and now she needed to get to a hospital, fast.  there are few, if any, vehicles around, so i was nominated as the ambulance.  we loaded her in as the nurse told me the gory details, and i tried to remain calm.

i drove as the conflict swirled.  i hate murder. i hate abortion. i love life. i love people. so what happens when those two stances collide?  what happens when a woman has an abortion, and now she’s screaming that she’s dying in the back seat of my car?  what happens is that my heart breaks wide open and i cry out to god.

in the middle of the who’s and what’s and why’s and how’s, i felt peace fill the car.  the questions stopped and i became overwhelmingly aware of god’s love for this precious woman.  she opened her eyes as i looked back at her.  a small window of consciousness, so i told her god loves her. i told her god forgives her for everything.  then i told her god loves her, one more time.  she closed her eyes and kept writhing.

we left her at the hospital, with promises of good care and hopeful improvement.  we ate dinner to celebrate the courage house girls’ baptism (that’s where we were when this all began).  eventually i snuggled into my comfortable bed, then awoke to a text that this precious mama didn’t make it.

in this woman’s last hours, she needed love.  in all of our less desperate hours, we need this same love.  the powerful, transforming, life giving love of god. so we are to offer it, without restraint.  we are to invite his kingdom to come to earth and make beautiful things.

god’s will is done, and i still don’t understand.

goodthings

  1. a family in the village just had a new baby.  as i held the sweet little day old ball of precious, her parents asked me to name her.  what an honor! the best thing ever.  right away, i knew her name was grace. now i can’t stop thinking about identity.  how even our words and our actions shape the identity of others.  what am i naming the people around me?
  2. yesterday, i went on a hike in machame (mt. kilimanjaro). it was lovely.   a big slippery, sunshiney, up and down maze.  everytime i go, i wonder why i don’t do it more often.  this is a beautiful life, and i don’t want to miss a thing. (hey aersomith)
  3. i have been around a lot of english people lately.  i’m trying my hardest to integrate lovely and brilliant into my everyday vocabulary.  and crackers.
  4. rafiki is learning to shake hands.  he might just be the smartest puppy on the block.
  5. full moons are interesting and all, but when it finally goes away, and i get a glimpse of all the stars again, it takes my breath away.  stars are one of my most favorite things in the whole wide world.
  6. when the girls at the courage house laugh.  that laugh that comes deep down from your belly.  it’s the biggest win i’ve ever seen.  i can’t get enough.
  7. bon iver. the end.