student discounts!

I have been running in circles for the past three years. Plane tickets to places where I wanted to help kept me grounded, waiting on my next flight and dictating my future. It was almost impossible to pull all of me back out of Africa and bring her fully back to the here and now. I grew up in a world of forever, always in one place. We never moved. My grandparents never left the tiny towns in which they were born and they were all born less than 30 miles from each other. We stay. We work forever in the same job and retire there. I have no grid for a girl with three homes. Except, I am one. My thoughts, my grid, my lens will forever be viewed through a bit of Mozambican culture. My work ethic will forever be Davis. My views a little more Labour Party than Democrat or Republican. My religious preference more Anglican than Baptist. I've ingested bits of the cultures surrounding me and I have changed. 

I could never go back to my old career nor can I go back to full time missions. For a decade I have been seeking how to marry the two. How can I have a career that will sustain and fulfill me and still be fully intrenched in the cultures I love?  How can I still be involved in development and aiding the poor, the orphaned and the widowed and pay for it? 

While working in Mozambique I was able to tangibly help my students find jobs and create jobs through our social enterprise. But underneath the money and jobs, were very broken, hurting young men and women. Our time spent together often cloaked in their raw, real stories of abuse and fear. They were never looking for sympathy, they were just giving me the gift of letting me truly see and know them. Their stories always made me feel a bit inept. I never knew what to offer them, other than a listening ear. 

While in London I began to look at programs working in counseling, with a particular interest in working with children. I found some brilliant programs that merge very clinical programs with spiritual ones. I applied to a school in Nashville simply because US based programs allow me to be licensed as a therapist in the States. That, and it's Nashville. The university offered a program in clinical mental health counseling. I found out I got in on the top deck of the 88 bus in South London. They offered one extremely competitive assistantship with discounted tuition. I told myself if I got that, I would go. I came to Tennessee to see if this program fit. I even wanted to not like it. But they were sweet, like family you know and love sweet. They listen. They care about each other. They seem genuine. I interviewed graduates, they said good things. I interviewed professors who confirmed it's authenticity. A former student offered me his textbooks. The university offered me the assistantship. I accepted. And then wouldn't you know it, I got a job offer in London. A wonderful one that came with a place to live. A dream job with loads of opportunity. Earl Grey and Hyde Park. I swallowed hard and turned it down. 

So now, gripped by the fear of failure and true to my textbook Obsessive Compulsive Disorder- self, equipped with fresh new color coordinated school supplies, I am off to school!

 

 

back in the saddle

I'm in Tennessee. I set down some pretty sweet little roots whilst here for three years and had a tryst with a hipster city. The music, the vibe, the Breakfast Sandwich, the hills, even Tater the Cat all perched here waiting on me. Cities have a way of remaining faithful. In London, I was given the gift to dream. To live in the greatest city on earth and walk her streets and sit in her parks and shop her vibrant windows and dream. Think, pray, plead and eat. Read a book. The same prayer uttered over and over as I tried to uncover the next step. London offered respite and inspiration. You can't stand in the Victoria and Albert Museum and not gape at the wonder of humanity and the grandness of human beings. Creative, big dreamers. After three unforgettable months surrounded by the dearest of friends and endless cups a tea, I began to wake up and remember my dream. 

I took one I'd shelved and filled out a college application and surprisingly got accepted. My Skype interview conducted with my laptop on my knees from a tiny office in the sweet church in East London where I was working at the time. I applied there because they were in the hipster city I had a crush on. I would need a job if I were back in school so I looked for one of those and landed something within weeks of being back in the States. It's a sweet little work-from-home gig working with the most selfless, kind, hardworking and caring people on earth, foster families. And so today, I sat around a long table with a room full of State employees decked out in their Jos. A. Bank and Ann Taylor Loft and ID badges clipped to their waists and listened to the Governor make a speech about something wonderful they'd accomplished within child welfare. It made me miss my State Employee clan, Gardner Sapp in his short-sleeved Dilbert dress shirt. I should be proud of the policies I worked on and the legislation we passed, but I just remember hours of laughing until I cried as we gossiped and howled with laugher about the endless drama under the Gold Dome. All those stories you just can't make up about dirty old men and smoked filled rooms where laws were made and Vienna sausages were devoured.

So my whine on repeat of, "What's next?", has an answer. In part. I am thrilled to help this organization grow and be a voice for the foster families of Tennessee. And I am really giddy about being back in Nashville, y'all! 

the sick heart of hope deferred

 It really was a good year. I am rotten. He is faithful.  Lord, help my unbelief.

It really was a good year. I am rotten. He is faithful.  Lord, help my unbelief.

I am home. I didn’t intend to come home and thought I would remain in London and look for work until June. I went to Africa so full of faith and expectation and hope and didn’t expect the unexpected, I ran out of money.  And now finding a job in the UK looks almost impossible. Through this life of faith or insanity or whatever you want to call it, I have trusted God to light each step. I have pushed on doors that refused to open and learned something. I tried that trip to Brazil in 2015 and my Passport was lost in the mail and then conveniently found weeks after my flight. I endured the grand foreclosure of my house in Atlanta. I applied with every NGO, aid, relief and development organisation in Tennessee. Crickets. I took a retail job and I waited. I waited on God to move or something to happen. I waited on a door to open. The door to London opened and although I was hesitant at first, it was love at first sight. It is far from the Tennessee hills but a little closer to Africa, and just so lovely. I have friends there who I have told you about, the world travelling kind and a sweet little church with a huge history. I love it there. I want to be there. 

I returned there in early December on the heels of that incredible trip back to Mozambique. I am still delighting in getting to do that, to be there, to see those boys at work and those women sewing and praying. But the instant I hit Western soil, I was bombarded with fear and doubt. Every well-dressed human who walked past me on the street was a success, a health insurance card carrying, pay check drawing success. And I was a failure with no money left. The thoughts were so all consuming and so heavy and so oppressive, I left. I needed to be home, in the security of family and in a nation where I can legally work and at least be doing something to help. It feels like failure. It also feels a bit like I am whining. And maybe I am. And maybe we will all look back at this in just a short period of time and have a good laugh. I sure hope so. But now I am back to the old stand-by of a former policy analyst turned broke philanthropist, waiting tables. It is work for which I am grateful. It is work. It is a step in a direction. I am with family and friends who feed me, physically and emotionally. It is what home is all about and supposed to be, a sanctuary and a safe place and nest from which to fly. 

Like London’s Big Ben, my little bell of delight in life has hushed and the deafening silence is unbearable. But feeling sorry for myself has gotten me nowhere. I sit and surmise and come up with a plan and then it all seems impossible so I cry and start over again. Plans to stay here seem sad and daunting and plans to go seem impossible. A friend who knows my darkness gave me a self-help book from the Christian bookstore. It is one of those you would never want to carry on a plane, titled something like You are Not Really a Loser, Jesus Likes You. I’ve almost finished it. There is a prayer in the chapter titled Hello, My Name is Trust Issues (no joke) that if I could see straight and get past my own fear I could have written myself:

Lord, You are teaching me so much about trusting You. Fully. Completely. Without suggestions or projections I’m choosing to embrace the very next thing You show me. I’ll take this first step. And then I’ll take the next.

I finally understand I don’t have to fully understand each thing that happens for me to trust You. I don’t have to try and figure it out, control it, or even like it, for that matter. In the midst of uncertainties, I will just stand and say, “I trust You, Lord.” 

I visualise me taking my fear of rejection from my incapable clutches and placing my trust in Your full capability. And as I do, I make this all less about me and more about You. I replace my fragile efforts to control with Your fortified realities. 

You are the perfect match for my every need.

I am weak. You are strength. 

I am unable. You are capability. 

I am hesitant. You are assurance. 

I am desperate. You are fulfilment. 

I am confused. You are confidence. 

I am tired. You are rejuvenation. 

Though the long path is uncertain, You are so faithful to shed just enough light for me to see the very next step. I now understand this isn’t You being mysterious. This is a great demonstration of Your mercy. 

Too much revelation and I’d pridefully run ahead of You. Too little and I’d be paralysed with fear. 

So, I’m seeking slivers of light in Your Truth just for today and filling the gaps of my unknown with trust. from Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

 I was able to spend so much time with Veronica whist in Mozambique. I love her faith and her heart. I cherish her. My family gave her this cement floor for Christmas. She was overwhelmed. I was too.

I was able to spend so much time with Veronica whist in Mozambique. I love her faith and her heart. I cherish her. My family gave her this cement floor for Christmas. She was overwhelmed. I was too.

There isn’t one single To Do mentioned here and that drives me nuts. There is no list of jobs for which to apply. No three month, five step plan. There is no calendar with a time frame. There are no tips on writing a better CV. No ideas on how to get a work visa or work from home or what I am supposed to do with my life. Starting all over again raising support on a mission field far away seems horribly lonely and not what I am supposed to be doing. Starting over again in the States feels like failure. I feel as if I have reached the very end of my rope. I am like my Mozambican students who come to me with no solution to the problem. It is bad. My life and wardrobe are there. I am here. In my parents house. With my suitcase in the corner with little stacks of treasures from Target just dying to go back to London. And yet, I am complaining about simply not getting my way. Is this another lost Passport or is this the vile plans of the devourer to thwart all good and perfect things? I don’t know, I’m asking. And then this prayer. It puts it all into His hands. Hasn’t He always been good? Didn’t I just months ago dance in the house of sweet Veronica and delight in our friendship? Wasn’t I just sitting in the centre of This is Your Life as student after student came up to me to thank me for what I had done for them? And wasn’t that all directly from His hand? It was all blind trust. If He had shown me that plan I would have ran so far ahead I would have missed the 88 bus. So I just get to sit here and look for those slivers of light that come in forms of dollar bills left on the table I need to clean and meals around the table with all of you and Granny's biscuits. So for this day, I am here, hourly placing it all in His hands, pulling it down for a bit, panicking and putting it back again.  XO, Grace

 They are all my favourite. This is my favourite Cesar. 

They are all my favourite. This is my favourite Cesar. 

 In the middle of my unbelief, here they are. Solid rocks of hope. 

In the middle of my unbelief, here they are. Solid rocks of hope. 

my little dream. still alive and well.

I was nervous about meeting the girls down at the sewing school. I call them girls. They are mostly in their 20’s. Alima must be in her early 60’s. I think. No clue really. But they matter to me, so much and I felt I had let them down. Guilt is one of my go-to emotions. I can carry it around for ages and you’d never even know. I left and I didn’t come back. No matter the reasons, I felt I had abandoned them. I left them in very capable hands, but I left and entered the easy life and with that comes a certain level of guilt. I suffered just enough in a job I loathed to make it all bearable. But I carried the weight of them. Almost daily I put them in the hands of God and slowly plucked them back and carried them around some more. Their salaries. The money. Payment. Sales. Their livelihood. Broken sewing machines. No electricity. Marketing. Exporting. All my fault. All my responsibility. They remained in capable hands. Hands, actually far more affectionate and detail oriented than mine. Yet, always felt I could have done more. 

So when I walked into the sewing school on my first day, I was prepared for cold shoulders, for them to question why I left them, to be interrogated. When I opened the door, they screamed. They ran into my arms and they embraced me. Strangely enough a young Makua boy walked in behind me and he translated all I wanted to say into their heart language. I poured my heart out and apologised for everything. I cried. They hugged me. Then they each took turns, even the new girl, Sonia who I didn’t even know. And they all told me what I meant to them. They each took the floor and told me in their beautiful Makua words how much I had helped them. They admitted they were sad when I left but told me they had been praying for me to come back to them. Every one of them thanked me for teaching them and they all said they would not be where they are without me and how they are so grateful. And right then I knew why I had been carrying them all along, because they were carrying me. Their love was being delivered to me every single day and I was covering them in exhausted night time prayers and afternoon utterances of, “God, help.” And after I finished my confession and they uttered their love and devotion, Marcelina broke out in song and the girls joined in. And I just sat there astounded. I felt the weight of them lift as I watched each of them pick up where they had left off, sewing, ironing and cutting whilst they sang and we all sat there together. And now I know when the burden comes back to simply join them in the songs of prayer and thanksgiving because they are doing the same for me.

 

the greatest gift

I struggle amidst all the emotion to find words to describe this past three weeks. I have not really processed much aloud. My conversations are very present tense and mostly related to everyone else around me. Conversations are often in Portuguese, which only make them even more complex and demanding of all of me as I try to listen and speak with my 100 word present-tense-only vocabulary. And writing, my usual method of figuring out how I feel about everything has been impossible because it is never quiet, impossible to think and I am never alone. 

 Amilcar the dreamer. We started Galeria dos Sonhos together. Now he is a waiter, making money to further his education.

Amilcar the dreamer. We started Galeria dos Sonhos together. Now he is a waiter, making money to further his education.

It is a beautiful thing about this culture, living and working so closely together, choosing to sit together, no concept of personal space. The guard once asked me what I do all day in my house alone. I gave him my long list of blissful solitary duties of book reading, tidying, music listening, meal planning and list making and he just stared and then laughed. I feel their pity when they learn of my being 4o and single. They gasp and are wide-eyed and then the gawk turns to pity, every time. I learned to truly live in community alongside Africans. I learned how to share and how life is so much less difficult when you have a nation to help you. But historically, I am most changed and come most alive in the silence and in solitude and in being all alone. 

 Rofi is now a waiter too. I have heard rumour he is the best in the city. He had to quit university because he has been having severe pain that appears to be neurological. He has good days and bad. 

Rofi is now a waiter too. I have heard rumour he is the best in the city. He had to quit university because he has been having severe pain that appears to be neurological. He has good days and bad. 

Today, my quiet place comes in the form of a sweet guest house and a generous invitation of beautiful missionaries who have been in Mozambique for almost two decades. The quiet, the coffee, air con and warm huge shower are all so nice but I find myself missing the chaos of life back on the compound. The solidarity seems selfish, though desperately needed. It has been a profound three weeks. 

 This boy. I told him I wanted to start a school. The next day he arrived with all his friends and that is how we started an English school in Pemba.

This boy. I told him I wanted to start a school. The next day he arrived with all his friends and that is how we started an English school in Pemba.

I am wondering about Henrique and what he will do with this day and realising I have so few to spend with him. We took his motorcycle earlier this week into town for me to look for fabric. I bought some fabulous leather sandals but they rubbed horrible blisters. I am missing morning conversation with Em on all things politics, Instragram, fashion, and food. Uno games with Nathalia. Amilcar and Rofi are working today. Rofi is not well and I am worried.  I went to meet his parents this week. We took a chapa to their village. I have actually driven by there many times. It is on the main road past the airport. His parents have been married for almost 50 years. I am always confused about family lines here but I think there must be or have been multiple wives. They are Muslim and his father is a farmer, architect and/or builder. They are building a home for Rofi to rent out as a means of income. Rofi’s symptoms are neurological according to the doctor and diagnosis here, impossible. I went to see Amilcar at work this week.  I beam when I see him. There are no words. Just so incredibly proud. He looks so professional in his starched dress shirt. His belt, visibly worn two notches over from when he used to be so skinny. I want to give this young man the world. He has worked so hard and I wish he had every opportunity to flourish. I want the very best for him. I trust him immensely. A lot of the boys in his class are now living off the streets, drinking themselves into oblivion, fighting, sleeping with a different girl every night, selling anything they can to make a small amount of money. And Amilcar is patiently working hard. When I left him on Thursday he hugged me and stumbled on some words and then said, “I love you, Mana Graça.” Such sincerity. I love that boy too.

 Taking the bus to the city for fabric shopping.

Taking the bus to the city for fabric shopping.

They are all just a few miles up the road, but I am missing them terribly. And I don’t know what that is all about. Maybe it means I am growing up and finally learning to give bits of my heart away and this is what truly living feels like. And I am learning how to get refreshed and filled up in the midst of crowds and chaos. And I can’t begin to fathom getting on a plane and leaving them all again. It is going to break my heart. I gave this place a few years of my life, but I have gained an eternity through these relationships.  I am experiencing the impact they have had on my life and at the same time, watching the impact I have had on their lives and it is brilliantly beautiful. I am so touched by it. I am so undone by it. I am so overwhelmed by it. I am humbled and honoured. Their lives are a little bit better because I came here. And mine is forever better. I was grumpy and I complained and it was impossibly hard. But getting this rare gift of actually seeing the fruit of my grumble-filled labor is stunning.

Veronica the Widow

I am here. Pemba. Mozambique. Africa. And could not be more utterly content. I inhale the noises and smells, the endless sea and majestic baobabs. I love the huge smiles, sweltering heat, and small breezes. For 9 years I have come and gone. I celebrated birthdays and Christmas. I struggled and suffered and wept alongside friends I now have for life. I changed. I grew. I lapsed and then grew some more. I believed with all my heart. I doubted. I had all the hope in the world. I lost hope. I found it again. Here I get to sweat and wear flip-flops and eat with my hands.  It is every Tomboy’s dream. I get to ride in the bed of a pick up truck and shop in the mercado with the Arabs. I get to bargain for bananas and shop for African wax fabrics and get a new dress, tailor made. I get to take walks on white sand beaches, never alone, always a trail of little village babies. Henrique was a village kid, then he became one of my students, in part because I took long walks on the beach and we talked, we colored, we engaged, I stopped. And now he is part of the family.

I feared the visit would be traumatic and my heart could not take the pain of leaving again. Leaving was painful because I left my dream and passion. I left a hard, dirty, exhausting and beautiful life for a peaceful, tidy one and that just never seemed right. It was beautiful and God ordained, but the longing for African life never went away. 

The joy of seeing tiny little Nema, and Ancha all grown up and tall stunning Olga scream my name and hug me tight is priceless. Three little girls I have watched from a distance grow as my peers poured into their lives, enduring all the drama, tears and frustration of raising little girls, little motherless girls. Stunningly gorgeous little lives transformed through love. Relentless love. I take no credit. They sat in my lap on drives into town, I bought them hair.  I spun them around and snuck them candy from my pocket, but the real heroes were up with them all night when they were sick. The real heroes sat patiently during the temper tantrums, tears, fights and homework. And they are radiant and daughters in this family and so am I. 

My philosophy on foreign aid keeps changing. It is essentially what I have been dedicating all my time and energy toward for the past ten years. But I often consider a lot of programs and aid more harm than good. It is a delicate balance of submission to and coming alongside and living within the culture. We don’t always do that so well. I read Chinua Achebe in college and know all too well how easily things can “fall apart”. But today I am just so utterly grateful I am allowed to see this world and show them bits of mine. It is the Gospel. A religion that is pure. It is one big messy, multicultural family. Your mess, my mess, your pain and mine, different but so alike. Your losses and fears sitting on my lap so I can hold them for a little while for you. Your black skin against my freckles, so different but the same. 

 Veronica and her son Thiago

Veronica and her son Thiago

I spent the morning with Veronica today. Veronica cleaned my house, washed my underwear, bought me vegetables at Mozambican prices, ironed my linen and cooked for me. My iron, stove and freezer were foreign to her. She walked to my house in the mud and rain. She sang while she did my laundry. She wanted to learn English so I taught her phrases at my kitchen table. She met me at the gate this morning. She squealed when she saw me in a traditional capalana skirt, suitable attire for a woman in the village. She remembered my telling her I didn’t like them because they made me look fat and we laughed. We sat on her bed in her tiny little hut with dirt floors and reminisced. It was hot in there, no windows, no breeze. Windows are a luxury. She asked about our mutual friends and my family. She has met my parents. She beamed when she showed me her freezer that sits in her bedroom. She told me how she saved and saved having our friend Raphael hold the money aside for her. She cannot keep large amounts of cash in her home for fear of being robbed. There was a machete in the corner by the door. I asked if it was for rats or bandits. “Bandits,” she replied and then showed me how she hit them. An old scarf of mine hangs in the corner. The freezer is a business for her. She told me she doesn’t use it because she has nothing to put in it, but she collects food in need of freezing from families in the village and they pay her. She is so, so proud of it and I am so, so proud of her. Tomorrow, her day off, she will spend the day collecting perishables from village residents. Her daughter is 23 and has two small children who live with Veronica, along with her two sons. Veronica is solely responsible for feeding five people. She walks for hours to her house cleaning job. She had her daughter at age 15. At 15, I was playing basketball and daydreaming through high school. She was raising a child.

She is full of joy and sings and laughs and gives God all the credit for taking care of her. Her faith is stronger than mine. She gives me hope. I had photos of her family enlarged and gave them to her as a gift one year, she has them alongside photos of me displayed on the mud wall in her house. Every day she looks at my face. I have a photo of her too, in the little flat in London. I brought it from my things in Nashville where she sat on my bedside table. I liked having her near. And now she is here in the flesh and I love sitting and breathing side by side. We dangled our feet on the side of the bed and exchanged stories. She fussed at her son and grandson and told them to stop starring at me and go outside and not to fart in the house. It is the poorest little house, dirt, no running water, but it is cosy and filled with peace. This visit with the” widow in her distress” and her endless trust in her Maker. It certainly has nothing to do what I can do for her, I have so very little. I can only scoop up the treasure of faith housed in that tiny hut and take it with me.

 Veronica says she is 34 but also says she was born in 77. This is her grandson, Vincent.

Veronica says she is 34 but also says she was born in 77. This is her grandson, Vincent.

 The machete

The machete

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
— James 1:27

the circus of fathomless silence

And now here is the real story. I felt so guilty about even going to Ile aux Nattes. I have never gotten over generous Walter Gordon raising money for me to buy that desperately needed scooter and I only drove it less than a year. I really intended to stay longer. It just didn’t work out that way. I gave it to Ruth and she needed it desperately too, but I always felt I should have stayed. I still feel I should have stayed and that is why I am on this journey. That is why I am going back, to show myself it was okay to leave. I knew I had worked myself out of my jobs there and my work was done, but it all seemed so abrupt. And now I feel guilty for going to an island when I should be creating jobs, helping others, wiping noses in the orphanage. But I went to an island because the opportunity arose and Chris and Dawn insisted I could not miss this paradise. They were so sweet about it. “Chance of a lifetime.” So I go.

I remember when the beach was more than a sanctuary. I lived across the street from the beach in Mozambique and I could go there and hear God. Every single time. The beach is the main reason I fell in love with Mozambique in the first place. It is breathtaking there. I could hear God in the waves. The act of my sitting cross legged and staring at the sea initiated an endless monologue from the Father. I went there for answers and He didn’t stop talking. I could see rooms with chintz wallpaper, decorative mantles and he told me He had prepared places for me to dwell. I saw dark haired babies in bassinets and knew they belonged to me. He occupied each room and the front porch swing swayed in His presence. I was always barefooted and working and moving about. He told me He held me, in simplicity and in peace. A lot like that twin iron bed in Angelique’s cabin with a picture of Jesus hanging on a pine wall. I could nestle in there any time I wanted. He sees me. He is watching. I am dust. He knows my frame and that I love chintz. But our dwelling together is easy, and I have a purpose and laundry to hang on the line. He tells me He loves me and I wave Him away, dinner to make, hair to braid, babies to feed. I breathe Him in and out. I went there for an exchange, to give my worries and get His peace.  I always left wondering if anyone else could see the glow.

But this time He doesn’t speak. Deafening silence. I stir in it. I don’t hear squat. I’ve been promised provision and babies and I sit on an island close to broke and very close to 40 and I hear nothing. I sit on an island where couples honeymoon and I sleep in a bed alone minus the bedbugs and the spider and the lemur on the roof. And He is silent.

I see intense poverty and crazy ritualistic animal sacrifice sites and He has nothing to say to me about any of it. I am even open to the idea that He is okay with it all, but I don’t hear that either. Is there a level of poverty that is okay? I’ve asked that a zillion times. Access to healthcare, food, clean water, education. I can see how this little island works; they have food, they seem happy, what do they really need? How do you even define poverty? Is this little island floating along just fine? He says nothing. No chintz, no furniture, no nothing. 

I am on one of the most beautiful islands on the planet, inhabited by lemurs and alone. Alone to hear His voice and seek His face and get answers to questions and I hear lemur squawks.  I cannot calm my head from all the noise to hear Someone Else think. I cannot seem to enter hallowed silence. 

And all I can see is inescapable poverty. I hate it. I hate more that I want to look the other way. It used to move me to do something. And now the girls selling their sweet oils do not even get my attention. We don’t smile or exchange names. I shake my head and I ignore them. I don’t want to be bothered despite no one else to talk to. And I don’t want to buy their massage oils because they will see the fat white thighs of a girl who has never gone hungry, I have no one to massage and so little money myself. They don’t need my pity or my sympathy. And then He speaks. “I am the Savior.” I already know where He is going with this. All about how He died on the cross so I didn’t have to and how deeply He loves the poor and the marginalized and He provides for them as He does for me.  But he doesn’t preach. I simply hear, “Not your circus, not your monkeys.” 

“Say what?”

You don’t need me to come and give all I have to offer and work tirelessly to fill a need so vast? I can just come and sit and enjoy all the creatures of my God and King? And I have no job or clue about the future. I am completely empty handed and I just have a few plane tickets to a few places and I only have those because I think I heard you tell me to buy them. And I could have been wrong about that. And I have no clue how to pay for the future or find work or where I will live. This is my circus and these are my monkeys! 

“Is it?”

Ugh! Why does He always answer a question by asking a question?  

And now I am on an exquisite island, a dream vacation for anyone, questioning God’s provision but fully aware of it, lapping at my toes. And the silence becomes holy and sweet and full of His presence. And I open my hands in complete surrender and give Him my circus and my monkeys.

the island off an island off an island

 These wooden dhows are used by local fisherman and transport tourists and residents to Sainte Marie

These wooden dhows are used by local fisherman and transport tourists and residents to Sainte Marie

Sainte Marie or Nosy Bohara is an island off the coast of Madagascar. Legend tells of a certain Abraham landing on the island and being attacked by a band of women. The island is locally called Nosy Mbavy “the women’s island”. After escaping his captors he met an old woman on a small island. She took in the exhausted, shipwrecked man, hid him and gave him with food and water. Full of gratitude, Abraham blessed the old woman so she and her descendants would never go without water. Suddenly, a spring gushed forth near the old woman’s house. Thus, historians suggest the first settlers here were Jews.

The first Europeans arrived at the end of the 16th century. The English pirate Thomas White married a princess from the east coast of Madagascar and their son united the coastal tribes. The island became the center of piracy in the Indian Ocean. “The island provided the buccaneers with provided the buccaneers with secure shelters, from there they could plunder approaching galleons filled with spices and treasures from India and carry out repair works upon their vessels. According to some historians, the number of pirates that found shelter on Madagascar’s east coast reached about 1,000. Several authentic pirate vessels still lie within a few meters of the surface in the Baie des Forbans. Two of these have been tentatively identified as the remains of Captain Kidd's Adventure Galley and Captain Condent's Fiery Dragon” (www.travelmadagascar.org).

 The largest bill is 10,000 Ariary or $3USD

The largest bill is 10,000 Ariary or $3USD

It is a quick and comfortable 45 minute flight from the Madagascar capital of Antananarivo to Sainte Marie.  Michael meets me at the airport. He takes me to a yellow tuk-tuk and stuffs my luggage in the back and off we ramble down a sandy road to the point. It is a five minute drive but necessary in the sand with a seven day supply of snacks and beachwear. Young boys stand next to wooden dhows and offer rides to Ile aux Nattes, the only place you could be going if you are standing here. You can see it from the point and could easily swim it. But, the luggage. We balance in the dhow and row gently to the small island, sailing across a surreal clear sea. The bungalow hotel is on the south of the island. It is nestled just off the white sand shore, shaded by banana and coconut trees.

 Two girls fishing in a stream with a spear and wicker basket

Two girls fishing in a stream with a spear and wicker basket

 

Vincent meets me outside my thatched roof bungalow. A skinny, sandy blonde South African dressed in an oversized tank top, baggy cargo shorts, shell necklace and bare feet. He gives me the schedule of breakfast, lunch and dinner and invites me on a scooter excursion the following day on Sainte Marie. He is an intense story teller and the epitome of “chill”. His word, not mine. Everything is “chill.” Breakfast, lunch and dinner are chill. Payment is chill. No rules. Just chill. He is instantly relational and kind. The tour includes the bar. It is a long curved wooden bar, thatched roof. A row of house infused rums are perched on one shelf -cinnamon, vanilla, coffee, banana, and pineapple - a small collection of unrecognizable Madagascar gins, vodkas and tequilas on another. He shares a little about his life, tells some stories. He shares about trying to go back to Johannesburg after island life, his reentry experience. It is not unlike my own.

I change into a swimsuit and hit the beach. I soak up sun, cool off with dips in the ocean and then migrate to a lounge chair on the porch of the bungalow. Then repeat. It is chill and not pretentious and no one seems to notice my legs have not seen the sun in years. Lunch is fresh fish cakes with fries and served to me at a little umbrella covered table outside my bungalow.  At dinner I meet the rest of the lodge inhabitants; a retired couple, Jim and Trudy from California, a very tan boyfriend/girlfriend couple from Israel, Vincent’s very pale Russian girlfriend and her 8 year old daughter, and a Swiss boy named Kevin, who is a cross between Clark Kent and Mr. Bean. We delve into their stories. Kevin lives in Antananarivo serving as a volunteer IT guy for an aviation mission as a way to serve Swiss military duty. This is a second marriage for Jim and Trudy, they’ve traveled the world. He was in the Peace Corps in the 70’s.  Trudy had been attacked by the sand fleas the day before and brought her Equate brand anti-itch cream to the table. The real story I want to know, about the Russian girlfriend and how she got here never comes out. Dinner is served every night at 7:30. Last night we had Tiger prawns, the best I have ever had. The night before that was caught-that-afternoon sea crab curry with coconut rice. Meals are 24,000 Ariary or $7 USD. Ridiculously cheap fresh, succulent seafood. And the juicy conversation with strangers from around the world is free. 

 

I get up at 6:30 every morning and go for a jog. There are trails leading to the village, a primary school, more lodges, bamboo restaurants with chalk board menus. The paths are shaded by huge palms and coconut trees. The life here has not changed in decades. Women lean over small fires and simmering pots. Chickens strut and peck in the yard. Barefooted children giggle in the dust. 

 Lemur licks

Lemur licks

 

I want to see the island of Sainte Marie so opt in for the scooter excursion. Kevin and the Israeli couple come too. But the couple decide to turn back once on Sainte Marie. Dodgy tummy. Kevin and I share a tuk-tuk into the city center, passing a large hotel and dozens of bamboo shops and restaurants. The restaurants offer similar menus to the ones on Ile aux Nattes, fish and chicken with rice in sauce. The shops have a small stock of bottled water, little piles of bananas or tomatoes, Cokes and phone credit. We meet Vincent in a three story building, white with blue trim. The lights are dim and the shelves are stocked with soap, shampoo, cereal, booze, an incredibly random assortment of overpriced goods. We rent scooters from a guy across the street. It begins to rain. We pay 45,000 Ariary for the day, petrol not included. We fill them up for 12,000 Ariary ($4) and off we go. Ten minutes into the soaking wet drive we are stopped by police. Life in Mozambique has made me all too familiar with this drill. He points at me, wants my passport. I tell him the truth, it is at the hotel. He points at the three of us with no ID and writes us all tickets with a 10,000AR fine. It is a lot of pointing and arguing and raining. We finally set off again. The drive is remarkable, the rain makes the bright green trees and ferns glow. Obsidian-likeblack rock walls on my right.  Waterfalls. The road winds along the sea. We drive through small villages.  It seems invasive honestly, the tourist and her white thighs on her loud, smelly scooter zipping through the front yard. I don’t like it. I dodge chickens and children. Then Vincent’s scooter breaks down. Familiar with African police, intimate with broken down scooters. We make a plan in the hot sun on the side of the road.

 

Mr. Bean and I journey ahead and are told there are natural pools ahead. We drive for 30 minutes or so until the paved road turns to sand per Vincent’s instructions. Men greet us there to guard our scooters for a small price. Two boys stand ready to advertise their restaurants with laminated one page menus complete with photos of entrees. A large guy in a blue polo with a lazy eye wins me over with the promise of grilled lobster for $6. Apparently this beach is protected and sacred and there are rules, including no shoes. It is taboo. It’s protection is not ecological, it is spiritual. Everything is spiritual. This is Africa. I am told to remove my jewelry. I don’t. To quote Gertie from E.T., “I may be little but I’m not stupid.” Apparently a local sorcerer performs frequent re-sacralization ceremonies and something gets killed.  We walk down to the natural pools and I swim alongside two large French ladies in tight swimsuits. Their husbands stand on the shore in Speedos and talk. We are told to be back in 45 minutes. Good thing Mr. Bean is a rule follower too. We sit on rickety chairs in Blue Shirt’s bamboo restaurant. A mangy blue-eyed puppy with a shell collar whines under our table. Blue Shirt tries to catch the puppy but the puppy outsmarts him and runs in one door and out the other as Blue Shirt chases him in an endless circle around the hut. But sadly Blue Shirt eventually catches the puppy and drop kicks him across the yard, making me no longer want my lunch and to scoop up the puppy’s sister who has found her way to the table waiting patiently. I figure she will easily fit in my bag but I know how thieves are beaten once caught and I am only hours outside of an outstanding ticket from the police and I am not so sure the Gordon Law Firm can help me this time, so I leave her to her demise, and a bite of sweet lobster and a fry. 

The island is seven days of perfection. On my last night I stay up late and chat with Vincent about the infrastructure on Ile aux Nattes. I have loads of questions about schools and healthcare. I want to know more about the artisans and where they get their wood and export possibilities. He tells me there is no clinic and the school offers a very basic education. The hotel owners are doing well and tourism is growing. They all want to share the wealth and give back. They are in need of trained staff and want to help their employees and their families.  But they are busy running businesses and don’t have the time to manage a project that vast. The poverty is real. He invites me to come back. The project would be big. But it is doable. The island is small. The school needs help. They need a medical clinic, if just a few times a year. The artisans need help selling their goods and designing something tourists want to buy. I don’t speak French or Malagasy. I pass out at the site of blood. I don’t feel I am to drop life and go live on an island off an island off an island, but I listening. I am listening to needs and ideas for solutions. I am aware of a need I have now seen first hand and how a little island could thrive with just a little help. I am listening and looking. I have seen their talents and they have seen my white thighs. I leave the island with love in my heart and an unpaid ticket for lack of proper identification while operating a motorized vehicle. 

 Caught in a rainstorm on the way back into Antananarivo made for stunning skies.

Caught in a rainstorm on the way back into Antananarivo made for stunning skies.

Nashville. London. Antananarivo.

I just spent two weeks as a tourist in my new home. The beauty, history, charm, quaintness and glamour of London are making the lights of Nashville fade a little more. Now that I will be living there I should pace myself, but her history is waiting to be told, her museums to be seen and her curry devoured. We didn’t stop. We went and saw and ate and toured every single day.

queen.jpg

Upon landing we wasted no time and after dropping my bags, went straight to the antique stores on Eccles and Northcote Roads around Clapham. Margit met us at the flat Saturday morning and we took the bus to Brixton and window shopped at the Brixton Market. It dates back to the 1870’s, fairly new considering London’s Borough Market is 1,002 years old. The market is a combination of African, Caribbean and hipster food and wares. A large supermarket looks and smells exactly like the Supermercado in Pemba or Hypermaxi in Lusaka. Small stalls offer most any fruit or vegetable ever grown, the seafood stalls have tuna, scallops and lobster on ice. Little restaurants serve a huge variety of ethnic foods. We chose the one with the shorter line, never the best choice, but more than okay when you are jet lagged and ravenous. I had a traditional English breakfast with eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, baked beans or “sugar beans” as June Fleisher calls them, and a veggie “sausage”. Also traditionally English (not necessary with breakfast), I had a Pimm’s cup, an infused gin concoction with fresh mint and berries. 

On Sunday we went to church. It is in walking distance across Clapham Common. William Wilberforce worshipped at Holy Trinity Clapham at the beginning of the 19th Century. It is old and beautiful, a modern projector screen and stage lights hang in front of a brilliant stained glass window. At the end the congregation sings my Atlanta friend Pat Barrett’s song, “Good, Good Father”. It’s funny to hear it sung by all these British people holding babies in this sacred place. And suddenly in my tall wooden pew the world seems so small.  And the Father whispers to me he is in the details and that our voices are to be heard and creations shared around the globe and we cannot fathom the ripples of our lives. And in that moment I finally feel as if just maybe I am on to something after all. 

We took the tube to Westminster Station and strolled along the backdrop of Big Ben and the grandeur of Westminster Abbey. The hordes of tourists and a huge bicycle race made it necessary to hide and there is no better place in London than in a pub. And one with a Sunday nut roast with Yorkshire pudding.

On Monday we took the bus to King’s Road, one of my favorite for shopping. The intent was to walk from the King’s Road to Harrods’s. When we approached Bibendum Restaurant on Fulham Road I had to go inside and gawk.  It once housed the Michelin Tyre Company and has three large stained glass windows of advertisements of the time. It is named after the Michelin mascot Monsieur Bibendum, Latin for “now is the time to drink”. I always called him The Michelin Man. Monsieur Bibendum is way better. The oyster bar out front is an expansive outdoor covered white tiled patio placing you comfortably close to the sidewalk, a perfect people watching perch. 

In Harrods we bought pistachio Turkish delight and nibbled on that while we walked the aisles of the most over the top department store on earth. 

We spent an entire day just going through Westminster Abbey and National Art Gallery. I know I will go back to the gallery over and over again. Museums are free so you can do that, pop in and sit and stare. That evening we went to Ping Pong for dim sum. 

We got up early one morning and went to Portobello Road to see the famous antique market. It was disappointing if you are really searching for antiques. It seems the market we went to was mostly new junk and loads of fruit and veg. I bought a linen safari hat from a great little clothing store that sold mostly plaid wool blazers and capes. It was full of leather trimmed beautiful traditional English coats and gloves and I loved it. We walked up the road to the Farm Girl Cafe’ for rose lattes. 

The Tower of London should be any tourist’s first stop. Entrance is around $30. You could spend an entire day there. It is a castle built in 1078. Let a Beefeater take you on the one hour tour and then take your time going through the tower. Reenactments occur as you go. It houses England’s Crown Jewels, which literally means the jewels in real crowns, scepters and swords and you can go inside and see them. The castle was used as a prison and was a place of torture and beheading. Two of Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded there. That evening we went to Shakespeare’s The Globe theater. We saw The Inn at Lydda, a play by John Wolfson. It is a fictional encounter between Jesus and Tiberius Cesar. It ends in a prophetic monologue about the future, wars and corrupt leaders. I am a critic of lots, but not plays. I thought it was great. 

Fortnum & Mason and Liberty London are two must experience shopping destinations, skip Harrods and Selfridges. Fortnum’s was established in 1707 as a grocery store in the Victorian era. It developed into a department store and is known for it’s luxury picnic hampers you can fill with foie gras, caviar, quails’ eggs and cheeses. The women’s department offers luxury candles, pajamas, hats, scarves and perfumes. I doused myself and knapsack in Clive Christian perfume because I could.  

One morning we drove to Canterbury to see Lisa, Robert, Oscar and Evelyn. We had breakfast there at the Wild Goose at The Goods Shed. Canterbury is lovely and the cathedral majestic, but The Goods Shed is the best breakfast money can buy. Situated on railroad tracks, the Goods Shed is a large food market. You name it, you can get it and guarantee it will be fresh. They boast their prices less than chain supermarkets. Men in wellies and wool sweaters haul in fresh beef and straw baskets of rocket and carrots. You sit on wooden stools at a large L-shaped bar and a young girl in jeans and sneakers prepares breakfast on an Aga in front of you. I had mushrooms in white wine and lemon sauce on toast with two perfectly poached eggs. Sit by the window and watch the rain. It always rains.

We spent a day seeing small villages of the Cotswolds. We stopped in Tetbury, Highgrove, the Cotswold home of Prince Charles is nearby. 

When in London you must go Borough Market. Go on a Thursday or Friday morning when it is less crowded. The market holds any food your heart could desire. You can buy fresh fruit and veg, spices, pastries, seafood, you name it. I sampled Turkish delight, was looking for ice cream, found a stall of nothing but fudge, but then saw dozens of oysters on ice. It is easy to get distracted. We got two each and ate them in the cobblestone aisle and chased with little plastic cups of Prosecco. We then walked to The George Inn, a medieval inn and pub. Dickens references it in Little Dorrit. The interior is dark, wood floors and wooden tables with a winding staircase in the middle. It smells like cider. We slunk a booth in the corner and stayed for hours. 

And then it all ended. Abruptly, the clock struck 3:00 and a taxi came and collected me for the airport. And London seems like a different planet compared to life here. I have written all of this from a smoke filled Thai restaurant with free WiFi and flies. And I am waiting wide-eyed for the moments ahead, the lives I will encounter, the whispers that come in the still place and the green curry I just ordered. 

Madagascar

I am in Madagascar. I wish I could say I have a full schedule of appointments and teachings on my calendar. I wish I could say I am starting a new program for creating jobs and classes start tomorrow, but they don’t. I know this place has been on my radar for a long time. Years ago I wanted to come and see and I read about them, the Malagasy, the horror of colonization all too familiar. Bloody French this time. Evidence shows human foraging on the island around 2000BC. Now 90% of the 22 million in population live on less than $2 a day. And 90% of the plants and animals here are endemic. 80% of the plants here are found no where else! I felt God say, “Sure, you can go there.” And so I spent some of my very last dimes getting here. I have seen Him repay those dimes over and over. I reckon it’s obedience or maybe I am really stubborn. 

Friends Chris and Dawn, neighbors in Mozambique have been here for two years. They live in a beautiful house in the capitol city Antananarivo and their Malagasy is impressive. They get around on scooters just like the one I had in Mozambique. Chris oversees the preschool at the orphanage and Dawn is a nurse for the entire children’s center, caring for around 150 children. This was all a young girls idea about 8 years ago. A radiant British midwife had a dream, a real one at night whilst she slept, about babies being discarded in rubbish dumps in Madagascar. She came here and started something out of nothing and has created a home for abandoned children. I wanted to see it. I wanted to see how it works and how you create something out of nothing as a foreigner. I wanted to see this culture and learn. And here I am. 

I recently learned, and sadly was not surprised, that most of the abandoned children have been sexually abused. Children. Babies. Abused. Sexually. I have no box for that. No grid. Nowhere in my brain or heart to put that. I have a box for egotistical male idiots like Trump, but no way to comprehend abuse of a baby by a man. “Men are pigs,” is all that really comes to mind, and I need to book a therapy session with Dr. Mangin when I get back to Nashville. Yesterday, I spent the morning in the Toddler House with two dozen of the most beautiful toddlers I have ever seen. All ranges of skin tones and tight curls to long soft ones, all big brown eyes staring back at me. Most run straight into my arms for a squeeze. One with a flirtatious smile is carried in, he has a palsy of some sort. He is strapped in a chair and a lady patiently wipes his mouth, over and over. He is bright, his eyes dance, he smiles. Jeremy scoots across the room to throw himself in my arms. He has no legs, one arm. He is gorgeous, soft black locks atop his chubby face. I need an interpreter and want to know all their stories. Or do I? We play with play-doh and they take turns crawling into my lap. They speak Malagasy and I, English and we play. When it is time for lunch, my bratty, spoiled American vegetarian self doesn’t want whatever beautiful delicacy is being offered in the form of a cow or a pig or a goat on rice and I convince Chris to go with me to find street food. Street food is the best thing about travelling. Well, one of the best. It takes “dive” to a whole new level and would make Anthony Bourdain jealous. The stalls along the brick lined streets smell more of urine and fecal matter than an aroma of delicious food. The “restaurants” are tiny wooden stalls with a single bench. This one has a few paper Jesus and Mary figures pasted on the wall. We get two plastic bowls of cold pasta with potato salad on top. Already on the table awaits an oily hot sauce. I add it to everything without tasting my food first. “A girl who knows what she wants,” as Jim Taylor once noted when he watched me salt my tomatoes. I just know any sauce someone took time to make and has it waiting on the table has to be good. It’s hot. Very hot. It gives me the hiccups. It’s delicious. The soup is very bland and consists of water and few carrot remnants in the bottom. The pasta and potatoes are nice, but needed that hot sauce. I am told that it is often served between two slices of bread, a spaghetti sandwich. Spaghetti sandwich. Carb perfection. We also added two perfectly deep fried coin shaped potatoes mixed with scallions.  The entire meal cost 50 cents. For dessert I was told I had to try koba, a“cake” wrapped in banana leaves. It looked like ahi tuna. It is made with peanuts, bananas, honey and corn flour mushed into a batter and steamed or boiled until the batter is set. It was just okay. I loved the texture, but my taste buds have been ruined forever by Rococo chocolate and gelato. 

After lunch, an old tiny Citroen taxi pulled up to take me to the artisan market. We went to a muddy field. Along acres of rice fields lies an endless row of stalls housing colorful market goods, all looking very much the same. It was a disappointment. I wanted to find something new, creative and different. But each stall had the exact same dusty bags, baskets, scarves and little black and white lemurs made of straw. Bummed. My only find were three bright red giraffe weevils, endemic to Madagascar, incased in glass balls. I paid too much, $5 each, but it was my first purchase, a fair price and calculating Ariary in my head was too much.  I was also trying to speak what little French I know. I should have paid more attention in French class. 3000 Ariary is 1 dollar. I retrieved 400,000 from the ATM and got the equivalent of around $130USD. I left that muddy field feeling a little defeated for not having gotten my glass balls for a song and for lack of unearthing some creative, beautiful find the world must have. 

And that is how I spent my day. The traffic was so terrible it took an eternity to get home. We had the windows down and tiny children in rags ran along the car and begged, pleaded for money. A toddler ate breadcrumbs out of the dirt along the side of the road. I don’t give. I only have the largest amount of money one can retrieve at any time from an ATM, minus $15.50. I make eye contact, I try not to. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know what to do with my compassion or my compassion fatigue. I have over a two month Malagasy salary in my wallet. Not having small bills is my excuse.  It is a pitiful one. They don’t teach this stuff in college or the church. Jesus would have fed them. Do I need to keep a Santa sack of bread loaves? I don’t know, I’m asking. 

Today, I had lunch with Monica. She is deaf and mute. She’s 10 and wears glasses. We speak with smiles and thumbs up. The organization is hoping to put her in a school for the deaf. I cannot imagine how lonely her world must be. And this is my first 48 hours in Madagascar. 

a new chapter

The past three months have been a whirlwind. They included a ton of packing, even more giving away, the kindness of friends with spare bedrooms, the end of my career as a shopgirl (here’s hoping) and the selling of two houses. And so many goodbyes. I hate goodbyes.

Just a month ago I was spending my last 48 hours in Nashville and working my last day. I am still biting my tongue about that whole experience. I can say I learned a lot. Working under a tragic leadership style is a quick way to observe a better way to lead others. I moved all I had accumulated in two years back to Georgia. I unpacked every single box in my storage bin and threw half of it away and gave away the rest. I kept a few sentimental things; family furniture, a set of Limoges china, treasures from my travels and the Fiestaware set Carla gave me the Christmas before I moved to Africa. I never got to use it really. It was bizarre to go through the time capsule of my life, for two weeks, in my parent's basement. I was so naive. I found old journals and my To Do lists. I was so naive about the poor in my journaled observations. I found my old list from my first trip to Mozambique, “insect repellant”, “malaria meds”. That girl made me cringe. She knew so very little, she would go through so much. I gave away all my Capitol memorabilia. I had enough lapel pins to start a museum. I saved the peanut ornament I received when I went to Plains to meet Jimmy Carter. Mother had so lovingly saved birthday cards and Hartwell Elementary School achievements, but sadly I watched them fall into the large mixed paper bin at the recycling center and had to let them go. I have to travel light. It has become apparent that I will do lots of coming and going in life and I can hold tightly to very little. 

I still managed to arrive in London with three suitcases. London greeted me with sunny skies, Wendy and a coffee. And the merriment and the unpacking began. I stuffed all I now own into a small wardrobe and wooden chest in the coziest room in Clapham. We have toured London like proper tourists and I am loving every second. Last night I sat in a breathtaking cathedral with two friends I have gathered along the journey; Andrea, a Brit who lovingly took over the Galeria dos Sonhos project in Mozambique, and Carly, a South African who came as a visitor to Mozambique years ago and recently came to visit me in Nashville. Andrea is just coming back to England and starting a Master’s program in Development and Carly quit her job as a fashion designer in Cape Town last year because she felt God say so. They both are living lives of extreme faith and of trust, knowing He has a purpose and giving their lives fully to His direction. I watched Carly wrestle with the letting go of her job, her security and her identity but knowing it was what was being asked of her. I even encouraged her to do it! And now here we sit at an event, listening to a lecture from the former COO of the British Fashion Council on “The Character of Fashion”. We sat in silence for a moment to soak it in, knowing each others past and present, our sorrow and our joy, our desire to help the poor. I know Andrea’s step toward an advanced degree and her understanding of poverty will have huge impact. I know Carly’s letting go and trusting God with everything will only be met by His kindness. And I can only assume I am in this company for a reason. 

Carly and I stepped into a cozy pub with upholstered furniture on the way to the tube station afterwards. She shared more sorrows and more joys. We started to dream across the tiny table. The night’s event left us inspired. Social enterprises around fashion and design have been done. It is not an impossibility. How can we marry creativity, the arts and feeding the poor? We have ideas. Iron sharpening iron. It will need money, strategy, and revelation, but we have seen His deeds. I have no clue what I am doing in London, other than being a fabulous tourist. I have no idea what Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa will bring. Last night I got to see a tiny glimpse of why I am here. There are people I need to meet, conversations I need to have, chance encounters He has planned.  

I am excited for conversations around tables and over tea and rice and beans. I am different now. I am not the girl with the silly long list and the REI outfit off for a grand adventure who read a few books and had an idea. I have read the book and I have lived in the pages. I have experienced so much heartbreak, deep fear, and witnessed horrific loss. I have starred hopelessness down. And I have danced on its head and celebrated life and provision across tables and on floors in tiny huts with my African friends. And now I am off to be with them because I simply cannot stay away. This is my life now. I know my time there will only take me deeper into understanding. And I am ready to turn the page.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ― Augustine of Hippo

psalm 23


One of the greatest delights in my life is seeing my sister’s children after a long time of not. When they were babies I would run into the house and scoop them up from their cribs or bouncers or would search the house elated to find diapered toddlers at my feet. And now that they are growing they only grow more and more beautiful and complex and brilliant. I got to see Nathaniel (Natty) a few weeks ago.

He swung open the door into the lobby of the blue collar diner my mother and father rave about, and I don’t mind too much myself, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen in Somewhere, Tennessee.  He has a new haircut. At age 8, he has surpassed me in weight and almost in height and wears a men’s size 10 shoe. He wears a t-shirt and basketball shorts. I can’t squeeze him long or tight enough. He gives me his usual sheepish, mischievous grin and little head nod as I rave over him. He is so big! But his cheeks and arms are still baby soft. His ears make me drool just a little. I rub them with both hands like a good luck charm. He sits by me. He rides with me back to the hotel and asks how I am doing, how my drive over was, how is work and how both Wendy and Oscar (the cat) are faring in England. He has always been the best little sidekick, easy with conversation and the vicissitudes of life.

We spend the next morning zip lining, something he and Dad conjured up. I thought zip lining was breezing over trees in tropical places looking for parrots and pretty plants. It is not. It involves wearing a helmet that smells like someone else's sweat and climbing up in huge tree “stands” and jumping from swing to swing or walking along a tightrope. All while you are very, very, very high in the air. It was awful. An acrophobic nightmare. Although I knew I was secured by the line attached to me, I didn’t want to fall and have to attempt to regain balance with nothing to hold on to! I bloody wanted down. When we finally reached a platform that involved standing on a swing and “riding” from one tree to the next, my confession fell out. “I want down,” I said out loud. Dad, ever so patient and calm, encouraged me to simply jump. Even Natty the Brave was afraid of the skateboard tied to a rope suspended high in the treetops. I was sweating profusely, not due to heat but fear. Natty, my heart in a boy, cried when he reached the other side and the mother in me hugged him when I could finally reach him. I told him we could get down at any time. He looked at me as if I were insane and announced he was doing the Extreme Course next. With tears still on his baby soft cheek, he had already forgotten the terror of the suspended skateboard and could hardly wait for all the danger that lay ahead. But it still remained fresh in my mind and Dad and I voted to get off the course as soon as our feet hit solid ground. And we did. 

On the last “obstacle” I had to hold myself up by a swinging rope, high in the trees. Since hand surgery I have no grip strength. I was petrified. I saw visions of myself suspended, hanging head first and losing my hotel powdered egg breakfast. But Dad was right there beside me and he coached me through the entire thing and he even went first and was there to catch me. Literally. I gripped that dumb, stupid rope with my left hand and hoisted my 5’4” 130ish lb self into my father’s arms. And then I had tears on my cheeks, not because we finally reached the ground, but because for 2.5 hours I treaded lightly and fearfully among those treetops with my dad’s voice in my head, his arms there to catch me, his words to coach me along each step and his encouragement cheering me on. We laughed too and although my palms are sweating as I write this just thinking about the experience, it wasn’t all that bad. It was an unpleasant experience with little glimmers of thrill but mostly altogether unpleasant. But it was saturated with my father’s voice, firm when he needed to be and yet so gentle, kind and reassuring. I was five and we were in the woods at Reed Creek. He was firmly teaching me how to safely shoot a rifle, jump across the creek or start the tractor and I could smell the fescue. And all was right with the world and I was immensely secure. 


“The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I lack…He leads me along right paths. I fear no danger for you are with me. You anoint my head with oil. Only goodness and faithful love with pursue me all the days of my life.” 

The joy and the pleasure of my father’s voice. It moves mountains and it calms storms. I’ve been hearing it ever since those hours in the treetops. I hear it in my prayers as I offer up my fears of no money and growing old and spending my last dime going back to Africa. And I can hear His voice, Father God, full of love, yet firm with instruction and wisdom. And I know He’s got me. As firmly as a zip line secured to my chest, He holds me. And although I slip, I will not fall. I cannot. 


We left the treetops and went for a swim in a picture perfect swimming hole and went for ice cream. Natty and I played “Would You Rather” on the car ride back to Nashville so he could, “get to know you (me) better.” I learned that he would rather have an elephant as a pet than an aardvark and he learned I would rather give blood and have a root canal on the same day than ever go zip lining again. 




Answering London

I spent two weeks in London in April. I didn’t expect to like it. I thought it would be unfriendly like Paris. France always made me homesick. I felt like a pudgy alien in India and Vietnam. And I have come to adore my Nashville life. Travel + Leisure agrees and just ranked it No. 5 of the top ten best places to live. I love walking the large concrete sidewalks in East Nashville and the sweet smells of gardenia remind me of my childhood. I love the hipsters and their food. I have collected my own black and denim and well-worn leather wardrobe. But in spite of amazing donuts, lush green hills and unlimited live music, my heart wants something different. I miss Africa. Not a day goes by. I miss waking up to the grand life of living in the center of where I am supposed to be. I miss “pinch me” moments riding my scooter through the village. I miss market shopping. I miss African smiles and charade conversations. I miss seeing my students working in a job I helped them get. The list of things I don’t miss is equally as long and need not be conjured up right now. But I didn’t think London would impress. Yet afternoon walks down Abbeville Road and Sunday lunch with Erin and Russell and the new baby and a weekend visit to the countryside to see Ruth Alexander and castle touring and lunch with Jessica Davies and dinner with Sam and Grace in Chelsea and coffee with Beth and her sister and long conversations about God and non-profits and finding work in London and going back and forth to Africa and Holy Trinity Brompton and eradicating poverty and international development started to change things.

   

I have a little community there now. From all my travels I have a small collection of quality, amazing friends who are all connected in one way or another with non-profits and working in Africa and are living beautiful community-filled lives in London. It felt like home. It is quaint (in bits) and charming and historic and fantastic and makes Nashville pale (just a little). I left my Wellies, trench coat, wool sweater and my favorite jeans. I left knowing I would be back, eventually. I left knowing there is something for me in London, a launching pad, a church, a little closer to Africa, cheaper flights, a community, a home, fish & chips. 

Back in Nashville, I settled back into Shopgirl life. I am not meant to be a Shopgirl and it shows. I am not good at it. I feel like you should be able to shop in silence, dress yourself and if you like it, buy it. It wears my introverted self slap out. It was to be my season of “tent making” to make some cash to get back to Africa. All the employees there seemed suspicious of me and were all so serious. Recently my boss asked about my previous work and I, ever vague and private, summed it up by saying, “It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but nothing compares to living in the center of where you are supposed to be.” It hit us both at the same time as I saw blatantly it was time to go back and he answered, “Not many people can say they’ve even done that.” I knew then, it was time to take my tiny little lunch and get back to where I belong. Suddenly the job there got a whole lot easier. Everyone started being nicer to me for some reason. They laughed at my jokes and impersonations. They shared their Jolly Ranchers and asked if I wanted coffee when someone escaped to Three Brothers. They even gave me a key to the store and made me a Key Holder which I always assumed when referenced meant a financial investor but it really just means someone who holds a key and has to get there early and stay really late. 


And then Twyla died. And I grieved and mourned and wept and I still do. Twyla was a fellow missionary in Pemba. She was a gun-toting pioneer woman from the Midwest who gave up everything to come and live with the poor in Africa. She died of a stroke on the mission field. Twyla taught me how to rest. I daily came to her house in a tizzy about a constant crisis. She met me at the door with an apron on, cooking or sewing or playing keyboard, painting or drawing. She taught me how to make yogurt. She fed me. She loved me. We sewed together and played endless hours of card games. Galeria dos Sonhos would have never existed without her help. In the middle of the chaos of a life in deep poverty, she carried peace. And she delivered it to me on plates of fried okra and in tall glasses of Amarula over ice. On our drives into town we would always comment on the beauty around us, the Mozambicans, the palm trees and huts, the boy selling lobster and the sea. We would both convey how grateful we were to be living in the center of our dreams and ride in awe at God’s provision. We would talk about our old jobs and laugh. She lived a fearless life. In the middle of a very intense place, Twyla remained calm. She trusted God’s provision for her life and was willing to lay down her life for whatever He asked her to do.  She loved Mozambicans deeply and was endlessly patient. I miss the fearless life. She died doing what she knew she was called to do. And not many people can say that.


It is time to go back to the fearless life I once knew. It is time to go back to trusting Him for provision. It is time to go back to living the life to which I know I have been called. Nashville has been a real gift and nursing W for the past year was absolutely my pleasure, along with it I got deep rest and gained a new army of friends. I bought a plane ticket a few weeks ago. And as of last week, the house in Atlanta is miraculously no longer mine! I am free to go. I leave September 8th for London. I will stay there for two weeks, establishing that as a new “base”. I will then spend a month in Madagascar where I hope to help set up social enterprises and micro loan programs with women there. I will then spend a month in Mozambique, visiting with the Galeria dos Sonhos women and my students there. I will also spend time in South Africa visiting friends there and looking into their projects and seeing if I might fit. I will be back in London by Christmas. 

I have no clue what will happen next. Hopefully doors will open, they usually do. I will continue to push on them. Leaving a perfectly good job for no job at all is scary. But there is nothing like living in the center of what you know you are supposed to be.  


SaveSave

London Calling

I have written blogs, I promise. I wrote them and saved them and promptly deleted them and wrote loads in my head but never posted. I wrote about the Susan G. Komen walk with W and the joy and sorrow of it all. That was when I thought surgeries and hospitals and sickness were over. We were ready to celebrate the end of a very long journey and the end of cancer. I found work to keep me busy and fill up my dwindling bank account in the form of a shopgirl as I wait on new directions, next steps and the doors I keep pushing on to open. 

But then the final surgery went bad and we were back again, to a quiet house with a sick patient. It all happened so fast and it was like a horrid flu that you think is just a cold and it will go away.  When you don't realize how sick you really are because you go about your day like normal and push and pretend. It was Thanksgiving weekend and I knew she was very sick. This Southern girl is tough as nails and it is hard to tell sometimes, but when she refuses Thanksgiving dinner something ain't right. She developed an infection and it resulted in a surgery that resulted in a mastectomy and this is why I don't blog. This isn't my life, but someone else's and it's her privacy and her story and I go mum. But there you have it.  I worked my shifts at the shop and an afternoon nanny job and came home to the patient and she has healed. I have too. 

I tried to join a friend in Brazil to pursue going there full time but strangely my passport of all things was lost in the mail and I wasn't able to get my visa in time. The door slammed so loudly I cried. 

I've grown into my retail job and even though I don't really like it, I assume that door opened for a reason. Each day I psych myself up. Yet, no one dies, no one goes to jail, there is no searing sun, no dead bodies, no Dengue fever or malaria and there's running water. I was sharing with a fellow missionary recently about how hard it was to still be here sitting and waiting and feeling so out of sorts.   He reminded me that there is a joy in working as a "pencil salesman" and told me of heartache after heartache he had recently experienced in China. And then I remembered the pain and heartache and struggle that was every single day in Africa. I am ultimately living quite the life. I am living in pretty much the greatest city in the world right now. Nashville is where it's at. The greatest food on the planet is in walking distance. Donuts, tacos, farm-to-table bliss abound. I work at the sweetest little discount designer shop where I can get $2000 shoes for $20. It happened.  


This is where I am. Living the life. Trusting there is a reason I am a shopgirl, not needing to know just why, practicing gratitude, daily.  W is better and cancer free and grows stronger every day. We leave for London the fifth of April. I am excited to see what happens there and meet her friends and spend time with mine. I will push on doors there too and see if London might be my gateway back into development work. I will get to have tea with my hero Ruth Alexander, my friend and neighbor while in Mozambique. So the pencil salesman life is pretty grand too.







“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 
― Thomas MertonThoughts in Solitude

Memphis

Memphis has been on the short list of things to do while living in Tennessee. I have passed through on the way to Arkansas twice, but fell asleep both times. I wasn’t driving. I didn't really do my research as well as I should have on all the things to see and do and embarrassingly, I am not a huge Elvis fan. He died 15 days after I was born and that was all I ever really knew of him. Except for those movies he did when he was cute. I wanted to go to Memphis because I had seen Hustle & Flow. And Garden & Gun said their food was good. So when W’s niece invited us to attend the Chiari 5K walk in Southhaven, we drove west. 

We spent our first day driving further west to McCarty Pottery. I will forever be sold out to Lake Hartwell Pottery artist Lynne Burke. Her cups and bowls in my cupboards feel like love on a shelf and love in my hands. But W insisted we go get some of this stuff since it was made with Mississippi mud. McCarty is a big deal to Mississippi folk. I recently went to a dinner party where a lady had hers prominently displayed. Apparently, McCarty’s first pieces were made from clay dug from dirt owned by Faulkner himself. The pieces are made distinct by a squiggle representing the Mississippi. They are molded in beautiful hues of brown and blue and true tones of the Delta and every true Southerner should own a piece and now I do. Sadly, McCarty died just a week before we arrived.


The next morning, I got to see real Memphis. We started with breakfast at Bryant’s Breakfast. Bryant’s is apparently on the edge of the sketchy Hustle & Flow side of town. I had been told stories about Memphis, that it was rough, white people were not to go to certain parts, racial tension was a problem, but I have lived years in rural Mozambique and I do not understand this great divide. But when a black guy with long corn rows pulled up to Bryant’s Breakfast in a low rider beat up Lexus, slammed the door and set the alarm in one smooth motion and swaggered in wearing a black t-shirt with a pistol on the front with large lettering that read, Welcome to Memphis Duck Mother F@#$%!, I started to get the idea. This wasn’t Africa, this was Memphis. And Bryant’s Breakfast has a cheese and egg biscuit that is pretty incredible. Now that I think about it it was one of the only places I recall dining with blacks and whites. Horrible, I know. So go there for that reason alone, and you won’t leave hungry or disappointed.

We also dined at Bounty on Broad. All menu items are brought to the table and served family style. They are located in a newly renovated brick building in a revitalized art district. It remains far from cozy and is too industrial for my design taste and everything was cooked in loads of pork fat which doesn’t appeal to my vegetarian tastes either, but you might like it.

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen was a much better experience and I hear their sister restaurant, Hog & Hominy, across the street is equally incredible. Andrew Michael is a small space, small rooms with wooden floors, white linen tablecloths and softer than soft lighting. Remember Seeger’s in Atlanta? A little like that but it smelled like Italian sausage. They have very little on the menu for vegetarians but we are used to that. I got the off-the-menu chef’s choice vegetable plate. It was wonderful, flavorful acidic tomatoes, incredible grits. We split the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding with brown butter pecan powder and salted caramel ice gelato three ways. Hands down the best value for $2.3333 in the State of Tennessee. 

The highlight of the trip was the Civil Rights Museum located downtown. As much as a picture of Grace under a Graceland sign would have made a killer Facebook profile picture it didn’t make the cut. The Civil Rights Museum is one of the best museums I have ever toured. It is incredibly well done. It takes you on a journey starting from slavery through the assignation of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the investigation behind the assignation. It is all made incredibly real as you stand at the sight of his death at the Lorraine Motel. It is brilliantly done. No documentary or textbook or lecture can teach you what you experience as you go through the exhibits. I never knew how the entire world mourned his loss and just how tragic his death was and the timing of it and perhaps where we could possibly be as a nation had he lived. One person. Would Memphis look entirely different now? Would we have reach the ideals of his dream for our nation by 2015? I know that as I entered the museum and saw men crouched in the hull of the slave ship and heard the sounds of men coughing and retching, I could never begin to know what their lives were like. When I lived in rural Mozambique and stood on Ibo Island where thousands of slaves were forced on ships by evil white men I wondered how this could have ever happened and begged forgiveness. It is hard to stand on that soil as a white person and not. 

And because of this and that dessert at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen you should go to Memphis.


PS. They also have a Pottery Barn Outlet there. 

I Heart Hartwell

I went home last week to my precious little hometown. I went to move my niece into her college dorm at Emmanuel, the alma mater of her great grandmother. W is cancer free now and celebrating her new lease on life. And I am joining her. This chapter is over, praise God. No more chemo. No more radiation. Only two tiny little surgeries to go. Personally, I am focusing on my next chapter, the next social enterprise, the next people group, the next nation. Time moves so quickly. And 24 hours in, Catherine has already become the most popular girl on campus and no longer needs me.

Last week,  I also attended a funeral, the second one this month of a 57 year old. And this one was of the healthiest woman I knew. She was an avid runner who inspired me to train for long distance races, her dimpled smile was contagious and she should have gotten a free pass in life and outlive us all.  Pam and Dan lost their infant son when I was 5. In my book, if you ever lose a baby no harm should ever befall you. Mom kept him in our home and therefore he was my baby too and his loss was devastating to me as a child. His death made me forever question God and His goodness and sent me on a lifelong journey to discover His kindness. Standing in the fellowship hall of the baptist church with Dan, a hero for a living (an EMT) and their close friend Leslie, a hero for a living (a nurse) and by one by default (lost a baby & a husband), I had no other choice but to accept the kindness of God in the midst of this because of their strength. I saw injustice. I saw a grandson who looks a lot like baby Adam who won’t know his grandmother. But Dan and Leslie saw a reunion in Heaven. This year Leslie tragically lost her 18 year old son just months before losing her husband after a long battle with ALS. And now she lost one of her best friends. 

Tragedy and injustice has punched these two families with both fists. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair and it hurts and it makes no sense at all. And baby Adam should still be here and healthy runners shouldn’t die at 57. And doctors who dedicate their lives to save others shouldn’t die of ALS, leaving their nurse wives to take care of them. But I didn’t hear Leslie complain. She actually smiled at the thought of her son and her husband together. The peace of the Kingdom surrounded her and it was so tangible it moved over into my space and it touched me too. And nothing about Dan was angry or bitter or resentful. The pastor quoted Dan as saying that he “didn't run to God, he was already there with Him.” 

It was true. He was there. Much like the Moses experience of seeing the face of God and coming off the mountain glowing, he and Leslie, they glowed a little. I found myself jealous almost. I don’t want to drink from that bitter cup or to ever have to taste that pain I know the two of them have experienced, but the peace on them was so beautiful if you saw it, you would want it too. It was tangible. That is the kindness of our Saviour. He has promised to never leave us and they are the living, breathing evidence of His goodness. He is peace. He is love. He is hope. 

I Corinthians 15:54 says “Death is swallowed up in Victory.”  Everything is upside down in the Kingdom and everything gets redeemed. Nothing is in vain. And even something as horrible as death is dubbed victory. And if Dan and Leslie can trust Him, so can I. And either way, I want what they have. But the price to pay is everything. I have to trust Him with everything, in everything. 

It’s sacred stuff. I felt myself literally leaning in hoping I could could feel it on my cheek or touch it with my hands or breathe it in. I’ve encountered it before. In the receiving line at Strickland Funeral home when I hugged Kim and Bob Brown when Chandler died. When sitting hip to hip next to my Mozambican mama friends in church. A lot of them have that glow. It is a glow of the desperate and the hungry and the broken who have spent time with God. I can’t begin to really know it myself but I know what it looks like. And just a little encounter with it will change you. 

Pam, William, Baby Adam, Dr. Stone, Greg Brown, and Baby Chandler, I know that if you were here you would tell me not to sweat the small stuff, to live life to the fullest, love deeply and having seen the other side, to trust Him with absolutely everything. And something about the thought of Pam Yeargin cheering me and my slow jog to the finish line makes me know that I can finish well. 

“Where are you? Where have you been? Are you working yet?”

These are all the questions I have been getting and the very questions I am asking myself. I returned from Africa around Christmas. I had been living with a friend in Nashville who had graciously opened her home to me for the months before I would be going to Africa to allow me to work. On Christmas Eve she was diagnosed with cancer. That changed things a little and I knew that I was to stay in Nashville a bit longer and be with her through the process. The process has included two surgeries and three rounds of chemo, so far. A fourth and final round is scheduled for Friday. She will have a month off before beginning radiation. 

I have applied for loads of jobs with non-profits such as World Vision and Nashville’s Blood:Water and stores at the mall and the local supermarket and a glasses company and a nanny job. I only get rejection emails or silence. I cleaned a friend’s house and that was fun. I feel major pressure from society to work and find a job, but all signs and His still small voice say, “Not now.” So I am waiting and know that when the timing is right the best place for me will open up. Ideally, I would love to do some freelance work and write more. I would like to fund myself and frequent trips back to Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa and Mozambique to help them establish and grow social enterprises and create jobs. 

Mozambique’s Galeria dos Sonhos continues to remain open and we are grateful for Thistle Farm’s Shared Trade (www.sharedtrade.org) and Chattahoochee Coffee Company in Atlanta, GA for being our customers. 
You can buy these @ www.sharedtrade.org! 
I am starting to see a little fruit from my last trip to Africa and that is fun. I am hoping to also have my friends from Bethel Cameroon join me in the Shared Trade program and will be consulting with them and guiding them though the process of becoming a partner. They plan to start out also in textiles and offering a line of children’s clothing and perhaps in the acquiring, and distribution of raw Shea butter! The guest house in Cameroon is also growing and taking in guests! 

My friends in Kenya will soon be opening a social enterprise based Coffee Shop and I would love to go and help get that started and will if finances allow. I want to continue to help the work in both of these countries.

For now my role is caregiver and consultant and, per your requests, I am attempting to write more and get more of The Story down. Currently, I am completely sharing my life with someone else. My life has suddenly become quite private as it is not fully my own. It used to involve wild adventures on the scooter and getting my students out of jail and living on the sea. Now it mostly involves laundry and vacuuming and doctor’s waiting rooms. I am figuratively in my own waiting room, waiting for what is next. I am growing content with it for the most part, anxious to go and see and do, but trusting in His plans and timing as they continue to surprise me and are always better than I can plan, image or submit applications for myself. 

The waiting season is turning into a very beautiful one. I have made a wonderful friend. I am not alone. We giggle most all day long. When weakness limits her, we color, draw or play cards.  On good days we piddle in the garden. We choose to live slow as the Africans taught me and are savoring this little tiny space in time before everything changes and gets hectic again. It is a joy and a pleasure. 


“Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all. Laugh, rest, slow down.”   ― Anne Lamott

To Dance with the White Dog

Aunt Martha was in the final stages of cancer. What was a cancerous lump in her breast had invaded other parts of her body and the doctors had sent her home to die. My mother sent  a Care Package including the Hallmark Film based on Georgia author, Terry Kay’s book To Dance with the White Dog. My family had read the book and adored the film. Martha was a dog lover and her sweet beagle, Maxine was always by her side. She and Uncle Danny watched the film together on one of her last nights at home before going back into the hospital where she took her final breath.  Our last conversation was about the film. My family surrounded as we watched her go. It changed me forever. It was the month of May. 

We had moved out to the country from the cozy cottage in the quite little town where I was born. I was 16 and sad. Her loss was so painful, it was almost unbearable. We had all been robbed. Meanwhile I am trying to finish high school, taking courses at Emmanuel College and have just left the only home I ever knew to move out to our farm in the middle of no where, also known as Reed Creek. I stumbled through life, vulnerable, afraid, and still so horribly sad. I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to grow up and I didn’t want to lose my dear aunt Martha. 

I was seated at the dining room table reading the big fat Sunday version of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It was September 12th, 1994 and Jessica Tandy had died. The female lead in To Dance with the White Dog. In the story, an elderly man, Sam, has just lost his wife of 57 years. The White Dog appears when only he can see her and becomes his companion. His children think he is growing old and senile, and even the reader doesn’t know if the dog is real or an apparition. But Sam and the White Dog dance through the remainder of Sam’s life. The film had starred Tandy and her real life husband Hume Cronyn who played Sam. Their romance was real on screen and the couple left a lasting impression. After his wife had died, feeble Sam would step out into the yard with his aluminum walker and the white dog would appear and jump with paws on the walker and join Sam in a dance. The article was all about their romance and her life and the film, To Dance with the White Dog. I read the article through tears. Aunt Martha would never grow old with her soul mate. She left me too. She was my biggest fan in life. I could do no wrong in her eyes. She loved me extravagantly. I missed her unconditional love deeply.  As I sat at our lace covered dining room table and read I heard a knock at the back door. It was Dad, dressed in his Corps of Engineer’s Smokey the Bear uniform. He motioned for me to come outside. Ever the skeptic, I kept asking him what was the matter, what was he doing home at this hour from work, and why must I come outdoors. He wasn’t allowed to just come home during working hours and was still in a pale green government issued business only Corps of Engineer’s truck. He opened the passenger door to reveal a dog, a white one. Exactly like the one in the Hallmark Movie and Mr. Kay’s book. He had the sweetest face and was white and fluffy and gentle. He poured out of the truck on a rope leash, fragile and afraid. I had a dog. 

Naturally, we named him White Dog and he went wherever I went on our new farm. If you ever sat down he insisted on coming behind you and pressing his head under your arm for an embrace. He rarely barked. He was eerily quite. He would often run in front of you, turn round and raise a paw for a handshake. Dad had found him wandering around a campsite, no collar, malnourished and knew we needed him and he needed us. White Dog, like most pets, instinctively knew when I had had a bad day or something was wrong. Even on days when I didn’t know we needed it, he was there to cheer us up, greet us, welcome us home and be our constant companion. 


At the time, I didn’t attribute his surreal arrival as a gift from God. The God of my world was a taker and not to be trusted. But as I have walked through life, twenty years later, I see His hand so obvious and so evident. His gaze never turned from my pain and He knew my loss. He sent me another fan, a four-legged one, but one who was always there, who loved to put his paws in my hands and dance. Martha's loss in my life is still real but so is His goodness and His constant attention to detail.

being still in nashville

Eryn rocking a kitty cat handbag like nobody's business
I left Nairobi way too many weeks ago to be just now writing about it. I landed in DC and stayed a week with Laura and her sweet family. John has moved up in this world since his pressure washing business at North Georgia College and now works in the White House and is a helicopter pilot and protects the president. The week in Virginia was just what I needed. I got loads of little kid snuggles and Laura and I spent a day in Middleburg window shopping in one of the richest zip codes in America. It was a drastically different world from whence I came. Each time I "re-enter" I find it becoming more easy to adjust to stepping from extreme poverty into extreme wealth. I am not sure if this is a good thing, but it is less traumatic and I can embrace both.

Molly rarely left my lap.
After my time with Laura, I flew to Nashville for a day, did some laundry, dug out a few sweaters and left the next morning for Arkansas for Christmas celebration #1. After a weekend of feasting, I went to Georgia twice for extended and immediate family gathering, dining and present opening. Everyone got goods from Africa and I got upgraded electronics and essential oils.




Natty's meerkat impression
It was all over way too soon and January 1st arrived out of no where. I had told myself not to plan or apply or accept or deny anything until January 1. 26 days later I am still wandering. I've been invited back to Cameroon and have opportunities in South Africa and Kenya. However, for this moment, all signs point to Nashville. My friends in Mozambique are suffering terribly. The floods have displaced hundreds of thousands, thousands have died, the entire northern part of the country (a country twice the size of California) is without power. It breaks my heart. Most missionaries have been denied visa's back into the country. Meanwhile, here in Nashville I am needed. I have resigned to staying here as the signs are clear that this is where I am supposed to be. It actually feels nice not trying to pack up again, raise funds and move half way across the world, but to settle in to where I have been planted and bloom a little. I recently got health insurance and a Tennessee driver's license so I am now legit. I even joined the Middle Tennessee YMCA. So there you have it. It is not an interesting tale. At least at the moment, but I know with life it will soon be. A new adventure awaits. I am applying for real jobs, the really good kind that pay you money for having an advanced degree and let you go to Africa and help do neat things. And in between that I get to go to the YMCA like a normal person and work out and watch the news while on the treadmill and go to Target any time I want and do all the things I longed to do while living in Mozambique. Life is grand. I still get to live with the sweetest girl in the prettiest house in all of East Nashville. And when I land that sweet job you will be the first to know. 

Last night as I wrote this in my head I had loads to say. But today I am struggling to find the words to describe it all. Mostly I am a place of great unknown. I haven't a clue what even the next few weeks will hold or worse, if I am prepared for it. But I am content as I know this is where I am supposed to be.  I am loved and blessed.

Thank you for all your support along this journey. It is far from over. I don't intend to sit still for long so come visit!

Love, 
Grace