Stay in Your Lane: Lessons in Surrender from Dancing the Salsa to Driving through Storms

A gorgeous summer day. A beautiful, quiet, city park. A soft, green lawn. An impromptu salsa lesson. Same said summer day turned stormy. A crowded highway booming with thunder and pelted with rain. A majestic rainbow. A tricky drive home. A lesson learned.

I spent Saturday exploring downtown Greenville and catching up with a friend. The day started out gorgeously. The sun shone marvelously and relentlessly on us as we walked from place to place. Occasionally a breeze would gently wisp through cooling us off. It was simply perfect. Our wanderings brought us to a small park in the city center.

Three large buildings made a shady perimeter around a green lawn constructed of Astro-turf, dubbing for an ice skating rink in the winter. Along the right wall a fountain cascaded and the dripping water echoed in sync with small children’s shouts of shrill delight as they played in it. A little oasis amidst the bustle of the city. For us it would serve as a dance floor.

My friend has become quite the salsa dancing extraordinaire in the past few years. It seems to be both a passion and a delight for him. He beams when he speaks of it, and rightfully so, he’s excellent at it. Needless to say, I was definitely interested in learning more about this which brings him such joy. So right there, smack dab in the middle of the park, I received my first salsa lesson.

And, how’d that go? Bless his soul. He was extremely patient as I fumbled through the footwork, tangled the turns, and hampered the holds. Despite my clumsiness, we laughed our way through and had a ball [or at least, I had a ball.] He taught me a few different [extremely basic, again, bless him] forms of salsa. One in particular struck a chord in me.

In the LA Style of salsa you dance in a lane. It is a compilation of eight different steps all done in a single lane or line of activity. Whenever there is a turn, you always come back to your lane. The lead guides with subtle movements of his hand and on specific counts. For the dance to work effectively  or [for the sake of being too technical] the dance to flow fluidly and beautifully, the lady must trust the lead. In this style, the lead will always come back to the lane.

Hold that thought for a moment.

As my friend and I parted ways later that afternoon, we were caught in a boisterous storm. Lightning cracked. Thunder bellowed. And the rain, my goodness. It fell like driving sheets of bullets. The roads were white with rain. I could see no more than five feet in front of me. Quite different from my drive in where the sun was shining, the roads were clear, and the number on my speedometer, may or may not have been higher than the corresponding number on the speed limit signs, this return ride contained a bit more danger. I had to remain in my lane.

Rather than changing lanes and overcoming slower vehicles in front of me, I took security in staying safely behind the car in front of me. The storm kept me from seeing the road before me, but if I could just keep my eyes on the one going before me, I would be safe.

Eventually, I drove beyond the band of the storm. The pelting rain dwindled to droplets. The clouds gave way to sun. I peered into my rear view mirror back at the storm, only to catch a glimpse of something greater. The widest, most vivid, most brilliantly majestic rainbow I have ever seen. Any chance I had I stole a glance back. Again, something stuck with me about that rainbow and the storm.

In the past few years, I have been praying the Lord give me one specific thing that would serve as the theme of our journey together that year. This year I am learning to slow to the pace of surrender. By far, not an easy lesson to learn.

My heart is full of so many desires, longings, questions, dreams, fears, and even doubts. I wonder when things will happen, if they will happen, how they will happen, who will they happen with. My heart becomes battered beneath all the wondering. Here is where I must slow to surrender. Stop long enough to loosen my already feeble grip on the reigns of control, and place them back in the hands of God.

Yesterday’s events taught me more about surrender.

Driving through that storm was quite reminiscent of the season I am in. The road before me often seems clouded and unknowable. I cannot make out where I am going next or what I will be doing in the future, or simply who will be there doing life with me. Therefore, for now, I need stay in my lane. My only certainty is the One who goes before me. Isaiah 30:21 says:

 “Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” 

Also in Psalm 139:5 David declares,

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” 

Or in the New Living Translation,

“You go before me, and follow me. You place your hand of blessing upon my head.” 

When I set my gaze upon Him, He will guide me, safely, to where I need to be, when I need to be there, and who I may be there with. When it is time, He will lead me to switch lanes. I do not need to speed up my journey. Here in the limited visibility, I will trust the One who goes before me. I will cling to that covenant rainbow. I will trust my Lead.

More than a seemingly stormy journey, my walk with the Lord is like that dance. Through every turn, after every dip, my perfect Lead will always bring me back to the lane. My responsibility–my joy– is to trust his lead and never break hold. As I heed to his lead, the dance becomes something beautiful and inviting. Something simply delightful.

Surrender is not intended to be easy. It entails a death to self. But in the end, through the rendering of control to the Lead, as the beauty that is the dance unfolds, it is worth it. When I slowly caught on to a particular step as my friend and I danced, he’d smile and exclaim “Eso!” meaning “That’s it” or “You’ve got it.” How much more would it mean to see the beaming grin and hear the jubilant laugh as we give way to our Heavenly Lead, as he declares “Eso!” over the dance of our lives.

Stay in your lane. Trust your Lead. Don’t miss the rainbow.

Brave Heart and Beloved, He who promised is faithful…still.

 

 

Revisiting Old Wells

About three hours outside of Nairobi, Kenya is the town of Mwingi (pronounced Wing-ee). Snuggled in the heart of Mwingi is the farm of Joyfred Muthengi. Stepping through the city gate onto the farm was like Dorothy stepping out of dust bowl Kansas into the vivid and vibrant land of Oz. Oh the difference a well makes.

12241581_962768270446424_6323079926003543340_n

Several years ago this vibrance and beauty seemed merely a far fetched dream for Joyfred. He and his family attempted to manually dig a well to help irrigate their family farm. The deeper and deeper they went the more hopeless their efforts seemed as they never struck water. Hope seemed lost, until God.

1532.jpg

In 2015, missionaries Mike and Tammy McRae, overseers and operators of Water For Nations arrived with their drilling rig to begin their first well on Joyfred’s farm. Mike was able to determine where exactly they would need to drill for the water to in fact spring forth. 11895964_921040927952492_262975436689422240_n.jpg

Within time, water did in fact spring up, the well was capped and Joyfred began installing his irrigation system. Today his farm serves as an oasis to his family and his community. It is abundantly lush with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, greenery and botanical jewels. Beyond that, it is a place of life. It provides clean drinking water for the surrounding community to consume. The well provides jobs and educational opportunities. Joyfred being the strong disciple of Christ that he is uses it as an evangelistic opportunity as well. During my visit, he shared that he hoped to open his land to churches to come and baptize their members in this clean water. The well brought life abundant to Mwingi. It has taught me quite the lesson as well.

In John 4, we read the story of another well located outside the city of Samaria. Jesus sits down at the well while his disciples journey into the city to find some food. As he sat on the wall of the well, perhaps he took his sandals off for a bit, massaged his sore feet, wiped the sweat from his brow and beard, pushed his hair back from his face, and licked his chapped lips. I imagine he briefly closed his eyes, tilted his head back, allowed the warm breeze to sweep across his face, then hearing approaching footsteps opened his eyes. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the sun, he saw a woman approaching with a clay jar over her shoulder. She kept her face down to avoid all eye contact, just wanting to accomplish her task without being seen, noticed or acknowledged. But Jesus has this funny way of seeing people who think they’re invisible.

“Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7) 

I can only imagine what her initial reaction must have been. Perhaps she looked up startled, maybe even annoyed. Maybe she did a double take to see if he was actually speaking to her or someone behind her. Maybe she ignored him at first or pretended to be deaf to see if he might buzz off. However, she does eventually acknowledge him and attempts to remind him of the political correctness of their culture:

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9) 

It just didn’t happen those days.Jesus, unamused by the need for political correctness, thirsty, and with a greater purpose in mind begins to turn the conversation in a different direction:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) 

Peaking her interest, her posture of defense and tough exterior shifts. Becoming intrigued and slightly desperate the woman begs:

“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15) 

In a strange move, Jesus makes another bizarre request of the woman:

“Go, call your husband and come back.” 

“I have no husband,” she replied. 

“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:16-18)

Behold, the real well. This woman was in fact thirsty. She craved something more. Something that would fill the deep desire and longing of her soul. Something for which her whole being ached. She attempted digging one well after another. Each time ending up disappointed, broken, thirsting more than before. Nothing ever satisfied that deep longing

1532.jpg

Oh Samaritan sister, how deeply I can relate. That longing is all too familiar to us all. I know the what’s and the who’s that make up my man-made wells. I know the feeling of discontent, disappointment, and dryness that lingers following failed attempts to quench that inner thirst. I admittedly return to those old wells far too often only reaping the same results.

The beauty of this encounter is that Jesus excavates the dried up wells the Samaritan woman had previously attempted to draw from, and begins, with his truth and love, to drill a new well into her heart. The woman realizes her longing for the true Well. The Living Well. The Well that will sustain her and satisfy her. She is desperate to know where she can find it.

“I, the one speaking to you- I am He.” (John 4:26) 

15732073_1274220949301153_6760020726367782350_o.jpg

Brave heart and Beloved, the Well is still flowing and fresh. My prayer is that the Lord would seal off those old wells. That the Spirit would prompt me and prod me when I am returning to those old, dry wells and stop me in my tracks. That He will dig His Well into the deepest depths of my soul. That the Well would spring forth unto Eternal Life in all that I do and am. I pray that the Lord would completely immerse every fiber of my being with that Living Water that I would be soaked from head to toe with the satisfying, sustaining, overwhelming, beauty of His Spirit.

Identify those old wells. Pray for the Spirit to seal them.

Then, Brave heart and Beloved, come to the Well.

12049349_1044257032297547_8322008183949503730_n.jpg

**Thank you to Mike and Tammy McRae and Water for Nations for the photographs. To learn more about Water for Nations and how you can help support their ministry like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaterForNations/ .**

No Ordinary Lamb: A Shepherd’s Tale

I was a young boy then. It was my first night in the fields, that cold, crisp winter evening. My father woke me early that morning. I quickly rolled up my straw bed mat and placed it in the hand woven basket beside the stucco wall. From the small hook on the same wall, I pulled the warm wool tunic Mother made for me and draped it around my shoulders. As I rushed from my small back room, from the corner I grabbed the olive wood staff Father and I had been whittling together. The aroma of roasted grain and freshly baked bread permeated the air as I ran into the kitchen. Mother handed me a small bundle containing the bread and a small block of goat cheese in addition to a skin filled with water to carry to the field for Father and me. I stopped at the door to quickly lace up my leather sandals, still a bit too big for my feet, gathered my bundle and staff, and then ran to quickly catch up with Father. As we walked along the dirt road to the field, Father shared some of the secrets of his trade. “Keep your eyes on the lambs,” he said, “some of those little lambs are born for a very special purpose.” The closer we came to field the more excited I became.

We finally reached the field and Father introduced me to the other shepherds. I watched as they each led the sheep from their pens, counted them one by one, gradually inspecting each one to make sure they were healthy and whole. Eventually each of the shepherds positioned themselves throughout the field, settled down, and watched the sheep. After a while, Father called me over to him. In his arms he held a little lamb. “Adriel, keep your eyes on this lamb. He is a special lamb born for a special purpose. Make sure he grazes well and drinks plenty of water. Do not let him stray too far off or wander into any danger. Whatever you do, do not take your eyes off the lamb.” He then handed me the little lamb and I held it carefully in my arms.

I carried the little lamb to the edge of the field. I sat down beneath a small tree and ran my hands through his coarse, yet soft, pure, white wool, warming my fingers from the crisp winter air. As I stroked his silky ears they began to twitch and he let out a soft bleating, which made me chuckle to myself. He looked up at me with his small, but deep brown eyes. “He is a special lamb born for a special purpose.”  Father’s words replayed in my mind as I looked at Little Lamb. I knew deep down the purpose he was referring to. Little Lamb was among the lambs of the flock that would be taken to the Temple. He would be one of the sacrificial lambs, offered for the guilt and sins of a family he may never even meet. He must remain absolutely flawless. My heart hurt as I looked down into Little Lamb’s beady little eyes knowing what was yet to come. He never did anything to hurt anyone. He was a perfectly, innocent little lamb who didn’t deserve that kind of death. But that was the purpose for which he was destined. For now, though, he was just a lamb. I bent my head down and nuzzled his warm wooly cheek, to which he returned a kiss with his rough little tongue.

Throughout the afternoon, I kept my eyes on the lamb. He would skip through the field back and forth between his mother and me. Once a butterfly fluttered by and he chased it frivolously, baaing and bleating all the way. When he became bored with the butterfly, he returned back to me. I then hoisted him over my shoulders and walked around the field, observing the shepherds tending to the flocks.

As the sun was beginning to set, the temperature began to drop. Several of the younger shepherds began building fires for both we and the sheep to keep warm. Father leaned over to me and told me this is the time when we must be extra vigilant. “The wolves come in the night to steal the sheep. Stay close to the flock and stay alert. And remember…” Before he could finish, I interrupted, “Keep your eyes on the lamb.” He laughed and nodded, “That’s right son.”

Within an hour the sun had fully set, above us was a clear, dark, velvet sky, sprinkled with a billion diamond like stars. That night, however, there was one star far more dazzling than the rest. As I sat huddled close to the fire, Little Lamb in my lap, we both gazed, eyes wide, at this beautiful new star. All seemed so much more still than ever before. A few moments later the crisp gentle breeze billowing over the Bethlehem hillside, shifted, becoming more intense. The shrubs speckling the hillside began to rustle intensely beneath the weight of the wind. Little Lamb began to tremble and bleat in my lap, I picked him up and grabbed him close to my heart. Soon the rest of the flock began stirring together, and all the shepherds were quick to their feet to settle them down. One gust of wind swept across the hillside extinguishing all the fires we had lit. For a moment, we all stopped dead in our tracks, uneasy due to both the darkness and the silence.

All at once a warm glow appeared on the horizon. We all quickly turned to face it. Then we saw him. He was at least seven feet tall, but he wasn’t really standing, it was more like hovering. The robe he was wearing was whiter than any lamb’s wool I had ever seen.

It seemed whiter than fresh fallen snow. From his back protruded two stunning wings, which glistened like gold, but brighter still. His face was glowing. All in all he was equal parts beautiful and terrifying to look at. We couldn’t wrap our minds around what was happening. We were stunned and terrified. Then with a voice mighty and melodious, he said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly the sky was ablaze as a whole company of angels like the one who had just spoke to us appeared. Together in perfect harmony they sang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” In a moment, they all vanished and the star filled sky appeared once more. Our hearts racing, minds reeling, we sat there stunned, attempting to process what we had just seen, heard, and experienced. My mind flashed back to the words of the sage rabbi in our village. He taught of the prophets of old who spoke of a Promised Messiah who would save our people. Could this be who they were referring to? As I sat there attempting to sort through it all, Father’s voice snapped me back to reality; “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Each of us stumbled to our feet, gathering our staffs, shaking our heads, still attempting to process. I was still clinching Little Lamb close to my heart. In one swift motion, I hoisted him over my shoulders and joined our unlikely, ragged, processional toward Bethlehem’s city center.

One of the shepherds was familiar with a stable outside one of the inns there in the village as he had sold lambs to the keeper before. He led us to the stable where the special star seemed to be perfectly gleaming directly above. We walked timidly toward the entrance where a dim fire was the only light illuminating the inside of the small stable. A large ox stood in the corner feeding in a small trough. A donkey was roped in a stall to the right. Chickens pecked the ground near the entrance. But there, smack dab in the middle of the hay and the animals, there they were. The young couple looking worn from the journey and the birth, yet jubilant and joyful as they looked into the little wooden manger.

The other shepherds stopped short at the door, but I pushed through to see past them, Father right behind me, Little Lamb still on my shoulders. I stood about a foot away from the manger, peered in, and there He was. I had younger brothers and sisters, so I had seen newborn babies before, but something was different about this baby. My heart felt so many different things when I saw this baby. My heart rejoiced when I saw this baby. I loved this baby. I was grateful for this baby. I felt somehow indebted to this baby. I looked up and met the gaze of his mother. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes seemed to. Tears began to well in my eyes as I looked at her and back at her baby. Little Lamb began to bleat. I pulled him from my shoulders, back into my arms, and held him close to my heart.  I nuzzled my head once more into Little Lamb’s warm wooly head as a tear rolled down my cheek. Father then leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Keep your eyes on the Lamb. He was born for a very special purpose.” This was no ordinary lamb.

Now both I and Little Lamb are fully grown and stand here amidst the chaos of the Jerusalem city center at Passover. I have brought several lambs to be used for the sacrifices, but in my journey to the Temple I have been stopped. A vicious mob has thronged the streets, blocking all progress. Over the heads of the onlookers, I see the glint of the sun off Roman centurion helmets. The deafening crack of whips and heart wrenching cries of agony mingle amidst the insults of the crowd. I finally find a break in the crowd, and see what the source of activity is. A man mangled beneath the weight of the heavy, wooden cross he carries and the whips that slice into his skin is being led to that dreaded hill where he would soon be crucified. Something within urged me on to follow in pursuit, rather than turn away.

The dreadful processional finally reached the hilltop. The mangled man was thrown down upon the cross. Nails are pierced into his wrists and ankles, resulting in blood curdling screams of agony. He is then hoisted into the air for all to see. A woman pushes her way through the onlookers to the foot of the cross, tears streaming down her face, as she reaches out for the man on the cross. My heart feels as if it is being ripped from my chest as I witness her sheer agony. As I see the longing in her eyes, I am hit with a paralyzing realization. I know those eyes. I know this woman. It can’t be. Deep within me, I let loose a cry unlike any I had ever known. This was no ordinary man. As I looked up to the cross, the words of my Father again echoed in my mind, “Keep your eyes on the Lamb. He was born for a very special purpose.” He was no ordinary Lamb.

Loving Liminals

Liminal: adj. Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate. 

Among other things,  I learned a new word during my first week long intensive of my graduate program. Liminal. It actually is an anthropological ethnographic term. Or in English, a term used in the study of humanity and its diverse cultures and societies.

Liminal is the term used to describe a transitional phase of a human’s life. For example, when you are engaged to be married you aren’t technically courting or dating. Neither are you married. You are betwixt and between. You are kind of single and kinda almost married, but not. It isn’t until the minister or officiant says, “I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. So and So…” that you fully receive a status again. Liminality, then, essentially, is a time of not belonging.

Here I find myself. In the liminal.

After graduation, I wound up remaining in the same community I graduated from. I took a position at the Christian counseling center down the road, began working full time, while completing my graduate program online. Even though, I am still at Emmanuel College, I am not. I don’t belong as an Emmanuel College student. Regardless of the fact less than 6 months ago, I was. But on the other end, I work with ten different therapists and two other members of the office staff. They all have families, are married or almost married. Except for myself. Oh and then in my graduate cohort, once again the only one not engaged in full time liturgical ministry or married with a family, yea that would be me again. In searching for a community of believers at church to connect with and relate to there is a group of college students, and a group for young marrieds out of college. But nothing for singles. Nothing for liminals.

I guess, I just don’t quite belong.

This isn’t some rant from a single amidst ‘the ring-by-spring’ culture. Rather it is the heart cry of a liminal longing to belong.

I know I am not alone. Around this community, and across the country, the globe even, there are millions of liminals. In every shape, shade, and age looking for a community of their own. A place where those who don’t technically belong, somehow belong together.

We as the church have pushed this group further and further to the edges. We have overlooked them, missed them, and simply abandoned them. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression most often begins between the ages of 20 to 30. Obviously, every case is different, but possibly more than at any other time in their lives, these are the years people are navigating through liminality.  Discerning career paths, moving away from home, looking for a spouse, purchasing homes, making long-term decisions, stepping fully into their identity, no longer being sheltered from responsibility, cruelty, vulnerability. It all hits at once. And the church is missing it.

Brothers and sisters, I am begging you, look for the liminals. Love on them. Don’t try and merge them in with another group at your church gatherings.Don’t force them to conform to one label or another. Don’t play matchmaker or assign them all the tasks that everyone else can’t do due to family responsibilities. Just love us right smack dab where we are at.  Just take the time to listen to us. Our longings, our questions, our pains, our dreams, our hurts. Cultivate an environment where we as liminals can come together and simply belong.

After all, we were all once liminals. Not simply in respect to those of you who find yourself well into adulthood. But we were all exiles, outcasts, and liminals prior to grace.

Paul in the latter half of Ephesians 2 is speaking to the Gentiles of the church of their former life prior to becoming a part of the body of Christ. The Message translation puts it this way: “It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything…” (11-13)

At one point, we were all outsiders. On the edges of the family of God in need of grace.

“…Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (16-18)

Christ’s death on the cross, opened the door for all on the edges to come home. We became equals. In ethnography, liminality is also known as a state of equality. There is no hierarchy, because technically there is no structure. At the end of the day, every member of the church, be it bishop or janitor, is a sinner saved by grace. We are equal in the Kingdom. No sin too great. Nor saint too sacred. We are all liminals. And yet…

“That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” (19-21)

God built his church not only for the liminal, but of the liminal. The church is made up of people who at once had no where to belong, but through Him, now do. Christ came so that all might belong. Therefore, we as the church need to be more intentional about looking for, listening to, and loving on the liminals.

We are all longing to belong.

We are all liminal.

Reflections from the Mara: Month Two

Mara, the Maasai word for spotted. The Maasai use this term to refer to a vast terrain  sporadically embellished with trees and shrubs. In a way,  it also adequately describes my second month on the ground in Kenya: a sporadic time of reflection, surrender, confusion, questioning and adventure.

Things slowed down considerably once the team departed. The first day back on campus following their departure was eerily quiet. No humming from the hand saw. No scraping of trowel against brick. No drumming from the cement mixer. No screaming above the drumming of the cement mixer. No Southern accents attempting to master Swahili. No bellowing laughter. Those seventeen had become part of the EABC family their brief time on campus. But they had to return to their lives and missions back in the US, just has I had to return to mine there in Eldoret. However, following the re-construction I underwent my first month, a pile of rubble was left to sort through. What should remain? What should I release?  I found myself having to remember my crucial resolution to remain fully present.

Thankfully the Lord had provided another companion during my second month, Mara East. Mara graduated from my alma mater two years prior to me and we were both students in the School of Christian Ministries. I was thrilled whenever I heard she would be accompanying a visiting professor as a teaching assistant. Mara and I became close during her time in Kenya as we were roommates most of the time. The more and more we talked, the more we realized we had in common. As a matter of fact we were asked on numerous occasions whether or not we were sisters. Mara is extremely wise and incredibly loving. Throughout her time at Emmanuel I looked up to her, her time in Kenya proved no different. I was grateful to have Mara as a companion to help sort through the rubble with me.

Mara helped me maintain my resolution to remain fully present in addition to providing a buffer zone to at last discuss the confusion, excitement, questions, and desires the reconstruction caused to rise to the surface. She helped me find joy in the things that were before me while helping me bear the weight of all that was stirring within me. She was truly Christ to me.

Mara and I kept each other sane during the period of uncertainty both of us were facing. We reminded each other of the fact we were in the middle of an incredible adventure, so we better live it to the fullest. We are only promised today, so we better not miss it. We were supposed to be adults but inside we were still two little kids, so why not embrace it. So we tried new things like strong Ethiopian coffee and goat meat. We applauded the purchases of flamboyant poofy pants and matching mzungu shirts to humor the Kenyans. We watched Frozen, sang countless Disney songs, turned Maasai blankets into capes, and ate chocolate chip cookies. We even embarked on another safari together.

Our safari brought us to the absolutely stunning Maasai Mara, one of the largest and most spectacular game parks in all of Africa. We spent three days in the park with our ever gracious host, Gailya List. This woman has served the continent of Africa for the majority of her life and was wonderful enough to open the opportunity for Mara and I to safari with her. During our time in the park, we resided in a tent. Tent is like the understatement of the century. It was a tent, but with wooden floors, hot water, indoor plumbing, real beds, and a roof over top. By far one of, if not the, nicest places I stayed my entire internship. Don’t even get me started on the food. It. Was. Amazing.

We traversed across some of the most exquisite landscape I have ever seen and encountered the greats of the African wildlife. There were ostriches, hippopotamuses, lions and lionesses, cheetahs, baboons, hyenas, jackals, billions of birds, and my favorite ELEPHANTS! Lots and lots of elephants! Our incredible guide, James, knew the territory well, informing us not only of the residents of the Animal Kingdom, but also the inhabitants of the Plant Kingdom. The farther up and the deeper in we went, the more in love I fell. The majesty of the intricacy, enormity, extravagancy of Creation romanced me to the Creator. As I looked across the expanse of the Mara eclipsed by the sunrise, I remembered how small I was. The mountain I had made that pile of rubble into was put into perspective. If my God was ingeniutive, creative, and powerful enough to breathe into existence volcanic mountains, valiant lions, and towering elephants, yet gentle enough to paint every detail on the wing of a butterfly and place the melody in the mouth of every song bird, then surely I could entrust Him with my worries and questions. He has a plan for my life, and I can trust that plan. I can trust Him.

My time in the Mara and with Mara empowered me to surrender once more. Yes, the pile of rubble from reconstruction was still there. I could either spend hours on end sorting through it all trying to determine and understand it. Or I could surrender my attempts to understand to the One who already knows what lies ahead and who has promised to walk with me each step of the way. My pile of rubble became the altar on which I offered up all the unknown, embraced it, and journeyed into it with the Creator beside me each step of the way.

Upon returning from the Mara things began to pick up pace once again. The remainder of my second month seemed to zoom by. The Saturday following the Mara I accompanied my supervisor to a training day for Girls’ Ministries Leaders. As she trained the leaders, I ministered to the girls. I told them the story of the beautiful, orphan girl Hadassah who by the sovereignty of God later became brave Queen Esther who saved her people. This lesson reminded me that no matter how bleak our current situations seem, God is on the throne and he can make even the most impossible of situations into realities.

After the lesson, I taught the girls several dances they could share with their respective churches. It was like a scene from my deepest of dreams as I watched these beautiful girls dance in the beauty of their innocence and purity as they poured out their hearts in worship. They were truly radiant. I was entirely humbled.

The following weekend was Easter. My supervisors and I journeyed back to Nakuru. We would be meeting up with the EABC students for a weekend long outreach to the community. As we made the journey, I found myself reminiscing of the last time I was here with the team and reflecting upon the reconstruction. I once again had to surrender my pile of rubble and uncertainty and ask the Lord for help to be fully present.

Saturday we spent the morning at the Children’s Home. The female students shared their testimonies and poured out their love to the young ladies at Nakuru CMD. Near the end, I taught the girls a few dances specifically themed for Easter. I still feel chills when I think about the victory cries released from these valiant warriors as we declared in dance that our King had overcome the grave!

That evening we dined with Mama Gladys Wakesa once again. Once more my heart was humbled by her generous hospitality. Near the end of the meal, Bishop Wakesa joined us for a time of prayer. That evening he and Mama Gladys were presented with $1,000 toward furthering the ministry of the CMD and the church. Bishop Wakesa and Mama Gladys were beyond grateful and deeply encouraged by the gift they received. It was a beautifully sacred time yet again. Little did I know this would be my last time with Bishop Wakesa. I received news three weeks later that Bishop Wakesa passed away. To this day, I am eternally grateful for the immense lessons he taught me in the brief time that I knew him. I will never forget him. I cherish the fact that I was able to  share this moment of joy with him.

Easter Sunday was spent rejoicing and worshiping at Nakuru Worship Center. I had the incredible opportunity to preach that morning. I was extremely nervous, but excited.“Afraid, yet Filled with Joy” was the message. I told the story of a young woman named Emily Eisenman who earlier that week had her world entirely rocked as her boyfriend, Bart, was among the missing of the Brussels attacks. Despite her fear, she had joy because she knew both she and Bart believed in Christ. I recollected how the women who were the first to witness the Resurrection were still in fear from the events of the Crucifixion, but maintained a glimmer of hope due to the fact Christ could actually be alive. Their fear did not disappear, however, until they encountered the Resurrected Lord for themselves. So too is it with us. Despite the terror and fear that looms around us, we can have joy because Christ is alive and He is victorious! We can truly only know this victory when we encounter Him for ourselves. Emily found out that Bart was in fact among the fallen of the attacks, but she shared with the world that despite her grave loss, she had peace. She knew where Bart would spend his eternity and that she would in fact see him again someday. I extended the invitation for those in the service to have that same assurance. The Lord proved Himself victorious as we celebrated the power of His Resurrection.

My second month ended by spending the day with my friends at Huruma Children’s Home. There was no set agenda. I just wanted to play. There was laughter and screaming and running and tagging and jumping and smiling. Duck-Duck-Goose was converted to Punda Milia-Punda Milia-Simba (Zebra-Zebra-Lion). Selfies were taken as my young friends giggled with delight upon seeing themselves in the camera for the first time. My face was contorted time and time again into various funny faces resulting in outcries of laughter. There weren’t many words spoken audibly. Love and laughter transcended the language barrier resulting in a very successful afternoon.

My second month in Africa was, in a word, sporadic. The reconstruction left a pile of rubble, which became an altar. The changes I was undergoing were immense, but necessary. I had no control, but when had I really possessed any before? Amidst the randomness of it all, I fell to my knees and surrendered the chaos. Only then did I find peace. Only then was I fully present. Only then did I relish the adventure I was living. And still am…

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yout ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:9

 

 

 

Under Construction: Month One

“Retrospect is always 20/20.” That’s the heralded saying as one looks back and recounts past experiences. For me it will be my excuse as I recap the three months of my African dream. The pace has finally slowed to where I can devote ample time to the retelling of this most excellent adventure.

My first month on the ground in Kenya was one of construction and re-construction. Both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, I spent the second half of my first month constructing a home on the campus of East Africa Bible College. Little did I know that the lessons I learned and the relationships that were forged on that job site would cause a complete reconstruction of my perspective, future, and Spirituality.

005

February 15, marked the turning point in my internship. In the wee hours of that morning, I came to a critical realization. I found myself midway through a daydream of: “Someday when I am on the mission field full time, I can…” when it hit me. All my somedays, were today. The dream I had been dreaming for the past eleven years, was now my reality. Instead of being so caught up with the life I was missing back home and the uncertainty that awaited my return, I had to be fully present in that moment. I may never have another opportunity as incredible as this one ever again. So from that moment forward my critical realization, became a crucial resolution to be fully present for the remainder of my internship.

A few hours later, I joined my supervisor at the Nairobi airport to welcome the construction team from the States. Little did I know the impact those seventeen men and women would have on my life over the following two weeks. Or the challenges that awaited us. The team of seventeen was made up of several different pastors and their spouses, architects, brick masons, contractors, a law enforcement official, a pageant queen, educators, a physical therapist, and people just wanting to help serve.

After resting that evening, we loaded up the bus and began the seven-hour ride from Nairobi to Eldoret, allowing plenty of time to not only observe the spectacular African landscape, but to begin breaking the ice and forming relationships. Personally, I began practicing being present.

The moments on that bus ride made me laugh harder than I had the entire three weeks I had been on the ground in Kenya, simply because my heart and my head were fully there. We arrived on campus in the early evening and we served the team their first official Kenyan meal and acquainted them with the campus that would become their home for the next two weeks, and would eventually rob some of them of a large portion of their heart.

The next morning began early with breakfast and a chapel service to fill our stomachs and focus our Spirits on the task that lay ahead. The team met the students for the first time and began building relationships, before even building the home. We then marched ourselves down to the job site as contractors, Tony Hirst and Danny Cupp, became our visionaries and strategists of how to transform a concrete foundation, a tin roof, and a pile of bricks into a home. Once we each received our individual assignments for the day we went to work. My tasks that first day included moving bricks and slingin’ mud (aka mortar). I loved the fact that at the end of the day I was covered in dust, dirt, cement, sweat, and a little bit of blood. But even more than that, I was thrilled with the relationships that were beginning to merge from the job site.

The work progressed over the following days. Piles of bricks became walls. Loose sand became sturdy cement. Engineers became educators. Foreigners became friends. Strangers became family. It was beautiful. The first Saturday the team was there the ladies split off for a ministry day at Huruma Children’s Home just outside of Eldoret. We were taken on a tour of the dormitories prior to meeting the children, in which my heart began to crumble. I saw the need of the home, and felt helpless. But then I saw the residents of the home and felt encompassing love. As I looked into the eyes and the smiles of these precious children my entire world and perspective shifted. The materialism, the entitlement, the selfishness, the comfortable all faded. Love alone remained. Before I knew it, one of these precious little ones grabbed a hold of my hand, meanwhile latching hold to my heart. Her name was Phoebe.

These incredible ladies and I became the “sho-sho’s” (grandmothers) and aunties these children may never have. All the obligations, worries, frustrations, discomforts, and minor ailments disappeared as we gave our all to these little ones. We gave them each gifts. You would have thought we had given thousands of dollars away upon watching their reactions. Their simple, innocent gratitude humbled me. I can confidently say that this experience perplexed, encouraged, revived, challenged, and blessed my fellow sisters and me beyond description.

After a weekend of incredible food, views, and worship, we went back to work Monday morning. The second week was full of more memories and challenges. These various challenges put into perspective relationships back home as well as those quickly developing on the field. One morning I woke up with my right arm full of welts each the size of a quarter. After putting it off, my supervisor and the team finally convinced me to go to the clinic. To this day we still don’t know what caused the welts, only that it was an allergic reaction of some kind. But in those moments of pain, discomfort, and uncertainty the team became family as they rallied around me to help wrap the welts, accompany me to the clinic, researched the possible causes, expressed concern, cheered me up, and prayed continuously for me until my return to the site.

After these bumps in the road (pun not intended), I returned to help continue construction. I was amazed at how quickly this team was accomplishing their goal. But even more amazing was the impact they were having on the community. Many on the team were branching beyond themselves and their comfort zones and welcoming every challenge with optimism, as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Each day as we left the job site, sore, tired, dirty, injured, and smelly, it was hard not to find the majority of the team in good spirits with laughter and smiles as they saw the grander goal.

Friday afternoon we began bringing our work to a close. No, we had not completed a full Ty Pennington, Extreme Home Makeover. No, there would be no “Move that Bus!” incredible reveal of a fully completed, fully furnished home. No, we didn’t fully finish laying all the inside walls or install the doors and windows. However, we completed something so much greater. We built up people. We constructed relationships. We remodeled perspectives. We tore down expectations. We welded two nations together in a beautiful way. The eternal construction and re-construction the 18 of us underwent those two weeks was far more important than any physical structure we could ever construct.

That is the purpose of missions. The people are no means to an end. They are the end. So Saturday morning we gathered around the site one last time thanking the Lord for not only the progress, but the people, the relationships, the memories, the frustrations, and the victories. We thanked our incredible visitors for their sacrifice and willingness. We stood in awe of what God had done. We celebrated a home to come.

The rest of the weekend was filled with more memories. We left Eldoret that afternoon and ventured to Nakuru. Sunday morning we worshipped with our brothers and sisters at Nakuru Worship Center. After lunch, we were given a tour of Nakuru CMD and Pistis Education Center, the largest children’s home in Kenya for the IPHC. Once again my heart was broken as I saw the need, and my reality was put in check. The afternoon was filled with presentations by the children. They sang, they danced, they recited poetry and I fell in love. I spent the remainder of our time with some of the older girls being taught how to dance their rhythm. My heart smiled as I watched them smile and laugh when they realized this mzungu could actually dance!

That evening we dined with two of the most amazing individuals I have ever met: Bishop Laban and Mama Gladys Wakesa. Mama Gladys prepared a feast for over twenty people on two small charcoal stoves. The meal was exquisite! After the meal, Bishop Wakesa, a man who has saved the lives of thousands of children through the CMD, was wheeled into the living room to meet us. Bishop Wakesa had been battling a terminal illness and confined to bed at the time. Once Bishop Wakesa joined us we prayed over the church, the children’s home, his home, his body, Mama Gladys and the nation of Kenya. It was a beautifully sobering and holy time.

My first month on the field concluded with a safari with the team. We left early the morning of Leap Day to encounter some of Africa’s most marvelous wildlife. We spent the morning among baboons, flamingos, warthogs, rhinos, a couple of lions…oh and the python. The dagom stinkin’ giant baby python. We then journeyed to the game lodge where we had the most incredible lunch and explored the tucked away paradise.

After lunch we ventured out of the game park, and back to the hotel. There I had to part ways with the team. It was a time full of many tearful goodbyes, swapping of contact information, “Please-keep-in-touch’s,” and hugs. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my family all over again. In many ways, I was. This team of seventeen became like adoptive grandparents, mothers, fathers, crazy uncles, and best friends. I forged relationships that I pray will last a life time.

424

As I waved goodbye to everyone on board the bus, I whispered a prayer. I thanked God for the construction. I thanked Him for pushing me to my limits and further out of my shell. I thanked Him for reminding me of my foundation. That no matter what life threw at me, big or small, He remained the same. I thanked Him for being the Master Craftsman. He took what the world saw as broken and unusable, and fashioned me into a vessel for His glory, a masterpiece with His signature. I thanked Him for having a perfect plan where all the pieces fit and no experience or circumstance would go to waste. He would make sense of all the uncertainty I was left facing. I thanked God that I too was under construction.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time…” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10

 

 

Week One: Baby Week

Yesterday marked one week of being on the ground in Kenya. And my, what a week. This week has been full of jet lag, tears, challenges, tests, adventures, lessons, prayers and babies.

True Kenyan style, I hit the ground running. I arrived in Nairobi late Thursday evening. The first night of course was extremely hard. Homesickness mixed with jet lag, combined with anxiety and exhaustion made for a restless night. Friday morning came far too soon and I prepared to depart by plane for Eldoret that afternoon.

Upon landing in Eldoret and de-planing, the first cool breeze since landing in Kenya brushed my face. This breeze was so much more than a gust of air. It was a reminder of hope in a new beginning and the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was a reminder that I was not alone. Although this was uncharted and unknown territory for me, I was not going alone. This new adventure I was about to begin would be with the Love of my life.

As Summer and I drove from the airport to their home, I was able to see Eldoret, which is very similar to Franklin Springs. Thank goodness. It is a rural, college, farm town. As we drove deeper and deeper into Eldoret, my heart beat finally began to slow and peace continued to invade. I soon settled in to my room here at Casa de la Sneed then wrestled once more with jet lag.

Saturday morning I toured the campus and met the students of East Africa Bible College (EABC). The campus, like her people, was positively lovely. I drank my first cup of Kenyan Chai and was instantaneously in love.

248.jpg  249.jpg

247.jpg 243.jpg 264.jpg

The next morning I was blessed with the opportunity to preach at Eldoret Worship Center. It was truly surreal. My wildest dream was coming true: I was sharing about the God I loved in the land I had dreamed my whole life of coming to. The worship was enrapturing. There is nothing quite as humbling as hearing praise and adoration to the Great and Glorious King in a different language. It was difficult not to burst into tears as the symphony of diversity united in one Spirit and one truth to worship our One God. I shared with my brothers and sisters that morning the journey to surrender that I have been on the past year and a half. A lesson I learned from Abraham in Genesis 22: When we surrender the safe, sacrifice the sacred, and operate out of the horrifying, then we truly encounter our incredible God. 

253.jpg 260.jpg

Sunday evening about twenty missionaries from around the globe serving here in Eldoret gathered at the Sneed home. Once again my heart was moved upon witnessing the community formed here. As we all joined together in worship and prayer for the work here in Eldoret, I embraced the burden for the first time since arriving. I realized how much I had been caught up in my fear, my homesickness, my loneliness, my anxiety, and my personal pity parties, I lost sight of the reason I was here. It was not about me. It was for the students at EABC. It was for the people of Eldoret. It was for the people of Africa. It was to seek and to save the lost. Not for another stamp on my passport or to complete my degree program or to say I did something crazy exciting. It was to complete the mission for which I have been created for. Unfortunately, however, I am a very slow learner and must be reminded of this regularly.

Monday afternoon I spoke once again in the EABC Chapel about finding peace nevertheless. A word I feel will characterize this adventure. Being able to find peace in the process, and instead of saying I will never be able to accomplish this assignment, that I will accomplish it nevertheless. 

265.jpg

Tuesday through Thursday I taught classes at EABC. Talk about humility smack down:

1.) Being entrusted my first week on site with instructing classes. 2.) Preparing to lecture for two hours straight each day. 3.) Learning to effectively and clearly communicate through my Southern accent. 4.) Learning to listen effectively to absolutely incredible questions and relay proper answers. 5.) Coming to grips with the fact that I am not all that.

Each day was a test of faith. I would love to say that each day I surrendered everything to the Lord and that I emerged victorious and confident. But no, I faltered in my steps far too often. I think my forehead may be forever scarred from falling on my face so often.

This week, I have had two very special instructors. Their names are Abigail and Nathaniel. Or as they are more formally known: Abby and Baby Nate. I have spent quite a good amount of time with these two little ones and they have taught me oh so much.

271.jpg                                                            269.jpg

Abby and I are very much alike. We like to be busy and we love people. Abby loves to hear stories and ask questions. Yet another thing we have in common, however Abby is far braver than I in relaying her desire to hear and to ask. Abby in all her independence, still realizes her need for dependence. She depends upon her parents for nurture, guidance, love, attention and wisdom. I want to be more like Abby in this sense. I want to be bold in building relationships. Fearless in friendships. Stoked for stories. Desperate in dependence upon my Father.

238.jpg

Then there’s Baby Nate. I truly love this little one. He is pure and innocent. He is unashamed to cry. He seems to stay hungry. His smile can bring light to the darkest of days. He is entirely dependent. Throughout the conversations and classes I have participated in this week there seemed to be a recurring theme: babies. We talked about rebirth. We talked about Paul and Peter and their discussion of babies in the faith. I met with several mothers with newborns and what they were each experiencing. And from it all I learned two things: I need to be more like a baby and I need to stop being such a baby.

Confused? So was I.

In regards to rebirth, I understand that my life began again when I surrendered my life to Christ. However, I forgot about the fact that just as a baby is born pure, innocent and untainted by this fallen world, so we have been offered a new purity and innocence in the Father. So why not, embrace that purity and innocence and come back to it daily? Babies also are unashamed to cry when they need their mother or father and are always hungry. In this respect, Christians need to become more like babies.

I have found myself time and time again this past week desperately in need of my Father, but have not cried out to Him. I want to be like Baby Nate to the point that when I am absolutely and entirely broken and in need of my Father that I will unashamedly cry out to Him with all my might for Him to come, pick me up, draw me close to Himself, and be the comfort that I need. I also want to remain incessantly hungry. I want my hunger for the Most High to never be quenched. I want more and more and more of Him. I want Him to saturate my being.

And on the other hand, I need to stop being such a baby. This past week, Nate has been receiving more food than just milk. He also is learning how to sleep through the night on his own. Nate will continue to be hungry, however he will not be able to survive his whole life on mere milk. In the same way, as I grow in my walk with the Lord I realize my continual need to increase my intake of Him in His Word and in prayer. My prayer life is changing here in Kenya. Less time talking, more time listening. Less time laying in my bed, more time face first on my knees. Less time wallowing in self-pity, more time stepping onto the waves and encountering the unknown. I want to increase my intake so that I can grow more.

287.jpg

Nate is also learning a certain level of independence. He is being pushed outside of his comfort zone to learn what he has the capacity to do, that he didn’t know beforehand he could do. Welcome to the club, brother. As I am learning to increase my dependency upon the Father, I also am being pushed to do things I never imagined myself being able to do. It is hard. It hurts. All I want to do is cry. But it has to be done in order for me to grow and survive. At the end of the day, when I have tried my hardest, maybe won some, most likely lost a ton, my Father is there to console and comfort me.

It is hard to believe it has only been a week. So many lessons have been learned, tears have been cried, challenges faced, prayers whispered and shouted, battles lost, and others won. But amidst the multiple variables, there was One Constant. Oh and babies. Thank God for His constant companionship.

And thank God for babies.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” -1 Corinthians 3:1-2