Monday, August 22, 2016

We've moved!


This blog began in 2007 as a means to keep family and friends updated on my first journey into Mozambique. Little did we know I would eventually move there, start a school and a small business. Little could we know that the journey would take me to Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and beyond. The journey has been full of excitement, fear, pain, joy and laughter. I am excited about what lies ahead. I officially moved from Nashville this week. It was sad to say goodbye to my beautiful life there. But grand adventures await as I journey back to Africa. You can now follow the story here:


www.daysofgrace.uk


This site offers a space to post more photos of the adventure, continue the blog and eventually sell the items we create. It also features a way for you to partner with me and give toward The Dream Gallery, creating more schools, micro-loans and small businesses for those in need. 

Thank you for all you've done, your generous support and love along the way.

Blessings, 

Grace

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Guess what?

A new website!
Blogger has been lovely but it is time for new bells and new whistles. You can always come here and read the archives, and find that picture of me after I ate mango. Official launch coming soon.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

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. 




Thursday, July 7, 2016

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

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. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

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. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

“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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

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




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Home


This seems like a different planet. Re-entering...
G


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving


I will be spending my American Thanksgiving with a non-American friend in Nairobi, before boarding the red eye to Joburg for a long layover. I am reposting Granny McCarley’s sweet potato pie recipe, found here. Finding it brought up other posts from past Thanksgivings. I had to laugh at the poor waitress who worked on the holiday and ate pie standing up in the employee kitchen and then the poor missionary who sat on the filthy floor of the cozinha with 1000 Mozambicans and ate the feast with her hands. 

This Thanksgiving I will spend some of it with my new friend the taxi driver, Kim and may re-attempt to visit the Karen Blixen museum or have coffee with my friend at the Nairobi Java House at The Junction or attempt to fill my over stuffed carry on with Kenyan coffee from Nakumatt. There will be no sweet potato pie but there will be thankfulness. 

A day in the slums of Mombasa, a week of cold showers and hot sleeps, three months traveling the continent of Africa, all make me thankful. We Americans haven’t a clue and I won’t preach. But if you have parents and know your birthday and it is celebrated in any way by anybody in your life, be thankful. If you don’t have to get up in the night and change your pajamas because you are soaked from sweat, be thankful.  If you own pajamas, be thankful. If you worship Jesus Christ, Buddha or Muhammed without persecution or fear of losing your life, be thankful. If you ate berries in any variety or any form of dairy in the last two weeks, be thankful. If you drove on paved roads, put on a seatbelt, or drove the speed limit today, be thankful. If you walked outside at night, unarmed and unafraid, be thankful. If you ate three meals today, be thankful. If you drove to work instead of walking for an hour, be thankful. If stupid stuff like malaria, malnutrition, or diarrhea haven’t killed you or a family member, be thankful. If you have clean drinking water, be thankful. If you voted in a presidential election and you are fairly certain your vote was properly counted, be thankful. 

This has been, and continues to be, a beautiful journey. It was an honor to see and play a tiny part in all that is being done in Cameroon, South Africa and Kenya. I was welcomed with open arms and I have changed and been inspired and humbled and impressed.

I am thankful for all of you, who pray for me and cheer me on and give of what you have. 

Gratefully,  
Grace

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rapha House of Prayer- Mombasa, Kenya

Kijabe hike

Kijabe Sunset


We left picturesque Kijabe for Nairobi last week. I wanted to see a few sites before leaving the next day. We put the Giraffe Park, Elephant Orphanage and the Karen Blixen museum on our list. A Kenyan surgeon friend of Carola's offered to drive us. I hated to make him and his small son traipse through the Karen Blixen museum, so we saw animals instead. Unfortunately, I don't recommend it. Stick to the Nashville or Atlanta Zoo. It was full of tourists and simply staring at a few elephants wallowing in mud and feeding two really long tongued giraffes. We followed the same set of tourists to each destination and I knew they were all headed to the Karen Blixen museum so I opted to read about it and we found our hotel instead. 








Giraffe Manor



We left early the next morning to beat Nairobi traffic and took Kenyan Airways on a one hour flight to Mombasa. We had no idea what we would discover there and camels on the beach were only a tiny bit of a grand discovery. 





Since Kenya isn't the safest place in the world, the resorts are empty and don't mind if you stop by for a dip. 

We got to know these boys. The Rapha House boys. I knew when I was planning to come back to Africa that I must come to Kenya. It was clear in my head as my final destination. I knew coming to visit Carola was part of it, but I also knew I could not leave the country without seeing the Rapha House of Prayer. Carly Cerak started it in 2007. She was young and fearless and moved right into the heart of the city and extreme poverty of Mombasa. She lived among the poor and befriended street boys. I have never seen street boys like this. I had heard stories. Terra joined her on their first adventure and she had told me all about it. But nothing compares to standing in front of them. Scrawny boys hold cut off plastic water bottles, the bottom filled with glue. They hold the clear homemade cup in between their teeth and inhale. Tiny boys swaggered up to us smoking cigarettes. Even though the thought of my 6 year old nephew, Natty, lighting up a cigarette is not far from his regular antics (he was recently bitten by a mouse and maced himself all in the same week), I cannot imagine it. The filth of this slum is like nothing I have ever seen. Pemba villages were poor and Cape Town townships are harsh, but this cannot compare. 


We were met by a tiny barefooted boy running along in front to show us the way, along a long muddy path of broken glass. The mentally ill and physically challenged sat along a wall and greeted us with huge smiles. They all know Carly. She is a celebrity. 


We stopped to talk to people sitting outside their tiny lean-to corrugated tin houses. Along the mud path we approached an area that was thick with smoke and a heavy smell of urine and poo and even though I could handle the stench, the smell and the smoke entered my nostrils and choked me. I hoped no one noticed. We prayed for a lady who was having trouble walking who Carola later surmised had TB and AIDS and the TB had caused spinal issues that caused neuropathy in her legs. A few days later Carly and Carola took her to hospital. Small children followed me and held my hand and offered me their pee soaked baby brothers and sisters to hold. We sat in a large field and gave out small portions of beans and roti. Then we came home, to these boys.
Gipson and Felix invited me to go to church with them. Honored.


My first African Mega Church Experience. I think they counted Bibles. They served Kool-Aid with Communion.


Christine sent me fake mustaches from the dollar store to take with me. Can you tell?




Full of Joy Lucas


Adamo. Thank you for the Finger Flashlights Weez!



These precious, adorable, kind, loving, trustworthy, respectful young men who all once lived in that very village. They lived there completely abandoned, not knowing where their next meals would come from. They spent their days getting high. None of them know when their birthday is or exactly how old they are. They have been abused in ways I cannot imagine, repeatedly. Yet, they stand up and offer me their seat and fix my plate for me at dinner and serve me first. At dinner they laugh over what it was like to once eat from the buckets of scraps that restaurants would give them. They said sometimes if you were lucky, not only would you get to eat but you would find a toothpick or half of one in your food. And this was a good thing. Over 20 of them live in this house, all together. They represent different nations, Kenyan tribes and faiths and they haven't killed each other. I was completely, utterly, totally amazed. How does this happen? How do you bring such broken children into a place of such peace? "Prayer and love.", Carly told me emphatically.


It took us all a whole entire day to share our stories, for Carly to start from 2007 and catch me up to speed. She tells me how she never intended to live with them. But she had befriend a few of them and decided to take them to a Christian youth conference in Nairobi and how crazy it was to put all these street boys on a bus and take them to a conference. But they bonded and coming home they didn't want to leave them. As they got home that night one boy asked if they could go into Carly's house for tea. And the rest is history. They made space for these boys and now in their third house, boys sleep in bunk beds and the sofa and the floor and one even on the roof. The rules have changed as they grow and mature. They still have their issues and she says "seriously bad" stuff has happened. But their life in this family has changed them. They know they are loved and they no longer live like orphans. They all rise early to do their chores and help with meals. Many of them have sponsors from the West for really good schools in which they are achieving, often #1 or #2 in their class. One rule is to be home on time and most usually are. The other rule is to come to church on Sunday, and most do. They love each other like brothers, they gather naturally after dinner for music and worship and prayer time together. I asked Carly over and over, "HOW?". She told me that for one hour every day she prayed for each boy and did that over and over and over and over and still does. There is one right now who is struggling. I can tell he is heavy on her heart. Their wounds are so deep. Completely rejected by their own parents if they have any, physically abused beyond belief, fighters from birth. But here they are happy, wanting to show me their church or place of work, with such pride. I am humbled that God would bring me here to show me this and give me a chance to love such diamonds. All the time I wonder what good I am really doing at the end of the day. I wonder if poverty can really be eradicated and if people can really change. And then I come here and I see it all happening right before my eyes. All because a 23 year old made a promise to a God she often struggled to understand, but simply believed. 


This was a trip I pray I never forget. The motto of Thistle Farms is Love Heals. It is true. The love of the Rapha House boys healed my hopelessness, doubt and unbelief. 

Traveling Mombasa Style




Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kijabe

I am staying in Kijabe on the grounds of this hospital. Carola serves as a pediatrician here. I've been going over with her in the evenings to check on her patients. Last night there was a wee one in ICU, Alexander. He is intubated with a collapsed lung. He is better this morning. Down in the pediatric ward we saw three more last night, a teeny tiny newborn with an enlarged heart, a dehydrated lethargic baby with meningitis and the prettiest little girl you ever did see with long lashes and perfect lips sound asleep after having unexplained seizures. Carola danced among them all, taking care to listen and to read charts and to order and administrate meds and insert IV's. I just sat there and prayed for each one, for healing and that no one would not throw up, myself included. 

While she is at work I sit on her veranda with the Karen Blixen view of Africa and watch the pesky baboons. We have a dog, Emma, a St. Bernard. She mostly keeps the baboons away, but they come close when she naps in the sun. I make countless cups of tea and sit under itchy plaid Masai blankets and sip. I perform my usual flips between books, one chapter here another there, mixing modern Christianity with the Rhodesian war. 

We are about to go to the shops. It is shops plural because there are two of them, but only two. One with mostly fruit and vegetables and stunning roses and the other with packaged items; boxed milk, spaghetti, biscuits, chocolate, tinned vegetables and eggs. 

Sunday we leave for Nairobi and we fly to Mombasa Monday morning. 
XO, 
G