Monday, September 1, 2014

When perspective changes everything...

A few of you have mentioned it's been a while since I've written anything.  The truth is that I haven't known where to begin or how to articulate all that's been floating around in my discombobulated, mixed-up, "home"sick mind.  It's been two months since our return to the US, but in many ways it feels  as if we've been back for much longer, or even as if we never left.  This feeling is disconcerting, because in turn it makes Africa feel like years ago, even another lifetime.  Hate that.

Since our return, we've worked through many different experiences and stressors.  We experienced reverse-culture shock as daily we met up with friends and family who we hadn't seen for 2 plus years.  In addition, we felt the stress of a MUCH more hectic pace than we were accustomed to.  All the "new" things (electronics, foods, restaurants, stores) added to the overwhelmed feelings we experienced.  Many of those feelings have subsided now as we have said all of our hellos and have settled back into the less stressful environment of our own home.  We are so grateful to the Lord for a home to return to.

Now that we're coming out of that initial overwhelming time of arriving and settling in, the grief and loss of our life in Namibia is really hitting.  In the time we were traveling home and just arriving, things were so crazy and hectic, it was easier to put those emotions on the back burner because we had so many pressing issues to deal with at the moment.

The sadness and the grief runs deep, especially as I deal with missing our boys.  They are always on my mind, and sometimes I am at a loss for how to deal with the grief that I feel.  I cry very easily, a song or thought sends me into tears in a moment.  When I check the weather on my iPhone, if Otjiwarongo's current forecast comes up and I see that it's dark and cold there, I feel a pit in my stomach and wonder where they are and what they're doing.  Are they gathered around the fire keeping warm?  Are they finding food?  Are they missing us?  How are they coping with that grief?  Sundays are the worst, I'd give anything to have them all here gathered around my table enjoying a good meal.  I feel sick when I must throw away leftovers, desperate to find someone to share them with.

It is so hard to respond when kind, well-meaning friends ask us how we are adjusting or better yet, "Are we all adjusted now?" I don't think I'll ever be adjusted.  And honestly, I don't want to be.  When we were in Africa, there were so many things we missed so desperately.  For me, the thing I missed the most were things to do, places to go.  Since our return, we've been blessed with all kinds of wonderful adventures…boating and tubing on the lake, weekends up north, farmer's markets, movie theaters, restaurants with GOOD tasting food, and the list goes on;  all the things we'd been dreaming of.  But now, though I enjoy these experiences immensely, my "experience" is different.  Everything I see and do and hear is filtered through this new perspective.  In the back of my mind is always the knowing that they are still there.  The boys are still there.  The location is still there.  Our friends are still there.  And this has changed everything for me.

For Geoff and I, one of our greatest fears is settling back into this "American Dream" lifestyle.  Though our time in Namibia was incredibly difficult spiritually and emotionally, we were forced to rely on the Lord for our daily bread.  We lived on Him.  He sustained us one day at a time.  We knew we were there for a purpose and we had opportunities to live out that purpose every day.  We pray for that kind of life here in the US too, though it will much more difficult to cultivate.  In Namibia, it just came naturally (smile).

With God's grace, we move forward one day at a time, trusting in His plan for our lives here.  We know he brought us back to the US for a purpose, but we have yet to discover his plan for Geoff and I here. The kids are doing well and enjoying all the people and opportunities they've missed.  When we see their happiness, we know we've done the right thing for our family, though our hearts ache at what we've left behind.  Our hearts are still in Africa, and we trust that if it is God's will, He will bring us back there when the time is right.  We must be fully surrendered to Him.  It is up to him where he will use us, and we must be fully available to serve him whole-heartedly in whatever place he chooses.  We've experienced the joy of serving him obediently where he leads, even to the hard places, the hot, dusty, and often dark places.  But oh the joy of being where He's placed you.  It is rarely easy, but it's always good.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Coming Home

This Saturday will mark four weeks since we walked through those doors at the airport and were surprised by the screams and hugs of many friends and family.  What a feeling that was!  After almost twenty-four hours of travel, we were exhausted but elated.  My family was able to meet Esther face-to-face for the first time and the kids (and G and I) were able to hug their cousin and best friends who they'd missed so much. What had begun as a major headache with our luggage, ended up being a blessing in disguise.  All sixteen pieces of luggage were somewhere between London and Chicago, not in Minneapolis.  We didn't actually get our luggage for another week, but because of the "inconvenience", the airline gave us each a nice amount of cash to get what we needed.  We spent hours at Target on Monday, stocking up on new wardrobes…and shortly after that the reverse-culture shock began to show its face.

The first few days were a piece of cake.  We all found ourselves thinking, "This is nothing, we'll be fine." Yes, grocery stores were insane (Geoff had to take a photo of the cereal aisle at CUB to send to our friends in Namibia) and the sheer amount of stuff in Walmart made us literally laugh out loud.  I kept thinking that the amount of stuff we were seeing in Walmart was more than the merchandise of every store we'd been in combined during our entire time in Namibia.  Funny thing is, it had always been that way, only now I was noticing it.

We'd grown accustomed to about five cereals to choose from.  Look at this!
A late night emergency stop at Walmart for underwear and PJ's, on our way home from airport.

Since we were staying at my mom's house in Wisconsin, it quickly became clear we were going to be spending a lot of time in the car.  The kids were ready to see friends and cousins ASAP.  We also had various doctor's appointments, interviews, and other things that required we be in Stillwater or Woodbury nearly every day.  The running around and driving to and from caused my anxiety level to increase a lot.  Though it was how I lived all my days before going to Africa, that experience of rushing here and there was not something I was accustomed to anymore and I was feeling it big-time.

 Esther showing her patriotism as one of America's newest citizens!
Celebrating the 4th of July on the lake

We knew that each of us would experience re-entry stress in different ways and at different times, just as we all experienced culture-shock differently.  Overall, the boys say they feel fine. Sophia and I have struggled with feeling overwhelmed on many occasions, and I would say for me, my greatest "symptom" is just a general underlying anxiety that is very hard to articulate or explain.  One day I had my hair done and cried the entire way home because I didn't like it.  Never done that before.  As we look ahead to getting jobs, moving back into our house, and starting up homeschooling this fall, these things make me anxious.  They overwhelm.  Maybe anyone would be overwhelmed at that, maybe it's re-entry stress.  It's hard to distinguish sometimes. 

Sophia and I, in particular, have been nostalgic at times about Namibia and our relationships there.  I have missed the boys terribly, from the moment we left Otjiwarongo.  I was so anxious to get here so that we could Skype with them, which we have done on two occasions.  It was wonderful to see their faces and hear their voices, though the connection wasn't the best, making the communication a challenge (communication with them is always a challenge).  One thing we could hear clearly was, "We miss you" and "We love you too", which of course had me in tears for a while.  Their first care package is now on the way.  I find myself looking through all of my photos of them and wishing I'd taken more.  I dream about them almost nightly.  

We've been incredibly blessed by the warm welcome we've received from so many friends and supporters.  It is quite a strange experience to be greeted by people who've followed our whole journey through Beautiful Feet.  I guess it is one thing to be in Africa sharing my life through my keyboard to unknown faces, and another to meet those readers face-to-face and realize they know us, our story, the joys and sorrows of our past two years.  It is both humbling and disconcerting at times.  I feel so grateful to the many who have cared to follow our journey, and a bit vulnerable too, after all that I've shared.  Again, one of those hard-to-articulate things.

 Esther getting to know Grandma Swanson and the rest of her family.  So fun!
Lunch after church with the Winters!  Just like old times (except all of the kids are bigger).

We are so thankful for many of you whom we know have been praying for us! Can we ask for continued prayer for the following….

  • For peace and direction as Geoff and I both seek employment.  That we could trust God fully and be reminded that our value is NOT in our job title, but our identity is in Christ!
  • That we could experience God's comfort as we continue to adjust to the demands of life in the US, for emotional and spiritual health for each of us.
  • That the move back into our home will go smoothly and that we will be able to "freshen up" our house before moving back in.
  • For intimacy with the Lord
Thank you dear friends for loving us and praying for us!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Last Weeks…A photo journal

It's been just over two weeks since we found out we would be leaving Namibia…soon.  Since then things have been a bit hectic, but thankfully we've accomplished a lot.  We've sold most of our belongings, including our van.  That's a huge praise.  Tonight is our last night in our home, and that is what it has been, not just a 'house' but home.  Tomorrow all of our furniture, curtains, bedding, and pots and pans will be picked up by those who purchased them, so our house will be empty.  Therefore, we will be sleeping the next few nights at NAMTI (Terry, Shawna, Dave and Melissa: where you all stayed) before leaving Otjiwarongo on Thursday morning.

Over the past couple weeks I've been trying to take photos of many of the 'lasts', so I hope you don't mind photos because I've got a lot of them…

Last night out with our dear Swedish/Namibian friends Anna and Francois.  Man, have these guys been a blessing to us! It will be hard to say goodbye.
Last Soccer Saturday
Treasured friends Rivaldo, Pierro, and Wayne
Last time cramming dozens of boys into our van.  Now that makes me sad…
Last braai with friends at our house
First (and last) garage sale in Africa.  Notice the highchair model. And no, she does NOT come with the chair.
Last braai with our wonderful neighbors, the Jacobs.  Geoff observing braai-master Walter.
Last Sunday at our church. With my sweet Godlieb.  We were really blessed last week when our pastor shared with the church about our upcoming departure.  He challenged the congregation to continue the work we'd begun in the lives of the boys.  He called our 'family' up before the church, including the boys and they prayed over us all.  It was really touching (and emotional).
A special lunch together at the Crocodile Farm after church.

Just have to stick this one in of our little nugget in her African head wrap.
Saying goodbye to some of our most special friends at the center.  We've spent a lot of Tuesdays there over the past two years.
The cooks at the center
Our last time at our house with the boys.  As soon as they arrived I said we were going to take some photos together.  I threatened them with, "No smiles, no chili" and I think it worked.
We've continued to talk with the boys about the services we are putting in place for them after we are gone.  We've been so blessed to have people committing to helping them in any way they can after our departure.  We all know it won't be the same as us being here, but the fact that there are friends stepping up and wanting to play a part in their lives is a testament to God's faithfulness to us and to the boys.  So far, we and the boys have tried to stay pretty positive.  I am reminding them that we expect to be Skyping soon and that I will get busy putting together their first care package as soon as we get to the US. 
Dividing up their favorite cars.  There was a lot of excitement last night as Davis and Henry shared their toy guns, baseball caps, and clothes with the boys. 
Since we don't have any tables or chairs left, we made the most of the situation and ate our chili and garlic toast together on the kitchen floor.  
I have no means of containing this child, thus the 'Daddy-leg-lock'.
Sparklers before heading home.  I love all of the too-big (Davis-sized) baseball caps.
Today another fabulous braai with friends.
Our gracious hosts, Nerrine and Chris.  Love these guys.  Their son Sheldon has been Davis' and Henry's daily companion, literally!
Where the boys hang out…with friends Sheldon, Junior, and Cameron (feet only).
Friends Chloe with daughter Flo, and Thersia with daughter JoJo
Our friends Ivandia and Ignatius and their family.  We spent some time tonight talking and praying about how they might reach out to the boys in our absence and keep them connected to the church..and the LORD.  Very thankful for these friends, their love and their support. 

Of course the next three days are going to be filled with the most difficult goodbyes.  We know many of you have been praying for us and we are SO grateful.  If I could share a few prayer requests for the coming days…

1. We say goodbye to Carl tomorrow.  He is going to a great lady who works with our vet. She is a wonderful TOTAL dog-lover, so much that she already has six dogs!  We were very concerned about this, but Carl has been having play dates with his new brothers and sister and he's done amazingly well.  Again, thank you Lord.  We really care about our dogs and Carl's well-being is very important to us.

2. Over the next two days we will say many hard goodbyes.  We are planning to say our final goodbye to the boys Tuesday.  We are also going to meet with them and Ignatius that afternoon to talk about how he can connect with them in the future.  Pray the Lord would comfort the boys and that they would not feel despair or hopelessness, that the Holy Spirit would instead fill them with HOPE.  Pray especially for Godlieb.

3. Please pray for our family's health, especially Sophia and Esther.  There is a lot of sickness going around here and Sophia's been struggling for weeks.  Esther's had a cold.  Pray that by the time we are flying (June 16) everyone will be in tip-top shape.

4. We praise God for a good and peaceful meeting with Esther's birth mom this past week.  We all said our goodbyes and it went very smoothly.  If the Lord brings us to your mind, please pray for her too.

Thank you friends.  Your prayers mean so much to us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Letter to my Boys

To our boys…

When God spoke to my heart that sad fall day, I was grieving a loss of a dream. But my loving Father spoke through that sadness and whispered quietly to my heart, "I am calling you out."  I didn't have to wonder or ask Him again, "Was that him?"  I knew.  He had been working on me for months, even years, preparing me for that day.  He was calling me out, to the least of these.  Where He would take me, I had no idea then.  To whom He would take me, I could not imagine.  I certainly never expected his plans included falling head over heels in love with a group of dusty preteen boys who spent their days at the dumpsite, killing deadly snakes with rocks, and tearing the heads off birds.  If God had told me that was his plan, I probably would have said, "Lord, I think you must be mistaken.  Surely, that is not what you have in mind for us. That sounds difficult and not at all pretty." But God in his infinite wisdom, knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew you needed us, and that we needed you.

The first time you landed at our gate you came in and played cars on the floor.  You were so dirty, your clothes tattered and torn.  I knew right then that God had brought us here for you.  I was so overcome with emotion, I had to go outside to keep it together.  Right then and there, God planted a deep, consuming love in my heart for you.  As time went by, you quickly became more and more at home in our home.  We saw you most days and slowly got to know each other better, though rarely was conversation the means, rather it was just time spent together in each other's presence, you just being you and us just being us.

We soon discovered that we couldn't expect any show of emotion or affection from you.  You were not accustomed to that.  You'd experienced so little of it yourselves, to expect that from you was asking for the impossible.  But it was ok with me.  I didn't love on you to get love in return.  I couldn't help myself.  You see it was the love of the Father, planted in me and overflowing onto you.  But somewhere along the way, you all began to soften.  We began to see your smiles, hear your laughter, and even make eye contact on occasion.

Boys, living life with you and being allowed in to witness your pain and sorrows, it did something to me.  I am changed because you allowed me in.  Tiba and Fritz, bringing you home at night to a shack where you were locked out.  Looking for your mom at the shebeens so that we could find the key to let you in.  Tiba, the first time you cried I thought my heart would break in two.  I will always remember climbing in the back seat of the Kombi and holding you in my arms as you cried.  I cried too.  I wanted to take away your pain, but I couldn't.  After that, there were so many nights we struggled to find a warm, safe place for you to sleep.  I will always remember the nights you'd be standing at the gate, your face so downcast, telling me you had nowhere to go because your mother had locked you out again while she remained gone all night drinking.  I remember the night Geoff broke the lock and bought you a new one, so that you and Fritz would now have your own key.  We huddled together in your dark shack and prayed and cried.

Godlieb (God's love), my boy.  My heart ached for you, the way you were totally on your own.  The day you fell off the swings and suffered a concussion, then walked the long way to our home to be cared for.  I felt a mother's fierce love for you.  I brought you in and tucked you into bed where you recovered for the next three days.  I remember sitting by your bedside and stroking your head.  Tears ran down your cheeks but you couldn't tell me what you were feeling.  I think I knew.  I am so sorry you hadn't received the love and care you deserved.  Many months later, after you'd been missing school for weeks and sleeping at a different place every night, we felt we had to find you and bring you home, so we did.  We found you at the dumpsite and brought you home, where you stayed with us for the next ten weeks.   We don't regret that time, though in the end it was so painful to realize that it couldn't last forever.  As you often told us, you were "a location boy". It was hard for you to fit into a family that functioned in a way totally unfamiliar to you.  Certainly you were going through your own culture shock in our home.  Two things I believe you came to know while in our home…God loved you and we loved you.  I pray you can understand why things turned out as they did.  I think you do.  And I know that you know how much we love you.  We are so glad that you have continued to come and be with us, even without the other boys.  I love it when you show up for dinner, go for a bike ride, and wrestle with Carl.  God answered our prayers in keeping our relationship open, trusting, and full of love.

As time moved on, we began to see changes in you all, BIG changes.  For one you became "school boys" and how sharp you all looked in your new uniforms and haircuts.  You've made us so proud and it has been our joy to pay you for those B's on your report cards!  In addition to becoming school boys, you've become boys with manners.  It warms my heart every time I get a "thank you Auntie" as you bring your dishes to the sink after dinner.  And the hugs and affection, what a gift.  I could fill page after page of sweet and sometimes painful memories of our times together (the movie in Windhoek, the Cheetah center,  crocodile farm, and milkshakes at Wimpy just to name a few).  Oh and let's not forget the time Geoff was called to the jail to pick up his "son" (Sametime).  I know that Geoff and I will never be able to hear "Whoopsie-daisy", "Happy",  "On Top of the World", or "Wakawaka" again without thinking of you and remembering our drives through the location, arms hanging out the windows, dust in our eyes, and voices singing.

But boys, there is one thing you must know and no matter what we've given you, if you haven't learned this, we have failed…God loves each of you with an unending love.  We've told you this many times and I pray that you've experienced it through our love for you.  The day you prayed in Damara to make Jesus the Lord of your life was one of the happiest moments of mine.  We were overjoyed at the privilege of baptizing you.  Know that we will never stop praying for you all, that God will be Lord over your life and that one day we will all be together in that perfect city that we've talked about, where there will be no more pain or suffering, only peace and joy and love.  Until then, use the gifts that he has given you to make the most of your lives.  Don't waste his gifts, don't waste your lives.

Talking today about our upcoming departure was so painful.  The tears and the sniffles told us you were hurting too.  But our leaving is not the end of this story.  God has knit our hearts together and He will continue to carry out his plan for you and for us.  You have changed our lives forever, for the better.  You boys are precious gifts and in my heart you will always be my boys.  Oh, how our Heavenly Father cares for you and oh, how we do too.