Wednesday, October 17, 2018

So many levels of broken...

Yesterday, driving in my middle class neighborhood towards the shopping center, I see a field of grass ahead, it registers in my mind, that I am seeing a person, shirtless and shoeless sleeping in broad daylight surrounded by their belongings under a tree.  Upon getting closer I can see said sleeping person clearly.  I know he has a name, I know his birthday, the color of his eyes if they were open, his favorite food, his shoe size, his favorite color and his favorite sports team. 

None of those things seem to be of great importance any longer. He is sun burnt and exhausted, unemployed and virtually skill-less.  He is manipulative and has carved a niche for himself into the fringe of our community in the last nine months. All day long, every day he does nothing, except walk from location to location, carrying his meager belonging on his back, desperately searching for someone, anyone that will listen to his tale of woe, offer him a meal, or a ride and conversation.  Conversation that he can use in some way, for however brief a moment in time, to break up the monotony of his current lifestyle choice.  

He will play to your heartstrings. Within moments of his engaging with you he will be able to tell how to manipulate the conversation to get what he wants in that moment.  Food, a ride, money.  His renderings of the last 12 years of his life are not at all what he has really lived.  Yet as a stranger how would you know that?  He is not remorseful.  He is sorry, but sorry just states how he feels when he stops to think about what he no longer has. But the sorrow is fleeting. It doesn't leaves a strong impact in his broken mind. At least not a strong enough impact that would allow him to consider doing an about face and walking away from this situation, or trying a different path. He’s not broken or willing to place himself under any authority that could change his circumstances. He is okay. Everyone else is the problem. He is living his "best life ever".  No rules, no authority, no consequences except the natural ones, (like no money, no food, no shower, no power) but even those are also not his fault.  

This is a day in the life of my second youngest son.  He is mentally ill.  A phrase that I do not throw out lightly, nor am I over exaggerating the dire situation he is in, or that we as his parents are enduring as a result.  

I find myself repeatedly at a loss for why doing the hard, yet right thing 14 years ago; following a calling to adopt "special needs" siblings, has lead us down this path.  If you had ever told me this would be where I am, and what I would be struggling with, I would have laughed at you.  I would never, not for one moment, believed that I could have endured so many highs and lows in these years, which have lead us to this point in time.  

Here is a list of the horrible side effects for the families of individuals with mental illness. Understand none of these side effects, affect the one that is mentally ill.  This is in no way is this an exhaustive list.  This is based solely on my personal experience up to this point in the journey.  Actuarily speaking, we are on a journey, which in the longevity of a life span has just begun with no end in sight. 

The list in no particular order.  Helplessness. Guilt. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment. Frustration. Second guessing. Enabling. Broken heartedness. Rage. Confusion. Sadness. Grief. Sorrow. Anxiety. Dread. Fear. Doubt. Reflection.  Stop at any point and cycle back to the beginning, because you can feel more than one symptom at a time, and you can dwell on multiple "like" symptoms until you think you're going to lose your mind.  None of which helps, heals or promotes good mental health in the life of those living without mental illness, but whom are trying to minister to the needs of those they love with mental illness. 

When someone you love is so broken, and yet they are so deeply entrenched in the denial of their mental health problems, they never own their current situation. Blame shifting and manipulation are the lenses through which they live their days causing all others in their paths to live on egg shells if you are immediately attempting to care or guide said individual.  All of your safe places are no longer safe, because they begin to surface in those places lingering far longer than is socially acceptable.  Begging borrowing and creating a general nuisance of themselves.  But in this, they remain oblivious.  

For others on the fringe of a family that is struggling with someone suffering from mental illness,  they are faced with the options to engage or ignore.  Engagement is messy.  Because mental illness is messy.  There is no logic, no rhyme or reason to how the affected individual will behave in any given situation. Engagement always leads to devastation in the life of the one that volunteers to step up or step in, because even though you have shared your journey, others stepping in, often think that they can do the same thing you have been doing for years with different results.  Maybe for a week or two the "engager" will see some hope, but it quickly ends in devastation, because anyone with mental illness is unable to sustain "normal" for any length of time, until they go "off the rails". Typically just fleeing, with or without any of their possessions.  Many, after one attempt themselves, or because of watching another person attempt to help, will select the second option.   Ignoring the situation and the family and their needs. At best they may lend a listening ear, while rejoicing in their minds all the while they "listen" that their life is not this messy! 

As a personal testimony to the last 14 years of my life, I did not think mental illness was affecting me.  I was living with occasionally unstable adopted children providing for them a loving home, working hard to provide for their emotional physical and spiritual needs and balance the life of mom, employee, wife, volunteer etc.  At the time of their adoptions, mental illness was not known to be the cause of these children's  issues. Diagnoses like ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder,  Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (while playing a critical role in who they have become today), were only discussed in terms of "special needs".  

Subtle changes happened along the way in their progression from adorable "special needs" kids to hormonal, challenging teens. As a parent or loved one, when you are in the trenches protecting, guiding and attempting to navigate these waters on the day to day, all of a sudden the issues have mushroomed to something so large, that most people do not really believe that this is happening in your home. 

These children/young adults with mental illness do not, and would never, behave that way for strangers (remember manipulation is huge) teachers, neighbors or extended family.  Before too long you look back and you see that your friends are distant. Your personal life is on hold, and your lack of desire to even pretend any longer that life is normal, causes you to just stay home.   

Before our move four years ago, our life was much different.  We were known in our community. We had supports.  Relationships were built between all our kids with other adults (neighbors, extended family, church members) that allowed for less trauma overall to the others when one was having significant struggles.  With a call, children were carpooled to and from work and school. Homework helper would appear Monday through Thursday, around our 12 foot table.  Breaks were given to us as parents,  when one or more people would step up at the same time to ensure care for all during our break. Errands were run for us.  Physical needs were meet at the very least with a meal, but often times groceries, financial gifts and more often than not just the gift of time was given.  A listening ear, someone that folded the laundry while I made dinner. Now they are older, it is messier and we are1100 miles away from our family and friends. Most will politely inquire, but have been removed from the day to day, and struggle to understand.

As each day progresses, the only thing that I can stand firm on are the promises of the Lord.  I have been faithful. I have been diligent. I have been obedient.  I trust that what the Lord has called us to, He will equip us for, and I know that more than anything, the Lord loves these kids more than I have or every will.  

My wrestlings come as side effects of living this life.  We can't leave the house for outings, my husband and I together, because of the way these adult-ish kids behave when alone together.  We have to lock up all things valuable when we do leave the house or pack them into the car and take them with us.  We now have to lock the house all the time since we have a desperate homeless child lurking in our safe spaces.  We can't drive or shop or worship without the constant thought of who is where, how long they will be there, and when do I/we need to be back in a supervisory role based on the dynamics of the ones that will be around.  When we get breaks, over the past couple years,  it has mostly been one of us at a time. While I am confident that while I am away my husband can handle the chaos, he never gets to rest when he is away, as he is always worried about my ability to handle the kids in his absence.  One of the major issues not even discussed in this post is that the boys have a great dislike, bordering on hatred of any woman in a position of authority over them.  Well folks that's me the mom. While I understand it, and do not take it personally (most days) it makes it hard to engage them in any situations where I need to correct instruct or re-direct. 

In this all, I can rejoice that it is a season.  In this season, most especially being separated from family and friends,  we have learned to cling to the promises of the Lord and to depend on each other.  I rejoice that in all this,  the prince and I, our ideas, values and goals regarding what to do and how to do it for ALL of our kids has been mostly unified.  

While it is our goal to stop allowing those that are "special needs" to stop train wrecking our every day, we are not there yet.  It could be some time until this season ends.  Some days are good, some days are not.  Yesterday was not.  Seeing my son, lying in a field of grass, almost naked, sun burnt sleeping, surrounded by his meager belongings, brought my heart break to a new and painful level.  

Not only did it physically hurt me, it took me on a journey of self doubt, of anger and frustration.  I would stop and arrest my thoughts throughout the remainder of the day, but my mind kept picturing him lying on his row of broken down cardboard boxes sleeping.  Knowing what I know to be true, God's word, yet still wondering if I did enough. Could I do more now. Should I do more now.   Remember almost simultaneously the ways that I have been recently manipulated, and how he has responded with no remorse, not desire to change... and so the loop plays and replays, sometimes more emotionally raw, sometimes more anger and bitterness.  Insert the truth.  

I wish it was as easy and brushing my hands together in the air and saying. "I'm done!" I wish there were facilities for such persons to get the help we know they need, but there are not. Because for them to get help, they have to recognize that they need help, and then they have to ask for it.  I am waiting for that Aha moment, knowing in the depths of my heart that it may never happen.  

God's got the details of their lives and mine.  I'm along for the ride, and in this I am praying that with each blog I post, each conversation that I have, I will be affecting awareness about mental illness.  The deep uglies of a not so perfect life, and how it affects all involved.  Knowing that somewhere along the way, the Lord will use our story to speak to others, to offer encouragement, and to let others know that they are not alone on this journey. 

It is times like these when I really wish I was making this stuff up...   

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

When Love is not Enough

I am sure that I was never so deluded in my thinking, that I thought love was going to be enough.  Nor at the time did I understand the significance of how broken they would be.  In my naivety I thought perhaps structure, guidance, patience, endurance and long suffering would help, would make the difference, and would gain the upper hand.  To my knowledge it has not.

Sadly, we are somewhere in the middle of this story, bogged down by broken, by skewed perspectives, by nature, by hard wiring, and all things unrealistic.  At times in the journey I have found myself shaking my head, and wondering if I am as on point, and sane as I thought that I was, and questioning if the error in judgement is on me, not them.

It's been, and remains a difficult journey.  Not many can relate.  Not many want to make the effort to understand.  Eyes glaze over, or platitudes are shared. Not many engage.  Many often engage by wanting to share how they would fix it,  and share their thoughts on how they would do things differently.  As if it were that simple to change the outcome!  The ones that do step in or step up, do so at their own risk, and are rewarded just like we indicated they would be; with disrespect, with apathy, and non compliance. Quickly and eventually, the cost is too high for them, and they sever ties.

All of this still places us in the fray. We've severed ties.  But how do you completely walk away?  How do you stand back let them fail repeatedly and not desire to share some hope, some sense of love and light in their life?  Yet the cost of doing so is frustrating, time consuming, exhaustive, draining, maddening and overwhelming.

Society has abandoned these broken souls.  It never was my concern, until the broken souls carried my last name.  Now I can see why so many are wandering aimlessly, and without a purpose.  Even the few structures society has in place to assist, carry weighty requirements that my dwarf can't meet or sustain.  No one is helping, they are just bandaging the wounded and sending them back to the streets.

If you were to dwell on the sad reality of this, you would be unable to function. Yet this is our "dwelling place". A constant that hangs over our lives all times of the day, all the days of the week. Stretches of time go past with no contact, and then when there is contact, it is always on their time frame not ours.  Through this all, we still have to meet our requirements to our family, employers and function daily.  Life demands it.  Christ demands it.  But what is the cost?

How has the system become so broken, so inept at caring for those in our culture that can't care for themselves?   We all hear success stories from the agencies during fundraising campaigns, about those that got the help they needed, and with hard work, determination, guidance and perseverance beat the odds and made something from nothing.  But what about those that had everything, and on purpose turned away from it?  Because of mental illness are unable to make good choices, make a plan, execute a plan and are wandering hopeless and haplessly through their days?  Who is helping them?

The old adage, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink", is so appropriate in this situation.   One can spend their  life intentionally planning, encouraging, instructing, teaching, living as an example... but what gets through?  When is enough, enough?  What happens when structure, encouragement, consistency is not enough?

We go back to center.  To why we started this journey to begin with.  We followed a calling to adopt special needs children.  While in the beginning, we had no idea what the needs of these sweet, clean faced, adorable children would be once they morphed into adolescence and adulthood, we worked diligently pouring our resources into creating and fostering a safe, loving world for them to thrive, feel accepted, and succeed at their individual levels.   But that was not enough in some cases.  Love as unconditional as it was, was not enough.  Now what?

God's word is clear about what love is.  And while I am weary from the past 14 years of "loving" there is a long-suffering component, that I will not be able to walk away from until one of our stories ends. (mine or theirs) Love endures all things.  Not just the pretty, but the pretty ugly too.  Like dropping your son at the homeless shelter.  Walking away, knowing that he is beyond what you can do to make things right.  Here is my reminder, when I feel like I can't endure another hit from the broken:

Love is patient, kind. Not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand it's own way.  It is not irritable, it keeps no record of wrongs.  It does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices when truth wins our.  Love never gives up, never loses faith is always hopeful and endures in all things.  (1Cor 13:4-8a) 

Today, I resolve to stand firm on the promises of God.
To be patient, and kind to the broken.
To not allow my pride to demand it's own way in the life of the one that He called me to love unconditionally.
I will not be angry, and cast up the many things that I think they have done wrong. I feel that on their level they carry that burden already.
I will champion for justice and rejoice when milestones are reached.
I will continue fervently to keep the faith that some day, some way, someone, will be able to break through the heart of this broken one, and make the impact needed for their safety, growth and maturity.
Never faltering in my fervent prayers, and in the hope that someday, always trusting that this story will be written in it's entirety, with an ending just as the Lord sees fit, not as I desire it to be.

In this journey through life, I need to stand firm on the promises of God.  I do not have the answers figured out. But I trust that God does. His word says so. What He calls us to He equips us for. (Heb 13:21)  For that promise alone I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Indeed it is a strange world.  I found this poem posted in a common area at Fiwagoh.  I have read it several times since my arrival home, and find it to be more than a little convicting, very spot on, and humorous all at the same time.

A Strange World

A lot of people are like wheelbarrows- No good unless pushed. 
Some are like trailers - They have to be pulled
Some are like canoes - They have to be paddled
Some are like kites- If you don't keep a string on them, they will fly away
Some are like footballs - You cannot tell which way they will bounce next
Others are like balloons - Full of air and ready to blow up
And yet, others are like neon lights - They keep going on and off
But very few like a good watch - Open faced- pure gold - quietly busy

I am sure I am not alone when I say my life is filled with people that could easily fit into one or more of these categories.  The wheelbarrow, the trailer, the canoe, the kite, the football, the balloons, the neon light and it is the very few (and often they go by somewhat un-noticed) that stand out like a good watch.

So many in my world are are no good unless they are pushed. (like the wheelbarrow)  I spend more of my day than I would like to admit, pushing my people (mostly the dwarfs) to achieve, manage their responsibilities, and get some sort of passion for life!

Sadly, no matter how hard we push and pull them, there is no moving a strong willed, arrogant and prideful person beyond themselves, and if we need to get something done, and they are not willing to be pushed, they tend to get drug along behind. (like the trailer)

Oh, how I wish some of mine were still little enough,  still small enough that even the "threat of a paddling", was enough to propel them towards good and right behaviors.  At least in those years, their eagerness to please, often over wrought their selfish impulses, when there was even a threat to their backsides in play.

Many of us can relate on occasion to the fact that if we were not "tied down", tethered to the ground we would be like the kite, off in the breeze we would sail, chasing day dreams and shiny things.  Sometimes I believe this is an escape mechanism for the wheelbarrow and for the trailer, but others exhibit this trait simply because this is who God created them to be; creative and flexible. (hang on kite)

We all know those that are prone to random behaviors. When the only thing that is certain in life is that they are going to bounce when their disposition becomes triggered.  The struggle here is that their being triggered is the only know entity.  When and where the trigger happens and where that individual ends up after they are triggered no one knows.  (can something that shape even be in the "ball" family)

I can speak honestly about this point in the poem, and I am sure I am not alone, sometimes I am so full of hot headedness, disgruntled-ness, frustration and anger, that one little pin prick will have me blowing air at anyone, no one, or everyone!

"Hello in there? Anyone at home?"  We sometimes refer to this around the kingdom, as being intentionally obtuse... but it rings true I think with us all.  Sometimes we are on, and sometimes we are off.  Unfortunately many of those around us in the world have no ability to control it when we are on and when we are off.  General flighty-ness, mental illness, social and learning disabilities are the cause of this on again off again dispositions in some of our family, friends neighbors and co-workers. ( neon lights are so bright initially, they flicker on/off for a long time when they are burning out )

But friends, how many of us can say that we know, or are one that,  who on a regular, steady, and unchanging basis, works on task, quietly behind the scenes, for the glory of the Lord and for the edification of others.  What usually happens to those that are the consistent, calm, practical, and steady at what they do?  They get taken for granted.  They may look good on the outside, but their true form, being the back bone to many, never changing, always to be counted on which is so desperately needed, that it is take for granted. (like a good watch)

I understand that you may not be in agreement with all my analogies outlined above, but is not that the great thing about the arts (poetry, painting etc) We the consumer take from it what we each need to, leaving the same images to resonate with others, perhaps in a completely different way.  It is great that in the world we live in we can all have opinions and they do not have to match up with one another 100%!

So here is the remainder of my thoughts and ponderings on this poem:

What would the world look like if more of us were encouraging wheelbarrows to work to their full capacity? If we load the trailers with tools for success instead of just pulling them to the next thing without explanation?  Instead of turning the other way, we confronted poor behaviors in others and were willing to in return accept the criticism of ourselves from others without defensiveness?  What if we encouraged dreamers to dream while keeping their feet on the ground and providing resources for their dreams to become reality?  What if the crazy bounces in life that caught us off guard could be handled with grace and mercy, recognizing that we are all unique and different and handle what life throws at us differently?  What if instead of letting things build up until we are ready to blow, we talk about the things that cause us stress and hurt feelings, so that our balloon was never on the verge of popping.  What if we loved and paid attention to those around us who's life seems to be on a dimmer switch, seeking ways to assist them, encourage them and find resources for them, so their dim moments lessen and they had more chances to be more like a fresh neon light. Bright!

If I purposed each day to be aware and react according to the needs of those around me, it would be my hope that I would be more like a good watch and less like a balloon.  But even as I type these words, I am in no way desiring that others see me, or my works and efforts on behalf of others, it is my goal that they would see Christ through me.  That in my encouragement, and steadfast work, supporting and lifting up those around me that I would be showing to those in the world that have lost their place and feel discouraged, the unconditional love of Christ and the difference that He made in my life and how He can impact their lives.

Even if you do not have a relationship with the Lord consider this, kindness, grace, mercy and unconditional love have never hurt anyone.  No one has died being kind, extending grace, and accepting others unconditionally.  When we do these things, we stand out, like a good watch.  When we are pure in our intentions, seek to serve others before ourselves, we decrease and others increase. In the lives of believers we decrease and Christ increases.

My corner is crowded with wheelbarrows, trailers, canoes, kites, footballs, balloons, and neon lights.  In my corner there are also some beautiful good pure gold watches!  I desire to be more like the good watches. I want others to be their best, in their own unique ways be transformed into good watches,  steady, happily and eagerly doing the things that God has intended for them to do.  I want others to see Christ in me.  His beauty and glory.   At the end of my poem, I want the Lord to greet me with His arms open, saying "Well done my good and faithful servant!"  Matt 25:23

Monday, September 17, 2018

Visiting the Wild in Kenya

In the last 20 years of short term mission trips, each out of country experience has included a cultural day/tourist day. There can be mixed emotions from some of your supporters, as well as team members regarding "fun sight see-ing" trips in a mission trip itinerary.  These are built in because in reality some people will only get to a foreign country once in a lifetime. What a great opportunity to experience all the the country and culture has to offer by adding to the experience with a local cultural experience.

Africa was no exception and it certainly did not disappoint!  I honestly can say that as we were preparing to leave Fiwagoh to head out on the "tourist" portion of our trip, I was sad.  At the time I thought I could do without the safari and the tourist portion of the trip, that I would rather stay at the orphanage for those last two days!!  However, I found that after a good nights rest I very much enjoyed (as I have in trips past) the tourist portion of Africa. I was so blessed to do a few sight seeing things, that are specific to Africa, and if any of these items you read about below, are not on your bucket list, you may want to reconsider!!

Our safari started early on a foggy Friday morning before sunrise.  Our safari driver David was prompt in pick up but was certainly having some struggles as we started off.  The poor guy had his window stuck in the down position (for the entire day)  and at some point prior to our departure, had his drivers door break, so he was unable to get in and out on his side of the vehicle.  He kept a great sense of humor about the situation, and we were an encouraging group to hang out with, so we helped him put the top of the safari van up and down, and made sure to ask if he needed anything when we would leave the vehicle.


The day was not only foggy but cool.  It was after all winter in Africa!  We began our journey at the Nairobi National Park.   While the fog hung to the ground the images in the distance looked like apparitions,  but were clearly the outlines of safari animals.   Ostriches, vultures, and some rhinos in the very far distance!  As the morning fog lifted, we were able to witness up close many other species of animals.  While sadly, the "big cats" evaded us in a very stealthy manner, here were some of the amazing creatures we did witnessed up close!  

African Buffalo 





Ciconiidae (a stork family member) 


Numididae (guineafowl family) 


We spent many hours riding in our raised top safari vehicle scanning the horizon for the wonderful creatures that we currently had only seen online or in a zoo here in the states.  I will not lie, I was disappointed that I did not get to see any big cats, but I fell in love with zebras, and the beautiful birds and of course who doesn't love a giraffe or four!

As our safari tour concluded, we discussed the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Elephant Orphanage.  They provide for a small fee, a "show" one time a day, for one hour, where they bring out the elephants and share their stories.  All of these elephants have been rescued from a situation that would otherwise have lead to their death in the wild.  Elephants that have been trapped, left behind after being separated from the herd, or their adult parents killed due to poaching of ivory, were just a few of the heartbreaking stories of these elephants.

During the hour of the open visit, tourists stood around the outside of a dirt arena, cameras poised to catch images of these huge, gentle, and fun loving animals.  One of my favorite parts was when the animal keepers started to feed them from the bottles! 

After years of working to diligently reproduce the formula of a mother elephants milk, the orphanage has mastered the combination, which is mostly made from human baby formula.  These little one's certainly enjoyed their breakfast the day we were there! 

Another fact of interest that I gleaned while at the orphanage, is way that farmers are currently helping keep elephants from getting snared in their fences.  (Some of the elephants have been caught up in fencing and injured as they attempt to raid farmers crops.)  There are several initiatives in Africa, for bee fencing, as it seems that these large animals are deathly afraid of little tiny bees!  They are so afraid that they have a special "bee alarm" sound that they emit if they are fearful that they are around bees.  Those pesky little bees really sting the elephants in sensitive parts, their ears and trunks!  Bee fencing costs between $1- $5 us dollars per 100 meters (328 feet) to install.  When the elephants are headed to the fields to graze, they hit a sting that has nests attached, releasing the bees and causing the elephants to sound their alarm to the entire herd, and they all run away, saving the farmers crops.  Between their grazing and their heavy stampeding feet there is nothing left of a field once it is trampled by elephants! Amazing that some bees are all it takes to sound the retreat!

Each elephant at the orphanage is named in a way that is associated to the location or the situation in which the Wildlife Trust rescued him or her.

For example here is Edie's story: 

"Estimated to have been born in April 1999, this female calf was about 4 months when rescued from a well on the Namunyak Group Ranch North of Lewa Downs. Her family had struggled all night unsuccessfully to try and retrieve her, but had to leave when tribesmen and their cattle turned up. She endured a rough ride in a lorry before being flown first to Lewa Downs Airstrip and from there by Charter plane to Nairobi. She is named "Edie" by special request of the Craig family who own Lewa Downs Ranch, to honor the memory of one of their donors named "Evie". The closest Samburu word we could find to "Evie" was "Edie" which means "over there" and with the approval of the late Evie's family, we thought this more appropriate. For many weeks Edie suffered from deep depression grieving for her lost elephant family, and was very sore and bruised from her fall, able only to lie on one side of her body for more than a month. In all other respects, she was not in bad condition and tender loving care from both the Keepers and the other elephants soon made her happy again."

Edie climbing on Imenti  Edie
If you are like me, your heartstrings are tugged by this adorable elephant! You can be part of the experience at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust even from so far away!  If I ever return, I am going to adopt an elephant and then schedule an appointment some evening I am in Kenya, and "put my elephant to bed".  If you just have a love for elephants, without plans to travel to Africa, for $50 a month you can adopt an elephant of your choosing from the orphanage.  When you adopt an elephant, via email you get:
A fostering certificate with a profile and photograph of your adopted orphan together with a description of the Orphans’ Project;
Adopt an Elephant OrphanAn interactive map indicating where your orphan was found and a description of the habitat and the plight of the elephants (or Rhinos) in that particular area;
Adopt an Elephant OrphanA monthly summary highlighting events of the previous month together with a direct link to the ‘Keepers Diary’ for your elephant. In the diary you will be able to access the daily calendar entries and the monthly photos. These updates can be printed off to enable you to keep a journal highlighting the progress of your orphan;.
Along with the update you will receive a collectable monthly watercolor by Angela Sheldrick;
Adopt an Elephant OrphanFrom time-to-time, you will receive news of new arrivals and rescues written by Angela Sheldrick with accompanying photographs;
Adopt an Elephant OrphanAnd most importantly, as one of our foster parents, you are considered part of the DSWT team and we will be keeping in personal contact with you as an important member of our project.


(Do I sound like I love this program? Well yes!  Will someone be getting an elephant this year for Christmas...again yes! ) 

Our time at the elephant orphanage was short but oh so sweet!  If you are interested in more information, follow this link : David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
While our time at the orphanage was too short in my opinion, we had one more stop to make!  
Next stop the giraffe sanctuary!  We headed to the Giraffe Center, part of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) LTD. 
Now I am not sure what I thought it would be like to "feed a giraffe" but I got my treats and climbed the stand to wait my turn.  While that turn never really happened I did have a giraffe's attention later on the ground.  Here are some photos from the team's adventure in feeding these amazing animals.  

The Center has a wonderful raised area for feeding the giraffes, a great area of wooded land beyond that were you can see other giraffes in their habitat, as well as a learning area and gift shop.  We were also very grateful for the hand cleaning stations, especially since giraffes are not "neat" eaters!  
Here are some quick facts about giraffes: 
  • They can weigh up to 2,800 lbs
  • They are between 16-19 feet tall
  • They are pregnant for 15 months
  • They have "horns" called ossicones (which are made of cartilage and can be deadly) 
  • They only need 5 - 30 minutes of sleep in a 24 hour period
If you are planning a trip to Kenya book mark this website for the sanctuary details, Giraffe Center in Kenya .  
I so enjoyed seeing so many different kinds of animals up close on this trip. I am not sure if I would ever tire of seeing such amazing creatures roaming free or in sanctuaries if I lived in Africa.  The way that God created them is fascinating, and sometimes scary.  But again reminds me how diverse He made the world that we live in and all that is in it!  
So glad that I had this adventure and that You can't make this stuff up!  

Monday, September 3, 2018

It's all about the Maize!

Let me introduce you to David! Quiet, hardworking and very casually witty! David was a fun young man to spend time with!  On this day, I had a last minute opportunity to make a quick trip up the the staff quarters with him to grind maize into flour.  

Some back story about the maize.  Before the maize is put in the sun to dry, it has to be sorted by hand, weeding out the kernels that were broken or "popped" or off color (like brown or black).  After the hand sorting, and the washing it was then placed out in the sun to dry.  Our team of ladies, had the privilege to sit with the ladies of Fiwagoh the day or so before and sort the maize.  If memory serves there were about 8 of us (and a few younger boys joined in too towards the end), and it took us about 45 minutes or so to sort.  I got the distinct impression that while these ladies never stop working, this work, the sorting of the maize was also a nice time of the day to sit still and chat.  During this time shared some laughs, and listened to some stories during the sorting time, however most of it was spent in companionable silence.    

On this day, the sorting and washing was already done, so David and I just had to gather the maize that was drying in the sun, and place it in a sack. I told David that I would be happy to carry the maize, and off we started up the hill.   I was carrying the sack of maize on my hip (like a toddler) and as we started the walk, another older youth stopped me and said if I was in Africa carrying things and working, "I had to do it like the Africans"!  He proceeded to show me how to toss the sack over my shoulder and use my back to carry the weight of the sack.

As David and I walked, we talked about the process of turning the maize into flour.  He said that the machine that they used was housed at the staff quarters, up the hill. It was in its own room because of how loud and messy it was. He indicated that now that they had a machine on property, they could grind the maize a couple times a week. He shared that before they got their own machine, they would have to make a plan to take it all to town, and then wait in line to grind what they would need for the month.  He also indicated that there was a big fee for this service.  I asked him what the difference was between the maize we eat (sweet and succulent) and the maize I was carrying on my back (dry).  He indicated that the field maize is grown for the specific purpose of drying and grinding into flour.  The flour is then used in recipes for cooking the rolls for the kids on the Sabbath. 

I wondered while I was visiting why they never referred to the maize as corn.  Obviously it was the same vegetable, and they clearly spoke English, but the word for this vegetable never changed in conversation from maize to corn.  It was always maize.  When I got home I looked up the word maize, and found out that it is the British term for corn.  Since Kenya was a British Colony until 1963,  this is just one of the British words that just stayed with them all this time!  

The walk was about 1/4 of a mile each way.  Once we arrived David unlocked the door to the room that the machine was housed in.  This machine is under lock and key due to its value.  Clearly this machine could/would be something that others would desire to steal or take a part for parts. 

Once we entered the room, David poured the maize into the machine on the one side where there was a holding tray.  

David then tied a sack to the end of the machine opposite of where the maize was placed. He  gave me my instructions for using the machine.   This included the overview of the on and off buttons on the wall, how to direct the maize with my hands towards the chute.  Once the machine was turned on, I would send the maize through the chute, the machine would grind it and then send it out the funnel at the other end into the sack!  

We repeated the process four times.  Taking the ground maize from the sack, back to the original tray, re-grinding the maize until it was a fine flour/powder.  

We completed the task in under 15 minutes and headed back to the orphanage.  David grabbed the bag as we exited and tossed it over his shoulder.  I asked him if he needed me to carry it back, and he looked up at me and smiled and said, "No I got it, it is lighter now!" Which of course had us laughing all the way back.  

Once again, so fortunate that I was able to live this and experience this.  Clearly the best field to table experience I have ever had!  

The next night, we were treated to chapati, an African flat bread.   It is a very labor intensive endeavor to watch the ladies make (kneading, rolling and cooking one at a time), so knowing that the chapati were made with fresh ingredients and love, made it all the better to our taste buds!  

Everything tastes better when love is the main ingredient!   

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Tale from the Sewing Room

When I heard of the need for sewing notions to be taken to Africa, I started talking to my sewing friends, and gathering buttons, zippers and elastic. I also began to get excited about potentially using my basic sewing skills at the orphanage to aid with sewing or mending for the students and staff.  If you ever want to hear about my love/hate relationship with sewing, I would be happy to share the story of a 12 year old girl (me) that wanted a dirt bike for her birthday, but got a sewing machine instead! 

A few of my friends and family who have no idea about sewing, but caught my enthusiasm, gave me money since they had no supplies to donate, and I was able to order additional supplies on line before I left!  To each of you that donated elastic, buttons and zippers,  here was the "stash".  I packed over 3,000 buttons, of all shapes and sizes along with rolls of elastic in varying widths, and 300 zippers in all lengths and colors in my check bag!  

I apologize as this is not the best photo, but I think you get the idea!  The ladies in the sewing room were so happy with our donations, and frankly in my opinion, no one can have too many buttons!!  As a side note, the next day when I returned to the sewing room to work,  I found it empty. What I did notice was small stacks of buttons sitting around. They clearly had enjoyed sorted through them matching them up.  It made me smile as I remember fondly doing that with my grandmothers buttons, and my girls doing the same thing with my button stash!  Really there is just something so awesome about a huge stash of colorful shaped buttons! 

As part of our planned trip expenses/donations, we had agreed to purchase new school uniforms for the school age students.  This consisted of fabric for shorts and skirts (which would be sewn at Fiwagoh), new sweaters (purchased in town) and if there were funds remaining,  a new pair of socks for  each them so they could start off September in style when they returned to the classrooms! The government dictates what colors the students must wear at each particular school throughout Africa, so we purchased light blue fabric for the bottoms, skirts or shorts for the littles, and gray for the the trousers and skirts for the older students.  In addition we were also able to purchase fabric for play shorts and skirts! To round out the supplies, we brought girls and boys, men and women's underwear with us from the states, as it seems they are of better quality than what they can purchase there. 

The photo above is a section of all the children wearing their new school sweaters!  We were also able to purchase their socks!  What is the cost to outfit 265 kids for back to school with the basic clothing needs?  Underwear times one pair, one sweater, one pair of socks, and a bottom (skirt or pants) ? $3,912.82 or  $14.77 a child!!   Amazing!  

Again a huge thanks to each of you that had any part of donating towards this endeavor! The children were very proud and so very grateful for their new things!  We got many thank you notes in response to your generosity.  While this post in particular is about clothing their physical bodies, because of such an extensive amount of financial donors prior to our departure we were able to leave a huge footprint, providing for their other needs, through our small but mighty team! 

Now on the to cutting and the sewing.  The sewing room was a large open space that had sewing machines along the outside walls under the windows for maximum lighting. All the machines were in working order, while I felt like a couple of them were very outdated, they clearly did the job at hand and had been for many years!  

Once the fabric had arrived, the ladies got busy laying it out on the tile floor and measuring it to make sure they maximum their number of cuts and the "waste" was minimal.  As I mentioned in one of my first posts, nothing here goes to waste.  We had a paper pattern (pink and yellow in the photos) that we would lay down, pin and then cut,  repeating the entire length of the fabric or until the required number of pieces were cut.  This fabric was for boy new play shorts. 


Additionally we had the privilege to watch Eunice "whip" up a pair of play shorts (start to finish) including our elastic donations for the waistband, in under 20 minutes,  and Gladys made light work of the surging the seams of all the fabric pieces for all the shorts to prevent fraying and increase the wear time of the shorts. 

It was during one of these cutting times on our last day, that Ernie (our team leader) came into the sewing room to check out what we were doing.  He was dumbfounded as to why we were all crawling around on the floor cutting the fabric.  To him it seemed that it would hurt your knees and back and was not the most effective way to do the task at hand.  I agreed with him, but reminded him that when you go another place to serve, typically you just join them, doing the task at hand as they teach you the ways they have always done it.  

We had some conversation, with the ladies who added their occasional cautious thoughts, about other options beside cutting on the floor. One consideration was the mattresses in the rear of two of the photos.  We considered if stacking them would be a good option so the fabric was off the floor.  Upon further consideration we realized the scissors would sink/cut into the foam, it would not be a firm enough foundation to cut the patterns on. Additionally, how many mattresses would we have to stack to get to the height where the ladies could stand to work vs kneeling and crawling if the end goal was to make this "easier" for them.  Next we considered if we could locate any plywood "lying around" that was not being used.  Again if you live in a culture where you waste nothing, you guessed it, there was nothing to be found.  It was concluded the that tile was their best option currently (which they they already knew) hence why they showed us how to do the laying out and cutting of the fabric on the floor. 

It was a few minutes later that we (the team) headed to lunch.  During lunch Ernie began to sketch a work table for the ladies in the cutting room.  Initially, if memory serves me correctly, we were thinking that perhaps if we left the funds and the "sketch" or directions, the senior boys who were inclined and skilled in the area of woodworking could make the table in the coming weeks for the ladies in the sewing room.  In conversation, of course Eunice and Gladys had agreed with Ernie's assessment of what the the best option would be; approximately a waist high, long cutting table!  It was 1:30 PM on our last day at Fiwagoh, when Ernie and Pastor Benson left for the lumber yard to gather supplies for this project.  

Now let me just say this... I love a challenge!  And I love building stuff.  Last year in Peru I got to work the chop saw for an entire day and was in my glory!! I believe that it is safe to say that Ernie does as well!  He knew going into this last minute project, of which we determined he should just go purchase the supplies for,  was not going to be an hour long round trip, like here in the states when you run to Home Depot or the Lowes!  They returned to the orphanage at 6:30PM almost 5 hours after their departure.  While they had a list of supplies, and knew exactly the dimension of the wood needed, they had to wait for the wood to be milled and it was not one stop shopping!  Of course there is this thing called "Africa time"  which stands still for all reasons or none, and you are at the mercy of the shop owners and their sense of urgency. 

I can't recall at what point in this hunting, gathering and delivering of the supplies that we as an individual or a group determined that we were going to just go ahead and build this table with the help of any of the older boys that were willing. However, it became clear rather quickly upon Ernie and Pastor Bensons return that we had one more project to do!  

With only a few hours of our trip left, none of our packing for departure done, and hearts that desired more than reason, to leave one more mark behind, spent the last of our allotted project funds and time, and set out to get this project done!!  We grabbed a quick dinner, and off to the shops we headed.  

Now by this time the sewing ladies were home, unaware of what was happening in their sewing shop!  Which is probably a good thing, as we attempted to cram into this space, more people than we should have, more tools and supplies, and more chaos than they would have preferred I am sure! 

We called all the senior boys that wanted to assist with the project to come help.  But we also had promised all the seniors we would hang out and play some games with them, as it was our last night at the orphanage.  They had as a great a desire to hang out with us,  as we had to build this table for the sewing room.

As with all things in Africa, nothing seems to work just like you plan.  Ernie found that the wood shop equipment was not in the best working order and after some modifications, and a bit of frustration, we finally got everything and everyone situated in the sewing room.  Chairs were brought in for the games we would play with the kids not building. Over the noise and distraction of directions being given and power tools being run, we made the most of our last night at Fiwagoh! 

In the midst of teaching 30+ kids to play UNO, two rolling black outs, an abundance of laughter as they switched to their favorite game of signs, a sad awareness of our departure looming, pounding, leveling and a shortage of nails, we manage before 10:30 PM on our last night at Fiwagoh to finish our master piece!! 

* Ernie, if I have any of the facts above wrong, feel free to make corrects by sending me a message, I am happy to make edits to complete the story from all perspectives!


We quickly wiped off the saw dust, cleaned up the floor and our remaining supplies.  We carried bolts of fabric and stacked them on the shelves under the table.  We wrapped up by leaving a heart felt note on the table for the ladies the next day on the back of the only sheet of paper we had, the original sketch for the table, in anticipation that we would not see them prior to our departure the next morning.    

Then, in the typical African style our departure time was pushed back, and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and found smiles all around when Gladys and Eunice walked in to the sewing shop to start working to find a new work table in the center of their sewing room just for them!  

Of course as we hugged and chatted, we could not miss the opportunity to take a "selfie" to commemorate and celebrate the moment!  Some things in Africa are just the same as in the states!!  

These ladies and this project for them, is top of my highlight reel from this trip! Something not planned, but obviously meant to be! I enjoyed the fellowship with the young men that worked diligently beside Ernie and the men of the house, Pastor Benson and Nelson and Duncan. Sharing laughs as we leveled and nailed and held the table together.  Sharing in the joy of the finished project is a feeling that I just can't put in words.  Seeing the joy on the ladies faces when they walked into the room and were surprised by the table was priceless! 

In all this, it is my hope that the table will allow them relief on their backs, knees legs and shoulders, as they can now stand to cut uniforms. Also, they now have a great work space for other projects that need done, or for just organizing their supplies.  Additionally, it is my desire for them to know that the table was constructed out of our love for them, and our knowledge of how things could be a slight bit easier for them in the midst of the task of sewing for 265+ children.  

Never was it our intention to build the table, and leave them to think that we were snotty Americans that forced them to do something our way.  I recognize that even as excited as they were about the table, that making the switch to using it, after years of using the floor as the table, as silly as it may seem to our minds, will take some adjustments on their part. Overall, it is my prayer is that our "American" vision for improving their workplace actually was the blessing it was intended it to be, and that we were able to play a role in providing a hand up and an viable and workable option to help them work with more ease.  

It is worth mentioning that these ladies and their students, never once gave us any indications that the way their shop was set up was a hardship for them, or that they were dissatisfied in some way about how things were being done.  On the contrary they were generous, gracious teachers, allowing us to come along side them and "help".  Our returned trips to the sewing room showed them our intentions were to really work side by side with them and learn a bit about each of them and their life and ministry at Fiwagoh. 

The lessons that I learned from them were more too numerous to count.  I was reminded each time I went to the sewing room of many things, and here are just a few:   
  • With planning and effort, there is no waste (or very little).  Even the smallest scraps, what I would consider waste, were repurposed into handkerchiefs, and the small children found the actual waste, to be a treasure trove for their imaginative play. 
  • The children were encouraged and invited into the sewing room play at the feet of those working.  What a great way for them to learn by observation! 
  • It seemed daunting to me that the equipment that they had was going to get the job done, but to them it was perfect, and in the imperfections, they had learned along the way to manage, manipulate and coax the machines into exactly what their man created tasks were. 
  • Patience is tied closely with joy.  When you are patient in your planning and execution of the job at hand, you exude peace even when the snafus happen.  
  • No matter what you are faced with, just make do, and get the job done.  Do not expect others to do it for you or even with you.  Do not feel like you are entitled to more that what you have, as it is exactly what you need to do the task at hand. Less is more. 
Again, I am rejoicing that I did not have to make any of this adventure up! I lived it and loved it! I hope that you are encouraged through the recounting of the blessings of my time spent in the sewing room!  

"Really I don't dislike to cook, but what you cook is eaten so quickly.  When you sew, you have something that will last to show for your efforts! " Elizabeth Trans Johnson