The Risk of Listening

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This blog post is about Nambia. Yes, I’m going there. Not literally, because there is no country of Nambia. In a speech to African leaders at the United Nations last week, the President referred twice to the country of Nambia with regard to an increasingly self-sufficient health care system. To be clear, there are countries in Africa where the names have changed: Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, Gold Coast to Ghana, Belgian Congo to Congo to Zaire to Congo. And countries have split so that one becomes two: in 2011, the government of Sudan gave its blessing for an independent South Sudan. But, there is not, and never has been, a country of Nambia.

I realize it’s easy to jump on this one, point the finger at the President, shake a fist at his questionable diplomatic skills and geographical disregard. After joining in on the jokes, tweets and retweets that ensued, I realized that I shouldn’t be too smug about this. Many of us (include me in this) might do well to take a step back and reflect on exactly how much we know about the places we purport to care deeply about. I say this as someone who regularly stands up in front of groups and dispenses historical facts, relevant information and stories about the people our non-profit works with in Ghana, West Africa. I’ve read stacks of books and articles on the country, its culture, history, and challenges. I’ve traveled back and forth over the past six years and have daily communication with Ghanaians working in the communities where the corresponding NGO is located. And still, I’m more like someone who makes claims about the progress of Nambia than I am someone who has a handle on the complexities of Ghana. Not that long ago, this would have sent me into a paralyzing crisis of confidence, but now I find it to be a necessary confession.

For the first couple of years, despite my attempts to study up and travel frequently so I could understand the culture I was working with, I was constantly offending, confusing, and, yes, angering a few people in Ghana as I stumbled my way forward. It was humbling, and although I’ve learned a little along the way, I’m still amazed that our staff there puts up with me. This recent news-making event by our President (and yes, I realize that we’ve moved on to other shocking current events) has me thinking about our Western culture and the way we land in countries with our brilliant ideas, savior mentality, and words of wisdom. We perceive ourselves as great teachers, but concentrate little effort on becoming better learners, and yet if we truly want to be people with an effective level of global consciousness, we must move from talking to listening.

Swedish novelist Henning Mankell moved to Mozambique, Africa because he wanted to finally experience life outside of a Western egocentricity, and because the plane ticket was the cheapest. He ended up staying for 25 years. Although most of his personal writing about Africa is centered around the differences in storytelling between the Western and African mind, he says this about listening:

In Africa listening is a guiding principle. It’s a principle that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else. It’s as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer.

I want to believe that those of us who work cross-culturally care deeply about the work we are doing and the people with whom we work, and yet it seems we spend so little time learning from them. We talk and talk, and then we board a plane and depart, knowing little more about the depths of the culture we have been in than when we arrived. So I’m going to slowly and carefully ease out on the limb and say it: This is not an issue of how informed you are. It’s an issue of how much you care about how informed you are.

Being informed can be risky. If you listen and learn, then discover that your good works might actually bring harm or are not as effective as you had hoped and promised, then what do you do with that information? Some just continue to stumble down the road with their message and methods because, to be honest, we may not want to discover that our work benefits us far more than it benefits the people we seek to help. And what if, after all that listening, we’re at a loss for an answer?

Here’s my proposal: For a while, let’s lay aside our brilliant ideas; tuck away our prepared spiel and glad tidings; tear up our agendas and rethink our missions. And then, let’s be quiet and really listen, learn, and posture ourselves in humility and radical solidarity with all people in real places.

 

Good with Imperfection

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Shims. These are little pieces of wood that you purchase when the floors in your old house slant in three different rooms. I know this because we now have them under most of our furniture in an effort to combat the “funhouse” effect. In the photo above, ignore everything except the thin leg on that piece of furniture and notice where it meets the floor. See the little squares of wood? Now you know what shims look like.

People ask how the house is coming along and I’m never sure what to say. “It’s coming,” is usually my answer. The boxes are unpacked, which is an accomplishment, but the furniture has been moved and rearranged and ultimately judged as too big to fit into most of our downstairs rooms. Our pieces have puffy arms and they are ridiculously deep and wide, so we’re in the process of downsizing most of our furniture, which wasn’t in the plan. It feels like we’re in house survival mode – troubleshooting weird problems we couldn’t have predicted and discovering strange quirks that the house has been hiding since October. These are small problems in a big world, but this is the world we happen to be living in right now on Rosedale Avenue.

This is my first go round with an old house so I’ve been looking at photos of other homes that have been renovated and resurrected. At first it was fascinating and inspiring, and then it wasn’t. After so many images of sterile, stylish, bright and white rooms, I wanted to see a little reality. I wanted to see the shims. Or at least some evidence that somewhere in the midst of the perfection, there was a little pitch in the floor. We have varying degrees of slanting floors in three rooms in our house and there is nothing we can do about it. We gutted the kitchen and the master bathroom to redo ugliness and former botched remodeling projects, but the floors are not a fix-it project.

In an earlier decade of my life, this would have been unacceptable. I don’t know if I’m a perfectionist, but in every house I’ve moved to as an adult (it’s been eight), the first month was a mad push to unpack, clean, hang pictures, and do every repair and cosmetic fix that could have been spread out over twelve months. The people who lived in the house with me were patient and gracious, biting their tongues and allowing me to be needlessly picky and worried. It was imperative that the house look like the picture I had been painting in my mind for the previous 45 days. Mostly, I wanted perfection, and I wanted it fast. This house isn’t participating in the perfection game and here are a few reasons why:

The eight-foot opening into the dining room has an obvious sag in the middle.

The garage is not fit for cars or humans, but the feral cats love it. We store our junk in it and pray that the Oklahoma wind won’t level it.

There is no grass in the backyard, but there is dirt, scattered clumps of weeds, and an overgrown Koi pond that perpetually and mysteriously holds water, even during weeks without rain.

The windows are original and drafty, and there there are no two the same size. Also, I now know the train comes through with a blaring whistle between 4 and 5 a.m.

While this may all sound like petulant whining, it’s not. This is enlightenment.

Everything that will never be fixed in this old house is part of what makes it good. This is a new concept for me, because I like perfection. But perfection is stressful. It’s also impossible to attain, and it makes us competitive and sorrowful with our sad self when we look at photos and posts of lives and houses that seem void of flaws. Perfection makes us lament what we don’t have and feel a tiny (or looming) resentment toward those who appear to have acheived it on some level. We want everything in our line of vision to be tidied up and nailed down, clean lines and sharp edges. White and bright. That’s my problem. If it’s yours, I have some news.

No one, including you, wants to hear the perfect story. It isn’t interesting. It doesn’t move us in the deep places or draw us toward one another. What we want to hear instead is a good story – the one where your husband, while digging out the Koi pond in the backyard, finds a trash can with rocks in it buried four feet deep in the ground and almost gives himself a hernia pulling it up from the depths. This is the project that doesn’t get finished in an hour, or a day. Probably not in a week. A month? It’s messy and sloppy and ugly. It’s good. It’s life being lived and humans making the best of it. In the Hebrew language, the word for this is tov. It’s the kind of good that isn’t perfect, but instead embraces the darkness and hard moments, knowing there is also joy and light as well. And then the Greeks gave us a view of perfectionism with their statues and Olympics. Perfection was striving to be the ultimate human, which actually takes us far away from our humanity, and from what feels like home. Anne Lamott says that perfectionism is when we try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up – and yet it is the clutter and mess show that us life is being lived. This is the good story. Because we are all a bit of a mess, you and I, and we should have the freedom to live out our good story without the burden of making it a perfect story.

If you visit my house, I’m going to show you the sloping floors and the sagging doorway and the disastrous backyard. Oh, and the window seat in the dining room, which I’ll leave to your imagination. And I’ll show you the shims, beautifully stained so that they will blend in with the wood floor – our feeble attempt to clean up the mess. Come over and I’ll tell you the good story, because that’s the one that carries us home.

An Update from Rosedale and 64th Place

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This photo makes it clear (or it should) that we have not moved to the Rosedale house yet. It’s way past time for an update, so here goes: We sold our Shadow Mountain house in one day to the most lovely couple who taught their little daughters to swim in our pool many years ago. In case I was in danger of forgetting that life is full of surprises, last month kindly reminded me. Selling to this sweet family was a huge affirmation and they will take our place here on February 2nd. We continue to pack and purge – and I continue to cry at dumb stuff. The word bittersweet fits most of my moments, but these days every time I walk into the Rosedale house I’m more amazed at the transformation. Someone saw the potential of this place through all the chaos, and that person wasn’t me. I kept wringing my hands, but Kyle never did. So I’m grateful for a husband and a contractor who had faith that when we scrape away all the neglect, this place will shine.

I can finally see through the remaining chaos, which means this photo is beautiful to me. The moving van is scheduled for January 27th. We’re surrounded by boxes and empty bookshelves and rooms with nothing on the walls. Some days I feel ready and other days I picture my arms wrapped around the tree in the front yard on moving day while they try to drag me away. Okay, being dramatic here, but I’m honestly not sure which emotion will prevail on that day. Also, I’m getting a little touchy about purging, since over the years my sentimentality has caused our closets to bloat with boxes of special things that I can’t (and won’t) release. These boxes are coming with us because I’m purged out. I can’t become any more minimalistic or I’m afraid I’ll disappear. I’m done. No more purging. No more sorting through stuff. No more decisions about what stays and what goes. That little foursquare house is going to have to hold what’s left of my stuff.

I love before and after photos, so I’ll be posting some as soon as we have a room that qualifies as an “after” photo. I’m told that will happen before January 27th, so I’m taking that on faith.

This new chapter is ours, and we have the opportunity to make something wonderful out of it, chaos and all. I really do believe that. I just might need a reminder if I start walking toward the big tree on moving day.

This Time, Last Year

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On Friday, I’m leaving town. It’s not the best time for me to be gone because we run a retail shop and it’s almost Christmas.

And yet, it’s the best time for me to be gone because it’s almost Christmas. Dad died one year ago today, so I’m going to Colorado. It was Dad’s favorite place in the world and I’m hoping I can hold myself together until we get there.

For several weeks leading up to this day, I’ve been a falling apart and recovering in equal measure. On certain days, I wake up with dread and sit in a chair reassessing my entire life, and other days I’m peaceful and resigned. I’ve labeled it burnout, but I think it’s grief in disguise. Mostly, I’ve just been working hard to put one foot in front of the other with the hope that when this year anniversary has passed, I will be well. It’s true, I’m a bit raw.

So on a morning when I was feeling more sane than usual, I realized my need to be in a place that feels as close to Dad as possible. He loved the Rocky Mountains. During my childhood, we were all over the place: Aspen, Estes Park, Ouray, Ponderosa, Purgatory, and finally, Pagosa Springs. We settled in this small southwestern town and never left. For two weeks of each year, it’s our summer escape and haven. At one point in his life, when Dad was far from retirement and the reality of how Mom’s diabetes would make her dependent on living near a dialysis unit, he and my Uncle Bill bought a piece of land in Pagosa. They were going to build a big house so our families could spend more time in the mountains. It was on Antelope Drive, near a lake with a straight-shot view of the mountains. That’s what he loved – the view. He was particular about what condo we stayed in each summer, and when he finally found one that allowed him to sit on the patio with that view of the mountain, that’s the one we booked every year. Peregrine 7877

Mom started dialysis when she was 60, and the dream of spending the entire summer in Pagosa slowly faded away. Her life was different now – she had to be strapped to the dialysis machine three days a week in order to live. And Pagosa didn’t have a unit. So they sold the piece of land on Antelope Drive and waved it away with the realization that the dreams we have early in life don’t always intertwine with the way our life unfolds in the latter years. They found a dialysis unit in Cortez, Colorado and were content to give up the dream of being in the Rocky Mountains all summer. Instead, they drove three days a week over the mountains during our two-week stay in Pagosa. My parents were steady people, and they bounced back from adversity together. For ten years, dialysis was a part of our Colorado vacation, and they never grumbled, complained, or quit going.

Dad would start talking about Colorado in January, wondering what it looked like under a blanket of snow, proclaiming the obvious, “If we think it’s cold here, imagine what it feels like in Pagose.” (He had taken to dropping the a, thus giving it a little nickname). Around April, when the weather started to turn warm, he would let us know that it would only be a few months and we’d be in Pagose. And then, about a month before our late July departure he would talk about it every time we saw him, literally counting down the days and inventorying the food and cookware he and Mom were gathering to take – pancake mix, cereals, pasta, soda, griddle, skillet. He hated the cheap cookware in the condo.

When Mom’s neuropathy took her legs from her in early March of 2007, he shopped for and purchased a van with a lift and all the necessary handicap features, then proclaimed, “This will be perfect for Colorado.” She died in April and he sold the van. And then we went to Colorado that summer without her.

For seven summers he came to Colorado with us – or maybe we went with him. It always seemed like Colorado belonged to Dad. He continued to carry all the food and his cookware until the last couple of years when he only brought Diet Coke and pancake mix. He meant to  bring the griddle, but he kept forgetting it. He spent more time alone, staring at those mountains and doing more reminiscing about past trips. And then, last December 7, before he even started talking about the next Colorado trip, he died. It’s hard for me to add anything to what I say about his death. He just died. Suddenly. After rolling the neighbor’s trash cans to the side of their house and bringing in his newspaper. He fell over in his chair and died.

Colorado belongs to us now. We took our annual trip to Pagosa last July without Dad. It was heartbreaking, but also wonderful because for the first time I understood what tied him to these mountains and this place. All those summer weeks, the memories, the people and the traditions. And that air. Our trip this past summer came in the middle of a busy, stressful time for us and I needed that fresh, crisp, mountain air. I needed to breathe. I needed to see the absolute majesty and mystery of mountains and be reminded that I should be humbled by creation, and calmed by my insignificance. I need that again now.

We will return to Tulsa on December 13, and one month from that day we will move from our comfortable house in Shadow Mountain to the Rosedale house in northwest Tulsa. After twenty years in my childhood neighborhood, eleven years in this house, and countless memories of living within a half mile from parents, aunt and uncle, and cousins, we’ll pick up and move to the other side of the city. We’ve made choices – lifestyle and financial – that necessitate us giving up our home. Many of those choices were solidified last summer in Colorado. So I’m going back to say goodbye to Dad one last time, and to prepare for another farewell. As Kyle reminds me, we’re not moving across the country, just to the other side of town.

When one thing ends something new is beginning. Although I know this, endings and goodbyes always knock me to the ground. So I’m going to Colorado to breathe in the air, look at the mountains, and be reminded that there is something bigger than my small world. I’m going to allow myself to grieve again, and then I‘m going to stand back up and come home and pack our life in boxes for another ending, and a new beginning.

Owen Park’s Little Free Library

 

img_3015Things we haven’t done before: 1) haul a toilet around in the back of our truck for three days, 2) set off flea bombs (multiple times) in an empty house, 3) maintain a little library in our front yard.

This blog post is about the third thing.

During our first and only showing of the house before we made an offer, our wonderful realtor, Joy, ended it with an explanation about the structure on the corner of our front yard. It was a small box with a frosted glass front, a gabled roof with a tattered flag at the peak, and a floating fairy painted on the back.

“It’s a library – the neighbors can take a book and leave a book. It has shelves of books inside the box. Isn’t that cool?” she said as we stood on the front porch.

It’s possible this piece of information is what tossed us happily over the edge. We knew the house had charm peeking out from behind the long list of remodel projects, but the little front yard library made me swoon. When Joy said it had shelves filled with books, a little memory flashed across my mind of the days when I used to read books that required fingers for turning pages instead of swiping a screen. We have a fairly substantial home library with an entire wall of bookshelves in the living room and a front office with two walls of built-in bookshelves. But we started this purge thing and now we’re working to reduce our consumption, get rid of what we no longer use, and cease making purchases that take up precious space we won’t have in the new house. So our home library is being phased out. I have four small shelves of books that I will keep, but everything else is gone or is going. Hit me up for free books if you are starting your own home library.

This is hard for me because I’ve always been able to justify books. If we were cutting back on our spending, I budgeted in a monthly allowance for books. Being surrounded by them brings comfort and security, but I can’t justify keeping them in mass quantities. Rarely do I read a book more than once, except for Catcher in the Rye and anything by Anna Quindlen (look her up, please). Those are on my stay shelf, but most of my books are there because I need them near me and they look really good, which sounds like the basis for a bad relationship. I like to think of it as an unnecessary relationship. But still, I do love books.

So we have this quaint little library that we’ll maintain and freshen up, replace the flag, paint over the floating fairy, and continually weed out the religious tracts and booklets that keep showing up on the shelves. I’m considering taking it a step further and registering our library with Little Free Library, a non-profit started by creative artisan Todd Bol and youth and community development educator Rick Brooks. Their social enterprise was inspired by Andrew Carnegie (again, please look him up), social empowerment movements in developing countries, Lutie Stearn’s “traveling little libraries”, and community gift-sharing networks. These are all things that make my heart happy. It started small, with Bol building a replica of a one-room schoolhouse that he filled with books. He put the box in his front yard with a sign that read, “Free Books”.  It was a tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. He made several more and gave them to friends so the little library concept could continue. The goal was to build 2,510 little libraries through a network of people who would build their own library or order one through the non-profit and place it in a public space. As of November 2016, there are 50,000 registered Free Little Libraries worldwide and additional libraries that are unregistered and unaccounted for, including ours. Bol’s small project has turned into a worldwide enterprise.

Fernando, our amazing contractor who is bringing the Rosedale house back to life, told us that he sees neighbors stopping to take and leave books, so the little library continues to give back, even though the house is empty for now.

These days, my own life and the happenings in the world leave me feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m not one to start small, but instead usually like to jump in with big ideas and ambitious projects. I don’t have the patience for slow and small. I want to change the world and do it as fast as possible. But what they say is true – change often starts with people like you and me doing their part to make the space around them kinder, brighter, more grace-filled and joyful. So while I still have my eyes focused on what is across the ocean, I’m also learning to look carefully at what is close to home. Nothing is insignificant. Even a little box filled with books for my neighbors and their children.

The Most Important Room: Before

 

 

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The kitchen demolition at Rosedale started two weeks ago but I wasn’t there to watch since the kitchen really isn’t my territory anymore. Last October Kyle took over the cooking and the result has been more creative meals, experimental dishes, general healthier eating, and happy humming that goes on while the meal is being prepared. I still saunter in to do a little baking when I have time, but we all know who we really want in the kitchen.

My mother taught me to cook when I was in elementary school, so I do have skills and did most of the cooking during our 27 years of marriage. There are two kinds of cooks – those who fearlessly mess around with the recipes, and those who use recipe card holders and never deviate from what is printed on those cards. My mother and I are the latter. Her recipe cards are stained and creased because she never winged it. Like her, in this area of my life I play it safe. My collection of cookbooks and recipes clipped from magazines – and later pulled from the Internet – got me through those 27 years of cooking. No one complained, except Colin, 15 years ago when I tried a new recipe for spinach burritos. He can’t let go of it and reminds us frequently how scarring it was for him. No one else can recall this meal, so I’m not counting it as a fail. But there’s a new chef now and I couldn’t be happier, which means I’m mostly staying out of the kitchen remodel decisions. He knows what kind of cook top and stove he wants, the configuration of countertop space, cabinets that will roll out and hold pots and pans. And on it goes. This is our first kitchen remodel and although we aren’t knocking out walls, it feels like we’re building something from scratch. We are replacing original upper cabinets, and when they were removed we discovered that the wall behind them needed both sheetrock and insulation. An earlier remodel had not properly prepared the walls, and so what we thought would be a simple cabinet installation became major wall prep. And a corner that was angled and held the refrigerator was taking up precious space, so the angle is no more and the refrigerator will move to the opposite wall.

Most of this was discussed and decided after we bought the house. I was content to leave it all strangely angled because it felt safer. But I was overruled and the angle has been replaced with a straight-line corner, which they tell me will open up the space. This kitchen is smaller than our current kitchen and has no room for a breakfast table, but we’re not willing to go big with this remodel. I’ve had moments of wishing for a little more space between the sink and the stove, but then I watched a few HGTV remodel shows and now I feel better about myself. I thought asking for a lazy Susan and a pantry wall was demanding. Not so. Our contractor has shared with us several stories of outrageously expensive kitchen remodels for people who rarely cooked. They mostly ate out and carried in, but paid big money to upgrade their kitchen to chef’s standards. I have no judgement on this (okay, maybe just a little), but it seems the thing that makes the kitchen is the people in it – preparing, anticipating, gathering around, saying grace over, and then, finally, eating the food. This can happen in beautiful ways with or without an island, eat-in bar, granite countertops or a sub-zero refrigerator.

The kitchen has always been the hub of our house for many reasons, but mostly because this is where the real conversations happen. It may not be this way for everyone, but in our family the kitchen is where big announcements have been made, arguments have been started and resolved, major decisions have been discussed (beyond what we’re having for dinner that night), and guests have lingered at the beginning and ending of an evening together – choosing to stand even though we have comfortable chairs in other rooms. When there were five of us living in our house, there were evenings when we stood around in the kitchen during dinner preparation to talk about the day, before we even got to the table.

In many cultures, it seems that the place where life-sustaining food is being prepared is where families gather. In Ghana, outdoor kitchens are common, and older children are often a part of the preparations while younger children play nearby. In many countries, the kitchen is in the center of a compound, and extended family members naturally gravitate to the place where food is being chopped, pounded (as in Ghanaian fufu) or slowly simmering. These kitchens are often nothing more than a wood fire, and yet this is where the action is. Food gives life, and so it makes sense that the space in a home where it is being prepared is where we want to be, even if it is only a subconscious desire.

So I’m looking at the blank walls in our unfinished kitchen and reminding myself that it isn’t islands, big spaces, fancy appliances and granite countertops that matter (we’re sticking with mid-range appliances and butcher block), but the warmth that radiates from a place where the cook hums, guests are welcomed and honest conversation happens. Whether recipes are followed or creativity is flourishing with the food preparation, our little kitchen will still be the most important room in the house. But I’m holding out for that pantry wall.

 

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The Purge (Part One): The Clothes Closet

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When I was five, we took our annual Colorado vacation in the hot month of July, and my mother left my packed suitcase with all my vacation clothes on her bed. She realized this about ten minutes on this side of Amarillo, six hours into the trip, and started sobbing as we pulled into the J.C. Penney parking lot. She and I hurried through the children’s section of the store where she chose three mix and match outfits from the clearance rack for our two weeks in Estes Park. Dad says she continued to sob in between naps all the way to Colorado.

I remember none of this, but the story is lore, and the photos of me during our vacation do look repetitive: sailor suit, white t-shirt/green shorts, blue romper. We had a very good vacation, and my rotation of three outfits for two weeks was actually not a big deal.  When we returned home my mother added the three new outfits to my closet full of clothes.

Which brings me to the current closet in the house we now live in. It’s a walk-in, not oversized, but adequate. My portion of it has built-in drawers and two rods the length of the wall where my clothes hang, color-coordinated and divided into occasions and seasons. In eight weeks, we will be moving to the Rosedale house, which doesn’t have a walk-in closet. The owner, who did some of the initial remodel, took an existing wall and added some built-ins where a few clothes can hang, and a few narrow drawers for things that don’t hang. The first (and only) time we looked at the house, I opened the reach-in closet door and saw the two short clothing rods and said, I can do this. But now, my recollection is that I walked through the entire house chanting that same sentence like a mantra, with glazed eyes and a dreamy smile.

Because we will now have to adjust our wardrobes to the reach-in closet, two weeks ago I designated a Closet Purge Day. About two-thirds of my clothes, shoes, and drawer items were destined to go, which is an exercise I’ve been wanting to do for about a year. Back when we had more money and I had more time, I purchased clothes and shoes from places where they sold them cheap. This seems like a paradox, but if you have more money, you might be more likely to treat clothing as disposable without thinking about how long it will last or whether you really need it. That’s me. The lure of shopping at a place where I could pick up mouthwash, a birthday card, raspberries and a marked down sweater was irresistible. It didn’t matter whether I needed the sweater. It was cheap and oh, so convenient. Hence, the walk-in closet with far too many clothes that I rarely wore.

The first pass at purging the closet was easy, because I had enough clothes that I knew were on the “outta here” list. The next purge, a few days later forced me to be honest with myself. Do you really love it and do you use it, or do you just want to keep it because you might need it someday? This is the question that determines the criteria for everything that is is being evaluated during The Purge, not just clothes. And it’s a question that forces me into other questions about why I can’t let go of stuff. Questions about why I keep buying things I don’t need, and why doing it makes me feel happier for a few minutes. It’s an uncomfortable place to go, but on Closet Purge Day, as I kept evaluating my clothes, shoes, and accessories, I realized that the purging got easier as the closet got emptier. I felt lighter and less burdened. It was a surprising feeling, so I planned another closet purge day for the next week.

I also started to look seriously at the Capsule method of building a wardrobe, which is whittling your wardrobe down to 33 items per season – shoes, accessories and jewelry included (workout clothes and sleepwear not included). Our closet wall at the new house is about right for this amount, so I’m giving it a go. This means no more cheap clothes, because fewer items of clothing means they have to withstand more wear. So when my clothes have to be replaced, I’m looking for better alternatives even if they are pricier. In the long run, it’s more cost effective. The other night Kyle noticed a hole in the seam of my shirt, which is an item of clothing that survived two purges. I bought it last summer at Target and have worn it only a handful of times (because I have so many other clothes to choose from).

Today is the third time I will have purged my closet, and the goal is to get my fall wardrobe to the requisite 33 items (which, by the way will not include jewelry. Please ask me about this). I’m far from a legalist and don’t like to participate in gimmicky goals, but I love a worthy and necessary challenge. And the closet in the Rosedale house is just the kick in the seat I need to do the necessary thing.

Some days this purging thing feels like my mother sitting in the front seat at the start of the journey, crying over what will be left behind and worrying that I’ve let go of something I might need someday. What if I let it all go and realize I’m unhappy without it? Of course, I know this isn’t the way it will work. My five-year-old self made it through those two weeks in Colorado with three outfits and my mother stopped crying about the clothes the minute we hit the Rocky Mountains. I didn’t need the clothes we left behind to enjoy the journey, and I don’t need them now. Most of them are already gone from my closet, and I don’t even miss them. So if my wardrobe starts to look repetitive, congratulate me. Or at least remember the size of our reach-in Rosedale closet.

 

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What Happened Last Friday

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We bought a house last Friday. Literally. We signed our names on eight pages of paperwork, confirmed the money wire, hugged the realtor, and then I went back to work.

It’s a great house, or at least everyone tells me that it is. Built in 1928, it’s a foursquare craftsman with a wraparound porch on a corner lot. Kyle and I had been attending an open house in an adjoining neighborhood and met a realtor who told us about the house on the corner. It was “coming soon” and she encouraged us to set up a private showing so we could be ready when it hit the market. She gave us the details as people were milling all around us. As an aside, I had no idea that it’s now a thing to hold an open house where food, wine and beer are included. Because these two neighborhoods are near downtown and filled with old homes that aren’t yet price-inflated, houses go fast and even pending homes are held open. We thought we had crashed a party, but we joined in the festivities and were social with people we didn’t know, including the realtor.

“You should just drive by,” she said after telling us all the enticing details about the property, and being honest to also inform us that it needed work. So we left the open house/party, drove by, and exactly one week later, less than 24 hours after it listed, the sellers accepted our offer over several others to purchase the house. We were giddy and celebrated that night, congratulating ourselves and talking about all the amazing transformations that would be made to the craftsman on the corner. Unfortunately, the next day I woke up with a panicky morning-after syndrome and actually said aloud, “What have we done?” And I said it again, multiple times, all day. The house is half the size of our current home, it was built in 1928 and needs serious cosmetic work, and it’s on the opposite side of town from where we have lived for 20 years. But it was a great deal and should be an even better investment, which at times, tempers my panic.

There is a backstory here that’s important. Until about five years ago, Kyle and I were people on a trajectory of climbing income, bigger house, more stuff. Then we both decided to dive into non-profit work, which has the unfortunate reputation of being the kind of work which shouldn’t pay too decent of a salary. And it doesn’t – if any. Yet we remained in the same house, despite the fact that it is too big, too expensive, and doesn’t match our financial reality anymore. It was around Christmas of last year that we began to wonder what it might look like if we actually changed our lifestyle and scaled things back. We started to throw around quite a few “what if” questions that seemed ridiculous and scary. And then, somewhere along the way, they started to make a little bit of sense. And then, finally, they became the only thing that made sense.

From the first night we drove by the house to the closing last Friday, a short three weeks passed. I’m starting to realize that some things are best done with ferocity of speed, lest your cold feet hold you back. It still makes sense, but if it hadn’t happened so quickly it’s possible I would have made a list of reasons why we shouldn’t – couldn’t – leave our beautiful home and the thousand memories it holds. So it’s a done deal. We have a fixer-upper house (I do not watch Netflix shows with similar names, by the way) and we will move before Christmas. The thought of this is huge for me. I’m both a static and restless person. I like the comfort of the familiar, but fear boredom. I don’t spend a lot of time wondering if this is a personality flaw, but instead have embraced the fact that my life is filled with a cycle of new beginnings that scare the crap out of me. This has the effect of making not-so-dramatic new beginnings feel like the highest level of drama. Which is why God gave me Kyle, who always settles the drama.

Writing also settles it. My blog has been lonely anyway, so I think it’s a good time to reunite with it and share the journey. I know almost nothing about remodeling and living in an old home, simplifying my life by purging possessions, living with less, and all other things related to the road we are about to travel. But I’m excited for the adventure, admittedly with a touch of fear and trepidation, and ready to chronicle this one good story as it unfolds.

Make Something Beautiful

But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Back in the 1970s, there was a crafting craze called “foiling.” It caught on mostly with women like my mother who stayed at home to clean, cook, take care of children, and volunteer at church and in the community. But still, these women had time on their hands and some of them began to foil. My mother had a talent for sewing, but she was quickly caught up in the art of foiling. Things around our house were suddenly covered in foil: book covers, picture frames, and finally, a lamp base. This was not pretty art. In order to protect the foil from tearing, a sealant was applied, which turned the creases in the foil to a rusty brown color. No one would look at my mother’s magnum opus of foil art – her lamp base – and sigh with pleasure at its beauty. The lamp remained with us for decades, centered on the nightstand in the guest bedroom as if on display. I watched the brown creases deepen in color until the shade became something more like trash to be thrown out. I don’t know why my mother chose foil art as an additional way to express her creativity. It was basically a craft of covering things: cover the item with foil and then cover the foil with goop. Was this art? Craft? The answer is probably subjective, but I’m not interested in what to call the piece. I’m more interested in the creator, and what took place within her during the time she was creating.

For most of my life, I’ve been a writer. And for most of my life I would have cringed to type those words The little voice inside me would have whispered back, You know that’s not true. You’re not a real writer. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a freelance editor, a magazine editor, started and maintained a blog, written a few articles that were published and ghostwritten two books. But still, it would have felt like I was skirting the truth a bit to proclaim myself “a writer.” I needed credentials, a mountain of published works, a platform, a big following, possibly an agent. Those were the real writers. They were the artists.

I muddled along with that belief, still blogging and finally finishing a manuscript after several years, but I put it in a folder on my desktop and left it alone. Suddenly, my writing changed course. I started a non-profit on a shoestring, which meant that for several years I couldn’t afford to hire a marketing director or any staff that might help me communicate to the masses. Immediately I began doing the work of convincing potential donors that ours was an organization worth investing in and that their money would be used to do good for vulnerable, under-resourced people. I learned a different way to write, but still, I wrote. And still, I refused to think of myself as a writer.

And then, on one of our trips to visit the people we work with in Ghana, something happened that began an evolution in the the way I think about creativity and the act of creating. Our organization works with twelve students who have been orphaned and live with relatives. These are the most vulnerable people in the villages where we work. They are children, which immediately puts them in the margins, and they have been thrust into the homes of relatives who didn’t ask for the responsibility of raising them, but took them in because of cultural obligation. They are the lowest in the familial hierarchy – often kept from attending school and given the last and least of everything in the family. Our staff in Ghana provides an after-school program where the students do crafts, receive one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, and encouragement. Our team hosted the students at the guest house where we were staying and provided an art session for them so they could experience finger-painting for the first time. Each student created a piece of art and signed their name to it, and we carried the pieces to the veranda to dry. Blank, white paper had transformed into splashes of vibrant color that was both abstract with a few recognizable elements: a flag in one corner, a heart in the middle, and always a thickly scrawled name at the bottom. I stood looking at the the pieces scattered across the table and cement floor. I envisioned framing the pieces, or mounting them on canvas and how they might look adorning the walls of the Ghana office or the homes of the students. I could hear the children inside the house, clamoring for another piece of paper and more paint on the table. And for another hour, they continued to create. They proudly held up each finished piece, staring at their own creation. They were artists. It didn’t matter that these pieces would never hang in a gallery or be purchased by art collectors. The children had made something from nothing and they proclaimed their creations to be very good.
Since that afternoon in Ghana, I’ve been thinking about art and the act of creating. If you believe that God is the creator of the universe, then he must be an artist. Oceans, cosmos, seasons, and the creatures who inhabit the earth testify to a creative being. Creation is an act that put everything into motion and generated the forward movement of millions more years when nothings were made into somethings, or somethings were transformed into new things. The initial act of creation has been replicated by the created ones. The writers of the book of Genesis told a creation story that enlightens us about one of God’s attributes: He delights in creating. It is who God is. Creator. In the midst of this story, an an idea is spoken before creating the most precious work of art: humans. “Let us make them in our own image.” Whether you believe in the literal version of this story, or see it an a poetical analogy that points to a bigger story about God, don’t miss the climax: the artist created his finest work of art as an image of himself.

As I think back to the works of art created by the children in the village that day, I am certain this matters. We’ve spent enough time with these twelve children in their schools, homes, and walking the dusty streets of their villages to recognize when they are experiencing something that makes them come alive. It doesn’t happen very often, but it did that day and we got to see it happen. We were witnessing a natural act of creativity by children who were hardwired, but not necessarily encouraged, to create.

Here is a thought: maybe we are all artists, and because we were created by an artist who has placed creativity DNA is us, we are unfulfilled if we do not continue the act of creation and then offer it out into the world. This sounds easy to dismiss, but maybe we should suspend the pragmatic and practical and broaden our definition of art. A simple definition: the act of making something. Whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to create from nothing. Foil art. Finger paint art. Poetry. A new business venture. A recipe. If it’s in you, give yourself permission. So let’s all take a deep breath and proclaim ourselves artists (even if we don’t believe it yet), because there is a world out there that needs us to create something beautiful today.

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Empty House. Deep Breath. Move On.

For months, I was adamant that we would not sell Dad’s house. I couldn’t imagine letting it go. It held all my parents’ stuff, and hanging on to stuff after Dad’s death in December was part of the gut-wrenching grieving process. Everything became sacred, even the tacky bird lamp which I plucked from their entryway, along with the table where it was displayed – a table that is so not my style. I took the only wall space available in my living room and slid the table into it and crowned it with the bird lamp. And there it still sits, along with clutter in almost every room of my house consisting of the stuff I needed in order to calm my grief. His house is empty, but ours is crammed full.

I refused an on-site estate sale, so little by little we have parceled out furniture to our kids, relatives, friends, and the estate sale company that picked up the remainder. A haul-away company took the junk no one wanted, then we took some things to Salvation Army and filled more than a few trash cans. I use the word “we”, but I mostly stayed away because I couldn’t watch what was happening. Each time I walked through the house, it was a little emptier than the last time and my parents seemed further away. I didn’t like it that the stuff had such a direct correlation to my grief, but that’s the mystery of grieving. Things that shouldn’t matter became the lifeline that keeps one nostril above water.

So now the house is completely empty and the “sale pending” sign has been in the yard for over a month. This is Friday – closing day, and last night I pre-signed since I need to be in the shop all day. The new owners are a sweet older couple who are so excited that they have been known to go over and walk (sneak?) around the back yard or find the door unlocked to the garage and meander in. It’s their dream house and today they will begin to fill it with their own stuff.

Maybe I’m in the last stage of grief – the one where you finally and solidly know that you must rise up and out, and that the loss you thought would drown you will instead produce something that you never imagined. At the office where the closing took place, I sat in a conference room and signed eleven documents, including the deed to the house. My penmanship was terrible because I left my glasses in the car, but I knew my signing was another in an eight-month long series of goodbyes. Despite the enormity of what I was letting go of,  I didn’t have the heart flutter, sweating palms or a feeling that the walls were closing in on me (remember I told you how much I hate goodbyes in this post.) I’ve already said goodbye. And then said it again. I’ve grieved. And then grieved more. And now, it’s time to move on. I’m celebrating tonight, and rising up tomorrow to do just that.

Good Boy, Pierre

Absolutely hate goodbyes. Dogs are dogs, I know. They aren’t people and so there isn’t really a need to write a long, sad, introspective blog post on the many ways this furry guy brought joy to our lives. He died three days before his 15th birthday. We helped the process along because it was the right thing to do, but making an appointment to say a forever goodbye is about the sorriest way to spend a Saturday. So this blog post is for you Pierre. I’m writing it as you lay at my feet, waiting for your 2:30 appointment. I’ve said my goodbye and thanked you for hanging in there with this family for so long. Some days were better than others, and lately you’ve had mostly bad days. But from now on, we only remember the good: the squirrel yelp, barking at toys in the pool, your determination to jump high enough to bite the possum on the fence, your place in the big chair, and your sweet disposition that inspired at least three other families to bring Westies into their family. So, goodbye buddy. And one last time: Good boy, Pierre.

Taking the Royal into 2016

I remember the sound of typewriter keys on Saturday mornings. Dad would finish his Sunday school lesson by typing his notes on the old Royal, circa 1940-something. It’s a gray, metal machine that weighs about as much as a full box of encyclopedias. Every week he was teaching – which was most weeks – he hauled it back and forth from the kitchen to the spare bedroom. By the time I was in high school, he had moved up to an electric typewriter and retired the Royal to a quiet existence in the linen closet.

Years ago, I laid claim to this old typewriter and promptly placed it on a shelf in an upstairs closet that held the things we couldn’t give away, but never touched. I couldn’t imagine myself typing on it. It was too slow, too heavy, and the font was one size only. Besides, it was outdated technology that held no promise of productivity. Worthless except for its antique value. For a decade I didn’t give the Royal another thought until Dad died last month. The day after his memorial service I went straight to the closet, lifted the heavy as heck typewriter and carried it downstairs to the den bar. We ordered a universal ribbon cartridge that fits most old typewriters and I loaded paper in and began to type quotes. It was clearly a grief project (I highly recommend these), and one that gave me a surprising amount of comfort and connection. Decades ago, my mother typed recipes on index cards on the Royal, and so there were times when the click of the keys were from her fingers. In elementary school I typed my first (very short) stories on it. I was hearing memories.

Because I am an only child, there has been no exercise of divvying up the items that belonged to my parents. Everything that was special to them now belongs to me, and I do not take this lightly. So the typewriter is being put to use to communicate messages of gratitude, encouragement and love, with a contrastingly jarring clack as I type. Any font my computer can spit out pales against the quirky lettering of the Royal, and when I place them side by side, the smudgy, uneven typewritten words prevail. But it comes at a cost. The keys must be pressed with about 10 times more force than my laptop keys, and if you hit the wrong key you don’t get to backspace with a handy delete key. You take the paper out and start over again, even if you were three words from finishing. The keyboard on the typewriter is a QWERTY, cleverly named because the letters at the top-left corner of the keyboard begin with QWERTY. Most computers have this layout, but with very different spacing between the keys. My third and pinky finger are weaklings and can’t push the typewriter keys down, so I type with only forefingers. It’s slow going, but far more precise.

So the old Royal and I are stepping into 2016 together. I am beginning to believe that there is nothing that doesn’t come back around in some form or another. There is an Adinkra symbol in Ghanaian culture called Sankofa. It’s in the shape of a swan that has turned its long neck to look backward. Sankofa symbolizes how much we can learn from the past, and that often looking back is one way we move forward. This is true whether we are learning from mistakes or rediscovering the value of what we thought was left behind. The typewriter is comforting, but also teaches me the beauty of the imperfect – smudged letters, uneven spacing, one font size. I’m typing those quotes and listening to the memories of weekly Sunday school lessons, handed-down recipes and a child’s short stories. I thought these things were gone forever, and maybe that meant they didn’t matter anymore. But now I know they are still with me – comforting and familiar like the typewriter that brought them all back.

 

Thoughts on Double-Timing It

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Two days before Christmas, I did this to my car. It was completely my fault, and adding insult to injury (actually, my injury was only a bruised leg and a stiff shoulder), I was ticketed for not yielding right of way. And we had to pay for the damage repair. And we lost our good driver “bonus” that came each January. I beat myself up for days.

And yet, it would have been far worse if I hadn’t seen the car coming and slammed on my brakes. But it was not enough and I can still hear the doomsday sound of screeching tires and the crunch of two automobiles colliding. Like an idiot, I tried to tell the officer that the car’s driver must have been speeding because the two lanes I was crossing during rush hour were completely clear. He begged to differ. It was my bad, and I made Christmas not so merry for a few people.

For the two weeks of Christmas holiday, I drove a loaner that made me feel like I was doing laps in a go-kart. I swear my back end had to be four inches from the ground, but it was actually a nice compact car that was easy to park and opened a wide swath of space in our garage. I was practicing gratefulness, but I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to the rental when the body repair shop called to tell me my Kia Sorento was ready.

“You’ll never know you had an accident,” they said with great confidence, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. Let’s wipe this from our memory, shall we? The car looked just as I had remembered, and I felt a little emotional as I climbed behind the wheel. At this point, I should tell you that I’m not a car person. I don’t get new car fever, and I don’t trade in my car on any regular basis. This was my first new car in almost a decade and I aim to keep this one until the wheels fall off. I’m actually envious of the people who call Car Talk and when asked how many miles are on the car answer well above the hundred thousand mark.

I drove my car out of the parking lot of the repair shop and onto the main street, where I eased into the left turn lane and clicked on my signal. And at that moment, I knew that my Sorento and I – however long we will be together – were probably never going to wipe the accident from our memory. The clicking of my turn signal was in double time, like a nervous woman incessantly tapping her long fingernails. I turned it off and then on again, and still, she tapped in fast motion. I checked the right turn signal, and the slow, rhythmic sound was a soothing contrast to the impatient clicking of the leftie.

I could have turned the car around and demanded they fix the hyperactive turn signal, but I didn’t. I realized the irony and the lesson immediately. Nope, the Sorento and I were going to endure her flaw because I need to be reminded of something every time I turn left: there exists in me a problem with speed. I thrive on going fast -everything from walking to talking. In Ghana, as I spoke to groups of our families in the Rising Village program, Isaac, our Ghana director, was constantly giving me a signal to slow down my rapid speech – palms down, pressing lower and lower. “Slow down, please Lisa,” he would say with that ever-present smile.

Yes, Lisa, please slow down. I avoid the grocery store during the mornings because that’s when all the slow people shop, and there is nothing that makes me lose my religion like getting behind someone who shuffles through the aisles as if they have never stepped foot inside that store. Here’s another sad fact: sometimes I count down how long it takes me to get dressed in the morning and I’m not making that up. If I can get dressed in 40 seconds I’m doing good. My goal is 30. It’s a game, really, because nothing in my life demands that level of speed. I can’t really explain it, and I should probably seek therapy for it, but the turn signal is cheaper. It’s double-time click has been a reminder that I shot out into the lane to make that left turn because, once again, I was in a big, fat hurry. Every time I turn left, it’s like a chant: Too fast, too fast, too fast, too fast. 

I drive like a granny now, and it’s not because I made some resolution to “slow down in 2015.” It’s because I want to keep that Sorento and call in a radio car show and boast that my Kia has 145,000 miles on it, and here’s this little noise it’s been making…” And also, because I can look back and list quite a few other mishaps that occurred because I was too impatient to slow down, or just wait patiently. I still find myself tempted to play “beat the clock” while getting dressed or doing a dozen other daily tasks, but now I’m paying attention to my need for speed and intentionally slowing things down. And if I need a poignant reminder, I can always slowly walk to my car, get in, drive the speed limit, and make a bunch of left turns.

 

If You’re Reading This at 5 a.m…

I have a Black Friday shopping story for you.

Many years ago Kyle and I got up at 5 a.m. to hunt Furbies, got sick of the whole circus by 7 a.m., and proceeded to slide over to Village Inn for breakfast, empty-handed.

No one got a Furby that year, and lest you think that’s a fail, we had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year without them.

I haven’t been out on Black Friday since, but no judgment on those that love the deals and don’t mind  the crowds. I have a friend who cherishes this tradition because it is the only time that she and her mother shop together. And another friend swears this is the only way she can afford to buy decent gifts for her kids, and I believe her. I’m just no good at shopping. I’m easily confused, overwhelmed, and I transform into someone incapable of making a decision. I’m the one at the checkout handing back items, “I don’t think I want these,” I tell the cashier, despite the fact that it took me half a day to choose them.

About now, you are expecting me to denounce the materialistic ultra-hype that seems to be encroaching on the very holiday that has not been transformed into a reason to buy crap. I’ve loved Thanksgiving for this very reason, and cheered the holiday on. I don’t buy Thanksgiving decorations.

But this year, after the pure and beautiful holiday of giving thanks has ended, I’m joining the Black Friday bandwagon. I’m lending my voice to the chorus of “Buy! Buy! Buy!” because there are some things you can purchase that will leave you feeling better in the long run, not worse.

So if you’re reading this at 5 a.m. before you hit the stores for the really great deals, I won’t stop you. But I will ask that you consider purchasing something from the Rising Village GiveGood Catalog. I’ve linked it for you. You’re welcome. This website is open 24 hours a day, and is not limited to those who are up at 5 a.m. to do Black Friday. You can shop anytime, even on your phone. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you have a friend or family member who doesn’t need the trite, ho-hum gift you are going to purchase early in the morning on Black Friday. Maybe you would like to stop turning in circles trying to figure out what to give people who have quite enough stuff. So, on our website, you can purchase: wax fabric for an apprentice, a solar lantern, or give toward a senior high scholarship, food provision for an orphan, bedding for a family, or a business or apprenticeship grant. We’ll take care of making sure families, students, and women receive these resources, and you can give a card to your friend or family member to let them know that the gift has made a difference for someone in Ghana. It’s not a new idea, but it seems that in between holidays, it’s easy to forget that there are alternatives.

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We have seen the difference a purchase of one of these items can make for someone like Joyce. She received an Apprenticeship Grant and is now on her way to becoming a professional hairstylist. With the income she will earn in this profession, Joyce will be able to provide for her son, Kwadwo. So this holiday season, even if you shop the stores to get the deals, take some time to shop on our website also, and see how it feels to GiveGood.

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What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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We Met Dumakyi Today

Written last night, posted today:

We’ve been waiting for this day all week. We visited the village of Dumakyi, which, for us, is a whole new level of Ghana that we haven’t seen – no electricity and no clean drinking water. The villagers have migrated from the Northern Region and are tenant farmers who build their houses from mud and thatch. We supplied solar lanterns to each family in this village several months ago, and every house we stopped at had their lanterns charging. We also went into homes to see at the bedding that was supplied by both Fellowship Lutheran Church and Liberty Church in Tulsa.

This is our last night in Ghana and I’m in the midst of trying to pack all the stitched items and other things we are bringing back. I’m putting wood carvings between all my dirty clothes (like you needed to know that), and have packed an entire suitcase of the stitched items the apprentices, Esther, and Saraphine.

So, I’m going to let the photos do the talking.

Last time…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

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Day Four: Puff Bread, Bed Nets, and Little Girl Dresses

Today is Friday. We are halfway through our time here in Ghana, which is hard to believe. We visited more families today, and made a stop by Ama’s business to treat the staff to Puff bread. The consensus is that everyone in Ankaase should try Ama’s Puff bread! I really wanted to start marketing for her – brand her shop, get some signage, advertise in the village. But she’ll be responsible for drumming up business, and so far she seems to be doing well. She was thrilled to get some t-shirts from Laken, who has connected with her because of their similar businesses. Laken also sells pastries – Lick Your Lips Mini-Donuts.

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We also visited a family who received bedding from Evergreen Baptist Church in Tulsa. The youngest daughter, Afia, is bright and a good student, but she had been missing many days of school each term because of malarial symptoms. Now that she has a bed and is sleeping under a bed net, she is in school every day and she is thriving.

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And the stitched items are coming along. Jennifer has made incredible progress and is now stitching items that she will send back to the U.S. for purchase. She is so proud of her work. She seems more confident and hopeful. If only we could continually bring items from Ghana to the U.S. so that Abigail and Jennifer can have added income. (That’s a hint for any of you that travel here regularly).

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Tomorrow we will meet with all the orphaned students in our program and bring them letters and gifts from sponsors. We have five new students, so we’re excited to meet and greet!

It’s earlier tonight than when I usually post, so I’m going to enjoy a much-needed phone call home (if the WiFi will cooperate).

So…Goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Connecting Across the Continents

Today, it felt like Ghana – hot, sunny, and a little humid. No, actually it was very humid. Yesterday, Chris wondered where all that hot weather was that I had promised her, so today Ghana delivered it. Ah, this feels like the Ghana I know and love.

This was a day to catch up with old and new friends and to share greetings from our friends back in the U.S. We brought photo albums for our Income Generation women with postcard greetings, letters, and photos of women in the U.S.  We also brought t-shirts from the churches who raised money this summer during Vacation Bible School. We love connecting women and families in the U.S. with families here. Here are photos to show you how the connections in the U.S. made their way here.

This is Kwadwo and his t-shirt from Fellowship Lutheran Church

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Joyce and Ama looking at her letters and photos from women in the U.S.

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And lanterns that were provided by First Baptist Church, Tulsa

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Never underestimate the value of these connections. On both sides of the ocean, they are a blessing. Joyce and the other Income Generation women know that they have new friends in the U.S. who really do think of them and pray for them.

Today, we talked with a mother of two young boys in Nantan who had just been evicted from her house by her mother-in-law. Her husband has left and she has no idea where he is. It doesn’t seem to be enough to say to her, “We’ll pray for you.” And yet, sometimes our ability to get involved in the lives of others is limited to prayer. Most of you will not travel here and some are unable to give resources, but you can pray. And some of you can write letters and encourage these women. Everyone can do something to make a connection. We promise that we’ll do our part on this end to facilitate the connection.

We’ve just finished a delicious dinner of groundnut soup and rice balls. Chris lost. She didn’t clean her plate. On the other hand, I went in for a second helping. We’ll give her another chance tomorrow night when we introduce her to red-red and fried plantain.

So, we’re getting ready to welcome the staff back for another evening – this time for an official staff meeting. It looks to be another late evening, so I’m finishing this post and turning off my WiFi.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where there is a beautiful full moon this evening!

 

Day Two: It Rains

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We brought the rains – at least that is what Isaac says. I started this post writing in my little Wexford 50-sheet notebook with the rain pounding the window and a muddy red river of flooded road washing beside. We were traveling back from Kumasi, and as I looked out the window, I realize that when it rains in Ghana, life goes on. We passed a soccer field where three groups of boys were continuing their game – jerseys soaked, but splashing through the puddles anyway. So in the spirit of playing – and working in the rain, we’re returning from a day of fabric shopping to meet with the Rising Village seamstress apprentices, Jennifer and Abigail, to plan more items they will be stitching. This is a busy week for them as they sew necklaces (yes, that’s right), aprons, and some items of their choosing to sell in the U.S.

The rains continued after our meeting at Esther’s seamstress shop. We sat with Jennifer at the Mission House and talked about what it means to be a woman who takes pride in her work and is able to care for her children because of the income she earns. As Jennifer’s daughter Betty grows up, she will watch her and will know that her mother wanted a better life for her, and worked to learn her craft so she could give it to her.

“Be proud,” Chris told her. “You are doing something wonderful for your daughter and for yourself.”

The rains continued as Isaac drove around to pick up our Rising Village Ghana staff for dinner. It was the first time we had met Solomon and Victor, and our volunteer staff Charles and Martha. We reunited with Eunice, who has been with our staff since January. It is four and a half hours later and both the U.S. staff and Ghana staff is still sitting around the table talking politics and religion – two popular subjects here. I exited the table a few minutes ago, but I’m listening in as I write and I realize that we have an intelligent, curious, and opinionated staff. This is good.

The power in Ankaase is out, but we have the generator running, music playing, good conversation and I suppose the night is still young. And life goes on – in spite of rain and darkness and all the things that could divide us. But as Victor said just a few minutes ago: “We are one.”

Yes we are.

Goodnight from Ankaase, where inside this house there is light and life.