Ghana Day Two: Chicken Bones and Comfort Zones

Here is what I didn’t know about eating in Ghana: we eat the chicken bones, we don’t leave them on the plate. I’m not picky about my food, but I’m not sure about eating chicken bones. Colin did pretty well and gnawed around on his drumstick, but this is really is out of our comfort zone.

I could make a list of things that are out of my comfort zone here, but if I stayed where it is comfortable I would have never met this group of Junior High teachers. They are dedicated to their jobs, despite a frustrating lack of resources. These teachers and their headmaster at the Ankaase Methodist School are determined to get the students excited about learning, and so we sat under this tree for over an hour and talked about ways to do that.

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We all agreed that the students are worth it.

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We reconnected with our friends at the SDA School also, and this afternoon we got a visit from Kadri and Maria. For those of you who prayed for Kadri last summer, he is able to walk now, but unable to speak. His right foot was swollen from some kind of injury he couldn’t explain. He tries to communicate, but even Isaac was unable to understand him. Please continue to pray for this sweet boy.

If I stayed in my comfort zone, I would have never traveled to Nantan, a very tiny village on the outskirts of Ankaase where we spent the afternoon. We first met with the village chief to get his permission to continue on through the village and meet with our new family. After receiving his blessing we walked to where Janet lives with her relatives. Her parents were sent out of the village because they were thought to be mentally ill, so Janet remains behind with her aunts and their children, of which there were too many to count. Janet is not in school, although her cousins are. Often, children who are taken in by relatives are given what is left, which is not much in most cases. We’re committed to walking alongside Janet to make sure that she is given as much opportunity as possible in her environment. We have someone who wants to sponsor Janet (we seek sponsors for children whose parents have died or are no longer able to care for them).

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And we want to provide mattresses and bed nets for the room where Janet sleeps. Each night, her grandmother sleeps on the bed frame with two small children (and no mattress), and three other children sleep on the floor nearby.  Bed nets are in use, but they won’t work because they have holes.

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Mosquitoes love bed nets like these. By the way, we were told that the baby sleeping under the useless bed net has malaria. So we’re replacing these nets and providing mattresses for the children and grandmother. Here is the way we look at it: if we wouldn’t want to sleep in these conditions, why do we think they should? And an even better reason: lives are lost for lack of a good bed net and the education about how to use it.

I have to be honest – I’m exhausted today. Sometimes seeing the needs drain my mind and heart and I am suddenly overwhelmed. If I pull back and try to figure out how we’re going to meet all these needs, I get panicky. And then I get emails (literally in the middle of writing this post) from someone who wants to partner with us at $25 a month, and another someone who wants to sponsor James, one of our newest students and an orphan who also lives with relatives. And I remember that I only need to look at the next place where I’m supposed to put my foot: the next step. God doesn’t give me the responsibility to nail down every detail, but instead He gently reminds me that He is in the details, and I am in this place – outside of my comfort zone – because this is where He has placed me. “Walk by faith,” I remind myself with each step I take in these villages, “not by sight.” It’s becoming my mantra.

I’m okay with being out of my comfort zone at this very moment, but tomorrow I’ll probably have to wake up, take a deep breath, and start chanting. That’s good because it reminds me that this is not about me. Not one bit.

But I’ve decided that I’ll pass on eating the chicken bones. That’s just too far out of the zone. Or maybe next time.

So, the next step for me is a Skype with Kyle, and then on to bed. Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase and Nantan.

Dresses, Backpacks and Bibles

Colin says that I have a technology curse. I think he might be right.

So, we had to drive into Kumasi today – our first day in the village – to exchange money and purchase a modem. It seems that every time I come to Ghana it gets a little harder to access the Internet. My handy little Vodaphone thumb drive modem failed me, so we took the plunge and purchased this little wireless modem that allows me to be typing this right now. We’ll see how this goes. I have yet to upload photos. If you seem them below, then the modem was a success. If not, then Colin may be right.

We met our seamstress apprentice, Jennifer:

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For those of you who helped fund Jennifer’s Business Build Grant, she’s already stitching dresses! Jennifer will be stitching new bags – a smaller version of the Ankaase bag, scarves, and headbands using the traditional Ghana wax fabric, and she will receive income from every one of those products sold. This income will help her support her mother, and daughter, Betty. They are in need of income to help improve their housing.

And these are four of our students:

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These are Yaw Mensah’s four children. He has been left alone to raise these children. After an injury, he is unable to walk without crutches and his wife left him soon after the accident.

And this is Philomena and Maxwell, who are receiving the Bibles they were given by their sponsors, the staff at First Baptist Church, Tulsa.

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and our newest hairstylist apprentice, Mary and her son Samuel.

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Besides the technology problems, everything here is great. Colin and I feel blessed to be walking the roads of Ankaase, and tomorrow, the village of Nantan.

Right now, I have to go tear apart the bedroom to hunt down all the things that I know I brought but can’t locate. There are suitcases all over my bedroom filled with all the things I packed but didn’t organize. I can’t find anything.

Thank you for your prayers, your support, and all the ways you have encouraged us. We are exhausted, but blessed to know that there are people back home who walk beside us as we walk beside these families.

So until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

It’s Sunday, but Monday is Comin’

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We’ve packed the cheese and the onesies, the flashcards, the chalk, the extension cord and the conversation hearts, along with just a few other items. Every nook and cranny of our three suitcases is filled, and we’ve redistributed until we’re certain none of our luggage is over 50 pounds. We have luggage that is airline regulation weight. Believe me, it’s a first.

It’s Sunday night and for two days we’ve packed and repacked because, well, Monday is comin’. The tickets in my backpack say that we’ll board a flight at 12:45 p.m. tomorrow on Delta airlines (I swore “never again on Delta”, but cheap airfare always wins the day.) Every time I travel to Ghana, it sort of feels like a first. I look at the map and marvel that I”m able to sit on a plane, fly across the ocean and then walk dirt roads on another continent. I’m amazed that I will see in person friends I know, and meet people I have only seen in photos. In 24 hours I will be in Africa. This blows my mind just a bit. And makes me feel a little jittery. Not a lot, just a little.

Then, I think about all of you who have supported us and Rising Village Foundation, and I find this a good time to say a from-the-bottom-of-my-heart thank you:

  • to those who donated school supplies to students and village schools
  • to those who donated funds for our travel
  • to those who have signed up for Rising Village partnerships
  • to those who have committed to pray
  • to those who have purchased jewelry, t-shirts, and string art to help fund the programs that serve village families
  • to our board members who have come alongside to help direct this organization
  • to every single person who has listened politely and patiently while I rattled on about malaria prevention, income generation, and the importance of education for every child in the village
  • to everyone who reads this blog

I’m inviting each one of you along on this trip. I’ll be sharing the stories here and a few will show up on the Rising Village blog. God is really good, and as we enter the villages of Ankaase and Nantan, we hope to share love, joy, and peace with each person we come in contact with. My friend Shannon told me tonight to “live by the list,” so I’m taking her good advice. If everything is checked off my list, then I have nothing more to pack. It’s done. I’m kicking back and taking a deep long breath because Monday is closing in fast.

Goodnight from the U.S. for one more night. See you on Wednesday morning in Ankaase, Ghana!

Would You?

I’m posting this because we set a goal and it would be so wonderful to reach it before we leave for Ghana on Monday.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering if it’s appropriate, but I’m taking the risk and praying that you don’t run the other direction when you see me coming. So here is my ask: We’re looking for 20 people who will make a commitment to give $25 a month to Rising Village Foundation.

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I could tell you that $25 a month is such a small amount that you wouldn’t notice if it was pulled from your monthly budget, but that’s not true for everyone. What I can tell you is that the $25 you give each month will be used to change some stories for families in a part of the world where life is hard.

My blog is titled One Good Story, but it seems that it is easier to focus on the negative. Sensational, frightening, fear-inducing stories seem to be everywhere and cause us to worry and lament where our world is headed. As a news junkie, I can easily fall into this, but I think we need voices that call us to something different. What if we told those stories with hope? And what if we used our resources to become that hope for those who desperately need it? I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that actually changes stories for someone besides myself.

I want to tell Yaw’s story with hope. He is a father of four children who was injured two years ago and did not have the financial resources to seek medical help. What little money he brought in to care for his wife and five children was gone. Yaw’s wife, overwhelmed by her inability to be the sole source of income, fled. She had little education and perhaps feared watching her children go hungry. Yaw was left alone with his three sons and daughter.

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For two years, he has depended on the charity of other impoverished family members in the village and this has left him drained of the energy to take care of his children. They attend school sporadically in worn uniforms. Yaw needs medical attention. His children need education. The entire family needs better healthcare and improved living conditions to become strong. We want them to be the kind of family that can make the village a better place to live. And yes, this is possible.

Our model is one family at a time. So I’m asking 20 of you to help us by clicking this link on the Rising Village website. It takes you to our partner page, where you can sign up for a recurring payment of $25 a month. If that seems like too much, we have an option for $10 a month. Or, $50 a month, and on up. Every little bit helps as we continue to walk where God is leading us. He provides, but He does this through people whose hearts have been moved by the stories we tell. And we believe these are stories of hope.

I know I’ve been making lots of asks these days, but we all give in different ways. Some donate school supplies, some write checks, some give their time to help direct and volunteer, some pray. I am grateful for any way that you choose to join in the work we are doing.

I’ll be posting here while we’re in Ghana, so don’t leave the blog because I asked you for money, promise? You won’t want to miss the stories  we’ll be sharing. And now, I’m off to the packing room!

Such Love

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You people amaze me. Today, I had all ages of friends coming to my door with sacks of school supplies for children and teachers in Ghana. One little girl bounced up my sidewalk with bright backpacks. Another friend who lives in a retirement community brought colored pencils, chalk and Cinderella flash cards. “It’s just a dab,” she said, and I told her that it was the “dabs” put together that would fill a suitcase for orphans and vulnerable families in the small village where we work.  It was a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

We leave for Ghana one week from today. In the meantime we have a Rising Village board meeting, I have paperwork to finish for our Ghana NGO, tax receipts to generate, sewing patterns to print…and packing to start. It’s enough to make me turn in tiny circles, trying to figure out how it will all get done before we board the flight. There is “business” that must be done, but what really matters is the Rising Village families and the growing number of people who are helping to make life better for these families. Throughout the weekend, I’m reminded that this is what fuels me. We have three children in our program who are orphans. Their parents have died and they live with relatives who won’t ever be able to support them fully. On Saturday night, a neighbor dropped off several school supplies, including three pencil bags that look like tennis shoes – just the kind of special gifts we need for these three special kids. We want to remind them they are special, loved, and cared for by people who have never even met them. For all of you who donate, give, pray, and write letters to our families and children, this quote from Dr. King is for you:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

So keep bringing your “dabs” of love. You can leave them on the porch swing or the rocking chairs. We’re packing on Friday, so thank you for helping us fill our suitcases. I am humbled by such love.

The Empty Shelf Challenge

I try not to start things that I don’t intend to finish. This used to be a pattern with me – uncompleted projects were scattered throughout our house, including files of the first several chapters of different novels I tried to write and drawers filled with unfinished photo scrapbooks. After decades of beating myself up over this tendency, I decided to ditch it. I began to raise the red flag for myself whenever I uttered the words, “That would be a cool thing to do.”

So now, I  carefully consider if a new idea is actually going to be a cool thing to do – whether it’s learning to sew, making a collage of my mother’s handwritten recipe cards, or painting quotes on canvas. I try to stay off Pinterest because although others may not have this weakness, I get sucked into the idea that mine is going to look like the one in the photograph. It won’t. As for writing, it took me a long time to realize that I don’t prefer to read fiction, so I probably shouldn’t try to write it. The chapters are still in my files though, because I never give up on writing.

This decision to heavily evaluate new projects also keeps me from making New Year’s resolutions. I can’t bear to get hyped on January 1, only to fail a mere 28 days later. This has happened far too many times. But, I made an exception for 2014. Hence, the Empty Shelf Challenge. Jon Acuff put this on his website and I took it on because for me, this is a no-fail project. The hardest part of was clearing off the shelf, which I did. And then I took a lousy picture so that no one on my Pinterest board would mistake it for a cutesy idea.

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Actually, this little 2014 project fits me perfectly. I love to read, although I don’t make enough time for it so the empty shelf in my office will stare at me constantly with a friendly reminder to pick up that book and put down the phone and tablet. These devices push me to social media sites that are overloaded with trite phrases, campy quotes, and out-of-context Bible verses. So before my brain turns to mush, I took on the challenge to actually read things that stretch my mind.

After I took my lousy picture, I had to find a place for the books that were removed. I learned how to double shelf which looks messy as heck, but I’m not at a place in life where I can give away books. With the shelf emptied, the next task was to choose some books for the year. It was not an exhaustive list, nor will I be legalistic about it. If I choose to mark a book off the list before I read it, I have my permission to do that. The list was just a way to envision what the shelf might be filled with by the end of the year. In keeping with the spirit of my 2014 Word for the Year, I’m reading some things that I hope will widen my view of the world, God, work, culture. At least I hope so. Here my starter list of books for 2014:

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

Ghana Must Go

The Long Loneliness

Hannah Coulter

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?

Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity

A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters

The next task was to finish the book I had begun before Christmas. Yes, this goes on the shelf because the challenge started before January 1. I agree with Acuff who says that “waiting until January 1st to do something awesome is stupid and fake.” So there you go.  ‘

The first book on my shelf is Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. My rating: five stars out of five. So, on the shelf it went, and then I took another lousy photo.

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It is now January 12, and I’m on my second book. The shelf still looks too empty for me to stomach, so I’m trying to read a little each evening. You should know that in my house, I’m doing this alone. Kyle is taking on a different challenge of writing 500 words a day. Good for him. Maybe my last read of 2014 will be his memoirs. So if you want to join me in the challenge I’d welcome the company. Just empty a shelf and start reading! And post a comment or send an email and let me know you’re with me: lisatresch@mac.com.

Happy shelf-filling!

Dig Your Heels In

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There is a great story that makes its way around the Internet about a commencement speech given by Winston Churchill, in which he stood up in front of a graduating class and simply said: “Never give-up. Never give up. Never give up.” Then he sat down.

Just so you know, that speech never took place. But I like the story and have claimed it in times when I needed a dramatic reminder to never give up, never give up, never give up.

He did make a speech in October of 1941 at his alma mater, the Harrow School, and said this:

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. 

He followed this up with other really good thoughts, but this seems to be the origin of the urban legend speech, which is a very different kind of speech because there is a subtle difference in the wording “in” as opposed to “up.” Giving up is quitting something. Giving in is entering into something.

I hate giving up on projects, dreams, plans. But I’m pretty good at giving in to fear, disillusionment, doubt, and a host of other things that might tempt me to give up.

I think the distinction between Churchill’s words is important. We first give in to something before we give up on something. I find myself in the danger zone often these days when setbacks come in clusters. I had several of them this week and I spent the day yesterday wondering if I was crazy, jumped the gun, taken the wrong path. I went through the list of possible reasons why things seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. I cried, and cleaned my house, and thought about applying for a job at the newspaper where I used to work. The clincher came earlier that morning when I heard the news that my dear friend and co-worker, Isaac, was sick in a hospital bed in Ghana. As I mopped my kitchen floor in a panic, I blamed myself – certain that he had been working too hard. And of course, that was my fault. My temptations to give in went on all day and into the evening. This morning I woke up to the news that on Thursday, the day of my party in honor of Rising Village , the high temperature will be 26, accompanied by sleet and possible snow. Of course, the weather is beautiful all week until that day. And of course, if the weather is bad, no one will come. I already felt like the girl who threw a party and no one came. I feared the worst and doubted my own crazy ideas.

And then, I thought about Churchill’s speech – the real one. “Never give in. Never. Never. Never.”

I ran across this quote from Francis Chan a little later: “When it’s hard and you are doubtful, give more.”

Today, Isaac is better and will be delivering beds and bed nets to families before the week is over. I changed the date of my party and gave myself some breathing room on preparations. I put a big pot of pinto beans on the stove (this is comfort food for me), and decided that things are definitely not on the verge of falling apart. I was just on the verge of giving in to a few fears and worries and doubts. And according to Churchill, who my father-in-law thought a genius, I should never do this.

I’m digging my heels in – really deep.

Onward.

Will You Come to the Party?

I’m not much of a party girl.

At least not the kind of party that requires save-the-dates, printed invitations, sparkly decorations, a spotless house and fancy foods. I prefer the kind of party that happens at the last minute when my house isn’t cleaned, we scrounge for food, and then turn on background music for a night of really good conversation. Like I said, not much of a party girl.

But I’m doing that printed-invitation-decorate-your-house-fancy-food thing. And then I’m praying that you and a few other people will show up. Because this isn’t only a party – it’s an opportunity to change some stories.

Last year, I decided that I would not use my blog as a constant platform for the work I do in Ghana. I wanted to keep this personal and so I mostly wrote on the ACEF blog (where I was volunteering) to share the needs of my precious friends in Ankaase. I deviated from this decision only when I traveled. Other than that, I kept mostly quiet about it because sometimes you can wear people out blabbering about your “cause.” But now that we have started Rising Village Foundation, I’m afraid that I won’t be keeping quiet about it because, well, this is just a really good story. And if I may remind you, that’s the title of this blog.

Oh, and I should make it clear at this very moment that I did not start this journey. God did. Some of you might roll your eyes at that because it sounds so spiritually cliche, but it’s the undeniable truth. Those who have been intimately involved in the start of this will back me up. I’m not going to tell that story here, but if you want to hear it, I’ll plan the kind of party where I don’t clean my house, we scrounge for food, and then we settle in for some really good conversation.

But this post is about a different kind of party. Here’s your invitation:

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If you need my address, email me: lisa@risingvillage.org. So here are a few of the reasons I’m throwing this shindig:

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The Homeda children
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The Dufie children
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Yaa in her kitchen
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Jennifer (left)
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Betty

There are needs everywhere in the world, but I want to introduce you to a corner where God has placed me. It’s Ankaase, Ghana, and these are some of my friends who live there. I’m throwing this party in their honor and for their sake. Here’s why: I believe that God desires for everyone, everywhere, to live a great story. But for some people, circumstances far beyond their control are keeping their stories laced with too much illness, fear, hunger, hardship, and uncertainty.

I’m not okay with this. And I don’t think God is okay with this either. At this point, I hear the familiar question, “Why doesn’t he do something about it, then?” Here’s my answer: He already did. And here we are.

I can’t change the world (I wish it were so), but maybe I can change part of the story for some families in this village. And maybe you can help me. Here’s what we can do together – and by the way, you get something out of it, so read on.

We labor over what to get my dad for Christmas. He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t want anything. He’s pretty satisfied with a good meal and a sunny day for golfing. He knows his desires are simple, so he won’t give us any ideas for what to buy him. It’s frustrating for us, so a couple of years ago he asked us to give money to help someone in need instead of buying him something he didn’t need. We liked that idea, so we purchased a Kiva gift card. This year, we’re giving him a gift card in honor of one of our friends in Ankaase. Sorry Dad. I know you read this blog, but you’re not about surprises anyway and you knew it was coming.

Kofi, a father of seven, doesn’t have a great story. You can read about it here. We want a better story for Kofi, so we’re asking our friends here to help us change it. We’re sourcing a $150 grant because Kofi wants to start a cocoa farming business. He has a good business plan, he’s hardworking, and we believe he’ll be a successful cocoa farmer. Best part: he can make the story better for his kids. In Dad’s honor, we’re giving money to help fund the grant that will buy the seedlings that Kofi will plant and harvest and sell.

Here’s the card my dad will get for Christmas (again, sorry Dad).

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So, when you come to my party, as you eat your fancy food and delight over my decorated and clean house, you can purchase gift cards for the people on your Christmas list. They’ll know you’ve helped change the story for someone in their honor, and they’ll love their gift. I promise. You can see all the gift cards available here. You can give a school uniform, a bed net, school fees, school supplies, even a computer for a village school! I love this one:

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Oh, and here are a few other items you can purchase:

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Krobo bead bracelets and earrings
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Krobo bead necklace with pendant
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String art from Ghana
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Wax fabric Ankaase bags designed by Steffani Lincecum
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“When you pray, move your feet” t-shirt

Some of you live far away, or have other plans on December 5th, so here is one way you can still join the party: you can purchase for our friends in Ankaase here on our GiveGood Catalog and order gift cards for your honoree when you check out. If you want the jewelry, string art, or t-shirts, you’ll have to come to the party or contact me to arrange a personal “shopping date.”

I’ll do that for you.

Because you’re my friends.

But I’m still cleaning my house, decorating, and putting out the food spread on December 5. All the money raised that night from your purchases will go to change the stories of some precious people in a corner of the world that you may never see. But I promise you this, I’ll share the stories with you. And we’ll know that God has done something beautiful through all of us.

So, will you come to the party?

Hi. Remember Me?

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I haven’t blogged in three months.

I’m not proud of this.

The last time you heard from me I had sore legs from hiking and was reading really good books in the mountains of Colorado. That was one wonderfully restorative vacation and I needed every second of it. I read the last post I wrote on August 1st, and thought about how much has happened in the past three months. It was a good thing I took advantage of the hikes, the books, the family time, the quiet, because I came home and the whirlwind began. I decided to stop talking, step back, and listen. You can learn a lot in the silence, and in many ways listening was also restorative. It brought me to a place of realizing that I know very little, and control even less.

I don’t really know the best way to condense the last three months, but here’s at least what I think I’ve learned:

1) If your 17 year-old cat has become skin and bones and is limping around the house howling, she is trying to tell you that her time on earth is done and she would like for you to help her cross over to the other side. Our old cat Mattie died about six weeks after we returned from Colorado. Honestly, we’re not cat people and she’s the only one we’ll probably every own (please, Lord), but we had grown fond of her presence, if for no other reason that she stubbornly maintained her place as the senior pet and she didn’t take any crap from the dogs. I liked her grit and tenacity. When it was time to go, she let us know, but we were dense and mostly irritated with her crankiness so we didn’t take the hint. I won’t go into the details, but things got messy with her bowel functions, which was the catalyst for realizing that her nine lives were up. So Kyle and Colin loaded her up and took her to the cat doc and they did that thing they do. I still miss her.

2) When the college graduate comes home to live because he doesn’t have a job, it’s not the end of the world. I always pictured this as a kind of depressing scenario, filled with tension and someone feeling a sense of failure. But now I know better. He’s been under our roof for a reason, and the truth is I don’t know how we would have made it through the last three months without him living in our house. And while we’ll all be thrilled when he is able to get the job and the funds to be on his own, this will happen when it is supposed to happen, and I don’t wring my hands over it or wonder what people are thinking. He does his own laundry, likes leftovers (we eat a lot of these), plans movie nights, and helps in the family business. More about that later.

3) Change happens just when you least expect it, but always when God plans it. Kyle and I have had big job changes. We both find ourselves leading nonprofits – mine small and new, his large and established. We didn’t expect to be in these roles, but here we are. And I could give you a separate list of what we are learning in the midst of this journey, but the biggest lesson comes in the form of a boat, and a thread. Here it is: When the storm is raging and we’re not sure how things are going to turn out, we keep reminding ourselves that God is in the boat. And even if we know this in our heads, our hearts sometimes are just hanging on by a thread of faith. But that gets us to the next day where we just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I love journey stories, which is why I seem to write so often about loss, lessons, and God. That seems to be the recurring cycle for me on this journey. I experience loss, learn the lessons, and find God again in the midst of it.

So, I guess I’m done being silent. Thanks for hanging in there with me. It’s good to be back.

Socked in With Good Books and Sore Legs

We’ve hiked ourselves silly. Today, a cool rain began about 10:30 a.m. and is continuing, slow and steady. It started just as we were talking about where to hike today. My legs are begging for mercy so the rain is welcomed, at least for a while. I’ll start getting antsy in a few hours if we’re still stuck in the condo, but I’m gorging on good books while my legs recover. A few photos from our hikes:

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I always make sure I’m “overbooked” on vacation. The last thing I want to do is run out of books to read in a town with no bookstore. And yes, I have my iPad and have already downloaded two books to be safe. So, just in case you care to see the Colorado reading list, here ’tis:

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Finished this one on the drive here. Highly recommend.
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Reading now. So good.
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I wear the shoes and he is my friend’s cousin so I thought it deserved a read. Very inspiring.
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Buechner is always good for spiritual sustenance.

So now, I think I’ll bundle up, gather my books, and hobble to the patio where I will read to the background music of the rain.  Ah, vacation.

Yesterday’s Filtered Photos

I’ve decided to take most of my photos on this vacation with my iPhone and then filter the heck out of them.  And I have good reasons lousy excuses for this.

Lousy excuse #1: My Canon Rebel T2i with the all-purpose lens is very bulky and heavy to carry on hikes.

Lousy excuse #2: It’s easier to upload photos quickly when they are on my phone (my social network-adverse son is now groaning).

Louse excuse #3: Filters make photos look cooler.

While Lousy Excuse #3 may be true, using filters feels a little like cheating. I should be able to take breathtaking photos and proudly upload them with the “no filter” hashtag. But if the filters are there (and so many to choose from), I say use ’em. Someone took a lot of time and effort to create those filters. So I’ll take a few family portraits with the big camera that has settings which continually perplex me, but most of my pictures will be snapped on my phone, filtered, and then uploaded. I am certain I will regret this when I return home and can’t enlarge photos larger than a 5×7 size, but I’m living in the moment. And I love the look of the old Colorado photos from my childhood, so I’m trying a little replicating.

My first set of photos is from the Continental Divide North Trail hike. This is a beautiful trail that winds up from the Continental Divide to the Wolf Creek Ski Summit, and then on to parts unknown. We didn’t make it to the end of the trail to find those parts unknown because we discovered that when mountains are shrouded in clouds, rain is soon to follow. All the dry and smiling faces in these photos were soon soaked, but still smiling.

So I’m going to keep using my iPhone for photos for a few more days until it begins to sink in that I paid a whole lot more for the Rebel than the phone. Call it financial guilt, or maybe I’ll just tire of all the filters and the uploading. After all, it is vacation and I should probably leave technology behind. Said she. Yeah, right.

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Running Away to the Same Place

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I’m not much for ruts. I don’t like doing the same thing the same way over long periods of time, but I make an exception for this place.

Colorado.

I know, everyone in Oklahoma and Texas flocks to these mountains in the summer. It’s not like where we go is unique, but heck, we’re in a rut. And I’m so glad that we are. I haven’t always felt this way. There were quite a few years when I longed for something different. It felt like we were doing the same thing the same way and had been doing it for a long period of time. But this summer has been filled with changes and we’ve got new and different coming at us this fall, so I’m longing for the familiar. The same old thing sounds good to me. Despite all the dizzying newness that is about to come around the bend, there are some things still beneath my feet that haven’t changed. And I am learning to appreciate the large collection of stories that my family has accumulated around these trips. We circulate them every year while we are here and they make us laugh, cry, and miss those who are gone. And they continue to bind us tightly together, which we all need for mental and physical health.

My dad always loved this story (at my mother’s expense): We have always taken these vacations with family – grandparents, siblings, cousins. In 1970, we were all in a caravan and had made it to Colorado Springs when my mother realized she had left the suitcase with all my clothes on the bed in the guest room. My mother was an obsessive packer. She started at least a week early, shopping for the clothes, washing and ironing them, and then laying them on the bed and mandating that I not wear those “trip clothes.” And now, these carefully arranged outfits were still beautifully laid out in the suitcase back in Elk City, Oklahoma. And my mother cried. Then she apologized, hugged me, and took me to  J.C. Penney where she bought me exactly three outfits that were rotated for the two weeks while we were on vacation. The photo above proves that the clothing selection at the  Colorado Springs Penney’s was not geared for vacation mode, but rather for the start of a new school year. I looked sadly formal for our time in the mountains, but I was five years old and didn’t care. For decades, however, we got a lot of mileage out of this story. My mother laughed the hardest, especially when the story was accompanied by the photos. I was a sailor in the Rocky Mountains.

I’m glad we’re here. I’m thankful to share this vacation with the same people every year – the ones who know me best and love me anyway. I’m grateful to know that there are some things in Pagosa Springs that don’t change: the Liberty theater downtown still only plays the same single movie all week, with a matinee and evening showing. This week it’s Wolverine. Bummer. It rains most every evening, but it’s sunny most every morning. The County Fair is serious business and takes place the first week in August. The Malt Shoppe has been here for 30 years and the decor, furniture, and menu has remained exactly the same, which is good because it won’t do to come here and not have multiple caramel malts. You can still spot the hot weather exiles in the grocery store, stocking up on Oletha corn while the locals wind in between us, smiling kindly as they count down the days until the end of tourist season. And the mountains. They change colors with the sunrise and the sunset, but they are the same mountains that we have looked at for over 40 years. If everything else finally does change, the mountains will remain, which means I’ll keep coming back.

I love everything this vacation represents and every blessing it bestows on me at the end of each summer. It feels right to have run away to this same place. To do the same things. And I think I’ll stay here for a while.

What’s Inside

In college, my dear friend and roommate, Steffani, cut my hair. And then she sat down in the chair I had been in and I cut her hair. We were too cheap for a hair salon and besides, we loved the bob-at-the-chin, tucked-behind-the-ears, cutesy look. We weren’t really cutesy types of girls, but we wanted THAT haircut so we trusted one another with the scissors. We kept the bob all through senior year – laughing at how we looked alike, but not really. She was blond, I was brunette. Her hair was thick like mine though, and so our twin cuts did match in a strange sort of way. We weren’t really trying to look alike. We just happened to like the same haircut, which for some reason we thought humorous. Both of us bucked trends and didn’t really aspire to crowd-pleasing. It’s just one of the things I loved – and still love – about Steffani.

Now, we look nothing alike. Twenty-five years out of college, my hair has assumed a kind of soft-wave perm look – without the perm. I’m lazy with it, so I keep it long for no other reason than the ease with which I can throw it up in a ponytail or a messy bun-thing. It goes in ten crazy directions if I try any type of short hair. Forget the bob. Those days are long gone for me, and for Steffani. A photo of her on Facebook the other day elicited dozens of comments of her beauty and courage. Steffani’s hair is gone. Completely, and not by choice. Of course, you know where this is going. My college roommate, who is always frozen in time for me because we only see each other every few years, has breast cancer. It doesn’t seem possible or right. Stupid cancer. Three months of chemotherapy took her beautiful blond hair and the bob haircut that she was still able to rock – even 25 years after college. She could have hidden the baldness under a wig. They make superior wigs these days that don’t have that phony, too-perfect sheen like the ones so many women in my mother’s generation wore. And the headwraps for chemo patients are cute enough for anyone to wear. But Steffani chose to quietly communicate the reality of her life right now with complete transparency. And that’s where the courage comes in.

As women, stripping our faces down to their natural beauty with no makeup is frightening enough, but further isolating our faces by taking away the hair is horrifying. I’m mostly over the makeup thing, but please, please don’t take away my hair. It gives me security and a certain amount of compensation. In stressful work moments while I sit in front of the computer, I twirl the ends or nervously braid the back while I wait for the rainbow wheel to stop spinning. I spend far too much time checking the back of my hair after I put it up, and, confession: when the roots get gray my hairdresser covers them with some chemical solution so I can once again frame my face with something attractive. I know Steffani grieved the loss, but when I see her face without the hair I’m a little envious. Not of her baldness – but of her courage. I’m envious of the beauty that emerges from a woman who, in the face of tragedy, doesn’t retreat, but instead embraces it with a certain amount of defiance. She stared at cancer and didn’t blink. Although she might disagree, I think her beautiful bald head is enough evidence.

I’ve stared at Steffani’s picture quite a bit and wondered if I would do the same thing. Do I have it in me to really let go of all the nonsense that I only imagine keeps me secure and pulled together? Am I so afraid of the world seeing me without my out wrapping? My veneer? I’m seriously pondering this one. If who we are on the inside isn’t enough, then perhaps it’s time to pay more attention to what’s going on in the inside place and spend less time dressing it up.

Steffani’s blonde hair will soon grow back, but she has revealed the true beauty that lies beneath all the trimmings. And it is a more beautiful face than I could have ever imagined.

So to my courageous, beautiful, gentle, and tougher-than-nails friend, I say: Carry onward. Grow back your hair. And thank you for teaching us that it does NOT  define you, or us. And keep staring that stupid cancer in the face. This too shall pass.

Years and Cheers: Hold Your Head High, 48

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Yesterday was my birthday and I spent an hour of it in the dentist’s chair. By choice. I’m not proud of myself for scheduling a dentist appointment on my birthday and so I’m overanalyzing why I would do this. It helped that my friend in Ghana, Isaac, sent me a  message yesterday morning with birthday greetings and a request to let him know all about my celebrations. I told him I was going to the dentist. He seemed disappointed. “But please get time to celebrate,” he said, and then informed me he would be waiting for celebration updates and pictures. The pressure was on.

So I had to ask myself, why would I so diminish the significance of the day I was born by agreeing to lay in the dentist’s chair and have my teeth cleaned? And to make it worse, I had nothing else planned for the day except work and then a dinner out (and although I appreciate dinner out, we do this at the end of the day). After all, it’s a birthDAY. I’m sorry to report that I did keep my dentist appointment because I wasn’t willing to pay the $50 charge for canceling in less than 24 hours, but I decided to take my friend’s advice and celebrate. In Ghana, birthdays are a reason to set aside the mundane and acknowledge that life is fragile, and that every day is a radical gift.

I promised my friend Isaac I would celebrate and take photos, so after my teeth were cleaned and polished I slid out of that dentist’s chair and proceeded to acknowledge that every day is a blessing, especially a birthday. I am 48 years old, which is a number that makes me cringe just a bit and might explain the ease with which I basically disregarded the day. I know very few people over the age of 21 who count down their birthday with exuberance. We might enjoy the dinner out, the gifts, and the cake someone brings to the office on our birthday, but other than that we don’t skip around shouting to everyone “Hey! I can’t wait for Tuesday because I’ll finally be 48!” But my friend’s words the morning of my birthday made me realize that scheduling a dentist appointment and not altering my work schedule did little to acknowledge the blessing of another year and the grace that has been shown me within that year. With polished teeth and a report of no cavities (pretty good for 48, right?), I grabbed the two people who were in closest proximity and told them we were celebrating. And we did. Lunch, a stroll through the Woody Guthrie Center, a walk around Guthrie Green, and I didn’t even check email on my phone. At this point, you’re probably making the spot-on observation that this is hardly kicking up my heels and really celebrating, but it was spontaneous and something that absolutely did not fit into my busy schedule. Which made it wonderfully celebratory.

I’m learning that with each passing year, I fit more comfortably into who I really am. I’ve stopped trying to please everyone or try on personas that make me more agreeable and tolerable. I’m trying to listen to the deepest places inside my soul. I’m learning to be comfortable with drifting just a bit, despite high expectations, my need for speed, and the feeling that I must fix the world. I haven’t conquered anything completely, but I agree with Anna Quindlen who says, “Control is a nice concept, little more.” Perhaps these are the things that should make each birthday a cause for celebration. I’m not getting better, just better at being okay with my limitations and imperfections. 

So thank you Isaac, for causing me to slow down and think just a bit about all the good vibes of a birthday, even one that marks 48 years on earth. I did take photos. And I did acknowledge the blessings of June 25, 2013. My birthday. Cheers!

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Feet on the Ground

I always promise myself that the week after I return from Ghana there will be at least five days when I will not be fidgety. I will take time to reflect, write, ponder, pray, and rejuvenate. I will slow down, take deep breaths, enjoy leisurely walks, and relive the moments of the trip while being still and quiet.

This absolutely never, ever, happens.

After every trip, as soon as the plane lands, my feet hit the ground and they start running. This is probably not good, but I can’t seem to stay still after my return. I’ve been preparing the Ankaase Bags for sale, organizing photos and videos, brainstorming, problem-solving, and turning in circles trying to decide which important task should rise to the top of the list each hour. There is so much to do, which is why I decided it was time to write a blog post. As I’ve shared before, writing calms my restlessness and settles me down. I’m so grateful I have a prescription for what so often ails me. It’s cheap therapy.

This evening, I am remembering images of the week we spent in Ankaase. Here are a few:

Esther with her hand-broom, bending low to sweep the porch of the Mission House several times a day in a futile attempt to keep the dust and bugs away from the doorway. And while she swept, she sang hymns. In fact, she sang hymns while she prepared our meals from scratch, scrubbed the laundry by hand and cleaned the house every day. But every now and then, in the evening, Esther would stop her busyness and come out to belt out a verse of something completely random (“Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”). And one evening she came out to model her new dress and headwrap – the official outfit of the Church of Pentecost Women’s Ministry. Everyone who meets Esther loves her, including our team. We miss her.

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Comfort with her Hello Kitty backpack, filled with school supplies and other goodies. We delivered the gift to her from her sponsor, Sheilah, and it was a joy to see six-year-old Comfort receive the backpack. When Isaac took us to the Methodist School the next day to visit her classroom, there she sat with Hello Kitty strapped to her back as she sat at her desk working. As soon as she saw us in the doorway, there was the smile we had seen the day before when we visited her family. Comfort lives with her five siblings and grandmother in a small, barely furnished two-room dwelling. There is no light in the two rooms, and only one mattress for the entire family. The oldest daughter sleeps on a bed frame (no mattress) while the rest of the children sleep on the floor near the grandmother. No mosquito nets for this family either, and Comfort suffered a bout of malaria this past year. And yet, each one of these children radiated a joy that stunned us. In fact, when we returned to the Mission House, Shannon, Melissa and I sat on our beds (with mattresses) and cried for this family. And then we pooled our resources and arranged for mosquito nets and mattresses to be purchased for them. Four of the children are sponsored (we still need sponsors for two of them), which is a beautiful gift for the grandmother who is raising them. We fell in love with this family and I’ll never see a Hello Kitty product without remembering Comfort’s smile.

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Shannon and Melissa, sitting for hours with small groups of students at SDA School, attempting to teach them English. If this sounds easy, then perhaps you’ve never done it. I watched in amazement as they used songs, photos, and mouth exercises to help pull the students out of their village language (Twi). And it was hot. Forget air-conditioning and the ceiling fans only worked if the power was on. I watched as Shannon and Melissa loved these children with smiles and laughter, despite the sweat rolling down their backs.

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Our ACEF staff and friends around the large dinner table each evening sharing our hearts and learning about culture from one another. I now know about naming ceremonies in Ghana and how and why the ritual takes place eight days after the baby is born. Too many infants die in developing countries. It’s reality, and so you do not name your baby until you are relatively certain that he or she will live past the first week. And then you celebrate and hold that baby high in the air as you announce the name that has been chosen. There is much more to this elaborate ceremony, which made us Westerners wonder if perhaps we had cheated our own kids. After all, my big naming ritual was to send out birth announcements. Around that table, we talked about the differences in our cultures. My friends in Ghana are always gracious with me when I trip over cultural boundaries by saying and doing things that are both confusing and offensive. I’m learning to smile at the myriad ways that I am humbled here.

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The kid who is a picky eater and has always insisted on using eating utensils enjoying Esther’s mashed yams and plantains (formally known as Fufu) with his hands – and with great gusto. And Esther danced for joy. Colin, she says, is now her son.

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There are moments when my feet are on the ground here, but it seems that my heart is still moving around in Ankaase – remembering and reliving, and feeling peace in it all.

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Almost Home from Ghana and an Update on Kadri

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We’re sitting in the DFW airport waiting on our last flight that will take us to Tulsa. It’s always an odd feeling to come home. Everything in the U.S. seems so excessive and sterile. The feeling doesn’t last long though and I always get used to the excessiveness and sterility quicker than I should. After almost 36 hours, I’m ready for a shower, clean clothes, and my bed. And I’m ready to see Kyle and Alison. Erin is still in Colombia, teaching English, learning Spanish, and navigating the city of Medellin.

I’m continuing to process our time in Ghana. Coming home is both wonderful and sad. We do have more good news about Kadri. One night before we left, his mother came by the Mission House to pick up the medicine Peter had purchased. In Ghana, when the hospital decides to do a procedure, the patient’s family often has to purchase the medicine and bring it to the hospital. The doctors decided to use a blood thinner to release the blood from around his brain, so Peter went to three different pharmacists to gather three different medicines. When Kadri’s mother came to pick them up, she gave us a report on him. Earlier that day he told her wanted to get up and walk to the bathroom, which is exactly what he did. This a huge praise since we were concerned that he might have some mobility damage. He didn’t want anyone to hold on to him – typical stubborn boy. But we were so glad to hear that he was determined. He knows there are many people in the U.S. and in Ghana who are praying for him. Those prayers are being answered, so please keep lifting them. He will finish the medication in seven days and should be coming home to Ankaase. It was one week ago today when Peter arranged for the ambulance and accompanied Kadri from Ankaase to the Kumasi hospital. The boy we saw the day before did not look like he was going to make it. Now, we are trusting that he will heal completely. I did not get to deliver his books to him since he stayed in the hospital in Kumasi while we were there, but Daniel will make sure he gets the bag of books and the Kansas basketball jersey.

The photo above was taken last October. The last image I have of Kadri was a wiry boy riding his bike down the hill on the main road in Ankaase. He was circling me and asking questions about the U.S. He’s fascinated by it and always hounds me about what it is like “in America.” When I return, I’m counting on seeing that boy peddling down the road again with that precocious smile. Thank you so much for all your prayers for Kadri. God has done great things.

We’ve taken hours of video and hundreds of photos so that we can share stories of our time in Ghana, but we promise we’ll condense the photos and videos. There is just so much that takes our breath away while we are there, and we can’t help but want to show it to everyone.

Thank you for praying for our team and for all your support, gifts, and funds that made it possible for us to bless our friends in Ankaase. And now, it’s time to board the American Airlines flight to Tulsa. We’re almost home!

Ghana in June, The Last Day

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I’m sitting in the Mission House catching a cool breeze (relatively speaking) through the open window and reflecting on the time we’ve spent in Ankaase. When I think back six days, it seems like weeks ago when we pulled into the village in a crowded minibus. We have attracted more than a few stares this week as well as the familiar chant by the children of “Obroni!” (white person) as we walked the streets. But at the school, we are now known by our names. As we walk from one classroom building to another, we hear the students call us: “Lisa!” “Shannon!” “Melissa!” “Colin!” All day they shout our names and wave at us, over and over. We love it. Now, we are no long just “Obroni.” We are friends.

We finished our week at the school today by spending time in the computer lab class watching the students enjoy the new desktops, and in the Girl Child Education Club, where the girls learned to sew a button on fabric. By the way, I love the slogan of the Club: Girl Empowerment through Education. ACEF staff Comfort Mensah spends time each week with the girls giving special attention to young women who could so easily fall through the cracks. She teaches the girls that they have much to offer, and encourages them to stay in school and keep learning.

And then, we picked up the Ankaase bags! Our seamstress Esther did an incredible job and finished 30 bags for us to take back to the U.S. She’s stitching another 20 after we leave, and Peter and Anna will bring those bags with them when they return in three weeks. I can’t wait to show you the bags. I only have a sneak preview of them in the tote bag, but I can tell you that the fabrics are beautiful, and we have a little surprise inside these bags. Stay tuned. We’re rolling them out in two weeks.

This has been an incredible team to travel with, and this week they have poured themselves out. Spending time with ACEF staff Isaac and Daniel has been invaluable. We’ve not only accomplished ACEF business, but we’ve continued to build our relationship with them. We will leave Ankaase tomorrow not empty, but completely filled with the joy of our time spent here. I look forward to sharing stories in more detail when I’m back in the U.S. and have some time to cool off and rest up. Yes, it was hot and we have worn ourselves out, but as they say, it’s a “good tired.”

So, on our last evening, goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Ghana in June, Day Six: Computer Lab Ceremony and Pounding Fufu

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Cutting the ribbon to the generator house
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Sponsored students Hannah and Rita, with their mother
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Pounding fufu
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Melissa and baby Melissa

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I won’t even begin to bore you with my Internet woes again. I wrote this last night late and just as I went to post, the modem data ran out. But enough whining. Here is yesterday:

Our days are full of variety here in Ghana. Example: today we dedicated items for the computer lab and textbooks, and then we pounded fufu for dinner. It’s made from plantains, yams, and sometimes cassava plant. Tonight, our fufu was pounded plantains and yams.

But first, an update on Kadri: The surgeon refused to operate to drain the blood from his brain, stating that he felt it was too risky. So they have decided to give him blood thinners. We’re praying that this will be the answer. He has taken a few bites of food, and has been able to talk a little bit. That is really all we know right now. Hopefully we’ll have more news tomorrow. Please pray specifically that there is no permanent damage to his mobility or speech.

This morning, we attended a celebration ceremony and dedication at SDA School. The parade met us on the main street of the village and together we walked down the hill to the beat of the drums. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the October parade and ceremony because I knew what to expect. Still, it was quite overwhelming to once again realize how our resources are used so efficiently. Funds were sent by ACEF from generous donors, the largest of which was First Baptist Church, Tulsa. Their gift provided a generator, housing for the generator, and an electrical upgrade for the lab so that the new desktops, printers and scanners can be used. And yes, we cut the ribbon to the generator house and started up the generator to hearty applause. That was a first.

From the ceremony, we traveled on to visit two of our sponsored students, Hannah and Rita, who live in a nearby village, Mpobi. We delivered their backpacks and shared the “news from the road.” We’re getting used to this protocol, and we all decided last night that there is something comforting about always knowing how it will go: the plastic chairs, the request for the news, the response, the shaking of the hands in welcome and goodbye. We may miss all this when we return to the U.S. and have such informal visits. Or maybe not.

And then, we pounded and ate the fufu. The pounding is no easy task, yet in Ghana, children as young as five years old are taught how to pound the yams and plantains. We decided (once again), that we’re wimpy. Pounding fufu takes about 30 minutes and all the muscles in your arm. And then, we ate the fufu…with our hands. Melissa did switch to the spoon after a few bites. It’s a messy affair. Can’t blame her a bit. Oh, speaking of Melissa, she had a baby named after her today. Not kidding. I told her she would have a great experience in Ghana. Now she believes me.

So until tomorrow night, goodnight from Ankaase, Ghana.

Ghana in June, Day Four and Five: Every Hour

IMG_9834 Stitching the new batch of Ankaase bags!
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Well, last night my modem minutes were eaten by YouTube. Why didn’t I clue in that perhaps watching videos might use data? This important lesson was learned too late. I wasn’t able to blog, which caused me to go to bed with a knot in my stomach. Writing is a release, as well as therapy. So Isaac did that thing they do with a SIM card and bundling and whatever else goes on so that I can connect to the world. And here I am.

Here is a wrap-up of the past two days, and I’ll try my best to keep it within a reasonable word count:

Update on Kadri: After a CT scan this morning, the doctors discovered that his brain is hemorrhaging. This would explain the seizures, the unresponsiveness, and the inability to swallow or speak. His father reports that he was able to get him to speak a little bit today. If the family can gather the funds, a doctor will attempt to drain the blood from his brain tomorrow. Kadri is a hemophiliac, so this could cause some scary complications. Please continue to pray. He is on our mind each day, and his gifts of books and a t-shirt still sits in my suitcase.

Yesterday, Shannon and Melissa observed classes at the SDA school to prepare for teaching classes today. The observing and teaching both went great, and we feel as though we have been able to connect with small groups of students. There was lots of smiles and laughter today as both teachers used some fun, creative methods of teaching. We spent our afternoons both days delivering gifts and backpacks to our sponsored students and apprentices. If you sponsor, please know that these gifts were received with so much joy. We gave the apprentices small silver heart necklaces to remind them that they are loved by us. The students were given books and backpacks, provided by sponsors and ACEF. Again, lots of smiles, hugs, and thank-yous were sent your way.

We are concerned for one family of seven who are living in two small rooms, with only one mattress on the floor and one mosquito net. The youngest child has already had malaria this year, so we are making it a priority to get mosquito nets before we leave and arrange for a mattress to be purchased so that no one has to sleep on the floor.

It seems that everywhere we turn there are needs. We have to choose. We cannot meet them all. Shannon, Melissa and I came back to the House and had a good cry. We needed some time to release all of the emotions from the day.

Tomorrow is the celebration to present the generator and housing, desktop computers, scanners, and printers for the computer lab. It will be a party. It’s a good time for some celebrating, even though our hearts are heavy for Kadri and for our families in such great need. We cry, and then we smile.

I think I have this Internet thing under control now, so I’m signing off with fingers crossed that I’ll be back tomorrow night.

For now, goodnight from a very hot and sticky Mission House in Ankaase, Ghana.

Ghana in June, Day Two & Three: Please Pray for Kadri

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We are in Ankaase, but our first night here was without Internet access. My thumb drive modem had expired, and by the time I realized it last night, my tech guru, Evans, had gone home for the evening. We’re back up, but I’m now behind on blogging and we’re already falling behind on our schedule. I’m trying not to be overly legalistic about sticking to the schedule, but I’m being very American about it and finding myself fidgety if we’re not moving ahead with our tasks. Must relax.

Yesterday we arrived in the village about 2 p.m. – and so did our luggage. It was a happy moment indeed. Daniel, Isaac, and Evans were waiting for us at the airport with a van to bring us to Ankaase. Nothing against Accra, but I was so ready to get back to the village. There is something about the feel of this place that makes me know that I am finally and fully in Africa.

Our first day was a mixed bag. As soon as we got to the Mission House, we learned that one of our sponsored students, Kadri, was in the hospital. We knew that he had some issues with childhood arthritis, but when we got to the hospital we realized that this was something much worse than what we had anticipated. Kadri was thin and unresponsive. His mother and father were both at the hospital on either side of his bed in tears. It was surreal. The last time I saw Kadri in October, he was riding his bicycle on the main road of the village returning a flashlight he had borrowed. This little boy lying in the hospital was somebody different. There was no bright smile (Kadri has a beautiful, wide smile that he would use to great advantage). His father told us that he could no longer swallow. I tried to talk with him, but he seemed to be unable to focus. We felt helpless. There was nothing we could do, including find out what was wrong with him.

It was a somber way to begin our time here and last night I wanted to blog to ask for prayer. An update on Kadri: Peter called an ambulance this morning (unfortunately the Ankaase ambulance wasn’t working so they had to call one eight miles away), and he was rushed to a hospital in Kumasi. We don’t have a definitive update, but Peter is traveling back to Kumasi in the morning to check on him. Please pray for this sweet little boy and for his parents. The books and basketball jersey we brought for him are on the desk in the mission house bedroom, and I’m praying that we will be able to deliver them this week.

Today we visited Sarah, one of our very special sponsored students. When we visit our friends, the plastic chairs are moved into a circle and we share the “news from the road.” I’ve missed that. We’re looking forward to spending time with Sarah later this week to “talk.” She is still learning English, so we’re going to hang out with her at the house this week and see how she’s coming along.

On a weather note: it’s a little cooler here than it was in October, or last May – although my travel companions would scoff. We’re still sweating all day every day and because the air-conditioning unit in our room doesn’t work, we’re sweating just a bit at night too (it’s still very humid). But that’s all part of being back in Ghana, and I’m definitely not complaining.

So we’re praying for better news about Kadri tomorrow, and I hope I’ll have that news to share.

Until tomorrow, goodnight from Ankaase.