Category Archives: Faith

Re-Entry

On September 21st, I went to Africa with a team of 6 other women, through Africa New Life Ministries, a non-profit organization. Africa New Life is an organization created by Rwandans to help the Rwandan people empower themselves through education and employment.

An overview of ANLM taken from their website:

“Since 2001, Africa New Life has shared the Gospel using two hands: the hand of compassion and the hand of evangelism. Our goal is to see lives transformed through meeting basic needs, to give hope for the future for those living in poverty in Rwanda, and to share the freedom and hope found in Christ. At the heart of our model for breaking cycles of poverty is educational sponsorship. With a high school education, or a vocational equivalent, children in Rwanda have hope for the future.”

AFNLM believes in caring for the “whole child”. While educational sponsorship is at the core of their work, they believe children need other key factors to succeed such as a growing faith, community development, and a healthy body.

Their mission statement, powerful and simple, drew me in immediately:

Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion.”

Our days in Kigali were filled with activity. Being a team of women, ANLM asked if we would consider focusing our trip around spending time in relationship with women and children, offering encouragement and support. We were thrilled to have that opportunity, so on our trip we completed 15 home visits. Eleven of these visits included meeting children that are sponsored through monthly donations by various team members. The sponsorship program provides education and medical assistance. Sponsored children also attend a monthly Christian day camp and a four-day bible camp each fall. We were able to touch the sweet faces of children that we had only known on paper previously. A powerful experience that I will write about another day. The other four home visits were to women enrolled in a sewing program through ANLM’s Women’s Vocational Center. In between visits, our days were packed with a full on Rwanda experience. We attended a Christian women’s conference. We lived a day in the life of a local woman, right down to cultivating land and gathering water. We gave presentations on business skills, and health and wellness to women in sewing and cosmetology programs. We walked through a genocide memorial museum. And we spent even more time connecting with our sponsored children outside of their homes.

There is so much I want to express about my time in Africa. It will forever be one of the most important and joyful times of my life. I cannot wait to share my thoughts on education, local culture, short-term mission trips, the genocide, post genocide healing and reconciliation, worship, values, and sponsorship.  

But for today, I want to discuss re-entry. Sunday we returned from Rwanda, and we are elated to be home. But coming home brings a big bag of mixed emotions. And as someone who has always been a deep feeler, re-entering the life I left less than 2 weeks ago has been plain hard. Previous service experiences and mission trips have left me well versed on the internal struggle that occurs when you leave a life changing experience, so during the trip I began bracing myself for impact. Processing the emotions involved in re-entry is important and is an essential and necessary step for personal growth, but it is hard work.

Africa New Life Ministries scheduled a debriefing session with Pastor Fred, their executive director, for the day we left. During it, he addressed re-emersion. Looking straight at us, laughing knowingly, he said gently, “Now, when you go home…PLEASE…do not sit around your home feeling bad about what you have. Enjoy your life! Just don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what you learned. Go home and be an ambassador for Africa New Life.” This was a gift. By addressing the internal struggle he knew was imminent he normalized our feelings in advance. It made me tear up. Pastor Fred genuinely hoped we would heed his advice.

I have had a hard time heeding.

I feel disoriented. It is as if someone put a mask over my eyes, spun me around, then took the mask off and told me to walk.

Last Tuesday, while getting ready to start my day and chaperone a field trip, I noticed I was still washing off the red stain of the soil we walked on while visiting homes in Kigali. A few days ago I was delivering food to starving families and talking to people with HIV. Now I was preparing to shepherd first graders through a fire station to learn about safety. This felt bewildering. I went to the field trip in a fog.

I want to be able to share meaningful things when asked about Rwanda, but I am overwhelmed by trying to find words that properly capture joy, sadness, hope and despair all at once. Instead, out come words like “good” and “amazing”, which feel lame and weak.  

I want to accurately express to my husband how my heart broke at the exact same time that my soul was lifted. But words fall short, so I find myself staying silent…nothing depicts the whole picture, so I just don’t.

I want to hide in my house, as if I am experiencing some sort of grief, instead of rejoining the world.

When I open my stocked pantry, I feel shame and guilt. Every family we visited received a bag of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts and salt. Enough food for a month, and they will likely attempt to stretch it much further. We have a full pantry and will probably still run to the store this week.

I want to be a different, better person. And I find myself thinking about it while staring blankly in a Starbucks line, the irony hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I wish that my children could grasp the sweet hand they were dealt.

Then I think about how my children are just like me. I slept on a bed in a mosquito net, while the families I visited that day slept on dirt.

Before we left, I wrote this on our team Facebook page:

“God has always been at work in Rwanda, and the Rwandan people are making incredible things happen for themselves, as it should be…Pray we remain humble, remembering that God has been at work in Rwanda for a very long time, using Rwandans…We will get to see His work and participate in their journey, but they have got this.”

Why is maintaining this perspective so difficult?

Why do I put this burden on myself when they have God?

I believe that God’s plan involved equipping me to help. So I will straighten myself out and mobilize. Rather than wringing my hands, I will listen to Pastor Fred’s advice and here is what I will do:

I will not focus on what I cannot fix, instead I will encourage and support the ongoing efforts of Rwanda and Africa New Life Ministries. 

Instead of standing at the sink obsessing over why I get to have water, I will smile thinking back to the day we waited for our turn at the water pump. The time spent waiting for water provided women a rare pause from constant manual labor and multitasking. If it has not rained the spout only trickles, so people wait. We witnessed how this small pause made space for community. The ladies chatted and laughed. No doubt they laughed about us… I hope they did. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Lamenting that we have easily accessible water while they do not is useless. So, I will put my resources and time towards providing accessible clean water for others. (Pssst…Living Water International)

Instead of hiding, I will rejoin my community. Rwandans value community. Rwanda’s emphasis on relational living has no doubt played a large role in their ability to move forward post genocide. My team and I will honor that by returning to our own communities. These are people who supported our dream to travel to Africa, made it possible, and then cared for our families while we were gone. These same people will be there to help us process our experience and to encourage us to apply what we have learned here.

I will appreciate my families access to education and medical care. If I mope and spin my wheels about why I get to have those things, it takes from the energy I could use to make those things accessible through sponsorship and sharing the mission of ANLM.

But all of that is a work in progress.

My heart is still grieving the imbalance in this world.  And my soul is also filled with gratitude over experiencing a beautiful new culture and country. But I know I will find a new normal. And that knowledge is in part why I am holding on tight to the tension of feeling shaken and hopeful. I want the part of me that broke to stay broken, but I know that it will heal.

I’m praying for a solid scar.

Grace House

She has taught me so much in the past few months and I hope I have helped her some too.

She is trustworthy, kind, humble, and gentle in spirit.  The first day I met her, she felt the need to tell me all about herself and did not keep any secrets.  At times she talked quite fast due to her nerves and the pain attached to exposing her past, but she forced herself to trust me.  She divulged past regrets, but rested in the fact that her past had allowed her to land in a safe place.  She inquired about my life, always looking me in the eye when I spoke to show she was engaged.  She sought out my advice on handling conflict with peers because it felt uncomfortable yet unavoidable at times.  She still smiles often even though parts of her future are uncertain.  And she has asked me if I will still want to be her friend in the upcoming months.  I have assured her that I do.

About 7 months ago, I met her.  I had been feeling a tug at my heart to get involved in something outside of my “bubble” so I sent an email to an organization I had heard of through our church.  Our bubbles are funny, aren’t they?  Most of us work towards creating an environment with our families that provide safety and security.  We yearn for stability.  A place where memories are made and children have freedom without parents fearing their every move.  I wonder if, as humans, we are wired to seek these things?  I’m not sure I’ve ever run into someone who has said “hey, I’m looking for a home where I could put my family at risk.  You seen one?”

My friend that I described above?  Well, about 9 months ago, she was sitting in prison.  And she was thinking prison was going to be her home for quite some time for personal choices made which did not agree with the law.  In addition to legal violations, she was also struggling to overcome addiction.  On paper, she was not the type of person I would have ever put myself around, nor my children, because she was living a life that was so different from mine.

But God had another plan for her life.  She was told she would be given the opportunity to go to a rehab type facility, but there was no guarantee she was done serving time.  Soon after she learned this, the founders of an organization called Grace House happened to be visiting the prison and handed her an application.  

The mission of Grace House “is to give women at risk the opportunity to overcome destructive life-styles of addiction, incarceration and poverty.  We provide a protected environment, both physically and spiritually, so that women may grow and mature in their faith and be transformed by the power of God.”  The women adhere to strict routines and participate in daily bible studies.  In addition, they enhance their learning through classes and listening to speakers.  The nine month program covers a variety of topics such as addiction recovery, money management, parenting skills, healthy relationships, nutrition instruction, productive lifestyle skills, music and art, and physical fitness.  In addition, the women also volunteer and serve others in the community.  And, they are assigned a personal mentor.

This is where God intersected my story with my new friend.  I would love to tell you that going into this experience, I was confident in my ability to serve at Grace House.  When I first met with the director, I was really hoping she would recommend that I either tutor some of the women with their school work or that I would teach a class.  I preferred this because it would allow me to “help” but would also keep me somewhat distant and in my comfort zone.  She didn’t.  She asked me to be a mentor and had my specific friend in mind.  She then asked me if I had any questions or concerns.  I did.  Some I voiced and some I kept to myself.  One of my thoughts went like this, “Well, I haven’t quite been in prison before, nor struggled with addiction.  Wait that’s not true….I am a 39-year-old nail biter who probably loves Diet Coke a little too much, but I haven’t struggled with addictions that could land me in jail!  Is she even going to like me?  Will she relate to me?  Will she honestly want advice from someone who has not walked the type of path she has?”  But I decided to trust the director, and with that, I ended up busting right out of my safe little bubble.

Shortly after meeting, we discovered that she and I connect easily.  We both enjoy going to the movies together.  We also like to explore the city and visit historical sites.  We speak the language of motherhood and have found that a mother’s love transcends all divides.  I know her kids’ names and can describe their personalities and she can do the same with mine.  We are both drawn to exercise, because without this healthy outlet we both find ourselves struggling.  Also, she has learned to tolerate my weekly driving debacles due to my nonexistent sense of direction mixed with my inability to accurately follow all the GPS instructions.  Not only has it been easier than expected to spend time with her, I have thoroughly ENJOYED it.  I look forward to our weekly adventures and conversations.  I love that before we eat, she reaches out for my hand, grasps it, and prays with a genuine heart.

And so, I am rewiring my thinking about my bubble.  Yes, I want safety and security and stability.  But as a Christian, it is not my job to try to create that environment for myself nor my family.  In fact, it is impossible to have that type of control in this life because suffering and human uncertainty will always exist.  But we can be assured, that as believers, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. Paul tells us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37-39, New International Version).

So if you have possibly wanted to bust out of your bubble but struggle with the “I’m not sure I will relate” or “it freaks me out” or “will I have enough time” or “what if I hate it”, I would like to encourage you.  I GET IT.  Oh, and also….DO IT.  Take your feelings of doubt and insecurity and slap them down.  Step out.  Be bold.  Be uncomfortable and courageous.  Spread the Good News of the security given to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  He provides us with the best bubble in which to live.

In one short month, she will graduate from Grace House.  And she will not be returning to prison.  Her parole officer informed her that he was impressed by the changes within her.  He recommended to the court that she not be incarcerated and the courts agreed!  I am so incredibly proud of her and I’m also in awe of the strength she has.  She recently told me that she never knew that there was a light in this world because she had always felt a darkness covering her.  But now that she’s tasted and seen the sweetness that Jesus is, she cannot wait to go home and raise her kids. She wants them to grow up knowing what it is to have hope.  Her goals are to be with her children as much as she can, go to work, read her bible, exercise and attend weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings.  Her plan is simple and focused.  Personally, I cannot wait to meet up with my new friend in the community we both belong to because she is a blessing and inspiration to me.

If you would like to learn more about or donate to Grace House, please visit http://gracehousesa.org  

My Bible

Several years ago I attended a weekend Pine Cove camp with good friends. While there, it came out that I did not own a personal Bible. Days after we left the camp they presented me with an engraved study Bible. Inside, each friend had written a personal note and highlighted their favorite verse.

 

 

 

 

Now when I stumble upon the highlighted verses, I am reminded how important community is and how often I fight against it. My pride tells me that shouldering it alone means I am strong. And that is when things tend to go very poorly for me, because it is not about strong versus weak. God created us to be in community with one another.

 

 

 

 

A spiritual community, when authentic, provides a place to share joy, hold space, and carry each other’s burdens. It is where we can quietly learn or stand up and teach. It is a safe spot for imperfect people to mess up, regroup, and try again. It should be full of messy, unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

This Bible and every other Bible serves as a powerful reminder that we can experience God’s grace and message through others and that through community we have the opportunity to experience a bit of Kingdom living right here on earth.

 

 

Decluttering: A Post to Make You Feel Better About Your Home

This summer I will both turn 40 and celebrate a 15 year wedding anniversary. And I am finding this phase of life to be a pretty beautiful spot, although sometimes the minivan still smarts a bit. And with what is clearly a midlife crisis slapping me straight across the face these milestones hitting, I now feel a strong inclination to shed excess physical and mental clutter from my family’s life. And I have learned the mental and physical do overlap in numerous ways. During this next stretch in life, I want to place more focus on what’s valuable and essential, and less on any literal or mental junk standing in the way of achieving that goal. The mental clutter, let’s just say I am working on it. But today I will talk about the physical decluttering.  

As with most things, I considered easier alternatives. I stood in the doorway of cluttered rooms and prayed for the rapture. But I feared God might facepalm after glimpsing at this abundance of crap and say “OMG, Amanda.” As it turns out, decluttering is like any area of life in which you seek transformation. You have to do the work. It’s annoying.

Starting the process felt much less overwhelming after I began following the work of The Minimalists, who believe decluttering improves life on every level. I have tried, on a beginner’s level, to adopt a minimalistic approach for decluttering our home. In case you are wondering, minimalistic approach is fancy suburban lingo for “tossing junk out.” It challenges people to keep only what is needed and life-giving.  And additionally, minimalism encourages putting more thought into purchases with the goal of buying fewer, better things. Our parents just called this process “getting rid of stuff.” But we like All Of The Meaning.

Let me walk you through some of what I’ve experienced thus far. It will be fun. You can screenshot my pictures and send them to friends along with the screaming emoji in place of text because it will say everything that needs to be said. I like helping you with your friendships.

 

First of all, you learn interesting facts about yourself when you declutter. For instance, apparently, the part of my brain meant for organizing was being used to obsess over cinnamon.

I think we can now picture the trailer for my Hoarders episode…

The camera pans around a room littered with ground cinnamon spice bottles stacked straight up to the rafters (I don’t really know what rafters are). Finally, the camera comes to rest on me, sitting on a couch clutching cinnamon sticks. Then it will cut to a therapist reminding me that spices will never bring me love, but his words will be drowned out by the meows of all my cats named Cinnamon.

 

Tupperware has proven to be an integral part of my personal non-minimalistic hell. Nevertheless, I conquered my Goliath with grace and dignity. My husband, inspired by my “can do” attitude, captured this moment.

#ShutUpTupperwareIHateYouSoHard  

PS: I did not know we had a wok. That’s kind of fun

 

And here is the Regas family sock basket. It is the actual worst.

Fix it, Jesus.

One of our goals with this blog is to provide our daughters with something they can read in the future that will normalize their feelings since few people voice their personal truths due to their desire to appear perfect. So, eventually, they will read every word we write.  

I tell you this not to be deep, but so you understand why I can’t use all the freaking four letter words to talk about this sock basket and the pain it brings me. But just know in your heart, the swears I’ve invented because of these socks would make grown men flee from locker rooms. %&*$!

 

Children add unique challenges to organizing. And little girls seem particularly drawn towards collections of toys where each one is the size of a pinky nail.

Shopkins creator, you SOB. Whoops, forgot about our daughters already.

 

Remember Monica’s secret closet on Friends? Hi, this is mine.

Apparently, glue is hot on cinnamon’s tail in a race to my Hoarder’s episode.

 

My question is not just why did I hold onto these things…but how? I can not keep track of my children’s birth certificates. I lost my engagement ring. I know I had gerbils as a kid, but I am nervous because I don’t remember them dying. 

In all seriousness, having less stuff and more order has already brought an increased sense of peace and calm to my life. When I fix the clutter, it has such an impact on my mental state. This impact is a huge deal because inside my brain lives a pinball machine. Stuff shoots around and sets off other stuff that shoots around, and there are lots of flashing lights and music. Decluttering cuts the noise.

The process of purging has proven to be cathartic as letting go can be profound. We need to hold onto our past, but probably loosen the grip a little. Some of the physical stuff can go. Going through this process is certainly more intense than paring down your drinkware. But it helps you work through things, which is a gift.

My house remains full of junk that must go. Becoming Aminimalanda will always be a work in progress. My most recent efforts have included participating in the Black Shutters White House 40 Bags in 40 days declutter challenge. I was a little uncertain we would have enough stuff to fill bags for 40 days because I have been working on decluttering for a while. But I think as we reflect on the few pictures I have shared, you won’t be surprised to know I have found plenty more to purge.

So, check out the 40 Day Challenge, it’s a good place to start. I have not done it perfectly. I had to fill five bags today to make up for lost time. No one died. Maybe the gerbils if they were in there. And take a look at  Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things by The Minimalists.

And also, please watch this video by JP Sears. And then all of his others. We need to avoid taking ourselves too seriously.

Being a Minimalist – Ultra Spiritual Life episode 55

 

40 Bags in 40 Days

Over the next 40 days, our families will be participating in a decluttering project designed by our friends over at White House Black Shutters. The challenge begins March 1 and extends through April 15.  It coincides with the 40 days of Lent, which makes it extra meaningful for any Christian participants looking for a spiritual exercise to practice this Lenten season.

According to upperroom.org, the season of Lent is a time to return to God and refocus our lives to be more like Jesus.  It is 40 days where we can change our lifestyle and allow God to do a work in our heart as we prepare for Easter. We want to pare down excess and free our minds to focus on life as God intended. For these reasons, this Lent our families will be participating in the 40 Bags in 40 Days DeCluttering Challenge.

The idea is to declutter an area in your house by filling up one bag per day. However, you can change that to meet individual family needs and goals. The website provides links to printables, ideas for decluttering both stuff and “non-stuff,” a Facebook page for support and a daily email course.

Click here for all the information and here to join the official group Facebook page.

We would love if you joined us in this challenge, whether you participate in Lent or not. Please let us know if you decide to partake. We will update the blog as we go. We expect there will be ups and downs. And by “ups and downs” we mean we are going to start out strong and then probably there will be some crying.

-Amanda and Katie

Eye Of The Storm

While showering the other day, I decided to play some music to start my day off right.  And then I heard the lyrics from Ryan Stevenson’s song “Eye of the Storm.”  In it, he references God maintaining control, protecting us, and being our anchor when life is spinning.  I immediately felt tears well up inside of me and did the most therapeutic thing possible.  I took over as lead vocalist for Ryan and let my inner Celine shine.  Within 5 seconds, Millie discovered how to throw her 7 pound body into the bathroom doors and bust out of there as if her life depended on it.  And once again, I was left alone. This time by the puppy whom, for weeks, I have been patiently letting use my house as her personal potty training zone.

The tears came unexpectedly, yet right on time.  I have been in the throes of a storm as of late.  And when Mr. Anger knocks on my door and brings his jerk friends Loneliness, Heartache, Doubt and Frustration, I typically attempt to politely introduce myself and quickly figure out why they have arrived all while simultaneously turning around and high-tailing it out of there. Only this time, I didn’t escape them. And they stuck around and put on a display that could rival Disney World fireworks. Except it was the opposite of anything magical.

It’s so gut-wrenchingly hard to watch your kids struggle.  They are no longer in my protected cocoon while at home with me all day. Those early years may have been physically hard as a momma, but these years are a new kind of difficult on the emotions.  I want so badly to make everything ok for them.  I want to put a little bitty earpiece in their cute auditory canal every morning, so I can whisper truth to them when some other kid is a turd or when I see them shouldering self-doubt or internalizing the weight of their world.  But more than wanting to protect them, I want them to stand up for themselves with confidence and to believe in themselves.  And to get there requires them learning to overcome adversity.  My head gets it.  My heart, though….fuh-get about it, it just hurts.

And balancing work-life and family-life and engaging in quality-time-with-each-other-life while being individuals who have our unique-interests-life is a constant challenge.  It reminds me a bit of a game of bowling.  There are lots of pins to take care of to win.  You try to line your life up right.  Sometimes you’re covering it all well and bowling strikes, and sometimes, well, you’re in the gutter.  And recently, I kind of feel like I let the ball go too early, tried to chase it down the alley, slipped in the lane and slid head first into the pin-clearing bar.  

And once I feel like I’m failing in one area of life, I tend to spiral and feel like a failure as a mom and wife too.  And why stop there when my brain can continue the dogpile and tell me how alone I am, and that everyone seems to be getting things right except for me and that it’s never going to get better.  Who’s having fun reading this yet?  

I debated writing this because, for real, who wants to read an article from Debbie Downer?  But then Amanda reminded me that we promised ourselves we would be authentic and honest along with our light-hearted stuff.  I hope you can relate to this moment of struggle; it is just not a part of life we like to show to each other.

Then I doubted whether or not I should share it, as I am well aware of people struggling with more challenging and even tragic situations. And once I start comparing, I end up believing I should just suck it up.  But then I remembered reading what Brené Brown wrote in Rising Strong about comparing our sufferings with others.  

Falling down, screwing up, and facing hurt often lead to bouts of second-guessing our judgement, our self-trust, and even our worthiness.  I am enough can slowly turn into Am I really enough?  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade, it’s that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked…. Yes, perspective is critical.  But I’m a firm believer that complaining is okay as long as we piss and moan with a little perspective.  Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.

So if you’re struggling, I want you to know that I am so sorry.  And also, that I am with you. I want a quick fix for you and me because that makes me feel good, but there are no guarantees for that on this earth. This was part of the reason that Fear got an invite to my party too. Not having the ability to solve our loved ones’ problems or get the upper hand on proper “balance” (whatever that maybe) or ensure the safety and security of the future isn’t likely either.  And it is scary to have no control over these things.

But you know what I am doing?  I’m committed to waking up every day and trying my best.  That does not mean I will be the best, but I’ll give whatever I can that day.  And I want to be brave.  And I want to be courageous.  And I want to be vulnerable.  Brown also states, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.  Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”  It’s true that coming out of my deepest valleys have led to my most significant areas of emotional growth.  But that doesn’t mean that the new struggles give me instant perspective or feel any less horrible.  All valleys stink.

But our loved ones don’t stink.  They will support us.  And God definitely has our back.  We need a foundation to go to when we spiral.  And we have One.  The book of Matthew tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV).  He will comfort us, protect us, guard us and love us through the storms.  And I know I am so thankful that my heavy times are not hopeless times.

http://www.kimberlygeswein.com