Category Archives: Reviews

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.

“Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

I ordered the book “Nice Girls Don’t Change The World” last week thinking that I would add it to my stack of books I’d like to read someday.  It arrived the day before my husband and I were heading out of town for a weekend away.  And in typical fashion, I was throwing my airplane bag together approximately 16 seconds before walking out the door (note: when I’m 40, I’m so going to pack at least 1 hour before I leave….#grownupgoals).  When I realized the book’s petite size, it instantly found its way into the bag and it met all my requirements. The book was small.  The lines were double spaced.  And, there were pictures.  Folks, this was going to be a quick read and I love a quick read. Waiting on the tarmac, I opened it up and realized good things were in store for me. By the end of the first page it was clear Hybel was going to give me a glimpse into her life, personal thoughts and emotions. Cue Happy Katie in an airplane.

Hybel opens by describing herself as a nice girl for the first half of her life.  Her self description included being a people pleaser, a hard worker, a rule follower and someone always pressuring herself to be better.  This is when I checked the front cover to make sure I had not authored the book.

When Hybel turned 39, coincidentally the same age I am now, she ran out of steam.  Her internal and external selves were not in sync and she sought help.  She discovered:

The opposite of a nice girl, I learned, is a “good woman.”  Being a good woman means trading the safe, passive, people-pleasing behavior of niceness for the dynamic power of true goodness.  It means moving from the weakness and immaturity of girlhood toward the strength and maturity of womanhood.

She began to recognize how God wants us to see ourselves and our responsibilities versus the false assumptions we make about God and unknowingly live out.  And she uncovered the force of fear and all its debilitating power.  Ultimately she saw through the muck of her actions and thoughts, finally getting to the core of her purpose.

As soon as I finished the book, I mentally added this to my list of books I’d like to pass on to my daughters someday.  First I love that it is written by a woman in a different stage of life than me.  She is able to reflect and offer wisdom through her own experiences.  Reading her story and seeing how God used her struggles gives hope.  Second, life is hard.  And sometimes our own struggles seem to dominate our thoughts.  Or worse, we believe the lie that we are the only people who might be suffering because the world likes us to think that perfection is attainable.  And perfection and suffering do not exist together.  Reading about another person’s troubles helps people connect on a genuine human level and inspires us to better ourselves and help those around us.  And third, Hybel is vulnerable enough to share that when she was in pain, she reached out for help.  And at some point in my children’s lives, chances are they will need support.  I have repeatedly talked with my girls about the importance of healthy relationships and how there are professionals able to help in times of distress.  Oftentimes, we humans react by keeping pain bottled up rather than reaching out for assistance which can provide relief and guidance.  Reading stories about others who have received help lessens the stigma associated with seeking professional assistance from mental pain.

I recommend adding this book to your reading list.  Or even better, purchasing it, reading it and then passing it along as a gift of inspiration to another woman you know that could use encouragement as she navigates life.  Plus, my favorite part of the book was towards the end.  Hybel does not end her story by being content with her knowledge of what comprises a good woman.  She takes this truth, mixes in some passion and energy and describes her transformation into a downright dangerous woman.  And this is the type of woman I hope to be someday and I that I wish for my girls too.

Here is the link to the book if you are interested!

https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Girls-Dont-Change-World/dp/0310272319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423024101&sr=1-1&keywords=nice+girls+don%27t+change+the+world

 

Straight Pepper Diet

Sometimes you just crave a memoir about a recovering alcoholic/sex addict and former lawyer who has been disbarred for felony charges and is now a registered sex offender. When that happens, Joseph Naus has your back with Straight Pepper Diet.  

From his biography:

Joseph W. Naus was born in 1971. He graduated from Pepperdine Law and passed the Bar in 1997. As related in his harrowing yet hopeful memoir, Straight Pepper Diet, Joseph was raised by his mom, a heroin addict turned shut-in depressive, amidst crime and poverty.  At age 32, Joseph’s American Dream life became a nightmare when his addictions to sex and alcohol collided and exploded.

A plethora of things haunt me from the time I spent working in child welfare. Topping the list are my fears regarding what present day looks like for the children that I worked with, knowing full well that cycles and systems repeat themselves. When I exited their lives, society still accepted these children as innocent victims.  They were young enough for their troubled behavior issues, which stemmed from abuse and neglect, to be connected more to the adults in their lives rather than being the fault of these children.

Now, over a decade later, I am left wondering when society’s acceptance crashed to a halt. What day did my past clients “behaviors” become actions with consequences for which they were held personally accountable? It pains me to know that those kids likely became adults with significant issues with no one aware that they were once a vulnerable kid repeatedly moved from one foster home to the next. Way too often, these kids had the sum of their life’s possessions packed into a garbage bag. Each child had a story, some horrific. And I have a strange desire to have those stories be known. The frustrating and complicated truth is that actions, even when heinous and unforgivable, are often more comprehensible after knowing someone’s story. It makes the whole thing more tragic.

In Straight Pepper Diet, Naus offers a perfect example of how knowing someone’s backstory can take black and white and muddle it into gray.

Naus grew up in extreme poverty and violence, raised by a mother who struggled terribly and was drawn to abusive relationships. The seeds of his alcohol and sex addiction were planted early and grew until finally overtaking everything he had ever worked towards in his adult life. As he says “On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday, I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed charged with attempted murder…and then it got worse.”

At first, I was cringing at the candid accounts of his lifestyle, thoughts and disturbing behavior. I could not fathom reading an entire book about this man.  By the end I wanted people to understand him, and I respected him completely for airing every bit of his dirty laundry. He painted a picture of the daily inner conflict and mental torture people afflicted with addiction face. Rock bottom is different for everyone but necessary for all. It was interesting to see how his intelligence, adaptability and drive allowed him to weather the first part of his life, while he survived the second part solely because he finally faced the parts of him created during the first.

Naus lays it bare in this memoir, hiding nothing. Straight Pepper Diet, a term used on page 69 in the Big Book of Alcoholics by Bill Wilson, is dark, funny, and many times straight up revolting. It is about humility and redemption. And as you read about Naus sorting out his demons, you will contemplate your own. And we all have them.

Audio book lovers be warned, this is not a book you can play whilst rolling in your swagger wagons.

When I like a book, I tend to Google podcasts about the author like a good little nerd. Here are some great ones about Naus’s story:

Rich Roll Podcast 213 How A Sex Addicted Lawyer Who Lost Everything Found Salvation

The Shair Podcast 072 With Joseph W. Naus

For more information visit straightpepperdietmemoir.com

-Amanda