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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.

I Blame Jon Acuff For This Post

As you might have noticed, Amanda and I have been on a blogging hiatus.  It was not intentional.  We have loved starting Sprained Funny Bone and we talk about it to each other and the future of it constantly.  We are here people!  We are here!

And when someone asks me where the blog posts have been, I go to my mental list.  And then I tell them the reasons. It goes something like this, (inhale) “Well, our summers went super fast with the kids home and all their activities and friends and Amanda moved and I worked multiple camps and it is hard to find time to sit and write and it’s also really hard to sit down and instantly focus with all the kids and distractions.” (exhale)

The above is true.  

But the above is not the whole truth.

Writing is hard.  Amanda and I always joke that in the middle of writing posts, we hit a point where we are certain it will never come together.  And, if it ends up being another piece that does not show itself as worthy to post and we have to start over, we risk the possibility of having all the marbles in our heads fall out.

Writing is personal. A few days ago, I started listening to “Finish:  Give Yourself the Gift of Done” by Jon Acuff.  It is a good read you guys.  The book discusses how starting goals is not as difficult as finishing them.  Acuff presents strategies based on research to inspire and give people tools to complete their goals.  One of the main obstacles that holds people back is not laziness, but perfectionism.  To me, the word perfectionism sounds so sweet and simple to say, but all you readers that also suffer from it know that it’s an ugly little booger.  I can easily lose the messages I want to write because of the fear of not living up to my own standards.  If I do not perfectly word articles, my brain slowly loses perspective and the desire to finish my writing.  And I’ll say this, I would rather drink a gallon of iced tea and eat pickles (gag, gag, gaggggg) than let perfectionism continue to stop me from pursuing things I love to do.

Writing is worth it.  Our hiatus was just temporary.  I remembered why this blog is important.  It is again, Jon Acuff’s fault.  Once I started listening to his book, I went to his blog.  And in one of his posts, he wrote:

“Your platform isn’t for you. It’s not yours. Your name might be on it. It might be your smiling headshot that folks see each day on your blog or your twitter profile, but the platform is not for you. It’s for other people.  Readers, friends, family members, this is why we blog.  Not to get, but to give. If you don’t share your platform, it will suffocate you.”

Amanda and I never started this blog for us.  We knew we wanted to unite people, discuss all kinds of topics, and help others.  And, you guys, you know where Amanda is right now?  She’s not in Texas. Nor is she in the United States of America. SHE IS IN RWANDA.  As in AFRICA.  She is out learning about a different culture, and serving an organization that is helping women.  And these women need others.  She is not there for herself.  I can say this because it’s true and because she’s way too humble to say that herself….but I’ll totally throw her under the bus.

And we haven’t even had the chance to share that with you all.  And so, she is going to be so excited to come home and find that I have volunteered her to tell you all about her experience and to present ways that if God is leading you, you can help too.  We are committed to highlighting other people who need help.  So we will be back with our random stories, but with opportunities for us all to grow. And we would LOVE to hear from you all too if you have served others and have a story to tell.  Because, it is time.  It is time to finish our half written articles and it is time for us to keep kicking fear and perfectionism in the face.  We hope you will continue to read along with us and to share your stories too.

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

I Can Do That. But Just That.

In the past, I worked as an Admissions director for a Catholic high school. Going into the job I was terrified to work with teenagers because have you met one? But I hold such great memories from that job, and I loved those kids. Throughout the years I kept up with a handful of them via social media and have enjoyed watching them grow up. Albeit, their post high school shenanigans in my news feed have more than once morphed me into a fretting grandmother, with all of the wringing of my hands and clutching of my pearls.

But I fought the urge to write comments like, “Let’s leave some room between you two for the Holy Ghost.” And it paid off because I saw their graduations, watched as they maneuvered first real jobs, engagements, and marriages. Some now live in the early phase of marriage and family that I was in when they met me. Which is a little rude given that it points out how much I have aged. But I need to rise above because I am their elder (as they have so rudely pointed out). And I got the favorable end of the deal. In exchange for following me, these kids watched my timeline evolve from “my skin looks like Snow White’s, even though I never wash my face,” to “we will need to borrow against the 401k to keep me in wrinkle cream. And please fetch my wrap as there is a chill.”

One of my students was named Garrett. I remember when Garrett was processing the idea of pursuing a religious vocation after high school, carefully considering what it would mean for his life. He went on to study Theology at Marquette and Social Work at Loyola, and now works as the campus minister for a Catholic high school in South Dakota as part of his formation to become a Jesuit priest.  Garrett’s humble manner and perspective are grounding. He provides peace, humor, insight and clarity in his writing. Post-election when I felt paralyzed by tension and anger surrounding me, he wrote a reflection that centered me. It’s a unique honor to watch someone you knew as an adolescent become an adult with such wisdom.

Recently Garrett posted this article: What I Do Have to Give. When I read it the first time, I thought Garrett was conveying the intentional limitations he puts on himself as an act of self-care. I identified with his words because I try to adopt the same focus during the holiday season. But then I thought about the title, What I Do Have to Give, and realized he was expressing something more meaningful. He asked himself “what DO I have to give?” instead of “what can I not do?” A significant difference lies between those two mindsets. Rather than seeing himself as limited in what he can do, he highlights what he can do well and then gives those acts and beliefs his time and attention. It is an empowering mindset that truly magnifies self-care.

He talked about the extent of his mental exhaustion as this semester winds down before the break. He addressed the situation by making a list of goals for the next two weeks and breaking them down into tasks that fall under three essential categories in his role as the campus minister. And after each category, he wrote “I can do that. But just that.

This time of year explodes with lists and expectations. Gifts to buy, people to see, relationships to balance, finances to blow to hell, things to cook, elves to move (or as I want to do, hurl). And some of those things bring meaning and memories and are well worth the effort. But it will not end well if we do ALL of it.

As we approach Christmas, we would do well to use the same technique. First, identify where we want to put our focus. Family time? Experiences? Continuing particular traditions? Then take those categories and assign actions that will help us do those things well. And do that. But just that.

Saying this feels hypocritical since I will, without a doubt, lose this perspective more than once. But if we aim high and fall short, we are still doing pretty well. Plus, Christmas is not complete without at least one family member having a spectacular Clark Griswold style meltdown.

So this year, I will sit down with my husband, and we can define what we have to give. And do that. But just that.