moments of peace without the power


As I was sitting at my table last week, the power went out. First there was a brown out and then it was gone. As I sat in the darkness, these thoughts ran through my mind, “I am in America where we do not pre-pay for electricity so no problems with that, so then it is time to check the neighborhood and see if it is more than me.” As I walked out my door, I was met with silence and darkness; the power was out for the time being. In that moment, rather than calling the power company to find out what happened, I realized that my soul gave a sigh of happiness and I was content to enjoy the dark.

The windows were open and the cool night air filled the house. I found my headlamp on my dresser and lit a few candles that cast a soft glow around my home. There was a drizzle coming down outside and I heard the soft drops of rain from time to time as I picked up a book to read. I could prep some emails or do some work as my laptop was charged, but that was not how I wanted to fill those magical moments. Instead, I wanted to feel the peace and capture the quiet. How many times have I cooked by candlelight, read by headlamp, or showered in the dark? It brings back a flood of memories, most of them happy memories, nearly all filled with a sense of adventure. I love that without power the noise of modernity goes away and nature speaks a little louder. I love the soft glow it casts on the hours.

An inconvenience to some, the power outage was a silent and perfect gift for me that Sunday evening.

street children: part of my life traveling the globe

I have now been back in the US for four weeks, and I cannot shake the thoughts of the people on the street in Addis Ababa – mostly women and children. In the streets of Addis, particularly near the large churches or mosques as well as the shopping areas, women are on the street with the children begging. These are some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head, this is part of my story as I travel the globe.

I love to walk when I travel – it lets me get to know a city, affords me a small measure of independence, and lets me stretch my legs after inevitably long days of meetings in cross-cultural settings. It gives my body a chance to become tired and my mind a chance to be rejuvenated. But when those walks are filled with women and children on the streets begging, I often find myself rethinking whether or not I should walk that day or how I can re-route (easier said than done as I typically try and stay to main streets). This makes me cringe inside. Each one of these people is known by God and so many stories from the Bible come flooding back to me. Stories about helping those in need, of seeing the children, of loving those ignored by society. I want to say that my mission is elsewhere, but as I walk, these women and children enter into my space, or I into theirs, and I cannot ignore them and pretend that I am called elsewhere.

None of this is new to me. But as I get older, I find that it gets harder, not easier. What brings each person to the street and keeps them there is a complicated story. I cannot pretend to know an individual’s story, but I do know that there is more to every story than ever meets the eyes. I know that there are systems that promote the problem and do not provide alternatives. I know that people come to the city hoping to find work, and I wonder how deep their disappointment runs. I know that sometimes there are people who collect the money from beggars (in a way employing them to beg) and I wonder if there is any hope. I know that each person has a story and I wonder when they last got to share it with someone who wanted to hear it, to someone who showed them love rather than pity.

One young girl lives so clearly in my mind. She was four or five years old, and she got up from sitting with her mom and baby sibling to follow me, to almost dance around me, with her arms outstretched. She followed me for close to a block, her eyes also searching those around me in case there was someone else, a better candidate, to ask for money. As I prepared to cross a busy street I turned and pointed to her mother, telling her to go back. Our shared language was that of the hands and the body, and words of asking for money. What I wanted to do was bend down and tell this little girl, “Sweetheart, you are beautiful and loved. I wish I could give you a childhood filled with play, but I do know my Father and yours is watching after you and He loves you. Do everything you can to learn, to find an education, and to get off the streets. You have value little one.” Instead, I sighed with gratitude when she chose to not cross the street with me as I could not bear the idea of her crossing it later by herself.


When I travel, I do not know what to do with these women and children. It is a mystery to me. In the countryside, it is so different. There I am the odd white woman walking. Sometimes people talk to me or children follow, but it is because it is something to do and I am an enigma. There I know my place and what I am there to do. I am there to work with water and sanitation and hygiene. I am there to see communities transformed and to work with local partners who make that possible. On a bad day it is frustrating and disappointing work, but on a good day there is little that could be better as it is work filled with hope, health and transformation. When I walk in the city, I have none of this.


This is one one of those things where I don’t believe there is an easy answer, but I do wonder if sitting in the complexity of the situation and admitting that I don’t know is part of the answer. That, and praying for grace and wisdom in each situation.

planes: time in-between

I find myself again on an plane flying 450 miles an hour feeling like time is standing still. The land below slowly changes from land to sea to ice to land again – I will have covered more than 4,000 miles at the end of this plane ride, more than 8,000 at the end of this journey. It will be more than 20 hours in the air and probably close to 30 hours door to door. It is a day lost to travel – a day for which I am eternally grateful.

I am grateful because, in the middle of that day lost to travel, I find the time to breathe again. Time to let exhaustion come, to rest, and time to mindlessly watch a movie or read a book. Only then is there time to breathe, and in that breathing there is time to think. It is precious time for me to remember all that I am leaving and to begin to look forward.

As I leave Rwanda this time, it is with my bags packed, leaving a home behind. In the belly of the plane are the simple things I will use to start my next kitchen, some of my work clothes, my tent, some beautiful last minute gifts, and a few small trinkets which make a house feel like home to me. What is missing are the people and places that made Rwanda home for they cannot be packed in amongst my shirts and socks, squished into a plastic trunk. So I hold onto the memories of each person and in each place and pray that my memory does not fail.

There is a part of me that did not want this time to end. So now I take a moment to treasure my dear ones in my mind – the times we shared and the community we built. I have learned so much and each one is knit into my soul. As much as I know it is time to move on, it does not negate the sorrow at the leaving. I have spent time enjoying last meals and outings, treasuring community and home, but I need this time to remember one last time before I step forward. I need this time to breathe, to catch my breath before I move on.

The moment I step off the plane onto American soil my time in-between will be finished. The clock will tick in only one direction rather than jumping forward and back with each time zone I cross. An hour will be an hour, and my feet will be on solid land moving only as fast as I pick them up and put them down. I will have entered reality. I believe that I will be happy for reality, thrilled to be with my dear ones that are waiting for me. I believe I will then be ready to move forward. I will be ready because I will have had 8,000 miles of time in-between.


it takes a year

It takes a year to make a place home. I am not talking about meeting people, putting pictures on walls, or knowing the streets and stores of town. What I am talking about is a sense of belonging.

When I first move to a new place, I work to get to know the place. I start by putting my own fingerprint in my house; I make a kitchen workable, put art on walls, and grow plants of beauty. I want my house to feel like a home and a place of peace. I wander the streets of town by car and on foot; I hunt for my staple foods, the treats, and the restaurants. I want to know where to find things before I actually need them (though not always possible). I hunt for people worth getting to know; I go to coffee shops and dinners and parties whenever I can (though I am an introvert). I want to find people to invest in and hope that they will invest in me. I hunt for a church – not a building, but a group of people. I want a church family and a place to worship. It is an exhausting process but one that is worthwhile because it lays a foundation for building a home. I try and approach it all with a sense of adventure  and discovery; most of the time it works.

That is the foundation upon which a home starts to be built as it is the beginning of knowing a place and the people within it. It is also the beginning of building patterns and making memories. Every time a place is revisited, it becomes more cemented as a place that is known. Each memory made with a person builds a friendship as a common history is created. Every time you leave and return, you discover that there is a different type of contentment in the return because you know more and are known by more. The foundation becomes stronger and a home is built.

This is why I say it takes a year to make a place home: it takes just over a year to repeat a season and to repeat a holiday. Seasons feel different in different locations. Holidays look, feel, and taste different. The first year you are not quite sure how to decorate, who to be with, or how make (or find) those special foods. It is in the repeat that you are able approach the holiday with the assurance of having done it once before. You might not do it the same way (maybe it was a flop the first time or maybe you want to try something different), but you have the choice to do something different. And in that choice of repeating or changing, you have crossed over to knowing. In building on history from the previous year, in creating the holiday foods and decorations, and in gathering with people with whom you have made memories, you belong and a home has been made. It is never a perfect thing, but it is a rich thing.

It takes a year to make a home, and that is why I am so thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving here in Rwanda. For the second time I am helping dear friends host a crowd. This year I know where to get the ingredients and what substitutions work well. I have already made memories with many of the people coming, so tomorrow we will share a history, not be starting one. Together we will create a memory and a shared history. Together, we will make this place a little bit more home.


I came to this conference to speak but came away inspired. Getting some coffee before the first talk on Friday, I bumped into William “Sonny” Walker. Walking into the conference room, he asked me if I already had a seat, and asked me to join him – sitting in the second row. I am often a back-row bandit, but how could I say no to  this kind old gentleman?

Over the next 24 hours, bits and pieces of Sonny’s story emerged. He was the first African-American cabinet-level appointee in Arkansas. This conference was a conversation about philanthropy in honor of what would have been Winthrop Rockefeller’s 100th birthday, and it was Governor WR who appointed Sonny. It was just a small piece of WR’s support of civil rights  – for women, children, and people of color. Sonny told me that when WR called to tell him about the position, he was not sure if he would accept. Would WR silence him?  Would he become no more than a token? WR said no – he wanted Sonny to keep doing what he was doing, to make a difference for everyone. And so Sonny took the position and began to recruit African Americans to different positions. What I remember the most from this long list of people was that he recruited the first African American news anchors for at least three television channels. It was not only government office or business – it was the visible positions too, the positions that could change underlying thoughts and attitudes and beliefs.

At one point in the conference, Sonny stood up and shared some history with the audience, to remind us of the past. “All of you who like the Razorbacks, you remember that at one time there were no black men carrying the ball. WR helped to change that. Aren’t we thankful for the black men that carry ball for the Razorbacks today?! One of them was my son.” Later, he told me that Darius Walker, a hero when I was at Notre Dame, is his grandson.

Bragging is such an unbecoming behavior, but Sonny was just sharing history. He was telling me how Winthrop Rockefeller changed his life and that of so many others. Stories of civil rights never grow old to me. Instead I get teary-eyed and wish I could hear more. These are real people who made a difference and saw real changes. Somehow the word inspiring is lacking. Maybe I will just say that I thankful. Thankful because they did make a difference – that their battles are not ones that I have to fight, that there is a legacy in this nation of winning the civil rights battle. Thankful that I have people who inspire me.

thoughts on maintaining community while traveling

This summer I was approached about writing a piece for a soon-to-be online magazine. The magazine, Raysd, intended to revolve around the intersection of faith and culture, and I was asked to write a piece for their global section. Their original question was about how I split my life between two continents. How could I say no?

What the short piece evolved into are thoughts about how to maintain community while traveling for a living. I am far from perfect, but it is something I have worked at through the years. I hope this article inspires others to build community and intentionally invest in those around them. Please go HERE to read the article and leave a comment to start to the conversation. I would love to hear what you do to build your community.

dads: this is the gift you can be

This summer I have been thinking quite a bit about daughters and their dads. As I prepare to move to Rwanda, I am reminded of conversations past that have stuck with me and become a part of who I am. When I last moved (to Nashville), I decided it would be difficult, too much, to do the move by myself. I had outgrown moving in a car and needed a small U-Haul, and decided to ask my brother or a friend to help. When I told my dad about this, he reminded me that I chose to ask for help, which is fine, but that it was not because I was incapable of doing it myself. A seemingly small distinction, but it was an important reminder: I am strong enough and creative enough to make it happen, but chose the strength of friends. This, my friends, was the reminder of a great dad. No, I do not have to do it all myself, but it is not because I am incapable.

I remember crawling into my dad’s lap as a little girl. I would sit there while he talked with other people, and he would rub my back; I was completely safe and happy. In middle school, I would go out on our boat while my dad SCUBA dived, just waiting until I was 12, old enough to get my Jr SCUBA license and join him at depth. In high school, he was always around at night to proof papers, and during the holidays, we dove together. When I struggled along the way to getting my masters and doctorate, there was dad on the sidelines cheering me on, believe in me more than I believed in myself. At 30, I still search out the place on the couch next to him where I can cuddle up with his arm around me. I am, and always have been, a daddy’s girl.

What I want you to know is this: a girl’s relationship with her dad matters. Growing up, I knew that I was beautiful and strong, that I could persevere, and that I was loved. I was blessed to grow up in a home where both my parents loved and supported me, and in communities that did the same. I don’t want to diminish those factors, but today I want to share with you the the influence my dad has had on my life.

I am beautiful. I know this because I was regularly told so by my dad. Not every day in way that would make me wonder if it was actually true, but at all the right times. When I made an effort to look nice, it was recognized. If I was prancing around the house looking for affirmation, I would find it. No need to go hunting for it elsewhere. When I left home for college, I was able to rest on this foundation. My brothers have fallen into my father’s footsteps, a fact for which I am eternally grateful. If society ever makes me question my beauty, all I have to do is turn to the men of my family and they will remind of my foundation. I am beautiful.

I am strong. I remember being in fourth grade helping my dad carry the big ice chest down the stairs. In middle and high school, I carried my dive tanks and gear; always trying to carry as much at a time as dad. To this day, we rough-house; although dad can still put me on the ground, I have surprised more than a few men who thought they could tickle me without repercussions. Verbal banter in our house started over breakfast where dad, already caffeinated, would work on waking our minds up. Through the years, I learned the basic of argument, logic, and reason through discussions at home. I learned that my opinion mattered and that I was not to be discounted – physically or mentally – because of my age or my gender. I am strong.

I know how to persevere. During the summer break in elementary school, I would sign up for a 10, 50, or a 100 mile swim. I did not like swimming without the team, so dad swam every lap with me, and I (or, really, we) always met the goal. In high school, I was expected to do my best – and dad was always there cheering me on. He made needed tutoring possible, proofread papers, and simply to encouraged the nightly studying. I learned to believe in myself and to persevere.

All of this was done with love. I knew I was loved and the world knew it too. I could mess up or falter, but that never impacted his love for me. If I was hurt, I would be picked up and surrounded. That love, my friends, changes the world. In the midst of this love, there was safety to discover and be encouraged in the things I loved. There was safety to grow and become a woman.

I consider myself blessed to be a daddy’s girl. Not every girl has the gift of the opportunity to become one. To all the girls and women who read this, I hope that you were given that gift. For you dads and future dads reading this, know that your words and actions have the ability to transform.

To my dad, thank you. Thank you for giving me the gift of being a daddy’s girl.

Happy Birthday dad.

mosquitos in the bush

Last weekend I was sitting around a table talking with friends. The sunset had been nearly picture perfect, the night air was crisp without being cold, our hands were holding gin & tonics, and we had eaten a fabulous home-made meal packed full of fresh veggies. I was in Rwanda at a table of international friends.

Two of these friends began talking about what it would be like to return home to England where a glimpse of sun brings rejoicing and grey sky is the norm. Well, not exactly what I would be returning too. No, the place I was headed was slightly different. With the violent change of seasons, storms pop up that bring trees down on houses. It is hot and humid all summer long – two showers-a-day kind of weather. The mosquitos leave welts (though not disease). Going on hikes means that you must check your body for ticks (which can carry disease). Woods and rivers have snakes, and I regularly kill spiders in my house (in a city). I once killed a small cockroach on my table at a (nice) restaurant. I promise – all of these things are true.

As I created this list, I could not help but laugh because people sometimes express worry about me traveling to the African bush. But here I sit in my Nashville home with welts caused by mosquito bites that are driving me mad with the itching. All because I ate dinner in my yard two nights ago – surrounded by citronella candles and wearing mosquito repellent.


hello 30. let’s be friends.

Last week I responded to the elliptical’s demand, “Enter your age,” with, “30.” It was the first time I had to ‘own’ my age, and it somehow made it official. Parties and adventures are glorious and herald the changing of times, but this was the mundane and that made it real.

If I am honest, I will say that a few months ago, I was not too happy about “30” becoming part of my foundation. Welcoming a new decade meant saying goodbye to the last. And as I thought about it, I was not sure if I was ready to say goodbye. I was not sure if I had done what I wanted to do in my 20’s in such a way that I was ready for that next period of life.

Of course, as my father is quick to remind me, it is really just another day, and celebrating is so much better than the alternative – not being here to turn the pages of time. In proclaiming my academic achievements, a friend said, “You have done so much more than many in your 20‘s.” Both are true, but there was something deeper inside of me that this change stirred up.

2010  was a year of a lot of whiplash. Of heading in one direction and then changing mid-stride as I whipped around a corner I did not know existed. Some of this I have written about, much of it I have not. It made me exhausted in every sense of the word and demanded I take a step back to breathe. And so I have been breathing.

Amongst that breathing has been the anticipation of welcoming a new decade, of turning 30. I have thought about who I am and what I am proud of, and what the future holds. Mostly, I have been reminded that I am more myself than I have ever been. I remain passionate about learning, teaching, and seeing people be their best. I love life dearly, and know that it is the people interwoven into life that make it real. I strive to live life to its fullest and fill it with fun and adventure – through nature, food, art, and daily living. Through it is a theme of water – a substance that almost always makes me smile. Through these remembrances, I have continued to breathe.

That breathing and those remembrances meant that this month I could truly celebrate with friends and family. I ate good food, spent time in nature, played games, and, most of all, was with people I love. It was a perfect, beautiful reminder of who I am and who I love.

I love adventures. Sometimes they are big and cause grand adrenaline rushes, and sometimes they are small and make the eyes smiles. Each one speaks of living life to it’s fullest. I have declared my 30th year to be a year of adventures. It might just spill into the whole decade. And so, I as continue to simply breathe, letting life get more and more full, I say, “Hello 30. Let’s be friends.”


Pictures and stories of the birthday adventures coming this week….


dreams without boundaries

I remember the first time I saw my dad downhill ski and my mom ice skate. I remember because I was in middle school and I was amazed – they were good. Really good. As kids, my dad would save his money to get a season ski pass and my mom spent all winter gliding on frozen water. And there I was – a clueless middle schooler – falling down the slopes and wobbling on the ice.

I think most kids grow up knowing what their parents are really good at – the things they have been doing since childhood. But not me. My parents grew up with nine month winters and I grew up with nine month summers. I remember being in elementary school when dad was getting re-certified to SCUBA dive, and mom trying years later. I remember when we bought our boat – learning how to tie proper knots and to care for equipment immersed in salt water. I remember mom being terrified of high seas and open water, but we went anyway.

The lives that we lived as family are incredibly different than my parents’ childhoods. Each country brought new things to be learned – cultures, lands, and hobbies. Wherever we were, we truly lived. I was raised to believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Not because I was invincible, but because I could learn and persevere.

This makes my parents sound like wild adventurers. Maybe to some that is exactly what they are, but I really think that they simply chose to live. They like quiet nights at home surrounded by family. They like routine and typically steer clear of things that could lead to ‘legendary stories’. And in choosing to live wherever they have been, I think they have given me an incredible blessing – I cannot fall into the trap of believing that I am too old to learn new things or that I should be excellent, nay perfect, at what I do, at my chosen hobbies. I know that I can try and that I will, most likely, succeed.

And so, while I dream, I am thankful that I have spent my life watching my parents do (not just try) new things, that I have seen them work at relationships and life, and I am thankful they have grown through all of it. Seeing them ski and skate taught me about their pasts, but my childhood taught me how to live. I know I can always learn something, someplace, someone new. Today I am thankful that my dreams do not have boundaries.

gentleman’s agreement

I was a bit skeptical. I have not yet found that I love old, black and white movies. Some are great, but it is not my normal love. (This is where I admit that I love movies and tv filled with lots of good, fast speech and that I have soft spot for action flicks.) But Elizabeth and I were several glasses of wine in, the fire was flickering pleasantly, and it was, quite simply, time to settle in with a movie.

This is a movie that you should netflix and then spend two hours watching. It won a pile of Oscars and Golden Globes – in 1948. Gregory Peck stars as a journalist given the assignment of writing a series on anti-semitism. He decides to take a new angle and poses as Jew in New York City – where he had just moved for the assignment. And through his daily life, his son, his mother, his fiance, and his friends, a story of prejudice and bigotry boils to the surface. Not the stories that we so often hear of lynchings or genocides, but of the gentleman’s agreements that let all of that happen. How we hear a joke and feel sick inside but say nothing. Maybe turn our head when people of two different races or colors do not receive the same level of service. When a parent admits to a child that they are glad they are of a given race. And thus prejudice and bigotry remain.

Gentleman’s Agreement made its point loud and clear while also being a good film. I wish I could say that I learned something about how ‘things used to be.’ Instead I was reminded of how certain things are, sadly, timeless. And as long as this remains true, I am thankful for such poignant reminders.

thinking friends

Today I am struck by how my community of friends are people who think. But, even more than that, they live out their thinking. In the last 24 hours I have had conversation about a great movie I saw with two friends, read an email exchange between two other friends, responded to a friend trying to figure out her way in life, and am in the midst of an essay on life that another friend wrote. The facilitator of each conversation is different – a movie, a tv series, one’s future, and life in a region destroyed by strife. Yet, regardless of the facilitator, the conversations are filled with depth – tribal attitudes and cross-cultural adaptation, freedom of life in God and not should’ing on oneself, what brings a friend joy and fulfillment, and whether or not God is good and worthy of being trusted.

I do not have much patience for sitting around and talking philosophy. I do not like abstract thoughts that do not return to reality. Idealism is beautiful until destroyed by reality. What I love about these conversations is that my friends are thinking and are sharing their struggles with others, we are all growing, and life is being lived in amongst these conversations. These things are not being wrestled with as abstract thoughts, but as a real part of who we are as we face life. This is beautiful and I consider myself blessed to have such thinking friends.

homemade halloween

Tonight finds me inside sitting in my cosy living room, music on, beer in hand, and I am completely content with this situation. But this is not a post about my reason for boycotting Halloween or what I am doing instead. This post is about creativity.

I had some great costumes growing up. I remember being a clown and a princess as a little girl. In high school I pulled off a great Tinkerbell (think Hook, not Disney), and in grad school there was a pretty great Pippy Long Stockings. For sure, there were costumes in between these that were not A-quality, but there were some great ones, ones that I would happily repeat. And every single one of those was homemade. Parts of each costume were bought (thigh-high stockings), were thrifted (dresses), were sewn (clown costume and Tink clothes), and other parts pulled from the stock in the house (dive knife and shoes and make-up). The creation was part of the fun of the event. When I was at home, I had the assurance that mom could always help me create what was in my head, and since then I figure I learned well from the master.

All of this to say that I have mixed feelings on people buying costumes. Store bought is easier and often looks slicker. The cutest costumes that I have seen in the last few years have been for babies and kids – tigers an ducks and pumpkins. They have all been store-bought and these kids were cute enough to eat. I wonder if I will have the time and energy in the future to create costumes for myself or to help my kids create their own. I am not passing judgement on purchased costumes. And yet I love the idea, the principle of engaging the imagination and creative juices to build a costume and wear it well. To own it.

Where does this leave me? Hoping and wishing that Halloween is as much about engaging the creative as it is about anything else. It is that one day a year that we are all encouraged to carve pumpkins and create costumes and paint faces and own a piece of creativity. I hope you your creative juices have been flowing this weekend.