a christmas gift alternative & homemade thank-you’s

Everywhere I turn I am reminded that Black Friday is days away. Take a minute and think about doing something different this year – something that does not require early wake-ups, crazy crowds, or lots of decision making. For those of you that love shopping, think about the lasting impact this gift could make – these colors will never go out of style.

This year help get rid of water borne diseases in communities through water and sanitation development. It’s simple: buy a full item or a share (of something cool like a well or a latrine or a tank of fuel), a t-shirt, or simply donate a few dollars for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Go HERE on the Lifewater website to read more about the options of how you could help.

Make This Christmas Count from Lifewater International on Vimeo.


Here is my extra little deal for you: If you let me know that you bought an item or donated between now and Christmas (by posting a comment or sending me an email), I will send you and the person you bought the gift for a thank you note on one of my (personally) homemade Christmas cards. Just a little thank you from me — I truly know the difference this work makes, and I would love for you to join in this story with me.

no room in the inn

On my last trip to Northern Kenya, I spent one night out in the desert and it changed my understanding of a story I have heard since I was a young child. We arrived at a small village not too far south of the Ethiopian border in the afternoon. In the local language, the town’s name means ‘windy’, and it could not have been more accurate. It was flat in all directions, volcanic rocks and thorny shrubs littered the landscape, and the wind was a constant presence.

After our meetings were done, we checked in at our hotel – one of two in this town on the main (though still dirt) road from the south to the north. The hotel was six simple rooms in a line, a latrine, and a shower room, all surrounded by a wire fence beyond the generous rock yard. Each room had two simple twin beds, each with a pillow, a towel, a bar of soap, and a portion of toilet paper. Simple, but clean and thoughtfully laid out. That night a feast of goat (100% free range and organic) was roasted over the open fire, which we shared from common plates with our hands. And then I turned in for the night, placing the stone behind my door to keep it closed since there was no latch.

Half of my hotel room. And this is with the wide-angle lens.

At 3:15 am, I suddenly awoke to the sound of voices and a rock scrapping on concrete. My door was being opened. Groggy but suddenly wide-eyed, I called out to the person pushing my door open.

“We heard there was a bed available in a room with a woman. There are two women who have just arrived and both hotels are full.”

Well, yes, there was a bed available. Not knowing quite what to do, I said as much and promptly cleared the bed of my things (I had been using as a make-shift dresser), and crawled back into my bed to await the arrival of my new roommates.

My groggy mind was filled with random thoughts. Did I not pay for this room? They must have come in on one of the cars that travels through the night – much cooler than during the day. Where had they come from and where were they going? Does the whole village know that there is exactly one mzungu (white person) woman and the exact room where she is staying?  If it was me, I would be so grateful to share a room with a stranger too. And, mostly, I was just stunned.

Twenty minutes later the two women arrived, closed the little window, curled up in the twin bed, and promptly fell asleep. The next morning I left before they woke, so I never actually met the women that were my roommates for four hours, but I doubt I will ever forget them.

Since I was a child, I have heard the stories of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of baby Jesus. When Mary was pregnant, they traveled to Bethlehem and there was no room in the inn. An innkeeper made room for them in the stables. By squeezing them in where there was a bit of space, he provided for a woman who labored and gave birth to a child. Although I have shared my home with many (beds and floors), I have never been woken by strangers in a hotel room. I cannot help but wonder if this was more like the story of Christmas than I had ever before imagined.

Strangers helping. Shared spaces. Confused thoughts. Unknown roommates. Midnight awakenings. Star-filled nights. 

This year, the Christmas story came alive for me, and as I await Epiphany, I keep wondering what it would have been like if I had stayed longer in that windy town in my shared room.

a blessing of rain

Right now I am in a place that was experiencing a horrible drought. It had been dry for so long. Then the rains came and I keep hearing about blessings. Where there was loose soil, there is grass a foot high. Trees that looked like sticks in the sky are full of leaves. Tanks that were dry are full, and reservoirs that were nearly empty are full to overflowing. The sky is blue; there is not an ever-present haze from dust in the air. As we drove on Saturday, one of the staff from this region, looking out the window, quietly said, “We are so blessed.” On Sunday I visited a Game Park that is on top of the Marsabit mountain, which includes the water source for the town and a crater lake. Everywhere I looked, here were small butterflies in the thousands. They rarely stood still, but instead seemed as if they were dancing in a grand declaration of the blessing, the wonder of rain after drought.


This week it seems like the rains have stopped and everyone is holding their breath – will the rains come in April or will this year again skip the long rains? No one knows. So even as the people I am working with plan projects to help protect against future drought, we sit and marvel at today’s blessing of water. It seems perfect that the rains were here before Thanksgiving and that the land speaks of blessing as we prepare for Christmas. As I long for signs of Christmas, I think I have found it here in the green desert.

merry christmas

Today I am with family and friends so close to my heart, and last week was spent with other loved ones. I dearly wish that I could continue this time spending daily life and taking time to simply be with so many others. But I will not wish for something else in such a way as to let today slip by – today is beautiful. I was looking for a reflection on Christmas, on the glory of Christ become man, on Mary, a young and single mother, on the glory of what we celebrate at Christmas. In the midst of searching, I found this instead. It spoke to my heart, and though not specifically on these themes, seemed appropriate for today. Merry Christmas friends.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings;and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any – lifted from the no

of all nothing – human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~e.e. cummings

christmas adventure

The road trip with my brother, MM, took us to Savannah, Charleston, and a few places in between. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on Tybee Island, just south of Savannah, and in a cabin in Givhan’s Ferry State Park, just north of Charleston. The sibling get-together was completed when other brother and his lovely wife (CC & EC) joined us on Christmas day for the Charleston portion of the trip. Our time included much walking of beautiful streets and squares, taking in American history, sitting in coffee shops, frequenting used book stores, sitting by the fire, eating home cooked meals, trying local fare at cafes, and playing many games of spades. I loved the patterns and lines I found everywhere I looked, and the siblings were patient with me as I enjoyed capturing some of it through the lens of my camera. Here is a taste of what we saw in these (basically unedited) photos.

Staircases to the row of shops, bars, and restaurants by the riverfront in Savannah. The upper level has some fun antique stores worth browsing.

These wall of tombstones was on the outer edge of a large cemetery in Savannah. If I remember correctly, the last person to be buried here was laid to rest around 200 years ago. That is a long time ago for this country. However, it seems kind of sad that these tombstones have left their owners in unmarked graves.

Black and white homes. Walking the streets of Savannah.

Door to Fort Pulaski. The fort is a National Monument and is definitely worth visiting. Even learned a bit about the origins of baseball on the tour–back then a home run was a bad thing as it meant search for the ball outside of the fort’s walls.

This door was a lower door to a large house in Charleston; a large porch sat on top of this door.

Doors and shutters came of all shapes, sizes and shades in Charleston. Most did not have screen doors, and this was the only screen door not completed closed.

Some homes in Charleston had courtyards or yards. Although simple, this space was made more appealing by the beautiful gate baring me from entering.

Plants flowed over the walls, gates, and fences of many Charleston homes.

merry christmas

Tomorrow morning my Christmas Adventure begins.I hope you all have a wonderful time celebrating Jesus’ birth with friends or family.  Stories and pictures from the adventure to come.

it’s beginning to feel a lot like christmas

I’m not talking about the temperature outside or what form the water falling from the sky is taking. If that mattered, I would be sorely disappointed by the cold rain falling from the sky or my childhood beach Christmases. Rather, it has everything to do with the atmosphere, the mind, and the heart. 


My tree is up. Yes, it is fake, and I love it. My parents (mom was the key character) got me an ornament every year of my childhood and young adult life. Now these eclectic ornaments decorate my little tree. Last week a friend asked what was at the top of my tree. An angel of course. Only she lacks oversized wings, glitter, red lips, and the general stateliness that characterize angel tree toppers of the country I currently call home. My unassuming angel of plain cloth was created in the part of the Holy Land called Jordan. The white lights on the tree provide beautiful light–and they are on whenever I am both home and awake.


My nativity scenes are out. Scenes. Right now I have four–one of which is at the office. It is my hope to slowly gather nativity scenes from around the world. My childhood has etched into my head what I think the scene might have looked like. This image was developed during my times wandering the streets and markets of such cities as Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus. I imagine the characters had olive skin tones and wore long dresses. Everyone’s childhood has impacted how they imagine the story of Christ’s birth. And that is why I have no problems having a nativity set with white characters. It will just not be my only set.


What else is there? Christmas music on the radio, the advent wreath and stories at church, preparations for celebrations and feasts to come, and general merriment. It is a good season. It is a merry season. And the temperature has so little to do with it.