Because change is the only constant...

Hi friends!

Got some quick updates for ya:

  • Next week I'll be posting a review of Jessica Chambers' latest novel Dark is the Sky. It's always great to build relationships with other authors and, since I really enjoyed her last book, I happily accepted her offer to review the second! Be on the lookout!
  • A Bundle of Contradictions will soon receive a makeover (in more ways than one), so get excited! I know I am.
  • God is really working on my heart in a totally new way, and I want to share my thoughts with you about a very important topic: motherhood.
Until next time, enjoy your day!

Wendi

Grateful

Hi friends!

I hope everyone had as wonderful a Thanksgiving holiday as I did. I spent loads of time with the hubby, along with a yummy feast at the in-laws, Christmas tree(s) decorating (one of them UGA and one of them GSU...three guesses as to which one is ours!), get-togethers with friends, birthdays, volunteering, and lots of time being lazy around the house. It was much-needed refreshment for my mind, body, and soul. And now that it's officially the Christmas season, I can listen to all the holiday classics I choose without being judged ;).


Tree 1, Tree 2 <3

I'll be back later this week with some updates on blogging, interviewing, and writing (yes, I still do that!) but, for now, I just wanted to share a list of things I'm grateful for this year:

1) A Savior who is faithful even when my heart wanders in many different directions
2) Christmas tree lights
3) A husband who is by all accounts a leader, lover, and best friend
4) A service-minded church
5) Friends who are family
6) Parents who love without condition and siblings who make me better than I can be on my own
7) Soft, pink sweaters and fluffy mittens (all we need now is the cold weather!)
8) Cinnamon dolce lattes from Starbucks (grande, please)
9) Sugar cookie-scented candles
10) Enriching, well-written stories I can't put down
11) Inspiration
12) It's a Wonderful Life (best. movie. ever.)
13) My health
14) Long legs and a nice pair of high heels
15) A car that drives well, a job that pays the bills, and a home to keep me safe and warm

What are you thankful for this year?

Until next time,

Wendi

Stories from Kenya, Part 2: Lessons Learned

Hi friends!

I hope everyone had a great weekend! Mine was extremely lazy (and awesome as a result). I finally got more than 5-6 hours of sleep AND saw Breaking Dawn, Part One. It was predictably campy, but overall the best of the bunch and my favorite, hands down. It's my guilty pleasure (although now I've moved on to the Hunger Games...WOW!).

I'm comtinuing my series on Stories from Kenya today with an excerpt about our time teaching in the Marwa Primary School. It was challenging, to say the least, but a whole lot of fun. Initially, we were prepared to simply help the teachers in the classroom...but they had something different in mind.

Each day in the village, our team would split up into 3 or 4 groups. Some of us would go the primary school to help out while others would go about 200 yards away to the brand new secondary school to help with construction. I never got the opportunity to work at the secondary school, but I wouldn't change my experience for a moment.

On Monday, my roommate, Kristie, and I were assigned to one of the first grade classrooms. Our teacher, whose name I fear I cannot remember, was quiet and friendly. She had worksheets she wanted us to read aloud to the children. They were to raise their hands and answer the questions. Simple enough.

But after we ran out of worksheets, Kristie and I found ourselves presented with this question:

"So what are you going to teach the children now?"

For probably the tenth time during our first three days in Kenya, we stood like deer in headlights. We hadn't expected to create a lesson plan. Thank God for Emily and our other team members, who brought books and markers and craft items. We worked a little with those, but once the children were finished we were at a loss. We took a break while the children played in the schoolyard, and I wondered, "How long do we have to keep this up? I'm out of ideas."





I kept forgetting how much of a treat our presence was for these children. To the faculty, as well. It wasn't until much later in the week when I really saw for myself how much the Kenyan people believe we know and have in America...and they're right. Unfortunately, we don't always see ourselves the same way.

After break we returned to the classroom. Kristie is a math whiz, so she got a little competition going with the children. We came up with simple problems, wrote them on the chalkboard, and selected two or three students to come up and solve them. They loved it! They were very excited to show off their skills. I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. This village had such a high dropout rate before the 410 Bridge came in to support their community, and many of the students quit long before they reached high school. The closest secondary school at the time was a ten mile walk from the village...but now, as I mentioned before, it's a stone's throw and the graduation rate has improved dramatically.




My favorite moments were seeing the excitement on the children's faces. They raised their little hands and snapped repeatedly, shouting, "Teacher! Teacher!" as we selected students to come up to the board. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn't help but giggle at both our attempts to teach these wonderful little people and their desire to prove how much they knew. It was a lovely respite from the ever-increasing challenges of the American school system and our debates over everything from "Is pizza a vegetable?" to standardized testing and retention rates. We have so much here. We're light years away from many others. Most of the children in Marwa go to school so they can have at least one full meal a day, and I bet they'd gladly take on some of our challenges.

I love being from this country. I'm proud of what we've accomplished. But I wish we would recognize how incredibly blessed we are. It's only possible when we step out of our suburban bubble and take a look at what happens around us. And we should, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Jesus didn't just ask us to do it...He commanded it of us.

Among other things, Kristie and I taught the children "Jesus Loves Me" and showed them how to do the signs that go along with it. My mother would have been proud! It was wonderful to watch them communicate with sign language, stumbling over some of the finger positions but understanding exactly what I was doing when I signed "Jesus." They know about the nails. They've felt His sacrifice. They love him, too.

On Tuesday, Kristie went with her friend, Kendra, to another classroom, while Jessica and I went to the second grade class. But this time, we were fully prepared! We taught the story of Jonah and the whale, read the Bernstein Bears and A Silly Snow Day (which they loved!), and taught them parts of a sentence (like verbs and nouns). This was totally up my alley! Jessica was a complete natural in the classroom, and we had a blast together!




We acted out parts of the stories, and one of the best moments of the day was walking around the classroom, holding up the book so the children could get a good look at the illustrations. It was amazing seeing how eager they were to gather around and listen. I was reminded of my elementary school days...of Mrs. Hurston and Mrs. Patterson...and how the former once let me read the book I'd written (and illustrated!) aloud during story time. I prayed that these children would grow to love books the way I do...I hope my enthusiasm was something of a mustard seed for their desire to learn...maybe one day I'll return to Marwa and find out.

Until next time,

Wendi

Stories From Kenya, Part 1: I Love Lucy

Hi friends!

Now that I'm feeling a little bit (a LOT!) better, I want to dive into Kenya and share some stories with y'all from our amazing trip. There are so many wonderful memories from my time there, and I'd like to write them all down, but I fear that would take months! So let's start with a little girl who turned out to be an extraordinary gift...

Our arrival in the village of Marwa that early Saturday morning was nothing short of miraculous. Our bus was swamped by a thousand tiny hands, eager to touch us and hear our voices. We were rockstars. They were our adoring fans. Little did they know just how much we adored them.

Getting off the bus was no mean feat. No one on our team could move more than one tiny step at a time, as hundreds of smiling, laughing little ones reached out for the chance to hold our hands, put on our sunglasses, or clutch our fingers. All any of us could do was look up at each other, our eyes like saucers, our faces stretched wide with grins, and think, "Me?"

At least, that's what I was thinking. In that incredible moment, I saw Jesus clearer than I ever have before. One of my team members later said she believed the children of Marwa showed us what Jesus wants to see in our faces: Expectation without fear. Love without condition. Hope.

I saw I had much to learn from these children...one in particular.

We spent every morning and afternoon at the village for the next five days, teaching in classrooms, helping with construction on the secondary school, and building relationships. By Monday, I realized one little girl kept showing up wherever I was, her bright, gap-toothed smile wide each time I looked down to see her standing next to me. I'll admit that with nearly identical school uniforms (save various stages of wear and tear) and uniformly shaved heads, it took me some time to recognize familiar faces. This beautiful little girl couldn't have been more than six years old, but her expression was always one of curiosity and understanding that defied her years. She looked at me like she could see through every fear and flaw and peer straight into my heart. Perhaps she could...for that's where she remains.



My best girl.

Each day, when the children greeted us, I would look down and see her face. She sought me out. I couldn't imagine why, or what she saw in me that made us gravitate towards one another like magnets, but it was my favorite time of day...seeing her face and feeling the tug of her hand on mine.



Dancing with Jennifer during "Little Sally Walker."
 Finally, I asked our 410 Bridge coordinator, Anne, how to ask "What's your name?" in Kikamba, the little girl's native tongue (they speak fluent English and Swahili, as well, but I wanted to make my best effort).

Anne said something that sounded like "Wait-ah wat-ah" and I turned to the little girl and repeated the phrase.

She smiled shyly and dipped her head low. "Lucy," she replied in a small voice.

My heart lept.

"Jesus," I thought, "How is that you love me so much?"

I almost didn't dare believe what I'd heard. Lucy. Could it be true?

When I was a child, I would sit for hours and watch episode after episode of "I Love Lucy." I couldn't get enough. I still can't. Lucille Ball will forever fascinate and inspire me. She's brought me more laughter than anyone else in this world. To say that I'm a fan would be a gargantuan understatement.

Years ago, I decided I wanted to name my daughter Lucy- in honor of my favorite commedianne- in hopes of instilling a strong, independent spirit, a love for life, and a passion for family and community.


Lucy, representing my alma mater.

Me and my girl.

Anyone who knows me knows this...and hearing that this child's name was Lucy was a gift from the Savior, an acknowledgement of what I mean to Him, a whisper of His love to remind me when I forget.

Lucy.

Lucy.

What a sweet sound.

Until next time,

Wendi

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

You know, I never really understood that expression...but it seems relevant for today.

My mother suggested I take a break from blogging for 30 days. I just can't. I love it too much. Maybe I'll take a break from other things, but blogging (and writing in general) can't be one of them.

In short, the weeks since my arrival back home from Kenya have been tough to say the very least. I wish I could say it has solely been because I miss Africa so much (which of course is very TRUE! It's simply not the reason for my tough transition) but, unfortunately, it's been due to issues of a much more personal nature. My mental health and overall physical well-being have been on shaky ground, largely due to the adverse side effects of the malaria prevention drug called Mefloquine. I started taking it a week before I left and finally stopped taking it last week (although I was supposed to continue taking it until November 17...more on that in a moment). I was not informed of the possible side effects (all of which are extremely dangerous, including, but not limited to severe paranoia, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, and suicidal ideation) when I was prescribed this drug, although some of my team members did say, "Oh, I heard that gives you bad dreams!" on the trip. I heard that statement more than once, actually, but didn't think too much of it because, after all, I wasn't having bad dreams. I was, however, feeling restless and anxious. I thought it was simply because I was in a new place, faraway from my husband, experiencing life-changing relationships with a community of people vastly different from myself...but I spent a whole summer in Greece my junior year of college, and not once did I ever feel anxious because of my new surroundings. I really didn't believe that was the reason for my discomfort. Thankfully, my team members in Kenya were incredibly supportive and understanding, and spoke encouragement to my heart daily.

Immediately upon my arrival home, I cried. I cried because I finally got to see my husband, and I cried because I couldn't shake my anxiety. Over what? Why was I feeling this way? Was there something wrong with me? Was this some kind of spiritual warfare? I was obsessing over completely irrational fears- always knowing that my feelings were irrational- and my understanding of this only served to make me feel worse.

I went to the doctor and was diagnosed as OCD, something which does not surprise me in the least, but still made me uneasy. I prayed for truth (at the encouragement of my co-leader, Teahna) and talked to my family and friends about what I was feeling. My mother was a great help in so many ways. I struggled with it because all I wanted to do was break out of my funk, but I just couldn't do it. At least not on my own. I asked for help wherever I could find it. My husband was an incredible source of comfort although- God bless him- he didn't exactly understand what was happening. I didn't either. I didn't feel like myself. This wasn't my normal obsessive/compulsive behavior (like checking my front door three times to make sure it's locked even though I JUST LOCKED IT or counting road signs when I drive). This was, in all honesty, a bit frightening. I kept getting up and going about my day, but even my co-workers could see I was not feeling well. So I went to the doctor.

I thought I would get better, but since I was still taking the Mefloquine, I had no idea it would get much worse. I hadn't yet made the connection between my anxiety and this drug.

Finally, last Tuesday evening, I was fed up with being tired. I was fed up with feeling anxious. I was fed up with being afraid for no reason. And I was fed up with the depression I had experienced as a result of all these things. So I went to lie down in my bed while my husband was in the living room. I thought the dark and quiet would still my mind and help me sleep.

It didn't. It only made things worse.

I couldn't slow down my mind, and it frightened me. I didn't know why I was so afraid, and it frightened me. And after a little while, I found myself thinking that if I could just get off this emotional roller coaster, I would feel better. But how would that be possible? I couldn't continue to feel this way for the rest of my life...

You can imagine where my thoughts when from there...and, again, it frightened me. My husband came into the room and I cried in his arms like I never have before. God did not give me a spirit of fear...this was not the life He meant for me. Something was not right, and it had to change.

I wish I had time to share all the details of the following day...of my mother's guidance...of her compassion and gumption...of the phone calls and loving words from friends...of the fear and concern in my dad's voice when I told him what I was going through...of my sister's hugs...of God's faithfulness and His still, small voice...

I took the rest of the week off from work, at the advice of my doctor. The PA initially wanted to keep me on the Mefloquine, understanding the fact that I could have contracted malaria and not know it. I refused, and she spoke with the doctor. He told her to get me off it immediately. I was prescribed an antibiotic to replace the Mefloquine (should have just done that in the first place!) as well as anti-anxiety/depression medication to bring me some balance in the meantime. I was nervous about that, considering I have never been on any type of drug like that in the past, but I figured if God was going to work through my parents, my family, my friends, and His Word to heal my heavy heart and burdened mind, He would work through doctors, as well. I was so grateful to interact with caring professionals who genuinely listened and paid great attention to my particular issue. I was on totally new ground, and they made me feel safe and comforted. I might have to send them a thank-you card...

God continued to reveal Himself throughout the remainder of that day and the rest of the week, as well. I realized that I did, indeed, have genuine fears at the root of my anxiety...irrational fears of failure that had been amplified into something ugly by the medicine I was prescribed. God showed me the truth of those fears, and the weight on my heart began to lift...it was something small, but it gave me great encouragement. He was still good. He was still with me, speaking quiet words of solace to my frazzled, tired mind. He was still working for the good of those who loved Him. He was still working in my life.

I thought I was exhausted. And it's true, I was. I still am. I thought I was a bit of a worrier. And it's true. I still am. I thought I was caught in a place I would never be able to escape...but that was a lie. And God gave me Truth when I ran out of my own.

I feel almost totally back to normal now, but I will never again take the advice of a medical professional without first asking every question I can think of to ensure this doesn't happen again. I should have asked questions and read the prescription label more carefully. I should have remembered that doctors are fallible, just as I am, and taken more care with myself.

I'm so glad it was never too late.

Until next time,

Wendi