Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Beautiful Life

After school selfies with the kiddos!
As I sit here on this Sunday afternoon, I find myself scrolling through Facebook.   I've seen a pattern in my Facebook newsfeed lately.  It seems like I am flipping endlessly through countless photos of weddings, bachelorette parties, engagements, and babies.  It must be something in the water back in the States, because every day Ariel and I walk out of our rooms, meet each other, and murmur the words "Another one..."  We both know exactly what that means-another one of our friends or people we know from home got engaged, got married, or had a baby.  You see, that's the problem with the time difference.  We get all the good news (via social media) bright and early the next morning.  Ariel and I have had many, many conversations about this exciting time in our friends' lives.  They are young and in love and moving forward with their lives like they should.  And we are in South Sudan.  I don't remember the last time I wasn't pouring sweat from the hot African sun or the last time that I've actually had clean feet.  Our biggest worries are trying to remember if we took our malaria pills for the week or if we actually have to shower or if it can wait another day.  I've joked many times with my friends at home that they better save at least one good guy for me when I get home because everybody else is already taken (but really-save me a good one!) :) 
Supporting the US Soccer Team in our Red, White, and Blue!
Seeing these things on Facebook have become the new normal over the past year, but today, moving from one wedding photo to the next left me feeling a bit different.  Usually after seeing my gorgeous friends in their wedding dresses with bright, radiant smiles on their faces, I question my life.  Should I just move home and get started with that life I have always dreamed of?  What would my life be like if I stayed in the states for the past year instead of moving to Africa?  Would I have found my prince charming?  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would I be in the position I am right now.  I had a timeline for my life.  I always thought I would be married at 24 (haha what was I thinking!?), kids at 26, living in my cute little house with the perfect husband (preferably a handsome doctor).  And I was kindly reminded by my mother as we were laying and talking last month when she visited that "You know, by your age I was engaged and planning my wedding."  Thanks for that kind reminder, mom!  But instead of having a ring on my finger and looking at bridal magazines, I am just about to finish my first year working in South Sudan, and am working on confirming my plans for a second year in Africa.  And today, as I looked at wedding photos, I just smiled to myself.  I realized how different my life is, so much different than the life I imagined for myself at this time in my life.  But as different as it may be, I truly am happy with this current life.  That's the beauty of life--the beauty of God's timing, of His will.  You just never know where he will lead you next…maybe it will be to your perfect soul mate, or maybe it will be to the African bush.

These kids make life beautiful
Instead of asking myself those questions that usually pop into my head, I was overcome with such certainty that this life that I am living is exactly what I am supposed to be doing and where I am supposed to be living it.  I dreamed of that married at 24-kids-husband filled life in the past, but my current dream is the one I am living.  God has laid down this path for my life, and he truly has made it a beautiful journey.  He has allowed me to learn so many new things, grow in ways I don't fully understand, and meet the most incredible people along the way.  Sometimes it's hard to trust in God's timing, but I am a firm believer that if we put our trust in His plans, He will lead us on the most amazing journey and will sprinkle meaningful relationships, events, and cute African kiddies on our path along the way.  And it is these people, places, and adventures that ultimately show us His face and His will even more.  At least at the present moment that is what makes life beautiful for me.  Yeah, of course I still dream of my wedding dress, of the perfect father-daughter dance song, but that's not what God has planned for me right now.  He fills my days with big brown eyes, sweet hugs and cuddles, and so much love and wisdom from the smallest nuggets that I get to squeeze and love on all day every day!  

We all have different people and events that happen that make our lives truly beautiful.  And my current definition of a beautiful life most likely is completely different than another person's view of a beautiful life.  But ultimately, the same underlying truth is present- God gives us this life, these unique experiences each day, these moments of true happiness.  So now it's finally time to throw my own timeline out the window.  God is in control, and He has shown me true happiness (of course with the natural struggles that come along with everyday life) in following His plan and His time.  Our happiness lies in different experiences and people, and if we allow God, He does make it a beautiful life for each one of us.  And I am so grateful to have realized this more than ever in the past year.  

Side Note:  If you haven't seen it already, check out this video my previous site partners, Cait and Grace, put together of our kids in Maridi.  This video shows the true beauty of life! Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Best of Both Worlds

They actually are here!! 
Last week my two worlds, two things that I hold close to my heart, met.  These two worlds came crashing together and resulted in so much joy and happiness.  My family finally got to experience a place that has held my heart for so many years now.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think my parents would ever come to Africa, but sure enough, they hopped on a plane and came to meet me for a week.  It was a week full of memories, laughter, and plenty of love.  A week that I will always cherish and remember.  

Eating some African food at Mama Africa
 As much as I would love my parents to see where I've been living and working for the past year, the reality of that was a bit harder to figure out.  With the current situation still being so unstable and the village where I work being so remote and difficult to get to, we decided it would be better and easier to meet somewhere else.  But that's okay because I still got to see them.  So my parents and sister came to meet me in Zambia.  We spent a few days in the capital city of Lusaka just walking around and exploring.  Although it's not the rural Africa where I live, it still gave my parents a taste of typical life in Africa along with some startling realities of daily life here.  It was interesting to hear some of their comments and observations about the environment and people because those things have become so natural and normal to me.  

Celebrating my 23rd with a half marathon
After a few days in Lusaka we traveled to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  It was an absolute beautiful little town.  So quiet and peaceful with the most friendly people, and we all really enjoyed spending the majority of our time there.  We explored the magnificent Victoria Falls, went on a safari in Botswana, ran a half marathon, and celebrated my 23rd birthday.  It was a jam-packed week, but I was able to see and do the most amazing things with the people I love he most.  And I enjoyed every minute of it!  

Exploring Victoria Falls with my dad!
Spending this time with my parents and sister after almost a year of not seeing one another really gave me so much perspective and appreciation for their presence in my life.  It's not easy to go a year without a face-to-face conversation with your dad or a warm hug from your mom.  While it has been difficult, I've realized that the empty space I've felt in my heart by missing their presence in the past year has been replaced.  The empty space has been packed and overflowing with love from my new family- my new family complete with over 800 kiddos.  Their hugs, their actions of love, their kind words, their smiles and laughter have reminded me of the true meaning of family-being there for one another and loving each other unconditionally.  And that is exactly the relationship that has developed with many of the sweet children in Maridi.  I'm so blessed to be able to leave my parents and sister and return back home to be with my South Sudanese family.  Its in the times that they call me their mother, when I wipe away tears from a child's face at the clinic, when I snag babies to hold and love, when the kids bite me or chase me with bats as a sign of affection, when they reveal their hopes and desires to me…it's these little moments each day that make me know this is my home and these kids are truly my family.  

Hanging out with the Elephants in Botswana
Getting away for a week to spend with my parents and sister came at the perfect time.  It gave me a chance to step away from this mission and reflect and process the past 11 months.  I am refocused, refreshed, and renewed.  I cannot wait to get back to Maridi and hit the ground running again for my last couple of months.