Worth it.

after rugby practice

 
So it turns out I’m the sort of person who needs space to write: mental and emotional space, plus the square-footage kind. Between my fellow Owenses, my dorm family, and my students, I am rich in a good many things, but space isn’t one of them.

But we shall soldier on in the name of I-am-missing-you-all.

 
alive

alive

 

Guys. Our dorm boys move out in less than a week. They’ve gone and grown up on us in this blink of two years, and now they’re off to the junior/senior dorms across campus. They’re a gutsy, beautiful, lively bunch of human beings, and I’m hoping big things for them, y’know? That God will wrestle their hearts to the floor as many times as it takes till they’re His, and that all that wildness and brilliance will be laser-aimed on the singular ambition of magnifying Jesus in every tribe and people.

I’ve already cried once, and it’s possible I’m watering up again as I type this. I’ll be fine, but you know. Maybe pray for me a little.

 

In other news, Zachary had his eighth grade celebration last week, and when did he develop this here Smirk of Patient Amusement? Well actually, I shall tell you when: back at about age two; but now that he is tall, this look seems way too wily for its own good.

 
8th grade celebration

 

PS He borrowed the coat, tie, pants, shirt, possibly socks and shoes, and he stole the flower, but I’m nearly sure the underwear is his.

PPS Up next: HIGH SCHOOL. I can’t even.

 

In more other news, Mark and Sheri, our fearless Directors for Kenya Kids Can, are on home assignment for five months, and so we are The People In Charge. This development has taught me a number of things. Mainly: Mark is magical. He teaches advanced math courses and heads up committees and tutors students into the waning evening hours, which is like 150% of a job, and in the middle of all that he keeps this sixteen-thousand-student-strong lunch&computer program running with nary a hitch. And did I mention he has seven kids?

So exit Mark, enter us, plus a couple Unanticipated Happenings, and let’s just say things haven’t been boring. Still, when we get to chat with Kenyan teachers on exam day (and they’re not one bit panicked, because their kids are READY), or read impeccably crafted student essays, or step into the kaleidoscope of a schoolyard teeming with kids, we’re like, Oh. Right. Worth it.

 
alive

lunch

 

One last thing: if you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Mark is sharing about Kenya Kids Can at several gatherings this coming weekend. Go eat some pie and maybe fall a little bit more in love with our students. (And please, if you go, SOMEBODY heckle Mark about how he always gets us lost in the valley.) (Even though it was really just the one time.) (Because all the other times we were taking the longer way BY CHOICE. Clearly.)

:)

Fear not.

our boys

(my people)


 

Last week the lock down sirens went off during lunch.

Todd and I were having this lively and hilarious conversation with some of our dorm boys (see above) in the living room, and we eyed each other when that unmistakable keening began—we’ve had “unannounced” drills before, but that meant unannounced to the students. The staff have always been told.

“Is this for real?” our guys kept asking. “Are we for real on lock down?”

And we told them yes, shhh, calm down and start whispering and close-all-your-doors-let’s-go. We locked and bolted all five billion doors into this place (seriously, why so many doors?) and hunkered down on the chipping laminate to wait.

In the end it was a false alarm, but while we sat there in eerie, charged silence I prayed for courage and for wisdom and I looked at each of my boys and felt the mama bear in me rise up, hulking.

Not today, I was saying in my head to the Unidentified Potential Threat out there. You’ll have to kill me to get to these boys. Which is not much of a deterrent when you think about it, but still. Not in my lifetime.

 

 
twilight

 

To be honest, I have no way of knowing what I’d do if I were staring down a panga with my actual eyeballs. I’m mostly hoping that Christ in me would do the doing, but it’s hard to say.

At its crux, Christianity is the call to come and die—sometimes physically, but always viscerally, which is maybe more painful and loads more slippery. It’s the gruesome and agonizing death of my ambitions, my indulgences, my vanity, me. And for two seconds it’s good and done, and then I resurrect those guys and they have to be hunted down all over again.

In the same breath, Christianity is an invitation, a beckoning to come and live—to find new life in Christ; Christ alive in me.

What a strange, wonderful, upside-down God we serve.

 

 


 
A lot of hard things are happening in our corner of the world, and I know you guys are praying, and maybe some afternoon I’ll have the chance to talk with some of you over strong coffee and we can wrestle and pray this out, but not here. I wish we could, but this isn’t the place for that talk.

The thing I can share in this space is that with the nearness of horror and suffering, two things are clear: 1. Jesus is worth it. 2. Jesus is with us.

Jesus isn’t weak. He didn’t die because He was weak. Jesus had—and has—infinite power, a presence to be more than reckoned with. He’s the guy who said, ‘Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days,’ AND HE DID IT. He did it. He’s holy and beautiful and life-giving and untamable, and He doesn’t need us but still He wants us.

Can we ever get over the wonder of Jesus wanting us?

And He says to John, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:17b-18). (So where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?)

 

 




 

When I go running, I pray for the days ahead and what that means for our family. I have my plans and vague ideas, but God’s already inhabiting that time. I pray for my husband and each of my kids, that we will live well and die well. I pray that if any or all of us suffer—especially in extreme ways or for a length of time—that we would know with unassailable certainty the presence and goodness of God. That it would cause us to seize on to Him for dear life and not be hardened against Him, and that if there comes an hour when we just can’t hold on, that He would keep us. Please, Jesus, keep us.

And it’s the same thing I pray for you, that we would all know the joy of existing to make His name famous in all the earth.

He’s worth it, and He’s with us. Come what may.

look up.



 

It’s midnight, and the wind skates through the tangle of jasmine growing in a mad rush just outside our door. January brings the kind of heat that bakes my spleen to a lovely crisp, but come evening and those cooling gusts sweep in like so much relief.

Still, I can’t sleep.

I started strong—drowsing off at 9:30, a headache blooming in the background. I was good for a solid hour and a half, but then the clock struck eleven and all bets were off. So now it’s the night wind and I keeping cool company while the rest of the dorm breathes a slow summer’s sleep.

Incidentally.

I finally realized this past December that I am now living in the appropriate hemisphere, which makes my birthday the longest day of the year instead of the skinniest. Three cheers for extra sunlight! Granted, given how positively equatorial we are, there’s only a six minute difference between the longest and shortest days, but still. WINNING.

 



 

The other day down in Maai Mahiu it was my turn to pray. Again. Sidenote: it is always and forever my turn to pray, even when I try to hide behind some of the taller kids. You would think barely skimming five feet would help a girl out in this scenario, but Pastor Peter is undeterred by lack of visual contact, and every time it’s my lucky name that pops into his head.

“Mama Brenda, you will say the prayer for us,” he announces.

Sidenote part two: In some of Africa, you are identified by your children: Mama Micah, Mama Zachary, etcetera. My oldest child, Braden, has turned into a girl down in Maai Mahiu, on account of they can’t ever remember his name but know it’s close to the familiar (albeit female) Brenda. In these parts, details are negotiable.

But back to praying. So it was my turn to pray, and I swept all the particles of bravery I could find into a measly pile of courage and prayed IN SWAHILI. Or at least in not-English. I’ve lost the finer points of the experience in a post-panic fog, but I do remember that near the end Pastor Peter was saying, “Amina, Amina” all quick-like, trying to usher me out of my misery.

On the bright side, it’s bound to be months before he calls on Mama Brenda again.

 


 

I may have mentioned that the roads here are cratered and rocky in a way that keeps you one step away from a sprained ankle at all times. My tendency is to focus on the task at hand, scanning the ground with vigilance, but the sad part of this story is that IT’S DOWNRIGHT GORGEOUS HERE. So I’m perpetually missing out on the wonder going on around me, all in the name of personal safety.

Lately, though, I feel like God’s been saying to me, “Look up.”

And so I do, and then I trip, and then I stop walking and look again. And He’s everywhere, in this wild kaleidoscope of beauty that revives parts of me gone sleepy and stale with disuse.

 



 

Sometimes His redemption comes in the bloom of a sunset, or strands of pine whispering over secret paths.

Sometimes it comes in the first bite of moon, stars glinting like peppercorns of light in the trees.

He sings mercy over us, uncorks oceans of tenderness, and even our weary, wizened hearts know to skip a beat.

 


 

“Look up,” He says, and the scales peel away, and the whole world falls into color.

glitter.

field

 
Eighteen days till Christmas, and the sum of my outdoors is dirt lined with nettle and pokeweed baking brittle under a fat Kenyan sun. I miss December’s trappings, the reds and golds and glittery whites. The nutmeg and cranberries and cocoa. Caroling. Mistletoe. Portly snowmen and the resinous scent of balsam.

None of this adds up to Actual Christmas, I know, but it turns out I’m a creature of nostalgia and twinkle lights.

The choir sang this morning, a humble tune I don’t remember much of, save for small bits: Jina la Mwokozi. Furaha ya mbinguni. Tumaini ya watu.

The Savior’s name. Joy of heaven. Hope of people.

When I blink slowly enough to get my eyes off of me, God hands me a glimpse of Him again: the High King come as a peasant child, all that glory stuffed in sinew and skin. I have to think Christ was nostalgic for home, but He lived and moved and died for the pleasure of the Father and a wild, irrational love for His people.

 
field

 

And I find myself praying He’ll quicken my spirit, awaken it to the ongoing miracle of God Come Near. And His stars dust glitter on my shoulders, and the wind sings of holy, silent nights, and it’s Actual Christmas, the one where Christ comes for my heart.

alive.



 
This past week has been a cacophony of exams and late projects and grading and scrubbing the dorm till the cleanliness squeaked. I have these romantic notions of Africa in my head, all slow heat and savannah, but our Actual Life is a fevered scramble in thirty-odd directions, just trying to lasso this engine back on its tracks.

Sometimes there are hard things here, tricksy sorts of things. Saturday I jogged to the highway with a friend, on this snake of a backroad riddled with rocks and goats and cows and suicidal piki drivers. My co-runner wasn’t feeling well, and on the way back she brushed close to passing out several times.

And both of us were bright enough to have left our phones at home.

Usually I rock this homemade running belt, pockets bulging with toilet paper, phone, bandaids, dried dates, acetaminophen. I am pretty much the Mary Poppins of running. But Saturday we started out with a large bunch of joggers, which somehow made me think I didn’t need my carpet bag. And that’s how somewhere past mile seven I found myself vowing to my pal, as she persevered on elastic knees, that from now until eternity I shall always bring dried fruit for our blood sugar needs. And also a cell phone.

As soon as I said this, these teenage girls crossed the road just in front of us and started their list of demands in English: Give me something good. Give me candy. I want your water.

And I said, Sina. I don’t have anything, which they could see anyway–just drained water bottles and ratty clothes glued to our bodies with sweat.

 
mount longonot

 
And this one gal went off in Swahili, about how we are bad people, completely bad, and she is going to hit us with these rocks. She picked up a stone and pitched it in a half-hearted way, and we just kept going, me acting unruffled but coming undone on the inside.

Because here’s the thing: all of us are fragile and dependent, and we take turns being the one in need. And sometimes we interact with our neighbors in a vibrant, healthy communion of give-and-take, but then there are the other times. The other times we’re cast as The Givers, just deep pockets with no hearts to crush or fears to still or humanness. And some hours we’re on the very last dregs of our strength, and the world feels blind to our desperation.

It’s hard.

But it’s so much good, too. There’s this Kenyan fellow I work with, Stephen, and he tells me that he wants my family to come down to his house to meet his wife and see his garden. “You are welcome at my home,” he says. And the degree to which folks will splay their hearts wide and take us right in is enough to bring me to my knees.

I’m in a weird place right now. I miss turkey, which is unanticipated, and also early snowfalls and old friends who just know. I miss logical driving and singing ‘Nothing But the Blood’ with our church family. But we’re right where we’re meant to be, and God makes each day wild with the wonder of Him.

 
mount longonot

 
And I’d say yes to this life a million times over, the good and the hard and all that’s to come, because these are the dreams He gives me, and in them I come alive.