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.

There are days.

We’re tying up the loose ends of our break between school years, and time has been slippery-quick again. If I keep in mind that these weeks are just a soft blink, an exhale, then it feels okay that we’re calling it a wrap.

Since late July, we’ve had extra time to visit students and schools in the valley. Talk slow hours with our Kijabe neighbors. Chip away at a hill of work/dorm/school projects. Write.

 
girls

 
Todd spent the past week in Central African Republic. The kids and I did sleepovers with every stray blanket pulled to the living room, partly because I am no doubt a Super Fun Mom, and also I don’t sleep well when Todd’s gone. Put me in a room with people I need to protect and I’m somehow braver by necessity.

A few weeks back, our Kenyan friend Joseph asked Todd if we were headed anywhere fun over break. Mombasa, maybe, or the Mara—those two are common rest spots. When Todd laughed and said he was going to CAR, Joseph put a hand on Todd’s shoulder. “CAR? Are you sure you want to go there?” It was just a few words, a parcel of honest syllables, but the translation was clear: My brother, you are losing your mind.

Maybe so.

 
kiddos

 
CAR is a landslide of pain these days, bombings and executions and rogue militias exacting their own versions of justice. The capital city is a heap of burnt rubble patrolled by peacekeeping troops, blood on everyone’s hands. It’s hard to draw clear lines between victim and hero and terrorizer—everyone stands neck-deep in grief and starvation, life crumbling to dust around them.

Some of the attackers claim to be Christians, others Muslims. It makes my insides ache, but still I have to think there’s a place for the grace and redemption of Jesus here.

Todd was in Zemio, a sleepy village bordering DRC. A large group of Mbororo live there, semi-nomadic cattle herders slowly working their way east. They value family and children and everything beautiful. They are our neighbors, and I hope someday our friends.

 
moms

 
It’s true that the violence needs to settle if we ever stand a hope of living in CAR, but more than this, people are suffering in huge, impossible ways. Please pray for the Central African Republic, for the Seleka and the Anti-Balaka and the LRA. For President Samba-Panza and the UN peacekeeping force and every unnamed refugee slipping scared between the fault lines.

It seems like too much from where I stand, but God is bigger still. Come move among us. Heal this land. Your love and peace and life and kingdom come.

after You.

Last Thursday we finally wrapped up the school year here at RVA. It’s plain bizarre to live in a world where some of y’all are loading up school supplies in the same breath where we’re falling over, relieved to have found the finish line.

So Thursday: I wish you could’ve stood right up next to me in the back of our chapel as our graduates walked in, euphoric. I wish you could’ve heard Mark Kinzer quote Jesus and Solomon, remind us all that the whole of our lives is meant for loving God and heaping up that love on the folks around us.

I wish you could’ve been there as Joseph recounted his years in this place, wrinkling this mother’s heart with worry for the late evening he sprinted the length of an abandoned airstrip while hyenas cackled in the dark. I wish you’d have heard him admonish his classmates to grip these memories tight, because God’s grace threads brightly through them.

I know your heart would’ve quickened with mine as Chris prayed for his class, that they’ll live in light of Christ’s sacrifice. And our throats would’ve swelled thick as the kids streamed out, leaping to smack the congratulatory sign at the back of the chapel, until it was Brenda’s turn.

Brenda has a smile that could teach the sun a thing or two, and she’s battled a host of health issues for so long, and has little use of her legs. At the close of the ceremony she skimmed the aisle on her crutches, and when she neared the back of the chapel two of the guys lifted her within reach. And though I’m sure it was just a few feet, for a moment there she hit that sign and floated higher than hope itself.

At this very second, our graduates are flung out across the globe–South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, the States, South Korea, Uganda, Madagascar–and I want so much for the words they sang last week to be their souls’ unflinching anthem.

Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life:
To know and follow hard after You.

Will you pray with us, please? That they will die for Him and live for Him, that they’ll work and study and play and sing and type and garden and marry and breathe for a singular, undiluted purpose: to know Christ and to make His name famous wherever they go.