My mother has been bothering me for years to write a blog. Every year I have the same answer… “What would I have to say that people would want to read?” I tell her when I have an answer for that question, I will write a blog. I seriously don’t know how people have time to write them. I don’t even have time to take a shower. Literally. It’s a problem. I don’t know how all these women out there write blogs. Not only are they writing blogs, they are writing blogs about all the crafts and food they make. How are they finding time for that? And most of them have more than one child. I only have one, and I need a shower, badly.
Now, I have something to write about. It’s been a long time coming and I stay up at nights thinking about it. I have been waiting for the perfect time, and I realized, there is no perfect time. I have to stop wasting time and do it …now. Four years ago, I went to Africa. Four years ago I made promises to people there that I would not forget them, that I would tell their stories. Four years ago. What have I done in four years?
My mom thought of the title “Before and Africa” and I actually love it. There are a lot of things my mom and I agree on, but usually when she has an idea “for” me, I politely turn her down. But this title struck a chord in me. I thought about all the blogs out there about style and fashion and craftiness and I thought about how my blog would probably be the antithesis of that. Maybe I do always buy the same long sleeved shirts at the GAP every three years when the old ones get holes in them. Maybe I do still have the same tennis shoes I bought for 30 bucks 6 years ago. Maybe I do only get my hair cut once a year. Maybe I am in desperate need of a style makeover, but I think this blog is more of a before and after of my soul. My soul before and now my soul (after) Africa…
So thanks mom, for the title and for recognizing there has been a change in me and that even though I have a hard time finding the words, it’s time to start trying.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

H2Ooooooo yeah

The last month has been a blur of activity and answered prayers.  We have been praying so long for this adoption, and sometimes it feels like we are only at the bottom of the mountain with all our gear on, staring up at the unattainable peak....wondering if we have it in us to make it to the top.

For two years we have been praying for our house in Michigan to sell so we can focus on saving for the adoption.  We took a risk and put an offer in on a house here in Indy (after lots of prayer) and two days later we got an offer on our house in Michigan. ANSWER.

We have to be out of our rental house this Saturday and won't close on our new house until January 4.  So, basically we are without a home for Christmas.  I was so excited for Christmas morning, Max waking up in his jammies, coming out and seeing his (garage sale) remote control Thomas train set under the tree.  I started to get a little teary one day after packing all day and stressing about where we were going to live for three weeks, when Tony kindly reminded me that some kids don't have homes (or parents) at Christmas.  ANSWER.

It's amazing to me that I can KNOW the love of a God that cares so much for the orphans and the lost in this world and I can complain about my BLESSINGS.  I was literally complaining about the fact that God had answered our prayers...since it was inconveniencing me for three weeks. We are moving to a house with a mortgage that will make it possible for us to SAVE every month.  Everyday we will be getting closer and closer to the fourth member of our family. Climbing that mountain...one step at a time.

So this Christmas, instead of having a home or a Christmas tree I am going to have a heart overflowing with gratefulness.

I was reminded of just how insignificant my situation was this morning when I received an e-mail from Pastor Amos, again thanking us all for our donations for their school.  Then he pretty much gave me a gift that might even be better than seeing a sleepy Max see his trains for the first time...the school has been hooked up to water.  Fresh clean water for all the kids. Something that will last a lot longer than some plastic trains that will go back on a garage sale someday when Max is bored with them.

So the next time I am complaining about anything,  you are free to point me back to 2012, when we built a school together, God found a buyer for our house, my son learned to walk and talk, we had food to eat and a roof over our heads, oh yeah and our school has water!

Instead of a Christmas card this year I will share with you these photos of Pastor Amos and the school...thanks again for helping to making this happen.  Merry Christmas.


Clean water!!!

the kiddos

water to the toilets!



We got pens!



Monday, October 1, 2012

Number 2


For one year and six months I have been a mother.   
This has come with a series of failures and triumphs. 

The beauty of seeing my son learn how to roll over…triumph.  
Watching him roll out of his stroller after forgetting to strap him in…failure.  
Teaching him to use a spoon and watching amazed as he feeds himself….triumph.  
Getting a spoon full of sweet potatoes whipped at my face…failure.  
Seeing him look at books and master words and sounds….triumph.   
Watching him bang his head against a wall when I take something away from him….failure.   
Celebrating with him when he’s done something right….triumph.  
Losing my patience when he’s done something wrong…failure. 

One thing about motherhood that I didn’t expect; the ironic twist of becoming a child all over again.  You think becoming a mother turns you into more of an adult…quite the opposite.  Singing silly songs,  discovering the sheer joy of sliding down a slide, laughing ALL the time,  I get to re-enter and re-live some of my childhood through him.  I see things the way he does and it’s a beautiful thing. 

He’s so busy…we run around all day but then we have those poignant moments when I feel like time stops … I know it will be over soon and he will be onto the next thing.  


Like when he says “I…..you!” because he can’t say love yet…

...or when he is laughing so hard he can’t breathe.  

...or when he wraps his arms around my back because he wants me to take him for a ride around the room 

...or when he kisses me goodnight and makes the sound effect to go with it                     
“MMMMUUUUUUWAAAAAA!!”  

...or when he is so sleepy that he all he wants to do is snuggle me.  

*Sigh*  There cannot be anything in life like the feeling I get in those moments.  Nothing can compare to that.   Being a mother to Max has really shown me the Great Love the Father has for us.  I want to be a representation of that love to my children.  There are so many motherless children, and I wish every single one of them could feel my love…  I have so much of it to give.  But more than this, I want them to feel the love of the God that created them.   God has been awakening this passion for the motherless even more now that Max has come along. 
We started our adoption journey before we even knew about Max, but it was put on hold because of Max, and now we are ready to continue that journey.  I feel like it can only be more special now that we will be welcoming a little one into our family of three.  Not only will this baby have two parents that love him/her beyond belief, but they will also have a big brother with a sweet heart that will love them too.  So it’s official…it’s on the blog. Tony and I are adopting and we can’t wait to share with you how it all unfolds.  The biggest lesson we have learned about life with Max is; you can't plan for or predict anything...so just pack a small (or ridiculously large) bag and jump on board the crazy train.  Baby number two...here we come!  

“Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27












Saturday, August 25, 2012

Go

I was getting everything ready for my race last night when I decided to take my bike for a short spin to make sure everything was fine.  It wasn't. The tires were flat, so my Dad, Tony and I made a run to an almost closed Dick's sporting goods to buy tubes.  Got home... had the wrong size.  But Dad and Tony proceeded to work on the bike switching out tires on Tony's bike for the next hour and a half.

Just the thing you want to be worrying about right before your first triathlon.  We didn't go to bed until 12 a.m. and then...


I woke up almost every hour, on the hour.

3:00 a.m  I hope my bike works

4:00 a.m.  I hope my alarm goes off

5:00 a.m.  I hope I finish

6:00 a.m.  Max was crying and coughing (it's not always about me :)

6:10 a.m. Time to get up and go.

We arrive at Eagle Creek Park at 7:00 a.m. and join the mass of women and their supporters heading to the starting line.  Tony tells me to hop on the bike one last time to make sure the brakes work.

They don't.

I hit the pavement.  Chin first, in front of a bunch of hardcore women racers in all their gear on their expensive bikes. That's embarrassing.

Then I remember why I don't like sports...this always happens to me, and now my confidence is shaken.  I start to tear up a little as the blood drips down my chin.  Tony tells me to "get tough".  I think I could be tougher if I was riding a bike I knew wasn't going to hurl me face first into the concrete.

We get down to the starting point and find a bike technician, he tries to pump air into the tires and one goes flat...with less than 15 minutes until the start time.

Ok God,  I really wanted to do this race and it's looking like I won't get the chance.  I didn't want to let everyone down.  All this training....for nothing?  Please God, let him fix this bike.

And he does...with only 3 minutes until start time.  I race the bike over to the racks and throw on my swim cap and goggles. There's not even time to stretch.

The adrenaline is pumping so hard I can't even think straight...I am trying to calm my nerves so I can breathe through the swim.  I am almost to the front of the line.

101...go!

102...go!

103...go!

I'm next...can't breathe...hope my bike works, this swim looks a lot longer than when I do laps in the pool...I hope the water isn't too cold...104....go!

The water feels great and I'm swimming fast, waiting for my adrenaline to slow down so I can breathe. I get into a rhythm and not many people pass me.   I can do this! I make the first turn of the swim and the sun is directly in my eyes...I can't see anything but the occasional far off buoy.  The right side of my goggle fills with water and now I can only see through one foggy side looking into the sun. So I somehow make it out of the water in 14 minutes and 11 seconds.  Out of the 388 that finished the race my swim was ranked 181.

I knew this would be the easiest part, I run out of the water to see Tony holding Max and my dad cheering me on.  I think about kids Max's age in Kenya that have a place to go now.  I start to run faster.  I am completely out of breath and a little terrified my bike won't hold up, I throw on my clothes and I am pedaling, slowly... Then there's my mom yelling something about Kenya...keep going.

Terrified to go very fast for fear of a tire explosion or brake malfunction, I go at a steady pace...soon wondering if my name is "on the left" because a LOT of people say that to me as they speed by me.   Ok, so I won't be getting a trophy today, but I think this bike just might make it the 10 miles.

In the bike race I ranked 360 out of 388...just about every racer passed me.  Ah well...I did it!

Then the run.  I figured this would be the hardest for me.  The first mile was.  After all that swimming and biking, I was tired.  This is where I started to pray.  A song I used to sing at camp as a little girl, popped into my head.  Maybe because I was thinking about being tested and a line from the song kept repeating in my head.  Tried and True. Tried and True.

"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living, sanctuary for You."

I thought about the way we are tested in our lives and the way we react.  We can give up when we are tired, or we can finish stronger.  So I decided to finish stronger.  I picked up my pace.  And then before I knew it, the cheers were within earshot and the blue blowup finish line was within view.

In the run I ranked 292 out of 388, and overall the whole race I ranked 337.

I could hear my parents and Tony cheering me on as I crossed the finish line and I don't know if I have felt that good since they placed Max in my arms for the first time.  Because even though everyone was cheering me on, they were also cheering you on.  Because we did it! We raised well over the goal.  We raised $1,700.  And there are more of you who have told me you still want to give.  So it really doesn't matter where I ranked, it matters that I finished.  For you and for them.

So there is only one thing left to say,




































Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pouring out Your Blessings


I knew from a young age that I was different from the kids around me.  When other kids were climbing trees and biting each other, I was asking my mom why there was money in the world, because I didn’t understand why so many people didn’t have it.  Why would there be something that would separate people based on how much of it they had?  Didn’t God make everybody the same?  Why then are there kids that don't eat?  This is what I was worrying about while the other kids were fighting over their toys.  When I said my prayers at night, I always asked God to take away the money so everyone could eat and go to doctors.   

As I grew up, I found other people like me that worried about the same things. There are so many people that CARE.  The last few months have solidified this for me.  There has been a flood of prayer and support for me and for this effort.  I can't believe how many amazing people in my life have texted, called, sent money, lent me a bike (thanks Katie!), or just asked me how my training is going.  This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life...and I haven't even raced yet!  

Last week, I was at my Grandma's sitting on her couch.  She had asked me to come pray with her.  Tears came down my face as she prayed for the kids in Kenya and for our family.  She reminded me that God always blesses more than we expect Him to.  She gave me this verse from Malachi:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  "Test me in this", says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it."  When we hold on tightly to what we have, God cannot bless us in this way...When we open our hands and give to God what is already His, He will overwhelm us with blessings.   Thanks Gram, for that beautiful reminder.  

Guess what?!   I am at $1075! Only $225 more to go and I have just over a week to raise the rest.  God has certainly surpassed my expectations.  

Even though I am adult and I know it sounds stupid, sometimes I still pray that prayer.  "Dear God, please take away all the money so everyone can eat and go to doctors. Thanks." Love Jen     


Some more pictures of the kids we are helping!















Monday, July 30, 2012

Running to the ball...not away from it.

I was never good at sports...in fact I was terrified of them.  I have always been the girl that would run from the ball.  In gym class, or recreational sports, I would literally pray to Jesus that the ball would not come near me, because if it did, I would not be able to bear the embarrassment that would surely follow when I tried to "do" something with said ball.  I wouldn't be the one on the court screaming "I'm open!!!"  I would do my best to hide myself from the line of vision of the person looking to pass the ball.  One time I was playing Ultimate frisbee with a bunch of friends from camp.  Tony (my husband) threw the frisbee in my direction and I actually ducked... it landed on my back.  When I stood up Tony said "What were you doing? I was passing it to you!" I yelled back "You were?! No one passes it to me!"  And they don't... ever...because they know what happens when they do.  Tony had faith in me (or he was just trying to make sure his poor little awkward wife got some playing time)  

Tony was the opposite.  He grew up playing every sport you can think of and was better than average at most of them.  He knows so much about training for something and accomplishing his goals.  I have never trained for anything sports related.  I have gotten hit in the face with more balls than you can count (Forgive me, I really don't know any other way to say that).  But Tony's athleticism and perseverance inspire me, after watching him train for and run the Indy Mini Marathon this spring,  I was floored.  I didn't realize the human body could run for over two hours.  I remember throwing up after running the mile in middle school.   

So I wanted in on the action.  I wanted to feel like I trained for, and accomplished something.  But I never wanted to do it for me. I wanted to do it for them.  
My triathlon is getting so close! Today I swam 800 meters and ran three miles so I am feeling pretty good!  I know I have trained hard for this and I know I am ready.  Today after dragging myself to the gym, I came home and opened my e-mail to find pictures of the progress of the building of our school...what a reward!  I promised to raise them $1300 (100 dollars for every mile I go in the Triathalon)  I am only at 550 still, so I have 750 more to go and I only have 25 days to do it! Please, if you feel led, donate to this project.  It will be a safe haven for children to go during the day, a place for them to learn and play, a place where they can hear more about the One who created them.  I have been training hard for this and I would love to see my prayers of raising this money answered.  God Bless you all for your prayers for me as I continue this journey and for your donations for the kids.  














Monday, July 16, 2012

Just build it again

Last night, after a busy weekend of cleaning our garage and spending the first family day we've had in months, we sat down to watch a movie after we tucked Max into bed.  The movie was called "Machine Gun Preacher".  Intense movie.  It's about a drug addict who turns to God and then goes to Africa.  He witnesses the atrocities of war and he deicides to help the children of the Sudan by building an orphanage.  He builds it dangerously close to the violence and when they burn his orphanage down, he is crushed.  When he is at his lowest and ready to give up hope he calls his wife and tells her he can't do it anymore.  His wife tells him to quit crying and build it again.  Just build it again.  


We complain so much about our struggles in life, when some of us (myself included) have no idea what the word struggle really means.  


Today I woke up and headed to the gym, ready to put my work in for another day.  As I rode the bike, I listened to a song I hadn't heard before.  It reminded me of the man they based this movie on.  He wasn't perfect, far from it.  He sometimes did whatever it took to forward his mission.  Sometimes I feel like I go about it all wrong.  I want so bad for people to CARE about the things I care about, but they certainly won't care if I am bashing them over the head with it.  


In the Sudan and Uganda, children have been forced to become soldiers, murder their families, lose their innocence. All over the world, there are kids dying of hunger and disease, without the opportunity for an education.   I think of the way I used to check every fifteen minutes when Max was sleeping, to see if he was still breathing, and then how I would stand there just watching him breathe, feeling such peace knowing he was safe.  


So I am running, biking, swimming my ass off until I raise this money.  We are going to build this school.  


Here's the update $550 raised...$750 to go! 


Go to the donate button if you want to help me reach my goal.




The song I listened to this morning:


I can't promise you that I won't let you down
And I
I can't promise you that I will be the only one around
When your hope falls down
But we're young
Open flowers in the windy fields of this war-torn world
And love
This city breathes the plague of loving things more than their creators

I ran away
I could not take the burden of both me and you
It was too fast
Casting love on me as if it were a spell I could not break
When it was a promise I could not make

But what if I was wrong?
What if I was wrong?
Oh, what if I was wrong?

But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight
And Oh hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

And now this land
Means less and less to me without you breathing through its trees
At every turn
The water runs away from me and the halo disappears
I'm not whole when you're not near

So what if I was wrong?
What if I was wrong?
Oh, what if I was wrong?

But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight
And Oh hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

Hold on to what you believed in the light 



-Mumford and Sons

Monday, July 2, 2012

Inspiration Motivation

Today the last thing on the planet I wanted to do was go to the gym.  The thought of loading Max into the carseat, packing both our bags, unloading him out of the carseat, dropping him at childcare, getting dressed, running on the treadmill, taking a shower, picking him up from childcare, and then driving home, completely exhausted me.

BUT

I did it, and here's why:

Inspiration.

From the people that are giving from their already tight budgets.

Inspiration,

From the little faces of Kenya kids dreaming of getting an education.

Inspiration,

From the thought of living a long healthy life for my child(ren)

Inspiration,

From the women who wake up on the other side of the world and have the same dreams for their children that I have for mine.

I am sure there are more days than not that they don't really want to get out of bed, and they have better reasons than I.  So I did it.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting me and the building of this school.  You have inspired me.  I know for a fact I wouldn't have the motivation to do it, without your selfless donations and prayers.

Donation update: $450 raised $850 left to raise!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Let's build a school!



So Pastor Amos regularly writes me asking for our help.  In four years we have been able to do some small things to help.  We’ve tried our hand at raising funds and it gets more and more daunting to think of new ways to raise money for the people of the slums.  We have sold t-shirts, I held an art show and sold some of my photos and paintings of Africa, we’ve sent letters, we’ve asked friends and family, my house church in Michigan was able to raise enough money to finish building Pastor Amos’ church, we’ve even sent much of our own money.  With all these efforts, we’ve raised probably around six thousand dollars when all is said and done….maybe a little more, maybe a little less.  I was starting to feel alone in this venture.  At the beginning, there are always supporters, but they tend to drop off as time goes by, and I can't blame them...life is busy.  So I guess my job now is to try even harder.  

 At times I feel helpless, at times I feel hopeful.  I want to be a part of building this church, but sometimes the amount of money seems astronomical to me.  I wouldn’t even know how to begin to raise funds like that.  

Today I feel hopeful.  I received an e-mail from a retired teacher from the UK named Dave.  He students visited Amos' church/school not that long ago and he was starting to get some funds together to build them a new building. He said I am the fourth person to respond to his efforts to make this happen.  He thinks together, with all of our fundraising efforts, the five of us can do it.  

Not alone anymore.

So now, my part.   

I was trying to think of a new fun way to raise some money to get this project to happen.  I am planning on doing a triathlon in August and I thought, what if I could raise $100 dollars for every mile I go.  I am going 13.3 miles.  $1300 dollars will certainly seal the deal for this project.  We can build a school together in Africa.  Let's do it.  I will swim, bike and run 13.3 miles.  So I am doing the hard work, all you have to do is pitch in whatever you can.  Just go to my donate button on the side bar and let's build a school! Thank you for your prayers and donations in advance...I will definitely need the prayers because I have never done anything like this in my life.  I hate exercising.  Loathe would probably be a more appropriate word.  But I am willing to try.  

For some inspiration here are photos of the students at the school!








All in a day's work


As I was adding some journal entries to this blog, I discovered something I had never noticed before.  I haven’t really read my journals from Kenya since I returned home four years ago.  While writing the entries down, I have been ripped open again emotionally.  I had forgotten many of the events.  Easter Sunday 2008 was the day I met the people of the slums.  Pastor Amos took us to his home, his church.  This was the day in my life that I received my first calling from God.  The date was March 23rd.  Three years later, on the exact same date, I received my second calling from God.  That was the day Max was born.

One day.

Is it possible for your life to change forever in 12 hours?
It is.  I am living proof of that.
This may not mean much to you …that these events happened on the same exact day, but to me, it means God has literally mapped out a plan for me and He is reaffirming it all the time.