Saturday, October 22, 2016

What My Trip to South Africa Taught Me about Motherhood

**I wrote this post for the blog Money Saving Mom, which is run by an amazing young mother, Crystal Paine.  Crystal is a very influential blogger, and she organized this mission trip to South Africa. I was honored to be able to share some of what I learned with her blog audience this past week. I will be writing a lot more about my South Africa experience here on my personal blog (and inviting all of you to help me continue the work there!), but I wanted to start by sharing this post because I feel it really captures the heart of my experience.

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The first time that I saw Gogo, I was standing with my back against a crude brick wall, leaning into a pocket of shade under the hot African sun.

I heard her before I saw her. “Oh, thank you, Jesus! Oh, Jesus!” she was calling.  And when she came around the corner, her wrinkled hands were clasped, her face tilted up toward heaven in praise.

She was wearing a navy stocking cap, a brown sweater and long skirt—and she reached out to each of us American visitors as if we were her family, squeezing our hands and whispering her thanks to God that we had come. 

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“Gogo” means Granny in Setswana, and, truly, this woman is a grandmother to everyone she meets.  Her heart is full of love, Spirit, and nurturing—in essence, motherhood.  Being near her, I thought, “This is why I came to Africa.  I came here to meet Gogo.”

When I applied to go on the South African advocacy trip with Crystal Paine, I was searching for a deeper understanding of motherhood.  I couldn’t have put it into those specific words at the time—but now that I’m home, I can see more clearly what I was yearning for before I left.

I have always loved connecting with people in deep ways. I was a counselor at a camp for kids and adults with disabilities throughout high school and college. I spent long summer days in the mountains of Colorado with amazing campers who taught me about courage and endurance in the face of physical and mental challenges.

After I got married, my husband and I spent a semester living in an orphanage in El Salvador, planning scavenger hunts, playing rowdy games of Uno, and reading bedtime stories to children whom we grew to love like family.

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When we returned to the States, I taught high school English for five years—a challenging career that I loved—while my husband went to school to become a pediatric dentist. Every summer we went back to El Salvador for a week or two to see the kids that we love.

And then in 2011, we adopted our son, Noah, and my life as a stay-at-home mother began.

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After all of my experience with children, teaching, and service, I thought that the transition to motherhood would be easy.

Famous last words, right?

I knew that it was a blessing to be able to stay home with Noah, but after years of connecting with people on a deep level, I felt lonely and unfulfilled much of the time.  My baby cried a lot; my husband was in residency and we lived in a crummy apartment near the hospital without many other young moms around; and I missed getting to laugh with and learn from my students and colleagues every day.

I felt a bit trapped—not so much by my circumstances as by the dichotomy in my heart: I knew that my job as a mother was the most impactful role I would ever have, and yet I yearned for more.

Five years have passed, and we have since added another baby to our family, a spunky little girl named Sally. I have settled into my role as a mother much more, and I love spending time with my two little miracles. I have found meaningful work that I can do from home—I write for a motherhood website called
Power of Moms—and I teach the teenage girls at church and reach out to friends and family as much as I can.

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My life is so good and so full.  And yet, at times I still feel that pull in my heart—the desire to learn more, impact more, give more.

I decided to apply to go to South Africa because I knew that I would meet people like Gogo.  I knew I would gain new perspective and come home with more clarity, peace, purpose, and drive.

I wish I could write a book about the incredible mothers that I met when I was there—because that’s what it would take, a book!  Meeting these mothers, hearing their stories, and witnessing the unique and powerful contributions that they are making within their spheres of influence...it filled my soul.

I realized that what I am doing at home with my little ones matters.  My heart ached when I saw children who do not have loving parents to care for them
. I saw the sadness in their eyes, and I heard from teachers about the ways that their mental and emotional development are affected.  It made me want to be a better, more invested mother.


It also made me want to do hard thingsto make sacrifices to extend my love beyond my own family to others who need “mothering.”  I realized that I can involve my own children in this work.  I can teach them to see a need in our community and the world and do something about it.

While raising her kids, Gogo worked at a soup kitchen and started several preschools for vulnerable children in her community.  In recent years, her grown daughter Elizabeth has followed in her mother’s footsteps and started a “drop-in centre” out of Gogo’s one-room house.  It started with 18 children, and it has now grown to 180!  

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What began in Gogo’s tiny house has expanded.  They’ve been able to receive government funding, build a small preschool next door, and hire a staff of dedicated teachers and caregivers.  Vulnerable kids from the community come to Gogo’s house every morning to receive a bowl of vitamin-fortified porridge, and then they come after school to receive a snack, help with homework, and instruction in singing and sports.  It’s like a Boys and Girls Club—Africa style!



It has become a family affair, with Gogo as the loving matriarch, Elizabeth as the powerhouse director, and even Elizabeth’s sons as administrators and cooks.  Three generations of givers.

Truly, this family has been transformed because of Gogo’s example —this family, and an entire community of children.

After spending a day at the “drop-in centre”—witnessing the hope in the children’s eyes, hearing their singing and joyful laughter—my American friends and I gathered around Gogo as she sat in a lawn chair in the shade, reading her Bible.  She hugged each of us and took us by the hands, looking into our faces and thanking us for coming.  I will never forget the feeling of her wrinkled hands, leathery from a lifetime of loving and serving. With tears in her eyes, she read scripture to us and then said simply, “I cry because I am rich.”


I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity that I had to go to South Africa to learn from this hero-mother and many others like her.

Since coming home, I have felt a deep desire to continue helping in South Africa through fundraising efforts for the amazing projects there, as well as to find ways to invest right here in my community—and bring my children along with me.


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I don’t know exactly what those efforts will look like yet, but I am grateful to have been a part of a trip that opened my heart to the everlasting impact of mothers. I know that I, and hopefully my children, will never be the same.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

In Summerrrrrrrr!

We've been watching a lot of the movie Frozen at our house lately--it's Sally's new obsession.  Honestly, I don't really mind: that movie (especially Olaf) is hilarious and so clever.

Here are my cute kids watching another favorite of Sally's, Bubble Guppies, in a car that we made out of a box. ;)  I must say, I much prefer Frozen to Bubble Guppies.


My kids watch more TV than they should.  I am often working on writing projects that require focus, so Sally and Noah have a chunk of TV time every day.  But in between the shows, we have a lot of family fun and go outside on adventures--so I'm not gonna feel bad about it.

Here's a recap of the way that we ended our summerrrr! (Imagine Olaf singing that.)

We met up with Drew and his mom for a fun day at Lagoon, riding the (kiddie) rollar coasters and drinking Icees.  Nothing better!  We sure love our Drew.





I know some of you long-time blog readers might be wondering, so I asked Katie if I could share and she said I could.  She and Drew are currently separated. It has been such a hard thing for everyone--really heartbreaking.  But they are on good terms and have handled everything with such maturity.  They will both always be a huge part of our lives and of Noah's life.  I recently got these drawings done for Noah's room, and I love them.


After our trip to Lagoon, the kids and I hopped on a plane for a last-minute trip to Denver!


My sister has been going through some super intense treatments for her depression these past few months, so I went to help.  We are all praying that she will feel some relief and joy soon.  So far, the treatments seem to be working...keep praying!!

We loved seeing Bapa, walking Callum to the bus stop every day, and even getting away to the mountains for a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad.  Need I say that Noah was in heaven? Riding a train with his best friend, Callum?? Dream come true!




And of course we got to see my grandparents while I was there.  As always, it's just priceless seeing them playing with my kids.  Sally loved the car tracks, just like Noah did at her age.



Since I don't travel enough (wink), we also met up with our best friends from dental school in Park City, Utah for a weekend.  It's been almost six years since we left Buffalo, and these people are still like family.  There is nothing like it--just pick right up where you left off and talk for hours.  They know us like almost no one else.  Daytons and Majeronis, come be our neighbors!!!


And while we were there, we did a little alpine slidin'...



We also squeezed in an overnight camping trip at the end of August.  I realized that we hadn't camped at all the entire summer, and I was kind of mad at myself for it--but then I remembered that we moved unexpectedly, went to the Dominican Republic for a dental trip, went to a family reunion in Oregon, and went to Colorado to help my sister.  So I forgave myself.

One night in the foothills near our home was all we could manage this summer, but it was a great little outing.  We drove there without a reservation, hoping that we would find a good spot, and we ended up finding a perfect, secluded wooded site, right on a lovely walking trail.  Score!  The highlight was when a moose walked right up to our campsite and startled us!  Yikes!  The kids are still talking about it.  My favorite part of camping is the smores and early-morning cuddling.  




 
 
In between the trips, we had adventures closer to home--such as floating an irrigation canal in a neighboring town, playing with cousins, going kayaking at the Garden of Eden (oh, it was actually Thousand Springs State Park, but you could've fooled me with the crystal clear water and lovely waterfalls!), watching the U.S. Open with Dad, and stopping for ice cream at a local Creamery.






I have to say, even with all of that funness going on, my very favorite part of the month was a two-night get-away with Ryan for his 34th birthday.  (34??  How is this possible??)  I surprised him and took him to a mountain town about four hours from home, McCall, Idaho.  I arranged for a babysitter and planned the whole trip without him knowing.  That morning, I left him a note on the bathroom mirror: "Pack your bags--because tonight we are going away, just the two of  us, for your 34th birthday!"  So fun.  I love surprises.


We kayaked, hiked, rode bikes, slept in, watched the Olympics, napped by the lake, snuggled in church and could actually listen to the talks, ate good food and huge ice cream cones, talked about the past, and dreamed about the future.





It was perfect.  I told Ryan, "Why do people think they need to go to Hawaii for a week to have a true getaway??  I swear this was just as good!"  (Okay, maybe not just as good, but pretty darn close.)  I really think couples need to make it a priority to do something like this twice a year--or at least once. I came home on Cloud 9, feeling so in love.  Ryan is my best friend.  I couldn't do life without him.

And then, after all of that, I packed my bags and headed to South Africa for ten days.  Ha!  I'm insane!  But South Africa was an amazing experience--truly one of the highlights of my life--and I can't wait to write a whole series of posts about what I saw, did, and learned there.

We are heading into winter now, but summer was oh-so-good, and I am grateful!