Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Have Climbed My Mountain

I saw it in Bongi’s eyes when we reached the cliff face at the top of the mountain. She was breathless and her feet were sore and tired, but she had made it to the top. There was pride and exhilaration in her eyes. She had done something she didn’t know she could do, and she had faced it without fear.

When we first began the hike, I looked down at Bongi’s open-toed and slick-soled shoes. Recognizing how difficult they would be to hike in, I asked, “Bongi, are you going to be alright in those shoes? Don’t you have a pair of tekkies (running/walking shoes)?”

“No, I don’t have.”

“Ok, but be careful where you step, hey?” I was sceptical as to whether she would make it very far, but I didn’t want to quench her eagerness. When would another opportunity like this come? We were at the Oasis Haven annual staff retreat, thanks to a donation of a two day stay at a lodge in the beautiful Magaliesburg mountains. This retreat is a special time were our whole team comes together to be refreshed and reinvigorated in order to better serve the children entrusted to us.

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to spend a few days with these amazing women before my move. Each has touched my heart and blessed me in some special way, and I am consistently amazed by our house moms and our assistants. They have an incredibly tough job—accepting and learning to love children as their own who are not their own, managing a home of 10 children with mealtimes, bedtimes, appointments, homework and the like, and then lovingly sending children to their adoptive families and facing the empty place left behind. It is a very difficult job; a job I know I could not handle.

Our hike reminded me of a day several years ago, not long after I moved to Colorado, when a friend took me for a hike on the Manitou Incline. It was one of the toughest hikes that I had ever been on, and I remember thinking, If I can just make it to the top then I’ll leave it. I’ll leave the baggage behind. I wanted release from the hurt and the pain and the heartache that I had been carrying around with me for so long. But I needed something monumental, something significant, I needed a mountain to climb. I needed to get to the top, drop my baggage and walk back down freer and lighter. It was a good moment for me, and I saw this same determination in many of the ladies that day in Magalies.

Some of them had baggage to leave on the top of the mountain. Some needed to prove to themselves they were stronger than they thought they were. Some needed to find something they had lost. Some simply needed to commune with God’s creation and to fellowship with their sisters in Christ.

When Cathy reached the top, she proclaimed aloud the words in all our hearts, “Today, I have climbed my mountain.”

The next day as we prepared to leave we were asked to share one thing we would take away. I said when I got back to America I will share the story of our time on the mountain. I will share the story of these South African women who climbed a mountain—not knowing if they could but determined to try. I will share the story of these women who every day give selflessly so children who once had no one would have someone. I will share the story of these women who are on the frontlines of the worldwide orphan crisis. I will share the story of these women who are the backbone of Oasis Haven.

I will share the story of Mary, Mapula, Ruth, Bongi, Caro, Kamotso, Joanna, Boipelo, Cathy, Bev, Claire and Beth. It is a story of women rising above their circumstances, above what is expected of them, and choosing to be extraordinary. It is a story of women who not only are extraordinary but are rising to new levels of extraordinary every day.

I am very sad to leave this amazing team. Oasis Haven has been good for me in so many ways, and I can honestly say I am a better person for having been here. Ladies and gents (I am being replaced by a wonderful and talented man, and I also want to include our fulltime driver and volunteer house dad who understandably chose not to be the only man on the retreat), I am more than grateful for each one of you and the impact that you have made on my life. I will keep you in my prayers and you will be consistently in my thoughts. You are each stronger than you know, and I see the daily evidence of how God is using you to redeem what has been broken.

I love you all and will miss you dearly.

Please note that some names have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of the children in the Oasis Haven Family Homes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Learning Zen-Like Packability

This will be my 11th move in 12 years—three times in Abilene, twice in Portland, twice in Colorado Springs, Lubbock for a few months, twice in South Africa and now back to Lubbock. (This does not include any moves of less than six months.)

When you move 11 times in 12 years you get to be pretty good at packing. You know how to arrange items just so in a box or the trunk of a car or a suitcase to achieve Zen-like packability. You know how to perfectly balance luggage to meet maximum weight restrictions and yet be manageable for one person through customs and international terminals. You are a packing guru.

But in 11 moves, I have become much more than an excellent packer. I have seen and done things that I never would have imagined. In 11 moves I have…
  • lived in five different cities and one village.
  • lived with four different roommates/flatmates and one host family.
  • hosted upwards of 25 houseguests.
  • earned a degree in Abilene, learned to appreciate good coffee in Portland, refined my book taste in Colorado Springs and learned to cook pap in South Africa.
  • hiked large portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, climbed Pikes Peak, ran the Bolder Boulder and the Long Tom 1/2 marathon and hiked the Shipwreck Coast.
  • been a member of the body at seven churches.
  • added Jim & Patty’s Coffee (Portland), Jack Quinn’s (Colorado Springs), Not by Bread Alone (Johannesburg) and Doppio Zero (Johannesburg) to my all time favorite eateries list.
  • learned one new language (Setwswana) and pretty much forgotten how to speak another (Spanish).
  • made countless friends and acquaintances and learned more about the importance of community than I could ever have imagined.
  • been a program developer and manager, a bookseller and community relations manager, a temp and a substitute, a Peace Corps volunteer and a development manager.
  • met Donald Miller, Steven Curtis Chapman, Ted Dekker and Sara Groves.
  • played with lion cubs, skydived and been nearly trampled by an elephant.
  • been invited into the homes of some of the poorest of the poor and sat at the table with some of the richest of the rich.
  • gotten two tattoos on two different continents each reminders of what God has done and of who He has created me to be.
  • seen old dreams fade away and new dreams born.
  • learned to love a precious little girl as my own and committed myself to giving everything to make her my own.
All of these things and more have become a part of me and have shaped who I am in significant ways. Each experience has been carefully packaged inside of me, perfectly measured and situated. They all make up who I am. And while over the years, I have become an excellent packer of stuff, I think what is more important is the “stuff” that is packed away inside of my mind and my heart. Its every person I’ve met who has influenced me in one way or another. Its every fact I’ve learned, every heartbreak and every triumph  I’ve experienced, every opinion I’ve formed, every tenant I’ve believed. All of these things packed away, neatly inside of me to form the me that I am.

Moving so often has been exhilarating but also exhausting. It takes patience and time to build up new community and settle into a place, and it takes effort and persistence to maintain community left behind. But looking back, every move has been worth it. Every move has shaped and formed me into something new. Something better than I was. And I’m grateful.

I hope that this move to Lubbock will be the last move for a while. I’ve always said that if I ever stay in a place for three years I will get a dog. I think Hannah and I would really enjoy a puppy we can raise together, a puppy that can be part of our home and maybe for me symbolize a bit of stability. But puppy or no, I am confidant Lubbock will be good for us and I’m looking forward to what God has for us there.

So I’m pulling out the suitcases again and filling them up with clothes and shoes, books and mementoes. Time for one more flight and one more move.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Servings: Mango-Berry Crumb Cake

Village life made me industrious.

Living on a shoe-string budget forces you to really use reduce, reuse and recycle to your advantage. I turned old coffee tins into canisters, old magazines into drawer liners, and used ketchup bottles into rolling pins. I even had a pot rack and a clothes rack made out of old PVC  pipe and a bit of rope.

My new found industriousness also brought out the baker in me. Baking bread myself was a great way to save a little bit of cash, but it also, somehow, eased my soul. You can work out a lot of emotion kneading dough or mixing batter. Sometimes my tears would spill over into the batter adding a bittersweet saltiness. Sometimes my fears and anxieties would knead their way through the dough. Sometimes laughter and friendship would mark out the minutes as my little tabletop oven baked away.

For every new season, I'd dig through recipes online looking for new ways to use mango and pears, granadilla and guava, avocado and zucchini--each ingredient providing a rich and flavorful nuance and creating a new experience of taste.

But the more often I put on my baker's hat, the more I realized baking is really an act of generosity.

It is impossible to bake for one. When you divide a recipe for one serving, it never bakes just right or tastes the same--its too salty or too sweet or a bit burnt or wobbly in the middle. Baking is about generosity and hospitality. Its sharing with the neighbors and making friends with the granny down the street. Its coffee cake for tea time at the office and birthday cakes for friends and family. Baking is an act of giving and receiving. Its an act of love and care for someone else.

Last year for my friend Sarinah's birthday, I found a recipe for a Mango-Berry Crumb Cake. Sarinah is not a fan of chocolate or really any sweets, but she loves fruit, especially mango. Lucky for her, her birthday falls in mango season. It turned out to be an especially nice coffee cake--not too sweet but full of flavor. Each bite was a whole experience to itself as the sweetness of the mango blended with the tartness of the raspberries. I still remember her taking that first bite and watching her enjoy something created just to make her taste buds pop.

Since baking is an act of generosity, I think this forum is a good place to be generous. So I'm starting "Sunday Servings" for those of you who might want to join me in being a little more generous through the act of baking. Each week, I'll post a new recipe I've tried and share a little bit of its story. Because if baking is about generosity, then every baked good has a story. I'd love it if you'd share your recipes and their stories here too.

Today on my 30th birthday, I think it is fitting to kick-off Sunday Servings with Sarinah's Mango-Berry Crumb Cake. Enjoy!

Mango-Berry Crumb Cake:


Crumb Topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 mango - peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup raspberries (You can use frozen if fresh raspberries are not available.)


  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. Mix crumb topping ingredients together in a bowl until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. Set the topping aside.
  3. Beat 1/2 cup butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Add the egg and mix well. Stir in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Mix the flour mixture into the creamed butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, stirring just to combine. After the last of the flour mixture is incorporated, gently fold in the diced mango and raspberries. Spread the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will be thick). Sprinkle with crumb topping.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mafoko a Molemo

When I left for the Peace Corps, I said I was going because I wanted to touch and see and understand. I wanted to understand the humanity of poverty. It is one thing to be able to rattle off statistics, but it is a completely different thing to have intimate knowledge. In my mind, poverty and hunger and AIDS were awful things, but they were things that were far off and distant. I wanted to use my own five senses to build a better understanding and to build relationship with people who at the time were just numbers.

And I did use my senses.

I took tea in the homes of people living with HIV. I listened to the hope-filled worship of the poor and the destitute. I smelled the awful stench of the dying and the savory aromas of wedding feasts. I watched children play games that told truths about the hard things they had seen with their young eyes. I washed away tears, held hands to pray and received many embraces.

But I don’t understand any better than when I left.

Sure I have more knowledge. I’ve seen first hand the effects of colonialism and apartheid. I know the ravaging toll of AIDS and TB. I’ve witnessed corruption and the waging war between the haves and the have-nots. But what I keep coming back to is that poverty and disease is senseless. They are scourges that make us less than human and leave so many marginalized and forgotten at the fraying edges of society.

At almost every traffic light in Johannesburg, stands someone begging or hawking—a mother with her baby on her back, a half-blind old man, a teenage boy in tatters, a young man selling stolen or black-market goods. It becomes second-nature to wave a hand and say “no thanks” or “not today,” avoiding eye-contact as much as possible and waiting for the light to turn green so that twinge of guilt can get shoved back down into the recesses of your spirit. You rationalize that you can’t give to everyone, that you already give to charity x or that you gave something to that other guy at that other traffic light. And in the process of saying “no” and averting your gaze, you forget that what is standing before you is a human being. And maybe you can’t give to every single person, but you can recognize their humanity. You can look into their eyes and ask about their day. You can smile and show kindness. And that is something that you can give.

Poverty, hunger, disease. They are all senseless. There is no reason that they exist, but yet they have been with us longer than our collective memory. When we live in a world that is bountiful, with enough water and food for everyone, why is there hunger? When we live in a world where only 7% of Christians are needed to adopt every orphan, why are there orphans? When we live in a world where ARVs are steadily become cheaper and new drugs are being invented, why do so many go without access? When we know that mother-to-child transmission is 100% preventable and that prevention is possible for everyone, why are there so many new cases of HIV transmission?

When I came to live in South Africa, I said that I wanted to touch and see and understand, but I think really it was more about finding something that was missing inside of me. I didn’t feel complete or whole, and maybe I thought that I would find the missing part in Africa. I would find it by throwing myself into a completely different culture, giving of myself and learning about this senseless poverty that disturbed and fascinated me.

Am I complete now? Well, no, I don’t think we are ever really complete. At least I hope we are not. But I did learn to be comfortable with myself here. I learned about myself and the me that God has created me to be. I learned that I am about justice and compassion. That I’m about faith and hope. That I’m about building-up and giving away.

I didn’t make sense of poverty while I was here, and I certainly didn’t solve the problem. But maybe every once in a while, I got to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and I definitely received the care and concern of others who acted as His hands and feet.

I may not understand poverty and disease any better, but I have seen how God shares the good news with the poor, how He binds up the brokenhearted, how He frees the captive and releases people from darkness. I've seen how He comforts those who mourn and provides for those who grieve. I’ve seen Him make beauty from the ashes and turn mourning into joy.

In Setswana, gospel good news is “mafoko a molemo.” I have heard and I have seen. I have tasted and I have smelled. I have touched good news, and it is good news. And I hope that in returning to the US, that I bring that good news with me. That I can speak of not just the senselessness I found but of the hope I found. That it is a story I will one day share with my daughter and that it will be part of the legacy I leave her. That I will continue to stand against the senselessness and for something brighter and richer for all people.

The type of poverty we have today is senseless. The labor of begging, the burden of disease, the hopelessness of hunger—all are senseless. And we have it in our power to rid ourselves of this senselessness. We have it in our power to do more than the right thing. We have it in our power to do the best thing. It’s about the choices we make every day and the choices we ask our governments to make. It’s about the choices we make collectively in our churches and our synagogues. It’s about making choices that benefit others and not always us. It’s about living a little less selfishly and a little more simply.

What have you seen and learned about senseless poverty?
What are you doing to make poverty a little less senseless?
How can you encourage others to live differently?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A View from the Oasis Haven Staff Retreat

Just got back from a beautiful few days with the Oasis Haven team at Steynshoop Lodge. So glad that I got to spend a few days with these remarkable women before leaving South Africa. An incredible blessing! I will miss working with you, ladies, and getting to share life with you.
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Giving my 30th Away

In a week on March 25th, I will be 30 years old. Thirty doesn’t frighten me. It doesn’t feel old, and I can say with a sigh of relief that I am not coming into it with deep regrets. Thirty just feels right. And in actuality, with becoming a mother and moving back to the US, I’ve taken very little time to think about thirty.

But thirty is one of those milestone years, and it strikes me that it should be marked in a significant way. So I’m giving my 30th birthday away…

Working and living at Oasis Haven has been life-changing for me. It has set me on a path that I never would have expected towards a life’s purpose and a calling that I know is far bigger than anything I could ever accomplish alone. And towards becoming a mother of a precious little girl who I never would have met if not through Oasis Haven.

For this and for thousands of other things big and small, I want to say thanks in a significant way. But I need your help to do so.

In honor of my 30th birthday, would you consider giving to Oasis Haven? Would you consider helping us keep the promise that we make to every child entrusted to our care?

You can do so in a couple of ways:

1.   Visit our website to donate online. (For those of you who are not in South Africa, you can use the available credit card donation for South African donors, but please be advised that this will not be a tax deductible donation.)

2.   Make a deposit into Oasis Haven’s bank account:
First National Bank
Branch Code 254005
Account Number 620 565 267 37
Reference: AP’s Bday [Your Surname & Phone number]
or send a check to Oasis Haven US:
          PO Box 28362
          San Diego, CA 92198
          Memo: AP’s Birthday

3.   Or make a long term commitment to Oasis Haven of R100 or $25 a month—a commitment made that is a promise kept. A debit order form (SA givers) and a credit card donation form (US givers) are available for download on our website.

Every Rand, every dollar means more children rescued and more children placed in families.

Entering into my fourth decade of life, I want to see a dream realized of children rescued forever. I want for you and for me and for the Church and for people everywhere, to make orphaned and abandoned children a top priority. It’s a dream that can be realized—it only takes 7% of Christians worldwide to make a decision for adoption. 7% and every child has a family of their very own and the orphan crisis comes to an end.

What if we dared to dream big? What if we dared to ask ourselves the question: “Is God calling me to adopt?” What if we dared to ask ourselves: “What is God asking me to do to care for the orphan and the widow?” Be certain that He’s asking you something. The real question is: Will you dare to answer His question?

(To find out more about Oasis Haven and other ways that you can get involved, visit their website at, check them out on Facebook and Twitter or email me direct at

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Telling Hannah

The hardest part of leaving South Africa is leaving Hannah* behind. It feels like I’m turning my back on her, like I am another person abandoning her. It feels wrong on every level of my being to leave my child in a country more than halfway across the world from where I will be.

But I have to trust that in the grander scheme of things, so to speak, that this is for the best. That my leaving, that my search for a job and a home, that my submission to the personal invasion of the adoption screening process, that all of this results in Hannah coming home sooner. Hannah home and my daughter forever.

It was a Friday afternoon when I picked her up from school. We drove to McDonald’s talking about the school day. She had made a new friend and her teacher had read a new book. McDonald’s was easy and I needed an easy place. We ordered our food, sat down to eat, and I picked at my fries as she chatted away and I worked up the courage.

And finally I told her.

I told her that I was moving back to America. I told her that Nana and Grandad—names we use to refer to my parents, but names that for now are meaningless to her—missed me and needed me. I told her that I had been away from my family for a long time and that it was time for me to go home. I told her that I loved her very much and that I would call and send emails and Skype. And I could feel my heart in my throat. My heart said the words that my mouth could not say—I’m going because I love you. I’m going because you are my daughter. I’m going because I am your mother. I’m going because it is the best way to make you mine forever.

I watched as Hannah’s seven-year-old brain tried to process what I was saying to her. “But I can come for sleepovers?”

“No, Hannah, I’m sorry. It‘s too far. It takes two days on a plane to get there.”

“Oh…but you’ll come back after a little while, like at Christmas, and then you’ll stay.”

“No, I’m going to live there. I won’t live here anymore, so I might come to visit sometime, but I won’t come back here to live.”

“But who will live in your room?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody will live in my room after I’m gone.”

I couldn’t tell if she really understood what I was telling her, but we needed to leave. We had to go home to tell the rest of the “family” that I was leaving. I hated this day.

When we got to the house we called a family meeting. Mommy Mary, Auntie Claire and I sat down in the floor of the playroom with all of the kids and I told them my news. Similar questions and a few mock tears from the silliest of the boys, and then Auntie Claire said, “You know how Auntie Amanda went away at Christmas and it seemed like a really, really long time. This is kind of like that, but it will be a lot longer and we don’t know for sure if she will ever come back.” That sunk in a little deeper.

Hannah looked up at me, “When you went away, I used to look at your window and it would make me so sad and I would cry.” And with that the full meaning fell on her. Her lip trembled, tears filled her eyes and she broke down into sobs. All I could do was hold my child and let her cry, knowing that I had no words that would take this pain away.

How do you leave your child behind? Even when you know it’s what is best for them, how do you leave them behind?

I think we’ve all gotten a bit more used to the idea now. The first few days were difficult as the idea settled in, and Paul still says to me, “Oh, I thought you were already gone,” every time I walk into the house—his way to deal with the hurt and rejection he’s feeling. But for the moment, there is an easy rhythm of knowing that we have today and a few more tomorrows together. And I don’t miss an opportunity to hold Hannah close and tell her that I love her.

I know there are more tears to come, and I wish, I wish I could tell her why. I wish I could tell her that I’m leaving because I want to be her mommy and that there are some things I have to do in the US to make that happen. But that would be confusing, and the waiting would be eternal, and if it doesn’t work out and I don’t get to be her mommy, it would be devastating.

Getting on that plane will be one of the hardest things that I will ever do, but I pray that it will be one of the best things that I ever do. I pray that it will be a sacrifice made that will be fully redeemed to the honor and glory of God because that prayer, that hope, will be the only thing that will give me the strength to board. And more than that, I pray that God will protect Hannah’s heart. That He will hold her and comfort her in a way that I cannot. Because I need Him to be that for her. And I need Him to whisper over and over and over to her—I will never leave you or forsake you.

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Life in The Box

The kitchen area: Blue
bucket under the bed is the
kitchen sink.
I call it “the box,” and occasionally, when feeling affectionate, “my box.”

The box has been my home for the last 18 months. Originally designed as the maid’s quarters, the box sits just behind the main house at one of our “Family Homes.” The living area is about 10ft sq. Including the attached showertoilet, the box is about half of the space I had in Mmametlhake. (A showertoilet is a working shower with hot water that hangs almost directly above the flush-toilet—an amenity that my little, plumbing-less house in the village lacked.) The tap just outside the door is used for all other water needs, including, but not limited to—teeth brushing, hand washing, dish washing, and drinking water.

The sleeping and sitting area.
Dressing area along left.
Very few people have been admitted into the box. I don’t even require a whole hand to count them. This is partly due to a general lack of space. One person fits relatively comfortably. Add another into the mix and it starts feeling a bit cramped. I don’t want to think about what it would feel like with three. (I’m fairly certain we would have to move some of the furniture outside.)

But the no admittance rule is also partly due to my own embarrassment and, to be truthful, shame.

The showertoilet.
I have a good friend who when she first came to Jo’burg was employed as a “domestic worker” and lived in quarters similar to mine. She was given her own mug, plate and utensils and was told that she was not allowed to use the ones in the main house. If she needed to use the toilet, she was to go outside to her quarters. This was about eight years ago, 10 years after Apartheid ended.

Today in South Africa, domestic workers are more common than they are rare. And with the rise of the upwardly mobile, black middle-class, it is not just white South Africans who employ domestic workers. Almost everyone I know in the Johannesburg middle and upper classes has a maid and/or a gardener working at their homes one or two days a week. Coming from an upbringing where only the very upper class employed maids on a regular basis, I have struggled to come to terms with the commonality of domestic help in South Africa.

Most domestic workers are part of South Africa’s informal economy—meaning that they are not protected by contracts or worker’s rights and may be underpaid and exploited. But in a country where unemployment hovers around 25% and may in actuality be much higher, South Africa needs its informal economy. The livelihood of so many people relies on these workers earning their weekly wages.

It is a very hard thing to come to a solid opinion either for or against domestic work. And I don’t imagine it is something that I will ever resolve completely in my own mind. I’ve often had to choke down my anger when someone tells me that employing a domestic worker is the least they could do, presenting their action as some sort of altruistic benevolence. In these moments, I find my inner voice shouting, “What then is the most you could do?” I appreciate people who can admit that not wanting to do the cleaning themselves is part of, if not their main, motivation behind employing a domestic worker.

But on the flipside, I have many friends who take a true interest in their domestic workers—helping them to obtain their matric (high school diploma), teaching them budgeting and needed financial skills, paying their way at technical colleges and the like. They ask the question that has been used to teach so many of us to dream and imagine: What do you want to be when you grow up? What in your wildest dreams do you want to do with your life and how can I help you get there?

During the past few weeks of box living, I’ve been slightly less mobile and been more confined to the box. The company car that I drive on a regular basis has been at the panel beaters (body shop) for some much needed repairs which means that I’ve been on foot and relying on others for transport.

As much as I know that I could easily get on a minibus taxi for easy and somewhat convenient transport, I’m loathe to do it. I’ve enjoyed the freedom and the way the car has enlarged my box, providing an easy escape route. Although taxis were my main mode of transport during my Peace Corps days, since gaining car independence, I have not been able to revert.

During my 19 months of Peace Corps service, I accepted taxi travel and even learned to embrace it—learning the hand signals that would tell the driver my destination before I embarked, the proper placement of bags and packages that would yield maximum comfort for long-distance taxi travel, and to manage the ever swinging moods of the drivers. For a white, middle-class American, I was fairly good at taxi-travel and even at times found myself enjoying it. But from the first moment I sat behind a steering wheel again, I knew it would only be with great difficulty that I would clamber onto a taxi again.
My neighbor's taxi in Mmametlhake.

Not having wheels the past few weeks, I’ve felt petty and selfish as the white-washed walls of the box closed in on me, my possessions feeling as though they might bury me and I that I would be found sometime later flattened by the smallness. I would begin to feel sorry for myself and then remember how many others lived in such close quarters. Close quarters that housed themselves and their children and their partners and extended family. I would remember the make-shift homes of corrugated tin, unable to keep out the elements, baking in the summer sun, unsecure and confined. I would remember these things and try not to remember my storage shed full of furniture and possessions collecting layer upon layer of dust. I would try not to remember my sprawling basement apartment in Colorado Springs with its quaint eccentricities that somehow made it feel like home. I would try not to remember the space that I will have in a few short weeks when I returned to Lubbock.

The problem with living simply is that I know differently. I know what it is like to not live simply, and I will never not know that feeling. No matter how much I separate myself, choosing a simpler path will always require a level of self-denial. It will always cost me something within myself and ask me to die to myself. And I know how easily I will slip back into the lure of abundance available in the US because I know how easily I have slipped back into the the lure of abundance available in Johannesburg.

Abundance in itself is not a bad thing. It is the gluttony and selfishness of abundance that breaks down the humanity inside of us. It’s how we manage the abundance and how we manage our own need for it. I won’t lie that I look forward to space and pulling my possessions out of storage. I know that day will be full of excited rediscovery, but I hope that in the process the lessons I’ve learned here about living simply will stay with me and that living simple with moderation will remain deeply implanted in my heart as I make choices and decisions that affect myself and others.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Lessons in Perseverance

What I have figured out so far in my adoption journey is that adoption is a marathon and not a sprint. As with most things in life, I want it to be a sprint. I want to get to the finish line quickly, win the race and move on to the next race.

But the adoption journey is simply that—a journey. It is a step by step process with each step as necessary to the process as the last.

One of the first steps has been to find a home study agency in Texas to partner with my placement agency, Bethany Christian Services. Initially, it seemed an impossible task as Bethany requires a specific type of home study that few agencies in the country use. There were lots of dead ends before we finally came across Children’s Connections, Inc. who has one social worker in their state wide network who is trained in this particular type of home study.

The weeks of Google research, emails and phone calls were an exercise in faith for me. Praying to go back to Lubbock, feeling within my spirit that this was the right step, having that step affirmed by many others—but not being able to see a clear path forward. Either the mountain had to be moved or I did.

Coming up against the mountain drove me to dig deep into the Lord—digging deep into the faith reservoir in the depths of my heart. There were days that the mountain seemed impossible to move, and I wondered about making plans to move myself instead—to move to Colorado where Bethany has offices and could do the home study in house. But I kept digging deep.

I’m typically not a practitioner of “Bible roulette”. I think randomly opening the Bible and expecting a specific word from God wherever you land is a dangerous game that sets up all sorts of expectations of what the Spirit may or may not be speaking. But during this waiting period, when asked at a devotional to pull two verses out of a bag, I had a clear Bible roulette moment, drawing Psalm 62:8 and Philippians 4:6-7.

Now, I don’t think that either of those verses promised that everything would work out, that we would find a home study agency in Texas, and that all would go perfectly according to plan. But I do think that I needed a reminder to trust in the Lord and to continue in prayer and petition before Him. I needed the encouragement to keep digging deep.

With Children’s Connections now on board and the beginnings of the paperwork being filled in, I feel assured that this was one step in a series of steps that will require waiting and digging deep. I’m certain that through this journey I am going to learn more about perseverance than I have on any previous journey. And I’m fairly confident that there will be many times that I will grow impatient and forget about waiting on the Lord and digging deep.

Lessons in perseverance are some of those lessons that we have to learn and relearn over a lifetime, and I think we never learn them perfectly. But I’m thankful for a patient Father who when we fail to persevere, catches us in our stumble and reminds us to keep digging deep.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Lubbock in My Rear View Mirror

I have never wanted to live in Lubbock, Texas.

When I was probably 8 or 9 my family considered a relocation to Austin. The company my father worked for at the time was moving its head office to Austin, and Dad was asked to go.

I loved those few days we spent in Austin, exploring the possible move. I remember house hunting and being simply awed by the place. (There was a house that had a bunk-bed with a slide!) I was so excited about moving and felt that we absolutely had to move to this new and exciting place… But unfortunately the rest of my family did not feel this way. So Dad took another job, and we stayed in Lubbock.

Everything else outside of Lubbock always seemed somehow bigger and grander than this quite, slow-paced town. (It should be noted that Lubbock is a city of just over 200,000 people, and thus not quite as small as some may picture it.) As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to “get out.” I dreamed of other places far, far away. And I did apply to colleges far, far away, but instead ended up attending college in Abilene—smaller than Lubbock and only a few miles down the road. But even still, Abilene was not Lubbock and was close to a far bigger place—Dallas-Fort Worth.

Since then, I’ve never looked back. From Portland to Colorado Springs to Mmametlhake to Johannesburg—never once entertaining the idea of moving back to Lubbock on a permanent basis.

And that’s why I can’t explain it.

I visited Lubbock over the Christmas holidays. I was there to spend time with my family, obtain a South African work permit and prepare my family for the new addition. Sitting in the pew with my family one Sunday, I inexplicably found myself praying, longing to move back to Lubbock. Praying to live in this humdrum, West Texas town with little in the way of entertainment, no hiking trails nearby, and restaurant chains and box stores by the dozens. Where the wind blows a gale majority of the year and walls of dirt are known to come flying along with it. Where trees do not grow naturally and the horizon is as flat as a sheet of paper.
That big cloud is actually a dust storm blowing in.

The prayer seemed somehow against my very nature but resonated so perfectly within my spirit. How could I be praying this prayer?

But that prayer took hold. First my work permit fell through, meaning I would not be able to begin fostering when I returned to SA. Then we found out that if I chose to adopt through the South African courts it would take 6-7years before Hannah would be legally recognized as my child by both the South African and US governments. (Through our Oasis Haven connections, an inter-country adoption will hopefully take 6-12months.) On top of these setbacks, I began to see how much I needed my family, Hannah* would need my family and how much my family needed me.

So the decision was made--at the end of march, I would be moving home to Lubbock.

A friend asked me recently how I felt about moving back. My response: I guess it is time for the wanderer to go home. And I suppose there is something romantic about that idea—something full circle and complete.
I must admit that I look forward to throwing dinner parties and to seeking out the “mom and pop” eateries forgotten amid the chains. To reconnecting with friends from school days and forming new friendships with those who have discovered Lubbock’s hidden charms. To bringing Hannah home and showing her glimpses of my childhood as she lives hers.

It’s a circle that’s ends could not be drawn together until there was a me who understood the me I was created to be. A me full of confidence in my Author, and full of hope where I lack confidence in Him.

As I prepare to move back, what I look forward to most is my first West Texas sunset in twelve years. These are the sunsets of dreams. The kind of sunsets where the pinks, oranges and dusky blues seem almost impossible colors. The kind that bring tears to your eyes, as you watch speechless, unable to fully drink in the beauty. The kind of sunsets that make you pull over on the side of the road just to admire them. These are the sunsets that cause you to lift your hands in spontaneous worship of the Creator God.

And I know that on that day, with that sunset, I will know without a doubt that the wanderer is home.

*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Hannah’s Prayer

Hannah has long been one of my favorite biblical heroines. I am not sure that most people would consider her worthy of that title. She did not save her people from destruction like Esther. She did not lead an army into battle like Deborah. She did not harbor spies, or leave her homeland and all she knew, or cast off her reputation to wash a man’s feet. Hannah is quiet and meek and really the exact opposite of your typical definition of heroine.

But Hannah’s faith and her willingness to give everything up to the Lord, puts her in that class for me.
I have honestly never wanted to be a mother. I like kids. In every job or volunteer position I’ve ever held, I've worked with kids in one way or another. I enjoy my niece and nephew, have always been close with my friend’s children, and would rather be in a setting that has a great family vibe than one with a trendy nightlife.

But that being said, I never really wanted to be a mom myself.

Lots of people over the years have told me that they thought I would make a great mom. I would give them a “Really? Thanks.” and in my heart think, Sure, but that’s not for me. Too much of a wanderer I guess to even consider the possibility. And while marriage has been on the table, kids weren’t. I guess I thought someday that I might change my mind and think about it, but that was in a far distant future that didn’t exist yet.

And then I met my Hannah*.

One of the children I have come to know and love since beginning work at Oasis Haven, Hannah always stood out. There was immediately a different bond between us—something stronger and deeper than the hugs and kisses or the “Auntie Amanda come see”s or the games and playtimes.

I can’t tell you for certain when I knew that Hannah was my daughter. I just know that one day I knew. One day I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was my child and the cry in my heart was to be her mother. I prayed and prayed and asked God what to do with this knowledge. My boyfriend was still my boyfriend and it would probably be another year before we would marry. Could it wait that long? Would another family come forward to adopt her? Would my boyfriend feel the same way?

I prayed and cried out to God for months. And often would flip over to 1 Samuel reading Hannah’s story over and over again, commiserating with her longing and her anguish. About the time that I was ready to tell my boyfriend—when marriage plans were being formed and I believed that there was a chance—we broke up. I was devastated.

I cried over him, but I also cried over Hannah, believing her lost to me. And I cried for God to bring another mom and dad for her so that she could have the best in life and a place to belong.

Months down the road, when the grief was less tender, I again began to look at Hannah and wonder. I still felt deep in my inmost parts, that this was my daughter. But what could I do. I was single with no future husband, no future father, anywhere in sight. This didn’t make sense. My family and my best support structures were on the other side of the world. Living as a volunteer in South Africa for so long had depleted my savings. I couldn’t afford to be a mom. But that cry of my heart was still there. Still crying out.

I sat in church one Sunday in August. The pastor talked about family. He talked about adopting his own son. He talked about God’s family. And in the midst of it, I heard God’s still small voice saying, “Hannah’s your daughter, so what are you going to do about it? Trust Me and know that I will take care of all the details.”

After the service, I told my friend (Hannah’s house mom). She affirmed me and a few days later when we talked of it again, after I approached our adoptions manager and shared my heart with her, she told me that she had cried for Hannah when my boyfriend and I broke up thinking that she had lost her chance for a family. She told me she believed I was Hannah’s mom and that she knew this was right.

Since then, every person who knows Hannah and knows my intentions has confirmed it and blessed it. After the shock wore off for my parents and after they went away to pray, they were able to come back with certainty that Hannah was their granddaughter and a pledge to support us in whatever way was needed.

The past few months have been about planning and finding the best way to move forward. We’re now in the final stages before I move back to the US to pursue an inter-country adoption with the hope that we will be able to bring Hannah home forever in 6-12months.

I know that there will still be challenges and roadblocks. I know that this will be a step by step processes. I know that God may still have something else in mind for both Hannah and for me. But most importantly, I know that I need to trust God and persevere. I need to walk forward in faith and hope.

1 Samuel 1:19 says that the Lord remembered Hannah. He remembered her prayer and He was faithful to answer it giving her a child. “She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him’” (v20). I came home and read that passage again on that August Sunday. I wrote the date by these verses, saying to myself, God has remembered me. And I believe that He will continue to do so, remembering both me and my Hannah.

*Hannah is a pseudonym which I will be using moving forward in order to protect my daughter’s identity until she is fully and legally mine.