Thinking versus Being

‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.’ Philippians 4:9

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ Revelation 3:20

*Side note – I tried to post this entry a few weeks ago and encountered some difficulties with the technology of this platform. I believe those issues have been remedied. I appreciate any of you who are still interested in these entries, particularly after a few months of silence.*

Recently I’ve been trying to intentionally integrate some healthier habits into my daily life. The biggest of these are routines to begin and end my day, and an aspect of each of these routines is a time of meditation. I have never given meditation much of an effort in the past, mainly due to my hyperactive brain and because I thought it seemed a bit silly. 

Now, I am still struggling with it because thoughts are not easy things to ignore, but I have moved away from seeing it as a silly activity. In the world I grew up in, and the life that I live, there are very few instances where I am in perfect silence and inactivity. I spend a majority of my time with other people, and when I am alone I am usually listening to music, watching tv, interacting on social media, reading books, texting or video chatting with friends, etc. The only time I am completely inactive and silent is when I am preparing to go to sleep (and even then I sometimes use an audiobook to lull me to sleep). 

We live stimulated lives, and it can be rare and uncomfortable to sit in silence with your breath. As I have been leaning into the practice, I have been confronted with the necessity of it. I like to think of myself as a fairly intellectual person, and as I have been growing in my faith I find myself often in intellectual discourses about God either just with myself in my head or with others. Yet, God has been pushing a message onto my heart : it isn’t enough to just think about God, He wants me to be with Him. 

When I shift my perception of God to someone I have a relationship with, then my life of constant stimulation makes me a bad companion. Imagine if your friends were constantly doing something else while they were with you and never fully invested in the time you were spending together. A friend who spent a lot of time trying to figure you out, but never would set time aside to spend with you. Someone who thinks of you often, but never calls and asks what’s up. We crave attention that isn’t divided or compromised by other things, and God does too. 

Even in the weeks that I have been working through this particular post, I have continued this struggle to lean into the actual experiences I am having and not just think about them. I have difficulty turning off the background noise and sitting in the silence partly because I think I am afraid of the things that God will force me to confront when I do. Maybe I would rather spend my time in my head because then I have control of the conversation. 

I have been spending a lot of my time lately thinking. I am at the stage of my life where a lot of connections are starting to be made about who I am and what things have influenced my process of becoming. From talking with older people, I’ve been told this is a normal part of being in your early twenties and experiencing the world and independence for the first time. However, I am almost feeling a level of self-discovery burnout with how much time I spend thinking about things and trying to decode myself and the life I have lived so far and what hopes I have for the life I have yet to live. My good friend, who has become an older sister type for me, advised me to try and focus more on being present in my body as a way to get out of my head. That I should let my learning come from my moment to moment experiences in my body, and not just the overanalyzed, hyper-processed reality I’ve crafted in my mind. 

This is the conversation that brought me back to this half-abandoned post. It reminded me that I treat my relationship with myself similar to my relationship with God. The more I engage with my understanding of Him, the more I feel like knowing myself is an intimate factor of knowing Him. Studying the art to understand the artist, in a way. However, I take for granted that I will always have myself and Him, so I don’t reserve intentional time for either of us in my life. 

There is a time to think and be theoretical and analytical, but it must be balanced with the time for simply being and experiencing. The Word tells us to think and learn, but not just for the sake of thinking, but as a way to be with God and to really experience Him. 

When you go to an art museum you typically don’t spend the entire time just thinking about the process of creation, the motivation and intention behind the work, or the intellectual interpretations of it. All that may happen, but it is paired with the physical experience of just observing, enjoying, and appreciating. 

When I treat my relationships with myself and with God as purely intellectual things, I feel like that implies that there is a point where I will be able to have thought through everything. That one day I will be done thinking and will have reached a complete understanding of myself and my Creator. However, thinking about a relationship isn’t the same as being in one. When I choose to treat these relationships as ongoing experiences, I remind myself that my personal and spiritual journey has no end. There isn’t a finish line that I can somehow think myself to faster. Life truly is the embodiment of that incredibly cliche phrase: ‘it isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey.’ 

When I am in my head, I’m focused on a destination, but when I am present in my body and in the moment, then I am involved in the journey. The journey can be uncomfortable and scary sometimes, but that is what is going to grow my trust and understanding of myself and the God who created me. I can hear God knocking on the door and I have to choose to open the door and embrace all that that action will bring.

Helping Hands

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

The end of the term brings with it a myriad of stresses, predominantly writing the end-of-term reports for my eighteen students. I had experienced this process as the last term came to a close, and felt prepared for it until everything else in my life spiraled in a perfect storm of chaos. This resulted in the most stressful two weeks I’ve experienced since arriving here. However, within that time of turmoil and stress, God, as He often does, revealed a new facet of Himself to me.

This two week period was packed full of stressors in every aspect of my life, the highlights being: moving houses, daily power outages, a runaway cat, and just being a teacher (that should be self explanatory for anyone who knows a teacher). Yet, now that I am existing in a place of complete calm, relaxation, and rejuvenation, I can see that these stressors brought with them opportunities to ask for help. 

There is a quote in the movie Evan Almighty, where Morgan Freeman playing the role of God says “If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does He give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does He give them opportunities to love each other?”

I have always been someone who would take on the weight of others’ struggles as my own. Someone who strived to be as helpful as possible in every situation. Someone who would often place others’ needs and desires above my own. These may not seem like negative habits on the surface, but the people-pleasing part of me has burdened me my entire life. Not only has it made it difficult for me to determine what my preferences are, but it has also shaped me into being someone who does not value my needs, and doesn’t know how to ask for help when I need it. 

My prayer and focus these past few months has been on reconditioning myself from this people-pleasing mentality that I have clung so tightly to for so many years. So, although at the time, I viewed these frustrating and inconvenient situations as unpleasant burdens, I can now see them as answers to prayer. 

I needed to move all the furniture from my house to my new house, so I had to ask for the help of people with a truck and more upper body strength than me. The house was filthy when we got there, so I had to ask for the help of people who are more experienced at cleaning than me. 

The power outages were interrupting my ability to complete the end-of-term reports on time, so I had to ask for an extension. By doing this, it was revealed that every teacher was experiencing the same struggle and also needed the gift of more time. 

My cat ran away after only having her for two weeks, and although no one could make her come home, I had to ask for help in the form of holding space for me to experience my feelings. Someone to just let me cry and be upset. Someone to be hopeful with me, and for me when my hope was wavering. (The runaway randomly came home after two weeks of wandering the streets of Arusha … if only cats could talk to tell her tales).

My job is stressful on a good day, so I had to be honest with my students and ask for their help to get us through to the end of the term before I completely burned out. I had to ask for help from my coworkers who are more experienced than me on what to do to stretch my energy a week longer than I thought I could.

Now I am halfway through my break from school and feel more at peace, and in tune with my own personal preferences, and am growing in my ability to recognize not only the situations that I may need support, but also the right people to reach out to in each instance. 

I will hold those two weeks in my heart as a reminder that when things are difficult I need to slow down and look for what God is doing in my life through the turmoil. Nothing is random, and nothing He does is for any reason other than to further His glory.

Appreciating the Waiting

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13

The living arrangement that I currently have is sharing a HUGE house with another teacher at the school. The relationship between this house and the school goes all the way back to its conception and the founders of the school lived here. After they moved on, many other teachers and their families occupied the rooms of this home. It resides on a compound with two other houses: one of which was also being used as staff housing, and the other the residence of the landlord. At the end of December, the couple living in the other staff house decided to shift to a new home. The house we live in is much too large for just two people, and now with the other house unoccupied it just didn’t make much sense for the school to continue renting this current property. So the school began the process of arranging a new property to rent as staff housing. The new property has four smaller houses, which is much more sensible for the staff members without children (which is most of us). 

This all developed at a really wonderful time because I was personally beginning to feel the itch to have my own space. I spent the first seventeen years of my life living with my family, and the last five years living with other people, and am really craving the opportunity to live on my own. Once that scratching that itch became a real option, it was almost like I fell down the rabbit hole of fantasizing about this new stage of my life. 

These past six months have provided a lot of transformation and enlightenment in how I understand the world, myself, and God; as well as the relationship that exists between the three. So, to be able to explore these things more deeply in a space that I have cultivated for myself and can have complete freedom to be my organic self without any witnesses has become a vigorously exciting concept to me. 

My friend Emi is in town visiting me again and has been making purchases for the house her and Lemakau are building, and has been just further developing my excitement towards being able to make those purchases for the home that will soon be mine. I have lengthy daydreams about the decor, and furniture I can adorn the space with; the recipes I can experiment with, and the failures in cooking I can learn from; the guests I can have over, and the conversations and memories we will create; the introspection I’ll have space to engage in, and the person I will grow into. These have been consuming my thoughts and interactions for weeks, and it has become difficult for me to make it through a conversation without mentioning how excited I am to move.

Yet, like many things in Tanzania, this move is not following the initially anticipated timeline. When we first found the new compound, the director at my school felt like we would be able to move by the end of January. There were negotiations to be had with the property owner, and renovations to the houses needed to be done, so the move date got pushed to the first Sunday of February. Last news was that the owner was shifting the date again to the beginning of March, so now it is really anybody’s guess of when we will actually move. So, until then, I find myself living in a state of limbo as the school sorts out the situation with the owner. 

At first, I was pretty peeved about the move being so drastically delayed, especially with all the plans and dreams that have been consuming my thoughts. I was feeling so energized and motivated, but with nowhere to put that energy and motivation. Yet, in these past few days, as He often does, God has been slowly revealing what I believe to be the reason behind the waiting. 

With Emi and Lemakau enjoying a longer visit than anticipated by any of us (are you noticing a trend in how ‘planning’ works here?) , it has been a real gift to have the extra space for us to cook and play cards and spend time with each other. It also has been insightful to see the house through someone else’s eyes. When I become accustomed to a space, it is easy for me to lose my appreciation for it, but when someone else is there to point out how beautiful the architecture is, or to remind me to sit out in the peaceful garden, or to dance in the living room, it refreshes my views on it. 

I have also had some other little visitors the past two days to help me see the house through new eyes. Yesterday, after coming back from doing some work at school, I saw five little boys in school uniforms sitting outside my gate. Utilizing the Kiswahili I’ve been acquiring, I spoke with them and discovered that they wanted the fruit that was growing from the tree that they could see over the wall of my compound. I didn’t even know that tree grew fruit, and saw no harm in letting them enjoy it before it rotted or the birds got to it, so I opened the gate for them to come into the compound with me. The second they stepped through the big red gate, two of them sprinted towards a few pieces that had already fallen to ground, while the rest quickly began climbing up and into the branches of the tree to shake more free. They spent maybe thirty minutes releasing the fruits from their branches before deciding it was enough for them. They said their thank yous and goodbyes, and before leaving, one eager boy with a smile spread wide across his face declared “KESHO!” – or “TOMORROW!” 

As promised, around the same time as I found the boys yesterday, I heard a loud knocking on the gate and came out to find a few familiar faces. They greeted me and I invited them back into the compound. Their successful fruit collecting yesterday must have been the talk of their school because today more tiny, uniformed bodies came streaming through the gate and got straight to work; I counted maybe twenty at one point. The more athletic boys deftly maneuvered the branches of the tree, shaking fruits loose and tossing others down to the kids who remained on the ground, shouting instructions and advice to one another the whole time. Today’s harvesting mission lasted over an hour and gathered more attention from the neighbors passing by who could likely see the little boys high up in the tree from the road. So, we had many men and women poking their heads through the gate to see what the fuss was about, and collecting a piece or two of the fruit for themselves before going about their days. 

While I watched the children slowly file back out the gate, their bags and shirts filled with the precious green orbs, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. I had never noticed this tree or paid it any special attention, but it was the holy grail of trees for these children. They invited me into their excitement, and I became a participant in their joy. 

Yes, living alone will be fabulous, and grant me many new experiences and opportunities. However, where I am now is also fabulous, and a blessing in many ways that I haven’t fully appreciated yet. I feel like God is reminding me of His perfect timing once again. Although I may feel like I know what I should be doing, He knows what plans He has for me, and they are much better than my own plans. 

He knew that those kids were going to want that fruit and that I needed to be here to be a part of it. They are a reminder for me to slow down and not be so eager to move onto the next thing without fully appreciating exactly where God has placed me here and now. 

No One Ever Taught Me How to Grieve

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

On Sunday, January 24th my Grandma’s time on this Earth came to an end. It wasn’t at all sudden or unexpected, and I’ve been really struggling with reconciling the emotions I am experiencing with the emotions I think I should be experiencing. 

If you are someone who knows my parents, then you are aware that they exist on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum: my father being hyper-logocial, and my mother being hyper-emotional. This combination has created within me, their offspring, a neverending turmoil of two extremes. I am constantly being pulled in both directions when faced with processing big events such as these. 

The part of me that is my father wants me to just rest in the facts that not only am I thousands of miles away and therefore can’t do much about the situation, but that death isn’t really a situation anyone can do much of anything about to begin with. Her children and husband were able to say their goodbyes, and in terms of dying during the middle of a pandemic, this seems like it was a relatively ideal one. Also that it was a death of a believer that had been in the process of dying for many years, and being united with our Creator shouldn’t be a sad thing. 

Yet, the part of me that is my mother is pulling me towards a well that is overflowing with years of unprocessed emotions related to my Grandma, and death in general. This part is still there to remind me that I never fully processed the death of my last grandparent, that occured over six years ago. To dredge up every emotion that one could experience in the event of death. This part doesn’t however give me much direction in terms of which emotion I should be feeling at any given moment. Am I lonely being so far from family? Am I upset I wasn’t able to say goodbye? Am I guilty for not putting more of an effort into my relationship with her? Am I nostalgic for the times of my life I spent with her? Am I disappointed that she will never know my potential future children, or anything about my potential future? 

The likely answer is that I am a combination of all of these things and more than I still cannot accurately name. I just feel them all at once that it is hard to identify which feeling it is, and if it cannot be identified, then it cannot be dealt with. When I can’t see a way of dealing with it, then I do my best to simply bury the emotions deep, and pack them away until a time when it will be more convenient for me to deal with them. 

But grief is never convenient. It doesn’t work around the schedules we make for ourselves, and it certainly doesn’t care about disrupting those plans. I found myself most days this past two weeks focusing on the fact that I was busy; I had work to do for school, I had friends coming into town, I had packing to do for an upcoming move, etc. I had other things that needed my attention, so I kept pushing the grief aside and trying to schedule the mourning for a time that would be more convenient for me.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” I am certainly not the one making the cosmic schedule of when it is time to be born or die, and yet I still strive for control over when it is time to weep, mourn, and dance. I feel God teaching me during early days of grieving my grandma to trust the instincts He has placed within me when it comes to experiencing my emotions. I don’t need to justify or have a “good” reason to cry – if I feel to cry, then it is time to cry. I don’t need to justify or have a “good”  reason to dance – if I feel to dance, then it is time to dance. I don’t need to justify or have a “good” reason to be silent – if I feel to be silent, then it is time to be silent. 
The greatest gift of drawing close to God’s will and forging it with my own, is that I don’t need to question the natural flow of things like emotions. God granted me the ability to experience a wide range of feelings, and I am learning that they are not something I need to control or fully comprehend. No one ever taught me how to grieve, and I think it is okay to not know how and to just grieve.

Something about the Bush

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

My school resumed class sessions the first Monday of this New Year, which quickly sucked me from the peaceful, restful, contemplative space that was my holiday, back into the hustle and bustle of the education world. In an attempt to recapture that time, while also processing all that I experienced, I am here at my humble keyboard, unsure of which words I will end up sending from my screen to yours, dear reader. 

This being my first Christmas season spent both on a different continent from all my relatives, and without any snow at all, I was tasked with the challenge of how to make Christmas feel like Christmas. Capturing the essence of the Christmas feeling was already becoming increasingly difficult as I’ve gotten older, so this year simply added another layer to that struggle. 

I figured the best place to be was amongst family, and since I had none of my own here I decided to borrow someone else’s. My friend Kanaya travelled with me the distance of two long and bumpy bus rides, and one shorter yet bumpier motorcycle ride, to his boma in the Maasai village of Lempapule where we spent two weeks. 

Maasai life is something that is so vastly different from anything I have experienced before, and yet it felt as natural and comfortable as slipping on an old sweater. Some context: the Maasai are one of the indigenous tribes of Tanzania and Kenya. Most of them live a pastoral life tending cows, goats, and sheep in the Afrikan bush. After spending time living among them, I feel confident in saying that they are the blueprint for what a pure, unselfish community looks like. There is very little, if any, concept of “yours” and “mine”; at the end of the day there is just “ours”. One person’s good fortune means good things for all. One person’s struggle is everyone’s responsibility for remedying. One person’s poor decision ripples through to the lives of everyone in the community. 

To be given the opportunity to experience this level of community was a precious gift that overwhelmed me at some moments. Coming from such an individualistic community where we put up fences and labels and divide our lives as clearly as possible from those around us, this way of life was a huge shift in perspective. 

There was a day where I had brought back my leftover chipsi mayai (basically an omelette with french fries cooked into it) to the boma, and since I couldn’t finish it I gave it to one of the teenage boys who was around at the time. Without being asked, or even expected to, he immediately found his siblings and cousins to share the special treat with all of them. This moment feels like such a perfect snapshot of the level of community and cooperation that they grow up operating with. 

I directly benefited from this selfless caring for others when I awoke on Christmas day sicker than a dog. 

I had travelled to Emi and Lemakau’s boma to spend the holiday with them, and something snuck up on mine and Emi’s immune systems and made our ability to enjoy the festivities near impossible. We tried our hardest by travelling into the village to hear the Christmas choir competitions that the women spent weeks preparing for, but we were both wracked with discomfort the entire time we were there. I found myself sleeping sitting up in a small bar while the rain poured outside and the men shouted stories around me. After attempting, and failing, to eat something, we decided it was best just to go back and try to sleep it off. 

One of their close friends, Baraka, had a proper mattress at his house (most of the Maasai sleep on cow skins atop a bed of twigs) and offered it to me to rest. I proceeded to sleep, taking breaks of consciousness to drink water/call my family/take medicine, for about 20 hours. In the morning, Baraka’s mother came to give me natural medicine that is made from ancient recipes passed down from countless generations back, and gave me a perfectly crafted stomach massage. 

These weren’t the kinds of Christmas gifts I have received in the past, but they were necessary to serve a specific purpose for me this year. Not only were they immense blessings, but “Baraka” literally means “Blessing” in Kiswahili. Everything about this situation felt like street signs pointing me towards the giver of all blessings. 

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie trailer: as I was out there in the bush searching for Christmas, God revealed the true reason for the season right before my eyes. The greatest act of love; the greatest sacrifice; the greatest blessing given to us not once a year, but every minute of every day. I don’t need snow, a tree, or cookies to recognize and give gratitude for that truth. 

The Unashamed Washing of Feet

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7

Growing up in concrete paved suburbia, I never really understood the significance of feet washing in the Bible. Maybe my feet didn’t always smell the best and could have tolerated more frequent washing, but for the most part they just got washed whenever the rest of my body did, and that is all they really needed. 

The roads I live on now still aren’t quite how I imagine the roads Jesus walked on were like, but they are closer than what I’ve experienced before. My walk to school is a short one, but it is on a very dusty dirt road. If it hasn’t rained recently, then every step taken releases a small puff of dust from the Earth below my foot. So, although I don’t go far, by the end of the day my feet are decently filthy, and I have to wash them before I can get into my bed. Sometimes, enough of the dust accumulates in our house that even just walking around indoors can make the bottoms of my feet black and in need of another wash. Due to all these factors, I have found myself washing my feet multiple times a day for the first time in my life. 

In church the other week we read the story of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears. Even though I have read this story many times before, this was the first time hearing it where the significance of this moment finally clicked for me in a way it never had before. 

The image of me washing my own feet became clear in my mind, as I imagined this woman at the feet of the Saviour. It is written that she was “weeping, [and] she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head” (Luke 7:38). Before I knew how much water it takes to wash dirt that is caked onto feet, I didn’t visualize the extent to which she must have been crying. The word “weeping” is used intentionally because in order for her to be able to wet his feet enough to clean them, she had to be producing a significant amount of tears. 

In the past, the image I had developed around this story was a quiet one. One where she was moving slowly, silently, and not disturbing anyone as she cleaned his feet. But the image that comes into view for me now is one that is unashamedly disruptive. Anyone who has weeped to the extent that Mary Magdalene had to have been to clean Jesus’ feet knows that you cannot cry like that and be quiet. This was not a mute, closed lipped, controlled cry. This was a full body, heavy breathing, open mouth, repentant wail. Not only that, but she follows this by pouring a flask of perfume onto his feet. If you have ever been around a middle school boy, you know how potent excessive body spray can be. I’m assuming she was not using AXE body spray on his feet, but regardless of the brand, it was likely a strong scent that would overpower any other scents in the room. There is no way that this could have been an unnoticed act. 

Something God has been placing on my heart and mind recently is the concept of performative religion: behaviors or practices that we engage in for the sake of others and not for His sake. When I was younger, I often found myself wanting to memorize verses to impress others at youth group, or to say beautiful prayers to be perceived in a particular way by those hearing them. I even had to postpone my first baptism when it became obvious that I was just doing it because some of my peers were doing it, and not because I was actually prepared to make that declaration of faith. Church, and much of my life outside of church, became centered around others and what they thought about me. As I have begun to revitalize my faith these past few years, I would often be driven to tears during worship and sermons. Yet, I would try to stifle them and hide the emotions I was experiencing from those around me. So for me to see this woman being so completely engulfed with the presence of Jesus that she doesn’t even attempt to minimize her behaviour, or accomodate the others in the room, is incredibly powerful. In order to do what she was doing, she couldn’t be thinking about anything other than being with and worshipping Jesus. She couldn’t be thinking about what the other men in the room must think of her, or how disgusting her hair is going to be when she wipes the filth from his feet, or even how expensive the ointment she was pouring was. 

When I read Bible stories, my initial reaction is to think that I am represented by the faithful and the just. That if I was a character in this story I would be Mary Magdalene, throwing the entirety of my self at the feet of Jesus. Yet, I know deep in my heart that if I was really a character in this story I would be Simon, judging her in her display of affection towards Jesus. I know I would be Simon because I have been Simon many times before. I have seen people speak and behave in ways that proved their faith, and I judged them for it. As if that is not exactly what we are each called to do. I can recognize now that my judgement stems from my discomfort in witnessing others behave in ways that seemed so unreachable for me. It isn’t something that can be faked, and that level of honesty and vulnerability is only achievable with the assistance of the Spirit. I can’t transform from Simon into Mary Magdalene by my own abilities, and I think by trying to for so long I was missing the whole point.

I can look like her, but I can never be like her until I stop caring so much what my faith looks like to others and focus more on what my heart looks like to God. What my faith looks like means nothing if my heart doesn’t match it. I am learning to let go of the perception of others, and rest in the freedom of the Lord.

Connection in the Disconnection

The following blog post was written approximately three weeks ago, however, due to the chaos of completing my first full term of being an employed educator, it is only just being shared now. It is a bit longer than others, so maybe that makes up for the weeks of silence. Despite the delay, the sentiments contained below still ring true for me. 

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” Genesis 2:18

The past few weeks have been jammed packed with things experienced that demand to be processed. They took place in the midst of major elections occurring in both my home country, and the country I currently call home. Due to the one in the latter country, I found myself with no network connection for almost two weeks, and am still experiencing some limitations now three weeks post-election. 

The things I feel like deserve to be discussed fit into three main categories: the art of planning; language is a bridge, not a barrier; and the gift of relationships. 

The Art of Planning 

While on Zanzibar Island last summer, I was lucky enough to forge some friendships that have sustained the year of separation. One of them is with a remarkable young woman, Emi, from Alaska who has been living in Afrika for about four years now. The other is with a Maasai, one of the native tribes that hail in Tanzania and Kenya, named Kanaya. 

Three weeks ago, my school was off for our mid-term break (which wasn’t actually in the middle of the term, and was chosen to accommodate the election). Since I was to have a week off from school, and Zanzibar is only a two day trek from where I live in Arusha, I figured this would be a good opportunity to go and visit with the friends I had been separated from for so long. 

I was coordinating with Kanaya so that we could make it a special surprise for Emi. I had a bus ticket, and a taxi coming to pick me up at 5:00am on Saturday morning. After a long day of parent-teacher conferences on Friday, I was beginning to pack for my journey when I got a call from Emi. I thought that it was such a wild coincidence, and that she must have somehow sensed that I was just thinking about her. 

She says to me, “Hey! I’m going to be in Arusha either tomorrow or Sunday, would you have time for us to see each other?”

Shocked, I replied, “You’re coming to Arusha? But I’m getting on a bus in twelve hours to come to Zanzibar to see you!!”

Emi tells me, “I have been in Maasai home for two weeks, not in Zanzibar!  I have some errands to do in Arusha before going back. Kanaya knew that… we shouldn’t let him plan surprises anymore.”

We laughed for a long time, then frantically made arrangements to reimagine all plans that had been made. My roommate helped me call the bus office to get my ticket cancelled and refunded. Then, early the next morning, my coworker went with me to pick up the refund money and deposit it onto my phone. I could then transfer it to Kanaya to buy his own bus ticket to come to Arusha. It all happened in overdrive, but late Sunday night, after a long struggle of providing directions to my home, I had all my people gathered in my kitchen making dinner and dancing together. 

The lesson learned: never trust a Maasai to plan a surprise, especially if his name is Kanaya. 

Language is a Bridge, Not a Barrier

Something I have been spending a lot of mental energy on since I’ve moved here has been the process of learning Kiswahili, the dominant language of Tanzania. It hasn’t been something that has impacted me too much, since at my school everyone speaks English all day long, and I don’t really interact with many people other than my coworkers. So the week I had my Kiswahili speaking friends living with me had me really reflecting on the phrase “language barrier”. 

I understand what the phrase is trying to speak to – it can be difficult to express ideas and hold conversation with someone who does not share your mother tongue. However, I am growing into a believer that this difficulty can function more as a bridge than a barrier. 

My friendship with Lemakau, one of the Maasai that came with Emi and Kanaya to stay with me, is one of the things that proved this theory to me. He knows about the same amount of English as I know of Kiswahili, so finding a way to communicate became an ongoing adventure for us. At first glance, it could seem as if it was a barrier keeping us from forging a friendship, but as we continued to spend time together, it became the key tool to doing just that. Our interactions became rooted in finding creative ways to communicate. We played a lot of card games, and learned that the joy of winning transcends language. We cooked together, and learned that he is the better chef and I should just stay out of the way. We took turns teaching each other phrases in our own languages, and found comradery in the struggle of learning. At the end of the week, we still could not speak to each other in a way that the other would fully understand, but we knew that we are friends in the ways that count. 

The other friendship that deeply reflects these thoughts is the one I share with Kanaya. Kanaya was one of my students from the adult learning program I volunteered with last summer in Zanzibar. Our friendship was very directly born out of the acquisition of language. After my three weeks of assisting in his learning of English, I returned to the States and we remained in contact. Now, over a year later, we reversed the roles for our reunion and spent a lot of our shared time with him teaching me Kiswahili. It really emphasized my philosophy that everyone has something to teach, and that no one is ever done learning. It gave us a way to see each other as teachers, cultivate inside jokes from the errors we make, and deepen our bond. 

The Gift of Relationships 

The greatest takeaway from the many, many things that I learned from my week with a full house is the importance of people. God did not stop with Adam, but gifted him Eve because He knew that humans need other humans. He did not design us to be alone, but to be creatures that exist in community with one another. That community is one of the sweetest gifts. 

I began this journey very literally alone, quarantined  in my house, in a new country, and with many broken friendships left in the States. As the weeks have progressed, God has slowly been gifting me people that have been hand-selected for me. My empty house became a home when He gave me Mama Sabina to fill it with her warmth and wisdom. My craving for female bonds was satisfied with my dear coworker Julia and her understanding ears. My uncertainty of my place of belonging was reconciled when He gave me both renewed and new connections, which solidified that I am where I need to be. 

I am grateful for everyone I am allowed to know in this life, and all of those I have yet to meet. God is reminding me to look for Him in all of His children, and to not let the value of relationships be forgotten.

The Spiders in the Corner Make a Joke

Today is cleaning day, and as I clear away new cobwebs I am reminded of a silly short story I wrote about the first spider murders I committed here. When I first arrived, I had to quarantine in my house for a week, so this story is partially born out of that isolation. So, I present to you, The Spiders in the Corner Make a Joke :

As the eggs on the stovetop sizzle and sing, shooting droplets of  grease onto the countertop, I take a sip of my morning tea. Green; not too hot; served with two spoonfuls of sugar. Once the yolk has masterfully transformed from its state of oozing liquid, into its not-quite-solid-but-definitely-something-new phase of life, it is scraped from the pan to the plate and sprinkled with salt. I pull the chair from the table, scrunching my face as I brace for the screech of the wooden legs on the tile floor because I can never seem to just pick up the chair no matter how gruesome the noise is. 

I plunge the fork into the yellow pool and let it drip a little onto the whites of the plate before bringing it to my lips. Before I can return for the next bite, I hear a faint snicker. Swallowing slowly, I listen more intently. There it is again. More than one this time, maybe even five or six. I stand from my seat, barely even registering the floor’s complaints, and look around for the source of the sound. My eyes fall to the corner of the kitchen, just above the door frame, and seven little bodies, eight legs each, trapezing themselves from the webs and shuttering with laughter. 

I shouted up at them, “Excuse me! What do you think you are doing up there?”

The largest of them, the matriarch, responded, “Oh, you know, just hanging out!” 

Her family burst into another round of uncontrollable laughter. 

“Where did all the rest of them come from? Yesterday it was just you and one other!” I call back. 

They all snickered lightly as she explained how her dear Uncle was chased from his home, and how her precious cousins were too young to fend for themselves, and how her poor nephew had just been broken up with, and how her aging mother was visiting from out of town, and how she couldn’t possibly have left all with no where to stay. She continued to rave about how lovely my home was with its tall ceiling and empty corners, and how I almost never think to clean. 

I stamped my foot indignantly. “I clean when it is necessary! I don’t have time to clean just for the fun of it.” 

Another flutter of giggles from the corner. 

Returning to the problem at hand I replied, “So you just invited your whole family into my home? What are they offering as payment?”


“Yes, payment! I’m not running a charity here! Every creature must pay their dues. The cricket on the door frame is the guardian of this home. He ensures that no one gets in who has not been invited, or poses a threat to my wellbeing. He also happens to be very wise, and provides me sage advice and council when I am in need of it. 

“The lizard on the porch is in charge of keeping the mosquitoes at bay; she knows how their bite can harm me, and is diligent to keep them from feasting on me. She is also a wonderful encouragement to me; no matter how many times she may lose her tail, it always grows back in a week or two. Such a lovely reminder of the temporary nature of the problems of life. 

“Now, the slugs in the shower are dearest of all. They keep me company while I do my lonesome tasks, and know me more intimately than any of the others. They never neglect to compliment me and remind me of my worth. I would not be who I am today without them. 

“The ants in this very kitchen are my little janitors. They find any stray crumbs and deal with them hastily and efficiently. Yet, as you well know, they can be a bit overeager sometimes; coming for crumbs not meant for them and bringing more workers than necessary for the job. 

“That is where you were meant to come in, Ms. Spider! Our bargain was that you would manage the ants and keep them from crowding me too much. Alas, look behind you!” I gestured to the line of ants marching up and down the wall directly behind the family. 

“Not only are you neglecting to hold up your end of the bargain, but you have now invited your whole family into my home with nothing to offer me in return!”

I stomped away towards the closet, grabbed a broom, and marched right back to face them. 

Not understanding the gravity of their situation, the matriarch squealed, “Oh, please don’t hurt us, my cousin has big dreams! He desperately wants to grow up to be a web designer!” 

They all rattled with laughter, and at that same moment I brought the broom up to the corner where they resided and swatted until every trace of them had been erased. 

I put the broom back in the closet, and returned to my eggs. Enjoying every bite in sweet silence, I cleared the plate. 

As I washed my dishes, I whispered to the ants by the sink, “Ya know, I feel a little guilty about killing them. They do look genuinely crushed.”

God Rides the Daladala

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4

As anticipated, there are many aspects of life here in Tanzania that are different than those I have grown accustomed to in the USA. One of these that has impacted my life the most is public transportation. The process of getting both an international drivers’ license and a car just feels tedious and unnecessary for me, so I’ve opted for the alternative measures of getting from place to place. Luckily, the school I work at is a short five minute walk from my house, and that is the main place that I travel to, so there hadn’t been much of an issue. Yet, as I approach the two month mark of living here, it was becoming painfully obvious that I needed to go somewhere other than school and home, and, in order to grow in my newfound independence, I needed to do it alone. Thus, the issue of the daladala. 

There are two main methods of transportation for distances that are too far to walk, and for those who do not own a vehicle of their own : bodaboda and daladala. The bodaboda is usually just a man on a motorcycle that you either have his number to call him and have him pick you up, or sometimes they will offer a ride if they are driving past you on the road. These are terrifying to me, and also more expensive since they are just transporting one person at a time. Which leaves the daladala as the most viable option. It is most closely understood as a sort of bussing system, except the buses are really just vans, and there is no set schedule or 100% consistent route that they take. They are typically marked with different colored stripes to show where they are headed, but sometimes could be going somewhere else, so it is good to check. The process of riding in the daladala is such: you walk to the main road, wait for one to stop, see if they are going where you want (sometimes this is simply shouted by a man who hangs out of the side window as they drive past), get in, then tell them when you want them to stop, and pay them as you get off. The first few steps repeat with every passenger, until you are certain that they cannot fit anymore people in the van, and then they somehow manage to fit a few more. 

My first experience with the daladala was the second week I was here. One of the teachers at the school, who is an original employee from when the school was founded, took me to town to show me around and help me get oriented in my new home. The benefit to traveling with a local is that your worries disappear because someone who knows more than you in taking care of everything. The downside is that it is difficult to replicate on your own. After that first adventure, I didn’t ride the daladala again for many weeks afterwards. 

There were three key problems I was encountering. The first was that I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I was taking grocery trips with a fellow teacher who has a car, I don’t know anyone who I could go visit, and I hadn’t found a church to attend yet. Once I discovered a few international churches in the area that I wanted to check out, the first issue diminished, but made room for a new one. This second problem was that I don’t have a good sense of direction, and don’t know where anything is. Although I had found a church that I would like to attend, I lacked the skills to be able to locate it on my own. Which lead me into the third problem, which was one rooted in fear. I was scared to do it. I was scared to get lost. I was scared in a way that I couldn’t quite understand why I was scared. But that fear paralyzed me, and prevented me from going for many weeks. 

At the beginning of this month, the church that two of my coworkers, a married couple that live in my compound, attended was reopening for the first time since March. Since they have a license and a car, I was able to join them for church and successfully avoid confronting my fear of the daladala. However, the following Sunday, Beth-Marie (one half of the couple) wasn’t going to attend and Vance (the other half of the couple) was serving as the worship leader and was going to go early on his motorbike with his guitar, which left me without a convenient car ride. 

The entire morning I could feel myself fighting with God. I kept trying to come up with a good reason or excuse to stay home and not go, but nothing could hold any water. I had somewhere to go. I knew where it was because I had been before, and had been given instructions by Vance of where to get off. The only thing holding me back was this undefinable sense of fear. 

God patiently pulled me one step at a time. 

I put on my clothes, then thought “I don’t have to go”. 

I ate my breakfast and thought “I could just stay home”. 

I put on my shoes and thought “It isn’t that big of a deal, I should just do it”. 

I paced around my kitchen, going back and forth between “I don’t have to” and “Yes I do”.

I made it out the front door and to the gate of my compound, pausing there and thinking “Once I leave I have to do it. If I want to stay home I have to stop now”.

I went through the red gate and began walking down the street towards the main road, and thought to myself “Okay I’m really doing it.”

I approached another church and saw some wazungu (white people/ travellers), and even a family from school. I thought, “They might have an English service, I could just stop here and then I don’t have to do it”.

My feet kept going though, and I passed the church and kept making my way to the main road. I finally reached it and there was a daladala waiting there, like a chariot from heaven. I got inside and thought “Well there is no stopping now”. 

It went the exact route that Vance had described to me, and another passenger was getting off in the same area, so I didn’t even have to struggle with asking them to stop in my beginner Kiswahili. I didn’t know how much it cost, so I decided to try and pay more than I thought it was and just receive change. I handed him a bill worth 5,000 shillings, which I ended up feeling very silly for when he returned 4,600 shillings in change to me.

I didn’t see the church at first and began to get nervous, but then saw it come up on my left. I had done it! The thing that I had been anxious over periodically for weeks, and consistently for the whole morning, was really nothing to be afraid of. 

I have to admit that taking the daladala was not like what I imagine “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” would feel like, but it was something that Satan was convincing me I couldn’t do. To some extent, he was right. I couldn’t do it, not on my own. But I let myself be distracted from the fact that I have the best tour guide with me all the time. One who knows not just more than me, but more than anyone, anywhere, anytime. If He is capable of guiding me through the valley of the shadow of death, without fear, while keeping me safe and comforted, then there isn’t anything on this Earth I can’t do with Him. Including, but not limited to, riding the daladala.

Love Letters From Heaven

“Do not be anxious in anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” Phillipians 4: 6-7

When I was offered the position at CCIS in March, there was still hope that COVID-19 would be “over” by summer and things would go back to “normal”. Now that we are in October, we know that things like this aren’t quite that simple, and that “normal” is constantly being edited. As the months progressed and my departure date came closer and closer, in addition to an ever growing to-do list, there were a lot of questions, and anxieties that were presenting themselves every day. Not only was I moving across the globe, but I was also the last to move out of my family home in Fort Collins and was tasked with getting it ready for selling. 

After a little over a decade of Meltons and their roommates living in this house, we collected a fair amount of other people’s random junk that needed to be dealt with, along with my own personal junk, before I moved out. The process of moving was consuming enough that it kept me so preoccupied that I was able to avoid the anxieties of actually moving. Once I was out of Fort Collins, and spending my last remaining weeks in the country at my parents’ house, my to-do list was now exclusively centered on leaving, and anxieties began to live in my head rent-free. 

One thing that was providing me with a great deal of stress was the current mandate that anyone entering the country of Tanzania, would need a negative COVID-19 test from within three days of leaving their country. If you know anything about how long it takes to get a COVID-19 test result, and how long it takes to travel to an African country then you can see why that would be stressful. If you don’t, let me do some math with you : the average test takes up to 10 days to get back, and it takes 2-3 days to reach Africa depending on layovers and final destinations. For me to take a test three days before leaving would mean that I would likely be in the air or already landed before receiving my results. The prospect of having to come back because of a positive test result, and not knowing if I was endangering others until I had already done it was terrifying to me. 

A week before I was set to leave I discovered that the mandate had been lifted and a negative result was no longer required to enter the country. It felt like a little love note sent straight from God saying “I got you. Stop worrying.” 

As if that wasn’t enough, he still had a few more love notes for me.

I had been postponing buying my plane ticket until I had logistics figured out about what day I needed to arrive, and was confident that nothing was going to prevent me from going. I had also postponed filing my taxes, since I could. I decided to end my procrastination for both in one night, which revealed that my tax return was almost the exact same amount as my plane tickets ended up being. 

I chose my flight path pretty randomly based on the best price and what seemed to be the best route. The first leg of my trip took me to Virginia where I would have a 12 hour layover. I didn’t realize at the time that the airport I was flying into was only a 20 minute drive from the home of my Aunt and Uncle who I hadn’t seen in multiple years. My flight landed close to midnight, but my Uncle is a night owl and was able to not only pick me up, but provide me a perfect arrangement of snacks, wine, conversation, a few hours of rest in an actual bed, followed by a breakfast of french toast and mimosas. It was such a precious gift to be able to spend those few hours with my family members. I was mentally prepared to spend my last night in America on an airport floor, eating airport food, but God had other plans in mind. 

The next love letters came to me in the form of human bodies. 

Before leaving the states, I found myself in a conflict that resulted in the severing of a close friendship. This loss left me raw, reeling, and feeling very alone. I prayed for friendships that were genuine with women of God who would help and encourage my growth instead of hurting and hindering me. I also was hopeful for a female mentor to, among more profound things, teach me the basics of being a functioning human being like cooking, cleaning, taking care of myself, etc. 

When I arrived in Arusha, I spent the first week alone under quarantine. The second week we began training for the beginning of school, and I discovered that I would be working with an almost entirely female staff coming from various countries. Despite having access to strong, beautiful women of God, I was still struggling with moving our relationships into the outside-the-workplace phase. There was one day I was journaling about feeling like I didn’t have a personal life outside of school and wrestling with how to reconcile those feelings. Not even 4 hours later, one of the other new teachers from Spain, who is the closest coworker to my age, began to confide that she was experiencing the same feelings. I hadn’t even revealed having those feelings myself yet, and it was like she was reading the words I had written just a few hours before to me. We have entered into a sweet friendship and actually spent time together outside of the walls of the school compound! She has been living here for about three years now with her husband who is a native, so her Swahili is much better than mine which allows her to serve as my safety blanket as I explore life in this new place. 

Just a few days before school started, the principal let me know that they had hired a woman from Kenya to come and teach the Year 1/2 class, and that she would be living with me. The house we now share has homed many families that worked for the school, including the founder, and was much too big for just me – it is honestly still too big for the two of us – so having a roommate was a welcome addition to the space. She is a vibrant, confident, wise, and powerful woman of God, who happens to have a son who is also 22, so she is very literally old enough to be my mother. I had made many jokes before I left the states about finding a Mama in my area to teach me to cook, and when she moved in I could feel God saying “Here you go!” 

These are just a few examples of the endless stream of love notes God sends my way on a daily basis. It is so sweet to be loved by the designer of the universe who knows exactly what we need and how to give it to us.