I see Africa

I see Africa

I see a baobab tree on my walk.

I see Africa here sometimes. When I’m on a walk and there’s a gravel road with wide open spaces and just a few trees here and there, growing up out of the dry ground. There are no leaves or anything, just mesquite bones reaching for the sky. They remind me of baobab trees, but of course not nearly as tall and majestic, or as ancient as kings.
I’m told to watch for rattlesnakes here (by people who have lived here their whole lives), so my eyes dart left and right the whole time, always on the lookout for snakes. Only here I’m on pavement most of the time, so looking for snakes is much easier. And there are no land mines, so that’s a plus.

The wind is hot, and summer is about six months long, so it feels like Africa when I’m outside. I feel like wearing skirts and tank tops and a thick headband to hold my already short hair back. But AC exists here, making denim shorts and a shirt with a cami, and even jewelry, doable. Speaking of shorts, you can show your legs here in America! If you want to. Knees and thighs aren’t nearly as sexual as they are in West Africa where they must remain covered, preferably under a fun patterned wax print. Although on the flip side, I have yet to drive downtown or by a field in Texas and see a topless woman. But then again, we’ve only been here a year and a half. (Fun fact: In Guinea Shawn coined the acronym ATBO “Air Them Babies Out” because of how many old topless grannies we encountered.)

There’s one really chipper guy at church who asks more than just, “How are y’all?” He asks about the week, baby, and if she’s teething yet. I feel like I’m in Africa with a greeting like that. And I like it. I’m chilly during the service though (that AC thing again), and the service wraps up before 2pm, so I’m reminded that I’m not, in fact, in Africa. Although things I miss also remind me I’m not in Africa. I miss the spontaneous testimonies where someone just has to get up and declare that God is good because this happened during the week. I miss the over-the-top energetic, give-it-your-all clapping (with a triple beat), and the dancing because we can’t hold still with the joy we’ve got.

I feel sad sometimes, thinking about the world, the globe, and the need that spreads wide throughout. It’s hard to have seen it, lived with it, and not think often of it. Maybe that’s why I see Africa here.
Africa is one of my home away from homes. It was for six years. So I like to find things here that remind me of there. I’ve always been that way with my various homes. When I was living in Cap Skiring, or Quebec, I found little things that reminded me of Colorado, or that cool mountain (lacking in oxygen) air.
A friendly smile, a goat on the loose (it happened in our neighborhood recently), a power outage, a hot afternoon where I dream of fall, a tree growing on the horizon, I see Africa there. I miss seeing babies on backs, eating mafé (although Shawn made some last year and froze it, and I discovered it in the freezer yesterday, so it’s on our near-future menu), seeing kids run out to greet us when we arrive in a village, hearing drums, or cheers when someone scores a soccer goal… but living here in West Texas I’ll take the little reminders I can get of one of my home away from homes: L’Afrique.

I see the familiar silhouette of huts.
I see Joine, or Ziguinchor, or Velingara in our neighborhood sometimes.
Gerbera daisies, pork chops, and such

Gerbera daisies, pork chops, and such

When Noella was just about 15 hours old, Shawn surprised me with three pink gerbera daisies. One for each of us, a family of three. It was such a sweet gesture that made me cry in the midst of an already emotional and unforgettable high in our lives.

I had gerbera daisies in my ‘wildflower’ wedding bouquet. I’ve always loved them.

As soon as we leave church on Sundays Shawn has to go to work until about 5 or 6. I’m not a fan of that, but c’est la vie in the world of retail. And yay for hard working husbands! It just has a tendency to feel a little like the Monday morning grind with dishes and baby nap schedules, even though it’s the weekend. Meanwhile, I assume everyone else (in all of the United States) is fishing, hanging out with family at grandma’s house, sitting on some patio with friends, etc. So I was just being lazy, and feeling a little sorry for myself that it was a blah weekend. Shawn texted me and we decided to grill pork shops for dinner and he asked what sides I’d want. I said how about we grill some of those long green things with tree tops? (Pregnancy brain could not be more real. They’re called asparagus, guys. It’s not hard. You can only imagine how Shawn proceeded to mock me for the rest of the night.) And I’d roast some brussel sprouts (in wild orange olive oil, thank you very much. Yes I will host my own Food Network show. That’s not a problem for me if that’s what you want. Says the girl who can cook about six entrees and about four decent sides. But I’m getting there!).

I realized my outfit, my hair, and our house were looking a little “blah it’s Sunday and the whole world is having a potluck without me”, so I put on my Lady A Pandora station, cleaned speedy fast, put on a new shirt that was longer and less “pot belly”, and more “15 weeks pregnant”, some bright red lipstick (holla), and my red leather earrings (because at that point baby was in bed and there was no risk of her yanking them through my earlobe, causing me to need emergency surgery before my pork chop).

I was ready and committed to make it a fun Sunday night “date night in” together. It’s amazing what some red lipstick can do for your attitude. Seriously! Try it sometime. Make your bed, light a candle in the living room, put on some lipstick, and you’re unstoppable.

Shawn came in the door (I love his “coming home from work” look with that tie undone… and that white undershirt and dress pants…) and he had FOUR BRIGHT RED GERBRA DAISIES for me. (Flowers are not something he brings me very often. Unfortunately, that’s my own fault because I was a brat once and shot myself in the foot when he surprised me with a giiiinormous bouquet in front of my friends and it was so over the top huge that I acted weird and embarrassed and later said I didn’t even like flowers that much. I know! I’m a jerk! But good grief, that was like 11 years ago. I love flowers now! Can we move on? And ps- when I say that bouquet was huge, it was like three feet tall. There were birds of paradise! Those aren’t dainty. Gah, I know it’s silly that I cared. Any girl should be so lucky. But it was too much for me. Kind of like ordering the sizzling fajitas in a restaurant. I can’t do it. Too much attention. Too much “look at me”. Anyway, I’ve changed. I’ve grown. I’ve matured. Bring me all the extravagant flowers!)

Anyway, the daisies…

“Four”? I asked with a grin. “One for each of us” He said.

It was the sweetest surprise. And how perfectly in line for our spontaneous Sunday night date night he didn’t even know we were having!

I walk by those four flowers which I’ve placed on our kitchen table, and I just smile.

I’ll take a vase full, whenever and however, if that’s what God has planned. There were just two daisies in that vase for a long time. The wait is the hardest because you feel like you’re in the dark, and that maybe God forgot about you, your prayer, your request, your plea. “He certainly didn’t forget about everyone else!” You think to yourself.

I love that there are four daisies in there now.
And we’ve loved more than words the three daisies in that vase, and we continue to soak up this time we have as three.
And I love the memories of just the two of us for thirteen years. So many memories. So many adventures. I would never trade that time we had together.

The pork chops were good, by the way. The red gerbera daisies were the perfect centerpiece for our Sunday date night in.

Here’s to miracle #2

Here’s to miracle #2

Pour yourself a glass of Sprite with lime, or a glass of Blanton’s from our blue cabinet. I’d like to make a toast – to us!

Here’s to back-to-back miracles.

Here’s to a different kind of miracle.

Here’s to God working behind the scenes when we had no idea.

Here’s to praying big, honest prayers.

Here’s to many years of prayers being answered.

Here’s to a little gummy bear up on the screen, moving its arms and legs.

Here’s to baby Noella becoming a big sister.

Here’s to me running into the kitchen in my pink and white whale pjs yelling, “WELL! I’M PREGNANT!”

Here’s to two under two. Go big or go home.

Here’s to not knowing the gender from day 1 this time, and counting down the days until we can find out.

Here’s to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal sounding like God’s gift to humanity.

Here’s to the best kept secret.

Here’s to telling the world.

Here’s to hoping our story offers you hope in your wait, in your story, in your longing, in your questioning, on the road you’re on.

Here’s to surprising our doctors and nurses in two different states.

Here’s to God’s goodness in our lives.

Here’s to BABY #2!

“Wrap your arms around me”

“Wrap your arms around me”

Journal entry from April 2011:

1 week in Cap Skirring:
-Trying to unpack (with no closets and minimal furniture)
-Cockroaches everywhere
-Trying to find a place for everything
-Dealing with Roxy peeing in the house, not eating, killing someone’s chickens
-Piles of moldy clothes on the bed, everything needing to be washed by hand
-I don’t speak Wolof
-I don’t speak Jola
-Muddy tiles, no mop
-Mosquitoes, risk of malaria
-Visitors and neighbors stopping by
-No running water
-Here for the unforeseen future

I won’t ever forget those days, especially those initial days, of living in the village. It was hard, lonely, isolating, and I wrote in my journal, this list of struggles, and a prayer where I asked God to wrap his arms around me and give me his strength. So many times I’ve prayed that same prayer. It’s my go-to when I don’t know what else to pray. It’s a picture I have in my mind of God: never far, always listening, stable and dependable, strong, working on my behalf even when I lose sight of hope, even when I make God seem small. It’s my go-to prayer when I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’m by myself out at sea, on a little boat, being tossed around, riding out the situation while holding my breath and hoping I don’t drown in circumstances that are beyond me.

I prayed that same prayer, that God would wrap his arms around me and give me strength, every day of the IVF treatments we did, and even more so through the last one. It was our fourth and final attempt, our last chance at having a baby, and this was after we had already exhausted all of our resources. Humanly speaking, that is. God works best beyond the realm of the possible. But when you’re going through it, and you have no idea what the outcome will be this time, it’s easy to forget that he’s the God of a million miracles. Miracles we havent’t even seen or experienced- or even dreamt of yet. But man it’s in the waiting where I needed God’s presence, that reminder that he’s stable when my thoughts and emotions are all over – tempted to fear, tempted to question, and tempted to doubt.

“I’m weak, God! I need you. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you. But I know you’re there. Show me. Let me feel your presence in a time where I’m desperate for your presence.” It’s that familiar plea I’ve prayed in so many situations. As a new arrival in the daunting village, when riots broke out in the capital and tear gas blew into our home, when the turbulence was more than I thought I could handle, when we lost another embryo, when another move and another transition felt like too much, when we were setting sail to our new home in the Casamance, and the thought of capsizing (as one ferry had done on the same route) tortured me, when I was about to be put under for my first egg retrieval surgery. “I’m weak, God! I need you. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you. But I know you’re there. Show me. Let me feel your presence in a time where I’m desperate for your presence.”

It’s interesting to me how different these situations are from each other, but nevertheless I had a need for God and he didn’t ignore me. He didn’t belittle me for my fears or concerns or yell at me for acting childish and not having more faith, even though he’s proved himself time and time again.

When I pleaded for him to come near, he did. He always did.

“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” George Mueller

Unapologetically loving it

Unapologetically loving it

It’s around 10 am, and it’s coffee for me and second breakfast for her. She’s grunting with glee after every bite of oatmeal.
I’m purposefully trying not to think ahead, because the moment to enjoy is now. The moment where she’s rolling around, not quite able to reach the toy she wants. She’s not crawling, but thinking about it. She’s taking a bath in the sink. She’s sitting in her stroller wearing her sun hat, watching as we plant a garden (and hope that even so much as one cherry tomato grows).
I freeze about 1000 moments a day in my mind, and sometimes with my camera. Her chubby baby hand, the way she’s starting to laugh with excitement when she sees and recognizes things she likes: the spoon full of squash coming at her, Weller at the window, one of us walking into the room.
Maybe it was the long wait, or the struggle to get here, or maybe it’s because God gifted us with a really sweet baby, but I’m absolutely loving every day with this girl in our lives, and in our family.
Sometimes I feel like I’m up against a “mommin’ ain’t easy” culture and one of my requirements is to cry about the lack of sleep, list of chores, need for caffeine, and the stains on my shirt (or something along those lines). I feel weird, or braggy, or something if I gush too much about how I’m LOVING LIFE RIGHT NOW. This is the moment we’ve prayed for. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is the moment we’ve been hoping for.
I get it, she’s our first, and she’s little. “Just wait!” You say. “These are the good days. Wait until she’s crawling! Just wait until she’s two! Just wait until she won’t stop talking! Just wait until she’s a (*gasp*) teenager! Then you’ll be wishing for these days when she was sweet and little. THEN you’ll be begging for more caffeine and a ten-minute bathroom break where you can close the door and be alone.” These are the kinds of things people tell me, things my culture forewarns me of. I get that things change, and the level of chaos changes with it, and that various stages present various challenges. I was once a nanny for a family in Milwaukee with twin three-month-olds, a three-year-old, a five-year-old, and a six-year-old. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! I’m not naïve to chaos, tantrums, and the desperate need for quiet.
But I’m going to love it. I’m going to love it all, and be thankful through every life stage because it’s what God has so so generously given us.
Blowouts, messes, and nap-fighting afternoons too. I’m not going to pretend every single day for the rest of my life is a walk in the park, but I am going to celebrate that I’m in the park! We’re where we prayed to be.
I’m going to love the here and now, and celebrate each little milestone rather than cry because she’s growing up. I want to choose to embrace it all – the sweetest days, and the more challenging days, because the dream has become a reality, and the only way to fully appreciate it is with gratitude.
Mommin’, like marriage, like life, is what you make it. It can be beautiful, fun, and an adventure unlike any other. Let’s not be ashamed to be vocal about the good in our lives, in our marriages, in the sweet season of holding a baby, because when we highlight it (including the pain or the hardship from which we’ve come), we highlight the goodness, the grace, and the redemptive power of our God and King.

Back porch dates

Back porch dates

We’ve been having back porch dates lately because they’re free, and the monitor is our babysitter, and Texas evenings in March and April are glorious.
Weller is excited to have the company. We’re trying to teach him to lay down, and he just sits there. At least he can do that.
I wrap up in a quilt because it’s just chilly enough, and I know that won’t last long. It’s the quilt that used to be on the guest bed, but I decided to use the black and white one we had instead. At least for now. I’m hoping to paint the guest room one of these days. And then who knows what bedspread I’ll end up with.
I crack up every time I think about where I got this quilt. First of all, it’s way too country for my usual taste. I like the individual colors, but combined, it’s a little too “Pioneer Woman started a line of sheets, bedspreads, shams, quilts and throw pillows”. Anyway, it cracks me up because I got it at the Portsmouth Kroger for like $15. Yes, I occasionally buy quilts at Kroger. And pink velvet shirts from Sam’s, apparently. (The shirt is cute, and it was cheap, but it sheds like an animal. Like, when I wear it it leaves little velvet pieces on the back of my seatbelt and the next time I’m in the car, the shirt I’m currently wearing now has little velvet pieces on it. It may end up in the Goodwill pile if it doesn’t get its act together here shortly.)
Shawn packs his pipe with Francesca, and her sweet scent swirls around the porch as I sit wrapped in the Kroger quilt, and Weller rests his head on my lap. I ask Shawn why he has a nail, and he tells me that it’s a tamper. “I learn something new every day around you”, I say.
Weller leaves my lap for a moment to chase smoke rings (in the dark).
Shawn leans against the post of the porch, still wearing his dress shoes, dress pants, and undershirt, his work shirt and tie are inside on the kitchen table. They come off almost as soon as the garage door opens.
Shawn poured me a sampling of Sazerac Rye from his collection. I held onto the glass tightly, because it’s a fancy one. And that concrete isn’t very forgiving.
Even though we have the sound monitor with us, we love to peak in on baby girl as often as we can. We watch her roll around the crib, from one end to the other, finding her thumb with each move, and falling back asleep. Man are we blessed with a sweet baby.
Shawn told me his tales from his day at work, and how he called the landscaping company boss and told him the guys had been slacking. They were there first thing in the morning, revamping the place like they should have been all along. I tell him he’s a good manager, and good at dealing with people because of our time managing the guesthouse. We had to learn that fine line between nice and friendly, and “get this done, son.”
Somehow we started talking about when I had Malaria and Shawn was so scared he didn’t know what to do, so he called his mom. Oh that’s how we got to talking about that. We didn’t have WiFi in our apartment in Guinea, and we had to go to a Cyber Café to connect to the internet. And because we didn’t have WiFi it was so expensive to make a phone call from our house. But when I was sick, Shawn didn’t care how much it would cost. He wanted to talk to his mom. He knew that if anyone would hit their knees and pray, she would. And he knew that she would tell everyone to pray. And she did.
We look at the cam again and see that baby has rolled over again.
Weller’s back to not wanting to lay down, but we settle on him resting his face on my lap. And I didn’t even break my fancy glass. It was a good night.

No vaccine for Baby Fever

No vaccine for Baby Fever

For twelve years this was our reality. And even now, one mention of someone having Baby Fever, and it all comes rushing back.

I know we’re not supposed to feel like anything is “wrong” with us. But sometimes, on the hard days, I feel like I’m living my life in isolation from this incurable disease. Not every day, but times when my body feels the sharp reminder that it’s unable to create life. It feels so harsh, and so unfair. I know we’re supposed to remember that it’s all in God’s hands, but why aren’t his hands allowing this dream to come to pass? I lay on my bed in the fetal position, wincing the day away. I lay there feeling like any distant cry of a baby, or a pregnancy test commercial is going to send me over the edge of the bed into a pile of sobs. Shawn will ache with me, in his own way. He will wish, more than anything, that he could change things.

There’s no cure for infertility. There’s no cure for the heartache and the reminder that something just isn’t right. Your heart aches. Your body aches. You try another treatment. You suffer another loss. There’s no explanation. We pray, not because it necessarily feels natural, or easy, but because we don’t really know what else to do. And because even in the pain we know that God still hears us and is working on our behalf. And because we know that faith, in its very nature and by its very definition, is trusting God when we don’t understand. When we can’t see. When we don’t know how to trust, or when we don’t feel like trusting.

So you can understand why I still feel a small pinch of jealousy when I see a pregnancy announcement. I know, I know, we have a baby now. It doesn’t make sense. But for so many years everyone else was getting pregnant, and I wasn’t. Old habits die hard, I guess. Our reality has changed, but our connection to those raw emotions, and our ability to relate hasn’t.

So you can understand why I feel slightly dizzy when someone sees Noella in her cute bow and gasps, “Gah! She’s giving me Baby Fever!” It’s one of those phrases that used to sting. Because 9 times out of 10, when someone says they have Baby Fever, it’s coming from someone who knows up close and personally how sweet babies are. How they change and grow, and when you get the privilege of raising them, you get a front row seat to that. And when someone says they have Baby Fever, they say it nonchalantly like they have the cure, like they’re suddenly up against the life decision of whether or not they should have one, or have more. And that’s a life choice we’ve never had the luxury of making. Have you ever heard a grandma say that she has Baby Fever? Nope. Because the shop’s shut down and therefore, the Fever is no more. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t still adore babies, think they’re cute, and want to cuddle them for days on end. The women who have The Fever have the option or the choice to have a baby, to expand their family, to procreate if and when they want to.

Imagine having all the symptoms of Baby Fever and not being able to do anything about it. Imagine not even being able to go on and on and gush about how much you yourself would love to have a baby. Instead, you hid that enthusiasm behind a “What a cute baby!” smile, because it was too much pain and too socially awkward for you to bring up those strong desires. And you certainly weren’t in a place to welcome everyone’s tips, ideas, “Take more folic acid”, “Just relax and it will happen”, or “My aunt Sharon adopted and then she got pregnant with quadruplets” comments on a given Tuesday in aisle 7 of the grocery store.

In the past, struggling with unexplained infertility, I thought, “If you have Baby Fever, I must be in quarantine.” Your “fever” must not be very strong because you have one kid over there eating grass, one strapped to your front, and one on the way. Apparently there’s no vaccine for Baby Fever. Saying you have Baby Fever around someone who doesn’t have any kids (and wants them), while you have two and one on the way, is like telling someone laying on the cold tile, suffering from Malaria, that you thiiiiiiink you might have a mosquito bite.

I get it! Babies are so so so so so cute and sweet. They really are! I’ve loved babies all my life. Imagine loving them and not being able to have one. Noella must be contagious because sure enough, I hear all the time that people in our vicinity have contracted Baby Fever. “Welcome to my world” I want to mutter under my breath, remembering how it felt to hear that, and to have no cure.

And don’t even get me started on how some people say that their ovaries hurt when they see a baby. I wanted to (and sometimes still do) throat punch those people (in love, of course). For twelve years my ovaries hurt. Literally! Not to mention the poking and the prodding and the injections of four IVF treatments.

When you’re standing there with a “Z for Zade” necklace around your neck, and I’m standing there with no initial around my neck, and a cute baby comes in the room, and you say that you have Baby Fever, or that your ovaries hurt, it’s unfair and cruel and it brings my pain to an even more personal, and literal level.

I don’t take for granted this time in our life. Not for one second! And I get that I’m now “the one with a baby”. But I also try to always be aware of who’s sitting at my table on Wednesday night. Or who’s within ear shot. Their ovaries may literally be hurting, and they may be suffering in silence.

So I pray for guidance as I interact with people. And I look for ways to hear their stories, and to listen to what their time in quarantine was like, and to always welcome them into the group. There may be no vaccine for baby fever, BUT THERE IS A GOD WHO WORKS MIRACLES WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT IT.

Casual factor: somewhere around 23

Casual factor: somewhere around 23

I asked her if she could come by and take a few pictures of us in our backyard. I thought we’d go beyond the fence where we only recently got to go, for the first time since we moved here in July, because Shawn and his brother Tyler put a gate in when he was here. It was the perfect time to put a gate in because the fence blew down. It’s very “wild, overgrown Texas” to me back there. Deer cross through there often. Along with badgers, armadillos, road runners, and other such wildlife. And back behind the fence are where the cactus are (relax, I know the plural is cacti. No one says that. Literally no one). I love that there are cactus growing on our property. I love that we “own” some cactus. I feel as though I’ve “arrived”. Officially. Or unofficially. I’m not sure.
“It will be super casual.” I told my neighbor, in regards to her coming to take pictures of us. She agreed to take the pictures, because she’s a super cool neighbor. We planned for Wednesday at 4pm, and then Shawn texted me at 3:50pm and told me he didn’t think he’d be home by 4. Ooooooooooookay. So that took the “casualness” rating of these pictures from a 1 to a 4 simply because she was now ‘on call’ for said photo shoot. (Side note: she has a 9 month old baby. There’s nothing easy or relaxing about having to be on call, or planning, or arranging anything, for that matter, when you have a 9 month old.) By casual, I thought we’d just group together in the back, in whatever we had on, smile, Noella would be smiley and chipper, and we would have eternal documentation of us as a family of three at the six month mark. Well, surprise surprise, her naps didn’t go well that day, and if you’ve ever spent more than seven minutes around a human baby, you know that they operate best on lots of sleep. And you also know that the opposite of operating at their best is, well, not ideal for family pictures. My idea of us “grouping together in whatever we had on” is now, looking back, the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Really, Jennifer? So Shawn would be wearing a black dress shirt with a red tie, grey dress pants, and black dress shoes, and you’d be wearing your “The S’more the merrier” t-shirt, jeans, and maroon New Balance shoes, and Noella would be wearing a “Milk Belly” onesie and one sock? Classic. So of course, knowing my neighbor was coming, and that pictures were actually happening (even if they weren’t happening at 4pm, and we really had no idea when they would take place), I spent the longer half of an eternity coordinating our outfits. I’d wear my new cactus (again, literally no one says cacti) kimono/duster/whatever-it’s-called. Since it’s from a local shop downtown, it would give off that perfect we-live-here-now vibe, and Shawn would wear his orange t-shirt for some color with his blue jean button up on top for some layering pizazz (*please do the jazz hands motion after reading the word pizazz*). Baby girl? Oh man. I had every solid color onesie layed out from here to Timbuktoo, trying to decide if this pink clashes with his orange shirt, or if this turquoise works with my cactus whatever-it’s-called. The casualness rating now went from a 4 to a 7. Because ain’t nobody got time for coordinating outfits on a Wednesday.
In the yard behind the fence (we found out later…) there are also fire ants. So the casualness rating of these photos went from a 10 to a woeful, red, swollen, and burning 14 real quick. Like real quick. (Ask Shawn’s ankle about that.) Oh, and the thorns and the rain clouds threatening to ruin it all in a hot second brought the causal, “we’ll just group together and smile” casual factor from a 14 to a 17. Oops! Oh, and then there’s Weller. The puppy beast man child came rolling through like a wrecking ball (and yes, he even had his tongue hanging out while wearing a white unitard), and we tried to go with it. But he almost ripped my floor-length, flowy whatever-it’s-called while simultaneously jumping IN the stroller with our cool neighbor’s baby. *Face palm*. So Shawn decided to put him in the garage, which meant dragging his puppy beast man child self through the house, which also meant dragging him on my newly mopped (a record in and of itself because we live in the desert and dust abounds) floors. Casual alert: now at 23. So much for that. Oh, and I forgot, while all of this was going on, I still had to quickly change and leave for my women’s Bible study in the next 30 minutes. (“Jenn, just wear what you have on!” you say. Gasp! I couldn’t go looking like I came straight from a “Visit West Texas” travel commercial taping. I had to play it cool…)

But our neighbor is still cool, and she got some great pictures of us as a family of three. For six months (and eight days) now we’ve been a family of three. And we’re loving it. I’m so glad she was able to come and document this time for us! And that she’s a trooper with fire ants, thorns, tornado dogs, being on call, babies who squirm and wiggle, and casual that turns out to be very bougie, and very “hold my lipgloss”.

One of my favorites.

THIS ONE! *swoon*

Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

It was about 9pm here, and about 3am in Conakry, Guinea. Cathérine, one of my dearest friends from Guinea messaged me. (Can we just throw out a few cheers for modern technology real quick?) I asked her what she was doing up so late and she said that she couldn’t sleep. “Trop de bruit?” I asked, knowing how loud the streets of Conakry can be. No, no, that wasn’t it, she said. “Il n’y a pas de travail.” (“There’s no work here.”) I immediately wanted to cry for her, because I knew what that meant. This friend has been through a lot, and Guineans fight daily the corruption that surrounds them. They’ve been through wars, and hardships that I can’t begin to understand. When she says that there are no jobs, it’s a literal issue of survival. When I hear an American complain, “There’s no work here”, it usually means they can’t find work in the field they want, with the pay they want, in an area they’re passionate about, or a job that fits the degree they’re trying to pay off. But there’s always work.
My friend was discouraged, depressed even. And I felt too guilty to even write back right away. Here I sit in my beautiful home, with a country full of opportunity, food always within reach, and more than I could ask for. And may I remind you that I’m the friend that was able to evacuate the country when things turned violent in the capital where we were living, where she and her family lived. They didn’t have the option to evacuate. But backed by our mission board, our embassy, and our passports, we had the option to evacuate. And that’s what we did.
Life is so vastly different for her and for me. We lived there for a time, and so we caught a glimpse of how hard it can be when there’s a shortage on propane or charcoal and you can’t cook dinner, or there are riots on a part of town where you need to go, or there are long power outages where you lose that meat that wasn’t easy to come by. I have an idea, from living there, what life must be like for her, and for my other Guinean friends. But even during our time in West Africa as a whole, there was always that backup plan in our back pockets: if we needed to leave we could. If we wanted to go back to America, we could. But this is life, day in and day out for our friends, and the struggle for them goes beyond the inconvenience, or the temporary hardships that we may have known while living there.
So I didn’t know what to say to her problem of not finding work, to her very real issue of daily survival. I didn’t know how to respond because I was so distracted by my guilt of never really having been in a place of real need. I’ve never had the burden of being so desperate to find work that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have food, and my family wouldn’t have food and daily essentials.
I sat there and thought for a minute, trying not to look up at the chandelier mocking me in my moment of comparison, her life and mine, me trying to find some way to encourage a sister many oceans away.
I just sat there thinking. I didn’t want to just throw out a common, “Oh, you’ll find something!”, slapping a Band-Aid on her situation, and moving on with my life.
Instead of writing her back I took a video of myself talking (because speaking French is one thousand times easier for me than writing it…) and I sent it to her and I said, in sum, that no matter where you come from, no matter where you live, there is the daily struggle and the daily joy of learning to trust God where you are, and in your given circumstances. That’s not to belittle the situation she’s in. But to urge her to pray. To remind her that God sees her and cares for her right where she’s at: laying on a foam mattress on the floor, at 3 am, with sisters sleeping next to her, up worrying about the future. I highlighted that common thread between us – worrying about the future. It’s a part of our human nature it seems. And what does God want us to do with this worry and fear? He wants us to bring it to him, to lay it at his feet, and to look up at him and say, “Help me, Father God. You are more powerful than this situation, than this circumstance that I can’t see a way out of. I need you to help me trust you. I know you’re able. I know you’re worthy. But in my humanity, I need your help. I want to walk with you, trusting that you’ll take care of me.” I explained to Cathérine that there are things in her world that will stretch her faith, and there are things in mine that challenge and stretch my faith. She may not have to worry about being hit head on by a drunk driver. She may not have to worry about the flu attacking her baby. There was a time I was worried about getting Malaria. But living in Texas now, it’s not even on my radar. She is often worried about getting Malaria, and Yellowfever, and other diseases. She hopes to have enough mosquito nets for her family, and I hope that there isn’t a shooting in my child’s school one day. All of these issues are real, and legitimate concerns and fears. But the lesson in all of it, for me in my world, and for her in hers, and you in yours, is that God is bigger than our “what ifs”, our “worst case scenarios”, and he CAN BE TRUSTED. It’s a choice to trust God. It’s not a flippant, “Oh just trust God” but a way of handing off our weaknesses, our perception of the situation, and the risks of a given situation, to a God who works in ways we can’t even always see or fathom. If we look at the character of God, even from the beginning of time, we see one common thread: faithful he has been, and faithful he will be. And with that, we wished each other a good night, and left our worries and our futures, as similar, and as different as they may be, at the foot of the cross.

Our old neighborhood in Conakry, where Cathérine and I became good friends.
The joy of now

The joy of now

My favorite is when he asks whether I want option A or B for dinner. I choose B, and am pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s red curry.
I ask if I can help, and he says no, that there’s nothing for me to do. So I set the table using my orange and white cloth napkins, and I put some music on. Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are The Best Thing” felt fitting for this evening. It’s been on repeat lately. Baby girl is awake, but not for long. She’s already in her pjs. They’re the ones that zip, and have a pineapple on them.

He always puts extra baby corn in my bowl because he knows I love baby corn. Little gestures like putting baby corn in someone’s bowl are the things that dreams, and happy marriages, are made of.

It’s brisk out this morning, so we wrap baby girl in her pink fleece blanket with hearts on it, and arrange the noisy metal chairs on the little concrete slab which is our back patio, until we’re close enough to pass her back and forth. He has his coffee black, and mine is, of course, full of hazelnut creamer. Don’t waste my time with French vanilla, or any cinnabon-esque flavor.

I see the live Christmas tree we planted in our yard with its fortress of bricks surrounding it, in hopes to keep the full-blooded puppy out. His white-turned-black snout tells us that he found the charcoal bag. Apparently we should have build a fortress around that too.

We see some neighbors out in their driveway, so we walk over, me in my slippers, baby skipping her nap, and we say hi, and catch up a little bit.

Three nights a week it’s dark when he comes home from work, and she’s already asleep in her crib. We sneak into her room together and he kisses her cheek. Sometimes he can’t help it, and he scoops her up into his arms, her sleepy cheek smashed up against his patterned dress shirt. He whispers into her ear, “If you need anything baby girl, just holler and I’ll be right there.” She sleeps in peace knowing she’s had a goodnight kiss from daddy. And a full belly from mommy.

We close her door, and have our late dinner of cobb salad. We talk about the customer with the interesting backstory, and the hilarious predicament his coworker found himself in. I tell him in full detail how baby girl discovered in her bath earlier that day that she can kick her feet and splash. He thanked me for the video.

Weller jumps up on the windowsill to see us sitting at the table. He wants to know what we’re up to, but he can’t handle not being with us. So we go outside and play old-blue-beach-towel tug o’ war until he loses some of that full-steam-ahead energy.

We fall asleep below our floral wallpapered accent wall, thankful for the simplicity, the blessings, the grace, and the overwhelming joy of NOW.