Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cultivate + Create | part one

I recently tried really hard to grow sunflowers. Tried meaning they didn't make it. It started so well...
I planted these cute little seeds and within a couple weeks they were sprouting up through the soil. It was so gratifying. I just watered them on the way out every day and they kept growing, a lot! They grew super tall super fast. Within a month or so they were 3 feet tall! I realized they needed a bigger pot so I successfully transplanted them into a bigger home. My sweet neighbor was willing to care for my babies while we went to Kenya and she did a great job. I came home and they were a foot taller. But then things got ugly. One of the two took a turn for the worst and began to die. I figured the pot was too small for both of them. So I removed the dead one hoping the remaining would continue to thrive. But it also got weak and began to droop. I did some research and my pot didn't have a way to drain. I was drowning my flower! So Charles willingly drilled holes in the bottom hoping it wouldn't die. But, it did. Charles asked to get rid of it but I held on, hoping it would make a come back. But it didn't. It drooped over and a nasty spider made its home around it every morning. And then I had to face the music and get rid of it.

What does this have to do with anything other than proving I'm not a pro gardener? Cheesy as this may sound,  I relate to the sunflowers a lot (as Charles pointed out during a conversation when I felt insecure and asked him to proof my blog). I've been doing a lot processing this year. Maybe this all comes with then end of a decade (what???) or a fresh start but I see a lot of similarities.
  • A pot that is too small: I have spent plenty of time in a space not suitable to thrive. I've said yes to things that didn't bring out the best of me. I've stuck with something that didn't bring out the best in me for too long. I've felt like I should say yes to the thing that's good, productive or responsible. I've overlooked unhealthy boundaries; I've downplayed my creative & people loving desires and I've withered slowly. 
  • Flooded & no room to drain: I have spent too much time taking too much on. I like to say yes. I like to be helpful. I like to be needed. I like to move fast. But too much of something good can be bad. And too much of something bad can get real ugly. I've sat in both. I've been overwhelmed, felt misaligned and been confused about my value in multiple season of my life. 
  • I've needed to admit it was dead: It being an unhealthy environment. It being something I didn't love. It simply being time to move on and trust God's nudging. It being a feeling that my passions aren't worthwhile.
It is weird. In ways and for seasons I haven't cared too much what people think. I've been very much my own person and loved that. And in other ways I've been very concerned with what is considered "good" in other people's eyes, what culture says is valuable and my own pressures. This has played a role in decisions I make, how long I stick with commitments, what I post on social media, how I do my hair, how I feel when I meet new people, etc. I mean, I think we all struggle with this in some form. And I am sure I will continue to. But I don't want that struggle to win.

Disclaimer: I hope this doesn't sound like a downer. In all of these seasons I have had so much good too! So much learning, so many great relationships, a ton of stretching experiences and a lot of seeking God's wisdom. This "part one" is more on the reflection of some of the withering parts. I know a brief blog to capture a big concept and season of life may not make complete sense so feel free to ask questions or connect on the topic.

Up next: After some reflection on the above, what now?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


This post is about our home.  This is also a post about being content... or beyond content. God keeps calling me towards rest, presence and gratitude in many areas of my life.

I've wanted to take pictures of our home and blog them. Not really because you've been wanting to see/read this, but because someday we wont live here and I will miss it. I want to be able to look back at it and say, "We loved our time there and made the most of it".

This is the place we started life together. This is where so many significant moments, beginnings, challenges and dreams have been had.

It's on the tiny side. There are some things I wish it had. There are some things I get jealous of in other people's homes. The fire station next door is SO loud. The Taco Bell that we practically share a wall with attracts some weirdos.
BUT - I love it.
Sometimes I fall into "needing" more. Thinking we deserve to have more and should go get it. I've had plenty of people say, "Wow, are you going to stay here?" (since it's so small) which I understand but also don't love. And it does make me question it sometimes.
BUT - I love it.
And I have to remind myself that it is enough.. even more than enough. Yes, most people have bigger homes. Yes, we eat dinner on the couch (or our new outdoor dinning room table). Yes, I will love living somewhere quiet eventually.
BUT - we have a home and I love it.
And it is cute. And it provides shelter. We can have friends and family over. We've established our rhythm as married people here. We have great neighbors who are friends. We can walk to all the fun stuff downtown. I feel safe. It has everything more than we need.

We've got a lot to be grateful for. Sometimes I need a slap in the face that reminds me of that.

Also, a friend recommended a book she was reading and if the topic of really making your space a home you love strikes you, check it out.. The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have To Be Perfect To Be Beautiful.

So, what do you love about where you are it (quirks included)? I know I can be good at pointing out what's missing or lacking but here's to seeing the good, value and potential in what we have.

Here are some of the details that have made our space home..

Because I am all about authenticity and the last thing I want is anyone thinking I'm something I am not (super tidy, great decorator, or have it all together - hah, nope).. Yup, a cereal bowl, games from the night before, mail, junk, etc. Remember what you see on the internet is what people want you to see - there's usually more to the picture.

Kenya 2015: The Photo Project

This year in Kenya we hosted the photo project a little differently. There is a lot of isolation in the slums of the Mathare Valley and we wanted to partner with what the churches do to reach people. So this year we hosted the photo project on our first Sunday in Kenya. The project took place at 9 different churches throughout the valley. We trained up 9 teams of photographers, printers, crowd control and more to make it possible. We split up throughout the slums and prayed for what God had in store for the day. As it was closer to time for church, crowds gathered and we began!

 We started photographing portraits and inviting people to join us for church while we printed and framed their portrait. At first there weren’t many people and I felt a little sad that maybe this year we wouldn’t have the same excitement. However, that definitely wasn’t the case. Pretty soon we overflowed church and had hundreds of people waiting outside. This happened at most of the 9 church sites as well. People walked from all over dressed very nicely and excited for the opportunity. Seeing the pride they had in their family and taking a picture is pretty humbling. We spent about 3 hours cranking away. So many smiles, hugs, handshakes, prayers and laughs were exchanged.

After church the whole team gathered. I was so excited to hear how the other sites went (and a little sad to not be able to experience them all this year). Of course there were moments of chaos, some technically difficulties, limited power and small spaces but every team did a great job of making it work and create a space for people to matter.

All together we had almost 3,000 portraits taken and printed that morning. That’s 10,000 or more people who came, heard about God’s love for them, connected with others and left with a valuable gift.

Sometimes I am good at seeing the logistics of something and measuring it’s success (ok, often). But I am so glad I had Charles with me and he reminds me of the value, worth, love and presence that was brought to so many people during this. He encourages me and brings dreams of what could happen next and in other parts of the world. Gosh, I am so thankful for him and those gifts he brings.

Thank YOU to everyone who encouraged, celebrated, prayed for and supported us financially to make this possible. Big teams, 18 printers, thousands of sheets of photo paper, frames and other supplies were huge assets so bringing God’s love to an often dark and hopeless place.

Here is a recap from 1 of our 9 locations:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kenya 2015 - highlights and stories.

Here are some highlights and stories from our trip.  
There were so many significant moments, conversations and hugs. 

The most significant thing I am left with is the impact of dedication & longevity. 
Mary and Wallace started the original school with 50 preschool kids. Now there are schools all over the Mathare Valley with over 13,000 kids (if I remember right). Friends, this is huge. When I first traveled to Kenya in 2007, the site with the original school was very dark. There was a lot of violence, kids high on glue to suppress hunger, drunkenness, loss of hope. There was sewage and trash everywhere with little access to clean water. 
But NOW... 
Now 13,000 kids get 2 meals, education, a chance to know the God that loves them so much, opportunity for a future, loving teachers and more. 
Their families have an opportunity to learn a trade and improve their families life. 
People are safe. Healthy. Making wise choices for a good future. 
The government has noticed this community and is planting community gardens to fund public restrooms, police stations and more. Trash piles that ran the length of a block are gone. 
This is great. And it is because of deep, long term commitment from so many people. 

What is most amazing is the slums of Mathare Valley, with some of the poorest people in the world living in the worst conditions, won't be what they are in our lifetime. As this generation of students go to college, graduate, find stable jobs and have healthy families this epidemic can end. I am honored for the part I have been able to play in this community and the impact I see as God does huge things here. 

So, here are some highlights..

As soon as we landed we began with a HUGE, energetic, love filled welcome ceremony from the students at the main school in Pangani. 

The community garden bringing much needed value and change

Welcome ceremonies at Joska - the girls boarding school. They go ALL out with energy, joy and love. 

High fives go a long way.

Littles in their classroom. 

Line drying clothes are seen all over Nairobi. 

Hold hands, chant and run in a circle forever = joy.

Sing & dance. How cute are these ladies? Also, I can't handle how cute these beanies are. 

Take our picture!

This is a pretty typical lunch. Rice, meat stew, veggies, chompati and fruit. It's different than our food here and the meat makes people iffy. When one of the students saw this picture on my camera she asked, "This is your lunch?" with longing. They get a meal of beans and rice typically and this was deeply desired. It really puts our attitude into perspective.

The girls dorm area. They have a bed and a "metal box" (trunk) of belongings. That's it. And they are SO grateful.

The girls just grab your hand and say, "Come sit and talk with us". Such deep value in simple presence. 

Shanti homes and a river of trash, etc. dividing these communities. 

This girl brought tears to my eyes. She commanded an ROTC type routine with her school. Her strong ability to lead, her confidence and her strength were overwhelming. A young woman who otherwise would be very limited in her future and her confidence becoming so strong, wise and ambitious really gets my heart pumped!

We took food boxes to homes with people who have been bedridden due to a medical condition. This really broke my heart. Many of these were fairly simple medical situations that they didn't have the money or opportunity for medical care. I am talking stuff that is an antibiotic or cast away from healing that has kept people in bed unable to work for years. I am not done processing this and what I do now. But I am grateful we were able to provide much needed food and personal care items along with prayer and encouragement for them.  I am so thankful for the community social workers who keep in touch with them and bring presence.

This was so heavy. I was in no way as strong as these women who walk effortlessly like this. I was smiling initially and then convincing myself not to give up. 

Our sponsor girl, Lydia. It was my 2 time spending time with her. She is so quiet and shy but her huge smile when she saw me was so meaningful. Sponsorship is more than just food and school. It means so much to these kids to know someone has chosen them as family.

Dance, sing, dance!

Another project was Bring the Light - solar lights that bring light to homes that are completely dark all day. They also charge cell phones which is life changing as most people have to pay for a charge.  These things are pretty amazing.

They were riding a motorbike (pretending) but turned so serious for their photo opp.

Our sponsor kids get new uniforms and backpacks. These green sweaters look so great on them! When you see their sweaters with holes that show their whole shoulder you see how valuable a sweater is. 

Hannah and her beautiful sponsor girl. Seeing her love for the Swaney family as her own was beautiful. 

The dinner part to celebrate our final day of ministry. Man, they can sign and dance. 

The view of the Matahre Valley from the 4th floor of the school.

These people.. I am so grateful for them. 

Judy! She brings all energy, all the time and it is so good. 

Team mates, friends, much needed partners in this trip.