Saturday, July 25, 2015

the gift of a good girlfriend

i totally stole this picture right off the instagram of my daughter's friend. (thank you, julia. i owe you one)!
i'm sorry, but i had to steal it.
because i look at this picture
                                              ... and i am inspired.

these girls and their friendship --- they flat out, inspire me.

they are 15 and just back from camp and about to be sophomores in high school.
i know, you're suddenly remembering.
me too.

how can we not remember that age and that year and those feelings?

i remember it well. oh, gosh, do i ever.

and maybe you had really good friends like this ... or maybe you didn't.
there aren't really any guarantees, are there?
like you can be the sweetest, kindest, most darling girl out there and, still, there's no promise of a true friend.

i wish that worked differently. i wish that every girl, 15 or 45 or 70, had a group of faithful friends.

i look at this picture and am so encouraged.

these girls can be themselves with each other. no need to pretend. no need for pretense or perfection. they are who they are.
and they love one another well.

they can wear their hair in braids and their feet in chacos and their faces free of makeup ... and be beautiful to each other.

because there is something truly beautiful about a teenage girl who knows how to be a good friend.

i look at my daughter with her girlfriends and i know God has answered so many prayers as He has graciously woven together this group.

support. sisterhood. acceptance.

it isn't easy to be 15.
it isn't easy to be a girl.
it isn't easy to follow Jesus.

but it's easier when you've got some loyal pals by your side -- a little kinder when you find fellowship and friends.

i'm sure i don't pray enough for my kids.

but when i do, i pray for their hearts.
i pray for their hurts and their hopes.
i pray for their goals and dreams and desires.
i even pray for their future spouses. (they think that's weird -- but, it's not).

and, you know what? i pray for their friends.
because friends are a big deal.

what a gift a good friend is. 
not something to be taken for granted or taken lightly, but something to be treasured. celebrated. cherished.

young parents of young kids ... i encourage you, even now, to begin praying for the teenage friends of your children. it's not too soon. it's not too unimportant. it's not too specific.

and girls, i want to encourage you, too. go ahead and be a good friend. be brave. be bold. be beautiful for someone else. again, i can't promise you anything, but being a good friend sure does help us have good friends.

do what you can. do everything you can for the dear ones in your life. love well those gifts God has so richly given.

if you have a good friend or two or three, treat them as treasure. you will be richer for it.

"but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  ~ proverbs 18:24

Monday, July 20, 2015

returning from africa and grieving the death of our dog

it seemed a cruel joke: while in africa, working with widows and orphans, my dog dies.

i know. like, come. on. already. 
how does that stuff even happen?

but it does. 

it's exactly how life -- and death -- happen. 

and when we put it inside the box of our own limited thinking, it doesn't quite compute. 
in fact, i can tell you, first hand, it feels downright wrong. because my own mind just doesn't allow for stuff like that. if i was in charge, it would go down differently.

it isn't fair.
it isn't right.
it isn't how it should be. 

it's the same thing we hear time and time again --- why does bad stuff happen to good people?

and i could take that phrase and that way of thinking and i could chew on it and chew on it and chew on it ... and i could get myself all twisted up in the injustice and the misery and the bitterness ... and i'd be no better off.

because, the truth is, it's not about injustice or fair or right or wrong. it's about how it works.

it's the messed up stuff that we can't always understand -- at least not easily. 

life is messy and broken, and, as most of us have found out, somedays, even brutal.
like that plane ride home from africa ---
i should have been basking in the glow of a week well spent.
i should have been madly typing away on my laptop for sixteen glorious, uninterrupted hours --as i had planned.
i should have been sipping a glass of red wine, eating airplane cheese and chatting lightly with fellow passengers ...
but instead i had my head buried in an "air" bag and was doing my best to curb my nausea and contain my throw up.

life doesn't always go exactly as planned.

so often when i desire beautiful, i find myself faced with broken.

not that i needed another reminder, but even right now as i type,  i'm laughing at the glasses which i have had to attach to my head with a rubber band because they are broken and won't stay put without it. (my family is slightly horrified).

glasses are no big deal.
throwing up on a plane is no big deal. (well ... sort of). 
really, deep inside, i know even my beloved dog dying isn't the end of the world. 

but there is plenty that IS a big deal. plenty that is an incredibly big deal.
in this past year alone, i've had several friends bury their children. yes, several. i didn't write that by mistake.
and just recently, our mother's both diagnosed with cancer ... and losing rick's mom, marilyn, so suddenly. oh, it is just too much.

but little deal or big deal. small issue or massive heartbreak.

we live in a broken world.

we lose loved ones.

we have troubles.

we go to africa and our dog dies tragically. 

friend, i want you to know, i understand the urge we all have at times to shake our fist and cry out in our pain and, even, in our anger.

and it's all hard to reconcile ----
coming back from a 3rd world country and grieving my dog, doesn't make sense. over the past couple of days i have felt the craziness of how those two things pair up. they simply don't. i just spent 9 days in a place where it is completely common for children to lose their parents or their own lives.

fair? no, not fair.
fair doesn't even come into play here.

the babies i saw sitting on street corners without anyone looking after them?
the whites of their eyes yellow and their bellies bulging from hunger?

not fair.

when i went through cancer a few years back, i can't tell you the comments i received from people believing i "didn't deserve this." but, in a crazy, hard to explain way, walking that journey convinced me more than ever, it wasn't about what we do or don't deserve. 

what i became convinced of instead, was that though we live in a broken world with problems and pain, we can absolutely still have great, incredible, unbelievable HOPE.

i saw that again last week in africa.
AFRICA showed me how those who know such pain and suffering can also know such JOY. 

God didn't tell us that when we started to follow Him it would all be smooth sailing ... no, in fact, He said the exact opposite:
"I have told you these things,  so that in me you may have PEACE. in this world you will have TROUBLE. but TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world." ~ john 16:33

we WILL have trouble.
plan on it.

BUT ... BUT ... BUT ... "take heart! I have OVERCOME the world."

i know some can't fathom a loving God who allows His people to suffer. i understand why that is hard. i really, really, really do.
but (just consider) WHAT IF our suffering is the VERY THING which actually DRAW US to the one who can SAVE US.
it shines a whole new light on that pain, does it not?

no, it DOES NOT TAKE IT AWAY. pain is pain is pain.
but it gives it purpose. 

maybe you think it easier to just believe "stuff happens" and no one or no-thing is in control.
i'm sorry, but for me, that option is much more frightening.  
stuff happens? no meaning? no purpose? no nothing? it just happens? and then what ...

i prefer to believe that there's a God with a plan much bigger than me who knows all, cares for all and, yes, even controls all things. doesn't mean i'm going to easily understand what is happening, but it does mean i have something much more eternal to hang my hat on. more importantly, to live my life for. 

oh, gosh ... i know. i'm not saying it's easy.
my eyes have been red and swollen and my heart broken over minne's death. i mean it, i could not even have guessed at how hard this would hit me. i came home from church yesterday and when she wasn't there to greet me at the door, i went into my bedroom, laid down on the floor, and wept and wept and wept.

she was my larger than life shadow. my small horse in the kitchen. my long-walk buddy. my girl. 

i'm sad. i'm sad for all of us. we are all grieving. i think of each one of my kids who had a special connection with her. she slept in tyler's room ... many days after school ty would come home, load her into the back of his truck and take her to the trails or river.  that brought them both joy. i hate to know that is gone for him ... for her.

it's going to take some time. next month, rick and i will have been married 25 years. i just realized that except for the first year, we've never not had a dog in our home. for us, it is as natural as breathing air.

tonight, standing at the sink, i had some leftover chicken casserole on a plate and for a quick second i looked for her bowl. it will be these kind of moments.

i know these things pale in comparison to what others have endured. while in zambia, my friend, april, and i would see someone's suffering or circumstances and we'd say to each other, "gosh, we have no problems. we just have no problems." a week spent in africa makes one very aware that, for the most part, our problems are small, our frustrations are petty, and our issues are very often a luxury.

i don't know how to come back from africa with all that i experienced and put the loss of my dog in a neat and tidy package. i'm not sure i can do that. so i'm going to just put it in that big category called "messy and broken." i don't understand it, but i know that my God has encouraged me even in my mess and even in my troubles to "take heart!"

i will always remember that christmas morning ---our chocolate colored newfie pup in her big, red bow --- carried into the room.  connor, 9 at the time, burst into tears because, "he couldn't believe she was real."

she was a gift.

minnetonka "minne" ... our big girl. you were loved big and you will be missed big.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

sponsoring a child through {wiphan}

gosh, i know it seems overwhelming.

i realize we can’t help all the children all around the world ... all at once.

and, honestly, for years i’ve struggled with that very thought.
heck, sometimes i feel like i can’t help the five under my own roof.

sometimes i feel like, flat out, not enough.

and i’m quickly reminded that that is exactly right. i'm not. we aren’t.

we aren’t enough.
but, in a strange way, it's also the very beautiful part of anything we offer, give, provide … or do!

Jesus takes what little we bring and He multiplies. the story of the feeding of the five thousand? you know, the 2 loaves of bread and the 5 fish … or was it the 5 loaves of bread and the 2 fish?

makes no difference --- because whatever it is we think we are bringing, our Heavenly Father makes it more.

i’ve seen it in my own house in america.
and now, i’ve seen it across the ocean in africa.

sponsoring a child with wiphan … 

many of you have asked what that is all about.
and many of you have wanted to ask what that is all about.

this weekend as i return home (and try to stay awake) i am eager to tell you a few stories about a few kids who are in need of someone exactly like you.
yes, you.

meet anna and grace.
they are 2nd grade girls who attend the westbourne school in koloko, zambia. neither of these precious girls currently has a sponsor.

when i met them for the first time out in the play yard, they both curtsied upon telling me their name. anna and i giggled that we carried our messenger bags across our body the same way. we couldn’t communicate too much, but their little faces lit up in the tiny bit of attention given.

later on, with the help of a translator, they both told me how much they love school and how thankful they are to attend.  anna wants to be a nurse and grace, a teacher.

these sweet girls are learning not only math and english and science at the westbourne school, but more importantly, they are learning how much their Heavenly Father loves them.

after leaving koloko, we traveled to the school in mapalo. the mapalo school is not quite so polished and precise a student body, but it has a passion about it hard to ignore. energy and excitement were oozing from this building.

our vehicle had barely come to a stop and the children were already shouting their greetings.

these students could not have been more delighted to have visitors. i’m pretty sure at one point i had at least a dozen little ones hanging off my arms … holding my hands … touching my clothes. at the end of our visit, april and pastor aaron arranged a rousing, wild game of red rover. you haven't played red rover until you've played it with 100 zambian children out under the african afternoon sun. so fun!
sweet doesn’t begin to describe the children at mapalo.

and james was among the very sweetest.

i mean, seriously,  just look at that smile!

with the help of pastor aaron translating, james told me his story ---

james is in 2nd grade and lives nearby with his mama and 4 brothers. he comes every day to school because he loves to learn --- especially loves writing! (oh.stop.already)!

james told me he’d like to someday be a journalist.

after dragging myself away from james (seriously. that. smile) ... i sat with two 7th grade girls. the older kids in wiphan are sometimes harder to sponsor. i’m going to challenge you to consider them. i know those little 6 and 7 year olds are hard to resist, but imagine trading letters with boys and girls old enough to write and at an age in terrific need of encouragement.

agnes and pascalina are two of these girls.

though shy when our conversation began, by the time i pulled out my camera, they were both giggling and posing and asking to see their photos --- like any teenage girl, anywhere.

pascalina, 16,  lives with her older sister and when she’s not at school she helps at home with the cooking, cleaning, dishes and sweeping.

agnes is 15, loves social studies, science and food!  she lives with her grandma and siblings.

i wish you could have been with me to meet evaristo besa! his personality is just like his name sounds -- EVARISTO!
and everywhere i went, each day, evaristo would show up at my elbow. one day with his soccer ball another day with an animal he'd carved from clay. always with a big smile and bright eyes. evaristo is in 2nd grade, he is 10 and his birthday is september 1st.  he loves math, Jesus, running and rice! evaristo lives with his grandparents, his three brothers and one sister. evaristo attends the nkwazi wiphan school.

evaristo showing me his futbol skills!

these are just six of the 500 kids in wiphan schools still without a sponsor.

is there a need?
can you help?

please go to {wiphan} and click on the tab “sponsor.” this will direct you to a page (brightpoint) where you can look over the pictures and profiles of available children.

while we were in africa, several of the women i traveled with spent time with their sponsored child. i know packing a bag and heading to africa might seem a little far fetched at the moment (i thought so, too). and that's okay. that might not be realistic, but, i assure you, what your sponsorship and letters mean to these children is incredibly real.

with 85% of the nation falling below the poverty line, zambia is one of the world's poorest countries --- ranked 165th out of 177.  in zambia, it is common for most children to live with only one parent or, even more common, to live with an extended family member --- a grandparent, aunt or sister. this is mostly due to the the aids/HIV epidemic which hit zambia especially hard. the aftermath has lowered life expectancy in zambia to age 33.  more than one in every seven adults in the country is living with HIV.  do you see why so many of these families are missing moms and dads or both parents? with education and better medical assistance, the average life expectancy is rising, but there remains a deep hole in zambia full of orphaned children born in the past couple of decades.

i know those facts and figures are hard to process. i'm not sure i understand them any better or even have them 100% accurate. but i have to tell you, after spending just a few days with these friends at the three wiphan schools, i was blown away by the hope and joy i found in abundance. hope and joy, despite some of the hardest circumstances imaginable. 

and, when asked, i was told, "it is because of Jesus. of His love. of God's love." 
one young man said to me, "with Him, i have everything, without Him, what is there? nothing."

"religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ..."  ~ james 1:27
sponsoring a child helps provide Christian education, uniforms, a daily meal and basic medical care.  you will also have to opportunity to write back and forth with your child. the cost is $39  per month.

go to and click on sponsor.
the steps are pretty clear. if you'd like to sponsor one of the kids i mentioned above, and cannot find them on the website, please write me at and i'll make sure that connection is made. (james has already been spoken for)!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

the wrong house, but the right boy

we went to the wrong house.

that’s how i met him.

the plan was  to visit a “tuli one” home where a couple of foster girls lived.

accidentally we ended up at the boys home.

accidentally, but not really.

instead of the girls, we met bwalyia.

weren’t we surprised to open the door and find, not a room full of girls, but a couple of boys.
it was a translation thing. the foster mother, dorothy, didn’t quite understand what we were asking.  that can happen while in zambia.

we were looking specifically for the girls home because a friend back in america had helped build it and asked us to visit and photograph the home.

but instead, we traveled over broken red roads and car wrenching pot holes across the community of mapalo. we found a "tuli one" home, but the wrong one.

in bemba, "tuli one" means “we are one.” these homes were started for children who have no other option --- there is no family left to care for them and the next step would be an orphanage.  wiphan has 3 tuli one homes for children in this situation. it provides a roof and a foster mother and the chance for the students to continue attending a wiphan school.

bwalyia is one of those children.

he is in 8th grade and lives with foster mother, dorothy, and foster brother, loyd. loyd is in 2nd grade and these two boys share a small room with bunk beds.

i know that bwalyia sleeps on the bottom bunk, but i don’t know the story behind what happened to the rest of his family. it felt too soon and too quick to ask during our visit.  “show me your room and, oh, by the way, why don’t you have parents?”  it was easier to ask him about futbol (soccer) and his position (striker). it was easier to find out that he likes to score goals  and that his favorite subject is social studies.

bwalyia and i had a good time talking. at first shy, he quickly opened up and began to smile. we had a hard time understanding each other, but even in that convoluted conversation, i could tell for certain, bwalyia was a hard working boy and had an incredibly gentle spirit.

 language isn’t needed for some things.

one thing, however, which was needed for bwalyia is a sponsor. i had told my friend, april, that i would like to possibly find one of the kids our family could sponsor.

i’ll be honest, i had in mind a cute little girl – maybe 6 or 7 with big, bright eyes and an easy smile.

bwalyia showed us his room.
he shares these bunk beds with loyd.
i never really considered that a young teenage boy might capture my heart. but that’s what happened when we accidentally showed up at the wrong house.

we came to the wrong house, but we came to the right child.

before leaving his home, i new i’d be sharing his story with my family and very likely beginning a relationship with this young man as his sponsor.

life is anything but simple for bwalyia, but sponsoring him sure is. for $39 a month we can help provide education, books, uniforms, medical care and meals at school. more importantly, we can provide encouragement. and though these kids must have many physical needs met, they desperately need relationship and encouragement.

we are so excited to sponsor this young man.

there may have been a mistake in the house we visited. but that afternoon, God had it all worked out ahead of us.

i love how God leads us to something good even when we think we’ve made a mistake,  lost our way or taken a wrong turn.  

we were supposed to visit a girls’ home that day in mapalo, zambia, but instead i found bwalyia.

“we can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” ~ proverbs 16:9 

dorothy -- one of the jewelry women -- is also bwalyia's foster mom. i had no idea when i bought necklaces from her and posed for this picture with her earlier that same day ... kind of cool.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

africa --- days three and four, some lessons learned

i’m writing this post from underneath my mosquito net.
yes, really.
and, what’s more,  i’m typing into a word document because in africa, the internet is quite an elusive thing.

if you are reading this, than please know, a small miracle has taken place on the other side of the world this evening.

it’s 11:22 pm here in zambia … probably about 5:22  your time.

i just finished an exhilarating sponge bath in which the thin stream of water completely shut off mid soaping …
it is my pleasure to inform you that rinsing the body with (cold) bottled water is not all it’s cracked up to be.
i would not recommend trying this at home.

but despite these few technical difficulties, i am absolutely enthralled with this country. i told you in my last post how precious the people of zambia have been and that only continues. the past two days i’ve crossed  paths with the most warm and lovely people.

like this woman. while we were walking from our lodge to the school, we stopped to chat and she decided she would like to show me how to bust up rocks. this is what she does. it’s her livelihood. every day she sits on this street and breaks large stones into small rocks … hoping to sell them.

she was a little amused at my effort!

yesterday we spent time with some of the widows from {wiphan} who earn money making jewelry.  they, too, tried to show me. i was hopeless. i couldn’t understand everything they were saying – well, truthfully, i couldn’t understand ANYTHING they were saying – but i’m pretty sure they were laughing at me. with good reason. haha.
but still, they patiently showed me the technique, over and over again. i never caught on, but we had us some fun.

by the way, you’re all getting necklaces for christmas this year.

another fun thing was, this morning, learning to make nshima at the nkwazi school. the people of zambia eat nshima twice a day. it is a thick, cornmeal mash … sort of like grits (but not really). it is the staple of their diet. this week, i’ve had several children ask me if we eat nshima in america. “if not nshima, then what?” they say. how can i even begin to explain to these zambian children how americans eat? not possible.

the {wiphan} school serves this as a meal around noontime. the children line up. each child brings his own bowl or plate, but is fed every school day. mama judith, a mama of  nine, makes the nshima and serves the children.
i had the chance to help a little today in “mama’s kitchen.”

mcnatt kids, mama jody is coming back with a new recipe – get ready!

the jewelry and cooking and rock busting were all pretty fun and interesting, but y’all know what has really captured my heart has been the children.  we spent most of our day with the kids at the wiphan school in nkwazi.

these kids are bright and motivated. it was obvious how much they love learning and how they see their education as a gift.  it’s not just what they said to me, but what i observed in the classroom and out in the courtyard (not quite the right word).  they are so proud of their uniforms and their grade level and the fact that they are at a {wiphan} school--- little is taken for granted here.

(if you see a bunch of pictures now, it’s because the internet decided to be generous … if you don’t … well, then, keep in mind i’m posting from a place which turns off it’s water and power on a pretty regular/daily basis).

her name is "given"

this darling boy could not wait for me to take his picture -- he had several poses!

yes, she came to school in a princess crown. i noticed more than a couple jealous looks

no complaints though. i can complain about nothing.
i don’t know how i’ll ever head back to america and be able to handle another silly complaint. i’m just warning y’all! =) africa has that affect.

there is so little here, but so much.
the people are so incredibly poor, but so incredibly wealthy.
there are unimaginable difficulties, but so much perseverance.
their spirit is inspiring.

i saw that even in the older students later today – the hospitality students at {wiphan}. these young men and women are finished with formal education, and are now learning jobs in hospitality.

i sat with them as they opened up their school day with 15 minutes of worship. between songs, the teacher, madam gertrude, and the students would repeat this:
teacher: “God is good.” students: “all the time.”
teacher: “all the time.” students: “God is good.”

in the last song, gertrude challenged the students to worship god and, in her words, “not pretend.”  she said when you are singing to God do not pretend … worship him with everything you have.  humble yourselves before him. these students sang the final song on their knees … many of them with tears streaming down their faces. (i was right there with them)!  they sang the words, “do something new in me o God.” i wish i had been able to record it, you would have agreed, it was one of the most beautiful praises ever offered up.

life has not been easy for these young women and men … for the children in the classrooms … for the widows in their jewelry hut … for the little ones left behind in the dusty streets of the compound. life is not easy. in fact, i really do not even have the words to describe how hard it is.

my friend, chabby
as i was finishing up in one of the classrooms, a young many came and sat with me. his name is chabby. he is 19. he is learning keyboarding at the school, but he confessed that it is hard to stick with it.  he told me, “i have no one to encourage me. no one at all.” we talked for about 20 minutes about his hardships and his hopes and his dreams.  when my ride told me it was time to go, i put my hands on his shoulders and tried to speak a few final words of encouragement. they weren’t near enough. there were tears in both of our eyes.
i climbed into the car with a heart broken.  so proud of this young man for achieving what he has so far, but so burdened.

i cannot imagine what this impoverished area would be like without {wiphan} school. it is a place of great hope and unbelievable joy. there is safety and learning and nshima and, more than anything, there is the love of Jesus.

tonight, under my mosquito net, with my slightly still dirty limbs and (really dirty) hair ... despite what i've seen and experienced ... i know this:
God is good …. all the time.
all the time … God is good.

*** tomorrow we will head to two more of the {wiphan} schools!