Monthly Archives: August 2013

Reality

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I think you all know that I try to be encouraging, to live with joy, to focus on God and what He has for me. Also, I think you all can tell that I’m a real person, and I try to share reality with you. Although I’m a Christ follower, I’m still a sinner. There are parts of my life here in Kenya that I really don’t like. So, that’s what this post is about. I’d like to share some aspects of my reality with you. Some will be positive things, but most will be the annoying realities of a first-world person living in a third-world country.

Reality #1: All the local produce is super cheap! Ok, sorry, I just had to start with something positive. I can get fresh, sweet pineapple for 50 cents, Roma tomatoes for 5 Ksh (that’s so cheap, I’m not even converting it!), and avocados pulled off my avocado tree for free!

Local produce!(A small sampling of the current local produce!!)

Reality #2: The water is dirty. Oh, this is my biggest complaint about Tenwek! Although the river water is treated before is reaches my tap, it is still really dirty. Like visibly dirty. When I bathe the boys, the tub water is brown. Yes, the boys get ridiculously dirty, but the water is brown BEFORE they get into it! The water is so dirty that I can’t wash my hair with it. I have to warm up our filtered water in the microwave (I’m soooo blessed to have a microwave!) and then bucket wash my hair. How I wish I looked cute with really short hair!

This dirty water is also staining our clothes. Since the washing machine uses tap water, our brand new clothes look like hand-me-downs from the 5 generations ago! The water is tainted by the red soil, which is excellent for growing those fresh fruits and vegetables but horrible for keeping clothes clean. Our towels are so infiltrated with dirt that they don’t absorb water! And don’t get me started on how it’s ruined my cloth diapers! (I’m just happy that I have no kids in diapers at this point!) Gross, gross, gross! Can somebody please come drill a well so that we can have clean water??

Reality #3: The local beef isn’t refrigerated…or ground. We Kelleys feel convicted to buy locally. While many first world foods and products are available in Nairobi, it’s super expensive in both time and money to get there. Therefore, both worldly and godly wisdom tells us to buy as much locally as possible. One such food is beef. In fact, the cows are butchered behind my apartment! After much research and trepidation (remember, no refrigeration in the butcher shops), I send Joyce on a mission to buy 1 kilo of beef. She succeeded, but there’s where the second problem comes into play. The local butcheries do not have the ability (or the desire) to grind meat…

Grinding Meat at Home

My initial thoughts was “NO problem! I found this KitchenAid meat grinder attachment for my mixer, so I can just grind the meat myself!” Grinding meat at home = epic fail. It took forever. The grinder continually clogged. My kitchen, the mixer and I were covered in raw beef. Super gross! (Hence my face in the picture.)

My solution? Buy local beef but send Joyce to the Guest House to grind it. Apparently, the Guest House has an industrial sized meat grinder that could grind a kilo of beef in a fraction of the time it took my ‘small machine’ (what Joyce called it with a disgusted look on her face). After all, the beef is super fresh as long as you buy it on the day it’s killed, it tasted great and I don’t have to drive 3 1/2 hours to buy it!

Reality #4: The raw milk smells like onions. I know that organic, raw milk is all the rage in America these days. Here, in Kenya, everybody drinks it. If you don’t, you’re just weird…or poor. (On a side note, Kenyan chai is tea + water + sugar + milk. If you drink tea without milk, it’s assumed that you’re too poor to afford a cow or milk.) The boys love the milk as long as I strain it as I pour it into their cups. However, Aaron and I can’t get past the smell. Maybe I’m just getting milk from the wrong cow, but man, does it smell!

Reality #5: My house is ugly and I can’t do much about it. The counter tops are wearing away. The bathroom has mold on the ceiling. My furniture and my curtains are frightening. Plus, none of the ugly stuff matches. I guess it’s time to order some curtains and invest in a slipcover or two. We do have plans to fix up the kitchen and build a triple bunk for the boys. We’ll see how all that goes and then make plans for the next home renovation project. At least the stencil is gone!

Living Room Beforeliving room now

Reality #6: Bags of tortilla chips are not local. 😦 So, we have fresh tomatoes and avocados. I’m in the process of becoming an expert salsa-maker. Joyce has already perfected her guacamole recipes. We can make tortillas from scratch any day of the week. But we cannot find a bag of Tostitoes anywhere in Kenya! I can find good tortilla chips in Nairobi, but I’m sure you remember my mentioning of trying to buy local food. Obviously, we can bake the fresh tortillas to make homemade chips, but that’s a lot of work and they don’t store as well as the dips, which means I’d have to make tortillas and then bake them daily. Can’t a girl just buy a bag of Tostitoes?? Apparently not in Bomet! And for this Mexican-food-loving girl, this is a big disappointment.

homemade salsa and chapatis (A picture of my homemade salsa and Joyce’s chapatis from scratch.)

Reality #7: The weather is always perfect. 🙂 So, I’ll end on a positive note. We just survived our first Kenyan winter. While most of you Americans were sweating and complaining about the smothering heat, we were wearing long-sleeved shirts in the mornings and cuddling up to fires in the evenings. The afternoons were still sunny and warm and perfect for outdoor fun for the boys. Even when it rains, which it does a lot during the rainy seasons, we do enjoy perfect spring-time weather the majority of the time. Who knew living so close to the equator could be so pleasant?

Noah in wheelbarrowLevi and Jacob in wheelbarrow

So, all this being said, my prayer is that you’ve laughed a little and that you’re better able to pray for me. Please know that I’m not complaining. Overall, the blessings of living in this community more than outweigh the stressors of living here. I so appreciate your big prayers on my behalf, but you know that it’s those little, daily things that are oftentimes harder to conquer than the big, once-in-a-while things. Thank you for your interest in what we are doing here in Kenya. And a bigger thank you for all your big and little prayers!

Praises and Prayer Requests:

1.) Praise God that day 2 and 3 of homeschooling with Noah went better than day 1! I covet your ongoing prayers about my relationship with Noah, our school time and our fun times. I just love that kid and know that God has great plans for him, but I oftentimes don’t feel capable of raising him or teaching him.

2.) Praise God that Aaron’s headaches and neck aches have not recurred! He’s been exercising and eating better. Plus, some of the long-term doctors have returned so his workload has lessened a little.

3.) Praise God for water filters, rain tanks, washing machines, electricity, internet and so many other things that make life so much healthier and easier!

4.) Please continue to pray for school. We all start on Monday!

5.) Pray for Kenyan students. They will start their third term of the year on Monday. School can be very expensive but is very highly valued by many Kenyans. Please pray that the students will have the resources (money, uniforms, and school supplies) to re-enter school on Monday.

Thanks!!

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Labors of Love

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Anyone who has ever given birth, watched someone else give birth or even heard a little about the process knows what a painful, joyful time it is. The Bible uses childbirth as an analogy for the signs of the end of the earth. Today, as I share about my labor pains, I’m not talking about the birthing process of my 4 children. No, I’m talking about the day-to-day, sometimes mundane and other times crazy, life of a mother. Let me share several ways I’ve been laboring recently.

Noah and I started school today. Not even ten minutes into school time and he’s crying. Seriously? That’s how second grade is going to be?? We had finished Bible and had just started Spelling…And we were only on the fourth word! After a nose blowing episode and a firm pep talk from me, he focused and did really well in both spelling and reading. Needless to say, homeschooling is a labor of love….And YES! the Wonderwoman t-shirt was on purpose! It takes a supermom to homeschool. 🙂

First day of second grade

Yesterday, I finished Hannah’s scrapbook. (It’s actually scrapbooks. I couldn’t fit it all into one book, so I divided the pages into two big books.) Ashamedly, I didn’t start it until after she went to her forever home. Shortly after her third and final memorial service, I started ordering pictures and making trips to craft stores to gather pretty girly things to decorate the pages. My original goal was to have it done before we returned to Kenya, but I underestimated how emotionally taxing it was going to be. Especially this past week as I documented those last few days of Hannah’s life, I couldn’t do too much at a time. It was shocking, devastating, painful and tearful all over again. But perhaps the most surprising reaction was to the suddenness of everything. Yes, I know I lived it. It was sudden. But as I scrapbooked one day when we captured a smiling, happy little girl and then the next page she’s fitted with a feeding tube and then the next page she’s in heaven. How did that happen?? The rapidity of the events shocked me to the core, and I had to pace myself. I had to take time to process each day leading up to 2a.m. on March 13. I had to give myself even more time to process each moment of those last 24 hours. It took me 5 months, many pages, countless pictures and God’s grace, but it’s finally finished.

Hannah's scapbooks

As I look ahead at the week, I hope another labor of love will be completed. As many of you know, I’ve been memorizing the book of James. Summertime busyness really slowed me down, but my goal is to have in committed to memory by the end of the week. This labor of love has been a lot of work but also a real joy! I exhort you, you Bible-believing Christians, to memorize Scripture. No, it doesn’t need to be an entire book. It can be a short verse. Whatever it is, use that Truth when you are talking to yourself and when you are praying. Our Father loves it when His children pray back Scripture to Him.

Here is the recent challenge: the end of James has verses that seem to contradict my experience. James 5:14-16 says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Isn’t that what we did? Countless people, righteous people, prayed earnest prayers, prayers that are powerful and effective. Why didn’t they heal her? Why did God, the God of James, the Great Physician, the Author of these very words, why did He not make my sick daughter well?

These words are Truth. I know they are. I also know that God’s ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts higher than my thoughts. I know He is the painter of the grand masterpiece. I am the workmanship; He is the Artist. I am the clay; He is the Potter. He did raise her up. He did heal her. He made her perfect and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

And there is where the trouble lies. I am NOT mature or complete or perfect (or whatever else your translation says). My broken, frail body cries out for my daughter. I want to focus on this one verse that seems to grant me the right to my healed daughter in my arms here on earth. Instead, I must focus on all the other verses that not only speak Truth into my life but also promise me eternal rewards. Takes these few verses from James:

1:12 – Blessed in the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

4:8 – Come near to God and he will come near to you.

5:11 – As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full or compassion and mercy.

5:20 – Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

It is on these verses, and many other truths and promises in the Bible, that I choose to focus. It is these Scriptures that become the meat of my spiritual diet. It is these truths that the Holy Spirit brings to mind whenever I’m tempted to focus on anything but the risen Lord. It is these promises that will be fulfilled by my Father in heaven. Until I get there, I will continue to choose joy even through the many labors I must encounter here on earth.

Praises and Prayer Requests:

1.) Praise God that there’s one less day of 2nd grade with Noah! Just kidding, but please do keep us in your prayers. Homeschooling a strong-willed, incredibly smart but lazy child can be torture. Pray that I will be gracious and encouraging, that I will know how to best structure his day and that he will learn to love school and do his best.

2.) Praise God for Tenwek’s co-op! Both Jacob and Levi will be taught by other moms on the compound. I will be teaching pre-Algebra to 3 young men (Monday – Friday), second grade math to 4 kiddos (Monday – Friday) and science to first and second graders (Wednesday). The co-op starts on Monday, so please pray for all involved. I, along with all the other moms involved, still have teaching responsibilities at home. Not to mention, we’re still moms, wives, friends, children of God, cooks, hosts, etc.

3.) Praise God for househelp! I’m hiring a second helper. Since my teaching responsibilities take me outside my home this year, I will be hiring a young woman to watch Levi Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. When she isn’t keeping Levi out of trouble, she’ll be helping my full-time helper keep my clothes clean and put away, my house clean and my lunches cooked. This is such a huge blessing. Please pray that the three of us will work well together, that the kids will be respectful to her authority in my absence and that we will fall into a good routine.

The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective indeed!

5 Months

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March 14 changed our lives. Now, August 14 comes along marking 5 months since we first entered this deep, deep valley. So much has happened, so many good things but also some bad things.  All in all, God has proven Himself trustworthy and loving over and over and over again. Let me share what He’s teaching my heart at this phase of the grieving process.

First of all, and most importantly, I’d like to rejoice that we aren’t at that deep, dark part of the valley now. Those first moments, before the Holy Spirit took control, were the scariest of my life. I remember feeling like I was spinning out of control, oscillating between anger and disbelief. Fortunately, I was in that place for only a half hour or so. Then, it was like God the Father shot me with a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit and a switch flipped inside of me. That is when the overwhelming peace and presence of God overtook my anxiety. I am abundantly thankful that I have the Holy Spirit within me because otherwise I may still be there in that scary place, or even digging deeper and deeper into a pit of despair. It was His presence that enabled me to say good-bye to my daughter with grace and blessed assurance of so many Truths.

Saying good-bye

Now, 5 months into mourning, I am noticing that I’m starting to walk uphill, out of the valley. It’s getting brighter as my heart heals, but it’s also getting harder as I must climb up out of the valley. It’s hard to explain. Shekinah is gone. I no longer feel that special, almost physical, presence of the Holy Spirit. I know He’s with me always, for the Bible tells us so. Now, though, I’m aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit on a normal level. I’m between the rains so to speak.

It’s this between the rains period that is tough. I experienced this downpour of the Holy Spirit, and I loved it. I felt supernatural at times. And now, it’s a dryer time. It’s when I must choose, over and over again, to believe in His Truths even when it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s when I must claim His promises even when I don’t hear them spoken anew. He has proven Himself faithful, so now I must trust Him when life is becoming more normal.

Double Rainbow

Recently, while my parents were visiting, we watched several sermons by Louie Giglio. He’s a powerful, funny pastor. If you’ve never heard him speak, I encourage you to google him and listen. It is worth your time. One of my favorite messages was about suffering. He said that when we walk through a deep valley that it’s like putting a megaphone to our hearts. Whatever is at the core of our belief system is magnified when we’re undergoing great suffering. His challenge was to make sure that your faith is in a condition that WHEN (not if) you face great trials that you would be honoring God and seeking to glorify Him.

Then, when I was listening to a sermon at our local church, the pastor read 1 Timothy 1:3 – 2:2. It reiterated the message. I especially like verse 14: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

Many people have overanalyzed my grief. Many have insulted me with their assessments even when they intended to encourage me. Each time, I remind myself that man’s opinion of me does not matter. It is God who I aim to please, and therefore I try not to defend myself. What was encouraging about Louie Giglio’s message was that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, “See, Steph, you did it. You walked through a deep, deep valley and you somehow managed to honor God through it. Your faith was proven strong. Your God was proven worthy.”

Hannah at Christmas

(Man, I miss this girl!)

And that’s the point. If we are so focused on our comfort or happiness or earthly stuff, we can’t see the cross. The cross is what I cling to, for it is the cross that sets me free. My God knows my grief. He knows such deep grief that I can’t comprehend it. Again, at church that same Sunday, we sang Christ Tomlin’s Here I am to Worship. The line that got me was “And I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sins upon that cross.” I teared up because I know more than I want to know, I feel the cost more than I want to feel it. Every person who has lost a child has the privilege to feel the cost of the cross a little deeper than other parents. That cost is overwhelming, unimaginable. While what I feel can not compare to the pain God felt when His one and only, perfect Son was beaten and harassed and killed, what I do feel is too much for me to handle.

Going back to 2 Timothy, he says, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord…But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” (verses 8-9) It’s when I learn to love HIS purpose and grace that I can allow HIM to heal my heart. That empty, Hannah-shaped hole in my heart may never be filled by anyone or anything, but God can fulfill HIS purpose and grace in my life. HE can heal me. HE makes me whole, complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

But perhaps the most practical and encouraging thing in Louie Giglio’s message about megaphones was that he acknowledged that all the good that God brings about after suffering isn’t enough to make all the pain go away. Sometimes, I feel guilty for feeling like what He’s doing isn’t enough. Even after hearing story after story of lives being changed or saved because of Hannah’s story, it’s not enough. If I could take back that day, I would. Every time.

Hannah's last day on earth

This is not how a baby girl should look. Ever. So, yes, if I had the power to re-do March 13-14, I would.

Reality is, though,  I can’t. I can’t undo anything. So I choose to do what brings HIM honor and glory. I choose to shout in my megaphone, “My Redeemer lives!” Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (I Timothy 1:10) I can marvel at the way God unfolded everything so perfectly and tenderly. I can accept the blessings He’s shown me through it all. I can try to learn as much as possible while taking each step through this valley. I can focus on the cross at the very end of my journey. And I can praise HIM no matter what.

Boys at the river

Please join me in praising HIM.

Praises and Prayer Requests:

1.) Praise HIM for the hope of heaven.

2.) Praise HIM for life and breath and able bodies.

3.) Praise HIM for HE is worthy to be praised!

4.) I praise God for each of you, my prayer warriors. I pray many blessings from heaven on each one of you who continue to follow our journey, share our story and uplift us in prayer.

5.) I praise God for the faithfulness and steadfastness of the Holy Spirit. What would we do without it?

6.) Please continue to pray for the Mitchells who arrive in Kenya tonight. They will do the massive stock-up shopping trip (with me…Yikes! you should probably pray that I do a good job at showing them around Nairobi and telling them what to buy!) on Friday and we’ll travel to Tenwek on Saturday. (If you go back to my travel itinerary, they’re following much the same schedule.)

7.) Please pray for all of us who will be involved in the Tenwek co-op. Both students and teachers are preparing for the beginning of the school year.

8.) Please keep the hospital in your prayers. Pray that Tenwek will maintain its mission: to treat and heal the physical body in the NAME of Christ and to share the LOVE of Christ through evangelism, service and education.

9.) I have a prayer request that is very private, so private that I can’t tell you how to pray. Please join me in trusting that God knows my heart and He knows how to honor your wordless prayers on my behalf. Thank you for respecting my desire to keep some aspects of my life private.

10.) Pray for Levi’s little heart. He is expressing some sadness about missing Baby Hannah. It breaks my heart, but I’m so happy that he’s able to vocalize his emotions and that’s he’s doing it in a healthy way.

11.) Pray for our family, specifically Aaron’s mom’s side. Aaron’s maternal grandmother is ill. We’ve already lost Hannah and Aaron’s paternal grandmother since we first left the States to serve in Kenya. This will be the third blow. Pray for our grieving, weak hearts.

Psalm 16:9-11

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

because you will not abandon me to the grave, 

nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Birthday Season

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Today marked the end of our summer (or winter if you’re in Africa) birthday season.

Happy Birthday sign

We Kelleys like to cluster our birthdays into two seasons. There’s one season in the winter and one in the summer. Noah, Hannah and I celebrated in January and February. Levi, Aaron and Jacob just celebrated in July and August.

This birthday season began July 19 with a midget (it’s what we lovingly call the 3 and under crowd here at Tenwek) birthday party in Levi’s honor. We ate pizza and a mountain safari cake and had a blast running around outside. Here are some pictures from the event.

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Just a few days later, my parents arrived! It was like a two-week birthday celebration. They brought gifts for everyone, we went on a safari on Aaron’s birthday and we ate more cake and ice cream. Thanks to Kristen, a fellow missionary who happens to have a cake-making hobby, Aaron had a gourmet chocolate and peanut butter birthday cake.

Levi's trike

Aaron's birthday cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA picnic on the MaraOn safari!

Because a two-week long celebration wasn’t quite enough, we honored Jacob’s birthday two more times. The one was on his actual birthday. He chose cereal for breakfast and pizza moonpies for supper. He couldn’t choose lunch because we were hosting guests. We did, however, have a confetti angel food cake for dessert in his honor. He loved his new Stormtrooper helmet from Nana and his Legos from Aunt Amy and Uncle Chuck. Then, today we held a water party. The kids who are currently at Tenwek got wet from a water balloon battle, ate the sweetest cake ever and enjoyed lots of fun with bikes and scooters.

Jacob's presentswater battle #2Jacob's birthday cake

So, there you have it. Another birthday season under our belts. Our first full birthday season in Kenya, and I think it was a success!

Praise and Prayer Requests:

1.) Praise God for the way He is using Hannah’s story. MANY people have shared their stories with us. Thank you! It’s amazing how our little girl has impacted so many lives. Her death has opened countless doors to sharing the Gospel. Souls have been won for Christ. Praise God!!

2.) Praise God for our ‘odd’ boys. The boys are now 7, 5, and 3. It’s hard to believe how quickly they grow up!

3.) Praise God that people are able to travel into and out of Kenya. The recent fire at Nairobi Airport is making these travels quite a bit more challenging, but the airport is running again.

4.) Please pray for the Mitchell family. They are scheduled to arrive in Kenya on Wednesday and then travel to Tenwek on Saturday. They have 4 boys, ages 7, 5, 3, and 1. Please pray for travel mercies as the journey is long and exhausting, and even more so due to the recent fire.

5.) Please pray a blessing over Moses and Irene, who were wed today. Yes, Aaron and I attended our first Kenyan wedding today. It was beautiful. May their lives be blessed as they strive to be fully devoted to Christ and one another.

Our first Kenyan wedding