Posts Tagged ‘Challenge’

img_8513I always wear my Africa. Africa is my strong. It’s my symbol to remind me to pray. It’s my tiny map so when people ask about home I can point out where it is. I wear it like armor, it makes me feel brave. It has led to laughter when people try to figure out which state in the USA it is. It has opened up multiple conversations with strangers. The other travelers in a crowd can find me and start an easy conversation. When it is around my neck I feel like home is close to my heart. That family isn’t so far away. That I will be back someday. That it isn’t over 7000 miles and several days of travel to get home.

But the other day I took it off. Sure, I take it off to wear a different necklace sometimes, but it always goes right back on. Not the other day. The other day I took it off with no replacement necklace. I set it on the dresser and walked away. The other day I took it off because I was afraid. I was angry. I couldn’t make words make sense and I was reminded of that every time I heard it jingle around my neck or felt it move against my chest. I just couldn’t take it…so I took it off.

As a reader, you’re probably thinking, “this girl has lost it” or “where are you going with this one, Shelby?” or, “have you made this thing an idol?” even, “can it really be that strong of a force?” I think the challenge of this post (and all writing) is to get to a vulnerable enough spot that you can understand the thoughts swirling inside my head, but I’m going to warn you right here…they are swirling through the mud and it’s messy, it’s confusing, I’m not sure I can win this one and make it all make sense. I’m not sure it will look nice on the page or be smooth on your tongue as you read it. And even now, as I write this, I’m not sure of the emotion I want you to take away after you’ve read it. Probably, as with all my writing, this is much more for me than for you. But please read. Read it because though I’m not so clear in my writing, it’s even harder in talking…but I want you to know. I might cry if we talk, but I want to talk. I might say I’m fine, but the truth is I’m hurting and confused and I want you to know. You are allowed to ask. If you read this we will at least both be at the same starting point if we ever do try to talk about it.

I took off my Africa when I heard that my family moving away. I LOVE my family and I LOVE when they are close to me, but this time, they were coming closer but it felt so far. It felt wrong. It felt broken. See this time they were being “removed” from Tanzania. What does that mean? We didn’t really know. Lets be real, we still don’t really know. But they were told they have to leave and so they will leave.

There are times and places where culture seems to be stronger than faith. Where people’s desire for power and strength looks better to them than following Jesus. When someone wants to be on top, sometimes they feel a need to push others down before they get there. It sucks. A lie that I have been fighting since I was a kid is that God is the cause of the mess. Sure, God meets us in the mess, but it is not His intention to hurt us. He will help us grow through it. But the mess is made by humans. We are broken. Sinful. And not always the smartest.

This is just one example. Brokenness, messes, trauma – this stuff happens all the time.  I took my Africa off because I was angry that so quickly this token of love and hope and overcoming could become a carrier of loss, hurt and feel overwhelming. Something I wanted to fight back against. But I’m not a fighter. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I just took it off. “This is a personal battle,” “I’ll show them,” “I don’t care,” and “I’m stronger without it,” I lied to myself. I wanted to believe it too. It would be easier if I could believe that I could just walk away and block it out. I wouldn’t have to feel the hurt. I wouldn’t have to remember the loss. I could avoid going back to the other times people in the church had hurt me. The time the mission made us leave our house and village when I was 14. The time a boy studying to become a pastor treated me as if I didn’t exist when I was 20. The time a man wrote me a letter that fell into the stalking category and I had to bring it to the police when I was 27. There’s more. But other people’s stories are too closely tied into mine for me to share them publicly. There is a whole lot of junk in the church. There’s a whole lot of pain. It’s pretty easy to look at all those things and so many other things that happen ‘in the church’ and believe that God is mean, bad, evil. But then I have to stop and remember…I invite all my friends to church. Church is about God…but it’s full of people. People are risky. People mess up. People are broken. God’s not bad. That’s a fact. I also don’t want to just give you a list of bad things others have done and ignore that I have hurt so many. I’ve said the wrong words, been uncaring, insensitive and ignorant. There are people who could add me to their list and I must remember that. I’m a person. People are broken.

I don’t know what it means that my family is leaving. They don’t either. We are trying to process it. We are trying to figure out next steps. “Can they go back somehow?” we don’t know. “What will happen to all their stuff?” it is already sold and given away, other things are in boxes that they hope they can get to America in the future. The last of my childhood has been packed up. The walls I painted, the posters I hung, the clothes I left for when I go home to visit, the dogs. They’re gone now. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took my Africa off.

But then I realized, if I take it off and block out the pain, I also block out the joy. Did I want to give up the memories of mud fights? The hours spent painting nails, watching Princess Bride, making beaded bracelets with Hekima, Jenny, Grace, and Alice? Did I want to forget about playing ‘nage’,  the best game in the world that no Americans know how to play? Did I want to give up roof rack riding? Picnics at the waterfall? Swimming in the catfish pond? Did I want to give up goat roasts and pig roasts? Hunting with my dad? The 30+ foster siblings my family has cared for? Did I want to give up hours of eating sugarcane and kumbikumbi (bugs) with all the other MKs? Did I want to give up the country I called home for over half of my life? Could I give up the country of my brother’s heritage? If I couldn’t take the pain, I’d have to block out the joy too. I’d have to forget that I already overcame lots of those battles I’ve mentioned above.

As angry as I was (am) I couldn’t give those up. I couldn’t let them go. That is my life. It’s my heritage. It has molded me into the woman that I am today. And this…this really painful and confusing time…this will continue to mold me. It can lead me to bitterness. It can lead me to strength. I get to choose. So after a few days I put my Africa back on. I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. I still haven’t made it through many days without tears. But, I choose to trust.

My word for the year of 2017 is trust. I chose the word trust the day before I heard about my family being kicked out of Tanzania. I was nervous to pick the word trust, because I know that learning to focus on trust and trying to learn more about it is risky…we learn to trust through trials. Our faith is strengthened when we persevere. I chose the word trust and then I wanted to give it back. I didn’t want it anymore. But I do. I believe that God didn’t change when my circumstances did. I believe that God is faithful. There have been times I’ve taken out my anger on God instead of trusting God and being angry at the situation. I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s hard times in life. There’s hard people. Life is messy. God is good.

I’m still hurting. I still might cry if you ask about this. I still don’t know what it means. I still don’t have closure. But I’m telling you this, I’m choosing to trust. I’m willing to share. If you want to ask more then ask. If you want to pray then pray. I’m sharing this here, because I need to face it. Africa may not always be on my neck, but it will forever hold a piece of my heart. It might not always be my home, but it will always have been my home. I may be from Pennsylvania now, but I grew up in Africa. And that’s okay.

Below are some of the verses I’ve been clinging to these past couple of weeks. Hope if you’re going through something, they might help you too.

  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)
  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

I love living in the Co.Space. We tend to ask so weird questions around here, and sometimes they are exactly what I need. Tonight around the dinner table we asked, “If you were a boat where would you be on your journey?” and I got super emotional.

Let me explain. When I paused and thought outside of the normal day to day what will it take to survive? I haven’t written my grandma back yet and she emailed me days ago…I haven’t called back the voicemails I have from work…Someone introduced me to a new girl I should meet up with to chat about jail stuff and I ignored her text for 24 hours because I was busy and forgot to text back…I forgot to order supplies for the house and we ran out of dish soap…I haven’t written a letter back to my friend in jail…my grandpa was in the hospital today. (The list could go on and on of how the day to day things try to take all of my attention). But suddenly, when I was told to be a boat instead of a human, and explain life in boat terms, it became so clear.

I immediately imagined my boat.


I didn’t have to think about it. It was one that I had seen in the news filled with refugees. It was a boat filled too full. I couldn’t make everyone comfortable. I couldn’t guarantee everyone’s safety. I wasn’t sure of where the best place to land that boat was. There wasn’t room on it for a crew. It felt so incredibly scary, but at the same time this tiny, lonely little boat full of danger was the hope that all the passengers had been longing for. It was another chance at life. Although it might land in a dangerous place, it was headed in the right direction. I had this overwhelming sense that even if everything in my day was chaotic God was still on my side and I can always hold onto hope.

Suddenly the silly question made way too much sense. It was deep. We are all on a journey in life, and that’s ok. If you’re in a big boat, a small one, a floating one, a sinking one, if it’s landlocked or if your swimming outside of the boat you’re still on the journey of life. Keep doing the next thing. You might not always be on the same boat. You won’t always be in the same place. It’s all part of the journey. But I will challenge you on this…let other people on your boat. And if you aren’t ready for that, at least take time to find someone and tell them about your boat. Stories help. The help us connect to each other and they help us remember what it is we are chasing and why we ever thought to chase it.
Happy sailing friends.

A few days ago I made the trek from Pennsylvania to Michigan again to celebrate the life of my Gramps after his short (just 2 week) fight with cancer. I was supposed to drive up today to visit him, but instead I went to his funeral this past weekend. Sometimes life does not go to plan, but I do believe God is still in control.

On my all day drive I had lots of time to think and process. It was a healthy car ride and one that I found rather inspiring. Let me enlighten you…

photo 1-11For starters it felt weird to purposely drive out of sunshine and into a storm. It seemed almost wrong, but I knew that the journey was worth it. It made me think about the rest of life and the challenges we sometimes would rather not face, but how much stronger, happier, more fulfilled we would be in the end if we were willing to keep taking the next step on the journey…no matter what storms we might face.


photo 2-11A little later I saw this and did a double take. That wasn’t just a hole in the clouds where the sun was shining through, it was one cloud shining while the rest clung to their dreariness. Kind of like humans, it was one choosing to respond differently than what is considered normal. That lone cloud couldn’t make it not be a cloudy day, but it did add a bright spot into a cloudy day. I thought about the hard things in life, my friends in jail who’s families will celebrate Christmas without them. The many refugees all around the world who are just trying to survive the day. The homeless. The sick. I can’t make all of their days good, happy, or safe. But I can be a bright spot on a cloudy day…and even that makes a difference.


photo 3-8And then I wondered why does God go to all the effort to add extra beauty to each beginning and ending of our days? Honestly, I don’t know that it’s extra effort. I’m sure there’s scientific reason…but I also know it doesn’t have to be so beautiful. I believe God created some things in such detail just simply to wow us. He wows me all the time.


photo 1-10After spending the night in Detroit because of airport issues I had a full day to spend in the airport…here’s some of what went on… Also…I know you’re all about to be proud of me, because after the nice stranger offered me a ride last night I said no in an effort not to get taken. So I waited like 20 minutes in the freezing cold for the shuttle. (just thought you’d be proud of my wisdom) now back to the day…

photo 2-12

The Tunnel was a big part of my day. I wandered the tunnel. Took pictures of the tunnel. Watched people’s reactions as they entered the tunnel. I didn’t run through today…but I did last night.

photo 4-5 I had a picnic lunch on the floor in the middle of the tunnel (man do people stare…like what would they do if they were stuck all day…eat their lunch at a table or something?). And I rode through the entire tunnel only facing backwards on the moving walkway.     photo-37

I read articles about the Detroit airport and found all the spots where they took the pictures for the articles.

photo 4-4

Absorbed the sunrise while snoozing.

Talked to my grandma on the phone.


I watched some birds that were stuck in the airport…I found 4…in different places.

Pondered a psalm…what would you write in one? And I wonder if David’s journal was private or if he shared those thoughts with people when he was still alive?

I didn’t sleep on a random shoulder in the airport, but I did accomplish that one on the plane last night. photo 3-8

I slept on the floor. I was tucked behind this plant and post against the wall and I woke up to the airport security yelling that I was there to someone who I think only saw my bag from the other side and reported it as an abandoned bag. I kind of was jolted awake, but tried to pretend I was still asleep because I didn’t want to explain my situation to him half asleep. The other guy must not have heard his yelling very well though, because he re-yelled, “no, there is someone here with it sleeping”.

I also rode the escalators…

photo 5-7 photo 1-11

…lots of them.

Stared back…this is an art we learned in Tanzania…you don’t start the stare, but when people stare at you you just make eye contact and force them to look away first. It’s fun to see how long people last.

Picked out my favorite outfit…a bright pink sweater…looked super cozy.

Chatted it up with Ali this afternoon and promised to rate him 10 out of 10 after listening to his whole spiel…because I had time to kill and no one else would make eye contact with him.

photo 1-12photo 2-13photo 3-7Took my blood pressure, checked for color blindness, weighed myself and checked my BMI…discovered I’m in great health and can see all the colors.

Watched and rode the train.

photo 2-11

photo 5-5

Enjoyed the view out the window.

Talked to my Mama

Watched a romantic reunion between travelers.

Facetimed Sara Hoy


Ate lots of cookies from the wedding.

Completed a photo scavenger hunt…mostly!

#1 Polka dot bag
#2 A not crying baby
#3 Sweatpants with words on the butt…I couldn’t find any with words…
#4 A mug with Detroit on it
#5 A plant

photo 5-9photo 3-9photo 4-7photo 2-15photo 5-8       photo-2

Chatted the man traveling to Tennesee who almost fell on me getting off the moving walkway. We chatted about our different churches, beliefs, and how great our families were all in the time it took to walk him to his gate. Then said goodbye.


Was in great company with the hundreds of other delays and cancellations.

Met up with a dear college friend, Heidi Marble, whom I hadn’t seen in a year and a half!

Started blogging about my day. photo 3-5

Made it to Casey and Steven’s house! I somehow managed to get a day with them and will face the storm again on Wednesday! Yay for flexible plans and traveling adventures! photo 2-16

We don’t know when we will get to the end of our lives. It’s like running a race with a hidden finish line. And the finish line is in a different place for everyone. This past weekend I’ve been thinking, when I cross the finish line will people rejoice for me? Will people be proud? Or will it be devastating? A “wasted life”? Without being morbid or making people afraid that I’m suicidal, can I tell you what I dream of? May I share some of the dreams I have for when I’m gone?

This weekend my pastor asked us how we would describe our lives in 6 words. I’m wordy. This was hard. But it got me thinking. I believe that when I die my life will be fully lived. If I died today I would consider my life fully lived. I wouldn’t think I missed out. I would wish I could say with my six words, “I made it to the end,” or “the end is just the beginning”. It’s not that I don’t have huge dreams that will take decades to complete (I’d love to marry a wonderful man, raise beautiful children, travel much more of the world, etc), but the real dream of my heart is to follow God. The rest is extra. So if I follow God today and die, then I’ve completed my dreams and goals. My life will have been complete. Not lacking anything. I would hope when I die these six words are true of my life: “She obeyed God’s call to love”. They are words that bring a challenge everyday. They push me to live better, love more, seek out the hurting, forgive those who hurt me. Yesterday I was reading Francis Chan’s ‘Multiply’ and in talking about the disciples he says, “What began as simple obedience to the call of Jesus ended up changing their lives, and ultimately, the world”. I want to be so willing to obey that even if it’s life changing or world changing…which is scary…I will keep obeying. As of today, I’m not sure what six words would describe my life. How would you describe me in six words? Or make it personal, how would you describe your own life in six words? “Adventurous traveler, compassionate friend, so loved” might be me in six.

Sometimes I Inspire Myself

Let me just start by saying it doesn’t happen all that often, but recently I did inspire myself! See, I wrote myself a letter over a year ago, and I just received it this past weekend. The letter was an assignment at the Bible School I went to. The requirement was that it had to be a 2 page letter to yourself. The instructions reminded us that moving away from Bible School would be challenging. We knew we would face tough things, even if we didn’t know the specifics of them. So go ahead and encourage yourself, remind yourself you belong to God, etc. So I did.

Some of the good points I wrote to me were:
* You memorized Scripture. Do you still remember it? Are you learning more?
* Remember your spot by the fire for devotions? Where’s your spot now?
* You sought an adventure everyday…even if you never left the house. I hope you still do.
* Mentor. Do you have one? Are you mentoring? It can be hard, but it’s worth it.
* Sit at the kids table once in a while.
* Pray often.
* Give hugs.
* Call friends.
* Write letters (and send them).
* Love well Shelby. You know how…just stop and let Jesus.

I ended my letter by reminding myself, “You are nothing and everything. A bit of dust filled with the breath of God. A beautiful, adopted daughter of the King”. There was much more in my letter. Precious memories. Reminders to pray for specific friends. More challenges. I think I should start writing myself letters more often.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what God has gotten you through in the past and you can begin to dwell on the challenges you’re facing right now. (At least that’s true for me). When I see friends going back to jail I find it exhausting. When I think of raising hundreds of dollars of monthly support it’s overwhelming. Sometimes even planning the little things can lead to fatigue. But the reality is that God’s got this! He’s done it before. I’ve seen it. He can do it again! Many of my personal challenges are so minor compared to what I’ve seen Him do in other people’s lives already.

So today I focus on the ending from my letter and I challenge you to believe it about yourself… You are nothing and everything. A bit of dust filled with the breath of God. A beautiful, adopted child of the King.