Am I Out of the Woods Yet?

Months six through thirteen of living in Kenya were REALLY hard.  In December I completely overworked myself and then towards the end of December I started having weird health issues: unexplained allergic reactions, the flu, stomach problems, insomnia, anxiety attacks and bouts of depression.  In the first six months of 2016 there were about a month’s worth of nights that I wasn’t able to sleep.  Chronic sleep deprivation doesn’t look good on anyone — especially when it’s caused by a mix of an upset stomach and anxiety.  It was a very specific and very unpleasant feeling I got when I was unable to sleep.  Most of the nights that I wasn’t able to sleep it was after going out with my friends.  This caused me to feel anxious about going to do fun things and made me feel like I was doing something wrong or irresponsible if I stayed out past nine, even if it was a weekend and I didn’t have responsibilities the next day.

The sleep deprivation made me lose my appetite and therefore a little weight that I didn’t want to lose.  I was emotionally fragile.  Simple decisions were difficult to make.  I was constantly apologizing to people I was having conversations with because I found it difficult to string a sentence together.  It was like all of the parts of my brain were spinning but nothing productive was happening.  I was scared of the decisions I might make in my exhaustion and loneliness.

This was my first half of 2016.  And yet, I had joy.  In the bottom of the pit, Jesus was there with me.  I did not walk through the valley alone.  Because of that, I was able to put one foot in front of the other for six long, hard months.  At times it felt like it wouldn’t end.  Those close to me were really worried about me, which in turn made me more anxious.

BUT

I continued to show up for life on days that I dreaded leaving my apartment.  I kept a picture of me with three of my best friends by my door.  When I left for work in the morning I would look at the picture and say to myself “those people love you and you can do this.”  I took care of myself, which is something I’m not great at.  I scheduled doctors’ appointments and went to counseling.  Even though it terrified me, I addressed relational problems that were causing anxiety.   I set boundaries with work (like taking off public holidays) and with how I allow people to treat me (whether friends or strangers).  I started to speak up when I was uncomfortable.  I grew in confidence and my ability to assert myself– to be able to say, “No, it’s not okay.”  I learned to lean in to my identity in Christ instead of just “trying harder.”  On the bad weeks of anxiety I stayed at my teammates’ house.  I learned about my humanness, my weaknesses, my sinful inclinations.  I learned to offer myself grace in difficult moments and to keep moving forward, even if it felt like just inches at a time.  I allowed others to take care of me, something that in my self-sufficient pride I am loath to do.

During this time my confidence was shaken.  I had a difficult time believing the truth about who God made me to be.  I had many friends here and back home that encouraged me.  One in particular told me multiple times, “Hannah, don’t sell yourself short.”  He reminded me that I did a great job learning a new language this year and of the bravery it takes to move to a new country just out of college.  Even now, when I’m nervous about pursuing new connections in the community or stepping into new areas professionally, his words are comforting.  I’m so thankful for the people who reminded me that I have things to offer, even when I wasn’t sure that I did.  Over this time my confidence was also rebuilt and is stronger than it was before, less based on external affirmation and more grounded.

This week I was reading II Corinthians and really connected with the following passages:

II Corinthians 1:3-10 (NIV 1984)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have recieved from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted it is for your comfort, which produces patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the provience of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond out ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,

II Corinthians 4:7-11;16-18

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My troubles in this season did not feel “light” or “momentary” but they pale in comparison to eternity.  They did not last forever.  I was indeed renewed day by day.  I was comforted in my time of need.  When life brought pressure beyond my ability to endure, God enabled me to stand and even to sing.  The days filled with tears also had laughter.  There were triumphs, new friendships made, a deep feeling of closeness to God, and so much more to be thankful for.

It’s been about two months now since my last anxiety-filled, upset stomach, sleepless night.  I still don’t really know what the root of all of the issues was, but since I started marathon training again I have been better.  I have known for years that exercise is important for me to manage my mental and emotional health, but I didn’t realize just how crucial it was.  I could (and probably will) write a whole post about running and how theraputic it is for me.  I feel like I have stepped back into the sunshine.  I know that I will likely have many more difficult seasons in life, but I think I may finally be out of the woods on this one.

Thank you to everyone who encouraged and prayed for me during the past several months.  It makes a world of difference to know you aren’t alone in your struggles.

If you are currently walking through difficult times, I promise the darkness doesn’t last forever.  You are not alone.

xo,

HD

Sisterhood is…

I was probably one of the least likely people to rush. During most of my freshman year I was adamantly opposed to being involved in Greek life. Then I met some girls who challenged my negative stereotype of when it meant to be a “sorority girl.” I was intrigued and decided to check things out for myself. After all, I did already like wearing pearls.

 

Deciding to join Sigma Kappa was one of the best decisions I ever made. It grew me in confidence; expanded my circle of friends; gave me great leadership opportunities. And, of course, it was really really fun. Being a part of Greek life made my life in college so much more rich and full than it would have been otherwise. Honestly, I even living in Africa now for over a year now my Sigma Kappa experience is one of the things that I talk about most.

 

This is why I talk about it. This is why I loved it so much. This is what sorority life means to me.

 

Sisterhood was when Tiffany noticed that I looked nervous before the start of the recruitment. I was so anxious I thought I might throw up. She encouraged me and told me that I was going to do a great job recruiting new members to our chapter. The next year I ended up being a rotation group leader and helping the 11 other women to recruit well.

Sisterhood was sitting in the ER with Brittany after her car accident and getting funny selfies of her in a neck brace later.

Sisterhood was starting a chapter Bible study with Macy.

Sisterhood was meeting with Erica weekly to talk about life and faith and how to love Jesus with our whole hearts.

Sisterhood was relaxing in the TV room while pretending to do homework.

Sisterhood was eating a pizza with Katie on the floor of our room during recruitment because we were too exhausted to leave the house.

Sisterhood was other people encouraging me to run for executive council even though I never saw myself being a part of chapter leadership.

Sisterhood was laughing during exec meetings with Jenna about all of the crazy things we had to deal with that year.

Sisterhood was eating so many quesadillas during lunch that I had to sit around the house for a while before making an attempt to go home.

Sisterhood was running a half marathon in San Francisco and a full marathon in Athens, Greece with Annabelle.

Sisterhood was baking cookies for people when they were having bad days.

Sisterhood was having 200+ cheerleaders.

Sisterhood was Shelby starting a “Hannah Dennis fan club.” I never imagined that I would be in a chapter let alone be well liked enough to have a fan club.

Sisterhood was late night runs to Sonic.

Sisterhood was going to game day barbecues, socials, date functions, and sisterhoods.

Sisterhood was when I didn’t get the job that I really wanted at the time and Macy, Annabelle, and Keri told me that the organization was stupid for not choosing me and that I would do a great job. (I am now doing a similar job to the one I wanted and crushing it.)

Sisterhood was when Bailey reminded me time and time again when I was sad that the guy who I liked for two years in college wasn’t worth my time.

Sisterhood was going on a ski adventure with Ashley and having to go through crazy means to get ourselves home flying standby.

Sisterhood was being able to walk into the lounge and ask people to borrow clothes for an event.

Sisterhood was living in a house with 34 other women and never lacking someone to do something with.

Sisterhood was the camaraderie built through the difficulties of wearing heels for 12 hours a day (or more) during recruitment.

Sisterhood was always having people who believed in you in close proximity. It was having people who would be on your side no matter what.

Sisterhood was doing a mud run with April.

Sisterhood is magical.

xo,

Hannah

 

 

23 things I loved about being 23

I finally got the chance to take some time to reflect on my 23rd year. As many of you probably know from my newsletters, it was really tough. Adjusting to adult life and a new country at the same time presented so many challenges. This wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it was the hardest. However, this year was also full of so many fantastic moments and I want to focus on what was good. Here are 23 things I loved about being 23.

 

  • Living in a big city in Africa
  • Meeting people from all over the world
  • Going to Ethiopia, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, and Italy
  • Seeing some of my favorite artwork in person
  • Running my first full marathon with some of my best friends
  • Feelings brunches with girl friends in Nairobi
  • Dancing on rooftops
  • Finally getting to the place where I have friends I’m close enough to that they invite me over to “hang out in sweatpants”
  • Living half of my year with a family and half of my year alone
  • Playtime, reading, and dance parties with my 3 year old roommate
  • Going to some really great parties – often with camel rides
  • Learning a new language and many new cultures
  • Decorating my first apartment
  • Having people over for dinner once a week
  • Figuring out what my ideal weekend is
  • Growing in confidence
  • Learning how to set boundaries
  • Exploring Kenya – safaris, camping, and the beach
  • Family and friends visiting
  • Going to bed early
  • Staying out late
  • Cooking and baking from scratch
  • Overcoming fears

 

Much love,

Hannah

 

P.S. So far 24 has been awesome.

P.P.S. My theme song for this year was “Someone to Lean On” by Major Lazer because it’s upbeat and fun but also I have never needed help from other people more than I did this year.  Also, the music video is weird and so was this year.

Tuesday Dinner Part 2

I am intimately familiar with the loneliness of being the “new kid.” Moving to Kenya was somewhere between my 13th and 16th move depending on how you count. I know what it is like to feel left out and on the outside, to wonder if you fit in and if people like you.

 

In Nairobi many people are far from home. Even some of my Kenyan friends are very far from their families. I knew how lonely I was at points since moving here and figured I couldn’t be the only one. In February, I felt like I had a lot of friends to go out and have fun with but not a lot of friends that I was really sharing life with on a deep level. I didn’t have many people that I was regularly sharing my deep struggles and joy with. I realized I could either pout about it, wait for other people to initiate deeper conversations with me, and probably continue to feel lonely and unknown OR I could start asking better questions and sparking the kinds of deep conversations I wanted to be having.  Having people over for dinner creates a space for genuine life sharing.  It is difficult to have deep conversations over the loud music of the bars where the international residents of Nairobi spend a lot of time.

 

When people come to my home on Tuesdays I hope that they feel welcome and loved, that they feel comfortable to be themselves without fear of judgment, that they eat their fill but that their hearts are also full when they leave. I hope that they feel at peace, like they can rest and take a break from a stressful workweek. I hope they feel at home.

 

This is what I hope it’s like to come over to my house. This is the type of community I want to invest my time in. I don’t know how well I’m doing with it, but it’s what I am working toward. I do know that I have received so much from the people who come to dinner. There have been many weeks that I have been so happy after dinner, my heart has been so full, that I have a hard time getting to sleep. During difficult weeks having friends over lifts my spirits. For example, the day that I accidentally locked myself in the bathroom, everyone was so patient with the fact that dinner wasn’t ready yet when they arrived. They listened to me talk about my hard day, gave me great hugs, and we laughed at how absurd life in Kenya can be. I am so thankful for these people and the love they show me. I often feel I am receiving far more from these dinners than I am giving.

 

It is a step of faith and vulnerability for me to continue to invite people into my life and my home week after week. One of the things that I have struggled with deeply in the past and that still surfaces from time to time is wondering if people actually want to be my friends, if they actually like me. Too often, this fear has caused me to close myself off to people. But as I continue to extend invitations and as people continue to show up week after week, my fear lessens. As I focus outward to loving my friends here well, I think of myself and my insecurities less. Moving to Nairobi has grown me in many ways. I have been learning more and more about how to walk in freedom from the fear of what others think of me. I am learning more about my identity in Christ and who God made me to be. It’s this freedom that allows me to extend invitations and to love without holding back.

 

My vision for Tuesdays…

I want people to share:

~ real life – both highs and lows

~ delicious food

~ laughter

~ great conversations

 

I want people to feel:

~ loved

~ at peace

~ rest

~ accepted

~ welcome

 

I want to commit myself to:

~ use what I have to serve others

~ make others feel like they have a place to belong

~ cook really good food

~ create community

-Hannah image (13)

Tuesday Dinner part 1

 

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Last November, about six months into my time in Kenya, I got the opportunity to meet up with some of my best friends to run a marathon in Greece and go on vacation in Italy. This was and is a dream vacation. I love running and got to run the original marathon route as my first full marathon. I loved the poetry of THE first marathon being my first marathon. I couldn’t wait to see my friends. I majored in art history and studied Latin in high school. I had wanted to visit Italy for years. While I was in Athens, Rome, and Florence I was completely freaking out about all the art I was getting to see and giving long explanations to my friends (which I’m sure they loved) about everything.

 

One part of my trip was really surprising to me though. It was how ready I was to get back to Kenya after only being away ten days. Here I was on my dream vacation with my best friends and I was missing my new home and my new friends. Even though the rapture of FINALLY getting to see Bernini sculptures in person was filling my heart, I missed Kenya. I was thankful for the chance to process my move with my friend Nicole. I told her that here in Kenya I am and I am becoming the person that I want to be. I love what I get to do here. I love the community that I have. I am proud of myself for the life that I have created here, in part because it has been so difficult.

 

One of the things that I loved about months 4-6 of living in Kenya is that that was the time that I started to make friends outside of the people that I work with. The family that I lived with was away on sabbatical and I knew that living alone I had to reach out more in order to not be miserable and lonely. I started reaching out to people more and having people over for dinner. I loved hosting people and being able to serve them through a home cooked meal. Right before I left for vacation I was having people over about once a week, but with no set schedule.

 

In December the Joneses came back and I lived with them for another three-ish months while I was looking for a place of my own. I was so thankful to have them back in Nairobi, but I missed having people over on a regular basis. Near the end of February, I moved into my own apartment and I knew that I wanted to be consistent about offering hospitality to those in my community here. I decided that I thought I would like to have people over for dinner about once a week. Knowing myself, I knew I needed to plan in advance otherwise I would be stressed out by trying to figure out when to invite people each week. I looked at my schedule and saw that Tuesday was probably going to be the best day for me. But should I do it every Tuesday? I wondered if hosting dinner parties every week would be too often and too hard to pull off. I decided to just go for it and if I needed to cut down the number of times per month I could.

 

With the exception of when I have been out of town, I have had people over for dinner every Tuesday night since March. There are over twenty people on the group message, but different people end up coming each week. Friends of friends are always welcome. The group ends up being a little bit different each week but has enough familiar faces that there is continuity. I have had anywhere from two to thirteen guests, but usually around six to ten people show up. Each week I find that serving and giving my time to make dinner for everyone brings me so much joy.

 

During the days leading up to Tuesday sometimes I get a little bit anxious – What should I make? What if people are just coming because they feel like they have to and not because they want to? What if they don’t like what I cook? What if I don’t have enough food? When these doubts creep in I remind myself that it isn’t about me, that my goal is to love and serve my friends well in the ways that I can. Also, I remind myself that if the food turns out terribly that we can always order pizzas instead.

 

The goal is to be in community, to create a time and place where people can genuinely share life with one another. My goal is not to seem like a perfect hostess or to show off a perfectly put together house. If those were my goals I would fail every week. For the first few months, I only had three dining chairs, a stool, and a wicker chair. We had to move the table to the windowsill and the couch to the table to have enough seating for everyone. My guests were also drinking out of coffee mugs for months until I got more normal glasses. I knew from the beginning though that I wanted to use what God had already given me to be a blessing to other people. I didn’t want to wait until I had “enough” chairs. Now that I have inherited a full dining set from some coworkers who moved back to the states, and we don’t have to move the couch to the table anymore I actually miss it. It was fun rearranging the furniture so that everyone could squeeze in. Also, it turns out that eating dinner on the couch at the dining table is actually really comfortable (perching on the windowsill not as much).

You are welcome at the table,

Hannah

{The picture above was taken at the first Chicken and Waffles edition of Tuesday dinner.  After the picture was taken, at least three more people showed up.  It was one of my favorite dinners.}