What I’m really thankful for…

Thanksgiving Weekend is still in full swing in Nairobi— at least for the Americans.  We don’t get Thanksgiving Day off, so we celebrate for a few days which is honestly the best.  We had one celebration on Thursday at my teammates’ house (basically my Nairobi family).  I am going to another Thanksgiving dinner tonight, and then we are hosting a Thanksgiving brunch on Sunday at our apartment.

On Thursday we went around the table and all said what we are thankful for. Because I think gratitude is powerful, and because I think people should talk more about mental health I am going to tell you what I said.

I announced to everyone at Thanksgiving that I am thankful for Zoloft.  My team all laughed and confirmed that they are also thankful for my Zoloft.

I feel a little “Stepford Wives” saying that I am thankful for SSRI medications, particularly with stereotypes of having been in a sorority.  But, honestly, being on medication for my anxiety has been LIFE CHANGING.  I feel like I have been set free from worrying what other people think about me all the time, and like I can be the best version of myself.  The past couple of years in Nairobi have been really, really difficult.  Being on medicine for my anxiety allows me to have enough emotional space to be able to deal with the different things that have happened.

More broadly, I could say that I am thankful for mental and emotional health.  I went to an intensive counseling retreat for two weeks in June that jumpstarted a lot of healing for me.  I spent hours in group and individual therapy working through the trauma I experienced in my first two years in Nairobi.  Among other things, I got to debrief the six months when I didn’t sleep, the deaths of many friends back home, being assaulted on the street, two of my friends being threatened to be killed, and my recent autoimmune disease diagnosis.  I learned lots of tips for how to reduce stress and anxiety and how to deal with really difficult things as they happen.

Most importantly, during the retreat I finally realized that the “friend” who treated me poorly for the past two years was actually abusive.*  This realization both made me feel incredibly vulnerable and gave me the strength to finally cut my abuser out of my life.  I am so much healthier now.  I am dancing around my kitchen.  I have wonderful friends who encourage me instead of picking on my insecurities.  I feel free to be myself again and not afraid of not being accepted for who I am.

Without a doubt, I have walked through some incredibly difficult things since moving to Nairobi.  Yet, somehow I can say I am okay.  I honestly think I am more full of joy and life than ever before.  So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for a God who changes our ashes for his beauty, who doesn’t leave us stuck in our messes but invites us into freedom, who is gentle, who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

When I was in Cape Town I had three different people speak encouragement from the Lord over me.  All of them said that they felt God confirming that he was taking me into a season of joy and dancing and play.  This was amazing to me because the second two women didn’t know the other person at all and they still all said the same things.  I am grateful to be moving from a season of sorrow and difficulty into one of happiness and dancing.

I am thankful that I feel like myself again.  I am thankful that I can take risks like applying to graduate school without fear of failure, or feeling like going to a particular school defines my worth.  I am thankful for the friends that have helped me put my life back together after it fell apart.  I am thankful for this season of being built up again.  I am thankful for emotional stability.  And yes, I am thankful for Zoloft.

xo,

HD

P.S. When titling this post I joked about calling it ”

#blessed to not be depressed”

*I realize that this might be a bombshell for many of my non-Nairobi readers.  For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I would write about the abuse or not, but my hope is that through sharing my story others can find freedom and healing.  Seeing that I was in an abusive friendship was a hard realization to come to for a variety of reasons that don’t fit into the scope of this post, but I have already started writing a dedicated post about the things that I learned from being in an emotionally abusive non-relationship/about what circumstances caused it.

 

Team Thanksgiving 2017
Thanksgiving 1, 2017

 

On Receiving

IMG_8267One of the great things about living in Kenya is that you meet people from all over the world.  They understand what it is like to be in a new place and not know anyone.  The expat community is really great about making introductions or hosting you if you ever find yourself in the same city.  Right now, I am staying with five of the most lovely South African women– friends of a friend I met in Nairobi.

I came to Cape Town for an intense week of work, but I am staying a bit longer for the hiking, coffee shops, vineyards, and contemporary African art.  I knew that after the 13+ hour days of our leadership summit I would need a break, and I wanted to explore Cape Town more since I was already going to be here anyway.

I am learning more about the power of hospitality this week.  I have been caught off-gaurd by how wonderful it can be to be welcomed into someone’s home and life.  Personally, I continually work toward living a life marked by hospitality.  It is something that I both have a natural gifting for and something that I am always trying to grow in.  Much of this desire is rooted in my faith, seeing the welcoming heart of God, and wanting others to experience that in practical ways.

This week, instead of offering hospitality, I have been receiving it.  The women I am staying with are truly amazing.  They have opened their home and their hearts in really extravagant ways.  I have been both blessed and inspired in my short time with them.  It can be hard for me to receive from others at times because I feel like I am burdening them, but these women have welcomed me with such joy and enthusiasm that I am able to receive and not worry.  Seeing the way that they have welcomed me in has also given me ideas about how to grow in giving hospitality.  I am excited for future guests and being able to love and serve them better.

Being cared for so well by strangers has encouraged me to continue opening my home and life to others.  It has refreshed me and renewed my vision for my own home to be a place of peace and rest and acceptance for anyone who visits. I hope that the people that come over to my house for dinner each week feel even a little bit of the warmth and love that I have received in the past few days.

If you are someone that loves to invite people in, keep doing what you’re doing.  It really does touch people.  If you are someone that has a super hospitable friend, freely receive and be blessed by them.  A lot of people tell me that they can’t believe I have people over for dinner every Tuesday, but I am often too happy to fall asleep on Tuesday night.  It really does fill my heart and bring me joy to cook for everyone and to have people filling my home with laughter and stories.

Freely give.  Freely receive.

xo,

HD

A List of Things I’m Good At

The past couple of years have been some of the hardest in my life.  At times, I lost my confidence.  A while back, I was a part of a writing group that went through a book about journaling. One of the methods in the book was list writing. One of the members of the group wrote a list of 100 things she is good at and I loved it.   In my journey to help restore my confidence, I decided to do the same.  As I got started I wrote and wrote reminding myself of things big and small that I am good at.  It was a healing experience.  I ended up with a list of 150 things.  If you are feeling beat down by life and discouraged, I would really recommend writing a list like this. Choose to be thankful for the things you succeed at if you feel like you are failing.  Here’s my list— with a couple that I didn’t think were blog-worthy edited out.  Some are almost identical to others because the book we read encouraged us to just go as quickly as possible without thinking too much about it or worrying about repeating ourselves.

  1. Making coffee
  2. Drinking coffee
  3. Having guests
  4. Learning languages
  5. Showing up for life
  6. Running
  7. Being consistent
  8. Praying
  9. Being a big sister
  10. Hiking
  11. Yoga
  12. Evening walks
  13. Talking about feelings
  14. Sensing if people are having a bad day
  15. Cooking for a crowd
  16. Writing newsletters quickly
  17. Being honest
  18. Being sassy
  19. Standardized tests
  20. Side crow
  21. Head stands
  22. Dancing in the kitchen
  23. Being goofy
  24. Not dying in Nairobi traffic
  25. Making great friends
  26. Dance parties and playing with Mikayla
  27. Making funny faces — especially at children
  28. Not quitting when things get hard
  29. Being respectful and nonjudgemental of people with different beliefs
  30. Driving in the rain
  31. Entering into other’s emotions
  32. Enjoying people
  33. Speaking truth/encouraging people
  34. Helping people belong
  35. Eating large amounts of food
  36. Making chicken parmesan
  37. Making lasagna
  38. Studying the Bible
  39. Applying the Bible to my life
  40. Hospitality
  41. Being myself (not changing for other people)
  42. Letting people in
  43. Not stopping— when running
  44. Doing things even when I’m scared
  45. Getting people to help me carry things
  46. Making mini deep dish pizzas
  47. Eating entire (non mini) pizzas
  48. Doing my makeup
  49. Consulting for NGOs
  50. Public speaking
  51. Hosting Thanksgiving
  52. Celebrating
  53. Sitting on my couch
  54. Crafting
  55. Decorating
  56. Making my house a home
  57. Figuring out what I need
  58. Making bad situations better
  59. Realizing when I can’t change things and going with the flow
  60. Giving advice
  61. Flying standby
  62. Going through airport security
  63. Painting nails
  64. Being uncomfortable
  65. Showing up to class
  66. Roasting chickens
  67. Lighting the stove with a match
  68. Having scented candles
  69. Drinking “sleepy time” tea
  70. Going places alone
  71. Exploring
  72. First dates
  73. Knowing what I want
  74. Making boundaries
  75. Not compromising on convictions
  76. Not paying bribes
  77. Discernment
  78. Trusting people
  79. Taking one more step—literally and figuratively
  80. Living in Africa
  81. Enjoying living in Africa
  82. Doing difficult things
  83. Soccer
  84. Being sporty
  85. Being the first person on the dance floor
  86. Not minding being different
  87. Facebook stalking
  88. Research
  89. Reading compulsively
  90. Being in libraries
  91. Administrative work
  92. Staying focused
  93. Making goals
  94. Saving money
  95. Knowing about Roth IRAs and mutual funds
  96. Swimming
  97. Learning new things
  98. Eating new (sometimes strange) foods
  99. Thinking quickly
  100. Strategically planning errands
  101. Writing “to do” lists
  102. Going to bed early
  103. Getting up early
  104. Baking cookies
  105. Giving spontaneous gifts
  106. Being a safe place for people
  107. Peer pressuring people to do silly things
  108. Dreaming big
  109. Being idealistic
  110. Keeping my mind busy
  111. Carrying three bags of books back from the library to do research
  112. Enjoying school
  113. Enjoying writing papers
  114. Appreciating art
  115. Laughing
  116. Experiencing deep emotion
  117. Keeping people on their toes
  118. Observing people
  119. Being able to predict people’s behavior
  120. Making seating charts
  121. Being thankful
  122. Admitting when life is hard
  123.  Always seeking to grow
  124. Water skiing
  125. Snow skiing
  126. Saying nice things about people
  127. Not settling for second best
  128. Shrugging at matatus (wild, Kenyan mini busses) honking at me
  129. Multitasking
  130. Making good decisions
  131. Having popcorn for dinner
  132. Talking
  133. Being the first to open up
  134. Not letting people push me around (recent)
  135. Getting people to visit me in Kenya
  136. Camping
  137. Chasing away baboons
  138. Moving forward even when I am afraid
  139. Living without the internet or a bed
  140. Brunch
  141. Quick, witty replies
  142. Not letting my 14,000+ emails in my inbox bother me
  143. Going after my dreams
  144. Being “mature for my age” aka basically grandma status
  145. Doing things other people can’t or won’t

When the sun rises

A little over a year a ago, on July 2nd to be exact, I started sleeping again.  After six long months of nights spent pacing my apartment until sunrise, driven from my bed by an upset stomach and anxiety, I was able to sleep.  Those first few weeks were saturated with mingled relief and disbelief.  It seemed too good to be true that after so long being sleep deprived I might actually be catching up on rest, that I might actually be able to function at a normal level again.

It was as if I was living in darkness during those six months.  When I think about them, I visualize the sky being enveloped by clouds, unable to see the sun or feel its warmth.  My cognitive functioning was drastically decreased.  I frequently lost my train of thought when talking to people.  I was overly emotional, always “two breaths” away from tears.  The boa constrictor of anxiety had wrapped himself around my ribcage and was slowly squeezing the air from my lungs, the life from my body, the joy from my soul.

Everything is harder when you can’t sleep.  Sometimes it took all my strength, all my courage, to leave my apartment and go to work.  I kept a picture of me with three of my best friends by the door.  On those days that it was hard to leave the house I looked at the picture and told myself, “Those people love you, and you can do this.” This was the only way I was able to get myself out the door at times.

Those closest to me were really worried, which made me more anxious.  I hate making people worried.  My supervisors in the US wondered if I should go spend some time in the sates to recover.  I decided to stay, to tough it out, because my friends and family would be visiting soon and I knew that if I left when things were really bad it would be hard to get on the plane to come back.  My coworkers here told me to take a month off to rest and spend time with my family while they were here, not to try to work at the same time.

It felt like things were never going to get better, but everything changed suddenly for the better. I began to sleep again the same week that I started my marathon training long runs.  I think that the hours spent running in the forest helped soothe my anxiety and tire out my body enough to sleep.  It was like I was finally able to relax again.  I don’t really know why the long runs had this effect on me but they did.

The reason that I count July 2nd as being the first time that I was able to sleep again is because there were certain triggers that caused me not to be able to sleep, namely, going out with friends.  When I would try to sleep my body felt like a buzzing neon sign that just wouldn’t turn off.  Maybe my body had too much adrenaline in it after going out to be able to go to sleep.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that the sleeplessness made me afraid to have fun, to spend time with friends, to do things I enjoy doing.  July 2nd was the day of our big Fourth of July party last year.  Believe it or not, we don’t get the Fourth of July (or other American holidays) off in Kenya, so we often celebrate on the weekends. Even though I knew that it would probably mean not being able to sleep, I decided to go to my friend’s party.  I had a great time.  It ended up being one of my most memorable days in Nairobi.  I did all the things that had been causing me not to be able to sleep since January, and yet, I slept.  I was honestly astonished.

I have an inch long scar on my ankle from that night.  I cut it on the bus we took to get into town.  The scar is a physical reminder of that time in my life and the joy of being free from it.  Nothing lasts forever, even if it feels like it will never end.  Which, trust me, when you haven’t slept in six months you wonder if you’ll ever be able to sleep again.  Those wounds that are so fresh and painful now will fade into scars with time.  Healing comes.  The pain changes you in positive ways if you let it.  It has the ability to soften you, to make you more compassionate and empathetic.  Remembering and reflecting on the difficult things that have happened isn’t easy.  Scars aren’t pretty, but they are real.  They are a part of the human experience.

One of favorite songs during the time after I started sleeping again was “Seen A Darkness” by John Mark McMillan. I honestly don’t know how often this song was the soundtrack for my happy, overwhelmed, thankful tears.  I love John Mark McMillan’s  music because he addresses the dark and messy sides of life instead of just trying to cloak difficulties in overly spiritual language.

We have seen a darkness

But we have seen a light

We have felt the love 

Of a hope’s hot blood 

In the machinery of night

We have seen a darkness 

But we have seen the sun

We have come undone

To a love’s hot song 

In a symphony of blood

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen a night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

Born into the grave

But born a second time

We’ve been born again 

Into love’s hot hands 

On someone else’s dime

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen the night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

You have called us loved

And you have called us wanted

One time we were bruised

We were bankrupt and hauntedIMG_7305

The valley of the shadow of death might know your name, but you don’t walk alone. No matter how dark the night, the sun rises in the morning.

Two years (one month late)

IMG_7434

I have been thinking about what to write in this post for months now.  I am an advanced planner and I like to reflect on big milestones.  I even tried to write it a few weeks ago and got stuck.  Trying to recap two years as life changing as my time in Kenya has been is no easy task and has often brought me to tears as I think about the difficult and painful bits.  Actually pausing and asking myself how the last two years have been is uncomfortable.  At times my life has been terrible and at times it has been magnificent.  There has been incomparable beauty and difficulty inextricably intertwined in this season.  I have grown and changed so much that sometimes I wonder if I’m still me.  With all of that there are so many different angles that I could approach this subject from.  However, since my faith is one of the most important parts of my life I am going to share how it has been challenged and strengthened during my time in Kenya. (In part because I think that this might be the topic least likely to make me ugly cry on to my keyboard and ruin my computer.)

Corruption, violence, and injustice 

One of the difficult things for me to confront in my time here is that not everyone gets a happy ending.  Sometimes things get worse and not better.  I often feel powerless to do anything about the evil I see in the world and with the enormity of the suffering I see on a daily basis it has been hard for me to believe that God is good.  I relate to the impulsive nature of the apostle Peter.  I am quick to jump out of the boat.  I walk on water for a second and then I see the waves, I get overcome by my fear, and Jesus has to come save me.  Too often I let my feelings dictate how I perceive a situation instead of the truths about who God is.  Because God is good I know that he also hates the violence, corruption, and injustice that I see.  This is not how he planned for the world to be.  My role as a person of faith is to help be a part of making things on earth as they are in heaven.  It means that I actively pursue justice and equality because I believe that is God’s heart for humanity, his original intent.  Often living in Kenya has meant that I have had a broken heart over the things I have seen and experienced.  A song called “Where Were You” from the band Ghost Ship has some great lyrics that I have prayed over and over during this season.  The song begins like this: “I said, God, I do not understand this world.  Everything is dying and broken.  Why do I see nothing but suffering?  God, I’m asking could this be your plan?  Sin has taken over this whole land.  Will you not say anything else to me?”  It then quotes from the end of the book of Job (one of the great sufferers in scripture).  The body of the song is powerful and poetic and makes me feel small in a good way.  It reminds me that I am not God and there are things that I will never know.  The song ends, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.  Although I had no right to ask, my God knelt and answered me.”  Indeed God has knelt and comforted my broken heart so many times.  My prayers have often been accusatory and combative but God has answered me gently and after two years of living in Africa I am more convinced of God’s goodness and faithfulness than I was before I moved here.

Wanting to “break the rules”

I am a rule follower.  On all of my report cards growing up teachers wrote that I was “a delight to have in class.” I love to feel like authority figures are pleased with me.  About a year ago, for the first time, what I wanted to do came in serious conflict with God’s wisdom for how to live my life.  Up until this point I was happily obedient and fairly unsympathetic to those who struggled with doing things outside of God’s guidelines.  He gives us rules for our good and protection.  Why would we want to go outside of his best for us and open ourselves up to the heartbreak that stems from that? WELL… suddenly last year this became a much bigger problem because I didn’t want to do what God was asking me to.  It felt super costly to follow God’s wisdom.  I dug in my heels, fought with God for months, and while I lived in obedience outwardly, I realized the rebellious streak in my rule follower heart.  I saw that, yes, I like rules, but I like getting what I want more.  I chose the hard path of obedience and living wholly for God but I grumbled the whole time because I felt like God owed me what I wanted.  I did not believe Psalm 16 when it says that “the boundary lines have fallen in delightful places.”  In fact, I meditated on those words and my heart responded “YEAH RIGHT! Prove it.” Good friends (both those who share my faith and those who don’t) affirmed over and over that I had made the right decision, and I knew that I did, but I didn’t like making it.  Furthermore, I didn’t like the consequences of “doing the right thing.” I now have so much more empathy for people who are struggling that I didn’t have before.  I am better acquainted with my own shortcomings and more dependent on God than I was before.

Brilliant friends who don’t share my faith 

My friends in Nairobi are impressive.  Like really…  So smart.  Very driven.  Much wow.  Sometimes I get imposter’s syndrome sitting around the dinner table with them.  I wonder how I got so lucky to be able to have so many brilliant friends who challenge me and help me grow into a better person.  That being said, my friend group also has really diverse faith backgrounds.  I have many Muslim, atheist, and agnostic friends as well as a couple of Buddhist and Hindu friends.  It can be challenging at times wondering if I got this whole faith thing wrong.  Am I crazy or unintelligent for believing the way I do? But I keep on coming back to it, studying more, and ending up more convinced.  I deeply respect the fact that every person has varying life experiences that leads them to believe the way they do about God and the world.  I am thankful for my friends of various backgrounds that shed light on areas that I might be neglecting or ask questions I haven’t thought of.  I have had an opportunity to work through many doubts that have come up since moving here.  My faith has gotten stronger in the process, but at times it has been scary.  I have learned that the strongest things aren’t the stiffest but those that have room for healthy flexibility.  I have had let go of some unhealthy rigid beliefs in order to grow in my faith and be able to serve others well.  I am thankful for so many friends that do share my faith that have helped me through this process and taught me about grace.  I am also thankful to my friends from different faith backgrounds for not shying away from asking hard questions.

So, that’s it.  Those are just some of the ways my faith has grown over the past couple of years.  It has been a deeply uncomfortable process, but one worth going through.  I relate more clearly to those passages of scripture that refer to faith as a precious metal that has to go through fire to be refined.  These years have been that furnace for me.  Choosing to live a life of faith and hope under difficult circumstances has been difficult but worth it.

 

xo,

Hannah

A Changed Heart

15626210_10208430306060602_697630956384457126_o

The past few weeks have been difficult for me.  It has been hard to believe that God actually answers prayer, that he actually changes hearts, that he actually works in the world. In college and high school I saw so many answered prayers and lives changed.  Things happened fast.  Hours.  Weeks.  Months.  My faith felt more alive then than it does now.  I feel worn out by waiting on God to answer prayers that I’ve had for years now.  These prayers are for things that I know I am completely powerless to change, areas that I know God has to step in and work.  But right now it feels like he isn’t working and my faith feels dried up in the asking.  At my team meeting last Friday we were asked to think of one thing that we would pray for in the next week if we knew that it would happen.  I started crying.  I knew instantly what I would want, and also felt no hope for it to actually happen.

I have seen God do amazing things here.  He has answered so many of the prayers that I thought were impossible requests.  I’ve seen him provide physical necessities, friends, adventure, and an incredibly beautiful and full life.  I have had faith to hold on to in darkest days, and it did not let me down.  And yet, some of the deepest longings of my heart have remained unanswered.  It hurts.  It leaves me feeling heavy, angry, and full of doubt.   One of my biggest questions over the past several months has been, “Can God, does God, change people’s hearts?”  This question has been prompted by a variety of things including having to face evil (violence, corruption, discrimination, objectification) in a much more palpable way on a day to day basis living in Kenya.

But this week, in the middle of my fear, pain, and anger, God did the miraculous.  He changed my heart.  My heart, which is prone to depression, anxiety, and angst when it is forced to confront the ugly parts of life, was still and peaceful.  Even though this week I wept with a friend over how a powerful man had used her to try to gain more power, even though this week I had to sort through serious questions about my safety, even though I am still trying to sort out how to grieve when people I know die and I can’t be a part of the community who is grieving because of living so far away– Thursday morning I was able to worship God as I drove to work.  I was able to feel His presence in the midst of all my uncertainty, knowing with a calm assurance that He holds everything together.  I experienced afresh in that moment that He does change hearts because He changed mine.  Apart from God, I don’t have a reason to have peace this week.  If I looked just at my circumstances, I would be completely overwhelmed.  Yet, I am standing on solid ground.  I have found myself in the loving arms of my heavenly Father.  My heart is yielded, even though last week it was hard and distrusting.

When it comes to answered prayers, I think that people actually changing is the biggest miracle there is.  Most things can often be written off by coincidence, medical intervention, or other external factors, but people truly changing, turning from darkness to light, I don’t think that that can be as easily explained away.  I know that I can’t explain away the change that has happened in my life or the hope that I have.  Even when I want to run away, I keep on running back into it.  I keep running back to this love that will not let me go.  Even when I pitch a fit about not getting to understand what God is doing, even when I yell at God, even when I am consumed by doubt, my heavenly Father continues to patiently draw me in with loving kindness, not forcing me to do anything, but inviting me into fullness of life in Him.  In this season of unanswered prayers and unfulfilled longings, I am getting to see the miracle of God changing me, renewing me day by day, and conforming me into His likeness.  It wasn’t the heart transformation I was thinking of when I (once again) challenged God to prove Himself to me, but I’m so thankful for the gift of His peace so lavishly poured out on me this week.  It helps to cope with all of the other things that don’t seem to be changing.

-HD

 

Breathless

2016 took my breath away.  Often this felt like when I was at summer camp in seventh grade and while playing a game I slipped and fell in the red, Alabama mud and got the wind knocked out of me.  In immense pain and embarrassed I pretended to be okay.   When I stop and think about this year I feel beat up by life.

The first six months of this year were defined by sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, and barely being able to function.  There were mornings when it took every bit of bravery and strength I had to leave my house and go to work.  I struggled with confidence, identity, to put words together and make coherent sentences.  When I was talking to people it was like all the gears in my brain were turning furiously, but that nothing was connecting.  I was an exhausted, empty shell constantly about two breaths away from breaking down.  It scared me.  It made my friends and colleagues worried.  When I think about the first half of this year it seems like there was a darkness that settled over it.

Then there were the larger issues, the ones beyond me.  A close family friend and a few other people I knew died tragically and far too young.  The largest mass shooting in American history happened in my hometown.  And the terrorist attacks.  So many of my friends here are Muslim.  They are wonderful, kind, generous, and peace-loving.  The terrorist attacks feel personal because I know that it affects the perceptions people have of my friends.  The world felt like a very evil place this year.

A quote from one of my teammates that has stuck with me is, “Life is hard on faith.  Life is hard on hope.” This year I have had to white-knuckle faith, to hold on hard to hope and refuse to let go.  I have fought with God.  I have doubted his goodness as well as the goodness of his commands when I wanted to go my own way instead of following him.  I am an expert pouter when I don’t get what I want, and this year I really wanted something and didn’t get it because of actively choosing to follow Jesus’ commands instead of doing what I wanted to do.  So naturally, I threw a fit.  Actually, I threw many fits over the course of several months.  There were moments that instead of holding on to faith I wanted to run away.  But, God’s patient love drew me back in.  This love that refuses to let me go even in my wandering, even when I am consumed with doubt and accusations about God not working in my best interests, this love held me fast.  Following Jesus this year has been difficult and messy, full of struggle and failure and sin.  God has made it clear that he is after my whole heart and will use any means necessary to bring me to himself.  I haven’t felt like a “good Christian.” Life has been far more complicated than I imagined it could be.  I have struggled in ways I never anticipated.  Even so, following Jesus has been worth it.

A few days ago one of my roommates and I were talking about 2016, how hard it was for both of us, and how ready we are for it to be over.  I feel more than a little worn out by all the living.  But then there have also been the moments that took my breath away with their beauty, the ones that have made me sit back in wonder with how life could be so good.  Even in during the hard times, this year was peppered with times where my heart has felt so full and happy that I think it might burst and I asked myself how I got so lucky.  So instead of continuing down the path of complaining about all of the hard things in 2016 we spent time writing down all of the good things about the year.  We ended up with a long list of personal victories, life lessons, and undeserved blessings.

The second half of this year was also challenging, but instead of struggling to keep moving forward, in many ways I thrived.  Once I started marathon training again, I started sleeping and that helped everything else get better too.  Work was rewarding instead of soul crushing (full-time language learning can suck the life out of you).  I was able to get more involved in the community, asked to be on the board of directors for a nonprofit that fits what I want to do really well, and even had two public speaking opportunities in the language that I have spent so much time and energy learning.  It feels so nice to feel like I’m actually doing something instead of only going to class and also that all of my time in class has paid off.

Kenya is a gorgeous country and I got to experience it through camping, day hikes, safaris and a beach trip.  Friends and family came to visit me, to see my new home and meet my new people. I had some absolutely perfect days here.

Some of the most beautiful things that I have experienced this year have been relationships.  My life has been messy and I have needed the support of community more than I ever did when I was in the US.  I have made friends who have held me as I have wept and comforted me during my anxiety attacks, friends who have taken care of me and taken me to the hospital during the times I have been really sick, friends who have rejoiced with me in victories of this year, friends who love me well and believe in me.  With the confidence that was restored in part through people loving me well, I learned to stand stand up for myself when people treated me poorly.

I got to go back to the US for the first time in a year and a half living overseas.  I saw family, beat my marathon time by over 20 minutes, went to Disney, saw a dear friend get married, and watched the UF homecoming game and Air Force/Army.  I met up with a couple of friends that I made in Kenya that have since moved back to the US for school.  One of them whom I had opened up to about the anxiety and other issues I was having said that I seemed a lot happier now.  I am, and I’m glad that other people can see that too.

I am hoping and praying for a 2017 that is easier and less heartbreaking than 2016 was.  I am looking forward with anticipation to the next year, knowing that God has good things in store for me.  I know that next year will come with it’s own unexpected challenges.  The life I have chosen is difficult.  Yet, I wait in hopeful expectation that the God who makes all things beautiful in his timing, who knows my heart, fears, and deepest desires, will continue to meet my needs and lead me gently even during the days when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Wishing you the happiest New Year,

Hannah

Song recommendation:  I listened to John Mark McMillan’s “Seen a Darkness”  so many times this year.  It was comforting and I related so much to it.  Particularly, to the lines “The valley of the shadow knows our name.  We have seen the night but we have seen the day.”  and later, “You have called us loved and you have called us wanted.  At one time we were bruised, we were bankrupt and haunted.”

Nairobi Family Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2014 was my first big holiday I spent away from home.  I was in Nairobi trying to decide if I was going to move here.  In many ways, that first Thanksgiving here really confirmed that I could do the whole moving away from my country, culture, and family thing.  In the month that I visited Nairobi I already started to feel connected to the community here and I knew a few people that I could form friendships with.  During that trip God confirmed that Nairobi would be “home” for me and gave me the words “rich and full” to describe what my life would be like.  A year and a half living in Nairobi, three Thanksgivings, and six Thanksgiving celebrations later and I can confidently say that God has been faithful to fulfill his promises regarding my life here.

This year was my first year hosting Thanksgiving.  I co-hosted with one of my good friends Ryan.  We both wanted our party to be meaningful, beautiful, intimate, and special for our guests.  Personally, whenever I host anything, I want people to feel welcome, loved, and like they belong.  Ryan and I were committed to having a sit down, family-style dinner.  For that reason, we tried to keep the party “small.”  We ended up with around 30 guests.  It was much larger than we originally expected, but it was perfect.  I am obviously biased, but I think our party was one of the most lovely Thanksgiving celebrations.  We went all out with it: hand written paper invitations (nothing else quite says :your presence is valued”like a real invitation), fall decorations imported from the US, candles and fresh flowers on each table, festive drinks, and all the traditional Thanksgiving food.  We started with hors d’oeuvres and drinks while people mingled, then we had a sit down dinner followed by dessert and games.  During dessert the power went out, but people were not phased, and the party kept going.  We just lit more candles.

Everyone pitched in to make the celebration a success.  We borrowed chairs and table cloths and assigned people different things to bring.  I am so thankful for all of the help we received both before and during the event to make it happen.  One of my favorite things about Nairobi Thanksgiving is  getting to share a wonderful American holiday with friends from all over the world.  We had guests from the UK, Northern Ireland, South Korea, The Netherlands, US, Kenya, and France.  It was some people’s first Thanksgiving.  Even though we are from all over the place and have different reasons for being in Nairobi, this group of people has become another family to me.  I was overly sentimental and sappy the whole night.  I was happy to celebrate with people who know what it is like to live far from home, to need to get support from people you might not know very well, and who know how simultaneously frustrating and wonderful life in Kenya is.

Living in Kenya has been hard.  Truthfully, it has been the hardest thing that I have ever done.  But, it has been well worth it. I have gained more than I could have imagined.  I have learned about myself, God, people, how to throw a great party, and the beautiful messiness of life.  I am so thankful for my life here, the hard-fought battles, the people who laugh and cry with me, the crazy adventures, all the ways I have grown.  I’m thankful for Thanksgiving.  I love that it gives us a time to stop, gather around the people who we love, and intentionally bring to mind the good things in our lives.  Nairobi has become home and my life is more rich and full than I ever could have hoped.

-HD

img_6767img_6775img_6776

 

Subtle sexism – on being silenced

On Sunday I went to a wedding and experienced a subtle but really discouraging form of sexism.  I was standing and talking to one of the other wedding guests when an elderly man approached us and asked us how we knew the couple because he didn’t recognize us.  Many of the wedding guests were students at the seminary where the couple goes and the man introduced himself as a professor at the seminary.  I think that he assumed that the other guest and I were together, but in actuality we were talking because we had met the night before and neither of us really knew anyone else.  The man asked us how we knew the bride and groom.  I mentioned that I have known the bride since I was in middle school and the other guest mentioned that the same thing was true for him and the groom.  At this point I would have thought that the man caught on to the fact that the other guest and I weren’t together since he grew up knowing the groom and I grew up knowing the bride.

However, he continued to talk to us as if we were together.  Or at least I hope that was the reason for his behavior because the other option would be that he just ignored me.  He continued talking to us for a bit, but only asked the other guest what he did.  It was as if the other guest was answering for both of us.  Which was hilarious because we had just met.  I was standing there, waiting for the man to address me, to ask me questions as well, to include me in the conversation, but he never did. I was effectively silenced throughout the conversation.  Other than saying how I knew the bride, I wasn’t able to contribute.

The situation was especially annoying because the other guest and I had just met, but even if I had been with a boyfriend or I were married and talking to my husband, it would have been frustrating.  The conversation communicated that my voice, experiences, and opinions didn’t matter, that a man should speak on my behalf– even if it’s a man that I met less than 24 hours ago. It was incredibly disempowering.  It could have been just an awkward social circumstance, but with how often I see the voices of women silenced it felt really sexist.  I doubt the man had any intention of coming across this way.  Socialization plays such a huge role in our interactions that I don’t think the issue is with this man in particular but rather with how little female voices are valued.

Right now with my job I am expected to do public speaking and honestly I really enjoy that part of my job.  I am good at running meetings.  I like teaching and consulting.  From the time I was young I was always in leadership roles in different organizations.  I wonder though, if I get married  will I be expected to just stand there when my husband is asked about what we do?  I wonder if I’ll be included in the conversation, if I’ll be able to use the talents that God has given me.  I often wonder about couples where the man speaks on behalf of both of them, particularly in religious settings.  Does the wife not want to speak?  If not, that’s fine.  Maybe she doesn’t like public speaking. But, when I’m talking to two people I want to hear both of their experiences.  The opinions and experiences of women are just as important and valuable as men’s.  And they are different.  And this is good.  Women are worth listening to.

-Hannah

 

On Trying for Boston

After running my first full marathon last year I knew that I wanted to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  But even telling people that makes me nervous.  I fear failing, especially publicly.  I often only do things if I’m fairly confident that I can succeed.  I went back and forth in my head about whether to try for Boston this time around or to do another marathon first before actually trying for a BQ time. In order to qualify I have to cut 33 minutes from my time.  I have some reasons to believe that I’ll be able to do this, but it’s still a really lofty goal.  I still could very easily not qualify.  When I thought about it though (and gave myself permission to try to do something that I didn’t know if I would succeed in) I remembered that many people try for years to qualify for Boston and that I would in no way be failing if I didn’t make it.  I would still have run another marathon, and likely beat my time from Athens.  I decided to just go for it and see what happens.

When my training plan was starting the doubts creeped in.  I put my long runs and my speed workouts on my calendar in pen (no going back now) and thought to myself: “There’s no way you can do this.”  “You definitely aren’t in good enough shape right now.” “Three twenty milers!  You’ve got to be kidding.  I probably can’t run more than ten miles right now.”  But then, once again, I pushed the doubts away.  I reminded myself that of course I couldn’t run a marathon well right then- for the simple reason that I hadn’t been marathon training.  Of course I wasn’t in marathon shape.  It’s okay to not be able to run twenty miles at the beginning of training.  You have to build up to running that far.  That’s why the twenty milers come at the end of the training plan.

Training for this marathon is honestly going really well so far.  I’m proud of where I am and think I have a good shot at a BQ time.   If I had written this post a few months ago I would not have been nearly as confident about my ability to qualify.  You never know what could happen between now and race day and during the race itself.   I could get injured.  I could go out too fast and die.  I could go out too conservatively and not be able to make up the time.  I could hit the wall.  Although I feel good about my chances, there’s still a lot that could go wrong.

Things I’m felling good about:

I ran my first of the three twenty milers last weekend at two minutes per mile faster than my only twenty miler last marathon.  On race day in Athens I ran a 9:27 average — about two and a half minutes faster than my twenty mile training run here in Nairobi (the hills and altitude here are no joke).  If I drop my race day time by the same amount in Chicago, I will qualify with about 20 minutes to spare.

The Athens course was half uphill (one quarter flat and one quarter downhill).  We’re talking a nine mile uphill stretch during the middle third of the marathon.  I was exhausted from staying up too late talking to my friends I hadn’t seen in six months.  I started the race sore from walking too much while sightseeing.  There are few feelings worse than the dread of being on the starting line of a marathon and realizing that your quads and knees are ALREADY sore and you haven’t even begun to run.  I still managed to run a 4:08 marathon – a great first time and good for a difficult course.  I didn’t hit a wall and felt much better than expected throughout the whole race.

It’s hard to train in Nairobi.  I’m at 5,800 feet above sea level.  The hills are long and steep.  I knew that  it would be great to try to qualify for Boston while living here.  It’s an automatic advantage.

Things I’m nervous about:

Thirty-three minutes is a LONG TIME.  I have to race over a minute per mile faster.  Yikes.  Just yikes.

Jet lag – there’s  an eight hour time difference between Nairobi and Chicago.  I’m giving myself a few days to adjust, but honestly who knows what could happen.  Sometimes I barely have any jet lag and others I feel like I got hit by a truck for a week straight.

Hitting a wall – I’ve never hit a wall before, and if I do this time around it would seriously throw off my race day plan.  I don’t have a contingency plan for this.  My race day plan is usually to go out fairly conservatively and then speed up.  I don’t bank time at the beginning.  This worked really well in Athens.  I ran a negative split between the first two halves and my last 10k was my fastest.  But if I hit a wall this throws everything off.

 

I know ultimately whether I qualify or not that this experience will be good for me.  I am trying to accomplish something that I don’t know if I can do.  I am stepping out of my comfort zone.  And I’m even telling people about it.

 

XO,

HD