Cheaper than therapy – but really

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Running is a luxury.  One of my friends was back visiting the US recently and asked if there was anything I needed that she could bring back.  I ordered a pair of running shoes on Amazon and had them sent to where she was staying.  I had a minor heart attack when purchasing the shoes.  I have been buying the same shoes for the past several years.  I know how much running shoes cost.  I’ve been running for over half my life now.  Still, at this point in life– living in Kenya and ballin’ on a budget– to spend $86 dollars on a pair of shoes (even though they were on sale because they are last season’s model) felt extravagant.  To have the time and energy to spend on dedicated time to exercise, to have the money to spend on good shoes and clothes that are comfortable to run in, to spend over $100 on one race entry feels frivolous at times.

But then, I remembered how much each of my counseling sessions costs.   And then, I remembered how much better I’ve slept since starting my marathon training program and how little anxiety I’ve had.  After that I did the did the math and realized that in each pair of running shoes there are approximately 70 hours of stress and anxiety relief. If I were to spend that same amount of time in therapy (which I also find to be really valuable) it would cost me well over $4000.  I see lots of posts on social media about running being cheaper than therapy.  For me this is a reality.  For me it is worth buying the new shoes so that I don’t injure myself.  For me it is worth spending money on race entry because often having the pressure of a race is what gets me to run well.

Running for me is a preventative medicine.  I have known for years that running helps with my mental and emotional health, but I didn’t realize just how much it helps until a couple of months ago.  Long runs (8-20 miles) rest a deep place in my brain.  Running allows me to process through the things that have bubbled up during the week.  The things that I don’t have time to think about during the week because otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done.  It relaxes me and wears out my body in a way that ensures my body turns off when it is supposed to at night instead of buzzing like a neon sign.  I live so much in my mind that I can forget that I have a body and that it has needs but running reminds me to take care of myself.  Running quiets my mind and reminds me of my whole self.  In part because of running, I haven’t had to be medicated for my anxiety.

I think that part of why running helps with my anxiety so much is that it makes me feel in control.  It makes my life feel more purposeful.  In order to run well I have to plan ahead and make a series of healthy choices.  I go to bed early.  I drink lots of water.  I nourish my body with enough calories to make it through a 20 miler and not hit a wall.  I am choosing to run.  I am choosing to be the most holistically healthy version of myself.  I am more active in my life instead of just going with the flow, allowing my FOMO (fear of missing out) or loneliness to make decisions for me.  I am choosing my pace and distance.  And living in a new country where there is so little that I can control, where everything feels chaotic at times, running gives me a hold so that I don’t feel like my life is spinning out of control.  Running gives me stability in a new and often scary place.  It was a part of my life back in the US and it is a part of my life here.  It’s like spending time with Jesus and my morning coffee– so much changed but those things remained the same even 8000 miles from home.

So, yes, at times running feels like a luxury.  I spend roughly 10 hours a week dedicated to exercise and I know that not everyone can do that.  I know that it is a privilege and a grace given me to thrive in this season of life.  However, for me, right now, running is a necessity.

-HD

 

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.}

 

 

 

“Cute and Funny”

I’d like to dedicate this story to all of my Nairobi friends who I have vaguely told about the “Coldstone crying incident” but not given any real background information to.

 

Back in 2014, shortly before my visit to Kenya to see if I wanted to move here, my sister Emily and I went to a party.

First a few pieces of background information:

  • At this point I was living the life of a recent college grad that moved back home with her parents and had approximately 2.5 friends in her hometown. Also, these friends lived half an hour away from me. This meant that my introvert batteries were fully recharged, and that I was in desperate need for some social interaction.
  • Emily and I make a great tag team for humor. She brings out my silly side. I can poke fun at her blonde, cheerleaderyness and she doesn’t mind. It’s great. We laugh a ton when we are together. When Emily came to visit Nairobi I’m pretty sure I never stopped laughing. Also, one of my friends here said that he likes our “sibling vibe.” Emily and I consider this to be one of the best compliments ever.
  • There were a few other people at the party that I knew that bring out my sassy, quick witted, sort of sarcastic side.
  • There were far more guys than girls at this party. This led to Emily and I getting a lot of attention. (Even if there were more girls there I’m pretty sure Emily’s thick, bright blonde hair serves as some sort of homing device for boys. My sister is just really pretty okay!)

 

All of these things added up to a great night. I was in a super bubbly mood and making tons of jokes. We were meeting new people in a large group (something that normally makes me nervous) but since I had my life-long sidekick* with me and had been away from social events for so long I was comfortable and excited.   The guys we met that night laughed at my jokes, were kind, respectful, had good job prospects post graduation (the party was mostly college students and made me feel both young and relevant again and slightly old), and some were really cute, like whisper about how cute they are when they go to get more food cute. There was one guy in particular that we thought was definitely TCBATP (The Cutest Boy At The Party – I just made up this acronym). He chatted with us in groups and seemed really nice but that was all.

This would probably be a good point to say that leaving soon to go on a trip to Kenya to see if you want to move there is a weird place to be in life. People ask lots of questions. Ebola was a big concern in 2014. (Side note: I was actually a little bit nervous that I was going to be “the white girl that brought Ebola to Kenya” because I stopped in New York City on my way and I rode the same train as one of the people who had it. I was not concerned about getting Ebola in Kenya because it was really far away from Kenya.) Anyway, being a person who might move to Africa soon at a party full of mostly college students makes you automatically really interesting. Also, did I mention that I was on fire with the jokes that night? Seriously—probably the best I’ve ever done at a party.

As I said, the party was great. To my surprise, TCBATP friended me on Facebook the next day. I was on my way to brunch with a friend and totally freaked out a little bit from excitement. But then I left for Kenya and didn’t hear from him. Boys are understandably cautious when they find out you want to move to Africa.

A little bit into my stay in Kenya though Emily messaged me saying that she had heard that TCBATP thought I was “cute and funny.” What? Me? Cute AND funny! Wow. This seemed too good to be true. It seemed too good to be true because my “love life” if you can even call it that has consisted of three primary components: creepy men shouting at me, me being desperately in love with older boys who don’t really know that I exist, and really nice boys that I’m not into being really into me (and me literally crying while turning them down because I’m low key the worst).   The concept of someone who I thought was cute thinking that I’m cute was completely foreign. To my knowledge, it hadn’t happened since I was fifteen.

So here I was in Kenya, trying to decide if I wanted to move here when I found out that TCBATP was kinda into me. It took me completely off-guard. I suddenly had a lot to process. My mind was filled with so many “what ifs.” I was journaling one day and felt God asking me why I was surprised. I was surprised because I had counted someone who I was genuinely attracted to being interested in me to be impossible. It felt like it would never happen. If this sounds dramatic that’s because I have dramatic feelings a lot of the time.

Through this situation God showed me areas of my heart that I wasn’t trusting him in. I realized that I wasn’t as confident in who God made me to be as I should be. One day my now-teammate Julianna and I decided to do a debrief meeting at Coldstone in Westlands. During this meeting I told her about TCBATP and how the whole situation made me feel. I burst into tears. Sometimes I say that I was crying and it’s like two tears or just tearing up. This was not one of those times. I was full-on crying. It was super awkward because they had just recently opened, were really overstaffed because of training people and all of the employees were loudly singing all of the Coldstone songs. And there I was weeping in a booth in an ice cream shop in Kenya with someone who I had just met a couple of weeks before about not believing that I was beautiful or that someone that I liked would like me back. If I remember correctly we were also the only customers in the store at the time. My life is basically a long string of one awkward/cringe-worthy event after another.

Nothing ever happened with TCBATP but God still used the situation powerfully to heal my heart and remind me of my beauty.

 

Now you know why I cried in Coldstone.

 

Hannah

 

 

Year One Done

Sunday marked one year of living in Kenya. Reflecting back on this year my heart is really full. My main thought concerning this year is that I’m so glad that it happened and I’m also so glad that it’s over and I never have to repeat it. This year was probably the hardest year of my life. It definitely wasn’t the worst year—there’s an important difference between something being difficult and something being bad. I have a huge sense of accomplishment and gratitude for everything this year has brought.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a German lady, about my parents’ age, who has been working in Kenya for many years. She asked me how I was doing. I took a deep breath and said, “Well… I’m in my first year living abroad.” With an understanding look, she said that she had heard the first year compared to an “emotional earthquake.” I told her that that sounded about right. I feel like I have been through an emotional earthquake and I’m waiting for the dust to settle. Transition is difficult, but it shapes us and shows us who we are.

The past six months in particular have been really challenging. I’ve struggled with health, sleep, and anxiety issues. I haven’t slept well since the beginning of the year. Being chronically sleep deprived has made coping with everything more difficult. Being physically and emotionally weak has meant that I have had to trust God so much more for strength to get through each day. This dependence has led to greater intimacy with Christ and a better understanding of my humanity.

Some days in Nairobi I feel like I am thriving, like I am exactly where I belong, like I’m doing exactly what I was born to do, like I couldn’t possibly be any more happy. Some days I feel like I am/that I am becoming the person that I want to be. Other days, I tear up at the thought of having to leave the house and battle traffic for an hour to get to my classes. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the past year (not surprising). I thought the best way to capture them would be a few bullet-pointed lists.

Firsts:

  • First big girl job.
  • First time living more than 90 miles away from my parents (for more than a summer)
  • First time being out of the US for more than 6 weeks at a time
  • First full marathon
  • First trip to Asia
  • First time riding a bus in Africa alone
  • First time buying a car
  • First time leasing an apartment
  • First time living alone

Victories:

  • I’m now conversational in one of the most difficult languages in the world. I didn’t know a single word before I moved here.
  • I managed to train for a marathon in a city that isn’t very runner-friendly. My first time running in Nairobi a man grabbed my arm. This really shook me up and I was really nervous when I was running for a while, but I kept on doing it anyway. I ran a 4:08 for my first marathon – beating both of my dad’s marathon times J
  • I feel comfortable navigating Nairobi. When I first moved here there had been some robberies near where I was living. I was nervous to walk to the store to get groceries. Now I’m able to go about normal life without being as on-edge constantly.
  • I found an apartment! (I had a really hard time finding a place that I could afford and that I felt comfortable living in.)
  • I made friends! One of my biggest fears moving here was that I wouldn’t be able to make friends. I have found people that I love and that love me well.

Lessons:

  • I am learning how to stand up for myself in difficult situations instead of allowing myself to be treated poorly because I’m afraid of how other people might react
  • I am learning what true freedom in Christ looks like and that I don’t have to be bound by other people’s expectations.
  • I’ve learned that I care far too much about what people think of me.
  • I am learning how to say “no”
  • I learned how to not completely freak out when someone asks me out on a date and to have fun, relax, and get to know him instead.
  • I’ve learned that a lot of guys (100% of dates since moving here) don’t use the word “date” when asking you out on a date. This is confusing. I think I’m learning how to tell if it’s a date though.
  • I am learning how to trust God with my heart
  • I am learning to trust that God will provide for my needs – fundraising a salary is a huge act of faith
  • I learned how to do parties better (small talk is hard)
  • I learned the ~very real~ importance of a good night’s sleep
  • I re-learned how to drive on the opposite side of the road and in Nairobi traffic
  • I re-learned how to cook without all of the American convenience items I’m used to
  • I am learning to extend grace to myself in my weakness
  • I learned what is life-giving and restful for me
  • I am learning healthy dependence on others and that it’s okay that I can’t do everything on my own
  • I learned that if you wish something were different about your life you can take an active role in changing it. Are you lonely? Invite people to do things with you. Take initiative. Chances are other people are lonely too. If you want to have deep conversations instead of talking about the weather, start the conversation. You don’t have to wait for other people to engage with you. You can influence your community. It takes courage; sometimes it means stepping out and being the first one to be vulnerable (which is terrifying). Even if it’s not always received the way you’d hoped, it’s worth the risk.

 

All things considered, my time in Nairobi has been a treasure. I am reminded of Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Moving to Nairobi has cost me dearly. It is hard to be so far away from the people that I love most. It is hard to be faithful in something as tedious as language learning. However, I have also gained so much in this process. I feel like my character is a piece of coal in the earth undergoing the pressure that it takes to become a diamond.   It is not comfortable. It is worth it.

With abounding joy,

Hannah

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The day I bought a fridge in a crazy part of town then celebrated my adult purchase by buying a juice box.

I’m Going to Punch You in the Face

As strange as it might sound that sentence is one of the most kind things that anyone has ever said to me. It is what one of my former roommates and still best friends would tell me when I was being ridiculous. It’s what she would say to me when I wasn’t seeing myself as I really am, when I wasn’t acting in confidence or believing in myself. Basically her saying “I’m going to punch you in the face.” means “I love you and you’re a better person than you think you are.”

At this point you should watch the following video because it makes the story make sense. We had watched it the day before  the events in this story and thought it was super funny.  SNL Adele’s Someone Like You – Crying (If this link doesn’t work because of it going to Kenyan YouTube make sure to look it up.)

One of the most memorable examples of her calling me back into reality by threatening me with physical violence was when we were living together sophomore year of college. When I was driving home from Bible study I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling that I was never going to get married. The reason though was what was really ridiculous. The thought had popped in my mind that I was never going to get married because no Christian men would be able to see that I loved Jesus enough to want to marry me. So I got home really upset, but when I was trying to explain about why I thought no one would ever want to marry me I started laughing. I knew that I was being silly, but the feelings were also so real that I was crying. I was in our kitchen laughing at myself and crying because I felt like no one could see Jesus in me and that that made me completely undesirable.

In that moment she responded perfectly. She played “Someone Like You” by Adele. (The song from the video.) I collapsed on our couch laughing and crying. I explained more fully what was going on in my heart. She told me that she was going to punch me in the face and something along the lines of me being a big influence on her faith and that if a guy couldn’t see how much I loved Jesus that he would have to be blind. — During this time period I was also crying literally all the time because I wanted to drop out of school and do the same type of job that I’m doing now. If there was a reason someone wouldn’t want to date or marry me, “not loving Jesus enough” definitely wasn’t it.

I guess the point to this story is that often times we don’t see ourselves properly. Friends can help us see the truth about ourselves. It especially helps me if those people are sassy with me when I need it. They fight for me to remember truth of who I am.

-HD

 

The one where I get locked in the bathroom

Tuesday was one of those “I can’t do this anymore” days. My morning started with the man I unaffectionately refer to as the “car wash bully” telling me to buy him lunch. Not asking. Telling. The car wash bully has come up to my car window and stopped me frequently at my apartment complex to ask if he can wash my car. He wanted to wash my car every day. I don’t need and can’t afford to have my car washed every day. I have told him in the past not to wash my car unless I ask him to but still sometimes he’s washed it then come asking for money. I’ve had to use my stern voice with him. I don’t like having to use my stern voice. He works for my apartment complex and him being around makes me feel generally uncomfortable. Besides him being pushy about washing my car, he just generally gives off a creepy vibe. That being said, when he came up to my car window when I was trying to leave to go to class I was not pleased. I was even less happy that he told me to buy him lunch. I said, “no.” He asked, “Not today?” and I simply said, “no” again and drove to class. These sorts of situations really bother me because I feel like people are trying to take advantage of me. I’m getting better at standing up for myself when these sorts of things happen though.

During my language class, the moral of the story that our language teacher told was literally “do not discuss things with your wife.” I was not amused. I’m continually surprised by the negative attitudes towards women in the culture that I’m working with.

When I got home I called the repairman that I’ve been trying to get to fix my laundry machine. At first he was supposed to come last Thursday at 3. He said he was coming and didn’t show up, didn’t answer his phone when I called him several times, and didn’t explain why. Then on Friday he said he would come at 2 exactly. He showed up at 3:30 but at least he came. On Friday he told me that he would need to buy a part and that it cost around $50. I gave him the money to buy it because I don’t know where I would go to buy the part. He said he would come back on Saturday before 10. I called him at 10:15 and he said that he was still waiting for the part but that he would come at 3. He didn’t come and he didn’t answer his phone or tell me what happened. Sunday I didn’t bother calling him. Monday I called and he was supposed to come at 2—same thing happened as on Thursday and Saturday. We rescheduled for 2 on Tuesday (yesterday). So I called him around one and he said he would come at 2:30. Not a big deal. Come at 2:30 that’s fine. Except he didn’t come then and I called him several times and he didn’t answer.

Finally, I sent him a couple of texts letting him know that it wasn’t okay for him to be doing this and that I don’t want to sit at home waiting if he’s not going to come. At this point I was furious and worried that he had just taken the money for the part and wasn’t going to come back to fix the machine. I left to go grocery shopping. I was walking up the monsterous hill that is the driveway to my complex , thinking all of the angry thoughts, fighting back angry tears, when he called and said that he had just gotten off the bus. I told him that I needed to go buy groceries and asked him to wait for a few minutes. I passed him on the way to the store and explained I would be back soon.

I went to the butcher and bought chicken and then to the green grocer to buy vegetables for the Thai green curry I was making for dinner. At the green grocer I was still fighting back angry tears. I bought myself roses because I was feeling sorry for myself and because they only cost about $2 for 20 so it’s a nice little treat.

I returned home and the repairman started working on the machine.   I needed to take a shower before my dinner guests arrived. But I had a strange, unreliable man in my house. So I locked my bedroom and the ensuite bathroom door to be safe. Except, when I finished showering, I couldn’t open the door. I was frantic. I was locked in my bathroom. I had no idea if I can trust that repair man or not. I didn’t know if it’s a good idea to let him know I’m stuck in the bathroom or if he would use that as an opportunity to rob me. And, if he were to help me break out, he would have to break two doors to do so.

I called one of my teammates and to tell him about the situation and to get advice on how to get out. On the phone with my teammate I was laughing hysterically and nearly crying. Thankfully, this wasn’t my first time being locked in a bathroom in Kenya. I remembered that two friends used a screwdriver to loosen the door handle when I locked myself in their bathroom my first night here. I looked around for anything that I could use to loosen the screws. I grabbed my tweezers and tried them. I had called my parents and they called me back while in the process of trying to use the tweezers as a screwdriver. I was crying and stressed, talking about how I needed to get out of the bathroom to start cooking dinner for the people coming over, wondering what would happen if the repairman finished before I got out or if I was still stuck in the bathroom when guests arrived. My parents talked to me, calmed me down, and offered advice from 8,000 miles away. Thank God for FaceTime. The screwdriver-tweezers worked! I took off the door handle, but still no luck. I won’t bore you with the inner workings of my door handle, but after a bit of trying and failing to open the door my dad had an idea of what to do and it worked. I was free! I was probably only stuck in the bathroom for 15 minutes. I don’t think the repairman even realized.

I started cooking dinner and talked to my parents some more. Friends came over. I got some much-needed hugs. We ate dinner a little later than planned, but it turns out my friends didn’t mind. It was a great to have people around to laugh with at the end of a stressful day.