Cherished Blogfest

Our van pulled up to the marketplace in Livingstone, Zambia.  The air was hot and sticky.   The air was always hot and sticky.  It was the type of heat that makes you forget what it is like to be cold.

Within a few short days, the Zambians we had partnered with already felt like brothers.  They promised to help us navigate the market place, but there were much more of us than them.

With big eyes and Kwacha (Zambian Currency) in hand, I took my first steps towards the market place.

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Photo Credit: Michael Liedtke

They barter everything in the market place.  I would eventually barter my hair tie for a nice hand carved wood bottle opener for my brother.  Bartering is kind of intimidating to me in itself.  I am not a demanding, forceful person.  I could never work in sales.

So here I was trying to barter for my first time.   Of course it would be with a foreign currency.  Not that it really mattered since I had no idea how much any of this stuff would be worth in American money.  Add to that the fact that my white skin screams I have money and no idea what I am doing.  I was basically a moving target for disaster.

The marketplace vendors were indeed happy to see a van full of mzungas (white people) pull up.   I wandered off on my own.  True to their word, my Zambian brothers came to help me.  They helped the marketplace vendors take me more seriously, but besides that they were mostly there for moral support.

If I played confidant, maybe the vendors wouldn’t catch on that I had no idea what I was doing.  One thing I did have going for me, is that I can read people really well.  I could tell which vendors were trying to take advantage of me.

The first thing on my list was a chitenge (a chitenge is a long colorful piece of fabric that the women wrap around themselves as skirts).

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Photo Credit: Michael Liedtke

I know that I paid too much for it, but I also knew that I didn’t care.  The woman was nice and I had talked down the price enough.  Plus she needed the money more than me, and it felt greedy to pay any less.

I had bought my first chitenga.  Oh I would buy others.  In fact I cherish everything I bought in Zambia.   But my first chitenga would always be special to me.  It reminded me of a girl who was fearless, even when she had no idea what she was doing.  It reminded me of the girl who wasn’t afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty.

It reminded me of my last night in Africa.  When I stood barefoot in the orange African dirt looking up at the stars.  The wind was gently whipping my chitenga around my legs.  I scrunched my toes into the dirt and promised myself that this would not be the last time my feet touched African soil. 

**** Michael Liedtke is a professional photography that went to Zambia with me.  To see more of his amazing photos from Zambia, click here.

**** Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my blog.  If you have a cherished object you would like me to read about, please put in the comments below.

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Catching Chickens

It was a beautiful morning in Zambia.  The thrum of life was so evident all around you that it felt as though it were synced to your pulse.  Such mornings simply do not exist here at home.  Africa has a vibrancy to it that is so distinctly well African.  But there is also this sense of community.  A dependency on life to continue life.

It was on that morning as I sat in this place,

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when a hoard of ants came past right in front of me.  Ants are bigger and scarier in Africa.  I just sat there frozen as they seemed to just. keep. coming.  That was the closest I came to death in Africa.

I am being dramatic because of course I didn’t come close to death at all.  The ants barely even noticed me as I sat frozen in fear.  Yet everyone keeps telling me how brave I am for going to Africa.  For some reason America seems to have this picture of Africa being a land where death lurks around every corner.  Which is completely an inaccurate depiction of a land filled with so much beauty and life.

In that moment, after my near death of killer ants, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth am I doing here? I spent months preparing.  I spent three days traveling, crammed into airplanes and stuck at airports.  I had been ready to brave the huge spiders and the deadly snakes.  I had put up with months of people telling me I was going to get Ebola, or malaria, or death by those water flies.  Yet I came anyways.  Then I discovered this idea of Africa that I had painted in my head was not even close to accurate.  While in Zambia, I did not see a desolate or broken land.  Zambia is very much alive and filled with hope.  Life begetting life all around me.  Zambia doesn’t need me.  Not even a little bit.

So what on earth was I doing here?  

God tends to find us the most useful once we realize how utterly useless we actually are.

So that morning in the prayer loppa, I asked God to help me understand why I was in Africa.  Do you know what He gave me?  A chicken. Other members on team did really amazing things that day, like heal people and make a dry well flow with water.

I got a chicken.

Not that I’m bitter.

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We were talking with two ladies, Ceca and her mother Harriet.  Somehow it was decided that they would show us some of their daily life, and somehow that ended up with us at a cage of chickens.  They wanted us to feed their chickens.  An awkward silence filled the air as they waited to see which crazy American they would get to trap in the pen with the chickens.

I volunteered, and instantly regretted it.  I crawled through the tiny hole and prayed the chickens wouldn’t attack the first white person they have ever encountered. Don’t worry, I survived unscathed.  Soon Ceca and her son her were crammed into the tiny cage with me.  I am still not sure how we fit without squashing any chickens.  Ceca picked up a chicken by the wings, looked at me, and said, “Here hold it.”  Haha yeah no thanks.  But Cesa just kept insisting, and I got the feeling she wouldn’t let me out until I held it.

I grew up on a farm, I am not scared of chickens.  Much.  But I have never picked up a chicken by the wings.  That seemed akin to poking a bear and hoping it didn’t bite you. So of course I decided to pick up the stupid chicken.  Ceca and Harriet had a pretty good laugh at the ridiculous white girl holding one of their chickens.

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“God sometimes uses the completely inexplicable events in our lives to point us towards Him.  We get to decide each time whether we will lean in toward what is unfolding and say yes or back away.” – Bob Goff

Sometimes the biggest miracle we will see in our lives is that we said yes when a normal sane person would have said no.  I don’t think that God ever intended us to be spectators in life.  I think he intended us to do foolish things like try to walk on water or feed chickens.  I think he intended us to engage with the world around us.  Life moves fast.  If you don’t stop to catch a chicken every now and then you might miss it.

My Art’s Journey to the Other Side of World

One of the things I love most about life is that it is full of moments.  Beautiful moments and terrible moments, both of which are capable of bringing tears to our eyes.  If we are lucky one day we will wake up and find ourselves in a moment that, if we let it, will sweep us off our feet and give us exactly what our heart has been searching for.  My last moment like this was back in June when God placed on my heart the call to paint for women everywhere who had been reduced to objects through sex trafficking. Here I am 8 months later in awe of everything that has already happened with Scribbles of Hope.  That is the secret about trusting God.  We learn that if we are willing to trust Him, He will write a far better story for our lives than we ever could.  I was not selling as many paintings as I had originally hoped.  Some of my friends and family seemed a little disappointed when I told them this, but I wasn’t.  I knew that no amount of money could ever fix the problem, because money can’t fix a heart.  But I knew that my art had healed my heart in ways I could not explain, and it was my hope that it could help heal the hearts of others too.  Art has a way of affecting us like that.  It was been humbling to watch my art affect those who see it.  While this was more than I had ever dreamed for Scribbles of Hope, I still felt that something was still missing.  I don’t mean to downplay the hurt that is in Sioux Falls because it is there, but I also knew that there were women across the globe who were also hurting.  I wanted to give them my art so that they could know that someone cared for them.  I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I was going to have another moment that would sweep me off my feet.

The SoHo art is currently on display at the Ransom Church this month.  It just so happened that Micah Kephart the Founder of Poetice International in Zambia would be speaking this morning.  Poetice International is a multi-facted organization, but one area they target is sexual exploitation.  So when I walked into Church and saw Micah talking to someone by a couple of my paintings, something in my soul told me that it wasn’t a coincidence.  During the sermon, Micah told us the story of woman named Elena.  I was so touched by Elena’s story that I wanted to run to the lobby and grab one of my paintings off of the wall and put it in Micah’s hands to give to Elena.  I didn’t though. Instead I waited until the sermon was over to approach Micah.  I wanted to give him four paintings, one for Elena and one for each of the three houses they were planning to build.

I was so nervous as I waited to talk to him.  My palms were sweating and my pulse was racing.  It didn’t help that he kind of looked like Jesus, which was both comforting and intimidating.  But I knew it wasn’t that I was nervous to talk to him.  I was nervous because I understood the magnitude of what was about to happen.  The harder the resistance, the more fear present, the more important the task that is about to happen.  When it came time for me to talk to Micah, I expected him to act slightly awkward about this random girl approaching him and her ridiculous idea to have her art travel half way across the world.  But he didn’t, not even the least bit.  He just listened with all of his attention as I nervously rambled and he said yes without any hesitation.  He told me that nothing would mean more to them than to know that someone cared.  I excited began to talk to him logistics about getting the paintings to Zambia, and we decided that the Ransom team would just bring them when they went on their yearly trip to Zambia in the November.  Then Micah paused.  Smiled.  Looked me in the eyes and said, “Why don’t you just bring your art to Zambia yourself in November.”  I wanted to cry, because I wanted to meet these women, listen to their stories, and be able to tell them that they weren’t broken they were beautiful.  And I wanted to be able to give them my art so that they could understand how much I cared for them.  But I never dreamed that in only 9 months I could be in Zambia doing exactly that. Like I said, if we let Him, God will write a far better story for our lives than we could ever imagine.  And right now he is writing the story of a girl and her art that will travel to the other side of the world to be in the lives of beautiful Zambian women.

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Photo courtesy of Poetice International

How Building a House Made Me Hate Cows

“It might be time for you to go.  It might be time to change, to shine out.  I want to repeat one word for you Leave.  Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit.  It is a beautiful word, isn’t it?  So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.  And you will not be alone.  You have never been alone.  Don’t worry.  Everything will still be here when you get back.  It is you who will have changed.”  -Donald Miller.

These were the words I read as I was on hour number 6 of 23 of the long drive down to Juarez, Mexico.  I knew that I needed to leave, not just to help a family, but I needed to leave for me.  I knew that staying in one place too long had a way of suffocating me, and I needed to leave so that I could breathe again.  But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was quite reluctant to leaving that Saturday morning when I crammed myself in the back corner of a van.  I didn’t want to go, I was comfortable here.  Which was exactly why I needed to go, I just didn’t realize it at the time.   So that is how I found myself reading Donald Miller poetically write about change and leaving as I sat in the back of a bumpy van looking out the window at cows eating grass.  It was then I realized that maybe that is how change works; it is like watching the land change.  We wake up every morning dealing with the same problems, becoming stagnate as we watch the same cows eat grass.  Then one day we leave and slowly over a 23 hour drive down to Mexico the land starts to change, until one morning you wake up and see Mountains and not cows eating grass.

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I was shocked to find out just how close Juarez, Mexico is to El Paso, Texas.  They are essentially one city divided into two by the border.  One night when we were in El Paso, we went to a lookout in the mountain to look at the city lights.  The only break in the lights was by the border, dividing the two cities.   It is crazy that only ten miles can change someone’s life that drastically.  I began to feel sorry for people born in Juarez as they were living in poverty and had to watch the sunrise every morning over the shiny glass skyscrapers of downtown El Paso.  Just imagine for a moment waking up every morning in Juarez cold and hungry and seeing the sun rise over those buildings, knowing that only ten miles away those people had everything they needed and more.  Then I spent four days in Mexico, spending time with our family, and I realized that I had it backwards.  They were not the poor, we were.  They had community and laughter, and all we had was an obsession with stuff, status, and social media.  They taught me that life isn’t about trying to get more stuff and success.  Life is much about sitting outside laughing until our stomachs hurt, life is about community, and life is about caring for someone just because.  Life is about love and relationships; something that can’t be bought, horded, or found on facebook.

The first thing I learned is that having a bed is a privilege.  Sometimes it takes something as awful as trying to fit three sleeping people on a van bench, spines twisting at impossible angles with butts half asleep and feet in each other’s faces, to really make you appreciate your bed.  It made me realize how much I take my bed for granted.  As if having a comfy bed is something that I deserve and not something that I am privileged to have.  But I have more than a warm bed at night.  I have more blessings than I know how to be grateful for.  Only I am rarely grateful for any of it. About 10% of the world gets to enjoy the wealth that we have.  10 miles, 10%, why did I get to be one of the lucky few that won the life lottery?

Now I am back in South Dakota, having everything I need and finding that none of it actually makes me happy.  I am worried about the same stupid stuff, and back to watching the same old cows eating grass. And I realized I really that hate watching cows eat grass.  I can’t fit back into the mold of who I was when I left, because I am no longer that person.  I can’t pretend that I am not changed, or that the things I once thought important now seem selfish and superficial.  It is a hard battle, knowing that you have been changed, but now knowing what to do about it.  It is almost like being stuck in this limbo state, unsure of what will happen next.  I don’t know what God has in store for me next, nor do I know what great adventure he longs to take you on.  But I do know that stepping away from your cows in one insane moment of courage will change everything.  Although be forewarned, you may come back to realize that you too hate cows.