Friday, September 30, 2011

Games My Kids Play

No, my kids are not normal.

I'm sure most of you have figured this out by now, but we have a few new readers thanks to Kingdom Twindom (hi and welcome!  Thanks for joining us!) so I thought I'd reiterate that fact.

Between pulling fire alarms and peeing all over Costco, my kids have a reputation for doing things that are a little, well, unusual at times.

And by unusual, I mean things that will ultimately contribute heavily to my upcoming permanent vacation in the insane asylum.

a-HEM.

Anywhoo, last night at bath time, they started a new game.  I immediately grabbed my phone to record the happenings, and after showing my darling hubby the video, I grabbed their swimsuits so I could blog it.  No, my kids don't normally wear swimsuits in the bathtub.

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And yes, this was completely their idea.  Well, after this one, the rest of the kid had to get in on the action, too.  Ben  was into it....

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Grant wanted to, but resisted a little.  I laughed so hard at this one.  "Ugh, he's a tough one."

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And who gets to baptize the control freak administrative Emma?  Well, apparently she can do it herself.  "Well, they would drop me!"  Yup, good call, sweetie.  Good call.

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My kids may do strange things, but it's times like these that make it all worth it. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest post!!

WooHoo!!  Sarah Valente over at Kingdom Twindom asked me to pop on by for a bloggy visit, go on over here to see my first guest post!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ramblings About Horses and Crying in a Parking Lot

I've been home from Africa for over a month now.

I haven't gone through all the pictures, it still stirs up so much in my soul that it is hard, but a good hard.  It takes time.  It is not something I can just do while multitasking life, breaking up fights while talking on the phone and seeing images of the Maasai baptism is not something I can do all at once.

It's amazing how some days I can go through the routine of life and everything is fine.  And some days, something will hit me and I will, in my mind, go back there and feel it all.  One of those moments happened earlier this week.

I was on the way to Bible study.  I had turned into the parking lot of the church and was looking for a spot when suddenly a truck started pulling out, backing up towards me.  No problem, I just waited for them to pull out and continued on.  That's when I caught a glimpse of the license plate frame.  The top read, "POVERTY IS".  I couldn't quite read the bottom line, but my mind started going.  Now that I have been to Africa, I know what poverty is.  Poverty is the 25,000 children that died yesterday because their parents don't have enough money to feed them.  Poverty is Eunice, who sits bedridden in her bed in the Kibera slum because she can't afford the $12 a week it would take for therapy for her to walk and work again.  So there she sits, waiting to see if today her daughter might bring her a plate of food, but knowing that there is a good chance it might not happen.

It only took a couple of seconds for me to lean forward in my seat enough to read the bottom of the license plate frame, but in those couple of seconds I was intrigued.  Would I read an amazing, inspirational quote abut poverty and what it means to us?  What would it say?

Then I saw the rest of the license plate frame.

"POVERTY IS OWNING HORSES"

I sat back in the driver's seat of the van, and before I could even get myself parked I was crying.  Poverty is owning horses?  But the thing is, two months ago I would have gotten the joke.  Yes, horses are expensive and take a lot of money.  But here I sit now, forever changed by the sights and sounds and smells and visions of Africa, of real poverty and the overwhelming wealth and security that is American life.  And to be honest, I don't quite know how to handle it. 

I knew going into this trip that I could not come home and "Africa-ize" everything.  I don't want to be that know-it-all who thinks she has all the world's answers because she spent two weeks seeing what third-world actually means. I don't want to do that.  Not at all.

But still, part of me wants to scream and yell and be that crazy lady on the street corner who is telling everyone about the starving children in Africa and how selfish we are.  I want to  run up the the driver's window and inform them what poverty really is, and that if you have the financial ability to feed not only your family but horses as well, that's actually the definition of affluence, not poverty.  I want to fix it, and the only thing I have with me are my words.

But I know that isn't the answer, because if you don't know about these children, these lives, you will never realize exactly how big the world is.  We are told to look at life through the filter of the 'big picture', but our 'big picture' doesn't often extend beyond the borders of America.  And as someone who has seen the slums of Kenya, I will be so bold as to say that there is no poverty in America.

It just doesn't exist.  Now, I know that America is not perfect, not by a long shot.  There is a sex slave trade in the very state that I live in.  Prostitution is rampant, and drugs are a real problem.  People need saving in America, too.  But we have a government that says that we will never starve to death, and if our lives depend on it, we will get medical care.  We are rich.  We are wealthy beyond measure, and we are so inwardly focused on comparing ourselves to the rest of the wealthiest people of the world that we just don't get exactly how rich we are.

I, for one, am just as bad as everyone else.

My cell phone is a messaging phone, but I don't have a data plan.  It is wearing out, the keys stick and I often find my self typing the same letter multiple times unintentionally so I have to double check my texts before I send them.  I want an iPhone.  I have for some reason convinced myself that a data plan and a GPS are just what I need to make my life easier and better.  It's what I want, and I'm hoping to get one for Christmas.

25,000 children died yesterday because their parents could not afford to buy them food.  Today, another 25,000 children are dying, and tomorrow, it's going to happen again.  And I sit here in my comfortable home, longing for an iPhone.

Where's the big picture?

Are we as Americans really as blessed as we think?  Yes, we have every necessity readily available to us.  Our poor are not only provided food, clean water and medical care, but also cable TV and a cell phone.  Truly, in the 'big picture', we don't even have poor people in America.  Yet we live in a society so obsessed with outward appearances that we make it our life goal to be successful and have it all.  We are so inwardly focused that we can't even see what is happening in the world beyond the borders of what we know.  We have so much that we can't even fathom a part of the world where 150,000 people die every month because they cannot afford $30 for medical care.  

In Kenya, you introduce yourself to others with a statement of faith.  To introduce myself, I would say,  "Hello, I am Tiffani Stauffer.  I am a sinner saved solely by the grace of God and covered in the blood of the Lamb.  All glory to Him who gives me life and breath."

Cars are literally covered in expressions of faith.  What kind of Jesus-freak status would I receive if I plastered 8 inch letters proclaiming  "JESUS SAVES"  across the back window of my van?

In Africa, faith is huge.  The word and works of God simply emanates from the souls of His followers that His name is spoken so seamlessly into conversation that it is the most natural thing in the world.

It's something that we just don't have.  I have never in America met anyone like many of the people I met in Kenya.  We don't have that faith, the one that prays "give us this day our daily bread" and then patiently waits for God to provide that day's food, knowing it will not come otherwise.  We don't rely on God, because we have ourselves.

We think that poverty is owning horses.

I sat in the parking lot and cried.  I cried for the souls in Africa that are starving and dying, for those who want to help but can't do it alone, and for my own selfish mind that thinks that I need things that are not even remotely a necessity.  I cried for all the money that I wasted in my youth on cigarettes and Jack Daniels, knowing now that I could have literally saved lives with that money, but instead didn't have a clue, nor did I want to look beyond myself and think of other people.

I cry for the things I have, and the things I want, and finding a way to live an American life in America, but being Godly instead.  It's a balance that I don't know how to handle.

So what the heck an I doing?

How can I make a difference here in America?  And the answer is:  I don't know yet.  There is a part of me that wants desperately to sell everything we own and pack up our little family and move to Kenya to serve these amazing people, and live a life filled with the faith and freedom that comes from it, but that might not be the best option.  That might not be God's plan.

Maybe my job is to tell the stories of these children.  These people, these amazing souls who love Jesus and are so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that it bursts from their bodies and fills their every thought and deed.  Maybe I am to reach out to you, my loyal bloggy friends, and tell you to sponsor a child.  Maybe I am to start a nonprofit to help the people of Kibera learn how to support themselves and break the cycle of poverty once and for all.  Maybe I am to pack up my family and move, but I just don't know.

Poverty is not owning horses, but unless these people's stories can be told, we as Americans will never get it.

I still don't fully get it.

But I'm trying.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not Me! Monday!

Ahhh, Not Me! Monday! how I have missed you! It's been a while since we have had a Not Me! Monday! around here, so let me refresh your memory (or introduce you to the whole concept, if you are new around here!)

Not Me! Monday! was the brain child of MckMama, who describes it as this: Not Me! Monday is a weekly event born out of my desire to admit some of my imperfections and reveal a few moments I’d rather forget. Why? It’s therapy of the best kind. Plus, reading the embarrassing ways that others sometimes fail makes us feel less alone. Of course, pretending that we so did not do some of this crazy stuff makes sharing a little easier. Are you willing?

Yup, I'm willing.  So here we go!

We had a family reunion last weekend.  Now, my kids are generally well behaved in public, so besides the complete crazy of four excited kids running like spider monkeys hopped up on sugar, it's generally a pretty good time.  So when my Dad's cousin crouched down to say 'hi' to Ben and make a few faces at him to try and make him laugh, he most definitely DID just say hi back.  He did NOT reach back and punch the guy in the face, knocking his glasses to the ground.  NOT my kid!

When my darling hubby told me of this event (I was talking to another relative and missed the whole thing,) I did NOT correct him and say, "you said Ben, but you meant Drew, right?" because of the fact that 99.999% of the antics that would necessitate a NOT me! Monday! post revolve strictly around our two year old little darling.  He did NOT have to correct me and tell me that it was really Ben.  Sweet, quiet Ben, who is generally non-violent and loving.  And my darling hubby did NOT have to tell me this fact twice before I started to almost believe him.

Yup.  We're THAT family.


We had our first PTO (parent teacher organization, just like PTA but without the dues) meeting at school last week.  We meet in the library, and the kids go to the gym where they have childcare and the ability run run to their heart's content.  I love it because I get t go sit with grown ups, and I pick up children who are sweaty, happy, and completely exhausted.  It's a win/win!

So at this meeting, we had just adjourned when the school's fire alarm sounded.  Being the positive, upbeat mother that I am, I did NOT turn to the teacher sitting next to me and say, "I'll bet you that was one of my kids."  I mean, who would think that one of my little precious darlings would pull the fire alarm?!?  NOT me!

I left the library and headed out.  The fire doors were closed between the library and the gym, so I headed out the door to go around.  I was NOT met in the hallway by another teacher who shook her head and smiled, then said, "It was one of yours!"

Nope, NOT me and NOT my kid.

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Head on over to MckMama's blog to see more confessions of less that perfect parents!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Breaking the Cycle Of Poverty....

....one day at a time.

OK.  So I'm assuming you have seen the previous posts about my trip to Africa.  If not, go HERE and HERE to get all caught up to what is going on.

Now I apologize for making you wait so long to see what happened next, but things have been a wee bit nuts around here.  No matter how many hours I want to spend blogging, I still have four kids.  Who are crazy.  But that's another post for another day.

Anywhoo.

So when I last left you, we had toured the Kibera slum and the Saviour King's Academy.  It was incredible.  Knowing that we wanted to do all we could to help these kids while we were there, we did something super simple that rocked their world.

How do you teach children that there is life outside of the slum if they have never been outside of the slum?

You take them on their first (for many of them) ever field trip!

This was the view as we drove up to the spot we were going to meet the kids.

We parked in the parking lot of a gas station just outside of the slum, and eventually the kids swarmed out to greet us.
The teachers said that many of them had woken up several times in the middle of the night, asking their parents, "is it morning yet?  Is it time to go?"

They were so stinking excited they couldn't hardly stand it!

We waited in a little grassy area next to the gas station for our bus to arrive.  And we had a blast.  The kids are so entranced with having their picture taken, then they all want to see themselves in the back of the camera. 
We thought it was so cute, then it dawned on us.  They don't have mirrors.  These are the only times they get to see themselves, when someone visits them with a camera.

Unbelievable.

I knew, going into this trip, that I take a lot of things for granted.  I knew this trip would open my eyes to the incredible blessings we as Americans have.  I assumed I would learn more about the incredible blessing that is clean water, and healthy food, and electricity.

But there were some things that I didn't even think about that I take for granted every day.  Like this next picture.
 For some of these kids, this was the first time in their lives that they had ever seen grass.

Grass.

It's humbling, isn't it?

We played with them till the bus came.  We were on Africa time, which runs a little later than American time.  It was over an hour that we hung out with these kids in the small area next to the gas station, but these kids had the time of their lives.  I don't think they even cared that we had something bigger and better planned, all they cared about was that someone from far away cared about them enough to come for a visit and play...
 ...and take their pictures so they could see themselves and their friends and laugh and laugh....
 ...and talk to them and care about what they had to say as well.
We got close to them.  Our team leader warned us that chances are, we would bring home a souvenir that we weren't expecting, like ringworm or something fungal.  We chose not to care, and to just love these children.  We have medicines to treat ailments, they need people to love them.  It was a very simple choice.

(A rare photo of me.  I don't think I show up much on this blog, do I?  I'll have to work on that.)
They loved, loved, loved seeing themselves in the camera.
And they all wanted to see themselves next to us.
Jen hung out and got to know the kids...
...we played games with them...
...Lauren ran around the largest circle of duck-duck-goose that I have ever seen...
...Kayla introduced them to Simon Says...
...basically, we just had a blast, hanging out next to a gas station.

Then, the bus arrived.  I counted the seats on the bus, there were 36.  However, the rules in Africa are a little different than in America.  There are no booster seats or seat belt laws.  You just do what you have to do to get where you are going.  So on this 36 seat bus, we put all 12 of the adults on our team inside, and then added 130 children, squished up on our laps, on their laps, in the aisles, anywhere they could fit, we packed bodies.  This is the best picture I could get, as I was squished up against the window with four kids on my lap.
The bus started moving, and I waited for some child to cry.  It never happened.  Little kids were sitting on seats, three kids piled on them to the point that their heads could not move, and instead of complaining or whining or crying, they did something incredible.

They started singing.  They sang praises to Jesus, at the tops of their lungs with all they joy they could muster.  it was absolutely incredible, I had a hard time keeping it together.  People on the streets stopped and stared as we drove by.  We were our own parade in Kenya.

Wow.

We finally got to where we were going and got set up.  The bus went back for the other load of kids, and we got underway.

We had taken the kids to a park.  It's such a small thing by our standards, but to these kids, it meant to world.  They live in a slum of one million people in ten square miles.  There is no space to run.  Their streets are filled with rotting garbage and a river of human waste.  Before this day, many of these kids had never seen wide open spaces or grass.

How do you teach kids that there is a world out there to be lived in if they have never seen it?  How do you break the cycle of poverty and slum life if these kids have never seen firsthand that there is a world outside of the slum?

You can't.

We played Awana games all. day. long.

And oh, my goodness, these kids had a blast.
My sweet Ann.  She will forever live in my heart.
Sweet babies.  These are the same ones who go to school in the tiny classroom, without even a light bulb to see.
Many of the chilrden took off their worn, too small shoes in order to run and play.


This was a new game that we were introduced to called wall, gun, rabbit.  OK, I don't know that it was actually called that, but that seemed to me the most logical name.  Basically the same as our rock, paper, scissors; but there were two teams and they would both turn around facing away from each other and decide which one they wanted to be, then when the leader yelled "go!", they would quickly turn around making the motion of what they had chosen. 

This team was doing 'wall'.  In rock-paper-scissors fashion, rabbit jumps over the wall, the gun shoots the rabbit, and the wall stops the bullets.  We all shook our heads at these sweet kids pointing finger guns at each other.  It was a bit of a culture clash, but it works for them!

The kids were such good sports.  They cheered and cheered when they won, and didn't get upset if they didn't.
This is Washington.  He is the most incredible Awana games leader I have ever seen, and he has an amazing heart for these kids.  Boundless energy, he was just 'on' the entire day.
Also, it was awesome that a group of people form the great state of Washington traveled to Kenya to play with these kids and met a guy named Washington. 

He could dance, let me tell you.  The kids adored him, and he loved them as well.
All day, we played with these kids.  I don't know who enjoyed it more, us or them.
Then it was our turn to play a couple of games.  Most of us were assigned to teams, so the kid cheered for their mzungus (white people, what they called us most of the time).  Jen is an awesome balloon-blower-upper!

Imaging the excitement in a tree, if you don't have one.
Or the calm that comes from a clean place to rest.
Or the simple joy of clean, sandy dirt.  Did you ever realize that you take dirt for granted?  I didn't either.
We served lunch; rice, beans and a banana.  For many of these kids, this is the only meal they eat in a day.  We tried to load them up as much as we could, but we did have to feed 300 so we had to be careful.  I do think everyone got to eat their fill.


The kids brought their own bowls, but only a few had silverware.  Most ate with their hands, the hands that never get washed and are covered in dirt, grime, and feces. 
There were port-a-potties in the park.  We headed out there to see, and were not too surprised to see that they were squatty potties.  However, the smell was horrific, they were filled with flies, and this floor was only attached to the walls by giant staples along the sides.  A few of us waited till the last possible moment to go, and then we took turns and stood outside the door and literally prayed over who was inside that they floor wouldn't collapse on them.  We all survived, and the floor stayed intact, so we were relieved.  I never knew this was on my bucket list, but...  check!
Some of the gals on our team had prepared a skit for the kids, and they were all engrossed in what was going on.
They didn't laugh at the funny parts, we weren't sure if they didn't understand it or if they thought we were being serious and just didn't want to offend.  Jen asked them questions at the end, and they all seemed to get the point, so we called it a success.
After lunch, we went back to the games.  The little kids joined in, and although they didn't play, they just sat for hours and watched their older teammates and cheered them on.



Then it was our turn to play tug of war.  that's me in the blue bandanna.  We tried hard, but were defeated by the team of teachers that you see in the black shirts.  These gals were determined!
We handed out cars for the young kids...
...and cross necklaces to the older ones...
...which were worn with great pride.
The cars were donated by an incredible organization called Toys For God's Kids.  A huge thank you for donating 1,000 cars, we spread them all over Kenya and Tanzania!
Finally, the bus came and the kids headed out.  The little ones stayed behind, as it took several trips to take the kids home and they wanted to vans for the littles to drive them into the slum and home, instead of letting them walk home like the older kids.  My heart breaks every time I think of it, but I didn't notice the bus come so I didn't say goodbye to my Ann.  I hope she knows how much I love her.

We were sitting in the late afternoon with the little kids, singing and teaching them songs when suddenly, they all took off screaming.  Chants of "Monkey!  Monkey!  Monkey!"  echoed through the park, and they all gave chase.
Apparently in the evenings, the monkeys come out to graze on the garbage and food scraps that get left behind.
This was a fantastic experience, not just because we as Americans got to see wild monkeys for the first time ever, but that we got to share a first with these kids.  Many of them had never seen a wild monkey, so we all got to experience something together. 

We didn't see the sign that said, "please don't feed the monkeys" till we were leaving.  In this case, ignorance is bliss.

Finally, the van came and all the little kids crammed in and headed home.
We stayed behind waiting for the van to come back for us, and were there after dark.  It was an incredible, exhausting say, but I'd do it again tomorrow if I could.

Who knew that something so simple as taking kids to a park would have such an impact?  But really, how do you tell kids that slum life isn't all there is unless you show them that there is something else out there?

I really wish we could have done more.  It is hard to be there for such a short time and try to make a difference in a child's life, much less make a difference in 270 children's lives.  We did what we could, and we did it led by God, and that's enough for now.

I want to go back.  I want to see these amazing children again, and hug their necks and tell them I love them.  I plan to return someday, I don't know when but I want to make it happen.

Anyone want to go to Kenya? :D

(Coming up next: the family that had the biggest impact on the majority of our team.  The will and determination of some of these people just to live is amazing.)