When I was 5 or 6 maybe, my friend had her birthday at a gymnasium. And I’m talking like a gymnastics-asium. There were trampolines everywhere, and the typical group of 15 girls that would attend a party such as this took over the place like they owned it. I remember feeling overwhelmed, not quite knowing what to do with myself, and lost in the sound of all the voices echoing, and the bright colours of the gym. I simply wasn’t that kind of a kid – I would much rather have been reading. You know the big foam pits? Ya, the holes in the ground with all those obnoxiously coloured cubes of foam? (I still have no clue why they appeal to anyone..) For some reason I either jumped in or was tossed in as a part of one of the games, and as I felt my little legs disappear into that pit, I was swallowed in fear. In about two flat seconds I realized that squirming was only making me sink further, and that I could not get out of that pit on my own. Ironically, I don’t remember the rescue. Maybe it was the coach, or a mom. Who knows. But I can remember the terror that coursed through me rapidly. It wasn’t long after that (the next incident included a mandatory dance routine and makeover for my friend Chelsea’s party) that I started begging my mom to stay home from parties. (Ironic, seeing as how all I want to do now is throw them, eh?)
A few years later my family took this amazing trip to Copper Mountain in Colorado. The cabin we stayed in was dripping with icicles and the backyard sloped down, brilliantly displaying a field of diamonds sparkling in the sunlight.. Or, to a more winter-trained eye, beautiful, untouched snow. Naturally, us four Texan kids were giddy at the prospect of this new experience, and we had barely unpacked the car (and by unpacked I mean we carried our pillows inside) before we were tumbling down that hill into, what I was convinced was, pure magic. Glistening, glorious fluff, purely and perfectly white, for as far as I could see! I couldn’t get enough of it. I had snow all up my back and into my pants, everywhere, but I was too enamoured to care.. within a few minutes, though, I started to feel the burn of ice on skin, and wanted to go inside. (Like I said, I’m more of a reader than an adventurer.) I hadn’t been at it long, but I had worked my way far enough down the slope that I had snow up to my chest, and I had never been taught how to operate under those conditions. I knew how to run in a zig zag to escape the alligators that were occasionally caught roaming our neighbourhood, but snow? Not a clue. The foam-pit-panic was back in an instant. The more I fought the snow, the deeper I sank, the more fear I felt. When I tried to jump up and out of it, I ended up falling further downhill, and consequently, further away from my destination. At first, I felt angry, but it wasn’t long before hopelessness set in. I simply wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.. and that is when I saw my hero, my big brother Austin, reach out an arm towards me and pull me all the way up the hill. I remember being absolutely.. I don’t even have a word for it. My brother had (literally) single-handedly rescued me from this paralyzing, agonizing trepidation. I was grateful and awe inspired and overcome by the feeling of safety. Of course, I didn’t even get a “thank you” out before Austin had plunged headlong down the hill again.
Kenya has been a lot of firsts for me.. First time away from home, first hospital visit on my own, first birthday alone, and I’ve lost my first loved ones: Dee, a dear friend tragically passed away in July, and our sweet Caroline finally escaped cancer this last week. Grief, out here in the big world, has felt a lot like the foam-pit-fear. The more I fought it, the more alone I felt. The more I wept, the deeper I sank. I’ve learned many things from all these firsts, and I’ve learned an incredible amount of things about myself in the process. I will be coming home a different person than who I was when I left, which I think is how it ought to be, though I never expected this is how it would come about.
My life has been graciously devoid of death. I have all 4 grandparents; in fact, the only death in my immediate family was before I was born. Grief is this weird entity, in my limited experience, that sneaks up on you from behind. When you turn around, ready to confront it, it’s somehow skipped back in front of you again. Then, as you face forward once more, it’s there to surprise you. It’s hard to know how to grieve when you’re away from everyone else who is grieving. When there’s no one to justify your feelings, when there isn’t any physical evidence to reconcile the truth. That’s probably been the most difficult thing, is that to me, Dee is still serving on Sunday mornings at Imagining, and Caroline is still making us laugh. I haven’t seen any differently, so why believe what my mom’s face is telling me through a screen? Logically I know. I understand. But somewhere along the way the rationale breaks down and as if to cheat me, takes away the pain. I’ve gone through a weird collaboration of grief and giddiness within days of these precious ladies’ death because I can’t seem to resolve the truth with the emotions. I also think this is likely a defence mechanism lodged somewhere in my brain, but it frustrates me all the same.
More than anything, it’s just been a lonely experience. I have had friends here that have rallied around me, prayed with and for me, and yet, because none of them knew these friends, there was still a colossal lack of connection for me. Sorry, that was a bit “woe is me,” wasn’t it? It’s been on my mind frequently this week, and writing helps me process, so I guess you were caught in the crosshairs of that exercise. (FYI, I have never once, in my entire human existence, spelt the word “exercise” correctly on the first try.)
Anyway, my last big “first” to face was Thanksgiving. Indeed, this past weekend I grocery shopped and then cooked for hours to provide my friends and host family with an authentic Thanksgiving meal. It was my first time cooking a turkey (or pie, for that matter), and it truly is as intimidating as they say. To make it a little more friendly, Dot and I named the turkey Edward. Most of the pressure came from myself really, because I have this odd theory that womanhood rains down from the sky when you make your first turkey meal.
Edward was deliciously accompanied with cranberry sauce and stuffing, roasted potatoes, green beans, carrots, creamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and mushroom florentine pasta. I literally could have fed a small village, or in this case, 2 Germans, 1 American, a bunch of Kenyans, and little old me! And all in all, I didn’t fail too horribly in the grand scheme of things. Everyone went home sufficiently fed (: I couldn’t find some very key ingredients (for instance, white sugar or corn syrup) which threw off some of my recipes, but even if things weren’t necessarily being renowned for their textural consistency (*cough, cough* I’m looking at you, creamed corn and pecan pie..), they tasted good! And it’s hard to go wrong with a meal when every colour of the rainbow is presented… I think it just makes my heart happy deep down when there is such a variety of vegetables.
As is crucial to any “Thanksgiving Day” post, here are the blessings I am most grateful for at the moment:
I am grateful that I have had this opportunity to be stretched and grown here in Kenya. My opinions, beliefs, and lifestyle have been challenged in my time here, and I have made some incredible friends along the way. God has used this time to shape me, and shape my future, for which I am also exceedingly grateful.. Grateful to know that I have a God that is personal and loving and cares for me in all my immense insignificance. And I’m glad for a new direction to be following. I am consistently blessed by my parents. This year I have rediscovered their wisdom, sought their love as I never have, and formed a friendship with them that I think only comes from navigating life on your own 19, oceans away from the familiar. I am equally thankful for all 4 of my beautiful, beautiful siblings. My sisters are my kindreds spirits and my brothers are my pride and joy. I adore and love them beyond what I thought I was capable of, and I never take them for granted. I happy that my family has been of good health, that we are all safe, and that we will all be together soon. (Even if it’s only for a few weeks!)
I hope you had a truly wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you have many, many blessings to be thankful for. I pray that this next year is abundantly blessed for you!
much love & many blessings,
(From left to right: David, BG, Mama Dot, Muraya, Joshua, Dot, Vela, Me (!!!), Alex)