November 20, 2009

" Worry and regret are like twin theives"

Right now I'm in one of my reflective moods. I hope that I haven't lost my many strains of thought as I've just jumped up and down to re-heat my cup of tea, which I kept forgetting to actually retrieve from the microwave, to keep me warm in the night air on the back porch of Mirembe.
Tonight Angela did a devotional on regret and living in the moment. Usually I try to ponder my words before I type them- make sure they sound eloquent and flowing...but tonight I fear that if I don't just blurt out my immediate thoughts and ponderings to this page I will loose them.
Regret, living in the moment, taking each moment as it comes- consciously making an effort to realize that once it is gone it is lost...these are all very appropriate as we reflect, prepare to debrief, and try (going in circles it often seems) to process this tour. But tonight I realized something...since being at this house, since the countdown until the end of tour began I have stopped living in the moment. One of my most precious momentos for tour was a scrapbook my Mum put together- a narrative and keepsake of all the times we've shared together as family before I left for tour. At the end of the book is a short story called "The Station"- an illustration on the paradoxes of time. I remember being surprised when my mom explained why she'd included that story. She said that I am one of the few people she knows who live in the moment- who enjoys the minutes, as I live in the minutes, day by day...and that most people can't. I was surprised. I'd never thought or recognized that of myself...but my friends agreed. But tonight I realized something big. Since coming to Mirembe I have left the moment. Taking time to play with the kids because I know that in 28 days I won't be able to. Reading with them because soon the chance will be gone. Filling and sometimes cramming our time together into schedules to make sure I talk with them, use my time with them, play with them, frantically continue to get to know them....but tonight it hit me. It isn't for now. The soccer games on Saturdays, the chai tea and books at playtime- it hasn't been because I've wanted to share that with they be it today or yesterday...but because I know that next month it will be gone. I have not allowed myself to fully enjoy those moments because I have honestly been too busy trying to savour them, dearly hold onto them for fear of loosing them. Ironically. when we do that I have come to realize in the stress and bittersweet emotions, that a moment cannot simply be treasured, cherished, and sweet if we are already mourning its loss.

So thank you Ang for your staff devotions tonight. As I reflect on the time past, you have helped to reawaken me to what it truly means to live in the moment. I want to find myself there again...

p.s- a sweet quote I don't want to forget from this morning from Peace: "Auntie Laura, do you know why I am hugging you so much these days? It is because soon I won't be able to when I miss you."

November 12, 2009

from Mirembe...

It was my goal on tour to blog every day off. Today is my first official day off at Mirembe house- for a very rare and still moment everything is completely quiet here this morning as the kids are in the house across from me doing school. I can faintly hear the strains of Steve playing his guitar, and if I really listen outside my little world of writing than I can enter into the sounds of the rustling leaves being blown in the heavy winds outside. I did put one of my music albums from itunes to play but just realized the computer volume is on mute. But I don't mind this morning- I'll keep the peace and easy silence for now.

Do you remember those fridge posters that try and illustrate optimism? Remember...they're the kinds of posters that have "I can't stand the person who sings loudly and off key behind me in church."...but then it counteracts that with "But I am fortunate to be able to hear." This morning as I was trying to sleep in after a busy and sometimes overwhelming feeling week with leading symphony rehearsals. I kept trying to push past the clock with every noise I could hear from the girls getting ready, girls coming into the room with questions, and the noise of 21 children downstairs eating breakfast and getting ready to start the day...and then this morning as I came downstairs to peace and quiet and a good cup of tea I thought- thank God I have a full house of children surrounding me. My time with them is short from here- and I am fortunate to have the energy of children fill this place of rest in North Carolina.

I have loved watching them play and being part of their world of play this past week. When we first arrived after performing our last church concert we spent a week in "camp mode". No school. No rehearsals. Just play. Movies, soccer games, walks to the lake to sit on the docks and read and draw and talk together, and a morning run with 8 of the boys who've been eagerly convincing me they are in good shape to do the run to the lake with me. (And they were!) Probably my highlight from camp week- we run to the lake, (while having the most entertaining conversation that I only wish I could remember every word of), and when we get to the lake completely hot and sweaty Hanny asks if he can go in the water. At this point I start to answer "Yes, but..." Hanny in his eager anticipation of my answer only hears my "yes" and runs full speed ahead, fully clothed into the water and starts to cup the water in his hands and throw it over his head in utter joy. The other boys quickly follow, running quickly in the water and bobbing up and down trying their best to get all wet as fast as possible. Nelson at this point says "Well if they are going to be silly, I will be silly too!" At that point it didn't matter that my "yes" was going to be followed by "but only to your ankles". We had too much fun. 8 very wet hugs later we headed back to the house for lunch, and dried off with a soccer game in beautiful sunshiney weather that afternoon.

Although camp is over, I want to be sure to create more of these memories with the kids. I've been frustrated with feeling like I have so much musical work I need to do that I don't have the time to just be with the children- I just need to remind myself- the work always gets done and I want to be sure to make the time for play. More pots of tea with the kids, games on the porch, cooking together, walks...And next week's day off I'll add to that list.

October 29, 2009

over and over singing thanks...

Somehow this week brings October to an end, and with it our last 3 concerts. There is a countdown on the bus that will say 3 days until we reach Mirembe house when we start our drive tomorrow. There is a plane ticket now booked for December 17th in my name to take me home from Chicago. There are less than 2 months left in tour, and already looking back on the evening as I get ready for bed am wondering how time so quickly stole one of those evenings with the girls...

Sometimes when I get behind in writing I put it off more and more to a time where I feel like I will be able to catch you up. Unfortunately as time goes on I just feel as though I've stored up an even larger collection of memories and for fear of forgetting some want to at least make note of some of them even if it doesn't bring you completely up to date.

In the final weeks in host families I feel very blessed. I will surely leave the memories I have in host homes with some lasting impressions of true generosity. Two weeks ago the host I stayed with who gave us the money to buy Scovia's new jeans and sweater that I wrote about the next morning gave a gentle knock on my door to ask if she could come in that morning to talk. Seated on my bed she told me that she had $700 cash left from her mother who recently passed away and would like to forward the cash on to us to use that "the rest of your kids and get what they need off the wish list and you can pick it out best." I was blown away. Again and again, over and over, I am blown away, and we are uplifted and carried on the wings of these generous spirits.

Linds and I went on the biggest shopping spree of my life the next day and had a blast filling carts in Old Navy imagining who could fit into and look good in which pants and shirts...we found new Sunday dresses for the girls and the lady at the store gave us a 40% discount as soon as she found out we were from the African Childrens Choir.

The next church we performed at fond out we needed winter jackets for the children. That afternon they asked for sizes and after writing them down, 2 hours later one of the staff from the church came to me asking if I wanted to "go out and see them". So I go out to their car thinking I am going to "see them" at the store and we will drive over together, but no- they had bought them that afternoon and were quickly showing me 21 new winter jackets and hats. I later walked up to the man who put this all together to thank him- to which his attitude was that of "Laura- some things you just have to do. This is one of them. I just knew in my heart I had to do it. I didn't really have the money for it but any parent with a child in this church knows the importance of keeping them bundled up and warm here. I'm sure if we ask around for people to help purchase one coat that has been bought we can come together." Not half an hour later he had 9 coats sponsored, and within the hour all 21 were covered.Thanks to just this past church stay we now have scarves for all the kids, and some made for all the chaps too

"these are always your stories" people and friends say...and I agree with them- it is "unbelievable".

October 15, 2009

Going to bed on a good day...

I haven't blogged in awhile I know...a part of me holds off on some evenings when I have the time and the internet- holding out for some big special event or story. I don't know when I started waiting for those, peeking into the girls room for hugs when I got in from clothes shopping with Lindsey was just one of those small moments that all put together create one of those all around good feeling days.

My host gave me money to go shopping with to get items off our wish List, and so with Lindsey's car we drove to the Old Navy sales and had so much finally getting to pick out the clothes for our kids ourselves! Dear Scovia so badly needed new jeans, and so we looked through all the different ones to find a pair with flowers knowing how much she would love them. It is quite rare that we actually get to do the picking out- and it was so fun! One big successful bag full of good deals later I got back to the house where the girls had just said prayers and had quietly lied down to rest. My host was waiting up for me to have the chance to visit, but I just felt like tonight I had to tell her to just wait a moment as I really wanted to hug those girls before bed. I snuck into their room and whispered their names only to be met with two preciously huge smiles. I quickly jumped in the middle of the bed and lied down to tell them I just had to hug them goodnight and asked if they'd like to see the clothes I'd been able to find. I told them I would bring them into bed and we'd look through them together there- they were so so excited and quickly pull up the covers to their chins as they sit up and settle in to see. When I got to Scovia's new jeans I told Lillian to hop out of bed and hold them up, and then I told Scovia to cover her eyes and wait till the count of three to open them and see her new pants. This is an image I will never forget...

Scovia jumped a foot of the bed and squealed the most delighted, purely joyful scream. Her absolute delight caught me off guard and just tugged at somewhere deep in my heart...a year later of watching these children receive and I was for a moment completely choked up and close to tears as she frantically ran around in excitement to try them on. She then runs into the bathroom to try them on and then comes running back into the bedroom announcing frantically " Oh no! I forgot to bring my underwears to try them on! Oh oh, do I travel without underwear? No! I must get them for trying them on!" After such a confident announcement it kind of cracked me up that she then shyly grabs the underwear and tries to hide them!

As I tucked them in again once the bedtime fashion show excitement had died down, they eagerly tell me that they made me a pot of chai tea and set it for me at the table to have when I came home so that I would "have your tea you love when you get in!"

2 more bedtime hugs later- I love these kids. What an all around good day.

p.s- I thought I'd post some pics from my last stay where I did an impromptu fashion show with the girls (Racheal, Esther, Immaculate) of all the clothes in my suitcase...figuring there aren't many moments left (and that we should always take the chances when we get them) I decided to enter their play and dress up their clothes! Another one of those just genuinely good nights together.

Both nights I have called Ang to start off the conversation each time with "Oh Ang...I just had to call and tell you about what a good night it was!......"

We have only 10 more stays with host families until we reach Mirembe house. May we always make the most of our moments together- the end is bittersweetly so soon. I think I will take inspiration from Angela's night with her girls and wake up a bit earlier to set up a fancy tea for the girls breakfast tomorrow...

September 26, 2009

friends and canoes

No one can quite imagine what it is like to stay in so many different host homes in one year- just this past week with more concerts I’ve slept in 6 different beds. Julius just asked me if Ohio and Michigan are close to our stays in Texas…as I tried to help him visualize how far south Texas is from where we are right now, it was just a reminder to me of how far we’ve come- how many people we’ve met since then…how to each of them it is an opportunity uniquely theirs, and although the memories I have because of each host is different, being in someone’s home has become very routine by now.

Months and months ago now I stayed with an elderly widowed woman for an evening after a Friday night concert. She was the most insightful host to what the hard parts and realities of tour must really be like. I remember her hugging me before bed and asking “Excuse me dear, can I tell you something? I hope I am not being too personal, but I have just been thinking that tour could be a very lonely experience for someone. You are welcomed into someone’s home four times a week, answering the same questions, and never fully having someone get to know you. I can imagine that without good friends on your team that could be a very hallow experience, as much as it is a wonderful one and a blessing. I am sorry if I’ve said to much of what I’ve been thinking about and observing, but I just wanted to say that I hope you really form close relationships- hold them close, and may they be strong for you. I think what you’re doing is wonderful, but I couldn’t imagine it without the close friends to come back to after staying in my home.”

That woman had a wonderful sense of hindsight and insight about her. She is also very true- I remember talking about this at welcome weekend….just talking over life on the road when the initial glamour of it and spark so to say has dimmed. We talked about spiritual health- how to make sure you are being poured into when you will rarely attend church as you are always the main event on a Sunday morning.

To be honest I have always felt abundantly and deeply blessed with the friendships I have. There is a card at home that I want to frame someday that has 3 friends holding each other close out of the rain under a small umbrella. The quote on top says “it doesn’t matter where you are and what you do, it is your friends that make your world.” On tour, it could be very lonely- there is no one else that can quite understand what makes tour so wonderful and joyous and difficult all at the same time. As you travel with such a close knit team the people who you draw strength and energy from are the same people that may hurt you and frustrate you, and the same children that may sometimes make you want to pull your hair out, are the same ones you love so deeply and have given you a childlike spirit and utter joy.

I reassured that dear woman that morning that I left her place that indeed I am blessed by some wonderful friends as we travel. I thought that again as I enjoyed one of the best days off with two of my closest friends Ang and Patrick. In Mt. Pleasant for the day, we walked the morning through the park- I love that fall is finally here to change the leaves and cool off the weather! We found a farmers market and enjoyed the morning picking up multiple loaves of pumpkin bread for an afternoon picnic, and picked a quart of fresh raspberries for the picnic…but they got eaten on a picnic table instead. That afternoon we packed up all the pumpkin loaves for a canoe ride down the Chippewa River. It was beautiful- I love being on the water- so peaceful, and having the whole day to just enjoy and share in the company of my two dear friends.

p.s- we only bottomed out in the shallow water a couple times….and about 20 minutes in I’d say were a lot better at avoiding crashes into the trees!!

September 8, 2009

Before bedtime thoughts...

Tonight I don't know how many thoughts of mine I will be able to weave together...I must admit that my second wind of the evening seems to be fading and I am feeling quite tired. It has also been awhile since I wrote and I do want to. Sometimes I look back on the notes I jot down on the small saying and memories that bless my day and I am so thankful that I kept a record of them to remind me of all the simple joys in life. Angela wrote me the sweetest card today and recounted so many fun memories of our times shared together over this past year. She had written of both the simple life and the adventurous life we journey on together. Tour is full of change, new people, new places, lots of seeing, doing, and much more feeling than I ever have felt before. I believe we both said this past week that we have never loved more deeply or hurt so deeply all within the span of one year. But amidst all the excitement of such an opportunity as this it really is the simple life that brings me the most wonderful memories to recount later on nights like tonight where I don't have the energy to do much else but scroll through pictures, think, and just be remembering...

A couple jot notes from this week that I don't want to forget:

- The kids got new backpacks from our Friday night church in Detroit. The next day when the kids brought them onto the bus I was explaining to Mo what the circular part of the backpack is that holds headphones. He is so excited by the fact that his great new bag can hold a CD player and earbuds that he says "I will never take my eyes off my great new bag for the rest of the ride!" He was so excited- smiles all around and many "this is my best day ever!" and more "I love my big! This is my best bag ever!" it made me think back to my back to school shopping and my generous parents who would help me out with the nice new binders and fun looking colourful notebooks I felt I just had to have. I remember excited but guiltily walking out of Staples around $100 later on new school things...that's just the way it went for school shopping. Seeing the kids just fit with the idea of "the simple life" Really, a reminder that it doesn't take much.

- The kids also got new Sunday shoes (Being a Mum for a couple kids is going to seem so simple after fitting 22 children for new dress shoes in under an hour!) especially for the girl who despises shoes shopping! But our kids are now decked out and looking smart in their new Sunday clothes. Saturday night looked like this: 1. Girls get into the host home 2. take off shoes and are shown their room 3. Take out their bags to find their new Sunday clothes and set them all out for the next morning all within 3 minutes of being there! (I'll have to take some pics soon...they are super cute)

We had our African manager, Abraham, and Andrew visit within the past couple weeks too- it is always so great to have people visit. Andrew's parents were able to come which was particularly special- the children have prayed for his father's health all this past year fervently.

Abraham challenged the children and our team to really persevere to the end and keep the big picture in mind the whole way. "To be an Auntie or Uncle to these children is for life" he said. "it isn't just for this one year, this one chapter of their lives, it is forever. Your love and involvement, interest, and prayer and guidance over and commitment to their lives, although in a different shape and form, continue on after tour. You were brought into each others lives for this year and from here on, to carry on that relationship for always.

What's been on my mind most lately is the word 'perseverance'. In a just a moment I am sure September will slip away from me just like August did and I'll just be left wondering how it is even posssible. And so for the mere months left I want to never give up trying, loving, disciplining, discipling...Today reminded me of that. As poor Christopher sturggled so much in school. In the morning working with him seemed hopeless, but then after having him sit out and encouraging him later when he was less frustrated with himself he did so well for the rest day and it was the most productive and focused I have ever seen him. Pour out all your energy and it will never be in vein. And when it seems so have patience and persevere. That's what I've been learning lately.

And now I must be off to bed, I am surprised the contacts even made it this long! I guess that it is only when you start to really dig through your thoughts and sift through emotions that you begin to see just how much can collect there over time to think over...

August 24, 2009

climbing sand dunes...

Sometimes when there are so many good things to look forward to I find it so hard to live in the moment. I'm enjoying myself so much at the time that my mind races ahead to the next thing and then the something after that...when there's just so many great things at once or to follow I just can't seem to help myself! I'm reading such a great booked right now called "Too small to ignore"- on the importance of children. Not just because they are our future and who they will become and how they will greatly be of influence, but for how they are of influence NOW, and how they are valuable NOW as the children they are. I wanted to write down a brief part of one chapter:

"But on one scale, they are fully equipped from birth and are on par with every proud adult. What is this scale? They have as uch time as anyone else. Twenty-four hours each day, 168 hours each week- children enjoy the full allotment given to us all.
Of course, they don't know it as such. Their gift of time is subconscious. They certainly do not know how to measure time and thus how to allocate it scientifically. They keep no datebooks of palm pilots to tell them what should happen next.
Early in children's lives big people endeavor to teach them how to tell time...but while the science of telling time is difficult, the daily enjoyment of time by children proceeds unhindered Only gradually do time constraints start to make an impact."

These kids remind me of that- there is always time to play, there is always time to make something mundane and routine play, there is always time to be together without watching the clock for the next activity, the next something...

It's just one of the many lessons that these children re teach me, and what this tour has shown me. We were not meant to live the North American life of being "too busy" that has somehow become so glorified- we need more to just breathe, enjoy, wonder, and simply relax.

There were so many good moments to enjoy in this one evening. Our hosts took Sarah, Rose, and I to climb huge sand dunes and for a picnic and campout bbq. While my hosts did all the picnic preparations I tried to keep up with the girls (too quick) pace up the dune, but I did a great job after reaching the top keeping up with them on the race back down! (I got beat out by the energetic toddler climbing up beside me but felt some reassurance in the two 10 year olds who fully collapsed halfway and just rolled in the sand)
Running down sand dunes for the night with two precious 8 year olds screaming, holding your hand, chasing you, and yelling at the top of their lungs in sheer excitement as their feet carried them uncontrollably downhill is one of the most carefree feelings.

Lydia, Scovia, and Ang joined us at the end of our picnic and ran a couple more times with us- Lydia took the jello from our picnic as her "mountain snack", conveniently needing a rest break every 10 seconds for a piece of purple jello square. Scovia turns to her and accusingly says "Lydia. Are you a snacker?" I mean really, taking on the same concerned tone as if she was asking someone "are you a smoker?" Quite funny. Sometimes I wonder if all the children I've ever met have ever made me laugh and smile so much.

One good thing after another, we went to the lake and swam- one of my ultime favourite feelings is to jump the waves- even better with 2 girls jumping with you clinging like little monkeys to your side!

After putting the girls to bed my host treated me to Moomoos icecream- a local icecream store on a dairy farm. Everything is home made and it was voted best icecream in the entire nation- I can no say I have enjoyed a waffle cone of the best white chocolate raspberry creamy iceceam in the nation! And I say goodnight to you now, already looking forward to when I wake up and get to enjoy my day off by the beach and in downtown Traverse City!

August 5, 2009

Deja vu?

Read back to Saturday October 11, 2008 when we had just driven into beautiful Appleton Wisconsin in the fall. Half the choir lived within one block of each other, and my hosts in Appleton gave the kids their first fireworks and s'mores experience. Just short of a year ago later- last week found us reuinted with our same host families from this church! Pulling into the parking lot was surreal in an experience where nothing apart from the tour family I live with is ever familiar. I could remember "that parking lot where the kids placed soccer", "that area outside of the church we met at as a staff deciding how to explain halloween", "that part of the grass where little Raceal and I ran accross the parking lot at full speed to collide into each other with hugs"....I recounted with Angela that afternoon how strage it was- looking at that church, remember in detail the concert, how we celebrated hers and Lindsey's birthday there, and looking back on how much has changed. How we have gone from originally a team of 10 to now a team of 7. I can picture the children playing soccer from mental photographs and I can't believe how much they've grown. And then I can picture myself there too- where I was at, the lessons I'm still learning, but the many ways in which I've grown and changed too.

My host family asked me as we eagerly spent the drive home catching up on each others lives my plans for next year. Last October I wouldn't have been able to answer that at all, and now I could talk with her about how tour has grown passions within me I never fully saw before, and the incredible sense of joy I've felt from working relationally with the kids, children, and using music with them. On the ride home she asked how San Fransisco with Josh Groban went- I had to rewind the memories of tour to last November- last November! It seems so far away now, but I had just found out I would be going to San Fransisco when I met this host in Appleton. It made me stop and slowly playback the highlights of tour so far in my mind. When you live day in and day out with someone you easily forget how much you've been through together, and really just how close you have become.

That night Lillian, Gladys (the same girls I'd had before at this stay), and Lydia now too, as well as Esther and Racheal who stayed right next door with Ang came over for paddleboat rides on the pond behind their home. Later that night Patrick and his boys joined us too for boating and smore making too. My hosts still had the picture frames the girls had made with their pictures inside on the fridge, and a photo of all of us on the mantle to remember us in prayer. The girls were so suprised that the hosts still "remember my name! And have my picture up!" as Lillian put it. I thought about how neat it must be for these hosts as we snapped more group pictures that night to be able too see us all again and to also be able to measure the growth they've seen in these children as well.

After the girls were in bed Ang, Patrick, and I went for a long walk together- it isn't until I'm in the country and can walk around at night by a path lit solely by stars that I miss the vast open sky of the country, otherwise covered up by skyscrapers of city skylines. I finished the night around the fire with two of my closest friends, talking late into the night as flames from marshmallow roasting died into fllickering embers.

August 2, 2009

rest stop

People stop and ask me questions when we stop for bathroom breaks as we travel all the time. Most of the time it catches me off guard - how do you know I'm traveling with 22 African children? Oh yes, I remember- I am clearly labeled with a massive ACC logo covering my chest and, the logo on my jacket (yes a jacket- it is getting cooler...but I also fear that no Canadian winters and a winter in Texas has left me a wimp!) Anyways, today as Ang and I brought up the must try Wisconsin cheese curds to the cashier the lady at the till asks:
"Where are you performing?"
us: " Well, we just did a performance in Fish Creek, and now we're headed to Washburn to do a concert Sunday evening."
"So where are you from then- Fish Creek or Wisconsin?"
to this we smiled "Neither- the children are from Uganda" (to which she stared at as blankly- so we clarify "Uganda, Africa. They travel as part of this choir to get the financial support they need to get an education back home"
At this point she gets very excited "Africa!" and turns to the cashier beside her "Did you get that? They're from Africa!" To which the lady just nods politely.
But don't they miss their families?" she asks. We explained that most of them are partially orphaned or come from very vulnerable situations. "What? That happens? Oh my goodness, that is so sad, that is just so sad isn't it?"
As we're collecting our cheese to go, Angela adds "It is but these kids have the greatest joy, love, and happiness for a hope in the future."
At that point all the lady said was "Oh wow."
She was completely taken back by it all- the fact that the children are from Africa, that they live in poverty and come from needy situations, but that they are joyous. That amidst their sufferings there is a hope for poverty that is hard to imagine and shockingly sad.

As we walked out of the store my first thoughts were that the cashier was quite naive. But immediately following was my second thought- that how great that couple minute by chance counter was with her. That lady was both so genuinely concerned and excited by what little information she'd discovered through our conversation together. It just got me thinking how much more I want to influence people here in North America to broaden their perspectives and get them involved, connected, educated, hurting, and caring for those in poverty in this world. This one cashier made me imagine just how many more people there are out there- ignorant to the realities of how most of our world lives. It made me imagine just where we could be with more people aware and ready to help bridge the gap between rich and poor- ust imagine, with people on board- excited, educated, ready to give, where we would be?
I was just thinking about it after I hit the "publish post" button on my last entry....simplest things really are the greatest source of joy after all. I just managed to write a couple paragraphs worth of stories from tonight- to anyone else a simple swim for a couple hours and drink before bed. Wonderful isn't it how it can be so much more?

August 1, 2009

wet and worth it

I had to double check my schedule to tell you where I'm writing from tonight- we've come a long ways this week, and so many travel days later in a hotel room in Hurley Wisconsin it feels nice to curl up and relax in the easy silence of a room alone tonight.

Today was a great day. I gradually watched the scenery around me turn into what reminded me of a more Canadian landscape as we drove on the U.S side of Lake Michigan. Even the small fishing village of Fish Creek Wisconsin reminded me of the Port Stanley- a fishing port and beach that our family has celebrated every Canada Day at together. I love the long bus rides. I love having the day ahead of me to leisurely spend it between reading a stack of books for the kids around me, reading myself, listening to music, and then allowing it to let me drift in and out of resting. After setting out today just after breakfast we got to the hotel around 4:00. At first I wasn't going to, but I decided to get in the pool and swim with all the kids at the hotel. I had so much fun! It was one of those moments of just genuinely enjoying the children and making the most of months left with them. As I get tired more often I have to remind myself to really take these times and cherish them. I ended up having a blast piggy back swimming the boys through the deep end, playing tag with Lino, and what initially began as helping Lydia learn how to kick properly turned into almost all the children at the side of the pool playing red lights green light with me...took me right back to my swim teaching days! Funny story:
I spent some time with Geoffry helping him learn how to float- coaching him along to keep his head up and tummy up. At this point Nelson walks over, announcing that he is my personal assistant in teaching, and upon seeing Geoffry's large stomach ballooning out of the water says to his stomach "Wow there- down boy! Sit!"

After swimming, I asked the girls if they wanted to make some chai tea together for bed- which was met by Gladys screaming and jumping around the room, and Peace running at me- flinging herself on me like a monkey saying "Auntie- you're the best!" And so we went to the lobby and made chai- or should I say had sugar with a bit of chai? Then me and the 5 girls piled onto my bed- drinking tea, listening to devotional songs, singing together, and then praying for the person that was beside us. I tucked them in a couple hours ago and couldn't be feeling happier.

Tomorrow we are headed to Washburn to perform in an outdoor theater part of a summer music series- check it out!

July 22, 2009

Be still?

Think back for a minute...when was the last time that you were completely still, felt wholly at peace? There was a song I used to sing in Sunday school called "Be still and know that I am God"...infact that one line was the song- slowly we would sit and sing that line again and again until our teacher believed that we'd found a point of focus and a sense of calmness and swept over the classroom. It is so hard for me to quiet my heart. It is so hard to try and live, even just a day, without it shaped by a schedule or commitments, outings, or dependent on things to do.

As a child my most relaxing memories are those that I can fondly look back upon at our cottage by the Lower Beverly Lakes- separated from the ringing of the phone, the computers, t.v, and days cluttered with activities and school that always kept us too busy. The cottage was such a serene haven of escape from all of it.

Yesterday, my day off with Angela took me back to those last 2 weeks of the summer- where everything was so peaceful, the days were free, and all my family had around us was the lake and each other. I couldn't think of a more perfect day off. We've shared so many days off together, and with other friends from the team and were recounting some of our favourites the other day...exploring the French Quarter of New Orleans, 6th Street in Austin, listening to live music, great restaurants, but more often now as I am beginning to feel more tired I find myself needing these kinds of peaceful days to really relax. Ang and I swam across the lake that a host home overlooked near Indianapolis- it reminded me of swimming black Jack Lake at the cottage. As we swam across we stopped halfway to just lie on our backs and let the warmth of the mid day sun wash over us. With my ears covered by the water I could hear nothing, and only see a seemingly endless vast expanse of blue sky overhead. For just a couple minutes the worries, stresses, tension, and exhaustion seemed to float away from me...It is easy to become discouraged sometimes, know how to show love to people, push aside your selfish thoughts, be genuine, be a true servant, or even in everyday details loose sight of the big picture of why I am here. I always find myself wishing that I could capture a feeling better through my words but I can't. Maybe that is why I have never much enjoyed journaling. I always feel like what I write has to be perfect and articulate...but the truth is I don't think you can capture that kind of peace in words.

Marci (our choir manager) was down visiting us for this past week- she is a good source of encouragement and I hope that her visit can help to bind us together more as a team. She lead out staff devotions for us on the weekend and spoke of having a heart of worship. She asked us where we felt most worshipful in our actions, and at the time I couldn't exactly answer. I love worshiping through music, but often I get distracted. I believe that yesterday though was my answer to her question- in absolute quietness and stillness. Where I can be floating right in the middle of everything around me and have no question that this is our God.

July 17, 2009


The more we travel the more I believe that the story of one life is really made up many other people's stories and how they intertwine, come together, and cross paths with the own roads we're on. Lately I have stayed with so many wonderful hosts with such unique stories to share. Last week I stayed up late every evening visiting with my hosts- a couple whose husband was from Whales, and his wife from Indiana. On the second night they wanted to take a picture of us to put on their "International wall"- a wall in their home in which to hang memories of many visitors from all around the world. They welcomed in a young man from Brazil to be part of their family and home for a year when he needed a place to stay after being stranded in an airport and brought home by their son with no advance notice! At one point they were telling me that there was one Christmas day in which Eileen, the wife was the only American around the table full of company! Luckily, with a British background, we made pot after pot of tea together as I listened to their stories. They told me that if they couldn't travel to every country- live in every culture- then the best way to come to learn and know a different culture was to make your home open to people from different places. I thought that was a neat way of looking at it. We'll never get to see the world- let alone all the places we'd like to in this lifetime- but what a wonderful way of learning about them...really, I guess that's what our hosts do upon meeting us right? I should also add that my host proposed to his wife within 24 hours of meeting her and they have been happily married and totally in love for almost 30 years now since then. Isn't that incredible? A love so instant but yet so strong?

I also stayed with a family when I came back from vacation who were wonderful to get to know. Sometimes it surprises me just how much people open up and share with you when just a few hours ago you were complete strangers. I'm glad they do though and I believe it's teaching me and encouraging me to be more open as well. The husband as he drove me home started talking about how the children had changed him and moved him- and how when he looked at me doing what I'm doing at my age he started to look back to the place he was at in his twenties. He started to share about how many years he'd wasted away back then, and how selfish he'd been, and how it was too late to change that. Yes, it is too late to change the past. I was reading a book the other day that said if we continually let our minds wander back to the negatives of the past then we will always be living in a negative place, reliving those emotions and never coming out of them to face today. I told him that yes the past is gone- the chance at changing it gone. But the future? The today? It's not too late for that. He went on to say that he hoped he wouldn't loose the change in him brought about by the children once we'd moved on. And then he couldn't talk anymore- getting frustrated with himself for being so emotional and choked up infront of me he turned away and drove until he broke the silence by saying "Laura you're a cool girl. That's I can say."

I hope if you're reading this, and you know who you are, I've thought a lot about that stay- and you're pretty cool yourself."

"Never let the story die" were the words of the missions pastor from my home church when I met up with him for coffee on my vacation. May that be true for all of us.

July 6, 2009

The pics I promised!!

July 3, 2009


It doesn't seem to matter how tiring or discouraging of a day it can be- somehow these children- "the laugh of a child" as Goethe once said "can make it holier still". I write tonight- for the first time in awhile since being home on a vacation and I am tired from a long day and a concert this evening. After crossing from Kentucky to Indiana I now sit under a net of butterflies in the bedroom of a little girl who has given me her room for our night in Indianapolis. The night air is warm on my back, and I can hear fireworks outside my window for the second night in a row. (Downstairs there even waits a fourth of july coffee cake for breakfast!)

It is late but I can't seem to still my mind enough to sleep although my eyes are telling me that I should go to bed. I do want to share with you though since I've been back. It always seems that there is so much that happens in just one day spent here traveling this life on the road. It hardly seems like just 2 weeks ago that I stepped off a plane in Lexington Kentucky. Seeing the children again and my dear friends from this team was probably one of the warmest feelings one can ever experience. I had missed them so much when I was home- my mind just did not want to take a vacation from wondering about how they were doing- how their exams went, their concerts, their hosts, the news things they'd they were doing.... I flew into Lexington just in time to sneak into one of the closets in a classroom the children had for the day. Steve was lining up the kids at the end of the day and told them since they had behaved so well that they deserved a surprise- and that the surprise was in the closet. He then opened the closet door to where I stepped out. That is the only instance where I can say that being nearly knocked over by the screams and hugs of 22 children is one of the greatest feelings you could ever experience. For the past week I have still been catching up with them- hearing their stories and reassuring them that I drank enough chai tea on my vacation for all of us!

I never took the time I had at home with my family and friends for granted, and I certainly am trying to live in the moments I have left to be with these children now and this team in person since being back.

The children have been counting down days until a surprise- and yesterday we took them to 6 flags in the Kentucky Kingdom! I heard many guesses of what the surprise could be- everything from swimming and the zoo to flying a giant goose together! None of them could have ever imagined to guess this though! I had a great time- Angela and I put our two groups of girls together and tried every roller coaster and ferris wheel we could manage to ride in a day! Oh I wish you could've sat beside these girls- eventually I was laughing so hard at their screams and "Auntie Auntie Auntie! God will help us! Oh my my my ca ca ca ca ca help me!" that my stomach hurt and tears streamed down my face. I was laughing so hard that it didn't even matter that a rollercoaster was making me go upside down, get whiplashed, or feel like I would fall off its tracks- the reaction from the girls was just too hysterical. I don't know who was louder- Peace and Scovia's screaming or my laughing- although Rachel can tell you she could hear Peace screaming from outside the entrance of the ride!

I will try and most pictures later- and I'll end with a couple quotes that I want to remember from the day:

Mo: "I can't wait, I can't wait I can't wait for the surprise today!"
Lillian: "yes you can"
Mo "No, I can't wait!"
Lillian: "Yes, you can wait"
Mo "No I can't wait! I am too excited!"
Lillian: "Please Mo- the bible tells us to be patient."

Immaculate: "I thought that ride was going to take me to heaven!"


May 19, 2009

More "firsts"....

It is fun to think that even after 8 months of touring with these children that I still have the lucky privelage of experiencing "firsts" with them. Firsts for everything defined the start of tour- watching their faces laugh and tears of happiness come from the simple push on a swing, seeing their shocked faces at the idea of a washer and dryer (and hearing their confident statements that they can hand wash their clothes better!), seeing them marvel at a McDonald's playplace, watching them trying to eat spoonfuls of jam when they realized how sweet it was, or calling bacon "piglet" at the first taste...

Sometime later after travelling through many states and staying with so many different kinds of people on different walks of lives and in an aray of neighbourhoods and homes the pattern and routine of tour life has become comfortably familiar. Last night the church we were hosted by took us all out to mini golf and pizza. I can still think back and remember the children's first taste of pizza even in their first week in America- and how that was once a newly special treat of an outing! But last night mini golf was definately a first for most and I had a blast! Sometimes I wonder if I get more joy watching the children or if they get more joy from playing.

I got to mini golf with Hannington, Christopher, and Gilbert Big. Hanny and Christopher are two of our youngest boys and they were delighted to be playing with "their friend!". Gilbert Big, one of the oldest boys in the choir- and one whose facial expressions and sayings crack me up acted as a fatherly coach to the mini golf session. I watched as Gilbert methodically calculated how to gently tap the ball into the hole as Hanny and Christopher looked like they were playing a game of curling with the mini putter, and cheering the most when the ball jumped the rocks and they had to fish it out of the little ponds. Christopher's hole in one was definately one of the game highlights as he came running and screaming into my arms. And then I laughed as Gilbert Big coached the boys to "come on, putt gently boy!"

That was our last stop in Georgia as now we've moved on to Tenassee. Georgia caught me by suprise with its beauty- rolling hills and green everywhere! Our first stop in Tenassee was in Signal Point- the church the children sang at sat right at the top of a moutain, and the day after the concert our host drove me and the boys to the lookout point off the mountain- I've attached some pictures, although I wish I could've taken a shot which would have captured the panoramic beauty of it!

Enjoy the pics- I must sign off now for the night. We have just stayed all together at a missions house- I love staying alltogether and having the chance to stay up and talk with friends from the team, but it means I am feeling tired tonight! I also have 8 of the girls from the choir at the host home tonight, and I am sure that has added just a littled to the tired feeling:)

May 14, 2009

Do I always start with food?

I was just about to start my blog for you today with describing how delicious the cilantro hummus is on my sandwich, when I stopped to wonder if starting off my letters, e-mails, updates, and blogs to you with how great something is tasting is becoming a common trend. My last support letter definately began with describing how tasty my cinnamon crunch bagel was, and I am beginning to fear that my personal e-mails start with something along the lines of "wish you were here to enjoy this chai " or "just writing over a great lunch", or option 3 " I love starbucks and wish you were here too, love you bye!" Even as I write to you now, there's a break between every sentence for a bite of bread! Oh dear. It's really just because coffee shops are the kinds of places I find most relaxing to sit and write and read for a day off, but I have to laugh at what has surely become a common thread. If you were to go back and look over your letters from me I'm sure I would find it very emberassing. I will have to switch locations before writing my next support letter- my last one was definately written at Panera bread too!

Tour has reminded me of many things- the simple joys that come from childhood pleasures, that time always goes by too fast when you are enjoying yourself, you need to make time to take care of yourself, how to accept generosity, what it means to be a servant, simplest things are the best, and many other life lessons as I continue to grasp for wisdom in parenting beyond my years. One of the other things tour is a continual reminder of for me is how fragile life is to change. One day I thought I knew where I would be travelling for the next couple months, and the following week I was in Canada and then Nashville recording with country artists I love. Today we're in Georgia, and on Friday we'll be in Tenessee! Just last week we had a team of 9, and beginning this past week we are now a team of 8 as our tour leader Andrew left to return home to be with his family, and be a support to his father who is sick.

Life is a beautiful pattern of being blessed with time to know people and form deep roots in your relationships, and then at sometime say goodbye from your everyday with them and move on to the next place and people you are being called to. I worked at a summer camp for years, and those proved to be some of the best years of my life. I left with 3 of the closest friends I'd made scattered over several provinces and left with a hard transition back into school after saying goodbye. But then if I hadn't said goodbye to that chapter of my life I wouldn't have made the friends I did in Ottawa, in University, or now- here. I guess the other part of life's pattern is bitter sweet in its beauty. The hard part is the goodbyes after becoming so close, but the beautiful part is that for those precious close friendships the depth of the relationship is unchanged by the changing distance between you. Andrew was a wonderful leader for our team- very hardworking, gave great spiritual insight, and was always someone to laugh with. Last week our entire team stayed together at a missions house supported by the church. It was perfect to be together to just be in each others company before he left, and the kids were excited to have a party together for him- recapping memories of their time with Uncle Andrew in Uganda and with lots of dancing and goodies later on.

So now Lindsey has taken over as our tour leader, Angela doing speeches for shows, myself now doing media interviews for the news and t.v, and with Steve on vacation Rachel is driving the bus and doing the sound for shows...and helping Lindsey with her admin roles! It is amazing how this team each has their individual strengths, but talents that can cover for others as well- I guess that's what makes a great team!

May 9, 2009

Pay it forward

Last week I enjoyed the most ideal day off. One of the church members found out a group of us had the day off he offered his kyak and got a canoes to us from a friend to take out on the lake for the day. Do you know the song "Be still and know that I am God?" I always sung it in Sunday school- and it came to mind as we enjoyed the warmth of the sun beating down on us as we paddled. There are few moments I can recall where I have felt a complete and true sense of peace and stillness- but for that whole day I did.

This week for my day off a lady whom I didn't even know from the church we were staying at offered to drive Angela, myself, and Patrick to do our errands when she found that some of us had the day off. She hurried through cleaning up after making all the of the children lunch to run us to Walmart, and then when we asked if we could swing by Starbucks on the way home she offered it as her treat to us. I turned to Ang as she dropped us of and wondered out loud if I would have done something like that for somebody in my situation- I can only hope that I would be so intentional in being sensitive to the needs of someone else and generous to help them. I don't know if before tour I would have the foresight to be so intentional in how I could bless others, but Angela reminded me in our conversation that now after tour I have the hindsight to someday be the person who can look for ways to bless someone else.

That's one of the things that I look forward to. I have learned and experienced that it is not easy to always be on the receiving end of being blessed- it is so easy for me to feel guilty when I accept someone wanting to go out of their way... or on the other extreme I believe we can become complacent to the spirit of giving and thus loose a spirit of genuine thanks. It is a very humbling position I'm in to always be the one who is served, cared for, and thanked and praised. Humbled I am indeed when there is no real way to repay those that bless me daily, but to just think that someday in the future I will be able to pay it forward. I have certainly come to learn a lot more about how to be thoughtful in my intentions- and I think it's one of the greatest things I've gleaned from tour.

Even in Washington when the venue we were singing at found out the children had the afternoon free they quickly got together 4 large taxi vans to take us to the national zoo! After such a busy schedule of rehearsals and long days of travel the afternoon out in the sun for hours watching the animals with 26 excited children was the perfect way to end my time with them.

May 7, 2009

Still working on catching you up...

Let's go back a couple weeks together...

After Nashville4Africa I had a plane ticket booked for me to continue on with 31 as they travelled to Washington D.C to sing for World Malaria Day. We took a very early morning flight to arrive at a very ritzy hotel called the Topaz. Couldn't resist trying on the zebra and cheetah print robes availabe for a purchase of $150 dollars with the girls that were in our room! That evening we went for a soundcheck at the venue before dinner. Now, I should just come out and say it right now...

I didn't meet the Obamas.

I didn't ask about their dog.

I didn't meet former president Bush.

And I didn't meet the Clintons.
I was told they would be there, and so excitedly I told all of you! And then in talking to some of your parents and friends you've told them that I would be meeting Obama myself! I've had to then explain that apparently they were invited to come, but were never actually there. So sorry to those of you who passed on what we thought would have been very exciting news from my time in Washington! The event wasn't as large as I'd expected, but it still added to a lot of exposure for the choir and our work which is exciting. A let down from thinking I was meeting the president yes- but not a let down if those who came that day for conferences and lectures were moved and felt the hope of Africa through song.
It was interesting to me- I feel as though in the past couple weeks I have heard a lot of promises and goals being made. In Nashville one of the artists spoke that it was their goal that there would be no more poverty by the year 2015. At world Malaria day the speakers that I was able to hear confidently spoke for an end to malaria by 2015 as well. I must admit my skepticism to you- it is such a high goal on a timeline whose goalpoint lies only 6 years away. But then again I think of a quote I read somewhere: "Our fear in life is not aiming too high and not acheiving our mark, but setting our mark too low and acheiving it."

I have learned from this tour that I am not the kind of person who is a visionary leader, but rather I am much more detail oriented by nature, and I must work to put together a bigger picture. I may not have seen the famous faces I boasted about, but I have seen a great deal of visionary leaders in the past couple weeks. The details on such an ambitious goal seem blurry to me and it makes me question whether we could ever get there. But then I have to turn it around and ask myself- is that really the question? Or is it more important to aim our goals high and work hard even if we don't meet them? I think I've come to see at least in doing that our hard work will produce greater progress and efforts even if the goal is not fulfilled. And I think that is the answer I have for now...

April 28, 2009


My dear friends- I once had this great idea that I would blog every week...well, I am afraid to check on the date of my last entry but I know it has been awhile since I caught you up on where I'm at. This past month has been a whirwind for me- in the past week I've shaken hands with probably 20 celebrities, conducted a choir on 2 songs for a cd recording, taken 7 planes, crossed over to Canada, slept in my bed for one night, saw friends and family for the first time in almost 9 months, and learned and taught 6 new songs to a different choir in 3 days! What a reminder of just how quickly life can change and how flexible your direction, course, and ideas are in it all!

One giant surreal blur of an incredible opportunity and adventure later I am "settled" back with my choir in Georgia and surrounded by the familiar faces of my team and smiles and relationships with my children. A week ago I was in Nashville with choir 31 to help them learn 6 new songs for a large country music benefit called Nashville4 Africa with (for a country music fan) an incredible line up of artists: Big Kenny (save a horse ride a cowboy anyone?), Damien Horne (an artist who has done a lot of work forming partnerships with the Sudan), Keith Urban (who we opened with!), Faith Hill, Dierks Bentley, Brad Arnold, Ashley Cleveland, and the SteelDrivers. I met up with the choir 31 team in Monreal and from there travelled with them to Cambridge ON- I never thought I'd see the day when I cheered for the 401 and took 6 pictures of the Canadian flag- all poor quality taken from the bus window and really not worth posting- but it felt so good to be home! It is funny how just being near home an in a familiar place has such a feeling of comfort attached. Between being in Montreal and Cambridge I ran rehearsals with the kids for probably 10 hours and they learned 6 new songs! I felt so happily relieved by the end of our second rehearsal that everything had come together so well, especially with so many people counting on me for the event. After rehearsals my parents picked me up, and from there I got to see my sister again and my close friends for dinner too.

The best part about it? It felt like it was just the other day since I'd seen them and we were all enjoying dinner together and talking. Nothing felt strange about being surrounded by the people dearest to me from home- it was so natural to all be talking at the dinner table and comfortable and relaxed. What a comforting reminder that distance doesn't change the depths of good relationships. Not even 24 hours later I was back in Cambridge with choir 31 boarding the bus for a 2 day long trip to Nashville. When we finally got there we spent our first day in Oceanway recording studios- a studio set in an old church with such beautiful acoustics! From here on there are so many good stories to tell but I will highlight my favourtie moments. I don't remember a lot of details from the best memories, but how I felt in the moment is what remains...

1. At the recording studio recording with Dierks Bently. I was lucky enough to conduct with his manager for the cd recording. I hope amidst my nervous energy and excitement I did some justice to my conducting classes! My lasting memory is the creative energy of his manager- and his excitement in working with me. In any doubt of why I studied music- that feeling of how the music just stirred something within me when I conducted with him is the answer.

2. Conducting solo our third recording song and having the studio manager come out to the children after the first take- with no words, but a smile and tears. Every hour of rehearsal was completely worth it just for watching how their work and singing could then move someone.

3. Sound checking with Keith Urban for his hit single somebody like you- was I really on the same stage as him just last week?

4. Seeing how genuine Faith Hill is- she had the house band cover one of the chilren's songs from concert. I overheard her saying to her producer "this night is for the kids- it's about the African Childrens Choir- not about me. I'll sing off to the side- but I want the focus to be the kids. I'm not about to try and be the star for a song they've done for 25 years!" She left soundcheck after introducing herself to each of the children and the chaperones. The next day before the show she gave each of the children silver bracelets with the love verse from Corinthians engraved on it, and her daughter (maggie who's 10) donated all her money to the children that she'd been saving for the past year. At intermission she even came to the children's green room just to get more time in to play with them!

I had a lot of fun working with the team of 31, and leading their children in rehearsals. I also left after seeing the influence that fame has on our generation. In a society that idolizes celebrities I can say that I saw first hand the impact someone of such stature and wealth can choose to have on this world. How encouraging to see it be used for the positive!

April 1, 2009


There are few greater things in life than the simplest of things. Listening to the rain beat on the roof as you sit warmly and safely tucked inside- good conversation-laughing...

That's where I'm at right now. Listening to a good storm as I sit cozy in bed in Florence Alabama- suitcase looking much neater than it did earlier today as I get packed up again to move on to Birmingham tomorrow. I have spent the past three nights with a widowed woman by the name of Carolyn- upon hearing it was my day off today she quickly could not stop laughing in excitement. That is the way that Carolyn approaches everything- something so simple as fixing us breakfast in the morning finds her laughing, driving us to the church for the day, hugging us goodnight- her genuine joy for life has grabbed hold of me and touched me.

Smiling- this morning she pulls herself a cup of coffee and sits down to keep me company as I eat breakfast. She asks me lots of questions about my family, myself, my life- not because she has too fill space or silence, but because she genuinely wants to know me. We continue to talk and she tells me about how she fills her time now that she is retired. Carolyn is a very active woman. She fills her time with being a spokesperson for the Breast cancer society, after battling breast cancer herself and loosing her husband who was terminally ill and whose life was taken by the struggles of cancer. She tells me that she cannot be sad or worried that she is not cancer free, but happy for what it has given her- for the speaker she now is to encourage many, and for the friends she has been blessed with who share a similar story as herself. "It is the only thing to do- to be positive" she tells me happily- "that's all there is to it!" She knows that an attitude like that will serve her well to battle through any struggles, and I can only imagine how many more lives she has touched because of her outlook- beyond the life of her husband and my own.

I leave here now encouraged. It has been so wonderful- if only for a mere couple days to be truly included and feel so apart of her family. Her friends, who knew only of my work with the choir and that I am Canadian fought over who would pay for my lunch, and then when Carolyn found out I needed new concert shoes, she sent her daughter shopping with me tonight to find some. Her daughter bought me new shoes for concerts (whoever is reading this from my team I know you are very happy indeed!) and another just for fun because she "wanted to help me out!"

I just finished reading the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert (go read it! It's one of my favourites now. But I will warn you that if you read it you will often find yourself laughing outloud, so I caution reading in public) At the end of the book she concludes by saying that too often we try to excuse the blessings of other people- we try not to take them, that we feel guilty- and instead we should learn to accept and just be so grateful and thankful in moments of blessing." Today these people who had just started to come to know me hugged me at the end of the day- thanking me, asking if they could call me from time to time, telling me that I was inspiring, and hugged me saying they loved me. Those are powerful words. Hosts often tell me that because of what I've done I will indeed be richly blessed at the end of the journey and in the future...the thing is? I already have. Many, many times over- and in trying to heed Elizabeth Gilbert's advice tonight I just want to share with you that I am so thankful.

March 21, 2009

Looking back...

I know it has been awhile since I've been able to blog- when I've had the time or the days off I haven't had the internet access to write. I've had to pull up my March folder of pictures to jog my memory of all that's happened this past month and what exactly I want to highlight. Sometimes I want to rush ahead too fast- everything seems so exciting and I think ahead to the next great thing before I have even lived in the moment I'm in. Sometimes it is easy to think that April is half over already as I look forward to camp, or that Easter is almost here as I try and plan out teaching new music for the Easter service, with new music for summer festivals to learn, and a vacation to think of planning I find that mentally I've already reached September sometimes and am already wishing for my time with these precious kids. And then I go to write a blog update and need to pull of a folder of pictures to remember March? It's then that I realize that in tour life I am not as good as living in the moment as I ought to be, or as I have been in the past. I should go through memories more often, recount good days more frequently, love them and learn from them, and be excited about looking back- not only in looking ahead.

Over the past couple weeks I've stayed in so many homes and have heard and shared in so many stories of people who have been affected by the hurricanes that swipe out these areas of the deep south. Sometimes it is too easy to be quite honest to judge the family you've met too soon, or wonder if you'll have your own space, bed, and internet. Staying in homes where the families have not been able to get their heating systems restored, where half of their homes are missing, and where the wall to the guestroom is half collapsed and messy can upon first impression seem inconvenient and uncomfortable. It is humbling then to realize that the woman who gave up her bedroom with the half collapsed wall is sleeping on the living room couch for you so that you may have privacy and comfort. That the unfurnished bathroom has proper plumbing again just done in time for your arrival. That the people at the house with no heating yet has 10 children sleeping on the floor so you would be comfortable in a bedroom. I think of myself and how I would react in this kind of situation, and I doubt that if my house wasn't in perfect shape to host that I would- but these people have shamelessy and warmy welcomed me into their homes. It is a humbling experience to realize that I may not have even offered my home in that case in the first place.

I am so thankful to come from a place where hurricanes leave no devestation to my home town. The faith of the people in this area to rebuild with faith for a good standing home is incredible- I have enjoyed seeing the different homes that have been constructed, and hearing the hearts behind the building plans, and the joy in sharing the success of their well standing homes now with me.

Visiting New Orleans was also a big eye opener to the devistation and ruins that Hurricane Katrina left behind. It came as a suprise to me to still see so many areas being rebuilt. The city itself however is still vibrant and exuberant in its culture. I love the big city! Ang, Steve, Patrick and I all took the ferry into the city for the day off. I had only one desire in New Orelans and that was to hear live jazz music- I got to hear so many different street bands and we ate lunch over listening to a group where the lead singer's voice sounded just like Louis Armstrong's himself. To top it off we wandered around the French Quarter and ate a morning snack of french beignets-1/2 doughnut, 1/2 powdered sugar.

Tomorrow night we don't have an evening concert like we usually do on Sundays so we have the afternoon free to spend with our hosts! I am already excited to make homemade hamburgers together and walk down to the local icecream shop that is apparently to die for in the evening. However, I am trying not to get ahead of myself again-being thankful for the rest of this evening and a morning concert and open afternoon still to enjoy.

March 3, 2009

Speed cars and Sundaes

Angela and I were talking today over a delicious slice of tirimasu at an old oak tree garden on the lake about how the timing of the weather we get on tour could not be more perfect. From starting in Chicago we watched the leaves change and slowly fall over nine states until we reached Christmas camp. Since heading south from there it has only become warmer and continues to feel more like spring- today at lunch Angela and I ducked under sprinklers as we wandered around blooming flowers and inbetween shoots of bamboo. And then coming home tonight to the house it reminded me of late spring- when the weather is so sunny that it bridges on summertime and the memories of family and friends crowding the kitchen- fixing dinner with the windows and doors open to let in the breeze and the sun. What a wonderful day.

Tonight the boys and I were raced around town in "the speed car" as Mo called it. Nelson said that "the wind blew so fast in my hair that I lost small small amount when we were flying in the street". On my ride with Patrick he says: "Wow wow! Auntie Laura we are going so fast you are going to loose all your hair! I love to go fast fast never slow slow." It was honestly a lot of fun.

Time is going by so fast- it's been a three night stay here and now I am frantically finishing laundry as I realize I need to pack again for tomorrow...I feel like I have only been here a night. Andrew left this morning to go home for his two weeks of vacation- and so from now until July we will have an incomplete team for several months as people take turns going away from their break! It feels like only a month ago that when sitting in Makindye for one of the mornings reading our manual that the chapter on the logistics of vacations seemed too far away to talk about...Sometimes I get ahead of myself and think of everything there is to do, happen, and look forward to before the end of tour and then, in my mind, it's already over! I need to slow down and take the moments like tonight for every memory that it leaves me with and grab hold of it.

Even this past Sunday morning marked our 100th concert since starting tour- I always take notes on what there is to improve on, but it is good also sometimes to sit back and just reflect on how far the children have come since their first time singing in an American church- when they were distracted by every decoration in a church, and not sure of themselves.

In celebration of the kids performing their best concert this past week, before arriving at this church stay we stopped to treat them to icecream sundaes.

There will never be more time in a day, a week, a month- but as we almost finish another week I realize I need to stop more often, and make more time. The words of Uncle Abraham from Africa ring true tonight- "In America people have clocks and watches everywhere- but ironically they never seem to have enough time- but here in Africa we don't race against minutes- we just enjoy the company of others first- and we always have the time to enjoy it."

Wherever this finds you- and tonight as I go to bed- may that be a good, simple, reminder to us all.

February 27, 2009

Out of Texas!!

This morning was windy and humid in Louisiana. After a good run this morning I made breakfast and read my book and wrote letters- enjoying the quietness of the home on my day off as my hosts went to work for the morning. After working the food pantry for the morning my host, Dorina, came back and suggested treating me for lunch. Seeing as I love food and people I quickly agreed, and half an hour later found us at a quaint little Mexican restaurant downtown. I never get tired of talking about this organization I realized as she asked me questions most people are curious about. Sure, I hear them day in and out but I genuinely love it. I am happy to engage people in the work of Africa- to help them get a glimpse into where these children come from, and to speak of the hope that lies ahead for them and their country. But beyond the usual questions came about such a good conversation- of her stories of faith and how she has been practically stretched and tested in her life. I was inspired as I doubt I would have reacted in the same manner, and encouraged by her challenges to face my own with faith. Sometimes I have to step back and remember that I have only known the people I meet for a couple days- that here I am speaking for the organization, or just personally sharing with them in a strangers home….from that angle it does feel strange- I know it looks strange to some of you to call or e-mail and imagine me hearing from you in a new house every other day- being apart of someone else’s family- but only does it seem strange when you think of it like that. To me, so many hosts over the past month have quickly become new friends. The list of contacts with people I have met along the way, especially over the past month, continues to grow- and that’s exciting!
One of the churches we performed at last month donated us free admission to the NASA centre in Houston- so on Monday we cleared off the afternoon schedule to take the kids there for the afternoon. There were some great exhibits on what life on the moon looks like, and some good interactive actives and several spaceships you could walk through the insides. The kids had their first experience watching an IMAX movie of outer space in which they insisted to sit in the first row front and centre. Haha, they may have regretted that decision later as they covered their ears for every blast off. …driving to our homes at the end of the day sharing astronaut freeze dry chocolate ice cream I’d say it was a hit!

post concert reflections...

I don’t know when it happened- somewhere between first seeing these children in Makindye- learning their names, gathering first impressions… and right now- but they feel like family. The feeling and realization that overcame me tonight was completely humbling- somewhere along this road these children feel like my own. And in tonight’s concert I put my notebook down, ignored my usual critique of concerts, and was completely moved and proud of them. In my opinion tonight was their best concert to date. They are like my little heroes I thought as I watched them- how they came from being unnoticed to shining hope to a world made of broken, hopeless people, cities, countries. How they love to try- how they never give up on working. How they love- that they are quicker to forgive than hold onto anger. And as the pastor asked Nelson, our future minister, to pray for the offering I felt their child-like faith and his confidence bring me a real sense of joy. That overwhelmingly excited feeling overcame me my first time since seeing them- leaving me completely moved and sure that is where I want to be, and more importantly am called to be. Soon we approach our six month mark on the road, and tonight that feeling was so real again- just as it was stirring up inside of me a year ago now. More and more I have hosts comment after they are tucked away in bed how much they look up to me- how much they love me- and just how evident those feelings are by their actions. I know I loose sight of that in the day to day family-like living, but it is true. I recognize it and smile over it more as they confide in our team, as I share in their stories, as I continue to keep record of their personal lives, as they open up to me and share their curious spirits.

This morning I went to the church to greet them feeling exhausted from a restless night before- Mo after trying to get my attention with a hug turned to me and says “Auntie- you are not you today. You don’t sound like you and your big smile is not there.” I let my mood get the better of myself as we do when we’re human and show our emotions more freely when we love more freely- seemingly backwards I know, but so true. This morning reminded me of what I’ve been reflecting on tonight- just as I have come to know them on a deeper level, they know me too- and how evident that was in Mo’s childlike honesty this morning.

It is late now and I don’t think I could keep my eyes open for any longer without my thoughts becoming incoherent and fuzzy, so I will say goodnight from here with the feeling of a full heart.

February 19, 2009

weekly monuments

Just the other day I began jotting down everything I wanted to blog to you about- adding to a list of thoughts and events that had started the list last week, when I came accross this in my devotional the other day:

"The Lincoln Memorial. The Vietnam Memorial...Mermorials are places provided for us to stand and be quiet, to reflect, and to pass on to the next generation the roots of a nation's heritage. They give us presnt significance because they give the past perspective. My fear for our present rapid-paced lifestyle is that we have so few memorials, so few monuments, even mental monuments. Life is lived in the fast lane. Superficial decisions. Hurry up childhoods...So little time spent stopping and recording segments of our lives in a journal..." (Charles Swindoll)

Many people ask if I do and tell me that I will regret it if I won't. I have never enjoyed journalling- taking time to process everything and write it down...recording emotions that I know will change, but I am beginning to realize that my days and weeks, and this life goes too fast not to. This experience is changing me and I don't want to forget how. These children are growing and maturing and I don't want to forget those formative moments. Evenings pass with saying goodights and I wish I could hold on to them forever. I wish I could remember more quotes, I wish I had more time to talk with them. I don't want to loose the everyday, small joy details of my work.

Usually I share best and process by talking to people- but living on the road is stretching me to communicate in different ways, and I believe this to be one of them. Sometimes I log onto my blog and don't even know where to begin- time has brought about so many things to pass, and in the spanse of time I cannot remember and hold onto all the memories.

Charles Swindoll goes on to say " In order to have perspective we must have mounuments and memorials, places to return to and learn from and talk about and pass on."

I want this to be that place for me, and I want to make a better start by catching you up on this week and where I'm at...

At the beginning of the week one of my close friends and wonderful Auntie to the kids- Sarah, left us to join Choir 31 in their work. Like any family it is hard to loose someone and say goodbye, but we are all very proud of her confidence to go, put herself out there, and be with a choir that was short staffed and greatly needed her. We hosted a goodbye party for her, and the kids sung her a farewell. While the kids continued eating cake and having a dance party the team of us were able to have some last time with Sarah- pray over her, and encourage her as we sent her off.

Before Valentines day this past Saturday a good friend of mine mailed goodie bags for all the kids, and between goodies sent from Lindsey's parents, and valentines from Angela and the Music for life office our team filled the bags and were done tying the ribbons for valentines day with the kids. From the friday evening to Saturday morning the school that we performed in placed us in a hotel rather than host families. So Saturday we suprised the kids with their goodie and bags and all piled into a room together to watch Madagascar 2. I love watching movies with these kids- I think it is quite possibly more entertaining to watch them than the movie itself because they're laughing so hard and are so suprised by everything on screen. A the movie started and Junior, who is quite quiet spoken, opens his goodie bag I hear him say "The Aunties and Uncles- look at all they do for us and what they have given us this morning. I know they love us so much." There aren't any words for that so I just hugged him.

For the past 3 nights I've had the chance to stay with three of the boys from the choir which doesn't happen often! One of the boys, who had just received a sponsor this week, was so excited that he brough home his school bag so I could help him write his thank you letter. As the rest of the boys played pool and ping pong Mo and I worked away at making a final draft of his letter- I even found him later that evening as I came in the room to say goodnight, letter in hand trying to write by the light of a small flashlight. It was such a great stay- when Mo put away his letter I got tackled by the three boys with hugs- and finally after telling them to stop and go to sleep Mo sits up and says "Come back Auntie Laura- your hugs were plastic hugs- I want a real one!" haha

Right now we're back in Austin and I am staying with a young couple- the wife works at the church as a community missions coordinator. I talked to her last night about her work and the programs she has begun through the church. The vision and programs she has set up are incredible. She and her husband do a lot of work in Brazil and have taken part in many music for life summer missions trips to Africa. Her current work in the community focuses on establishing relationships with the homeless in Austin. She spoke a lot about how being relational with these people takes a lot of time and effort instead of just handing them something, or doing a favour and walking away. We talked a lot last night about the importance of a ministry that begins with being relational- I believe it's the only way that deep roots can be planted in any work. Since an end date for our tour was announced to be December 2009 I have thought a lot more about what I want to do after tour. With an end to this experience, life after tour begins to feel more real. I still don't have an answer for what I'd like to do- but more and more I am learning what's most important- who I want to be. I want to be like this family- I want to partner and work in communities- I don't believe I could work overseas but I would love to continue to travel there- and expand my relationships. For the first time I don't feel panicked by not knowing exactly what I want to do, but I think recognizing what is important to me and how I want to live my life must be the first step before making a career choice that can fit that- and I believe I am slowly gaining a better vision of what that looks like...