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I am broken. News flash, we all are.

If you have lived enough life, you have some bumps, bruises and scars.  It happens.  That’s what life does to us, it breaks us.  Sometimes our brokenness is caused by the choices we make, sometimes we have no choice at all. Something comes along and it shatters us.

Life is never the same.  So, we “protect” ourselves, we build walls, we self-medicate, we hurt others.  We break others.  We tell ourselves, “if I can keep everyone far enough away, I can prevent myself from being broken again”.

That’s a sad, horrible way to live.  It is also a cowardly way to live. We have one life on this earth, and we are meant to embrace it for all its worth. 

Instead of being broken, I think we should be brave.  If life knocks us down a notch or two, its OK.  Its happened before (it will most likely happen again).  Get up, acknowledge the bump, and keep going. 

I remember being in Honduras with my friend Ty.  We went to a village with his big medical kit in tow, and the children knew there were band-aids in there.  All of the sudden, EVERYONE had a boo-boo.  I think I put 20 band-aids on wounds of varying degrees.  Some tiny and some significant.  The children just wanted to someone to notice their wound and tend to it.  Then, they got up and kept playing.

They didn’t let the hurt keep them from life.

Be brave. 

Being brave means you open yourself up to life, relationships and new opportunities.  Yes, it also opens you up to rejection.  But I can guarantee that brave people have less regrets than broken people.  They have more “oh well, I tried” and less “I wish I had tried”. 

Do whatever you have to do to dress the wound, but don’t let it stop you from living the life you were gifted with.

Justin has been on my mind a lot since I came home from Arusha.  I met Justin at the Plaster House, a wonderful place where children come and recover after reconstructive surgeries in Africa.  It is greatly needed and currently they house about 50-60 children in this beautiful, peaceful place. We went there to tour the facility and size the children for shoes, which we would bring back later on in the week.  

I just gravitated towards him.  From his mid chest and up, he was SEVERELY burned.  Justin fell into a fire pit in his family’s hut during an epileptic seizure.  He is an adolescent boy, so I am sure it was very hard to pull him out.  He has lost one arm because of it, the empty sleeve of his shirt just flutters in the breeze when he walks.  His face is so disfigured that its hard to hear him talk or decipher what he is saying. There is a reconstructive surgeon who comes several times a year and “works” on Justin.  They rebuilt his nose on his arm and then transplanted it to his face.  When I was there, he had two little straws sticking out of his nostrils.  They were teaching him to breathe again.

Let that sink in: They were teaching him to breathe again.

I went in a Massai hut after I met him and I immediately got why he fell in. At first I thought, that’s crazy, why would he have fallen?  But he was in a 8 X 8 hut, maybe 5 foot high.  The fire pit is right smack dab in the middle, there’s no where else to go. 

Justin hung with us that day, following us around.  He really didn’t have a group he was hanging with.  They said he had behavioral issues and they were getting better, but you could see the chasm between him and the other children.  There were boys his age there, but they weren’t hanging with Justin.  In a place where all of the children are “different” because of their physical issues, there are still outsiders.  It is so sad. But its life, we protect ourselves from what we cannot understand or what fears us.  

I wonder what his face looked like before the fire.  I am sure he was beautiful, as the Tanzanians are.

We came back a few days later to distribute the shoes and in a SHEER moment of PANIC, I realized I had forgotten to size JUSTIN.  My heart sank.  I had shared a t-shirt with him, but he was not in his room to be sized with everyone else and I forgot.  I started scrambling.  I had brought extra pairs so maybe I would be OK.  I think I even started praying, I COULD NOT disappoint this boy.

I found a Mom that had somehow gotten boy’s shoes, even though we weren’t distributing to the adults there.  OK, whew!  Crisis averted. Nope. Justin didn’t like them.  I found another pair on a boy that was too small, took those off, traded the Mom’s pair to the boy and took the smaller pair to Justin to try on.

He shook his head “no”, and I thought “OMG, this isn’t Foot Locker, what am I GOING TO DO?!!”.  He kept saying a word to me over and over.  I realized he was saying, “sandals, sandals”.

We had given a pair of Teva-esque sandals to a young man who was an amputee and we had him come up to us.  We asked him through the tranlator if he would want Justin’s white Puma sneakers for his sandals and he answered us with an emphatic “yes!”. I put the sandals on Justin’s feet and they fit perfect.  His beautiful, blemish free, perfect feet, I might add.  

The Mom still got shoes! The boys still got shoes!  And Justin got shoes. All were happy.  I think I hugged them all in that order.  And I hugged Justin 3 or 4 times.  On his face, I think I saw a smile.  

I KNOW I WITNESSED A MIRACLE.

Helping here at Home…

@unitedlegwear you made my morning @soles4souls! Hundreds of pairs of the cutest #socks,
#Tights & #baby booties! People forget that we need socks just as much as we need shoes! I will take a big bag of these to #Haiti next month! Thank you for supporting us! #giveshoes #givesocks #givelove #happysocks  (at Soles4Souls, Inc.)

@unitedlegwear you made my morning @soles4souls! Hundreds of pairs of the cutest #socks,
#Tights & #baby booties! People forget that we need socks just as much as we need shoes! I will take a big bag of these to #Haiti next month! Thank you for supporting us! #giveshoes #givesocks #givelove #happysocks (at Soles4Souls, Inc.)

This week, I have had the absolute honor of working with WOGO on behalf of Soles4Souls. Their main mission here in Arusha, Tanzania is to rebuild knees.  Surgeons, Nurses, Anesthesiologists and Physician’s Assistants from all over the US came together in Arusha for this special trip.  They performed over 40 knee replacements this week. In addition to their medical work, they always look for opportunities to serve the community and this is their third partnership with Soles4Souls to give children shoes.

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We distributed shoes this week to three organizations, each with a unique mission. We made sure that 55 children in Plaster House had shoes. The children are there because they are recovering from serious surgeries and they can complete the recovery and rehabilitation process at Plaster House. We played with children with cerebral palsy, learning to walk strongly, little boys with club-feet and bowed legs, who will be able to walk normally after surgery and when they do, they will be walking in the shoes we gave them.  Little boys and girls with burns from falling into fire pits, their severely burned faces peeking out at us with timidity, until they saw their new shoes and their smile lit up their faces.

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Our shoes made them feel normal again. 
 
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We went to Glorious Orphanage, deep in the slums of Arusha. Glorious is not an orphanage, but rather a school, a place for 140 children to eat and a refuge for them to play and have community. I watched children take off shoes that were barely even intact; only to reveal socks with holes galore.

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After several little ones were fitted, they started hopping and dancing in their new shoes, just like kids do in America when they get something new-it’s exciting, it’s fun! They have new, sturdy shoes now with NO HOLES! What a treat for them!

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The director pointed out one dancing little girl to me and said, “she’s a ragamuffin, she has no family, no home”.  A ragamuffin with no home, those words haunted me long after I left.  I hope that we made her feel beautiful and loved in her new shoes.

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Shoes made all the difference to the children at Glorious. They can now walk to school on top of a thick sole, their feet protected from the elements.

For now, shoes are one less thing they have to worry about.
 
We went an hour outside of Arusha to the village of Mbuguni, Tanzania to STEMM. STEMM works with the community to provide various needs, from agricultural programs, medical care and an orphanage. They invited the local school and some of the village children to come over and receive shoes and clothing. In Tanzania, they require you to have a uniform to go to school, which is around $18. Roughly 8% of children here in Tanzania graduate from school. This made my head swim. A uniform and some shoes could LITERALLY change a child’s path. Eighteen dollars stands in the way of children learning to read and write, to learn there are other planets and continents, math and so much more.  We made sure over 500 children had shoes and clothing that day, in hopes that they can learn and dream and grow.  One little girl came up to be fitted with only one shoe on.  I guess to her one shoe is better than no shoes. 

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The kids sat in the grass after they were done, inspecting and comparing their new shoes, giggling, smiling. Some of our team arrived later and said that nearly two miles back, they saw the children walking home with their shoes!

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Three very different experiences all with the same purpose, children need shoes desperately in Africa and that’s what we are all about. 

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It was my first trip to Africa and I had heard time and again how beautiful it was and how much I would love it. I pretty much love everywhere I go, but there is a wildness to this country that reels you in. It’s in the air around you; you feel its vastness. You can’t help but feel it and get sucked in; it takes your breath away with both its beauty and its need. The last full day we were there we went to the Nogombroro crater. Before we got to the crater, we stopped at a Maasai village for a tour. My new friend Jane and I sat in Changa’s hut. Changa showed us where he slept, his 5 children slept and the pen where they kept their baby calf…inside the hut.  This hut may have been 10X10. I bought a copper bracelet from his beautiful young wife and she coiled and bent it around my wrist, custom made for me.  I sat and watched the tribe dance for us, men leaping 3-4 feet in the air, all of the them harmonizing together with such strange chords, but so beautiful.  They all had on bright blue and red wraps. They were lined up outside of their village ready to dance for us in the bright colors, next to this beige hill, the colors of their wraps a stark contact to the mountains behind them.
 

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We drove down into the crater and saw hundreds of flamingos fly off of the lake. I couldn’t get a photo, nothing did justice to the beautiful pink birds flying off of the water. There was this tree at the base of the lake…I could have laid underneath that tree all day, or at least until the hippos came out of the water. 

The trees in Africa are something to behold! They have souls and they look like they were going talk to me at any moment. 

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I am so blessed to have had this experience. The WOGO team was a joy to work with. I spent some time with them at the hospital, in surgery and I am inspired by the dedication and love they have for their work.  The patients who received new knees literally have so many opportunities before them now that they are mobile! And in Africa, mobility is everything! If you can’t walk to get water, food, or to work, you have nothing. One gentleman is 3 inches taller with his new knees! What a miracle WOGO brought to these people! 

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Being with so many people this week dedicated to serving others just rekindled so much of the passion in my heart to continue to find ways to serve and help people help themselves. Sarah at Plaster House said it best, “You can learn the job, but you can’t learn the love”.

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