Sunday, May 3, 2009

You Make Me New, With Every Season's Change...

Photo: At a rugby game this weekend :o)

Winter chill has started in South Africa. Tonight I finally caved and turned on my space heater for the first time this winter. It still feels odd to think of it being fall/winter in May, but in a land where Santa shows up in the middle of summer... anything goes! The changing seasons metaphor (though often overused) is appropriate in so many ways for this time of life.

So this is a new record for blog-slacker-dom I think - over 2 months... sorry 'bout that! Much of the delay has been because life has been full of changes, good changes, but ones that I needed to let settle a bit before sending off into cyber-space.

In a nutshell, during the first week of March, I submitted my resignation at Acres. It was so hard to do, but I know that it was where God led, and so I followed. March was full of handing things over to the staff who will remain (Beth stepped down as well, so it's been a huge change for the team here) and hard conversations with house parents and kids, letting them know that I would be leaving. The kids have had so many people come and go in their lives, and have asked me so many times since moving to South Africa if I was here forever. My answer was always "I'm here for however long God tells me to be here, and I would LOVE it if that was forever!" Thankfully, I was able to explain the reasons I needed to step down in a way that the older kids could understand, though there were plenty of tears as well. And the little ones have no idea that my job is any different because they still see me often :o) Since the beginning of April, I've been spending time with the kids as a volunteer while I seek out what God has for me next. I think it's been good for the older kids to see that I've kept my promise that I would still see them, that it was never a job, always just because I loved being with them.

I've been job hunting in South Africa because it's my prayer and hope that I will be able to stay here. I still feel called to South Africa, the passions that God has given me are here, and my life really is here now too. The timeline I've given myself is to look for a job in South Africa until the end of May, when finanaces will start to run low. If something hasn't come along at that point, I'll head back to the States in early June and continue the search from there. I've made some great contacts here, and am in the running for one position that I would absolutely love, so I'm praying that it happens!

For those of you who know me well, you know that I don't always handle change gracefully (or, rather, I do okay on the outside but turn into a bit of a basketcase for my best friends! :oP ) so this is a season of change that I am praying God will allow to be fairly smooth, just as it was when I moved here. I am trusting that where God has led, He will provide, sometimes it just takes a little extra reminding...

But for tonight, I am thankful for how amazing my life is. That I have generous parents who continually offer to let their 20-something daughter sleep in their house again if needed :o) For better friends then I ever could have dared to ask for. For the opportunities I've had to do what I've done with my life. For the grace of God that provides and covers it all... And for the space heater that has made my bedroom so cozy on this cold South African night where I know, just down the road, there is a man at the end of the highway off-ramp who kneels barefoot between the cars in shorts and a tank top, too ashamed to make eye contact with anyone passing by, hoping for just enough to make it through tomorrow. Every day is grace...

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Extremes of Life...

Hello all... things have been a bit of a struggle lately, so I haven't known what to write. Some of our older kids have really be having a rough time, to the point where one had to stay with me until we could get him into a psych hospital. If I'm honest, at the moment that feels like the tip of the iceberg, but I know that God holds it all. He has a plan for these kids, and for me, and I know that He provides exactly what is needed for His plan, provided we are seeking Him. There are frequently jokes in the office about how people imagine that our lives consist of holding babies all day, and then I listen to a teenage girl sob as she recounts her memories and wishes that she had her mom back and know concretely that none of this is about holding babies (usually it's the abundance of volunteers who get to have that job!)...

And today I took a 5 month old who weighs 11 pounds to be tested for HIV, syphilis and Hep B. She was born as a twin at 36 weeks gestation in September to a mother who died of AIDS and syphilis less than 3 weeks later. Her twin passed away in December, and her dad was left not knowing how to cope. It just breaks me to think of all of the loss her dad has experienced in the past few months, in addition to the fact that it was likely that he was the one to give the baby's mother HIV.

But... on to happier moments that I haven't yet shared... :o) I joined a small group Bible Study of guys and girls, all about my age, and it's been a blessing to start to see community that isn't connected to work start to come together! At the beginning of January, for Beth's birthday, she and I went on a "Canopy Tour" in the Magaliesburg Mountains (the second oldest mountain range in the world - created about 2,400 million years ago) where we took zip lines across the top of the canyons, over the trees, and it was AMAZING! Then later in the week the birthday festivities continued with dinner and dancing at Rodizio's, a Brazilian restaurant. So, in clear testament to the fact that I still don't post here often enough, here are some photos from the beginning of January :o)

The canyon :o)

Beth over the trees

Me :o)

Getting clipped onto the line!

Party laughs... Beth (middle) & Claire (right)

Thankful for friends...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

25 Random Things...

This list is the big thing on Facebook at the moment... I've put it off, but finally was desperate enough to avoid other things that I joined the bandwagon. Thought I'd get a little extra mileage out of the time it took and post it here as well (thanks for the idea Sarah!) :o) Those of you who know me well will probably know most of this, but there may be a few surprises.

25 Random Things About Me...

1) My full name is technically Kelli Cayley Murphy Strickland and my closest friends enjoy using the whole thing when they're frustrated just to make me frustrated...
2) I wasn't allowed to listen to music while doing homework growing up, so now I have trouble focusing on anything but the music when music is playing.
3) When I was little I used to give emotions to non-living things... like "Don't bend that paper clip, you're gonna hurt it" kind of thing... I'm sure a therapist would have great fun with that!
4) My favorite way to relax is going to the movies by myself.
5) I've hit all of the major goals I had for my life at 26, so I'm trying to come up with some new ones :o)
6) When I was 4, I called 911 because my doll was sick... 911 called back to complain and I got in trouble
7) When my friend Chelsea and I got left with babysitters together as little girls we were absolutely HORRIBLE to them... to the point of throwing fruit at the walls and pulling chairs out from under them
8) I'd love to travel to Ireland someday... and to Italy again
9) Someday I want to live in Washington DC because I'm such a political science/history nerd
10) At Starbucks I order the most high-maintenance hot chocolate ever... grande, non-fat, extra-hot hot chocolate with whipped cream but no chocolate drizzle... I blame Seattle and it's over-abundance of Starbucks
11) Some of my favorite college memories are the "Days for the Soul" that Jean and I used to take, not telling anyone where we were going and just doing whatever we felt like all day without any planning... one resulted in our belly button rings...
12) I always read the end of a book first because if it has a bad ending I won't read the book.
13) I don't like surprises very much, and I'm not very good at waiting to let other people be surprised either
14) I am terrified of birds, and yet I had a parakeet from the time I was 5 until after I left for college (people kept buying them for me!!!)
15) I don't like dogs because they shed and slobber, but if I ever did get a dog it would be a beagle named Walter
16) I love leaving for roadtrips before the sun comes up in the morning
17) I love wandering around cemeteries... I know it sounds morbid, but they are so peaceful and I like to wonder about the stories of people's lives
18) I deal with change worse than just about anyone I know, and yet had no trouble moving to South Africa
19) Being near the ocean feels like breathing to me
20) I still swim over pool drains really fast because there could be sharks that come out of them (but apparently they can't get you once your not directly above the drain?!)
21) My mom made me cook dinner for the family one night a week all through high school to learn how to cook, and as a result I make mac & cheese, spaghetti, and hamburgers really well... and that's IT!
22) I LOVE thunderstorms
23) I wish I hadn't quit playing piano when I was 5 because I'd love to know how to play now
24) My favorite cookies are oatmeal chocolate chip
25) Peanut butter and chocolate can fix just about anything

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Photos from Thanksgiving...

Oh man... sorry guys! I signed back on here to post some photos from this weekend and realized my Thanksgiving post (yes, that would be NOVEMBER) was still in draft form and that I had never even put that one up... sorry!!!

So, now I will do three posts of highlights from the past 6 weeks!


(not a holiday here of course, but we thought we'd introduce our friends to the "American way" of inhaling a ridiculous amount of food and then promptly falling asleep!

Claire (left) was the one soul brave enough to help Beth (right) and I cook all day... well, I don't know that anything I did could be qualified as cooking... But Beth was awesome! :o)

Me and Claire "helping" - and snacking!

The Americans

Removing the turkey guts! This is why we gave the unsuspecting South African this job!

Thankfully Beth was a Thanksgiving pro...

A little break to watch the Thanksgiving episodes of "Friends" while the food cooked :o)

Becoming an American already... full of snacks before dinner even started! We all know that kind of pain well...

Sweet potatoes in SA are white, and plain marshmallows are pink - this made for a very odd looking American dish...

Paul carved the turkey the only way he imagined how - with scissors. A little South African flair to Thanksgiving.

The spread...

The food turned out so well... the friends are still talking about it :o) I think this may become South African tradition as well!

Good friends, good food, good times...

Friday, November 28, 2008


The painting in my bedroom that I love... One of the little girls we have thinks that it's a painting of her because it's what her granny's house looked like.

My Bathroom

My Living Room

My Bedroom/Bathroom

My Bedroom

Here I am, another month passed, and no idea where it's gone!!! Yesterday, we had a breakfast for all of our house parents trying to convey what Americans were doing for Thanksgiving on the same day on the other side of the globe... I tried to articulate what I was most thankful for this year in general terms, knowing that if I got too specific, I'd be crying into a microphone!

So, in the slightly safer realm of a blog (where you can't tell whether I'm crying or not!) I'll name just a few of the ways in which I am probably more aware of how thankful I am this year than I have ever been...

* Sabana - though having this baby come into my life and then leave just 5 months later was heartbreaking, he showed me a vision of God that I had never seen before, and can't imagine having learned any other way. I wouldn't trade a moment that I spent with him, and am so thankful that God shared His child with me.

* South Africa - God so clearly led me to South Africa this year. I have not been homesick for a single moment (I've missed people I love, but never have wished to be anywhere else). I am so confident of the fact that this is where God has for me to be now, and am so thankful for that clarity and trust.

* Friendships & Family - those that I've shared life with for years, and those that are new or have grown since coming to Africa. God has made it so evident that He has placed specific people in my life with such specific purpose.

* Miracles - maybe I just never noticed them before, but I really have seen absolute miracles in the lives of the children of South Africa. So often, there is no justifiable reason that they should have survived, and yet they have not only survived, but thrived. One example over the past month was a 12 year old girl who arrived. Our team noticed that from her shoulders to her hips, her tourso was basically shaped like a barrel. She was taken to a G.I. specialist who discovered (no idea HOW ON EARTH no one had done anything before) that she actually was born with no anus. So 12 YEARS of waste had been building inside of this little girl, to the point that her intestines had been pushed up against her heart and lungs. She went into emergency surgery where it took the doctors 3 HOURS to clear out her abdomen and resize her colon (which had become the size of a small trash can). There is no explanation, aside from God, for how she could have survived this long. Beth and I took turns sleeping at the hospital with her for the days following her operation, and she is now so proud to show off her flat tummy! It had been at the point where she wasn't even able to sit up or walk properly, and now, for the first time she's been to the movies (to see "High School Musical 3") and is able to really play with all of the other kids! She has a colostomy while her colon and intestines heal, and then will have another operation in 6 months to have a proper opening made. Like I said... I am thankful for miracles! (One night in the hospital with her, she told me about what it was like for her when her mom passed away 2 years ago... her mom had been sick for a long time, and as a 10 year old, she went to buy milk and came home to find her mom... the detail with which she recounts the story is heeartbreaking. Closing her mom's eyes for her, calling an ambulence to come take her body, trying to lift her by herself... and then telling her 6 year old sister and suddenly becoming the adult in the family...)

So... to put it mildly, I am blessed and I am thankful.

I also wanted to put up a few pictures of my cottage so that you guys have an idea of where I come home to every night :o) It still needs some details (like the photos I need to frame and hang above the couch) but it's getting there :o)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Best of Intentions

(Photo: waterfalls at the botanical gardens - reminds me of where we used to hike in Utah!)

Once again, I know it's been WAY too long since I've posted an update on life in South Africa. Over the past weeks I've thought to myself over and over, that's something I should write about... And yet never have quite found (or made) the time to actually put it on the blog. From meeting a Zulu prince to attending this really cool outdoor jazz concert in beautiful botanical gardens, to hosting two sets of guests in South Africa, to opening and taking on the management of another home (bringing my region up to 6 homes)... it's been a pretty full 6 weeks since my last post. Oh, and I joined a gym on Friday night (which, for those of you who know me well should be a good indication of what the stress level has been because I have even liked it so far!)

In the midst of so much craziness, God has surrounded me with some pretty amazing people, which has been a saving grace in the past couple of weeks. So good to have those people with whom you can just relax and chat and do nothing...and have it be wonderful! After a particularly trying week earlier this month, Beth and I spent the day at a South African Spa... it was amazing to say the least. That is something I may have to budget for once every few months, though by the end of the day it was kinda like, "If one more person rubs my back...!" So for the price of what would get you a one hour massage in the States... we had a day of no cell phones or Blackberries, and it was perfect!

Last week my pastor's wife and daughter from the States came for a visit. It was such a gift to have friends from home! We made the rounds of Safari, Soweto, and introductions to our miracle kids. The photo on the right is one that I took at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. Is is my favorite place to visit, so peaceful and so full of God. It was the stage for a number of the events that eventually lead to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Parents and students alike used to gather in this church to listen to speakers like Desmond Tutu during the 1970's and early 80's. On June 16th, 1976, when the first Soweto uprising happened, the police stormed the church and started shooting inside - resulting in the deaths of many children. The ceiling still contains bullet holes and the alter is cracked from the butt of a police rifle. I loved that the banners this week read "Be Not Afraid"...

This weekend, Beth and I have turned our monthly "America Night" party (have I mentioned those? Not sure...) into an American-style Halloween Party with pumpkin carving and "fall" foods - corn bread, my stew etc. :o) So, even though it is summer here, we're going to pretend it's harvest time!

This weekend I think I may also finally muster up the courage to visit Sabana's grave. His family chose to bury him in a rural cemetery, and from what I hear it's a beautiful spot with his name carved into a simple cross. I think it may break me, but I also think it's probably about time. Angie (formerly our Operational Director, now a friend!) and I were talking last week about how it is hard to find space to mourn so much of what we see in working with our kids in a country that holds so much. There is always another child and another need, so it is very easy to avoid processing the losses if we choose to.

On a far different note, the nerd in me is a little sad that I won't be in the States for election day. It's just not the same to fill in a piece of paper and send it through a fax machine! I've been sleeping in my Obama shirts as a sign of support from a world away! haha

Okay... off to get ready for bed now. Morning will arrive all too quickly!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spring Has Arrived!

I just realized that I blew it by not posting again the day after my last one, like I said I would. Sorry about that. :)

It is now spring in South Africa and the colors and fragrances are just amazing. I think that this is the first time that I've been here in September and it's just beautiful! The only thing hindering this photo of the incredible purple flowers down the street are the spiked gate and electric fence! :o)

Last Friday we had Sabana's memorial service (I hope it's okay that I include his name now that he is no longer with us???) and it was so wonderful to hear so many people share their thoughts and memories of him. I didn't say anything because I knew I wouldn't be able to get a single word out without doing the "ugly cry". Angie, our director, got up and read Psalm 121 because she knew that it was what I had read each night that he was in ICU and I pretty much lost it. Seven of our older girls (ages 8-12) had asked if they could miss school and come to the service and so I brought them with me. I felt like it would be such a significant experience for them, since they are getting to the stage of asking a lot of questions about the losses that they've experienced themselves. The first time that they had seen me since I had been back, one of them looked at me and the first words out of her mouth were "Are you sad?". I asked what she meant, and she said, matter of factly, "Sabana died. Are you sad?". Then came the barrage of questions from them all about whether I had cried when I found out, and how it was possible that he could die if he had still been hooked up to the machines. They are so curious about death, not having clear memories of the deaths of their moms, but having heard it talked about. They are so carefully observing what grief looks like, not having had a real outlet, or period of acceptance, for their own grief.

During Sabana's service, when I had started to cry, the 10 year old sitting next to me, whose mom had died of AIDS when she was less than 2 years old, saw me crying and just watched my face. Then she nudged the girl sitting next to her to point out that I was crying. After the memorial, another one of our 10 year olds, whose mom died when she was 3, walked over to me and said, "Mommy Kelli, were you crying?". I said "Yes, did you see me?" and she got a tiny smile and said "Yes." That was exactly the reason that I had felt it would be so good to bring them. I want them to see that grief and tears are okay, and that death doesn't mean that God doesn't still do miracles. They had asked why Sabana died if we had been praying, and we had a long chat about the fact that God had a reason for Sabana to be here, and maybe that reason was finished. We talked about Hebrews 13:2, and how God sometimes sends angels to teach us about who He is and give us more trust and more faith...

In other areas of life, all that I can say is that I am blessed. God has provided such a wonderful group of friends for me here... We had another one of our "America Night" parties at Beth's house this weekend. We actually cooked Mexican food though. :o) Through the course of the night, there were probably 20 people who came and went, and it all just reminded me of what phenomenal people I am surrounded by - all so different, but all so amazing!