As you all know, I celebrated my birthday while we were in South Africa. It was one of the most memorable birthdays ever… and for a number of different reasons!
The day before we left for South Africa, our Monday Group planned a surprise Birthday Party for me complete with streamers, cake, candles, a birthday banner, balloons, a specially-decorated birthday seat, flowers, and brand-new grown-up coloring books. And then they ended the night by praying over our family before our South Africa trip.
It meant SO much to me that they’d go to all that effort for me and our family. The best part was that when we walked in and I saw all the decorations, I was feeling terrible that it was someone’s birthday and I didn’t know whose it was.
I thought I must have missed a text or something… And then they all hollered “Happy Birthday” to me as I rounded the corner and I realized that it was MY birthday this week!!
I guess that’s what happens when you turn 34. You start forgetting things right and left — including your own birthday!
The next day, we boarded a plane for the 15-hour flight to South Africa. It was not the calmest of flights — and we arrived in South Africa feeling tired and ready for bed.
But that night and the next morning were hard. As I blogged about before…
- I lost my really important bag with my medicine, supplements, glasses, and contacts at the airport. (They never found it and we can’t figure how or where it disappeared.)
- I had been up for a few hours in the middle of the night with very cranky, jet-lagged kids.
- I had tried to blow dry my hair and burned up the motor my blow dryer + flipped the breaker to a bunch of outlets.
- I was tired, couldn’t see (because of not having contacts), and my head was throbbing because I didn’t have my allergy meds.
Lisa-Jo’s parents had prepared this beautiful breakfast spread for us.
And they gave me this amazing print of South Africa that is now is a special place in our room.
But as you can probably tell from the photo above, I wasn’t feeling well. I was tired, my allergies were acting up, my head was throbbing, and I was feeling stressed about not having my medicine or contacts. I can’t see enough to really function without contacts and I will have throbbing headaches from allergies without my meds.
So I knew it was going to be a really, really bad week if I couldn’t find replacement contacts or medicine. I had soaked my contacts from the day before in contact solution overnight and knew I could probably get one or two more day’s use out of them, but beyond that, I knew I was going to be in trouble.
And then our kids were having a very hard time waking up. They had bad attitudes, they were crabby, and they plain just didn’t want to get going.
We finally all got out the door and then Silas threw up.
It felt like it was starting off to be the worst birthday ever. I had so looked forward to being in South Africa. We’d been planning this trip for months. I’d been giddy with excitement about bringing my family here. But honestly, I was trying so hard to choose joy, but wondering if maybe we’d made a big mistake in coming to South Africa.
I decided that instead of being frustrated over things I couldn’t change or fix, I instead was just going to trust God and rest that He was going before me in this. And it was beautiful to see how the day ended up being so much better than I could have ever imagined!
Our first stop was to visit this wood-working shop. I was utterly blown away. Like I wanted to squeal and cry all at once.
You see, when I was in South Africa in January, we had many discussions about the possibilities of helping the locals learn more marketable skills (most can’t think of jobs outside of being domestic workers or security guards or gardeners).
It was just a dream in January, now they have a real live work-working workshop, suppliers, trainees, and customers!!
And they have big, big visions of how this small operation might someday be a big scale operation making a huge difference in the lives of this very needy community!!
This is Peet. He is spear-heading the new wood-working shop. I wanted to stay and talk to him all day long!
I was so inspired and challenged by his passion, compassion, and vision. This wood-working shop is located in a very poor area of South Africa (Hammanskraal) and the long-term goal is to train and equip young entrepreneurs and provide a desperately-needed source of income for this community.
I wish you could have met Peet! He not only wants to teach South Africans craftsmanship, but he wants to help them develop a strong work ethic, a commitment to excellence, and an entrepreneurial spirit — three things that are not commonly taught or exemplified to the young people in this area.
As we left the shop, Peet handed me this beautiful tray that he had made especially for me. I was touched beyond words and cannot wait to display this new piece of South Africa in our home. It will serve as a constant reminder to me to pray for Peet and his family for God to richly bless their self-sacrificial efforts to make an impact in this community.
Next, we drove to Reagoboka — where a crowd of children had been waiting for quite a long while to greet us.
And I got to see the first on-the-ground glimpse at the two-room classroom that YOU ALL HELPED TO BUILD.
Again, I was blown away. Again, I didn’t know whether to cry or squeal. I had goosebumps and was overcome with emotion.
Because folks, it’s utterly humbling to think that God would use me — the girl who never went to college, the girl who was shy and insecure, the girl who still struggles with anxiety, the girl who is often a hot mess — to be a part of making this classroom possible.
There aren’t adequate words to describe how humbling and exhilarating it feels. As I wrote when we were in South Africa:
Each of you who bought a copy of Make Over Your Mornings the day it launched helped pay for the bricks and the concrete and the local labor and the classroom supplies to build this brand-new two-room classroom!!! And we got to unveil it to the teachers and children this week.
It. Was. Amazing!!! To think that all of us together are having a little part in making a BIG difference in this community of very vulnerable children — it’s surreal, humbling, and goose-bump-inducing.
THANK YOU for partnering with me to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this project!!! I wish you could have been there to share in the excitement and see and hear the gratitude they expressed to us.
And then there were no words to describe how beautiful it was to see my husband and kids falling in love with everyone in South Africa, too.
Be still my heart.
My boy, Silas, was very nervous about this trip. He doesn’t do new or change or different very well. He’s shy. He introverted. And he would usually prefer to be right next to his mama when we’re in unfamiliar situations.
So when I looked over and saw this, my mama heart just about broke in two.
These boys put their arms around Silas, held hands with him, and embraced him — like they knew he was awkward and shy and they wanted to make sure he felt welcome and one of them. It was beyond beautiful.
Seeing my kids face their fears, jump outside their comfort zone, and love beyond language barriers was one of the greatest gifts I could ever have been given as a mom.
And just as I suspected, they fell madly in love with these kids — just like I had in January!
Brian, my manager and friend (who came with us on this trip) fell in love with these kids, too! As I knew he would!
After spending time with the kids — singing and dancing and hearing them share some special songs, it was time to get the classrooms ready to unveil to them.
We had brought a number of special items to outfit the classrooms (all that your contributions helped to pay for — including furnishings, school supplies, and more.)
We all helped to get everything situated so that we could unveil the classrooms.
We took a before picture — this is the classroom that all of the kids had been squeezing into and taking turns using. I’d say the may have outgrown it just a bit. 🙂
These pictures don’t really need explaining do they?? I can’t begin to tell you how excited the teachers and kids were. It was SUCH an amazing experience!!
Truly, the best birthday gift a girl could ever wish for. I kept feeling like pinching myself thinking, “I can’t believe I’m really here! I can’t believe this is really happening!”
Aren’t these classroom colors so fun??
We brought some fun toys and dress up clothes for the kids — which they had a blast trying out and trying on!
And then we all put our handprints on a poster board that they are going to paint and put up in the classrooms… so that we left a little piece of us back in South Africa! 🙂
That night, they had planned a beautiful party for me. And while the day started on such a bad note, by the end of it, there were no words to describe just how blessed and happy I felt. I think this picture speaks a thousand words.
It was worth all the effort to get to South Africa. It was worth the tiredness and the mishaps and the throw up and the cranky children.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And it truly was the best birthday a girl could have ever hoped for.