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Tag Archive: South Africa as a Family

A big dream of mine come true!

Welcome to my series all about our recent family trip to South Africa in July. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

One of the highlights of our trip to South Africa was getting to see a big dream of mine come to fruition. This story is years in the making. I’ve only been a part of it for the past 4 years. But it started well before that.

And you all played a really big part in this story, even though you may not have known it.

This beautiful lady standing right next to me is Elizabeth. She is one of the most vivacious, energetic, joyful, and faith-filled women I have ever met. She runs the Reagoboka Drop-in Centre and Early Childhood Development Centre — a centre founded by her mom many years ago that serves the most needy and vulnerable children in this community.

Elizabeth, her two sons, and Gogo Elizabeth

The first time I met Elizabeth and her mother, back in 2014, I was pretty blown away. Here’s what I wrote about that experience:

[When we pulled up to the] Reagoboka Drop-in Centre and Early Childhood Development Centre, sparks of hope came hitting at us from all directions. Elizabeth, the beaming leader of these centers came running out to greet us.

She was excitedly laughing and exclaiming over and over again about all of the wonderful things happening in their centers. She was the epitome of hope.

But here’s the thing: in many people’s eyes, she shouldn’t have hope. In fact, she should be exhausted, overwhelmed, and discouraged. She’s worked incredibly hard, managed what little she has well, and has poured out herself for her community.

In the process, she’s hit roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. Lisa-Jo shared more of her story tonight and you must go read it right now.

Because Elizabeth has chosen to persevere in spite of the odds, because she’s chosen to make the most of the little she has, because she’s chosen to do all she can to make an impact in her community, literally hundreds of children have been fed, cared for, loved on, and invested in over these past years she’s been running the home.

And we got to meet these children and we were blown away by the joy in their faces, the spark in their eyes, and zest they all have for life.

We played with the children, held the little ones, met the incredible team of Care Givers, asked lots of questions, saw their tiny facilities and how they are making the most of them for the 100+ children they currently help, and ate lunch with them.

The children were all smiles and hugs and the Care Givers were laughing and playing with the kids and exclaiming to us how much they loved working with the children and helping the community. All around, we saw hope bursting forth. I was contagious and inspiring.

And it was all because one woman chose to not be overwhelmed by her limited circumstances, but to do what she could, with what she had.

She has not only inspired and impacted countless families in this community, but her life will forever impact mine.

As I learned more of Elizabeth and Gogo’s story, I was humbled, inspired, and deeply moved. You can read a more detailed version of their story here, but the basic details are that this centre was started by Elizabeth’s mother and she was running it from her own home with her own pension money.

This centre provides nutritious food, educational support, social activities, leadership training, and discipleship and serves 100 to 200 of the most vulnerable kids in this community every week.

They didn’t have space in Gogo’s small house to teach and help all of these kids, but they made the decision to trust God and never turn a child away. They only had one small classroom so they would rotate classes — one class at a time — in order to accommodate all of the children with the little space they had.

God always provided for them. They gave the little that they had and it made such an impact.

The chief of their village saw what amazing work they were doing and gave them the land next door to Gogo’s house. When we visited in 2014, Gogo and Elizabeth shared this with me and told me how they believed God was going to provide a building for them.

They believed this so strongly that they had even drawn plans up for this building.

In our very affluent culture, it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around just how crazy this whole idea was. They barely had enough money to pay their basic expenses and were living in complete faith to have enough to pay for feeding and teaching all of these children who were coming to their centre. They didn’t know anyone who would be in a position to help them out financially or have the money to help them with this building.

But they had faith that God was going to provide.

And as I stood on the land with them and looked at the plans and heard their vision for this building, I knew God was calling me to step into this story and be a part of it.

I came home and Jesse and I talked about what this would look like. We decided to give away 25% of all of the proceeds from the Make Over Your Mornings launch.

Your purchases on that launch day helped pay for the bricks and the concrete and the local labor and the classroom supplies to build a brand-new two-room classroom! And we got to unveil it to the teachers and children on our second trip to South Africa in October, 2014. (Read all about that unveiling here.)

As I wrote on that trip:

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.

But a two-room classroom was just the start. We had hopes and dreams of building a large building that would house more classrooms, a kitchen, offices, storage, meeting rooms, and more. 

We designated a percentage of the profits from some more product launches to this, we gave money we had in savings, we got friends to help give toward this, and we prayed and did more product launches.

It was a much longer process than I had envisioned. When we went to South Africa for the third time (in September 2015), the building was close to finished, but still needed quite a bit of work and there were quite a bit more funds needed to finish it out.

But God continued to provide and continued to bless our business and put it on the hearts of others to give to the building fund, too.

And a few weeks ago, I got to stand in those beautifully completed buildings and see how God had brought me to South Africa four years ago to be the answer to Elizabeth and Gogo’s many prayers.

Gogo passed away this year, but not before getting to see the fulfillment and answer to her prayers in those buildings! We felt her presence and prayers there as we stood in the completed buildings and marveled at what God has done.

And here are some of the pictures from our trip… I think they speak more than words ever could!

Gogo’s house — where she and Elizabeth were running the centre out of!

The new buildings!

Here was the outdoor kitchen they were using before.

The above are pictures of the new kitchen — it was pretty amazing!

A peek inside the new building. Aren’t the colors so fun??

(Gogo’s picture is prominently displayed — and this tree has all of our family’s handprints on it!)

There is a conference room that they host different groups in as well as have staff meetings.

I get teary-eyed just looking at these photos. To think of what God has done. I never could have dreamed or imagined!

Also, if you have bought one of my products in the last few years or visited my site and signed up for an offer or bought through an affiliate link, you have been part of this story, too, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you! ❤️

Is there something you are being called to do that might feel really scary and uncomfortable? Step out in faith today and say “yes”. You never know how your willingness might end up being the answer to years of prayer from someone else!

Lessons from South Africa: Get Up and Do the Work!

Inspiring lessons from South Africa: Get up and just do the work!

Welcome to my series all about our recent family trip to South Africa in July. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

One of my favorite places to visit on our trip to South Africa was the Angels of Grace Day Care Centre. We hadn’t been there before and it was this adorable centre run by a beautiful woman named, Sinah.

They warned us before we went in that some of the little kids would likely cry because they aren’t used to seeing white people. But while there were definitely some kids who cried, others were so happy and willing to let us hold them!

I loved watching my kids get to love on these precious kiddos.

My heart just melted seeing my girls connect with these babies and toddlers!

The buildings are so well kept up and you could tell that the workers truly loved the kids and the kids had such a connection with them.

Take Action Ministry had recently hosted a work day with people from local churches and they had painted the buildings in these bright colors and fun designs!

These are their current toilets. Sinah is making the bricks and they are slowly building a new bathroom for the kids.

Sinah was such an inspiring woman. Not only does she love on these kids so well, she also keeps her centre in tip-top shape and made all of the bricks for all of the buildings herself!

Here she is showing us the new bathrooms being built — with the bricks she made.

As I saw her energy and zest for life and how she makes the most of everything, even though she has very little financial resources, I was intrigued why she would be so motivated to run this centre, keep it so immaculate, work so hard to make a difference in this poor community, make bricks, and oversee building projects.

So I asked her something like, “What motivates you? Why are you doing this?”

She looked at me and matter of factly said, “There’s work to be done so I get up and do the work.”

Ya’ll, we need more people like Sinah in this world.

People who don’t sit around and wait for things to be handed to them.

People who don’t complain about how hard their life is or how unfair it is or how little they have.

People who seize the opportunity — no matter how little — in front of them and run with it.

People who are willing to put in the hard, hard work to make a difference.

My life will forever be impacted as a result of meeting Sinah. And I’m so grateful that we can have a little part in coming alongside and supporting her through Take Action Ministry.

Why We Would Spend Money to Go to South Africa With Our Kids

Welcome to my two-week series all about our recent family trip to South Africa. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

Thinking of traveling abroad with your kids? Read this for encouragement and perspective!

Many people have asked us why we would spend the money to take our whole family to South Africa. It’s a very valid question — especially when I have a blog called 🙂

Well, first off, when you stay with friends and they are kind enough to graciously provide your food and transportation and you get a great deal on plane tickets, it’s not at all as expensive as people would assume.

But, at the same time, it is definitely not cheap, so why would we spend the money on a trip halfway around the world? For starters, I wrote a post on three reasons we take our kids to South Africa here. Those reasons were a big driving force behind why we took our kids to South Africa a second time.

There were three other reasons, too:

1. We’ve chosen to prioritize life-changing experiences in our budget.

In January of 2015, I boarded an 18-hour flight to South Africa with my friends, Lisa-Jo and Joy. The trip itself was SO far outside my comfort zone (I had never been on a plane for more than 5 hours and had never really traveled internationally) and I had no idea what to expect.

On that trip, I fell madly in love with the people of South Africa, I discovered that I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, I found out that I’m a lot more extroverted than I realized I was, I made dear friends, I learned so much from people whose lives are very different than mine, and our family found a calling and passion to come alongside and support the amazing work that Take Action Ministry is doing.

Since that trip, South Africa has become like a second home to me. It’s why I’ve been there four times in the past four years. And it’s why every time I go, it never feels like enough.

Our heartbeat for so much of why we do what we do — why I blog, why we produce products, why we seek to be strategic with the business and wise with our personal funds — is so we can give generously to the needs in South Africa and elsewhere.

I am forever changed. Our family is forever changed. Because of what we’ve learned and experienced in South Africa.

And that’s why we prioritize making this trip as often as we can.

2. We want to be motivated to remember our “why”.

The South Africans have taught us what true giving looks like — even when you have almost nothing to give.

They have taught us what warm hospitality looks like — giving up your time and vacation days and your bedroom and sleep to host us!

They have taught us what contentment and joy looks like — even when you live without power and water in a tiny shack.

They have shown us what faith looks like — when you believe God can do big things despite having almost zero resources.

And they have given us incredible purpose. To live beneath our means so we can give generously. To be strategic and wise stewards of our time and money and opportunities in order to be able to help out as many people as possible.

Being with these people reminds us of what really matters in life. And it gives us fresh perspective and deeper empathy and a greater understanding of how to love others well.

3. We want to do more than just give money.

Our family invests a significant portion of our income every month to help fund Take Action Ministry. And while money is very important, we want the team there to know that we are with them in the work they are doing.

While we aren’t called to live in South Africa right now, traveling there regularly to be with our friends there, to celebrate their progress, hear of their struggles, see the work first-hand, and just hang out with them and spend time together is so valuable.

More than anything, people who are sacrificing so much need to know that they aren’t alone. That there are people who care deeply about the work they are doing. That they have friends who are praying and celebrating — even if they live thousands of miles away.

I think it’s easy to forget this. To think that people just need financial support. But as our friends in South Africa have taught us: relationships are so much more valuable than financial support ever could be.

Let me tell you, going to South Africa for the second time with our kids was really incredible!

Our first trip to South Africa as a family was good but still pretty overwhelming for the kids. They struggled with the time change, the jet lag, the new foods, the different schedules, the language barriers… everything was so foreign to them and it was rough on many days of the trip.

This time around, there were still the unknowns and variables and challenges that come along with international travel, but all three kids handled it like champs. Every day, we went to new places and they got to meet and hang out with new people from a variety of backgrounds.

I saw them walk into these situations with confidence and grace. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and playing it safe, they jumped in and played full out.

And it was so beautiful to witness. Once again, they demonstrated that you don’t have to speak the same language fluently to communicate love.

One of our heart’s desires is to raise kids who realize there is a big, big world out there and there is so much we can learn from everyone in it — no matter what language they speak or background they come from. Traveling outside our “American bubble” is one way we’re seeking to begin nurturing this understanding in them.

(By the way, the kids are begging that we not only go back to South Africa next year, but can we please visit another continent next year, too? Even my child who is very scared to fly commented and said, “Well, now that I got that 18-hour flight over with, I think I can fly just about anywhere. So please can we travel more??” As you can imagine, that put a great big smile on my face! ?)

I don’t know what the future holds for our kids. I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach our family’s crazy goal of traveling to all 7 continents by the time Kathrynne is 18. But I do know that the money we invested to take this trip to South Africa was every bit worth it.

In fact, I’d say that the return on our investment has been pretty near priceless!

What I Pack in My Backpack for International Trips

Welcome to my two-week series all about our recent family trip to South Africa. I’m recounting some of our favorite experiences, lessons we learned, travel tips, and some of the most memorable stories and takeaways. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.

This post contains affiliate links and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. Read our disclosure policy here.

I shared a peek into my backpack on Instagram Stories before we left for South Africa and so many of you asked if I could give links to the products and post more details. So, here is the much-requested post with all the details on what I pack in my backpack for international trips.

First off, you want to find a sturdy backpack that is specifically designed for the wear and tear of travel.

After a lot of research, I bought this OGIO Renegade International backpack on Amazon and I absolutely love it. It’s the perfect size to be able to carry everything I need to carry — and it has a very protective pouch for my laptop. It’s also not too large or bulky and fits under the seat of every plane I’ve been on.

In the largest zippered section, I usually bring:

  • my books I’m reading or plan to read on the plane (yes, I’m weird and travel with real books — I just can’t bring myself to switch to a device for reading!) some magazines I’ve gotten for free (I leave these on the plane after I read them)
  • socks (in case my feet get cold on the long flight)
  • my travel blanket
  • my travel pillow (I sometimes bring this one, too, depending upon the flight)
  • If you are not bringing a carry-on with you on the plane, I would also recommend including a complete change of clothes + basic toiletries in your backpack (I’ll share what I put in my bathroom/toiletries bag in a post in a few days) so that you can brush your teeth/wash your face on the plane + change your clothes, if need be. In addition, if your luggage gets lost, at least you’ll have some basic things until they find or replace your luggage.

In the next zippered section, I pack:

  • My wallet & passport (I also usually stick my phone here — it’s not pictured since I was using it to take these photos!)
  • Snacks (you never know when you’ll get hungry or if the food will be good on the plane or not)
  • An eye mask for better sleeping

In the top pouch, I pack my earbuds and adaptors for the plane, if needed (Some of the South African Airways flights have two-pronged headphone jacks and you need an adaptor for them.)

I absolutely LOVE these earbuds and have had them for a few years and used them incessantly! They are so lightweight but so high quality and do a great job at noise-cancelling.

In the top zippered pouch, I keep my sunglasses. This is a really sturdy pouch and can’t be crushed — which is great for something like sunglasses or a small camera.

In the side pouches, I pack phone chargers.

In the front zippered pouch, I pack:

  • Wet wipes + antibacterial wipes (these are so handy for lots of things — including wiping down your tray and space on the plane right when you board + to use as toilet paper if you’re going to a location where there might not be toilet paper in most bathrooms)
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Listerine Strips — these are the BEST and I always bring them when I travel
  • Lotion
  • A pen/pencils
  • Lip balm
  • Tissues
  • I had the medicine bag in another bag on this trip, but if I wasn’t traveling with others, I would also pack basic medicines in this pouch — sleeping meds, Dramamine, stomach meds, essential oils, ibuprofen, etc.

In another side pouch, I pack a bag of tea bags. Since I don’t drink coffee anymore and there isn’t always decaf tea readily available, I like to have these on hand to make my own (I ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water and cream).

I pack my sinus rinse bottle in another side pouch because I have found that rinsing out my sinuses once a day has made such a difference for my allergies and is one of the reasons I’m no longer on allergy medication! (And yes, I totally bring bottled water or get some on the plane and rinse out my nose in the airplane bathroom!)

And then my computer and computer cord goes in the computer pouch.

I love that this backpack has a luggage handle pass-through, too!

And there you have it — everything I packed in my backpack for our trip to South Africa (which is pretty much what I usually pack on any international trip!)

What else would YOU pack in your backpack for an international trip? Am I missing anything that you think is a necessity? I’d love to hear!

If you enjoy posts on international travel, be sure to also check out the following posts I’ve written on the topic:

Planning a long trip? This list of carry-on backpack essentials is really helpful for international flights!

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before We Went to South Africa

As I told you a few days ago, I’m going to spend the most of the next two weeks here sharing all about our recent family trip to South Africa. There are so many beautiful stories to share from our time there, but I wanted to start this series from the very top — by sharing some practical lessons I learned on this trip when it comes specifically to international travel.

I’ve done some international travel in the past few years (this was my fourth trip to South Africa in four years + I also took a trip to Rome and Israel) and, each time, I learn new tricks and tips for international travel. If you are a seasoned pro at international travel, these tips will likely be ones that are incredibly obvious and no-brainer to you.

But I wanted to share these with those of you who might not be seasoned travelers and might be planning an international trip in the future. There were things I wish someone had told me these things ahead of time and (for the most part) had to discover the hard way:

1. Check Your Seat Assignments on the Airline’s Website

We flew through South African Airways this time and had booked through a third-party website because the prices were much cheaper to do so. However, we didn’t realize that the seats we chose on that website wouldn’t transfer over to South African Airways and that we actually needed to get on the SAA website to book our seats.

We accidentally discovered this about two days before our flights — when we happened to get online and check something and saw that we had no assigned seats! Gratefully, we were able to choose seats that were decent even though it was so close to the departure date, but had we waited until we showed up at the airport, we could have ended up with really bad seats that weren’t together — because our flight there ended up being 100% booked.

So lesson learned: Always double check your seat assignments on the actual airline’s site as soon as you book and then maybe double-check again the week of your flight. (Yes, I’m one of those weird people that typically double and triple checks things, just to be sure!)

2. Find Out if There is a Weight Limit for Carry-ons (Before You Pack!)

This was probably my biggest mistake of the trip. The thought never crossed my mind to check if there was a weight limit for carry-ons.

I guess this is a really common thing for international flights, but I think that SAA hadn’t either enforced this or had this policy the first time I flew to South Africa. Then, we flew Delta the last two times to South Africa and they don’t have weight limits for carry-ons. When we fly domestically, we almost always fly American Airlines, which also doesn’t have weight limits for carry-ons.

So, believe it or not, I’d never encountered a situation where an airline had a weight limit for carry-ons. Which meant that I never thought to check on this ahead of time.

I was so thrilled at how “well” I had packed and how I had easily fit everything into my backpack and carry-on for this trip. Everyone had packed the same: one backpack and one carry-on. I thought we were being so smart and efficient. Ahem.

Then we got up to the check-in counter and I saw all of the signs about the weight limit for carry-ons and knew that my grand plan wasn’t going to work so well! They had to weigh every single backpack and carry-on suitcase and Jesse and my carry-on were way over the limit.

However, the good news is that we got a free checked bag per person since we were traveling internationally and we had only planned to check one bag (see more on that below). Since we were able to check up to five bags for free and only Jesse’s carry-on and my carry-on were over the weight limit, we didn’t have to pay anything extra. I did, however, rearrange a few things and pull out an extra outfit — just in case I needed it while on the plane or something (remember, I’m the girl with the mantra of, “Always be prepared.” :))

3. Don’t Put Valuables in Your Checked Luggage

I made another very newbie sort of mistake here: we brought a big suitcase full of gifts for the team in South Africa and the bag included two brand-new laptops and wireless security cameras that one of them had ordered and shipped to our house for us to bring as that was less expensive than having it shipped to South Africa.

In past trips, we’d had multiple items stolen from our carry-on luggage on the flights — mostly small, brand-new items that we had purchased in South Africa. Because of this and because I thought it made more practical sense, our big suitcase had all of the gifts in it, including the laptops and wireless security cameras.

Well, when we showed up in South Africa, the big suitcase wasn’t there. It didn’t come out with the rest of the luggage. It wasn’t in the oversized luggage. It wasn’t anywhere. We went and talked to the customer service counter and they looked, too, and couldn’t find it.

We’re not sure where it was, but no one could locate it until three days later! And I was pretty sick that they we had put all those valuables in it.

More on this story below, but the short of it that they did finally locate it and everything was still in it (gratefully!), but from now on, I am going to do the best I can to make sure that any valuables are in our carry-on luggage (which will also be under weight limit!) and we’ll keep a very close eye on them throughout the flight to make sure nothing is stolen in flight.

4. Don’t Assume That Your In-Seat TV Will Work

Our flight to South Africa was 18 hours long. I’ve done this (or a similar flight) 8 times now and I can tell you that that is a LOT of hours to be confined to an economy seat on an plane! 🙂

I try to sleep at least 7-8 of those hours, I usually read for at least 3-4 hours, and then I typically watch at least one or two movies to help pass the time.

This time around, on our first flight, my in-seat TV had all sorts of issues and only worked for a tiny bit of the flight. I asked the flight attendants to reset it twice and it would work for a little bit and then stop working. I finally gave up on trying to make it work.

Next time around when I have a long international flight, I’ll prepare for this possibility by making sure my phone is stocked with some great podcasts to listen to and some things to read or watch, just as a backup.

5. Be Persistent When It Comes to Customer Service

This isn’t something I wished I had known before we left for South Africa as much as it is a continuation of something I’ve been working on in my my life and that is: stating my needs and being gracious but persistent in asking for help. I had a lot of reatopportunities to practice this on our trip!

When our bag was lost, we filed a claim with the customer service rep at the SAA desk in South Africa. They acted like this was enough, that we didn’t need to do anything else, and they’d keep us posted.

But after we didn’t hear anything from for 24 hours, we decided to email their customer service with specific details on our bag and the contents. They said they would check on it again and that our claim was in the system and we would be notified when they found anything about the bag. But again, we didn’t hear any updates for hours.

So, even Jesse thought I was being a little bit too aggressive, I said we needed to call them and try again with a different customer service representative. Well, guess what? Because of that phone call, a customer service rep got on the ball and sent emails out about our bag to multiple department, and within 12 hours, they had located the bag! We’re still not sure what happened, but we were SO grateful that it was finally located — and that all of the contents were still there!

Yes, it felt sort of like we were badgering them or being impatient to keep contacting them, but I don’t know that our bag would have gotten found had we not been persistent and kept contacting them until we found someone who seemed to really take it seriously.

Be gracious, but don’t be afraid to be persistent if it seems like you’re not getting the help you need.

A few more tips and suggestions gleaned from this trip:

Have a Chill Day Before and After Your Flight Day: This time around, we decided to fly to DC and spend 24 hours there and then fly to South Africa. On the way home, we spent 24 hours in DC before flying home. I felt like this made the trip as a whole more relaxing and helped us transition better on both ends. We would definitely do this again if it worked out and the price was significantly cheaper.

Wash & Moisturize Your Face on the Plane: When you’re on a long flight, I recommend washing your face and moisturizing it in the airplane bathroom before you go to sleep on the plane. Then, a few hours before the plane lands, wash and moisturize your face again and do your makeup. You’ll feel more awake and your skin won’t feel dry and parched! Plus, it makes you feel a little less grungy when you land!

Have Everyone in Be Charge of Their Own Luggage: Since our kids are 13, 11, and 9, we had them be completely in charge of their own luggage this time around. They packed their bags, with a little oversight from me, and then they were in charge of lugging them everywhere we went. This made it so easy — and it kept things organized and simple. We just always made sure that everyone had a backpack and carry-on bag + our checked bag and we were good to go.

By the way, I had everyone pack a travel blanket, travel pillow, eye mask, hand sanitizer, tissues, baby wipes, head phones, snacks, lotion, lip gloss, and a few activities for the plane in their backpack. That way, they didn’t have to ask me for anything other than nausea/sleeping meds on the flight. It really helped everyone be self-sufficient and have what they needed.

What are your best tips for long international flights? I’d love to hear!

These international flying tips are invaluable! Read this before you take your next trip!

Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing all the details on what I pack in my backpack for international trips.

If you enjoy posts on international travel, be sure to also check out the following posts I’ve written on the topic:

The Best Birthday Present A Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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 Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Lisa-Jo’s parents had prepared this beautiful breakfast spread for us.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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!!

The Birthday Gift a Girl Could Ever Hope For

As I wrote when we were in South Africa:

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Next, we drove to Reagoboka — where a crowd of children had been waiting for quite a long while to greet us.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

And just as I suspected, they fell madly in love with these kids — just like I had in January!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

Brian, my manager and friend (who came with us on this trip) fell in love with these kids, too! As I knew he would!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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.

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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.)

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We all helped to get everything situated so that we could unveil the classrooms.

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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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. 🙂
The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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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!”
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Aren’t these classroom colors so fun??

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

We brought some fun toys and dress up clothes for the kids — which they had a blast trying out and trying on!

The Best Birthday Present a Girl Could Ever Hope For

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! 🙂

The Best Birthday Gift a Girl Could Ever Wish For

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.