The first time I attended a blog conference was a strange experience. I’d only been blogging for a few months, and only a handful of friends and a few random “Internet people” ever clicked their way to my site. I didn’t know a thing about SEO, HTML or this new thing called “Twitter.” I didn’t know anyone at the conference, and I certainly didn’t know who was “blog famous.” I spent the weekend nervous, sweaty and otherwise awkward but still managed to create a Twitter account, change the name of my blog, and make a few friends.
I also met my first “blogging celebrity.”
That sounds crazy to the majority of the world, I know. This idea of blogging celebrities is silly or weird or just plain made-up. But the fact is, just as every industry has its superstars, so do blogging and social media. And at that time, in my circle (of female Christian bloggers), Shannon Lowe was A Big Deal. She was a great writer and a mom who made parenting sound both funny and significant, and she went on the first Compassion blogging trip.
When I fell down the rabbit hole of blogs, clicking from one site to another as I soaked up women who were brilliant and passionate and funny and encouraging and still, in some ways, just like me, Shannon’s blog was one of the first I stumbled onto. And because was back in the day when I had seemingly endless hours to surf the Internet just for fun, I not only read her new posts but went back and read all the old ones — including the ones she wrote from Uganda, on her trip with Compassion.
What I read on her blog — and, consequently, what I read on others’ blogs about other trips with Compassion — opened my eyes in a way I was not expecting. Prior to that season I’d had precious little exposure to true poverty, to the conditions of much of the world, to the enormous amount of work being done for people in need around the world, to the countless ways those same people could teach and inspire and move me. I had no idea . . . until I read Shannon’s blog.
And once I did, once my eyes were opened, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know any better; I couldn’t return to the time when I was blind and blissful. I now knew things, and God was using those bits and pieces of knowledge to poke and prod at my heart. He was taking the sharp edges of truth to prune and shape my soul. He was changing me and my heart and, in small ways at first, the entire course of my life.
Not that I knew any of that more than seven years ago, when I walked up to Shannon after a breakout session. Unsurprising to anyone who knows me, I cried when I met her and tried to articulate the thoughts and feelings I’d had since reading her blog. I’m pretty sure it came out in a bunch of sobs and snorts that were nothing short of mortifying. She was kind and gracious and pretended like I was speaking coherently about my gratitude for her writing. I left and haven’t seen her since — but I’m still feeling the impact of her words today.
In the years since then I’ve learned about and fallen in love with and had the opportunity to support many other amazing organizations doing incredible work to help people. Compassion is still my first love, but I’m frequently and consistently blown away by the needs in this world — and the people and groups giving their all to meet those needs. Of course, I’m often more inclined to understand or appreciate or promote the work being done by my personal friends. And my very favorite example of that is Mercy House.
Kristen Welch is a friend, a fellow (in)courage writer, and a Compassion bloggers trip veteran. She’s also the founder of Mercy House, an organization that started with a maternity home for pregnant teens in Kenya and is now a global organization engaging, empowering and discipling women around the world. It’s been AMAZING to watch Kristen and her family say “yes” to God, over and over, through so many challenges, to serving others in their own community and around the world.
I’ve supported Mercy House since its beginning in various ways. Mostly small ways. But this year, this summer, I get to work closer with the organization than I would have ever dreamed. This summer, I’m going to Africa with Mercy House.
When I read the post about the Mercy House Vision Trip, I thought, “Oh, that sounds fun! I should apply for that!” But since I know Kristen and it actually seemed like they were accepting anyone who applied, I called Mark before filling out the form. I said, “Hey, what do you think about this?” and he said, “Sounds cool. Go for it!”
Guys. I’m pretty sure neither one of us expected me to be chosen or qualified or selected for this trip. We weren’t sure what the process was, but seriously. What were the odds that I’d get the go-ahead for A TRIP TO AFRICA? I mean. I don’t do things like that! And even though I’d indicated my interest many (MANY) times in the Compassion trips, I was never chosen. So I never expected this to be any different.
I was wrong. It was very different!
The trip was open, and anyone could apply to travel to Kenya with Kristen’s family. Though I wasn’t one of the first to apply, when they got to my name, spots were still open. And so, a few months ago, I received an email. It said that if I’d like to go to Kenya with Mercy House, I simply needed to say yes and fill out some paperwork and send a deposit in the next week.
I simply needed to say yes.
WHAT THE WHAT??? You guys, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I FREAKED OUT. You mean this decision was UP TO ME? I got to choose whether or not I went to AFRICA or not? WHAT???
I tried to find reasons to say no. Even though I kept crying about how amazing it would be and even though I’d be longing to do something like this for the past several years. Even though I wanted to go, I tried to find a reason to say no.
I told my parents about it, asking if they could keep my girls while I would be gone. I watched their faces carefully for any indication that they were against this crazy idea. I talked to my husband, going ’round and ’round about all the details and things and feelings, begging him to tell me if he’d resent me for going — for going without him, for leaving our kids for so long, for investing so much of our money. And these people? They really let me down. My parents and my husband just said, “If you think this is something God is calling you to do, then do it.”
Do it? Just like that? Just write a check and send an email AND GO TO AFRICA?
I don’t think so. Nothing is that simple, that easy. And why was I going anyway? Just to say I’d done it? To cross it off a bucket list? To feel good about myself, for kinda-sorta doing something to help people while also, you know, getting to go on an Africa safari? Was I being selfish? We were trying to sell our house and buy a new one; our budget was already pretty tight. Should I do this? WHO DOES THIS?
I talked it to death with my husband, and I sat in stupefied silence with God. I literally made a list of all the reasons this whole thing scared me and was generally a bad idea. But in the end, I could not come up with a good reason to say no.
And so I said yes.
In just a couple weeks (OH MY GOSH, A COUPLE WEEKS!) I will get on a plane and fly for a million hours to the other side of the world. Okay, not a million hours. But between July 11 and July 22, I think I’ll log about 50 hours on a plane. By then I’ll have gotten immunizations and comfortable walking shoes, and with my brand-new passport and bug spray in hand, I’ll travel further than I’ve ever gone before. Then I’ll spend one week in Kenya with a group of people I’ve never met but anticipate becoming friends with very quickly, visiting slums and maternity homes, meeting young moms and their babies and the incredible people ministering to them with Mercy House.
Despite the blog posts and books I’ve read, the videos I’ve watched, or the people I’ve talked with, I have no idea what this trip will be like. I have no idea how it will affect me. I have no idea who I will be when I return. It still seems unreal and a little bit ridiculous; I vacillate between feeling terrified and forgetting that I’m going, between being out-of-my-mind excited to being overwhelmingly anxious.
But I still can’t find a reason why I should have said no. And so, I’m going.
If you are interested in learning more about Mercy House, visit MercyHouseGlobal.org or watch this short documentary created by Dayspring. And if you’d like to support my trip financially, I’ve set up a fundraising page here. I would be so grateful for your help.
(And no matter what, I’d appreciate your prayers — now, during and after my trip!)
Have you ever faced a decision or an opportunity that was surprising or scary? One where you looked for a reason to say no — but couldn’t find one? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!