Each weekend of my travel includes at least two taxi cab rides, to and from the airport in our destination city. There’s an ongoing little game I play… trying to guess the country our cab driver is from based on his accent. I’m pretty good with accents, particularly African ones. They sound similar but I’m getting pretty adept at distinguishing the dialects and naming their country’s origin. My friend Ronda gets a kick out of it and always goads me on.

This weekend we had a few extra cab rides than our usual. Arriving in St Paul, MN, five of us climbed into a van cab. Our driver, Adama, had a thick African accent… but I couldn’t quite place it. “Senegal”, he said. I guessed West Africa. So at least I was close.

We were excited to be in the twin cities. After all,
Minneapolis / St. Paul is home of the illustrious Mall of America! So, a few of us hailed a cab and headed to the monstrous mecca of shops. Climbing into our taxi, I immediately had to laugh. Our cabby was far from African. White-skinned and white-haired, plump rosy cheeks and a Minnesotan accent so thick I was sure we’d landed in a scene from Fargo. Yep, he was an actual local. And quite eager to tell us ALL about his town.

After a few hours of wide-eyed mall-trekking, standing amazed before an actual roller coaster inside the mall and buying a new pair of shoes because the ones I was wearing had turned my toes into Fred Flintstone nubs… we decided to head back to the hotel. Thankfully, right outside the main entrance was a convenient line of green & white cabs just waiting for our beck-and-call.

The first cab in line pulled up and we climbed inside. The cabby was on the phone and only paused for a second to ask, “Where to?” We replied, “Crown Plaza…” “Downtown?” he asked while still on the phone and in between sentences. “Yes”, I replied from the front seat. “On Kellogg… you know where that is?” “Sure-sure”, he replied gruffly. I obviously was an intrusion to his important phone conversation.

He proceeded to screech out of the mall parking lot… and head to the highway. And the three of us (Beverly and Ronda in the back seat, me up front) proceeded to get uncontrollable giggles, the result of our driver talking VERY LOUDLY on his cell phone. And when I say LOUDLY… I mean LOUDER than your mama has ever screamed at you. So LOUDLY that not only could we not hear ourselves think… we couldn’t hear each other yell. The girls in the back kept saying something to me…and all I could do was yell in return, “WHAT?” Obviously he didn’t get the hint… and obviously he was in a heated conversation. So our driver continued his voluminous monologue. My guess is that it was regarding some international incident… since the words “Somali” and “don’t understand” and “stupid idiot” (all in English – apparently lacking a Somali translation) were repeatedly regularly throughout his rant. I hate to ke
ep referring to him as “our driver”… but we never did get his name… since he spent our entire ride on the phone.

Finally, we seemed to be pulling into our destination. Although, suddenly… we realized we were going the wrong way on a One Way street. Our driver paused his conversation long enough to say in his thick Somali accent, “#@*! This is a One Way Street!” and then did a quick donut in the middle of the street…. landing us right in front of the doors of the Crown Plaza. We were a little stunned from his Harrison Ford move… but we were happy for the momentary silence as he put his phone in his lap (the other caller still on the line, mind you) to let us know it would be $30.00 for our E-Ticket Ride. As I filled out my credit card slip, I confirmed, “You’re from Somalia, right?” “Yes, yes… Somalia”. For some reason, I felt a little victorious…. but I needed to after that harrowing adventure.

We quickly scrambled out of our cab… wanting to end our Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”. But something seemed amiss. This didn’t look like the lobby of our hotel. I kept saying, “I don’t think this is right”. Ronda, ever the optimist… kept repeating, “This is just the backside of the hotel… we’re okay”. Beverly kept asking rather fearfully, “Really? Are you sure?”

So we asked the receptionist, “Is this the main lobby?”. “Yes”, she replied. “This is it”. But it didn’t look familiar at all. I finally asked, “This is the Crown Plaza on Kellogg Street, right?” “Um, no… that’s in St. Paul. This is the Crown Plaza in Minneapolis”.

Ahhhh! We just stared at each other… dumb-founded. Our distracted cab driver brought us to downtown Minneapolis… not downtown St. Paul. Ironically, the twin cities are not identical. Stupefied and blinking in disbelief… we realized that we’d been brought to the wrong hotel. Our clueless cab driver carelessly delivered us downtown alright, but the wrong downtown.

So what else could we do? We hailed another cab. This time a gentleman with a Lincoln town car offered us a ride, for the same price as a cab. Another $30.00. Ronda offered to pay this time. Our driver, also a Somali…. convinced us that our previous Somali friend was probably having a fight with his wife. Surely, there was no other reason to be so loud or animated on the phone. Regardless of his reason for yelling incessantly… we were never happier to be back at the right hotel.

Lastly, and redemptively… my cab ride from the hotel to the airport Sunday morning was a pure joy. I was immediately greeted with a large beaming smile… the kind I’ve grown accustomed to from Africans… and a warm “goodmorning”. My delightful driver jumped to load my bags and hold my door. He’d already won me over.

Right away I guessed he was African. Sudanese, I think. But before I could ask he was already asking me. “Where are you from? Where are you flying to? Why were you in Many-So-Ta?” He was great with the questions. But I finally squeezed one in. “Are you from Sudan?” “Oh!!! How did you know?” he asked, almost jumping out of his seat. “I have quite a few Sudanese friends in Nashville. Many are the Lost Boys.” “Oh!! The Lost Boys! That is good! Very good!”.

Omar (he had introduced himself) proceeded to tell me his story. Orphaned at the age of 6, he worked most of his young life to pay for his keep in the orphanage. Somehow, 9 years ago, he was chosen to come to the U.S. on refugee status… and has just now earned enough money from driving cabs to get an education. He’s now in school, for the first time in his life, at the age of 29. But he does not seem bitter or resentful or even exhausted. Merely grateful for an opportunity. His school books were neatly, and perhaps proudly, stacked on the front seat of his cab.

I told Omar about World Vision. He was fascinated that people could be sponsored and get the help they needed. He asked for the phone number & website… because now that he is working and going to school… he wants to give back. He wants to sponsor a child of his own.

I was so moved by Omar. It was a perfect way to end my weekend in St. Paul. A perfect way to remember the Twin Cities. I pray that Omar gets the education he’s always longed for… and that he is blessed by being able to help others from his homeland.

And I’m reminded that every cabby has a story. Every person has a story. And I’m more curious now than ever.


I love Jesus… but I drink a little

This is an old favorite… I was just showing my road-roomie Courtney, she hadn’t seen it yet… and we howled so loud I’m sure several floors of the Portland Marriott are wondering what’s going on in room 1018. So I had to post it in case there were any of you out there who have missed this…


Why do I do what I do?

I had a long trip this last weekend – coming home from Denver and connecting through Dallas, of course. No such thing as a direct flight on American anymore. As the flight attendant reminded me… “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Heaven or Hell… you’re gonna go through Dallas first”. I for one, am headed to Heaven… but at least it’s nice to know I can stop at Auntie Anne’s for a final lightly salted pretzel with sweet mustard dipping sauce on my way there.

Anyway, when traveling, I’m usually well-stocked with reading material… the latest photography or cooking magazine… or whatever book I’m currently reading. But I was a little unprepared this trip, because I finally got my new (and long coveted) computer roller bag (yes, it’s bright orange and I love it!)… but I hadn’t fully transferred everything over from my previous bag, so I found myself with a lack of entertainment. Plus, no in-flight movie, no iPod (also still in my previous bag), and darn it! someone already did the crossword puzzle in the American Way magazine (I have a slight addiction to these).

So, what’s a girl to do all alone with her thoughts? Well, let’s see… um, ponder life? Yes, I got to spend some quality time in reflection. Long overdue, I might add.

So, I found myself thinking about my job. Touring every weekend to a new city; dealing with the constant travel drama; working long hard hours that leave me both physically and emotionally drained; attempting to convince thousands of women that they should care about what’s happening to children in Africa; often missing out on what’s happening in my church, community or with my friends… and when I’m not touring with Women of Faith – I’m sleeping on a bumpy bus in a coffin-sized bed, trapped for days in a metal mobile bullet with a bunch of smelly boys (ok, I actually don’t mind that part) only to wake up in the pitch black catacomb of bunks, stumble from the bus, blinded by piercing daylight and then have to search for the one working shower buried somewhere in the bowels of an arena in PoDunk, USA. Glamorous life, eh?

So, why do I do what I do? It’s certainly not for money, power or prestige. And because the answer is not always obvious… it needs to be a question I ask myself frequently. Because when I’m tired and spent and my frustration level is maxed-out… I need to remember “why”. So, here are a couple of my “whys”…

Currently: I have the privilege of being part of something amazing that God’s doing through World Vision in the lives of literally, tens of thousands of children and their families. This is the 3rd year I’ve done the Women of Faith tour… and by November… we will have sponsored almost 50,000 children during my 3 years with them. Not to get caught up in numbers… but it does help me realize the impact of my work, since I don’t get to see the fruit of my labor first hand. And for everyone one child sponsored, a minimum of 5 people are affected. That’s nearly 250,000 lives that are being radically changed in the name of Jesus. Physical needs have been met, spiritual thirsts have been quenched. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it. God is truly good… and He lets me see that up close.

But Initially: I remember a defining moment, my “This is what I want to dedicate my life to” epiphany. It was roughly 11 years ago. I had just moved to Nashville from Los Angeles. I’d moved here to work full time with World Vision. It was 1997. Three days after arriving in Nashville, I climbed on a tour bus with a band called Big Tent Revival. We had 3 shows to do in 4 days. One of them being a 10:00am show for a Junior High Lock-In somewhere outside St. Paul, Minnesota. And it was February. Ugh. Picture 500 junior highers, amped-up on candy, soda (or “pop” since it was Minnesota) and sheer 12 year old spastic energy. And all before 10am. As an irrepressible outlet – the kids started a “mosh pit” to the song “Two Sets of Joneses“. It wasn’t pretty.

I thought to my skeptical self… we aren’t going to get one single sponsorship at this event. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore junior highers. I really do. Much of my early career in youth work was with junior high schoolers which included countless camps, mission trips, and yes, even Lock In’s (I am a Lazer Tag Natzi!). And though I was enjoying their energy and verve, I knew producing any results for my “job” was sketchy, at best.

Shortly after the Mosh Pit episode (where Steve Wiggins stopped mid-song and laughed saying, “What ARE you guys doing?!”), I returned to my World Vision table set up… filled with a few dozen picture folders of kids’ faces and stories. Already at my table, was a young “lock-in” victim… apparently not interested in the festivities happening in the other room. Darla (she’d told me when I asked her name) had a wildly-matted mane of thick copper hair, shiny silver braces, chubby freckled cheeks with dense, coke-bottle glasses that wedged a permanent red crease into the crest of each plump apple. She was shy, quiet, awkward. But she stayed at the table… picking up each folder… reading each child’s story… studying each of them closely.

I simply chalked it up to her boredom. Or needing something to do? Possibly she was friendless? Or simply uninterested in the activities? But suddenly, she picked up one of the folders she’d studied earlier and with great determination… handed it to me. “Here”, Darla said. “This is the one I want”.
“Ummm”, I said intelligently. “You know that to sponsor a child takes $30.00 a month.”
“Yes”, she said matter-of-factly. “Here, I have $30 right here”. And she handed my several sticky, wadded up bills.
“But you know, it takes $30 every month to sponsor this child. Are you prepared to do that?” I asked somewhat condescendingly.
“Yes”, Darla repeated patiently… as her chubby finger pushed her smudged, thick glasses back up her nose, only to magnify and bulge her pretty green eyes. “You see, I have $352.48 at home. I’ve been saving for a long time. But I guess my Contact Lenses will have to wait another year. I wanna help her instead [pointing to picture]. I think God would like that.”

I was speechless. Tears flooded my eyes and my bottom lip started dong that quiver thing. I immediately felt shame for my quick judgment and assumptions. But as Darla proceeded to fill out the sponsorship paper work… a light went on inside me. A light that filled my soul to the very brim. This shy awkward girl had every reason to spend her hard-earned savings on herself… to boost her self-esteem… to bring about a more confident Darla. But she understood something I apparently was still figuring out. It’s not about her. It’s not about me. It’s about our Great Father, and what He wants to do in us and through us and around us. And when we deny ourselves or sacrifice for the sake of others, and we do it in the name of Jesus… we experience the very living Christ Himself. (see Matt 25:40)

When I joined the BTR guys on the bus later that day… I told them the story. And five grown rockstars wept… and then took $400 out of their weekend’s earnings… and sent Darla a gift certificate to LensCrafters.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. But it was also the launch of a deep, deep passion. Not just for getting kids in Africa (or anywhere) sponsored… but a passion to discover Christ in unexpected and unlikely places. In the face and story of a small child in Uganda. In the chubby-cheeked smile of Darla as she happily sacrificed for another. In the tears of a rock band moved to compassion and generosity.

There have been many more moments like those since then. But that was just the beginning of my “why” I do what I do. And it’s continually being confirmed, weekend after weekend after weekend. I’ve worked with World Vision for 12 years now… and by God’s grace… I am even more passionate about this work now, than the day I started. Because I am experiencing Christ. I am finding Jesus out on the road… from the dusty plains of Africa to the smelly halls of Po-Dunk, USA. And I pray I will be saying that for a very long time.

It’s Just Like Riding A Bike…

…or has memory failed me?

I have a confession to make. I have a perfectly good bike that has been sitting in my basement for a year and a half. There have been ample opportunities to haul it upstairs, dust it off and take it for a spin. And ample reasons, as well.

Two years ago, I was in pretty good shape. I was riding my bike an average of 100 miles a week, spread out between 4-5 days of cycling. I even kept a chart. Logging my mileage and my progress. I worked out with weights. I went for regular runs. I ate well.

Yeah, I have no idea what happened. I mean, I know what happened… I just didn’t see it coming. And I’m still not sure how I let it get there. Motivation? Non existent. Energy? Not a kilowatt. Let’s just suffice it to say – I am not the ‘fit’ gal I used to be. And here I am, quite a few LB’s later…. a slug. A squishy, smooshy slug.

But, something has happened in the last 48 hours. A renewal. A regenerating. A retrospect of what once was and a resurgence of determination to get back there. Maybe it was spending the weekend in sunny, siliconed, Southern California. Once upon a time, I lived in the land of the fashionably-fit and fun… and considered myself an sufficient peer. After all, you have to keep your body in shape, when the local formal attire means throwing a t-shirt on over your bikini.

Regardless, and respectably… I don’t want to question where this new-found motivation has come from… but I do want to take advantage of it. And now, before it vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

So, yesterday… I ventured down into my dank, dark basement… located my now dusty, but once-bright-red Diamond Back Centurion hiding in a webbed corner near the water heater… hoisted the metal onto my shoulder and carried it up into the light (just wanted to clarify and give props… the bike actually belongs to my friend Tracey Collins, but it’s been on loan to me for about 3 yrs, and well… possessive references come naturally now).

So, after a good cleaning, and checking the tires and breaks… I headed out my old regular riding spot: Shelby Bottoms Greenway (it runs along Vince Gill’s golf course – a strip of running/biking trail nestled between the VinnyLinks and the Cumberland River). It’s a good 8 mile loop… and two years ago… when I was fit, I would ride it at least 3 times to get my miles in for the day.

But being realistic, as I usually am when it’s convenient… I decided to shoot for getting in at least one 8 mile loop. So I got to the park and unloaded my bike. I was exhilarated! It felt so good just to be out there, to slip on the helmet, to drop the water bottle in its holster, to mount the old Diamond Back once again.

But suddenly I’m nervous. It’s like seeing an old love after years gone by. I want to make a good impression. Am I going to wobble? Will I fall? Will I look foolish?

But, I got a good solid start. I shot right from the parking lot and headed onto the greenway. I felt good. It’s true what they say… “It’s just like riding a bike”. It all comes back to you. It felt as if I’d never missed a day!

Until a little after the first mile. I’d forgotten a few things about cycling. But it all started coming back. And as the 8 mile ride continued… I realized… that though I remember how to ride a bike… I forgot what it was like to ride a bike. Here are a few of the things I forgot:

I forgot how aerobic this was… I can’t believe I’m breathing this hard.
The heels of my hands really ache from the handle bars.
That somewhere within the first mile, I can’t feel my left hand.
That the hills are steeper than I remember.
That I sweat like a mutha.
That soon I won’t be able to feel my right hand.
That my quads start quivering around the 5th mile.
That they don’t stop quivering until I get home.
That I sweat like a mutha.
That my shoulder blades burn like a torch has been lit to them.
That by mile 8 both my hands are completely numb and I’m not sure how I’ll use the hand breaks.
That my “southern region” simultaneously aches and is numb.
That I sweat like a mutha.

I also forgot:

That I love the sound of the wind in my ears (that beautiful silence like when you dive under water – where all you can hear is your own heart beat and the distant mating call of a hump back whale)
That I love whisking through the trees that line the trail.
That I love the feeling of my muscles tightening from extra use.
That I love sweating like a mutha.
That I love all the calories that are burned in a 40 minute ride.
That I love being outside.
That I love RIDING MY BIKE!!!

Okay – why in the world have I waited so long to get back to it?

I’m on the road this weekend so I won’t be able to ride again until Monday.
But this time I’m doing 2 loops.

The Summer Harvest Is In…

aaaaand… here it is.

In all it’s glory.

My lone red chili pepper. Garnered from a 4 foot tall pepper plant.

Really? That’s it? That’s all ya got?

But it doesn’t matter. This wee little pepper has quite a punch. If you recall my post from early January, you’ll remember the power of the Diablo Rojo. Maybe it takes all 4 feet of plant to generate such heat. All concentrated into a single one inch puissant pod of crimson. So I am handling with care… and rubber gloves.

Speaking of heat – I am over summer. Over it. Done. I don’t need it any more. I love the outdoors. I’m an outdoors kinda girl, after all. But the sweltering summer days are off limits right now. I would wilt. Literally. Call me wimpy. But there you have it.

So I’ve been trying to bring the outside inside… filling my home with greenery and bringing all my outdoor plants in (I mean, even they are wilting and they’re supposed to be out there!) and I’m filling vases with fresh flowers. In every corner.

I’m even wearing a flowered skirt. I never wear flowered skirts. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I hear it’s
dropping to 86 degrees tomorrow. A ‘nice cold front’ they say.

I say they are crazy.

But it’s 97 today. With a heat index of 101. (sigh)

So try to stay cool my friends. And pray for a speedy entrance of Fall. Do a Fall dance. Light a Fall candle. Summon the North winds. Whatever it takes to bring on the cool.

And if you’re still in need of refreshing…

try this West African Lemonade… or better yet, this.