Life in Africa

twenty years

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Twenty years ago today, I moved to South Africa with a couple of overweight suitcases, $200 in my pocket, and a heart-cocktail of naïvety, faith, passion, and foolishness. I was only 19.

Thirteen years later, I moved back Stateside with even heavier baggage (both literal and proverbial), more debt than cash, and a heart-cocktail that had been diluted by life and loss and longing.

Even with all the complicated layers and conflicting emotions, Africa will always be my first love. I met her when I was just 15, and, in that way that only she can do, she swept me off my feet and stole my heart. She was my high school sweetheart, and she holds both the bests and the worsts of my life in the years we spent together.

Twenty years. How is that even possible? Two decades seem to have slipped through my fingers like the Kalahari sand...

My present life looks so different than the one I lived on African soil. It confounds me, really. Many who know me now didn’t know me then, which only widens the chasm I often feel exists between my former and current lives. And yet, I know, it’s all one. One life. One incongruently interconnected and magnificent life. It confounds me, really.

No matter how long I’ve lived Stateside, this day still feels beautifully and painfully significant to me. And so I stop to honor it. To embrace it. To celebrate and grieve it.

Happy Africaversary, love. Twenty years is worth dancing and crying over. So let’s do a little of both, shall we?

africa herself

I'm ridiculously sentimental.

More than I wish I were, at times.

Places, songs, dates, smells, sounds... they all can instantly transport me back in time. Memories and meaning are attached to everything. Everywhere.

Which means I'm forever celebrating -iversaries. Friendiversary. Nashiversary. Monthiversary. Homeiversary. And yesterday? Yesterday was my Africaversary.

April 14, 1998 was the day I moved to South Africa.

A lifetime ago I lived there for 13 years.

I get that it's no longer really an -iversary since I don't live there anymore. But my heart hasn't gotten the memo. April 14th will always equal Africa. 18 years later (damn, I'm getting old), the sheer date on the calendar still escorts me right back...

I was 19 years old.

I landed in Johannesburg with two very-full suitcases, $200 in my pocket, and a heart drunk on a cocktail of faith, naïveté, foolishness, and passion. And what followed was a lifetime's worth of loving and laughing and leading on rich African soil that took root in my heart as deeply as I dug my roots into hers.

And somehow, in some strange, undeniably orchestrated way, Africa led me to Nashville.

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And so yesterday I celebrated my 18-year Africaversary, right here in Tennessee, with a bottle of 13-year old South African wine... which seemed so oddly fitting and perfect and surreal and peculiar, all at the same time.

With the very real understanding that everything sweet is bitter and everything bitter is sweet, I raised my glass.  

Because this wine?

This wine is bold and strong.

It's complicated and complex and multi-layered. It tells entire stories with its bountiful color and aroma and taste. It's both intoxicating and sobering... and completely other worldly.

Each sip is Africa herself.

Each sip is me.

Farewell, Mandela

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It is the same with Mandela as it is with pretty much everything:

There is always more to the story than most of us want to acknowledge.

There is much that can be said about Mandela's past (and while we're at it, much can be said about mine and yours as well). His life wasn't one that always stood for peace, yet that is what he is most known for now. He is an undeniable example of the power we each have to change our own story. A life surrendered and transformed has unrivaled potential in the hands of our Creator.

Brené Brown said it perfectly:

“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. If we own the story, then we can write the ending.”

Yesterday we mourned the loss of a great man who rewrote not only his own story, but that of the entire nation of South Africa. Mandela drew a line in the sand that forever changed the trajectory of a continent and inspired hope around the globe.

His life makes it impossible to deny the far-reaching ripple effect of even one solitary life, and his legacy reminds us that no one is ever too far gone for a second chance.

Farewell, Mandela. The world stands grateful...

I stand grateful...

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Servants in Evening Attire

epoch for blog Our culture has a skewed perception of what it is to be a hero. Images of caped crusaders, sports icons, and action movie stars come to mind. We picture big names in bright lights, known around the globe for their accomplishments.

What we don’t picture is a surrendered heart dreaming big dreams for the betterment of others. Or the faithful and obedient stepping of one foot in front of the other in the face of great adversity, far away from the limelight. Or the blood, sweat, and tears shed by persevering souls to advance a cause that will outlive them, even though no one knows their names.

But those are the truest heroes, and the ones most deserving of honor.

When they set out to celebrate those unsung missional heroes at Epoch 2013, the response was staggering. People around the world paused to shine a light on those who seek faithfulness over recognition. They received nearly 600 nominations from 33 countries, 32 states, and 6 continents! Clearly, we are eager for a different kind of hero.

Over 400 people gathered last Monday night at the historic Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia for the red carpet, black-tie event. The evening was truly one of celebration and inspiration as six social innovators were awarded grants totaling $50,000. In tuxedos and gowns, we recognized those working to solve some of the most complex challenges around the world, such as poverty, the need for clean water, HIV/AIDS, and sex trafficking.

It was a night to joyfully and extravagantly honor not the achievements of man, but what God is doing through our collective lives. Organizations, businesses, churches, and individuals rallied together to recognize the often-unnoticed champions who daily lay down their lives to fight injustice and bring hope to hard places.

Together, we declared to those laboring in the trenches, “You’re not alone.” We showed them they’re seen, valued, and embraced. Their work matters and we will no longer let it go unacknowledged.

Nations are being transformed by that roomful of sacrificial servants in evening attire, and it is an honor to stand with them in their open-handed and open-hearted work.

Doing Good Well

I don't get dressed up very often, but I'll be pulling out a dress and heels in a couple weeks for an event in Atlanta. And I think you should join me. Epoch 2013 is honoring unsung missional heroes—those who cross the world (or even just the street) to restore broken places and broken lives through creative, God-honoring initiatives.  

They are giving away awards totaling $50,000 at their one-of-a-kind Gala, a night to celebrate those who are bringing innovative solutions to the challenges of poverty and suffering in the world. That is a worthy reason to don some heels!

One of the incredible nonprofits I work with, Hope Africa Collective, is a finalist for an Epoch Award.

I strongly believe in Hope Africa's strategy and vision, and am so excited for others to learn more about them through Epoch. And, of course, a cash award would go a long way to advance their amazing work in South Africa! My good friend and one of Hope Africa's Founders, Jeremy Hilliard, is flying in from Africa for the event. I haven't seen him since my trip to Cape Town last spring, so I'm really excited to see him again!

One of my greatest passions is to help nonprofits do strategic, effective, honest, and excellent work.

I never want to be a part of something that's just about "doing good". I always want to "do good" well. I believe that good work done well is honoring of God and those we serve, laced with integrity, and continually bearing fruit. That's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to Epoch—I'm excited to learn more about people and organizations doing exactly that.

If you live in or near Atlanta, join me for a night of celebrating Kingdom heroes who are doing good work well.

Add in the engaging group of presenters, speakers, and musicians, and the evening is guaranteed to be a blast! (Do you remember my crazy photo booth pictures from Epoch 2011?! You know you want in on that fun!)

Get $25 off your ticket purchase with the code GRITANDGLORY. Buy your ticket here >

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 Will I see you there?!