Near the end our time in our town in Kenya, we had plans to visit two neighboring families, both of which were struggling to get access to food. One family had three babies under four and the other was a grandma who was taking care of both her own baby and her daughter's newborn. DIG, the organization with which we went to Kenya, had identified both groups of kids as malnourished. Our goal was to meet with them and determine how we could quickly and sustainably help them get access to food.
Chris and I knew we were going to a more remote destination as we made plans to meet them, but, to be honest, everything there felt relatively remote. We hopped on Piki Pikis and headed down the bumpy, dirt road. We went past the hospital and the other homes we'd visited throughout the last two weeks, the familiar places disappearing behind us. We wound for miles and miles, the road becoming bumpier, the lush trees becoming denser as we drove. My eyes rested on the blue sky, the bright green trees, the brown dirt road. The scene felt like a palette for teaching a toddler colors; the hues so true, so honest.
We passed women walking to a water hole, buckets balanced on their heads, their babies toddling alongside them. We passed a teenage girl walking in her towel to the same pond, covering miles of ground for her bath. We passed girls no older than eight, holding a sibling's hand on each side and carrying one on her back, making the long commute home from school.
We rode by, waving as we left them far, far behind as we traveled further away from civilization. We drove until the road turned into a small trail, barely wide enough for the Piki to squeeze through. We drove until the trail disappeared and we were cutting through thick trees, bracing as thorns and sticks scraped our arms. We drove until they had to ask us to get off and walk, the bike was no longer able to manage through the brush.
We finally made it to our destination and the father of the three little girls stood waiting for us in a Taste of Chicago 2014 t-shirt. He greeted us with open arms, eager and grateful to have the chance to feed his babies.
He showed us to his home, proudly offering us each a seat in the one-room house as his family of five sat together on a couch. He and his wife told us about their children as flies swarmed around us. In many of the other homes we'd seen so far, we'd sit with the families as cats and roosters walked throughout the house, giving me a new perspective on free-range eggs. They'd eat up crumbs and roam freely. My heart sunk as I looked around their property, realizing there were no animals here. Even the roosters had abandoned them, knowing there was no food to be eaten. Only the flies were left now, swarming at the little baby's face and hair, the mom swatting them away every five seconds, only for them to persist.
As we met with both families, we realized the littlest baby, the sickest one, might not make it through the next few days. Her beautiful, black skin had begun turning yellow. She was quiet and still, no longer crying for food, but, instead, conserving the little energy she had left. Chris and I both took in her tiny body, letting the grief of her hunger wash over us. We ached as we thought of how far we'd come to get here, knowing they could never walk those miles on foot to find food each week. We worried about whether we would be able to get them food fast enough. Will that baby make it through the night? I wondered as Chris and I locked eyes, my heart hurting.
I'm still making sense of our trip. Pieces of it ooze out of me here and there - conversations with friends, in my journal, sometimes here on my blog. Sometimes these memories overwhelm me with gratitude, thankful for my life and this world we've created here. Other times they pour into my mind, infiltrating my heart, making it feel like a sponge caught in my throat, desperately needing to be wrung out.
Life can be this way, though. So often I yearn for things to be black and white: this or that, good or bad. What I'm learning is that some experiences - especially the ones that are complex and emotional - can be a little of both. Beauty and joy mixed with sorrow and pain. The work is in learning to get comfortable with the and. It's allowing yourself to stay right there in the middle, letting the hard stuff hurt and the good stuff bring relief. It's knowing that control begs us to categorize things - to name them. But letting go and trusting allows us to grow into the uncertainty of it all.
A good friend listened recently as I told her about our trip - the pain, the joy, the scary parts, the highs and lows. Then she got really quiet and asked me the question nobody had asked yet: Do you regret going? I told her I didn't, but continued to think for a long time about her question, even after we'd parted ways. Do we regret it? I asked Chris that night.
The truth is: absolutely not. Was it hard? Yes. Was it different than expected? Oh ya. But I realized her question stuck with me for so long because it reminded me of a truth I've been learning lately:
Sometimes, we are called to do really hard things.
My natural inclination is to run toward the fun and exciting. But sometimes, things are difficult and that doesn't mean we aren't supposed to do them. It means they are hard and will require a little more grit. The beauty is learning to let the good in those moments ground us, while we dig in a little deeper into the hard ones. It is in learning to trust your instincts and your abilities to navigate these times. It's about getting comfortable with the idea that some things are good and difficult.
If you're caught in a phase today that feels a little harder than expected, I just want to cheer you on. You might not be off track, you just might be growing in a different direction. Keep growing. Keep going. I promise you won't regret it. When it's over, you'll look back on this season and be so grateful for how far you've come.