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Backyard Boutique

August 15, 2016



Backyard Boutique

A couple days ago, my friends and I created a backyard fairyland of texture, color and creativity.

For me, the most magic moment of the event illuminates a path of perseverance.

A friend stopped by and perused the offerings, bought a couple items, and left. But just a little while later, she returned. With tears in her eyes and a painting in her hands, she approached me and said she drove away but couldn’t stop thinking about the image. She expressed how unusual the experience was for her. She enjoys art but doesn’t usually allow her heart to engage, much less feel compelled to own a piece.

But for whatever reason, the art touched her soul journey like a signpost.

That glorious moment will keep me painting for months to come.


Many thanks to those of you who came and those of you who supported me in prayer and encouragement. In case you missed the event but would like to check out some of the products, below are links to pages for me and my friends who hosted the event:



Backyard Boutique




True Love

August 9, 2016
dennis and darlene 50 years lo res

Dennis and Darlene, 50 Years; 2016; watercolor.

I attended a fairy tale wedding a few days ago. Two people aflame with the glory of true love… a blaze I am confident will carry them through the next fifty years. Witnessing the ceremony, the world seemed full of possibility, aching for all that is good and true. These two, I am sure, should the Lord let them live that long, will still walk hand-in-hand when they are old and gray.

Watching this couple, I remembered my own wedding day. My true companion and I walk somewhere in the middle between our wedding and fifty years. We knew so little of love on that first day, yet couldn’t imagine feeling more as the setting sun embraced our vows in gold. The tenderness and devotion forged only through tears and determination to clasp hands again-and-again, whatever wild winds blow, was inconceivable then. Our love for each other, battered and refined and re-chosen time after time, now glistens like mica, layer upon translucent layer, compared to that first day.

And yet the beginning and the middle pale in comparison to another love story, fifty years long. That initial blaze simmers into slow-burning ember. This is passion, true love, quiet and inextinguishable, lighting the way for their children and other witnesses, like me, into the luminosity of eternity.


Congratulations Dennis and Darlene, on fifty years of true love. I’ve been privileged to witness about forty years of your story. And I am grateful.


Stars & Butterflies

August 3, 2016


One of the biggest thrills of my life was creating the Shine Like Stars exhibit last year. In a last blaze of glory, the stars will shine one more time on Saturday, Aug 13 in my dear friend’s backyard. We are dedicating a tent to display and sell the artwork, with 100% of profits returning to Hope’s Promise for Sanctuary of Hope.

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My friend, Penny Taylor, will also include her amazing work, Re-Find Restorations,  Sweet Flaves Lemonade will sell hand-crafted specialty drinks, and I will create tents for Pamba Toto and my own artwork. If you are in the area, come celebrate with us!

Meanwhile, Pamba Toto is holding an on-line pre-sale of the artwork through this link: Shine Like Stars artwork.

Just in case you missed my blog posts about this exhibit, you can still see them twinkling through these links:

Shine Like Stars, Collaborative Gallery

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The Stars Were Shining


Shine Like Stars, Again


Shine Like Stars, Interview


Below is a gallery of the artwork along with photos of our beloved artists – before they came to SoH and just a month ago when I visited SoH (click photos to view larger):

I am sad to let the stars go, but I know they will brighten their new homes. And, I’m excited to bring a new project to completion that the SoH kids and I started last month with help from amazing Kenyan artist, Ronnie (for those of you know the Karaus – Ronnie is Dash’s husband)…

Coming soon… butterflies!




Huruma Means Mercy, Part 2

July 23, 2016


We leave the aching hope of the Mother Teresa compound for the teeming chaos of streets beyond. Now joining us – me; my Pamba Toto co-founder, business partner and dear friend, Debbie Lee; and her husband Brian – in the car is John, with a smile to shove back the darkest night.

He directs us to a nondescript cement facade. John speaks to a man standing nearby, who nods. The car will be safe while we visit. We duck through a gate and pass through a narrow corridor into a courtyard. Laundry stretches for rays of light from a stingy gray sky.

We cross over to a door which yawns miraculously into an artist’s studio. John lives, works, creates, and operates his business from this one-room space. At the moment, lively creations pile on a three tier bunk bed. Others clamor over one another, all the way to the ceiling. Somehow, buried here in the struggles of Huruma, lies nestled a fanciful wonderland.

John tells us his story.

Many years ago, his mother, Emelda, fled Idi Amin’s horrific regime in Uganda carrying little more in her arms than John, then two years old. She escaped to Nairobi, where relatives worked. Like many refugees, Emelda and John were absorbed into a Nairobi slum. Then Emelda met a western missionary who gathered refugees from Uganda to discuss the Bible and teach them how to sew. John went along to classes, tied to his mother’s back in traditional African-style. After Emelda trained for several years, the missionary left Kenya; but first, she introduced her students to the Kenyan Masai Market so they could sell their hand-crafted items independently.

As they grew, John and his younger brother helped their mother. John possessed special talent. When he was still quite young, he trained and supervised younger cousins. Meanwhile, his mother, through sheer determination and with the help of government assistance for refugees, ensured that he graduated secondary school. Although he yearned to pursue higher education, John began working full-time to help support his three younger siblings.

Demand for Emelda’s and John’s hand-crafted products grew. They now employ John’s cousins, Jumai, age 19, and Kasim, age 22. John, age 34, supports his wife and two young children through the business. However, terrorist incidents in recent years, such as the horror of the Westgate Mall attacks, chew away at local markets. (You can read my personal reflections on two of these incidents by clicking here: Westgate Mall attack and Garissa attack.)

Just last year, John almost lost his younger sister to what seems to be a human trafficker. A man convinced John’s sister to pay him $500, promising her a job in Dubai airports. Debbie heard the story as it unfolded and warned John. She urged him to tell the man she would check on John’s sister when she passed through Dubai on lay-overs. The man disappeared. As we discuss the incident, I think of a good friend of mine who worked for International Justice Mission, freeing victims of human trafficking. John’s story bears a striking resemblance to many of hers, and my skin crawls with fear for what might have been.

We talk about product development for Pamba Toto. John possesses a rare ability to simply see an idea and create it.

We leave John, smiling and waving. His small group of artisans called Mwangaza (Swahili for “bright light”), huddles with him, radiating talent, perseverance and courage – made all the more beautiful by the harshness surrounding them.

As we drive away, my bewilderment from a decade of experiences in Huruma fades for a moment, replaced with hope that there might be a chance for mercy.

Please visit our Pamba Toto Facebook page and our Pamba Toto website to see products made by John and other friends.

Huruma Means Mercy, Part 1

July 20, 2016


A few months ago, international news reported the collapse of buildings in an obscure place called Huruma. At least seven people died and 121 people were injured, buried in shoddily constructed dwellings that rose much higher than should ever have been allowed. There was no mercy for these impoverished slum dwellers, victims of corruption.

Ironically, Huruma means “mercy.”

Huruma, a community in Nairobi, Kenya, is a place I know well. My first journey through its muddy labyrinth scarred me forever. Buried in its depths was a treasure of immeasurable worth. My son.

Returning there last month, emotion overwhelms me. Usually when I go there, I lead teams of other people and keep my feelings in check so as to remain sensitive and supportive of others. This time, I ride in the back of a car with dear friends who also know Huruma well. With no need to serve others, the tears of my soul flow freely through the rivers of human need just outside the car window.

Pulling up to the gate of Mother Teresa’s compound, I see a tiny child in ragged clothes. Her mother crouches behind her. Many people sit outside the gate, hoping for help from the sisters whose compassion never ends, but whose resources are limited in a place where destitution has no end. The little girl watches our car curiously. I smile and wave, acknowledging her dignity and beauty as a human being, belying the horror I feel. Her hair is dull and brown – a certain indicator of malnutrition. The gate opens, and we pass through while she remains outside in the masses, shut out from hope and health.


children at the Mother Teresa gate, 2004, personal photo archive


Memories crush in, phantoms of the past. Arriving at the orphanage to retrieve our as-yet-unmet but desperately loved son, tears streaming down our faces because of what we’ve just witnessed for the first time in Huruma. Several years later, standing with a team and describing a tiny woman who rescued an entire orphanage from bandits in Burundi, sustaining gun wounds in the process, only to have the diminutive nun round the corner of the van where we stood as I told the story; she was smiling shyly. Children from the Baby Ward whom I loved and lost. Sarah, HIV +, who I took with team members to a hospital and cared for round the clock for several days with funds donated by friends in the US. She died a month after we left. Teenage boys (names withheld for privacy) who were street children, rescued by the sisters aged-out of the home at 18. Emma, who forever stole my heart and then disappeared forever back into the slums. Lily, who left with me as my daughter and for whom I spent 7.5 months of uncertainty and sleepless nights in Kenya, wondering if I would lose her forever, too.

I stand in the place where the first photo was taken in that compound in which I appear, in 2001. In that photo, a slightly bewildered expression on my face, too much emotion to even sort through, I stand with my family and my new son.

Fifteen years later, I stand in the same spot, with so many more experiences in Huruma, but just as bewildered.

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close to the same spot, June 2016

A Heart Overflowing

July 14, 2016

Esther and Grace, June 2016

As friends know and readers have probably guessed from recent posts, I traveled to Kenya last month. From start to finish, it was a journey of overflowing joy.

When I left Kenya in 2012, I felt I heard clearly from the Lord,”Stay.” Stay in the US, don’t travel to Kenya. So I felt I needed a pretty clear reversal of that word. My husband and I talked about me traveling to Kenya earlier this year and wondered if the time could be right. Then we immersed ourselves in parenting issues and forgot to return to the subject. But, my dear friend and Pamba Toto business partner, Debbie Lee, said out-of-the-blue in May, “You should come to Kenya. It’s time.” When my husband eagerly (and heroically) concurred, I didn’t ask twice.

Stepping off that airplane, feeling the air, and smelling Kenya felt like coming home.

I’ll be sharing photos, thoughts, and experiences from the trip as time goes by. I’ve already written about a magical day Debbie and I spent at Kitengela glass factory.

Today, please allow me to share one of the most profound moments of my visit.

The binding thread of all my visits to Kenya is a heart broken for orphans. Since I first set foot in Kenya to adopt our son from a Mother Teresa orphanage, my soul irrevocably bleeds and my bones are on fire for the orphans of the world. For five years after bringing our son home, the flames burned hot. Then, in 2006, God opened the way for our family to help open Sanctuary of Hope through Hope’s Promise, which today provides a family for 24 orphans.

I first met Esther in Mathare Valley, the second largest slum in Kenya. She was viewed by her community as cursed because she was born with obvious disabilities. At age five, she remained unable to speak or walk. I shared details of her story in my blog post Every Child A Precious Gift.

Today, at age eleven, Esther is cherished by the Sanctuary of Hope family. She walks, she talks, and attends a special education school.

I experienced flashbacks while I stayed at Sanctuary of Hope last month.

In 2010, my then ten-year-old son Jedd and I helped Mama Karau take Esther to a doctor’s office for her initial medical evaluation for potential admission to Sanctuary of Hope. She sat on Jedd’s lap, still as a stone, not making a sound, not twitching a muscle. The only movement were huge silent tears, coursing from the corner of her eyes.

my son with esther on the day of her appointment

My son with Esther at her appointment, 2010.

Fast forward six years. The Sanctuary of Hope family gathers every night for devotions – time to sing, talk about the Bible, and pray. Joining them one night last month, I couldn’t take my eyes off Esther, flitting happily around from one family member to another, grinning ear to ear, and making each person laugh.

It’s just too much for words. My heart swells with overflowing gratitude to a God who never stopped adoring Esther! And for ordinary people like you and me in Kenya and the US who went to extraordinary lengths to express God’s love and to give her the family she deserves.

Just in case you are interested, you can learn about co-sponsoring a child like Esther for only $40/month by clicking here: Hope’s Promise Thrive 305 Child Sponsorship drive.




Hold Each Other

July 9, 2016


No, we won’t allow him to get a tattoo or ear piercing. We are constantly nagging him if he sags his pants.

It isn’t about appearance. He’s not a rebellious or defiant kid. He’s just an ordinary American teenager, trying to figure out who he is. He’s watching rappers and sports heroes, paying close attention to Facebook conversations. And hopefully looking up to the pastors and lay-leaders at our church who look like him.

But, admittedly, we are trying to teach him how to navigate a culture foreign to us.

My son is Black. We are White.

We turn often to advisers, co-workers and friends who are insiders to the experience of being Black in America. They are the ones who strongly advise – no tattoos, ear piercings or sagging.

It’s about staying alive.

I am the first to admit I have very little idea what it feels like to be hunted.

The movie Selma taps me into that emotion.

My son tells me he was awake deep in the night after the death of Philando Castile. He is only sixteen. It’s a lot to absorb.

My heart breaks. I love this boy more than life itself.

I suggest we watch Selma together.

I can’t help but see him in the crowd on that bridge between Selma and Montgomery, beaten and bruised because of the color of his skin. I can’t help but hope I would have had the courage to walk among the sea of White faces who finally linked arms with their Black brothers and sisters.

My son and I wonder, what would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do and say if he were alive today?

He tells me he is scared. It shakes me to the core to reply this way, but I tell him it is healthy to be afraid. Yet again, we cover the same old, weary path – how to act in the presence of police: absolute respect, no matter what, no talking back, immediate obedience to every request. He’s about to get his learner’s permit, and he needs to know these things.

Don’t get me wrong. Both my son and I have the utmost respect for police officers. We talk about the UCCS security officer, Garrett Swasey, who rushed without thought for his own life, straight into the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last year, in order to save the lives of others. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another, or to be willing.

But the nightmare video footage of Castille’s death bears a horrifying resemblance to the scenes in Selma.

There is a deep and bitter wound in America. My son and I stand in its festering depths – weeping, wondering, praying.

Holding each other tight.


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