Another Trip Around the Sun

Today is my 48th birthday. I make no qualms about my age — some think I am old; others think I am young — but no matter the number, I will always be young at heart. Though I have not blogged lately, I continue on my journey of health and wholeness, and I am grateful that my body now allows me to do those things my heart has yearned for. I have not yet reached my weight loss goal, but I weigh 163 pounds less than I did on my 46th birthday (I also weigh less than I did when I graduated from high school 30 years ago!) and I am certainly much healthier in body, mind and spirit.

I have hit a plateau in my weight loss over the last several months. I think my body is just trying to catch up with all these changes! My medical team is pleased with my progress and I continue to go to the pool 5 days a week and box 2 – 3 times a week. Quite honestly, even if I don’t lose any more weight, it will be OK! Of course, I am not losing hope and continue to exercise and eat well (most of the time).

So today I am celebrating life — the abundant life that God has given me in the here and now as well as the expectation for life in the time to come made possible through Jesus Christ. I am very grateful for my family and friends and the many ways in which they encourage me to life into my fullest created potential. I am grateful for the call that God has placed on my life and my new found zest and freedom to fully live into it.

There are countless benefits on this journey, but one in particular that I celebrate today is that my best friend and I can now share clothes! My wardrobe is now greatly expanded! (See picture below). Thank you, Elizabeth!

And thank all of you for your love and support on this journey. Love you all!

Until next time, peace …

Sharing Clothes


Enjoying the rides at the Wayne County Fair!

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Anniversary Reflections

Yesterday, February 1, marked the one-year anniversary of my weight loss surgery, and in that time I have shed 160 pounds.  It has been quite a journey! I have heard some say that surgery is the “easy way” to lose weight, but I am here to testify that there are no “easy” ways to lose weight. Believe me. I have tried them all. Weight loss is hard work. Very. Hard. Work. It requires tenacity, commitment, determination, planning and focus. A focus on the details of the present moment as well as the end result and longer-term goals. When I started this journey, I set a specific goal and I am now just 28 pounds away from it. Ideally, I should lose even more than that — and I will certainly continue my daily exercise and healthy eating plan once I hit that goal — but I will be content once that marker is reached.

On the first day of each month since my surgery, I’ve had my picture taken to create a side-by-side photo of my progress. Yesterday as I was putting the pictures together, I said to my best friend, “You know, I can see a difference in my face and neck, but it just doesn’t seem like that big a difference overall. Does it really look like I’ve lost 160 pounds?” She sighed, gave me a somewhat exasperated look, and said “yes” in a way that only those who love us and know us best can do. I really wasn’t looking for accolades or affirmation. Sometimes, in my mind, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Call me crazy, but that’s where my mind goes sometimes. Maybe it’s because somewhere in the recesses of my mind I didn’t think I could be successful. Maybe its because I don’t want people to treat the “fat” Robin differently than the “thinner” Robin. Maybe it’s the fear of admitting that there is a cultural bias toward larger people; that there is a perception that “fat” people are lazy and have no self-control. Maybe it’s because I want to defend, protect and love those who are cast aside and judged for their outward appearances instead of their inner beauty. Maybe it’s because I want people to believe that ALL human beings are beloved and created in the image of God. Fat people. Skinny people. People of every body type, age, color, orientation, nationality, creed — we are all beloved and created in the image of God.

In my rational mind, I do acknowledge the difference in my before and after pictures, and I am grateful for the gift of life I have been given.  But I am cognizant of the fact that this renewed vitality also brings a responsibility to live out God’s claim and call on my life to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:). May that be so for all of us.

Until next time, peace …1 year post-op 2-1-191 year post-op side, 2-1-19

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Home again, home again, jiggety jig

After shopping for chocolate at the Brussels airport, we left in the wee hours (4 am Eastern) and arrived in Newark shortly after Noon yesterday. We made it through customs with relative ease, collected our luggage, rechecked it, went through security and enjoyed a lovely meal together as a team before our departure for home. It had been over 30 hours since any of us really slept and we were quite punchy while we waited! Finally, after a gate change and a trek to the other end of the terminal, we boarded our final leg of the journey and landed in Cleveland around 7:00 last night.

At home I savored each moment of a long hot shower and enjoyed another one (just because!) before church this morning. It was great to be back leading worship with my congregation today and I even solicited (with some gentle nudging) some hearty Liberian-style “Amens!”

I am surprisingly not too tired today, though I know that jet lag will surely hit on Wednesday when the high temperature here at home is to be -3 F! I guess I’ll just have to succumb to it that day and snuggle under the covers in the warmth of my house!

The temperature difference between here and Liberia is stark. Though I am not sure it was completely accurate, as we were riding to the Monrovia airport on Friday, the electronic temperature gauge in the car said the outside temp was 107! It was definitely hot there!

In the days ahead I will write more about my experiences, but for now, here are some more of my favorite pictures.

Until next time, peace …

Enjoying the moment with some of the junior high Girls of Promise from the public school

My buddy Charles who stole my heart and my lap on a regular basis!

Roselyn, the Girl of Promise sponsored by the Women’s Fellowship at my church

Blowing bubbles with the kids outside the guest house

More bubble fun!

Singing songs at recess with some of the children at St John’s UMC School

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Water Revisted

After a bumpy 3 hour ride that included a bridge that was out and a subsequent (and suspect!) detour through Firestone’s rubber plantation, we arrived at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia. When we boarded the plane, I headed right to the bathroom. Who can say they’ve smiled and said prayers of thanksgiving for airplane lavatories?! This girl! I was so very grateful for running water and a toilet that flushed! Water is such a precious commodity in most of the world, and many of us in the U.S. take this for granted and don’t think twice when we turn on the spigots or flush toilets in our homes. May I always be this grateful for the life-giving gift of water!

In the Brussels airport now and will be leaving for Newark in about 2 hours.

Until next time, peace …

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Leaving a piece of my heart in Liberia

Though I haven’t written updates in the last week, my heart has been full — full of love for the people I have met and full of care and concern for the many needs here. As we leave today, I’m still processing all of it and will write more reflections once I am home. I have been changed by this experience and am leaving a piece of my heart with the people in Harrisburg, Liberia. I don’t know when, but I will surely return. Here are a few pictures that share my heart.

Until next time, peace …

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Hole in One!

This morning as I went into the bathroom to wash up for the day, I was organizing my belongings. I lifted my arm to put my toothbrush on the shelf above the sink and lost my grip on it. The toothbrush hit the sink, flipped and landed head first into the toilet! I couldn’t have done that if I tried! Had I taken my phone to the bathroom with me, I would have captured the moment. My friends here suggested I re-enact the scene, but I’ll just allow you to picture it in your minds instead. That, my friends, is your chuckle for the day!

Until next time, peace …

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One of the team members has dubbed me as “the water girl” as it seems that I am the one who frequently retrieves the water from the back porch to fill bathing buckets and the water filtration system for our drinking water.

Water is a precious commodity here in Liberia. While free, our driver and guest house helpers travel 20 minutes by car to fill our large jugs of water. These jugs are kept on the back porch of the guest house and we use them to fill buckets for bathing and drinking. I cannot even begin to imagine living here and walking and carrying these water jugs!

Our accommodations here at the guest house are considered “luxury” by Liberian standards. We have electricity most of the time and bathrooms with American fixtures. While we don’t have running water, we have a toilet we flush manually with buckets, and a sink and a tub in which we can put buckets of water to wash ourselves. Each time I carry a bucket of water from the porch and when I dump a bucket of water over my head to wash my hair, I am reminded of how much water we waste in the U.S. While I am longing for a “real” shower and will gratefully enjoy that luxury when I get home next Saturday night, I pray that I will never take this precious commodity for granted, and that each time I turn on the spigot in my home, I will pray for my friends in Liberia.

Until next time, peace …

The water buckets that travel 20 minutes by car to be filled

The women’s bathroom at the guesthouse

The Berkey water filtration system giving us safe drinking water

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We’ve been busy!

We’ve been busy over the last few days! On Monday, we got up in the wee hours of the morning and loaded into a rented SUV at 5:00 a.m. for an anticipated 4 hour drive to Ganta. There were 7 of us in the vehicle, plus our driver, a tight squeeze for us Americans, but according to Liberian standards, there was room for AT LEAST 2 more people! After about 2 hours we stopped at a “coffee shop” to use the restroom. The only thing that resembled a “coffee shop” was its sign outside as there was no coffee and the restroom was suspect. As we traveled on, we experienced something that often happens in Liberia: dirt in the gas line. We pulled over to the side of the road and our driver attempted to syphon the dirt from the gas line (yes, eww, with his mouth!). It was a beautiful day so our team enjoyed the beauty of birds and trees on the side of the road while we waited. God’s Spirit was present and none of us were anxious about this delay. John, one of our Liberian friends who lives and helps and at the guest house, hitched a ride on a pem pem (a small motorcycle) to get some clean gas, and after an hour or so, we were on our way again. All was well!

When we got to Ganta shortly after 10:00 a.m., we visited the United Methodist Mission Station there, including their hospital and farm. Our group met with the hospital administrator, Dennis Weh, and then some team members toured the hospital while others toured the farm. They are doing amazing work there, improving the health and wellness of the people in Liberia and neighboring Guinea. Will write more about some of these things in future posts. After a lunch at a local recommended restaurant that served American food, and where SOME of us actually got what we ordered (over an hour later!), we piled back into the vehicle for our 4-hour trek home.

On Tuesday morning, I spent time at the local public school observing the teachers and students there. The lack of teachers, books and supplies is staggering. These teachers are doing good work with their VERY limited resources. I also spent time with the children at St John’s school, playing with them during recess. Then the women of our team met with the Girls of Promise at St John’s. What a blessing to see the hope and potential in these young girls!

Yesterday the men on the team did their farm work and continued working on the benches they are building for classrooms at St John’s School. We women traveled to the capitol city of Monrovia to visit the Liberian Annual Conference office and do some shopping! The conditions of the roads here are hard to explain, but this 17 mile trip took us 2+ hours, each way. At the conference office, we attended their weekly Wednesday morning worship, met with their Director of Connectional Ministries, and met with their Volunteers in Mission Coordinator. The Director of Communications interviewed Cathy about Farmer to Farmer, and this interview will be broadcasted on the United Methodist radio station here.

After the conference office, we went shopping at a large local market called Happy Corner. And we were indeed happy as we bought fabric for our dresses that will be made. We had lunch at a local American restaurant and I ordered a Philly cheesesteak that actually resembled a real Philly cheesesteak more than some of the imposters I’ve been served in the States! And the good news is that all of us were served what we ordered! A first for our restaurant experiences here! After lunch, we did grocery shopping in an American market, went to a stationary store and then came home. A good day!

Today we will meet with the Girls of Promise at the Lutheran School and tonight I am preaching at a Pentecostal Church here in Harrisburg. I can only imagine how lively Liberian Pentecostal worship will be! Your prayers are appreciated.

Until next time, peace …

A rural gas station!

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I had my first African worship experience this morning and oh what a joy it was! As a pastor visiting St John’s UMC, I was expected to sit up front and participate in worship. While initially a little anxious about this, it was incredible. Sitting up front facing the congregation was the perfect vantage point to see the faces of those in worship. Admittedly, this vantage point in the U.S. does not always bring me the joy I found today. We in the U.S. are much more inhibited than those here in Liberia, and we tend to complain a whole lot more too! I can only imagine the phone calls I’d get from parishioners at any of the churches I’ve served if our worship lasted for two and a half hours!

This morning we sang and we danced in the joy of the Lord! Yes, this pastor danced in worship! After singing several lively praise songs, the opening hymn was Blessed Assurance. As we sang the first refrain, This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long …, I was overcome with emotion. Listening and watching as people who have so little material possessions claim such faith was humbling. We in the U.S. have so many trappings we think will make us happy, yet keep us from truly living a joy-filled life. I was also aware that my tears flowed because I know that I could never have had this experience 153 pounds ago. I am grateful to God for my health and vitality and I don’t want to waste a minute of it!

During this opening hymn, the pastor came to me to share what he wanted me to do during worship — read scripture. He assigned me a familiar passage from Luke 3, Jesus’ baptism, the exact passage I had preached on at home last Sunday. This, too, brought more tears as I felt the connection between these two congregations and was reminded of baptism and God’s claim on our lives as God’s beloved children.

After more singing, scripture and prayer, the message was brought by Farmer to Farmer missionary, Rev. Cathy Ake. She spoke of our connection to one another and our work together. Then it was time for the offering. Oh, if only we in the U.S. could make our offerings as cheerfully as Liberians! They sing and dance their way forward to place their offerings at the altar. It was truly Spirit- and joy-filled! May we pray for such a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in the U.S.!

Sitting up front I didn’t want to be disrespectful and take pictures during worship, but I did manage to sneak in a few pictures of the joyful givers. Pictured below is also our team, dressed and ready for worship.

Until next time, peace …

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Art School

A local artist in Harrisburg, Sam McGee, recently approached Ray and Cathy about forming an art school in the community. Though the program is not sponsored by Farmer to Farmer, Sam uses the garage of the guest house on Saturday mornings for his art class. The classes are free, though the children must register and pay for their shirts. This morning the children gathered at 10:00 for their second class of three hours of art instruction. Today Sam is focusing on shading techniques. See some pictures and a video below.

Sam also leads a drama class and last night children from the community gathered in the palava hut for a lively session.

God is working through committed community leaders to bring hope here in Harrisburg!

Until next time, peace …

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