Living the Dream

There is an image I cannot erase from my mind.  Travel with me for a moment to Kenya.  At the end of the safari, my family rode in a gutted JEEP back toward civilization.  Our driver, an authentic Masai warrior, barrels over rough terrain, nearly missing zebras, antelope  and wildebeest.  The JEEP throws us around, like an amusement park simulator ride on massive steroids!

(Our wild drive across the Mara.  The dark dots are all kinds of wild animals traveling together)

I look behind me, and the rest of our crew is closing in on us in their JEEPs with their drivers.  It looked like a scene from Indiana Jones with 6 stripped down, dirty JEEPS blazing across the Mara leaving thick dust trails behind them.  Like stunt drivers performing a rehearsed routine, our Masai drivers were in a race to get their JEEP back to the main road first.  This was our amazing adventure for at least 2 hours.  It was the most freeing ride I’ve ever taken.  Wide open plains dotted with wild animals.  Full throttle.  Full sun.  Then…the most unexpected thing EVER happened.

(A sample of the open plain we traversed)

Music!  Music began to play.  Not just any music.  Our Masai warrior hits a switch, and amidst the loud, rushing wind and hair slapping me in the face, Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby” began to play.  What?  Our entire family busted out laughing and asked how in the WORLD did this warrior, who kills lions with his bare hands, get a hold of this music?  I commented that Bieber would probably never imagine his music being the backdrop for a crazy thrill ride across the Mara in Africa.

Our driver, donning his personal machete and gorgeous, exquisite Masai garb, told us that previous travelers turned him on to it.  After “Baby” was done, Jamaican island music rang out over the whistling wind.  Wrong landscape, but surely more fitting than American pop music. Again, a gift from previous travelers.  Bruce asked him how he was playing music in this old, gutted JEEP.  He explained that he had made a homemade iPod of sorts and hardwired it to the vehicle.  We were impressed with his ingenuity!

But, I digress.

As we embraced the rocky, grassy, unmarked plains of the Masai territory working our way back to Kipsigis country, in the far distance we saw the most unbelievable sight!  Every time I think about it I get chills.

Far off on the horizon, we saw a dark figure moving very fast.  Squinting my eyes, straining to see, I caught the glimpse of  a man.  Running.  Foot travel is the mode of transportation for most people in Kenya, but there wasn’t anything typical about this man.  He was wearing athletic shorts, a crisp, white tank top, white knee socks and running sneakers.  None of which had we seen anywhere in our time in Kenya.  Where had he come from, and where was he going?

We all gasped at the same time and said, Surely he is in training!  For the Olympics, perhaps?  We asked our Masai driver and he concurred.  He didn’t know the man, but said Olympic hopefuls do, in fact, train in this terrain.  Our jaws fell agape as we watched, mesmerized, at this mystery man’s grace and speed.  This man was the fastest runner I’ve ever personally seen with my own eyes.  And poise!  His long legs stretched out before and behind him, back straight, arms taut – he didn’t even seem real.

No one has bright, white clothes in the Mara.  They wear native attire.  No one has shoes and socks so brilliantly crisp we could easily spot them from a distance. They are barefoot.  Oh yes, he was training indeed.

And, think about where he was running!  Most runners I see run in the city, suburbs or on greenway trails.  This man was completely alone, running in the land of hungry lions, temperamental Cape buffalo, sly jaguars, wicked- fast cheetahs, territorial hippos, elusive rhinos, venomous snakes and audacious hyenas.  As much as that thought would make ME run like the wind (for my life!), I still could not have done what he did.  He had a goal and was training for a dream.

Did he realize he was living his dream?  How about us?  Are we?  Do we?

For this man, he was already living his dream.  At some point, he stopped his normal day’s work, put on his training outfit (perhaps sponsored by someone?), and took his first step.  That step led to more, quicker steps, and those led to miles and miles of lightening fast, all-out running – racing the wind and daring the company of wild beasts.

I have never seen anything so inspirational of the human spirit.  I’ve watched Dateline and 60 Minutes who produce shows based on the one in a million who beat all odds to compete in sports, music and fine arts.  But, those shows have an ending.  There is closure when the man or woman, child or adult proves they have accomplished their goals.  I never have I witnessed the dream in play.

This man’s race has not yet happened.  Does that make him less of a runner?  Or, does working hard every day – rain or shine, sick or healthy – running the Mara make him a runner?

The answer is obvious.  He is, in fact, a race runner right now.

For those of us who most likely will never train in the Mara, what are the dreams that stir our heart?  They are just as important as this man’s, but do we give them the same credit?

Or, do we choose to let the mundane monotony of life be our excuse for not suiting up (be it arming ourselves with a paintbrush, a pen, a camera, a tool, a musical instrument, or our voices) and accept our place on the sidelines?

God gives us dreams.  Dreams spur on hope, give us reason to fight against hardships and ignite purpose on our lives.  Once we have given those dreams to God, asking permission to pursue them in His timing and for His glory, what holds us back?

I think the biggest thing that holds us back is – us.  We feel our limitations.  We listen to the doubt inside us that reminds us of our inadequacies and past failures.  We measure ourselves against the world and believe that we have nothing to offer.  Surely we are not as good as the next man or woman or child.

This happened to me just recently.  I was trapped in a conversation with someone who made me feel really bad about myself.  The topic was photography.  I will spare you the long story, but suffice it to say I told him, in an effort to end the conversation and diffuse his temper, that I was not a real photographer.  When I said those words, a part of me died.  I totally sold myself out because of a man I barely knew.  I went home and sobbed to my husband that my entire history of photography, that began when I was 10 years old when, for my birthday, my great-grandmother put a 110 instamatic in my hands and instantly I found my voice to the world, was gone.  All of my work, albeit unpaid, was suddenly worthless.  Because I don’t have credentials behind my name, or awards on my bookshelves, or a paycheck to prove it – I sold my dream for the price of exiting a conversation.

I felt numb for a few days.  Perhaps, deep down, this is indeed how I felt about myself, and it took verbally cornering me to bring it out?  Or, perhaps, I reduced myself to the world’s standards and realized I didn’t measure up.  Or, perhaps still, I caved under the pressure and said something I didn’t really believe.

For me, I know it was the third choice. In the days following, God had to show me, in His own unique way, the truth of who I am.  He proverbially picked me up, brushed off my knees and wiped the tears from my eyes.  He showed me who I am in Him, and that person is someone who believes in her dreams and wants to enjoy every part of the journey, whether anyone else believes in me or not.

Ironically, not by coincidence, God recently put me in not one, but two situations where my being a photographer was validated by two separate people – on their own initiative, not mine.  I don’t even know these people.  God caused our paths to cross, and I believe it was to reinforce exactly what I felt about the race runner I saw in the Mara.  Because, what I felt about that man was that although he had not yet won the public affirmation for which he was training, he was absolutely a true runner in my opinion.  No doubt.

The same takeaway is for us.  Perhaps more than a single race to prove who wins; it is ignoring what others say about us; it is the numerous days, months and years of practice; it is the countless miles we run in our own way that validate our dreams.

I once ran a 5K cold.  My daughter was entered in the race, but when we got there, we were surprised to see hundreds of runners and hundreds of their family members and friends.  My daughter didn’t have a cell phone and wasn’t familiar with the trail.  All of her fellow group runners had already begun.  She was alone.  There was no way I was going to let my daughter disappear into a crowd of a sea of people and weave her way through 3+ miles of unfamiliar roads.  Spontaneously, I signed myself up, pinned a number to my shirt and off we went.  We ran the whole thing, but unlike her, I had not trained for it.  Did that race make me a runner?  No!  It made me a protective mother.

My point is, even some who show up for the race aren’t necessarily runners at heart.  Many people have many motives for why they do what they do.

It’s those of us who forge on, despite criticism, despite our own self-doubt, despite the rough travel and slim odds – who are truly living the dream.  The dream is the journey.

Are you living your dream today? 🙂

Rules for life

In my mind, I’m back in Kenya.  This time it is night.  We are no longer on mission.  It is the end of the trip, and we are on safari.  This place was like nothing I have ever seen.  Very eco-friendly.  Amazing!  The detached huts were spaced well apart, and the one, large dining hut was a decent walk away.  That was it.  No gates. No fences.  No trace of humanness.  Just wild, wide open space and a small, gravel path that connected the huts together.  Below us was a river that hippos splash in all day.  At any time, you can hear them grunt and moan and show off.

Everyday, we set of on safari with a guide.  Most were Maasai warriors – the real deal.  Friendly.  Strong.  Brave.  Confident.  We saw so many amazing animals up close and very personal – it took my breath away.  However, more surreal than that was nighttime.  There were clearly stated rules we had to follow.  This is what we were told, Under no circumstances, ever, do you come out of your hut at night alone.  There are predators that come to this camp, and you must not venture outside your hut.  If you need something, use this small light.  Shine it in the night, and a Masai watchman will come running to help you.  When leaving the dining lodge, you must have an escort because it will be dark.  You must NOT walk to your hut alone in the dark.  The reiterated their point several times.  Got it.

Were the hosts doing this to spoil our fun?  Absotluely not.  They were doing it to keep us safe.  After dinner one night, a small group of us huddled together to wait for a Maasai escort to go to our huts for the night.  It seemed out of nowhere, a tall, slender Maasai in a bright red kanga (a one-piece garment), holding a walking stick taller than him, appeared from the darkness.  My friend walked with him down the path, chatting as they went, when suddenly he stopped moving and shushed her.  He said, Wait.  Lion.  He cocked his ear toward the black of night and listened.  After a few seconds (which seemed like an eternity to my friend, frozen in fear) he softly spoke, Two-hundreds yards.  We’re okay.  My friend said she was about to crawl up under his kanga in fear as they continued trekking to her hut.

When it was my family’s turn, we wanted to all climb on the Maasai’s shoulders!  The danger was so real you could sense it, like smelling rain before it begins to fall. As we walked down the narrow gravel path to our hut, the Maasai shone his flashlight into the bushes inches from our feet.  I didn’t even want to know what he was looking out for.  I asked our Maasai, Do you ever get scared?  This huge warrior, donning a war-colored kanga and armed with only a spear, looked at me with his deep, dark eyes and stated firmly, No – as if I had just asked a stupid question.  Well, okay then, I thought to myself.  I didn’t bring it up again.  Later I found out that this Maasai has killed, not one, but six lions with his bare hands!  Oh…my…word! Another Maasai with our team once jumped into a hippo-infested, crocodile-plagued river to save five drowning tourists.  He jumped in and saved them all, all by himself.  Wow.  These men are modern-day superheroes!

As we slept that night in our hut, with the steel door locked and the canvas windows zipped up, the nighttime activity began.  Nighttime on the Mara is very active.  Hunting is huge at this time.  The day before we arrived, a jaguar had been seen walking through the camp.  Whoa.  They didn’t have to tell me twice to stay in our hut.  The beds lined the perimter of the hut, with our heads against the dried mud wall.  The steel door made me feel safe, but the entire backside of the hut was canvas (like a tent).  My husband jokingly said, It’s just a wrapper (as in a candy bar and we’re the treat).  Ha ha, Honey.  The lights were shut off (literally, they cut power to the rooms at 11pm).  We could not see the hand in front of our face.  But, that was kind of okay with me because that meant we couldn’t see the enormous bugs hanging on the mosquito nets that draped over our beds.

Then it began.  Thump.  Bump.  Snort.  Groan.  Moan.  Grunt.  Kick. Wham! up against the walls our heads were resting against.  The animals came.  In large number.  They were literally right outside, and only a mud wall stood between us and them.  My heart beat so hard I knew for sure every predator within miles could hear it. Hippos, zebra, wildebeests, Thompson gazelles, you name it, was there.  Oh, and at least one lion that the Maasai heard.  All night, the thumping and bumping up against our mud wall continued.  My family and I laid there, in the stark blackness, and whispered, Did you hear that?  Did you feel that?  The owners weren’t kidding when they said the danger is real.

Obviously, we survived.  In fact, we had the best time of our entire lives!!  Why? How?  Every moment we were there, we were in some kind of danger.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves because we obeyed the rules.  We stayed on the marked paths.  We didn’t go out after dark.  We enlisted the Maasai to help us when needed.  When near the wild animals, we didn’t call to them or disturb them.  We kept all limbs inside the open-air vehicles at all times.  We sat very, very quietly when animals passed by our Landrover.  In addition to medicine and protective clothing, we followed bug repellent guidelines so as to avoid contracting malaria.  These are examples of rules that are meant to keep us safe, not spoil our fun, while in the wild.

Living according to God’s Word is the same.  He has given us the Bible as a rulebook, of sorts, to follow.  Is this to spoil our quality of life?  No, in fact, it is to enhance it.  When we live with Christ in our heart, we desire to please God.  It’s a choice we make.  Jesus said Himself, The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).  In keeping God’s commandments in both the Old and New Testaments, we have freedom to really, truly, deeply live – not merely survive.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Leviticus 25:18 (God speaking), Follow my decress and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.

Proverbs 3:5-6 promises, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

Psalm 119:33-35, Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.  Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.  Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.

John 14:15 (Jesus speaking), If you love me, you will obey what I command.

Instead of resenting and testing the boundaries God has set for our lives as believers, let’s embrace them!  He has our best interest at heart and is working for our eternal good – all the time.  Dwell in God’s Word.  Absorb it.  Let it become who you are.  We will continue to sin, sinful people that we are.  But, we can minimize the difficulties we create for ourselves when living according to the standard God has set in the Bible.  In doing so, we are free to fully enjoy the life in Christ has to offer such as trust, joy, peace, and contentment.  Psalm 91:1-2 says it best, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

The Maasai have their knowledge, strength, courage, walking sticks, and handmade spears to keep them safe.  All are very impressive.  Christians have the Word of God which is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) –  the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).  In it, He’s given us everything we need to make wise choices.  Choose wisely today.

<<Check out some of my safari photos in the Photo Gallery page!>>