How “a day in the life of Teneil”, came to be.

You would think that with all the short stories I write, the story of my journey would have already been. Even though I knew that it needed to happen, I still was hesitant… Every story needs an ending and a beginning and that seems to be the hang up for me on this particular story.

Where do I start? More over, where am I going?

Because there are some new friends who I have never met, I think I will start with a little background on who I am. I try to be as transparent as I know how to be, but there is always another level of self discovery. The more you become the person that you want to be the less you are ashamed of who you where or the path that took you.

When I was in my teenage years, living in a small high mountain desert town called, Craig, CO. I made a proclamation to my mother in our kitchen. I told her that I wanted to serve the Lord, that I would go where he told me to go and my life would be his to do with as he pleased. The story of how that came to be is a entirely different post for another day. My mom has faith and though we agree on many things and have a wonderful relationship, we are vastly different. I remember her saying something to the effect of, “That’s insanity”, and I think she cried for a while. 

Flash forward: Graduated high school and life happened in place of my destiny, happen to any one else? To save time I recommend searching my page for “the story of being fat”. Go a head … we will wait for you to get caught up… Many people ask what I did to lose the weight? One thing that was super helpful was a change in career. At this point I had sat through several Helicopter piloting classes that I could not afford, I had dropped out of beauty school and had been a server at almost every restaurant in town. I had cleaned houses, worked at the groceries store, a hotdog stand, the movie rental place back when that was a thing. Needless to say, I was searching for something more. I wanted a big change. So I applied at a temp agency to work construction labor in the next town over, beautiful Steamboat Springs. I was in love. I worked directly for the site manager and helped everyone as they needed it, If the plumbers need help I was with them. If the electrician was shy a man I would help them. I did everything from landscaping to trim work and all the snow melt systems in between. Working on the multi million dollar condos was great but i soon realized that learning tools and skills is an unquenchable thirst for me. Never turn down an opportunity to learn a new trade or skill, became a life motto. 

When that job ended I had a choice, continue in one of the trades that I had been working with or try something new!? Can you guess which one I picked?

I moved to Denver and started massage school. School was 5 days a week 4 hours a day and my part time job in a boutique at a dying mall wasn’t bring home rent, let alone bacon. Between my slum apartment and the job at the mall was a “sports bar” that was always packed! I have never spent time in bars, I wasn’t ever much on drinking, But the reality was I had rationed a small bag of trail mix over the course of 3 days and was down to 116lbs. I couldn’t afford to feed my self and I didn’t know anyone in Denver that could help. I finally went to the bar to apply. Sitting in front of the entry way and mustering my courage I noticed a sign amongst all the neon, that instantly made my uneasy, “NO COLORS”. I wasn’t happy about it but I felt like I couldn’t turn back. Driven by hunger I walked into the bar and told the owner that much. He gave me a look over like a butcher looks over a fresh cut of beef. He said I was hired on the spot and I responded, “Okay, there is just one thing that bothers me. The sign in the window, “NO COLORS”, Its racist and I want to taken down. He looked at me blankly as if he was making sure I was not pulling his leg. When he realized I was truly taking a stand for humanity he slowly said, “Gang colors. We don’t like the different gangs to come in and start fights in the bar. We don’t mind black people.” The “sport” of this bar I quickly realized was motorcycles. I was shaking and wanting to throw up the first night. A small town girl surrounded by every type of leather jacket and chain combination you can think of and some you don’t want to. Most of my coworkers were dancers (not ballet). Time to learn a new skill! I would change in my car after massage school let out and get back to my own slum about 3am. I made a whole new different kind of family. My determination to be true to my self and keep it classy earned me respect. Over the 5 year career I discovered many of the friends who support me today. I also learned that no matter how we may appear, people are people no matter where you go.

Eventually the mountains called me home and I fell madly in love with a reformed bad boy. His family was so rooted in their community, I had always wanted to learn that skill! Having bounced around so much in my life, I craved roots. It was time to settle down. My soon-to-be husbands mother was incredibly helpful in my life skills department. She taught me so much. She was an avid church goer and reminded me of my promise to God so many years before. She took the small ember still glowing in me and blew on it until the flame inside me kindled into a bon fire. I started going to Malawi on missions trips. Once with an incredible and large group from the church my mother in law attended, and the next year I flew alone. I was learning without plan or intention, but with excessive drive. Something had awakened inside of me.

Shortly after our first and only family vacation, my life changed drastically. My mother in law was killed. Her life long husband and father of their two boys shot and killed her and then ended his own life. My husband and I tried to navigate through the devastation but somehow everything unraveled and I couldn’t seem to put it back together again. We eventually divorced and put a sale sign on the little piece of land that we had planned to build on. 

My dream had ended savagely. Now what? I could not afford to live in Steamboat and I could not conceive of leaving. Live in nanny for the cutest baby in the world? Sounded like a good idea! It was ideal. I had a relatively quiet room in the bottom of the house, the family encouraged me in all the side projects that I had going on. Volunteering, starting my own art company- making furniture and jewelry,  publishing a few children’s books that I had just finished illustrating, and getting deeper into the understanding of what my promise so many years ago was really going to look like. 

The small piece of land finally sold after several months of being on the market and I was given a check for $28,000. I was horrified. I thought, “This is it. Now is my chance. I don’t have to work for someone anymore, with this much capital I could invest in myself and grow my own company, go back to school, professionally publish my children’s books, invest.” So many things. I don’t come from a family that has much in the bank department and I knew that I had never obtained the skill to manage money. My list of dreams has no end or limitation. What if I squandered it? What if I lost it all? The weight of responsibility was overwhelming. I decided that investing in my spiritual life first would bring clarity into all the other avenues. Pursuing a degree in biblical counseling online is something that I could do in Malawi, I could take a few months and get my degree while not wasting my new nest egg on rent in Steamboat. I just knew the inner struggle that I was facing would be cleared up in Malawi. 

I booked a one way ticket, unsure of how long school would take, and headed to a new part of the country. I had heard that the north was beautiful and internet was a real thing there. I had a friend who had recently moved to north Malawi. She invited me to stay with her and help out with her new baby, a skill I recently acquired. Every step I took felt like I had finally found true north and was headed in a direction. What that would look like, I had no idea but at least I had a direction. 

I spent about $200 trying to make my laptop receive a strong enough signal to load more than one page in 5 min, but after two week I put my laptop away and for the first time, I tasted what it was like to live on the other side of the world with no plan. I fell in love with 2 puppies. The beautiful and rotten Koinonia. And Dobby who weighed about 2 pounds and had a highly questionable life span. He found me when he was full of worms and some sort of stomach illness that likened him to the exorcist. This too is a story in and of itself but for another day. I could not leave Dobby to die but I couldn’t invite this sad looking dog into a brand new babies life either. So I moved into my own space. Dobby started to heal and they both started to grow and I was all the sudden living alone in Africa with two dogs. Though I was getting anxious to get back to the states and complete the degree that I was now determined to have, I would need to wait 3 months for my new pups to get their shots before I would be able to import them. 3 months. I could no longer travel around, because I could not manage 2puppies at the same time. We stayed in a hostel for about a month before we moved to a lodge that had no water/electricity/kitchen or staff. The room 10 feet from the lake was enough for the three of us. The exact picture of your screen saver. I was living in a dream. Two cute puppies and a kind of freedom that I had never known before. No kitchen, bathroom or even fresh water meant that everything was a bit of a challenge. I made some friends on the beach, mostly kids that were curious and more than willing to eat any food I had to offer. I noticed a young girl doing dishes every morning about 9 o’clock, in the lake right in front of my house. We made friends as she helped guide me through how to properly hand wash laundry. Eventually I felt it was time to ask why she wasn’t in school. “Fees.”, a simple answer. “Bring me your report card tomorrow?” I looked over the scores and noted that she was in the top 30%. She wasn’t first in her class but she was not lazy either. I went to the house of her mother and asked why she wasn’t sending her to school? After getting to know the family situation better I decided to support the girls education. (I ran into her a couple days ago, she happened to be walking home with her new report card, she ran over and handed it to me, she is now in the top 20% of her class)

At that same time one of the fishermen who parks his boat in my front yard had fallen on a rock and split his head open. I mended him up and a moment later was confronted with another wound on a mans hand. Fallowing this was an infected elbow wound. Shortly after a man came asking if I would come and visit his family. There I met a boy, about 15, dragging his legs and desperate for a tricycle to get to school. I was meeting so many people with practical needs that I could fulfill. I never even thought that I was starting something that I would not be able to stop. Helping people became addicting, the look on a persons face when they have a prayer answered after years of suffering in silence… I had learned a new skill.

After several dozen people had been helped I started keeping a log, I didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t keep and I didn’t want to forget to check in with the people who had been helped. Word spread around that Nkhata Bay had someone willing to help. The spirit inside me was growing bold and bright and I all the sudden could not imagine giving up this new life.

After a month in my bungalow it was clear the dogs needed more space. We found only one house for rent in a good neighborhood. The house is large but really basic. There is an indoor toilet and a cold water shower. The kitchen is a bare room without a sink, fridge, stove/oven or even a countertop. It could be another bedroom if it wasn’t for the back door. There is a tap outside for water and a small yard for the dogs to destroy every day, which they remain faithful to. My rent is about $60 a month plus around $10 for water and $6 for electric. I hung some boards for shelves and got the cheapest bed I could (which I regret every morning when I get out of bed). The house is mostly empty.

I had now been gone for several months lost in the villages and others sufferings. I started to get many messages asking what I was doing? Not working. Not going to school. No plan, organization, support system… “What is your day like?”, became a common theme. How could I possibly explain my days when there is no semblance to a routine? I was going where ever I was asked? In an attempt to answer that question I decided that for just 7 days I would post everything from sun up to sun down. I would make myself take photos and force myself back onto social media, which I had almost completely given up. I titled the week with #adayinthelifeofteneilday1,then day2,and I think you get the idea. Through out the week I started to feel so much less lonely. I didn’t even realize how lonely I had become, with few people able to hold a conversation in English and personally sitting in others suffering everyday I had depleted my reserves and I was being refreshed by my friends/family support. On the 7th day I was in tears not wanting to stop. I thanked everyone who was with me that week and tried to imagine going back to my solitary here. But I couldn’t. The response was overwhelming. Many people messaged me and pleaded for me to continue my posts. Several friends told me that they were reading my posts to their kids, bring a new perspective into their home. That’s what did it. I was free to continue #adayinthelifeofteneil.

I am forever grateful that I made that decision. It was a couple months later that I noticed it wasn’t monopoly money I was spending. My chance at a new life was gone. I could barley afford a plane ticket home but the suffering here did not seem to care. I just kept going. I somehow knew that this was the plan from the beginning. Not the beginning of my trip to Malawi, the beginning of this story. Every skill I had ever learned, every place I had ever moved, the people I had worked next to… My life was being built for this. I had one moment that I broke down in shame, I had done what i was most afraid of. I blew it. I would go back to America and move into my parents basement. I would go back to serving in restaurants. The last few months of my life would be something that no one could take away from me. Unless they didn’t let my dogs through customs. Then something hit my heart and I took a leap of faith. I posted my issue on facebook. I told everyone that I wasn’t done with my work, but at that point I didn’t even have enough money to go home. Several people stepped up and I had money to get a plain ticket home! And promptly spent it on an emergency surgery request. I begged again and money for another plain ticket came in! And was promptly spent. Over and over again this became my weekly struggle. How could I say no to such incredible need? As much as I tried to bring my trip to a close, more and more responsibility started coming. Now having a reputation through town (and the fact someone put a map to my house up at the hospital) It seemed i was faced with the all to well known, sink or swim. With my nose barley above the water and my hands tied behind my back the next leap of faith came. Her name is Gift. At that time 12 years old, an orphan with a bad temper and bruises from a police beating at the behest of her own grandmother, became the next house call. I took a deep breath and internally asked God if he was thinking what I was thinking? “She can stay with me”, blurted out of my mouth. Later I found myself in a heap on the floor crying because I knew that I had made a horrible mistake! What could I offer Gift? I had less than $5.00 to my name and no plan! I questioned myself over and over and finally came to a conclusion. Swim harder.

I have a 13 year old emotionally and physically troubled girl living with me, we don’t speak the same language, our cultures are completely different, we don’t even like the same food. And I adore her. Technically I am more of a foster parent. Which is perfect for us. It makes a relationship built on choice rather than responsibility. She knows that every day I make a choice for her to be here, likewise every day is her choice to stay. A relationship built on freedom seems to build the right trust with an abused orphan teenage girl. If I ground her, it is only by her own choice to stay and not just walk out. If she is unruly it is my choice to heap her in my house. So far we have chosen each other every time. Our now 3 dogs (including Bart) protect the house, without much complaint. 

Looking through my log book of people who have received support, be it school fees, fixing structures, medications/dr visits, handy cap equipment, small business capital, surgeries, food, transport, first aid… etc. . I don’t typically give cash ever, for anything, if it can be helped. I will buy flour and bring it to a family before I will give them money to do it themselves. I have nothing else going on, why not get more personal in the support i give? There are over 65 entries. I wish I was more diligent about writing everything down. If I had to guess, between the constant flow of people coming for little things like wounds or food, I would say it is easily over 150 people and growing every day. Not including my little breakfast club that started as a few stray kids eating in my bungalow to a group of about 20 that come 3 days a week. Im about to make it 2 days a week… I just don’t have enough material to feed that many! I go through a 5 gallon bucket of rice every 2-3 weeks, a 5 gallon bucket of potatoes every week, about 60 eggs a week, approx. 100 tomatoes weekly…. Its intense. 

I hope to be able to come back to the states for a couple months in September not only to manage things like my taxes but also to personally request funding. I want to build a city park in all the villages that I work in. I want to build a house for myself. I want to fund a car that can make trips to the hospital 2 times a day. I want to continue to help the community that is suffering and unseen. I want to keep Gift in my life. 

More than all the dreams I have for Malawi, is my dream of showing America a different way. I realize that the work I have been doing is just as much for Malawi as it is for the States. The individual matters. Life matters. We have grown to celebrate suffering and discourage anything that is brilliant. I intend to bring mercy back to our culture. I am just a girl from a tiny dusty town. I’m a real person with real flaws. I am not special. I am the girl next door, I just decided to stand up and do something. I would suggest that you also have that right. The right to stand for something more.

I do love the lord with all I have and my life style is a result of that, but I’m and not denominationally funded. There is no back up plan. There is only today. Tomorrow will have its own story, but today with $40.00 in my bank account, I am here, and I will keep swimming, the waves only make me stronger. 

I stand with my arms wide open falling backwards knowing that I will never hit the ground.

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