Monday, October 29, 2012

Time marches on. Whether I remember it or not.

Knowing you have a bad memory at the age of 23 is a scary thing.

“How bad did it (stink) when you had your root canal?” my friend Layne asked me in a text message.
“Did I have a root canal?” I responded.
“Haha, I thought you came over one time after having one,” Layne said.

And slowly, bits and pieces of the memory from only a little over a year ago begin floating back to me. They’re mingled with other memories of the dentist and other memories of hanging out with Layne causing the experience to still be completely foggy. The inability to remember whether I’ve had a root canal causes me to question what other experiences I’ve had in life that I’ve completely forgotten about.

As I contemplated whether the root canal happened, I was driving from Fremont to Waterloo. Fremont, the town with the hospital where I was born, and Waterloo where I was raised. When I arrived in Waterloo, I decided to take an extra ten minutes to tour the town before going to my parents’ house.  With some visual prompts, I realized I have at least some memory left because on almost every block is a memory to go with it.

You pull into town on the northwest corner and pass the former kindergarten through 12th grade Waterloo Public School, where I attended through ninth grade. The place where I peed my pants standing in line for the bathroom in kindergarten, developed a fascination for the Oregon Trail playing the game on the computers in fourth grade, and slipped in a mud puddle trying to save a basketball from going out of bounds on the first day of sixth grade. The school where I attended my first dance on homecoming of freshman year and where I fell in love with English reading Great Expectations  by Charles Dickens in freshman English.

One block to the east is the house my parents built when I started school. The house where Kaylea and I raced up and down the front yard, played pick-up games of kickball and street hockey, and where we practiced becoming lifeguards swimming in the old metal horse tank. Two blocks to the north is the stop sign Kaylea and I could ride our bikes to and from our house and back, and the little old house a childhood friend convinced me a witch lived in and made me keep watch while she “investigated” the woman’s shed.

Another block to the east is the only house I lived in as an only child. One more block to the east are the apartments we lived in while waiting for our house to be built, which are the same apartments that my Aunt Patty lived in when she and I would hang out during my childhood days.

Main Street is on the east side of those apartments and possesses all types of memories including buying cans of root beer at Jack’s full service gas station and eating soft serve ice cream at Betty B’s Convenience Store, both of which are out of business today. There’s the post office and the duck pond and all of the oldest, most beautiful homes in town, including the big old house my first grade teacher used to live in that people turned into a haunted house for a few years after she moved out. The old Robinson Seed Company buildings line the road by the railroad tracks and all have long, sloped drives that we used to ride our bikes down. And, that’s all only on the north side of the 700 population town separated by railroad tracks.

In middle school, we moved to the south side. The side with the small church I grew up in, the ball field I had to practice at every day, and the large stretches of the bike trail I’d run every morning of summer. The side with the town park and the water tower, the new El Bee’s Mexican restaurant, and the side where my grandparents lived.

I’m still not sure if I’ve ever had a root canal or not, and my mom doesn’t know either. But, after ten minutes of driving around the place I call home, I don’t really care and am only slightly concerned about the condition of my brain and its ability to recall events. Because whether I remember if I’ve had a root canal or not doesn’t matter as much as knowing where my roots come from. And that, for the most part, I remember.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back behind the wheel... for better or for worse.

I know that this is the second blog in a row that has nothing to do with stuff that truly matters, but I'm writing about it anyway.

There's a difference between driving in Uganda and driving in Nebraska.

But, I wouldn't know a whole lot about it because I didn't drive in Uganda. However, because I'm a renowned back-seat, passenger, any-seat-in-the-car driver, I feel like I learned the ways of driving in Uganda. Either that or I just completely forgot how to drive.

I used to love driving, but prior to this week I was afraid the last year had stripped me of my will to drive. Up until Monday, I was driving old farm vehicles. Vehicles that had minor parts missing or major parts going out. Vehicles that prevented me from driving fast, being distracted or multitasking while driving because it simply wasn't an option. But, Monday I bought a new car. Used, but new to me. And, it's fun. It's fun to drive. It accelerates - quickly. It's sporty. It has a nice radio, a sunroof, and way too many gadgets for me to dink around with while I'm driving.  It's a distraction haven.

In Uganda I didn't realize it, but living in America, I'm so aware of how low my multitasking ability has become. It's actually frustrating. I used to be the best distracted multi-functioning driver in the state. It's gone.

And, you know how I know for sure? Four hours after getting my new car I hit a raccoon. The next day, I'm back in one of the old farm trucks and you know what happens? I get pulled over. I've joked with my friend Layne before about how funny it would be to get a speeding ticket in that truck because of how ridiculous it would be. I mean the truck runs well once you get it started, but very rarely do I ever reach the actual speed limit! I'm the old farmer driving in the fast lane, going ten miles below the speed limit, acting like I'm taking in the scenery, when really my truck just won't go any faster. Yet, I manage to get pulled over.

I was driving 47 mph in a 35 zone, looking at my phone, unaware of my surroundings and thinking about how quickly I could make it to my sister's softball game. I glanced up as I passed the officer. For a split second we made eye contact, and I swear I saw the disappointment in his eyes. I looked at my speedometer, and thinking the speed limit was probably around 45 mph, thought I was safe. Until the red, white and blue flashing lights came on behind me. It was in this moment that I realized how totally and completely out of the habit I am at reading road signs, spotting for police, and hitting the brakes. So, I pulled over into the turning lane to get off the road and said a little prayer that my brake lights and turn signals were working. As I drove into the gas station parking lot, the officer gets on his loud speaker and politely tells me to please pull behind the building. As if the produce truck alone doesn't get enough attention...

Fifteen minutes later and I'm off with a warning. I'll take my lucky break. However, I'm seriously considering submitting my license before I do anything terribly stupid in my new car.

When in America, it's not okay to:

  • Overtake vehicles at any split opening in traffic
  • Fit as many bodies in the car as it will hold
  • Ride side-saddle on motorcyles
  • Drive on the left side of the road
But you probably should
  • Yield to pedestrians
  • Wear a seat belt
  • Pay attention to street signs and read them
  • Follow traffic signals (turns out there are consequences if you don't and even hidden cameras to catch you in the act!)
That's all I remember for now about driving, so do yourself a favor and steer clear of any unlicensed Mazdas you see on the streets of Omaha for the next month.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back where I come from.

I've failed miserably at communicating with the rest of the world since I left Uganda and moved back to Nebraska. Turns out that re-entering your home culture is stressful. It's this strange mix of feeling right at home, and yet completely out of place, feeling guilty for feeling that way, and struggling to process all of those different and mixed up feelings.  

So in the midst of waiting to know what's next, figuring it out, and rediscovering my place in America, here's what I've been doing these days: 

Working at the produce farm.

A day of work consists of going to the farm, driving the truck of produce to the stand, unloading the truck, setting up the stand, working with Americans who come to the produce stand all day, loading the truck back up, driving the truck back to the shed, unloading the truck and going home. Not bad, right? For me, it's a day of hard work, a source of income, and a bit of sanity. 

Most people know that I don't have a car (due to an unfortunate accident that happened while I was in Uganda). And, as dumb as it sounds, it's kind of hard to live in the Midwest without a mode of transportation. I'm unable to commit to meeting with anyone or go to anything, which makes me sound even more noncommittal than I already am. Not having a car raises my stress level, continues to make me more flexible, and increases my exercise output. So instead of having my little 2007 silver Pontiac to drive around , I ride a little silver bike gets me to work and back, to some of my friends' homes, to the post office, and to the little town convenience store.

Once in a blue moon, I decide, or defer, to walking instead...

And when I'm too lazy to do either of those, my newest mode of travel is...

...hitchhiking! (Just kidding :) )

Once I make the trek to work in the morning, it's another hope and prayer to make it into the produce stand each day. The 1986 Ford truck that we drive has a few qualities that give it a character of it's own. One of those being that to get it to run, you have to take a pair of pliers, grip on to some kind of wire, and push hard, while pumping the gas pedal with persistence. Turning the key in the truck doesn't do much to make it run properly, except that if you forget to turn the key, the steering wheel remains locked (not that I've had any miniature heart attacks trying to figure out why I couldn't turn the wheel or anything...) Other than that, once you get the truck going, it works like a charm. This week, though, we've actually had this little issue with the truck fixed! And, for the first time in a long time turning the key causes the engine to run!

After I arrive at the stand, I work on getting it opened up. I sort the produce so that our customers get quality fruits and vegetables, update the price board, and begin unloading the 25 boxes and one hundred melons that are packed on the back of the truck. It's a great workout/diet plan in this 100+ degree weather.

My favorite part of working the stand is working with people. I love the relationships I'm able to make with people who return day after day, year after year. It's fun to see the change and development in people's lives over time. However, there's a whole other dynamic to working with people that stretches my patience level and causes me to take a sharp inward look at my heart. I'm blaming it on reverse culture shock.

So, I'm living in America with my fellow Americans. I hear things and I say things that sometimes make me cringe. I get swallowed up in the busy, worrisome ways of society, and it takes but a moment of stepping back to realize that the things I spend my time worrying about aren't what I was created for anyway. So in the midst of the organized - yet crazy fast traffic, hectic schedules, unlimited texting and calling minutes, and endless to-do lists, there are lots of beautiful things about this place too, and here are a few that I'm rejoicing in: 
  • Time with family and friends
  • Scooter's Coffee
  • My church family
  • Summer nights and country music
  • Sleeping in my bed
  • Running on flat land
There are plenty of others, too, including going out to eat, driving on highways and interstates, unlimited high speed internet, frozen yogurt and bookstores. But, no matter where I am, it's always the people God places in my life who make it the most enjoyable for me. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Lord's our Rock, in Him we Hide.

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” 1 Samuel 22:1

It was a place David fled for refuge. 

“During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to
 David at the cave of Adullam...
At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem…” 2 Samuel 23:13-14

It was a place where the LORD was David's refuge.

"Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me..." Psalm 7:1

The word "refuge" has been a word on my heart for a few years because it has been associated with an idea and dream that I've had. Today, I was introduced to a refuge that was different from the refuge associated with my other dreams. I don't know what it is about this word or if anything will ever come to pass with it in my life, but I find it so intriguing that it keeps circulating through my life in the forms of hopes and dreams. While the hopes and dreams are different, the purposes of these dreams aren't. Because when I think of the word refuge, I think of a place of safety, comfort, encouragement, and love and that's what these dreams all consist of

Today I went to a cave of Adullam where refuge can be found, where the brokenhearted are healed and where their wounds are bandaged (Psalms 147:3).

I was blessed with the company of some brothers and sisters in Christ who are loving others with a love so deep that it's undeniably the love of God. And, through my time with them today, I was able to spend time with some boys I met about eight months ago on the streets of Mbarara. I wish I could explain the inexpressible joy in my heart as a result of spending the day with them.

In very short summary this ministry, Amagara Masya which means “new life”, takes boys and girls off of the streets, rehabilitates , counsels, and educates them, nurtures and disciples them, and works toward reconciliation with their families. By the love and grace of God, Amagara Masya leaders point the boys and girls toward a new life. Could there be a more fitting name for such a transformational ministry? However, I also discovered it was located on a hill in a village outside of Mbarara at a school called Adullam Primary School. I found the connection between the names “Amagara Masya” and “Adullam” significant. New life found in a place of refuge. A place where the love of God is refuge and where it can lead to a new life in Him. 

As the manager of the ministries drove me home at the end of the day, I asked him if I could take a picture of the Adullam school sign. He assured me it was okay, and then told me that before it was broken, they had a bigger sign for the school located right on the top of the hill in the middle of everything. He said, “It was as if it was a symbol of refuge for this entire hill top.”

Lord, I pray for the sustainability of these ministries; for wisdom, rest and encouragement for my Ugandan brothers and sisters leading there; and for continued transformation, reconciliation and love for the children that are so dear to my heart staying at Amagara Masya. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Travels, Trials, and Teamwork

From Mbarara to Kampala to Jinja to Mukono to Kampala to Mbarara. If I had a map, I'd pinpoint the highlights of the last two weeks and keep this blog post short and simple. However, I don't have a map handy, and I'm too in love with words to not fully explain to you all the adventures, thoughts, and lessons learned from my recent Ugandan travels.

Before I ever arrived in Uganda, there was one thing that people kept telling me I would have to try. Of course, as I settled into living here, I learned of other adventure-seeking, sight-seeing places to go, but the one that Carolyn and I had settled on a long time ago was white water rafting down the Nile River. So last Tuesday with all of our preconceived notions, fears and excitements we, along with our teammates Martha, Connor, and Stephen, and then two other Americans who we previously didn’t know, went crashing down the Nile River.

More than once I thought about baby Moses in his little papyrus basket on the Nile. Praise God that He’s a sovereign God who made provision for Moses and kept that little baby safe in the reeds of the Nile and far from these life-threatening rapids. I couldn’t help but think that if we, secured in life vests and helmets in an inflatable boat with a guide, safety boats and safety kayaks, were scared for our lives, how much more danger was Moses in?! Anyhow, that’s all completely irrelevant to the story and not really applicable in any way.  

I realized on this thrill ride down the Nile that I’m definitely someone who can function much more efficiently with some instruction and clarity. Before each rapid, I wanted to know specific instructions for how I was to respond to each potential situation. The guide was so knowledgeable, kind and patient with me and all of us as he instructed us in how to survive each rapid in the event that the raft flipped (which it did... often). Knowing what I was supposed to do for each rapid made the ride so much fun for me and even in the midst of overturned boats, scraping rocks, and struggling to get back in the boat, I couldn’t stop laughing. I did, however, want to be affirmed that it wasn't our rafting skills that caused us to flip so often, but the nature of the rapid and the way we approached it. Much to my delight, the guide was quick to assure me that we were perfectly fine rafters, and I wasn't about to doubt him. I also realized how excited I am to begin working out at Mark Schellen’s again when I couldn’t pull myself back into the boat. Depressing. Thank goodness for the outstanding physical fitness of our guide who was not only pulling us all back into the boat, but was also flipping the boat over, and jumping and flipping into the boat during the rapids along with other kinds of tricks and skills.

Check out the progression of these photos: 

Some of my favorite moments of the afternoon on the Nile were the stretches of calm river where we were allowed to jump out and swim. It was so serene. I can’t explain the joy and beauty of the experience. The Nile River, such a prominent and historically significant river, spread out before me. The beauty of the nature that it consumed and was surrounded by left me speechless. Clouds settled in over us and it began to rain gently, but it only added to the peacefulness. Absolutely delightful. All too soon, we left the river and headed to our campsite for the night (which held other extremely peaceful, beautiful moments until the monkeys in the trees began throwing fruits and nuts from the trees down onto our tents in the morning).

The next day was the beginning of our Central Region Africa Inland Mission (AIM) Conference in Jinja. The five day conference was an opportunity for me to meet and talk with other missionaries within our organization who are located in Uganda and other countries. I was encouraged and inspired as I met with people from many different backgrounds and at different stages of life who are doing ministry for the glory of God and the sake of His Kingdom. However, despite all of the amazing individuals and families I met, I was overwhelmed by the need for Jesus in our world and the lack of people willing to live alongside others, love people, and share with them the hope for the nations. 

"Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.'" 
Matthew 9:37-38

It's been heavy on my heart. I can't tell you where the Lord has called you to minister. I can't tell you what it is He's gifted you in or how He's done that. But, what I can tell you is that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you take a look at the world around, there's a need for the gospel. And, if we, the body of believers, aren't sharing it, then who is? Whether it's your hometown, a nation on the other side of the world, or even the people nearest to you, there's a need for the truth of the saving blood of Jesus Christ, the grace of God our Father and the hope that is within that to be shared, to be known, and to be lived. I'm not talking about a gospel that preaches a "belief" in a distant God or an insurance belief that hopefully will keep you out of hell when you die. I'm not talking about a religion that requires you to do enough good things and show up to church on Sunday morning so that you're good with God. I'm talking about a life-transforming, world-changing gospel - the gospel within the scriptures that doesn't lead to a lukewarm religion, but to a deep and intimate love and relationship with our God through the grace He's shown us.

I was so challenged by those within our organization serving in some tough places where so many people are unwilling to go. It's one thing to be inspired about what people are doing, but to actually live it out in response to it is another. As followers of Christ, we are bound to face trials, but I can't explain the amount of respect I have for these people. I was reminded of the many blessings I have in the amount of support I receive from family and friends back home, friends I've made here, my organization, and my teammates on the ground with me here in Mbarara. They've become a kind of family to me, and it's an honor to serve alongside them.

"Then Jesus came to them and said,
'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of  the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"
Matthew 28:18-20

As the Central Region conference came to an end, I left feeling impassioned and empowered and with the hope and prayer of my ministries being fruitful. I'm continually more and more convicted about and convinced of the power of prayer in our lives as I see God at work. I pray that each one of us will be obedient to the call the Lord has given us to make disciples, and I'm also asking you to pray. Please take the time to watch this video about unreached people groups and some missionaries within AIM ministering to them in South Sudan, one who happens to be a personal friend from the great state of Nebraska! And, then please take the time to pray for them.

The Voice of the Laarim from Bowen Parrish on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Lord gives and takes away.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…”
2 Peter 3:9-10a

The last 48 hours have been a reminder to me of the fragility of life. When you’re standing on the diving board and scared to jump, you’re the one who decides when to finally make it happen. When you’re learning to skate and you need to let go of the wall you’re holding onto, you’re the one who finally has to release your grasp. But with death, regardless of how many choices you do get, the timing truly is all in God’s hands. It causes me to look heavenward in humble adoration of my God.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people way to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:1-5

As I first learned to speak, I called my grandpa Dan, “Papoose”. I was the firstborn of what would be many grandchildren on my mom’s side of the family; but for my first few years of life, I got the attention to myself. I received his time, his praise, and his affection. For 22 years, my grandpa faithfully supported me in my endeavors.
Grandpa with my cousin Zeke. 

 Grandpa's chair - always filled with children.
I remember a specific time as a young child when I packed up my Little Mermaid sleeping bag and decided to run away from home after receiving discipline from my parents. It was Grandpa and Grandma who drove up alongside of me as I walked down the block and convinced me that life at home was worth going back to. Another time, they took my sister, Kaylea; my cousin, Nathan; and I fishing one Saturday out near some small, Podunk town. The whole way back to Waterloo along the abandoned country roads with the old farmhouses and creepy trees hanging over the road, Grandpa told the three of us haunted stories and had us scared for days. 

The summer after my high school graduation I rode on my first airplane with Grandpa when I decided to desert Grandma and Nathan on our cross-country roadtrip after they made me ride for 8 hours in a car with a dog. Sometime during my high school or college days Grandpa picked up the belief that I loved Betty Boop. Because of his unique ability to grab things out of the claw machines outside of stores like Walmart, I have a huge box of stuffed Betty Boop dolls that Grandpa has accumulated for me because he thought I loved Betty Boop. I never had the heart to tell him that she really wasn’t that important to me because the fact that he kept winning those dolls for me was important to me.  

Last summer, I sat with Grandpa and Uncle Bruce at one of their favorite lunch stops when I met the two of them at Burger King. A fine dining experience and not because of the food. On my summer afternoon runs, I loved running along North Front Street in front of Mark Schellen’s fitness place and seeing Grandpa drive over the railroad tracks on his way to the post office. He always had his window down, an arm waving out it, and a big smile pasted on his face.

I can’t count the number of times my grandpa drove hours to come watch me play ball, even if he was only going to catch the last fifteen minutes of the game. It’d be the sixth inning of a seven inning softball game in a town an hour away from where we lived, and I’d hear polka music coming from a Mazda Tribute pulling into the parking lot. Without a doubt, I’d know that Grandpa had arrived. There were numerous times where umpires would have to go ask grandpa to get off the field because he’d snuck on in order to get a better photo of the last play of the game. Most of the time, he’d take the picture he wanted before he left the field, and it was always a great one. Numerous times I was pitching the last inning of the game, simply closing the game that the other pitcher had already won. But because grandpa only saw that last inning, he’d tell the whole town that I’d been the one who’d won the game. “She struck ‘em all out,” he’d boast to all the guys over coffee the next morning. It might be true. I struck out the whole three batters I faced at the bottom of the line up against the last ranked team in the league. He either didn’t realize or didn’t care and was proud either way.

Because I went to a small high school, I had the privilege of being involved in everything. I didn’t have to possess natural talent in order to be involved, receive awards, or be recognized. One of the activities I joined was choir. “You know she learned to sing from me,” he’d tell a random bystander after a concert or musical, in which I played the least significant part available. I’d feel sorry that he pegged that to himself because he could actually sing a lot better than me. I also developed a love for writing, including journalism. As I continued my education and studied secondary education – language arts, I also studied journalism and some creative writing. He loved that I loved to write, and he loved to remind me that we not only had that in common, but our alumni university, too.

College Graduation from the University of Nebraska at Omaha

Grandpa wasn’t timid to write a thought-provoking editorial into the Omaha World Herald about something he felt passionately toward. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and while I tend to be a little more hesitant, he taught me that some things are worth being bold about.

Grandpa was funny – most of the time intentionally, sometimes just because of who he was. On his office bulletin board at his house there have always been pictures of us grandkids with some sort of humorous or mocking caption. The youngest, innocent grandkids always had cute, witty captions attached to their photos. However, the rest of us were often the victims of cynical humor. Through our high school years, there were many times Kaylea, Nathan, and I pushed our boundaries with authority. Growing up down the street from each other and within walking distance from Grandma and Grandpa’s house we did a lot of life together. Through it all, we learned that family sticks together, and we often defended one another’s “rights”, backing each other up even when we were in the wrong. (Kaylea and Nathan would tell you that they stuck together more, and I was a tattletale… all depends on who you get the story from.) However, I remember walking into my grandpa’s office and seeing photos of Kaylea and Nathan, maybe even Lilly, on the board under handmade “Wanted” and “Missing Persons” signs with arrows pointing to a picture of me and labeled “Last Seen With”. I think they’re still hanging there today.

One of grandpa's many pictures and captions.
Grandpa bragged of my successes and made light of my shortcomings. And, the beautiful thing about it is that my story is only the story of one person out of the many people Grandpa loved just as much as me.

He was creative, artistic, and inventive. He made his living by living on a dream. Seriously. A prayer, a dream, and a life-changing result. It’s called the Shepherd Scope. I didn’t get my singing abilities from him, and that’s a compliment to Grandpa. But, I’ll take a whole lot of what he did pass onto me, including a love for words and for writing, a passion for “right”, and the ability to smile and love others – without having to know their name.

Things I learned from my grandpa:
  • How to look good shooting a gun.
  • If you don’t happen to like me, pass me by.
  • Dance to the beat of the tune that you like.
  • Sing loudly, with pride, and preferably with a song turned up and the windows down.
  • “Be quick”, but drive slow. Time will happen as it pleases.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words.
  • Think outside of the box and go with it.
  • Write and talk about things that matter.
  • It’s not when you get there that matters, but the fact that you made it.
  • Talk to strangers, you might make their day.
  • Pray to God and be obedient, and it will change your life.
  • Time with the ones you love is irreplaceable and immeasurable.
I went home at the end of January to spend two weeks visiting family and spending time with Grandpa. During those two weeks a lot of things were happening medically with my grandpa that made the future of everything very uncertain. As I visited his room for the last time, the respiratory therapist was there. I’m not a medical expert and can’t tell you what the guy did, but he enabled Grandpa to speak so that I could hear his voice. And, you know what he said to me? 
He told me he loved me.

It was the first time I can remember hearing those words spoken to me from him, and as sweet as they were to my ears, I had already known it because he’d spent his life showing it to me. For that I give glory to God because in spite of the amount of sadness there is with the fact that he's gone, I'm left with sweet memories of a loving grandpa with a tender heart. 

One day each of is going to die. And, of course, it is only God who knows our hearts, for “people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). But, I pray that we have a hope and an assurance in our eternal security because of our faith being lived out in our everyday lives.

“You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God
and speed its coming…
But in keeping with his promise
we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth,
where righteousness dwells.”
2 Peter 3:11b-12a, 13

I look forward to that day because I’m fully aware that this life, my life, isn’t what it’s all about. I look forward to living in righteousness with God where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:4). Where I will be in a place I am always praising and bringing forth glory to God. I love the reality of that future, as difficult as it is to understand now. However, I’m also fully aware that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I’m commanded to live in such a way here because of the overflow of love and grace God has shown to me.

“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this,
make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him…
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:14, 17-18

I pray that as we live our lives, we fully accept the salvation at hand for us. That we live in accordance with the way God commands us to because God’s love is truly that great and His Spirit in us is that powerful. And, also, because we never know when our day is coming.

Please pray for:
  • My family as they grieve and make logistical and financial decisions.
  • Provision for the decisions that are made.
  • Time for me to grieve, but also a peace of mind and heart as I process through the emotions of my grandpa’s death and not being with family during this time.
  • The time I have left in Uganda this year to be fruitful in the relationships I’ve invested in and for the upcoming transitions. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Life's a dance you learn as you go.

I don’t do well with change, and I’m completely aware that life is going to be extremely hard for me, if I don’t accept it. Because it’s constantly occurring. It honestly freaks me out. It’s like this weird mix of excitement for the unknown, fear of what that might be, and sadness of what you’re leaving behind. There are all these questions that float around, like, When will I be back? Will I see you then? Who will you be at that time? Who will I be then? What will be going on in our lives? In the world? What will be different? They threaten to consume me if I think about them too long, and before I know it, I’m sweating, my knees are aching, tears are welling up, and I’m on the verge of a meltdown. Prime example of why I’m to not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place,
like you’ll not only miss the people you love,
but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and place because
you’ll never be this way ever again.”

So, I’m kind of freaking out. A month from today I’ll be traveling to Kampala to prepare to fly home. Here in Mbarara, it’s the last week of university, and then most of the students will go to their homes until studies resume in August. And, in case, you didn’t pick up on that time frame, it means that when they return to Mbarara, I’ll be in the states. Which also means that what life has looked like for me the past few months is going to change dramatically after this week.

I’m not going to be eating rice, matoke and g-nuts at the university canteens with my friends at least three times a week anymore. I’m not going to be sitting on a bench leading discussions about political science (that I’m completely unqualified to teach) anymore. (I’m still hoping that the notes they gave me to teach that discussion were accurate and that the girls I taught are passing their exams today…) I’m not going to have random bible studies and prayer meetings and times of fellowship with girls who happen to have an extra couple of free hours because of a canceled lecture. I’m not going to be meeting up with girls early in the morning and in the late afternoons to go for runs and do some workouts together while we talk about the joys and trials of the day along the way. I’m not going to be sleeping in the hostels every Friday night with the girls anymore or dropping by the girls’ rooms in the afternoons to say hi.

It’s not the fact that life is going to look different that is freaking me out because I’m pretty sure that there will still be some of my girl friends here in Mbarara that I’ll continue pouring into. I’m also pretty confident that regardless of where I am in the world, I’ll be doing life alongside my sisters in Christ because that’s what I love doing. But the fact that these specific people, friends who are so much a part of my everyday life now, are leaving Mbarara has got me feeling a little anxious. Each young woman is so special and unique in her own way that I know there is only one of her in this world, and each one of them has come to have a special place in my heart. I’ve intentionally planned a few days to spend in Kampala before I fly home so I can see some of the young women I’ve been spending most of my time with, but I’m so aware of the huge role they’ve been playing in my life. The thought of not having them by my side in the day to day living makes me sad. Clearly, I’ve dealt with and adjusted to change up to this point in time, and I’ll deal with it as it continues to happen. However, I just really love the way my life is right now. This is that moment where I’m reminded that everything is to be held with an open hand because it all belongs to the Lord. So, I want to be sad about the change; I want to reminisce about the last four months and all of the laughter and growth that has been had. Yet, even as I want to be sad, and believe me there have definitely been those moments, I can’t help but praise God for the way he’s so abundantly blessed me and allowed joy that comes from Him alone to be my strength.

On Friday night at church, Pastor asked us to all share something we praise God for about the last year. As I looked around the circle at all of the friends who have become so dear to my heart, I could feel the burn in my eyes. I was the first to speak, and I had to praise God. I explained that my last Sunday at Relevant Community Church in July I cried. I cried because I was going to miss my church family and friends. However, this last Friday night university gathering of the semester at church, I was crying again. I was crying because I knew I was going to miss my church family and friends. And, that was a powerful testimony to me of how God's been at work within me.

I’ve learned so much. I’ve grown in ways I can’t yet understand or have yet to realize. I’ve gained a new level of maturity and independence that has come as a result of living in a completely new and different place. I’ve been allowed the opportunity to experience life, to grow into the woman God is continually making me to be, and I’ve been loved by so many in the process.

I have to deeply thank all of the loving, accepting, grace-giving, joyful friends I’ve made at Mbarara University of Science and Technology for allowing me to be a part of their lives and for allowing them to be so much a part of mine. I’m so grateful for the time they’ve given me, the way they’ve challenged me, and the way we’ve all grown together in our walks with the Lord in the midst of doing life together. Just as I’ve been praying and looking forward to the day I’m reunited with friends and family from the states, I’m doing the same for the day I’m reunited with those I’ve come to love so dearly here in Mbarara. Here’s to a joyful, God-glorifying week together.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A cheerful heart is good medicine.

Last Friday I hosted a girls' night sleepover for any university girls that are in one of my small groups, go to my church, or I've come to know through mutual friends or because I met them sitting on a bench at campus. While not all were able to make it, I'll speak on behalf of all who were in attendance in saying that 
we had a blast.

I'd love to be able to share about the fun, exciting and memorable event; however, I'm pretty sure there's an unspoken rule that states what happens at a girls' slumber party, stays at the slumber party. 

So instead, I'll just let you know that we had a night full of laughing and dancing, and a morning of worship, sharing, and praying together. Memories and fellowship that made the sleepless night well worth it.

The end of the semester is approaching quickly for these university students. And, sadly, it means that the amount of time I have left to spend with them is also drawing to a close. The next week and a half will be full of reading, studying, writing papers, and taking exams. But it hasn't prevented me from making sure they take a break every now and then to have some fellowship, play a game, go for a run or share a meal together and with me. I'm constantly at war with myself as the teacher side of me knows that they should be studying and the rest of me just wants to spend time with them. 

Some of us have already lived through these sleepless, caffeine-dependent years known as our college days, some never have and others are anticipating them in the future. But, regardless of whether you've lived through finals and end of semester projects, we've all battled worry, anxiety, and stress in some area of life. So, I justify the times I take them away from studying by saying that they are emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy breaks.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again:
Rejoice!... Do not be anxious about anything..." 
Philippians 4:4,6 

The command is to rejoice always and to not be anxious about anything, regardless of how hectic our schedules are or how pressing the stress is. However, I'm far from confident in being able to say I always abide by this. I'm in the middle of re-rereading Francis Chan's book CrazyLove, one of my favorites. This weekend I came across a section of the book where he talks about worry and stress:
"Worry implies that we don't quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what's happening in our lives.  
Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control. 
Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it's okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance."
When I read that for first time a couple years ago, it made me halt. Showing that we're stressed and being worried about the things in our lives doesn't somehow show the world that we're important and that the things in our lives are "exceptional". Instead it displays both my arrogance and lack of dependency on God. What a staggering truth that was to me then, and again when I read it on Saturday. There are some things I find myself learning and relearning over and over again. And, with each new phase of life and with each decision to be made, my flesh is tempted to let worry, anxiety and stress reign.

Praise God that he is "a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore (he) did not desert (me)..."(Nehemiah 9:17)

In the midst of our worry and stress, Chan claims that we've forgotten God's strength, among many other things, and questions us with, "Why are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are?"

So, I guess the reminder of the day is that life is actually not all about me; it's about God. And, no matter what seems to be going on in our lives - finals, a new job, a move, you name it - none of it is exceptional enough for us to not let it go and instead obey God's command to rejoice always. I feel so blessed that all across the world I have some pretty amazing friends with whom I love to rejoice and praise God alongside! 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Excuses, excuses.

I have a whole list of excuses as to why I haven’t written a blog lately:
  1. My computer is on its last leg. Meaning, sometimes it just won’t turn on, or it will, but then by the time I’ve finished replying to (some) emails and spending too much time on Facebook, it turns off and my blog is still left unfinished. 
  2. My USB ports decide when and how well they want to work, which is a HUGE problem when you connect to the internet via an internet stick that you plug into the USB ports. 
  3. I ran out of internet this weekend. When you use the internet here, it’s a load-as-you go thing. There are a few different options, and they come in monthly packages. Well, because I only have a short L amount of time left in Uganda this year, I bought a smaller package than usual last time, and it surprised me by running out early this weekend.

But, regardless of how good I think all of them sound, they are all just excuses. Isn't it true that for just about anything, we are capable of coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t do it or can't do it? 

Last spring, when I was debating about moving to Uganda, I had a long list of excuses as to why it wasn’t a good idea: 
  • I was only 21 and I thought that moving would take away a critical year of my life.
  • I had opportunities to teach.
  • I would forego my first year of teaching after college, and I was unsure of how that would look on my résumé, or if I’d still have that with-it-ness when I returned.
  • I was active in my church and God was using me there.
  • Leaving friends and family scared me.
  • I had a car, a good living situation, and a new bed.

There were plenty more of them, but those are the ones sticking out to me right now. They were fears, excuses for why I couldn't say yes to God. Reasons why He was wrong or why I knew how He could use me in a more resourceful or useful way. Yet, for each one of those excuses, it's been a reassurance to my heart to watch the Lord remove my fears and replace them with truth, provision, and joy. 

Instead of taking away a critical year of my life, He enhanced it. One paragraph in a blog post can't do justice to the ways the Lord has molded me this year. I’ve grown in more ways than I could’ve imagined. I’ve experienced things and made memories that would have never been possible anywhere else than in Africa.  This year has been one where I’ve learned more about myself and about the world and about missions and about my God than ever before, and it included some rough patches. Looking back at my fear, I was right about one thing, this year was critical to my life.

I had opportunities to teach in Omaha, but God gave me an opportunity to teach Dara here. This year has been different than what I imagined it would be, and yet, that's the beauty of it, too. While it hasn’t been easy to adapt my teaching style to one student and it’s been challenging to teach subjects that I’m not qualified to teach, it’s allowed me to describe myself with an adjective I would’ve never been able to use before: flexible. And, because of my experience adapting to a completely new teaching experience with different challenges than I would’ve foreseen, regardless of whether I ever teach in America or not, I can have the confidence that if the Lord leads me there, he will give me the flexibility, the strength and the wisdom I need.  

I was active in my church, and I felt like I was being used for God's glory there. So, when I felt strongly that the Lord was calling me to Uganda, it didn’t make sense to me. I was at war with the desires of my heart. I wanted the best of both worlds. But, I've been learning that I don’t have to be able to figure out how everything is going to make sense in order for God to have it figured out. Despite the feelings of not knowing what I was doing here at first, God was and has been faithfully at work in me the entire time, revealing things to me about myself and my identity in Him and using me in ways that I haven’t and still am not always able to see. I'm not wise enough to change the world for better, and I'm not strong enough to do it even if I knew how, so I've learned to do what the Lord calls me to and rely on His strength for doing so and to let Him deal with the details!

Leaving friends and family scared me, and it’s still a fear that I have when I think about long-term missions. But, God has been more than faithful to me. My relationships with friends and family back home haven’t only been maintained, but strengthened. And on this side of the world God has over abundantly blessed me with mentors, friends, and women to invest in. I feel like a part of the community, and that is a blessing. I have friends to laugh with, cry with, share openly with, and to learn from. I find it so rare to have those types of relationships all across the world and yet I know it is all because of the provision of the Lord and the unity of the body of Christ that has enabled that to happen! God gave me young women to pour my life into back home, and he did it here, too, even though I didn't expect it. I'm beginning to see a common trend. 

I know it’s silly and extremely superficial and worldly, but if I'm being honest, I was really sad to leave my car behind in America. Ask any of my girl friends back home, and they will tell you that in my little 2007 Pontiac was one of my favorite places to be. A late-night drive to talk, sing, laugh or cry together with my closest friends was one of my favorite hobbies. I'd fight to drive anytime we were planning to go anywhere. The thought of not driving for a full-year freaked me out. To add to the list of superficial,worldly loves I had I lived in a beautiful home with my friend, Brooke, and was investing in making friends with the neighbors. And, then there was my bed - the best graduation present my parents could’ve ever gotten me. I slept in it for six months before having to leave it behind when I boarded the plane. Such silly, earthly things but things that had value to me! But, you know what? My car was totaled when I was away, and I’m still alive. My friend Brooke is letting me move back in with her when I’m home. And, as of now, my bed has been under the careful watch of my little sister, Hope, and no basement floods have destroyed it… yet. But, even if one day that happens, it’s going to be okay. I'm sure of it. Because God is faithful, and only what is done in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will last for eternity any way.

So, I have excuses. I always have excuses brewing around in my head, but at the end of the day, that’s all they are - an excuse, a fear, a reason to not do what I've been called to do. And regardless, of how good that excuse sounds, the truth is still lighting the way not allowing me to ignore it.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Find the time...

To read...

"If a writer can get inside of a reader's head, he has the ability to change him." 
-Dr. John Price

To pick and smell the flowers...
"Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: 
we must fight in order to conquer it." 
-The Count of Monte Cristo

To paint your dreams...
"Nothing happens unless we first dream." 
-Carl Sandburg

To have coffee with a friend...
"It's not what you look at that matters; it's what you see." 
-Henry David Thoreau

 To learn a new craft...
"Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter" 
-Tim Kizziar quoted by Francis Chan in CrazyLove.

To write a letter...
"It is when our hearts are stirred that we become most aware of what they contain." 
-Andy Stanley

To bake a surprise cake...
 "Because if I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn't be nearly as excited to live it out."

To go somewhere special...
"The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. 
The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has seen before." 
-Albert Einstein

To REALLY be with the people you love...
"Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter?
Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh 
and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? 
Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?" 
- Brennan Manning 

Or even to do nothing for a while...