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.