Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sometimes a picture just tells it better.

There are some things that don't change:

The beauty of the market displays and the unbelievably tasty fruits it has.

The modes of transportation.

The food staples: matooke and gnuts....
... And the local delicacy of grasshoppers.

The power... Or lack thereof.

Finding bats in your bedroom...

And then there are those things that only get sweeter with time:


My neighbors and friends, Dorcas and Willis and their family.

My good friend and brother, Justus.

Two of my friends I met in Mbarara when I first moved there. One of whom is now completing a two year, life transformational program known as Amagara Maysa. 

Silly faces.

The sweetest, most authentic and life-giving friendsships a girl good dream of.

And the love of people who truly invite you to do life together.

Monday, November 4, 2013

To the equator and back again and again.

If there's anything I've learned about traveling over the past few years, I think I'd say the most important things to remember are: bring your passport, carry some extra cash, and keep those on you at all times. Anything else you can eventually buy with the money you've brought or make due without. However, less than 24 hours after arriving in Uganda, after feeling pretty confident about my travel experiences thus far, I broke one of my golden rules of traveling.

The flights and transitions between airports went smoothly. I found the correct terminals in Chicago and London, and I even found my taxi at the Entebbe airport that would take me to the guesthouse for the night. Friday morning I woke up expecting to find private hire driver, Dennis there to pick me up and take me to Mbarara. But much to my surprise the Skinner family was with him! Excited to get to Mbarara, I cuddled up between Dara and Dade for the five hour trek.

One of the landmarks on the way from Kampala to Mbarara is the equator, and almost every visitor or resident who passes through takes a picture there. That being said, I already have a couple pictures at the equator, but I wanted another one. So Dara, Dade and I wandered over to the spot, I took off my purse, and Joel took the picture. He handed me back my phone, and we walked back to the vehicle admiring the photo and greeting the police officer on duty as we went.

Two and half hours later we arrived in Mbarara. Jill greeted us and told me that some of my university friends were anxious to see me. After chatting for a bit and settling in, I decided to grab my purse and go meet them at the church. But when I went to look for my purse, which held my passport, license, debit card, and all of my American money, I couldn't find it. Suddenly, I had the flashback moment where I realized I set my purse down at the equator and never picked it back up. Knowing this was 3-4 hours ago, panic began to arise in my heart as I thought about how slim the chances would be that the purse would still be there. 

If you look in the picture above you can't see my purse, but it is literally just to the left of the concrete slab. Golden rule: "Keep those (passport and money) on you at all times" - broken. A high price to pay for a picture.

Because they are so relational, the Skinners have made friends in so many places, and we were able to contact a woman who works near the border at the restaurant we had earlier stopped and ate chappatis. She went out searching for my lost bag. There hadn't been enough time for real hopelessness about the situation to set in, but the circumstances weren't promising. As we prayed about it, I felt at peace with whatever would come, but even though no one said it, finding everything seemed so unlikely. 

There wasn't anything I could do at this point in time so I went to Mbarara University to see the girls I'd been longing to see. Together we laughed, hugged, and then prayed as we discussed the sarcastic pros and realistic cons of losing my passport. While I was there, our friend at the equator called back to let us know that the police officer, who Joel and Dade had greeted earlier, found the purse. She said the police officer claimed everything was there, and I would have to be the one to come back and get the bag. At hearing this, I was encouraged. We devised a plan to have Dennis drive me and a couple of girl friends to the equator again the next day to retrieve the purse. 

The drive back to the equator was full of deep conversation and catching up, a great gift in the midst of a stressful situation. When we arrived at the equator, our friend met us and introduced us to the policeman who had my purse. He led us to a locked quarters, where he proceeded to ask me what my name was and what was in the bag before turning it over. When he gave it to me, I opened it to check my belongings. I first noticed my passport and breathed a sigh of relief; however, when I opened my wallet the chunk of dollars was not there. Reading the disappointment on my face, the officer asked if I was missing something. I told him that I was and he asked how much. When I answered correctly, he handed me the cash, had me sign a statement recording everything I had reclaimed, and had my friends sign as witnesses of the transaction.

I cannot explain the level of how impressed I was at the thoroughness of it all. To come across people with such a high level of integrity, character and honesty filled my heart. Full of pride in Uganda and with our belief in the goodness of people restored, we went to take another picture at the equator - this time with my purse in hand.

Later that evening, I checked my email and found an email that the officer had earlier sent letting me know he had my belongings. Apparently, he found my business cards in my wallet and used it as a way to contact me. Once again, I was blown away at the way this man did his job with such integrity and thoroughness.

Lessons from the experience:
1. Live by the golden rules of traveling.
2. Peace from God is a reality as a child of His, even in the craziest of scenarios.
3. Not everything in this world is under the influence of corruption.
4. God is so good. His grace is sufficient. He's got me covered especially when I'm in the wrong.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

There's a hole in the bucket... dear Liza, dear Liza.

A few days ago, I overslept and got out of bed feeling irritated. Typically, if I get out of bed feeling agitated or stressed about my day, I'll quickly climb back into bed, spend a few sweet moments in prayer, reset my thoughts, and then get out of bed and try again. In high school, I used to be a little OCD about habits and routines, like unfolding my socks a certain way, getting dressed in a certain order, etc., but since those days I like to think I've loosened up a bit. Therefore, when I find myself doing things "just because my controlling nature says I should" I purposefully try to not do it. And, on this particular day I didn't climb back into bed.

But I think I should've. 

Running late, I quick brewed myself some coffee, knowing that the lack of a stimulant to jump start my brain would not help matters. As the coffee brewed, I finished getting ready. I went to pour myself coffee to go, but discovered all my travel mugs were at work. So I grabbed the tallest mug I could find. As I bustled out the door, I noticed a slight drip of hot coffee. I thought for sure it had to be because I was carrying it without a lid, with my hands full of other things, and at a pace slightly faster than a walk. However as the cup holder in my car filled with the hot coffee, I knew my driving was not causing that much of a spill. Come to discover that my coffee cup had a crack in it. 

It couldn't hold or retain what had been put in it.
(Taking this picture, I also noticed I forgot to put earrings in. One of my top 5 self pet peeves. Only snowballing my irritation.)

Thinking of how much I thought I needed the substance dripping through the cracks, I was reminded of a passage I'd read in a book earlier that week:

     "Someone would praise me for a performance, but the leaky bucket of my heart seemed unable to  hold onto the words. It couldn't. There seemed to be holes in my soul, spilling the one substance I desperately wanted to hold on to... But no matter how much praise I received, it was never enough to fill my deficient heart..." 

It made me think of a couple of things. 1. All of the things in life I try to hold on to that aren't mine to hold and 2. All of the things I want to hold on to that slip through the cracks of my heart. The author, Chhrista Black, goes on to say:

     "I was a walking bucket made for love, but there were massive holes torn in the bucket of my heart by the punches of the past, and the substance of love seemed to slip through me like an hour glass. The one thing I wanted I couldn't seem to hold onto." 

Lately I've been praying for deeper revelation of God's love. I finished a journal last week and decided to read through some old ones to see how God had been working in my life. And, what I learned in my time of reflection is that God loves me. It's written on almost every page of every journal I have. Different ways that He's revealing His love to me. Yet, instead of letting that truth settle in my heart bucket, it often seeps through, and I look instead to counterfeit affections to take its place or keep asking God for more revelation. I don't know why this happens or what it will take to change or absorb it. But because I worship a sovereign God who "works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28) I'm trusting His process.

And if it took my entire coffee cup leaking into the cup holders of my car to prompt me to realize that my heart is acting the same way, I'm okay without my morning fix in exchange for a fix of heart.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

See my footprints? Step in them.

Last Tuesday morning I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to head to California for The Leadership Institute's Journey retreat. Without any coffee in my system, I made it to the airport, through security and on the plane. Once the plane was completely boarded and our luggage stowed away, the pilot made an announcement that due to a flat tire, our departure would be delayed. I decided to rest my eyes - something my mom taught me how to do and modeled for me occasionally, including the time she "rested" her eyes at Memorial Stadium during Nebraska's comeback win over Wisconsin last fall. (Only a mom of 8 could fall asleep in a crowd of 70,000+ at a Husker game.) After about 30 minutes, the pilot announced that there was no solution in Omaha to our flat tire, and our flight was canceled. Suddenly, all of the well-poised business people on the plane transformed into savages, and a mad dash to rebook all of our flights at the ticket counter broke out among us. During the hour I stood in line, I missed both of my connecting flights, and was completely rerouted to Los Angeles.
I had joked with friends before leaving that I felt much more confident in traveling internationally and using African public transportation than my ability to travel to a major US city. And after 10 hours of air travel, renting my first car, and 2 hours of navigating LA traffic, my belief was confirmed :) . The process was a confidence booster, though, and I made it to Saddleback Church's San Juan Capistrano campus for The Journey retreat. 

While the teaching during each of the sessions was powerful, the most significant moment of the trip came for me during one of our scheduled times to be alone with God for an extended period of time. Knowing I had a few hours, a rental car, and that I'd never seen whatever ocean is on the west coast, I decided to find my way to the beach to hang out with God. 

I found a little spot in Laguna that was quiet, unoccupied, and gorgeous. Recently, I'd been feeling slightly overwhelmed with choices in life and struggling with a strong paralysis of analysis toward my life. I'm beginning to realize how captivated by fear I am at messing up or making a "wrong" choice than living captivated by God's love and the freedom in it. As I laid out my towel, sat down and got out my journal and Bible, I felt God telling me to set it aside and BE with him. I felt a strong sense that he didn't want me to DO anything.


I laid back on the towel and listened as God showed me the warmth of the sun on my face and  the beauty of the waves crashing against the shore. I watched the birds fly carelessly over the ocean, dipping down toward the water, pulling back up, resting on rocks and sandy beaches and then going back out. I was reminded of Matthew 6:25-27:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I laughed to and at myself for how ridiculous I am for taking myself so seriously. I began to think about the practicality of what it would be like to not worry, what it would be like to TRUST the Spirit within me, and how I could begin to do that. As I pondered these things, a family appeared on the beach and I listened to the children talking. "See my footprints?" the daughter asked her little brother. "Step in them."

My heart was overwhelmed as I thought of how that's it. My little feet will easily fit within the footprint of my Father. I felt my body physically relax, and I thought of what it would feel Iike to be a child. I wouldn't worry about planning my day because I would know that Dad would get me where I needed to be. I wouldn't be self conscious because it was my Father who clothed me. I wouldn't look for counterfeit affections because I would be so submersed in my Daddy's love that I wouldn't look for anything else. I would feel free to laugh, to love, and to live. I would be protected, provided for, and loved. 

And, I thought about how all of this is mine in real life as a daughter of my God.

Thank you Lord for slowing down my life enough for sweet times of revelation and reminders and simply to spend time together. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lessons from Batman

I'll start by saying I have absolutely no idea whose child this is. So, if you're reading this and he belongs to you, I apologize for 1. Creepily taking pictures of your child during service, 2. Posting it on the Internet, and 3. Using it as the content for a blog post. 
But, this boy blew me away today.

If any of you don't go to Relevant Community Church (you probably should), and you missed the appearance of Batman. As we entered the last set of worship during first service today, this small, little Batman trotted up to the front of the stage. He just stood there for a couple of songs taking in the sight of Taylor leading worship and the bright lights. Occasionally, he'd turn around to see who was behind him and lift his mask to get a better look, but for the majority of the time he stood captivated by what was before him.

I laughed. And, couldn't help but think of the way Jesus loves children and asks us to be just like them. "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'" Matthew 19:14. 

I want to be like a child.

There he was, approaching the stage with confidence, not caring what anyone else in the room thought. Did I mention he was wearing a Batman costume? Very appropriate following a sermon on Ephesians 6 - the armor of God. 

Basically, this kid is my role model. 

He has no fear of man. That's what I want my relationship with Jesus to look like all the time. I don't want to care what Jesus-loving or non-Jesus loving people are watching, I just want to be with Him. And, I want to stand right by Him, watching how He does things, learning from Him, standing in wonder. 

I want to have armed myself with the armor of the Lord, so that not only is He fighting for me, but also protecting me. 

And, even though my first priority is putting on Jesus, it'd be super cool if I was wearing a Batman costume, too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Years of My Mid Mid-Twenties Crisis

I have the prettiest, smartest, funniest, hardest working, most caring, (insert other absolutely amazing adjectives) sisters in the world. That might not be everyone's perspective, but to me, it's truth. 

Each of my sisters is different. They bring out different qualities in me. They relate to me in ways that are specifically unique to our relationship. And, with each of them we've made memories and had experiences that contribute to the depth and character of our friendship. Because Kaylea is the closest in age to me, there's been a lot of experiences that only she's been around for. With the exception of parents and other older relatives who've been around since my birth, Kaylea has walked through the most life with me. She's been there through our tomboy days, our rebellious dating-without-mom-and-dad-knowing days, some crazy breakups and late night talk-cries about relationships, some crazy fun times and road trips, and through watching me navigate and fall into relationship with the Lord. Through it all, she's become one of the best three sisters in the whole world. It's my realm of reality.

I feel like everyone has their own sense of what reality is, and I'm going to do my best at depicting mine. I wish each year of my life could have a movie title. I feel like the year of 23, would've been titled, "The Year of my Mid Mid-Twenties Crisis." 

A little over two years ago, I moved to Uganda. (Realizing it has already been that long, causes a pang of hurt in my heart.) A little over a year ago, I moved back to the Omaha area. I rode around on a bike, made more than a few mistakes, and worked on the farm. Fall on the farm ended, and I felt carless, unemployed, homeless, and more than a little hopeless about what to do. And, most of that was a truth I was living in. I went to Thailand and Burma, and when I came back, I actually felt for the first time in a long time, ready to be in America. I found a job, a place to live, and settled (kind of) into life. 

I'd come back from Uganda with a new perspective on life, but without a clue of how to articulate it, how it now affected my life, and what to do with it. It made me feel crazy. I praise God for his faithfulness, good friends, and foundations of truth for coming though that time. And, now I often feel like I have the memory of a 75 year old, so I'm fairly certain I'm probably going to forget to communicate some of the biggest revelations over the last couple years. It's too bad my smartest sister in the whole world isn't sitting with me right now to prompt my slow-moving brain. 

One thing I've come to value more deeply each day is the richness that comes from experiencing diversity in life. I'm fascinated by the infinite complexity of this world, and I love getting to experience bits of it through shared times with people who are completely different from me. It's no longer a comfort, but rather a boredom, to be surrounded by people who view life though the same lens as me. 

Some other things I've spent a lot of time pondering are the sovereignty of God and the continued revelation of His love for me. At now 24 years old, I am but a a child. In awe of the possibilities in life, trying to navigate goals for my life, surrendering them to God, completely unsure of where life is headed. Luckily,  I have the most caring sister in the whole world to process all my crazy with. (Did I mention that she's also going to school for psychology and sociology?) 

I'm still a little uptight and type A, but I think I've also been learning to enjoy life more. A couple years ago, I'd never even pierced my ears. I lived life timidly. Afraid to make mistakes. I held a magnifying glass up to every choice, seeing way more pros and cons than probably actually existed. Everything was a bigger deal than it actually was. I battle this so hard still. Anyone who's currently a part of my life can testify to this. I'm continuing to discover that these "seasons" of transition never really end. Life is transition and change, and I tend to magnify the choices with worry and anxiety instead of trusting. In my heart, I want to LIVE. I'm having new revelations of the shortness of this life. So much of it is temporary, and having this at the forefront of my mind has unleashed a freeness within me. I pierced my ears. I put color in my hair. I got a tattoo. And, then I pierced my nose. Call it rebellion if you want. I call it freedom. 

The job I acquired is at a place called the Hope Center for Kids. And in the process of working toward faithfully inspiring hope in the lives of youth and children, hope found its way back into my heart too.

I don't know how long I'll be there or what will be next, but I can look back over the last couple years and see that it is God who is molding my realities. My life. I'm trying to take the magnifying glass off the decisions I'm making because at the root of my decisions, I want my guiding lines to be love God, and love others. Outside of that, I'm not really sure if it matters what I'm doing as long as its glorifying the one I was created to reflect.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I'm on my way.

I love road trips. I love to drive, listen to good music, and be with my friends.

But a few days ago I was on a road trip with people I didn't know, and they didn't let me drive. My iPad, iPhone, and iPod were fully charged before I left, and I spent a solid four hours listening to some of my favorite country tunes and contemplating life and all the world's problems. Every now and then a line sticks out. Tugs at something personal and reels me in.

"I'm not there yet, but I know I'm on my way."

It's not my favorite song. It's not sung by my favorite artist. But for some reason, I'm loving it.

"I don't give up easy. I've got many miles to go. But I can't wait to get to what I see down this road. All my life I've learned to take it day by day. I'm not there yet, but I know I'm on my way..."

I know I don't always know the "there", but lately I'm feeling pretty confident that I'm on the right road.

The direction of my life has been and continues to be largely impacted by the people in my life. The people who invest in me. I don't know why they do it, but they do. It has honestly changed my life, and if you're reading this, chances are you are one of them. I'm seeing God use your investments in my life to empower and equip me for His purposes. And, I'm seeing God continue to revive my hopes and dreams through the opportunities that continue to arise in my life. It's an extremely humbling thing to think that so many different people choose to invest in my life in so many different ways.

The song plays on, "...I've felt the power of forgiveness. I know that life can let you down. I'm not blind. No, I don't need a witness to tell me there's angels all around..."

Some of you invest in me with your time. We get together for that biweekly cup of coffee at Scooter's, where you wait patiently for me. On a good day I'm only five minutes late, and then it takes me another five to grab my coffee and greet all my barista friends. Others of you invite me, or let me invite myself, over for dinner where we end up watching The Bachelor or just staying up late talking even though you have kids and jobs to wake up to I the early morning. We workout together at the gym before the sun is up, or by running around the neighborhood or having late night Insanity dates in the basement. You let me stop by after a long day to debrief and laugh.

A large number of you have invested in me financially. Blessing me with opportunities that I would have otherwise never had the chance to experience. I'm blown away by your investments in my life, and it causes me to meditate on the way they've transformed me.

So many invested in me financially to allow me to move to Uganda, where I was able to discover so much about who God created me to be, who God is, what it looks like to live in authentic relationships with others and to see my heart learn to thrive. In Uganda, God gave me joy and peace with the idea of pursuing long-term missions. But then I moved back to the states, and I struggled. I wasn't receiving much clarity on anything in life. I felt as if I'd lost my sense of purpose, and I didn't know what my next steps were supposed to be. I was overwhelmed, and I kind of shut a part of me off. I questioned and wrestled with things, but I was blindly clinging to the belief that God is sovereign and if I kept seeking Him, he'd bring me through. Spoiler alert: He did.

"...My eyes have seen more than they want to. My heart has scars that run so deep. There's tears I've had to let go of. There's dreams I told myself I'd keep..."

Partly because of the desire I'm discovering in regard to long term missions, a few months after I'd been back in the states, I was invited to travel to Thailand with a few of my church's leaders to visit with some key individuals and pray for vision about serving people from Burma. At the time I so badly needed a change of pace. Something. Anything. And, while I was there I was reminded of how deeply I love diversity, culture, and sharing the love of Jesus with others. I felt like God was reminding me that no matter where He sends me, I can love His people because it will be through Him that I'm given the strength.

"...I've looked out that window when there's no hope inside. But I swear I heard a whisper saying it'd be worth the fight. So I woke one morning, and I put my fears aside..."

When I got back from Thailand, I applied for a job as the Volunteer Coordinator at an inner city ministry known as the Hope Center for Kids. And I was hired. I not only get to love on children and teach them about Jesus, but I also get to learn about serving, volunteering,mentoring and how to lead people in how to do that in a helpful and Godly way. In addition, I get to work with staff that invest in me, mentor me, and show love to me. I didn't realize the spirit of hopelessness that had taken root in my life until I was back in environments using the gifts God's given me and serving those I love to serve.

While living in Uganda, I spent a large amount of my time with university women, building relationship, learning about Jesus, and doing life together. I'd been encouraged to go to a mentoring conference here in the states this winter to continue learning about Biblical mentoring. But instead, some close friends from Relevant invited me to participate in a program called The Journey through The Leadership Institute. It's a two-year spiritual discipleship and mentoring training that I'm now actively a part of.

And last week, I was invited to go to an all expenses paid mentoring training in Minneapolis, Minnesota because of the role I have at my job in our mentoring program.

It's now overwhelming, in a good way, to think about how God is making mentoring, serving, and culture such strong themes in my life. He has completely laid the groundwork for it, is providing the way and uses so many of you to do it! It leaves me in awe of the sovereignty of God. It leaves me humbly respecting the obedience of mentors and friends in my life who continue to follow God even in how He leads them to love me. It leaves me feeling extremely content with where I am, yet hungry for more depth, and excited for things God is doing.

I'm confident that I'm in a season of being grown and equipped. Weeding out some old deep roots and watering other seeds. I don't know exactly where I'm headed, but I'm so thankful for where I've been and where I am.

"...Still got lessons to be learned. There's a choice at every turn. Someone out there cleared a path, and there's no turning back."