Thursday, November 29, 2018

A New Definition of Success - Growing in Patience

This Tuesday, we had a last minute change of plans. Our lawyer's office called us and said that we needed to meet someone in Jinja to sign some documents. We scrambled to make sure our responsibilities at home and school were covered, and then we drove to town. We arrived at the agreed upon time, but got word that the person meeting us would be about an hour later. We signed some final documents, and realized that we were finally petitioning the court for adoption. The woman from the law office told us that she hoped to get a court date for our case when she submitted the petition. After much waiting, this was very exciting!

We drove with her to the court and waited while she submitted the documents. She was able to successfully turn in our petition, but we found out that the diary (calendar) for 2018 was full and they do not yet have the diary for 2019. While we were disappointed that we were not able to set a court date, we were thankful for progress in this long process of adoption. We are trying to celebrate each small step of progress in this long process.

Through our years living here in Uganda, we have learned that many things take longer than we anticipated. After some time, David realized that a change in perspective would help him with contentment. Instead of thinking of each task as done or not done, he likes to say that if we took one step forward, that is a success. One example that I remember from our first months in Uganda was opening a bank account. It was one thing on our to do list one day. We naively thought that we could just walk into the bank with our documents and some money and open an account. We then got a list of all the things needed, 2 passport photos of each of us, a letter from our NGO, letter of recommendation from the LC (local council), and a few other things. That day we began the process of requesting letters and maybe found a place to get our passport photos taken. If we were frustrated every time we failed to complete the task on our to do list, we would live in a constant state of frustration. But if we can instead celebrate each little step, it makes it much easier to have a heart of thanksgiving. 

I can see God's grace to us in teaching us patience through daily life here. While these situations are not fun or easy, God is graciously helping us to develop a new perspective. I can see how these little everyday challenges are teaching us patience and working in us to develop the fruit of the Spirit. (Eph. 5:22) Please don't misunderstand, I am not saying that we are completely sanctified and always patient. You can ask our children; we still have plenty room for growth! But it is good to look back and see that God, in his loving kindness, is allowing little challenges to help us grow in Him. I pray that He will continue to use this adoption process and all of life to teach us, sanctify us, and equip us for whatever kingdom work He has for us to do. 
Here is a photo of Esther's opportunity for growing in patience...baking with her little sister who likes to get into everything! These girls are both such a blessing to our family, not to mention, they are super cute! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Giving Thanks for Trials

In this season leading up to Thanksgiving I have often tried to focus more on having a grateful heart and thanking God for things that I often take for granted. That practice is a helpful perspective shift and helps me to experience more of the joy God has for me. In my classroom this year, my students have been working on a thankfulness list and have now listed hundreds of things for which they are thankful. While this practice of thankfulness for God's good gifts has helped me grow, I have recently been asking God to help me be thankful for the good work He is doing even when the situation is not good.

It is much easier for me to have this perspective after a trial is over. So that is where I will begin. Baby steps. As I look back on my life, I see how God has often used some of the most challenging times to grow me and equip me for ministering to others. My love for working with middle and high school students is largely because of the many challenges I experienced during that season of life. My struggles with depression, anxiety, and body image issues have given me a better perspective with which to encourage and serve my students. I am often reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3&4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who  are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
While I am thankful for this truth, that God uses our struggles to equip us to love and serve others who are struggling, I also see how God has used the challenging times to grow me. I am reminded of James chapter 1.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Every time I read this verse I think how bizarre it sounds. Who really counts it all joy when they meet trials? Do you know really someone like that? Most of us get annoyed, discouraged, frustrated, disappointed, angry or depressed when we experience trials. That certainly is my natural tendency. But I can see how God has used some trials in my life to grow me. I can look back at the time of uncertainty with my tongue and the possibility of cancer and see how that gave me a more eternal perspective on life. I can look at some of the everyday challenges of life in a developing country and see how God is using those to develop in me perseverance and patience.

I can also see how my children grow these everyday struggles. One of my favorite moments was when we had been in Uganda for a couple of years and we coming home late from town, Everyone was tired and we realized we were locked out of our house. Elijah pointed out that we could enjoy the beautiful stars and make the most of the moment. He also pointed out that before he moved oversees, he would have likely been frustrated at having to wait to find a way into the house. It was a little thing, but a way that God reminded me that He does uses trials to help us grow.

None of this means that trials are fun, or easy or that we can't grieve. But it does mean, that I am clinging to God's promise that He is working to grow me in the midst of these trials, and He will use them for good. So on this day before American Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for our broken down van. I trust that there is a good reason God has allowed this minor setback. I am thanking God that He has a good purpose for the delays in the adoption process. I thank God that he is using the challenges and conflicts of everyday life to produce in us steadfastness and maturity. Lord, teach me to "give thanks in all circumstances" (I Thes. 5:18) because I know you are good, and are working for my good. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Future Questions

About 7 years ago David told me that he was wondering if God might be calling us to teach missionary kids overseas. That idea made me so anxious that I literally lost my lunch. Today I can’t imagine a life that is more fulfilling. Certainly there are things that are hard. There are days when I am just tired, but I love where God has called us to serve. I love the people of Uganda. I love the opportunity to walk out my door and share God’s love with the children who live at Good Shepherd’s Fold. I love the beauty of this place. I love getting to be a part of what God is doing here. I know I am right where God wants me to be. 

But today I also have many questions about the future. None are quite as big as moving our family of six overseas, but they are big questions nevertheless. When will we get a court date for Evie’s adoption? Has our lawyer even filed the paperwork? (You would think that this might be easy to determine, but we have not had answers to our emails and phone calls for weeks.) When will we be able to travel to the US as a family for a furlough? (Which of course depends on the answers to the previous questions and many more.) Will we have the finances to continue some of our outreach work in our village? Who will be teaching with us next school year? How will the travel plans of the different families involved in our school affect our school schedule? I want to be able to plan, but I am learning that what I need to do is to trust God.

Honestly, I wake most mornings very anxious. I really struggle to believing that God is working for my good in all things. (Rom.8:28) I run many scenarios through my mind and try to figure it all out before I even set foot out of bed. But God is teaching me. I am learning to set my eyes on things above, not on earthly things. God is teaching me to remember. To remember his faithfulness to his people throughout all generations. To remember how He has been faithful in my life bringing good even through challenging situations. To remember that My life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col.3:1-3) To remember that God has brought me through challenging times and grown my faith in the process. 

It is easy for me to let fear of the future steal my joy whe I forget God’s faithfulness. Instead I want to choose faith over fear. I want to remember God’s faithfulness and trust Him with all the unknowns. I want to trust that He is helping me grow in the midst of so many questions. God is strengthening my faith to pray and wait while He works out these details for my good and His glory. He reminds me to focus less on my situation and more on my Savior. As I continue to struggle to trust God, I remind myself of these words from “In Christ Alone.”
“From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand. Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ, I stand.”

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Independence

This week our school celebrated Ugandan Independence Day with many fun cultural activities. We had a photo scavenger hunt, a traditional dance competition, a football (soccer) tournament, a chapati (a local flatbread) eating contest, an Ugandan history and geography trivia game, and a delicious array of traditional foods for lunch. It was a great day to celebrate Uganda and we thoroughly enjoyed it! Below is a photo of the group performing a traditional dance from the Central region of Uganda. 


This is our 6th year to celebrate Ugandan independence here, but the country celebrated 57 years. During our first  5 years of teaching here, I planned and organized many of the plans for our school celebration sometimes working with others. But this school year we have been trying to give our students more opportunities for leadership. Our students are all in one of the three leadership teams: 1-Social Events, 2-Outreach and Spiritual Encouragement, and 3-Field Trips, Sports and Games. Each group has a few activities to plan, and our Social Events Leadership Team planned our Independence Day celebration.

Leading up to that day, it felt strange for me not to be busy planning, but I was thankful for the time to focus on other things. As the day neared, I began to realize that some of my idols were being challenged. It was hard for me to not be in charge of anything, but still have many people coming to me  with questions. I prayed that God would give me the humility to step back and let others take the lead for this fun day. 

I love helping others and leading, so taking a backseat and just going along for the ride can be hard for me. When we realized that certain aspects of the day had not been planned, I tried to be helpful, but not to take over. Letting some details fall through the cracks is not as damaging as taking over what someone else is doing. I still have a vivid memory from my young adult life about a church work day. I had been asked to paint a certain wall in the church building. It was not anything artistic or fancy, just a shade of beige on a certain section of the hallway. I worked for quite some time trying to do a good job. I tend to be a little perfectionistic, so I probably took a lot longer than necessary on this wall. As I was finishing, a man from the church came and repainted everything I had spent hours doing. I went home and cried and thought, “If he is just going to redo everything, why did I work for hours?” That day I committed to myself that I never wanted to make anyone else feel that way. I would much rather help someone learn by working together or even reduce my expectations for the quality of something than make others feel like their work is worthless. 

As the Independence Day celebration went on, there were some challenges and things that didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, but overall our students along with some faculty supervision did a great job organizing a wonderful day! I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of equipping these amazing students for the leadership opportunities God gives them. And I’m thankful for the lessons God is teaching me in the process. Even when it is hard for me to step back, I’m learning to pray more and speak less. God is at work! 

Parenting and teaching both provide ongoing lessons for me. As children grow they begin to work toward being more independent. It is a good, healthy process to equip our children to not need us. But it is also a little bit sad. As I see Evie growing and learning to do things on her own, I want to both celebrate and cry. Honestly, I like being needed, but I know it is healthy and good for our children to grow up. Evie is at the age now where she wants to carry a cup on her own and feed herself even though she usually ends up a bit of a disaster with both of these activities. But if she never tries to do these things on her own, how will she learn?

 Sometimes it’s good to give my children and students opportunities for independence. I want to be a mother and a teacher who puts my full faith in God to be the One in control. Then I can be free to serve others with humility and grace rather than thinking that I am in charge. I can be okay with the mess of the learning process. In the end, it is much better for my students, my children and me when I accept that God is in control. This faith frees me from needing to be in charge or in control or to be needed. Trusting God also sets me free to let my children and students have the independence to learn, even when the process is messy. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Learning to Trust

Lately I have been processing a lot of heavy things. Friends fighting cancer, people processing trauma from their past, grieving over loss, hungry triplet infants in the village, loved ones struggling, budget concerns and the list goes on. Last week we had the opportunity to go on a two day leadership team prayer retreat which allowed for some extended times of personal prayer and worship. This time was such a blessing in many ways. Below is a photo of our Leadership team along with the speaker and his wife. The retreat focus was "Unity in Diversity." It was a great time of praying, worshiping and working together.

As we arrived my heart was heavy with several of the above  concerns. I was talking with one of my friends who shared with me about a way she was writing in her prayer journal. She would write, "Today, I am trusting you (God) to...." and then she would list her specific concerns. It was very helpful to me to think of my prayer requests in this way. All too often I tell God about all of the problems and then leave my prayer times discouraged because I have talked about all the heavy things on my mind, but did not focus on the One who has these things in His hands. So I wrote, " God, today I trust you to care for these people who I love and are hurting. I know that I am not the solution to their hurts, but you are. I trust you to comfort them and provide the help that they need." I also listed specifically some help that I was trusting God to provide for specific people. Then I wrote, "Father, I am trusting you today to provide for all of our needs. I don't need to worry. Instead, help me to work diligently while trusting you to be the One to provide."

During another prayer time at that retreat I remembered how a pastor who recently visited GSF encouraged us to praise God using the alphabet to guide us. So during this time I wrote out truths about who God is from A-Z. After praying in these ways I had much more peace about the many concerns that had been on my mind. While many of those situations are still not easy, and it is appropriate to grieve at times, I was able to trust that God is still good, in control, and even working for our good in each of these situations.

That very evening, David and I received an email from a friend offering encouragement and significant financial support. It was such a gift from the Lord. While I had been praying about finances and asking God for help, I had not been actually trusting Him with those things. My prayers had been more like venting my frustrations instead of entrusting my concerns to the God of the Universe who is able to do all things! A few days later, I heard of another specific answer to one of my prayer requests for others.

Obviously, God does not always answer with such a clear, affirmative response. There are times when I have prayed for years without a clear answer to a concern. But I do find that when I am praying and focusing on entrusting my concerns to the Lord, while meditating on His character, I have much more peace in the midst of these struggles.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Embracing my limits

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5)

This past week was our first full week of school, and I was not well for much of it. I had a bacterial infection that made it difficult for me to teach a full class between trips to the bathroom. I was also in pain on and off along with feeling feverish at times. It wasn’t my best week. There were several times this week that I was not able to do things that I had hoped to do. 

Honestly, around 4am on Wednesday morning I was laying in bed, awake, in pain, and feeling like a failure. I was thinking of so many things I wanted to be able to do or to do better and resenting my limits. I wanted to be able to meet with some of the women from my Bible study on Tuesday to help them prepare for teaching on Saturday. These women had not led before and I wanted to equip them. But I was feeling ill and needed to rest when they were meeting on Tuesday afternoon. I wanted to do a good job teaching my classes, but for some of them I had to just sit in my chair and teach from there due to the pain when I moved around. I also wanted to spend more one-on-one time with my kids, but I was so tired from being sick and from the first week of school that I wasn’t able to do that much.

A few days later, I began thinking about how God has even used my limits for His good. When I wasn’t able to help the women prepare for the Bible study, they prayed for me and still were able to read God’s Word together and prepare to teach. When I wasn’t able to teach as well in my class, students in each class had the opportunity to work problems on the board and teach their classmates, using their gifts and solidifying what they had learned. And I am praying that when my children need someone to talk to, they will learn to go to the Lord first in prayer. I still want to be available for them, but I won’t always be around. Their Heavenly Father will. 

Sometimes, when I get frustrated that I can’t do all that I want to do, it is because I am trying to take the place of God. Sounds pretty terrible, huh? But as I have been thinking on it more, that really is the bottom line. When I resent the limits that God has allowed in my life, like hours in the day, needing to rest, and even sickness, it is because I think people need me most, and I forget that what they really need is God! I am learning to repent of my pride in thinking that I am what others need. I am learning to trust that God knows best. He is infinite and I am finite. He is in control and in his grace has given me limits. He knows that I tend to put myself in his place, and it is a grace that he uses my illness to remind me to repent. I want to worship Him as the only Infinite One, the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. He is the best hope for all the people in my life, and all the people in the world! So today, I am thanking God for my limits. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Awesome!

This week David and I are celebrating 21 years of experiencing God’s grace in our marriage. We were both 21 when we got married, so this year we have lived as many years married to one another as we lived single. God continues to teach us more about His love and forgiveness as we show these to each other. To celebrate the gift of these 21 years, we came to Wildwaters, an island resort on the Nile. It is such a beautiful place! Seeing the water rush over the rapids with such power is an awesome sight! 

Watching this massive amount of water rushing past us, I have been thinking about the power of this river, and I have been thinking about the power of the Creator of this river. 

During our few days here, I began reading Jen Wilkin’s book entitled, None Like Him. The book is about the character of God and is subtitled, “10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and why that’s a good thing).” She begins the book with the importance of fearing the Lord with “worshipful reverence.” She states, “When we lose sight of the majesty of God, we invariably fill the gap in our vision with the fable of the majesty of someone else.” (p.13) 

I can see this tendency in my own life in too many ways. When many people liked and shared my recent blogpost, I started to feel really good about myself. People liked what I wrote, and instead of worshipping God, I wanted to steal some of His glory. I wanted it to be about Lisa and how she can encourage people (and receive their approval). It is sad how natural that sin pattern is for me. But in God’s grace, he showed me the rushing waters. He showed me His power. And He reminded me how I can always repent of worshipping the opinions of others, and instead fix my eyes on Him. 

Through these 21 years God has also been teaching me that I should not look to David for the things that only God can give. David is an introvert who works with people, has a large family, and lives in a cross-cultural setting. And sometimes I look to David to receive the attention, love and approval that I can only fully receive from God. But David often needs time alone. David is finite and fallen. God is infinite and perfect! When I remember that I have been loved perfectly, even lavishly by God, I am freed to love David rather than just need from him. 

So as I celebrate these 21 years of God’s grace in our marriage, I am also celebrating the One who “has measured the waters in the palm of his hand.” (Isaiah 40:12) These constantly rushing waters outside our room, along with this good book,  remind me that God is infinite and immeasurable. He is the One I need to fear with worshipful reverence. And worshipping Him takes my eyes off so many lesser things, like the idols of approval, others and self. 

I am so thankful for God’s grace to me! Even though I still tend to care too much about the opinions of others, I know that His forgiveness has washed over me like this powerful water rushing over the rocks. The rocks are gradually changed by this powerful washing. I am thankful for the ways He is changing me and helping me to shift my focus to worshipping Him. I’m also thankful for the 21 years that God has used marriage to help David and me taste His grace. Our God truly is Awesome!