Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Days of extremes

The past several days have felt like a roller coaster experiencing moments of amazing joy and celebration along with times of fear and grief right around the corner. It has been hard to handle all of these emotions lately. In the midst of these ups and downs I find myself often praying, “God, you are good. I know and believe that even though I don’t understand what you are doing right now. Help us to trust you!” 

On Friday, we had our end of the school year program and the graduation of two students we have taught and loved for 5 years now. Graduation is always such a mix of emotions, gratefulness for what God has done in the lives of these students and how much they have grown in so many ways right next to the sadness of saying goodbye as they move across the ocean to study in college in the United States. We are both celebrating and grieving as they move on to the next  thing God has for them. I will miss these girls so much! 

On Sunday, we received a message that Tim, one of our teammates, had been bitten by a snake and was not doing well. We did not know what kind of snake it was at first. He had thought it was a harmless green snake, so he picked it up. He even took a picture holding it. 

When he wasn’t being careful enough it bit him, and he almost immediately began feeling terrible. As our team leader and Tim’s wife were rushing him to the hospital, the kids and I were at their house with their 6 children. David posted the picture to a reptile Facebook group for identification. The group identified the snake as a baby Jameson’s mamba whose bites can be fatal if not treated with the correct antivenom within 30-120 minutes. The nearest hospital that had the correct antivenom was about 90 minutes away. As I was working in the kitchen with 2 of his daughters I realized how serious the situation was. We received word that he was in very bad condition. He was struggling to breathe, vomiting and barely hanging on. Silently I told God that this family and this ministry need this man here. I begged God to spare his life. They arrived at the hospital 70 minutes after the bite. Once he received the antivenom, he immediately began to improve. His condition stabilized and we celebrated and thanked God for the treatment being available and the quick transport that God used to spare Tim’s life. 

On Monday, the GSF social worker who works with elderly people in the village told us that one of our neighbors was very ill. I had heard he was sick on Saturday at Bible study, but I didn’t realize it was so serious. Since Tim is the Director of Community Development, and he was recovering from his snake bite, the social worker asked me to help arrange things to get our neighbor to the hospital. We found someone who could go with him and arranged transportation. Just about 30 minutes after they left, I received word that our neighbor had passed away. His daughter lived there with him and her children. He was a very kind man with a good sense of humor. He will be terribly missed. None of us realized how serious his illness was a few days ago. So yesterday evening we sat with the family as they grieved over his body. 

Today, Tuesday, the morning has mostly been consumed with helping our neighbors with preparations for the burial. Buying and preparing food, getting a coffin, setting up a tarp for shade for people to sit under. In the middle of these preparations, I left in order to go to a baby shower for two friends who are expecting babies very soon! It was a very nice time, but I am struggling with going between these two extremes. Celebrating new life and grieving over the loss of another life. Right now I am taking a few minutes to write and cry and process these emotions while my baby takes a nap before we go for the burial. 

I am thankful that our neighbor knew Jesus. I am thankful that for him, death was like a graduation, leaving this life behind and moving on to something better. But for his daughter and grandchildren, this is a time of grief and sadness. They will miss him. We all will miss him. 

The only way that I know to handle this jumble of emotional ups and downs is to cling to my Lord. I will trust that He is good, all the time. I will trust that he is using the times of joy and pain for good. (Rom 8:28) I will trust that our present suffering isn’t even worthy of being compared to the glory that awaits us. (Rom 8:18). But I will also weep with those who weep (Rom12:15) which is what I am doing today. 

God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good! 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Learning to pray

This week I met with the small group of girls who live here at Good Shepherd’s Fold and are in my cord group. These girls get opportunities to visit with some family members during their upcoming school holidays. Before they go for holiday visits we always meet and pray together and talk about the upcoming visit. We also debrief when they come back. 

During this cord group time, I asked the girls how I could pray for them. A girl named Esther (not my daughter) responded that she wants us all to pray that her family will come to  know God. If I were this young lady, I can imagine so many other requests I would also have. I would ask God to heal the wounds on my feet so that I could walk. I would ask for God to provide for the physical needs for my family members. I would be thinking about my feelings and needs during the upcoming visit. But this amazing girl just asked for prayer that her family would know God. She said that is what they really need most. 

After sharing prayer requests, we decided to all take turns praying. I was going to be the last one to pray, so I had the privilege of listening to these girls pray first. When it was Esther’s turn to pray, I expected to hear her ask God to answer the requests we had just mentioned, but her prayer was strikingly different from what I expected. I cannot remember her exact words, but I will paraphrase the gist of her prayer. In her humble, gentle voice, her prayer went something like this:

God, you are the Almighty One, the Holy One  and everything is in your hands. You are good and love us so much that you sent Jesus to save us from our sins. You have given us so many things, you have provided for all our needs. You have given us life. You can bring my family to know you. You are the Almighty One. You are so  loving and faithful and you are working for our good. Thank you that you have all of us and our families in your hands and you can do all things. We trust you because you love us so much. Thank you, God. 

I was almost in tears realizing how much I have to learn about prayer. I often bring my requests before God, but not like this. As I listened to this precious child of God pray, my faith was strengthened. Her prayer took my eyes off of my concerns and put them on the good, faithful God who is at work. It was beautiful! 

Reflecting on her prayer afterward, I was reminded about Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. We have heard the Lord’s prayer and recited it so many times, that I sometimes forget to consider how it ought to affect the way I pray. Jesus  began his prayer acknowledging our Heavenly Father and his character. Esther so naturally did this out of her love and appreciation for who God is. And her request for her family to know God was essentially asking for God’s kingdom to come. She did not seem to be following any formula, but her prayer sounded a lot more like the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray than my usual prayers. 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn from listening to the prayer of this sister in Christ who is less than one-third of my age. Her faith humbles me. Her prayer teaches me that I should spend more time looking at my Savior than I do looking at myself or my circumstances. Isn’t it interesting that due to the medical challenges she lives with, this amazing young woman spends much of her time on her knees? I want to learn to pray like her. I want to fix my eyes on Him and ask him to strengthen my faith as I continue to learn to pray.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Who is my neighbor?

Recently the women in my Bible study group have taught me a lot about loving our neighbors. I have seen them work together to meet the physical needs of several others in our village and to pray for them over the past few weeks. These are not wealthy women who are giving out of their excess. These are women who work making beautiful jewelry and crafts so that they can feed their children, buy soap and medicine for their families, and send their children to school. These women have gone to bed hungry at times. These women have slept in leaky huts during rainy season. A few of them have been able to save up to buy a few solar powered lights for their family to have electricity. They all have to fetch water daily. These women have many physical needs, but they have shown me how to care more about the needs of others first. It has been a joy to see these women choose to use a portion of their earnings to help several others in our village!

This week, our Bible study was on Luke 10, where Jesus tells the parable about the Good Samaritan in response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Before our Bible study, we found out that a woman in our group had some complications with her pregnancy, had to have an emergency C-section and the baby died. Using all her savings, she had enough money that the hospital was willing to do the C-section, but she could not be discharged from the hospital until the full bill had been paid. Of course, that means that she is grieving while at the hospital and away from her family and friends, all the while increasing the bill by staying more days. The remaining bill was equal to what she is able to earn in our Buwundo Beads and Crafts group in 2 months time (a sixth of her annual salary).  The women discussed what they might do to help and agreed that if they all loaned her more than one third of their earnings for that week, she could be discharged from the hospital and pay them back one at a time as she is able. I wonder how many of us would be willing to do that?

A few weeks back, the kitchen/cooking hut of an elderly man in our village blew down in a storm. Since it is the rainy season it isn't possible to cook outside most days. And since people mostly cook over firewood and an open flame it isn't safe to cook inside the small hut where you sleep and keep your clothing. Since this man does not have a source of income, he could not afford the poles, nails and iron sheets to build his kitchen. Additionally, since he is elderly, he would really struggle to build the structure. The women from Buwundo Beads and Crafts decided to all contribute a portion of their income that week to go toward building a new cooking hut for this man. They each contributed about a fifth of their weekly income in order to care for a neighbor in need.

About a month before that, another elderly women in the community had a cooking hut with a grass roof. The roof caught on fire and the structure burned down. One of her daughters let us know about the need and I asked the women what they wanted to do. They all agreed that they wanted to contribute toward assisting her.  One of her neighbors had some poles to contribute toward the structure as well.

In each of these situations, people often come to me asking me to solve the problem since our family has resources. I definitely do want to be generous with the money God has given us, but I have realized that asking these women in the community to consider how to help is much more valuable than me jumping in and solving the problem. They often know better than I what to do and how to go about it. I am glad that they have been able to work and save money through Buwundo Beads and Crafts that they use not only for supporting their families, but also for loving their neighbors and caring for their needs. Thank you to all of you who have purchased jewelry, baskets, hot pads, and more in order to support these women. God is using them to do great work in Buwundo village, Uganda! And I pray that hearing about how these women love their neighbors, will help us all grow in our understanding of God's generous love for us and grow in the way we show His gracious love to those around us.

Also, if you are interested in helping to sell the beautiful, handmade, Buwundo Beads and Crafts products, please contact me! I have items in several locations around the United States.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Wanting to have a thankful heart

Today I feel like complaining, and honestly I have done my share of it. I have malaria and I feel lousy! (I have begun treatment and am not on my death bed for those of you who are panicking. I’m well enough to write this post, and trust that after a couple more doses of treatment I will be significantly better.) But God has brought to my mind the important discipline of “giving thanks in all circumstances.” I thought that writing a blog post might help me actually list out some of the many blessing I have in the midst of this sickness. So here goes...

1- Even though the first two tests were false negatives, God has provided us with a good doctor and medical clinic in Jinja who was able to properly diagnose the malaria and begin my treatment. 

2- I can afford the life-saving testing and treatment for this disease. (Many others cannot.) I’m also thanking God for supporters who make this medical care possible for us! 

3- David and the children have been able to manage much of the cooking and cleaning for a holiday/birthday weekend. Esther has been particularly amazing! 

4- I don’t have to plan for school tomorrow since we are on Spring Break! 

5- When we visited a church in Jinja for a sunrise service, some friends there knew I wasn’t feeling well and were extremely kind and helpful! They even found a room for me to rest so that David and the kids could stay for the breakfast and fellowship time afterward! 

6- Because malaria in cyclical, I have had some times that I was able to work with Esther preparing food and was even able to keep our plans to celebrate Ezra’s birthday with an ATV ride along the Nile! It was awesome and I didn’t feel sick until the last 20 minutes or so! 

7- We have solar power, so even when electricity was out from the Ugandan grid and the GSF generator was broken, we still had electricity. 

8- Although the water was out today, during a previous water outage we got a box of bottled water which was still in our pantry. So we didn’t have to go fetch water. Many people have to fetch water daily. 

9- I had some Promethazine in my cabinet which I was able to take to reduce nausea and to keep my malaria medicine down. 

10- Writing this post has kept me awake long enough to take my next dose of medicine. Timing is important to eradicate the parasites. 

11- one day there will be no more pain or sickness!

While I would love your prayers for healing, I would also appreciate your prayers for my growth in thankfulness in the midst of struggles. I have been irritable and demanding with my family. I have been angry that I feel so bad. But I am asking God to change my heart during this struggle, to help me remember that “He has loved me with an everlasting love” and will even use these struggles for the good of “conforming me to the image of his Son!”  

God is good, all the time.
And all the time, God is good! 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

Yesterday was Good Friday, the day we remember that Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment that our sins deserve. It seems strange to call something good that is so terrible, the Son of God being brutally killed. But it was good for you and me! It is often hard for me to believe that painful things can accomplish good. Yesterday I was able to visit with a woman in our village who has been struggling with that very thing. 

Since we did not have school yesterday, I had some time to visit with Shamim, a woman who has been so kind and generous toward me. On a previous day as I was walking through the village with Evie and our friends, We met Shamim as she was cutting some sugarcane for her children. She greeted us and offered some sugar cane to Evie. Evie was thrilled to receive liquid sugar straight from chewing the cane!

She also wanted togive us a gift since we stopped to visit with her. She had a package of disposable diapers that she gave us. It was such a generous gift as diapers are expensive!   

Yesterday when I went to visit Shamim, she prepared milk tea for us and even sanitized a bottle for Evie to try some. She also shared some bananas with us! Evie played with her children for quite some time as Shamim and I visited. Over this past year she had a baby die and then her husband left her with 3 other young children to care for. Since she is from a family that is from another religion, I was able to ask her if she understood why Christians celebrate on Good Friday. We talked about how God brought about the ultimate good of redeeming us through faith even through the grief of his only Son dying. I am thankful for such friendly neighbors in Buwundo who are open to hearing more about Jesus. 

As we were preparing to leave, this sweet friend sent us home with a bag full of avocados. Evie thoroughly enjoyed playing with and eating them when we reached home! Uh oh, I’ve been caught playing with my food again!!

As if the morning in the village was not enough of a joyous celebration on Good Friday, we were also given the opportunity to participate in a Passover Seder with some other families in Jinja. It was such a blessing to see how Jesus was so clearly represented through all the symbolism of this beautiful meal. I was thankful that our whole family was able to participate together. Afterward all of our children were able to run around with friends and have a blast while we stayed for a soup dinner. 

There is so much for which to be thankful in this season! God has graciously sent his own Son to redeem us! My sins are paid for! I have been brought into God’s family through Jesus. He is the Son of God, the Savior, who experienced death, that we might have life! And we know that death could not hold him! He is alive! But we will wait and celebrate that part tomorrow...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Date to Remember

On Thursday, Ezra and I had a mother-son date to Jinja. It didn’t occur to me that since it was Election Day for the MP(Member of Parliament), things might be a little crazy! It was a rainy day and even before we left the house things started to go awry. The windshield wiper on the passenger side broke and the car was making a bad noise, so we had to go to the mechanic in town first. After the vehicle safely made it through the 45 minute trek to town and right before reaching the Mechanic’s shop, we drove through a bunch of police officers with billy clubs in one hand and automatic weapons in the other. We made our way safely through and to the shop. From inside the Mechanic’s walled compound we could hear lots of shouting out in the streets. 

Since there was a noise beneath the van, the mechanic asked me to drive up the ramp in order for him to check beneath. I had never before tried to drive a vehicle onto a ramp that just had space for the tires. It was exciting! Then he got some other guys to come over and shake the van to see if anything was loose, all while we were still up on the ramp. It was an adventurous beginning for our date! You can see the ramp behind us in this photo. 

As we left, the police had cleared from that area and we passed many groups of people out walking in the streets. Apparently the opposition candidate won and many people were out celebrating! The shouting we heard earlier was probably when they were announcing the results. It was pretty challenging to get across town between the road construction, the crowds in the streets, and the various places we found police or soldiers marching. It made us a bit nervous, but in the end, we were able to get to a restaurant and have our milkshakes and snacks. 

While the trip was a little stressful, we were able to enjoy special time together and make some memories that will last a lifetime! Apparently the next day there was tear gas released in Jinja. I was thankful we didn’t get stuck in the middle of that situation. We are grateful that we were able to have a fun date that evening even though it didn’t quite go as planned. 

This unusual date with my boy reminded me that in every situation, I can either be thankful and trust that God is working for good even when things appear chaotic, or I can complain in my heart and waste the beautiful opportunities God gives us. By God’s grace, He enabled Ezra and me to keep a sense of humor and enjoy this special time together. I pray that in the course of our adventures, God will give me the ability to see his gifts in the midst of changed plans and challenging circumstances. I want to trust that my loving Lord is working for my good even when I’m trapped in a rambunctious crowd, and I don’t know what will happen. “And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

Many days I live like I don’t believe this truth. I’m irritable and complain when things don’t go as I had hoped or planned. I forget that God’s ways are much better than mine. I forget that He even uses these situations to conform me to the image of Jesus (vs.29) But on these occasions when, by his grace, I am able to trust Him amidst the craziness, I praise him for giving me His joy in the midst. It was a blessing to be able to share the gift of a moment of faith and joy with my precious son! Thanks be to God for a date to remember! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Where am I looking

Growing up, I took gymnastics classes for about 10 years. After that I began teaching gymnastics and did that for another 10 years in various part-time capacities. I always enjoyed floor and vault. Parallel bars were okay, but my least favorite event was the balance beam. It is not easy to stay on that thing! My younger students who were just learning to walk on the beam would inevitably look at their feet, see how narrow the beam is and the distance to the ground below and freeze up a bit. One “trick” I would teach my students is to keep their eyes at the end of the beam. If you look at the end, you keep your head up and it is much easier to move forward. 

I recently read in Matthew 14:23-33, the account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter stepping out to join him. It is amazing to think that Peter asked Jesus to call him to do something that he obviously could not do in his own strength. Peter believed that Jesus could enable him to do miraculous things. And then comes verse 30. “But when he (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” Peter took his eyes off the end of the beam (Jesus). He looked at his circumstances instead of looking to the One who was enabling him to walk! 

Lately, I have felt like I’m sinking in some ways. I’ve spent too much time looking at the wind. When I have a free moment, I often find myself thinking about my mistakes and circumstances rather than looking to Jesus. I leave a conversation and immediately worry about what I said and how it might be interpreted. I fear how I might have failed or disappointed others. I get anxious about the adoption process. I worry about whether we will be able to cross the border with Evie to go to a Global Outreach conference in Kenya, even though we are working to get all the paperwork that would possibly be required. I get anxious about what next school year will look like as we are still looking for another teacher to cover all our classes. I look down at my feet and stop walking. I look at the wind and start sinking. 

In the midst of these times of anxiety and fear, I remember what Peter did when he started to sink. “He cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.” I need to call out to my Lord in the midst of these struggles. I need to remember that He is there to rescue me. I am slowly learning that each time I start to sink, I can call out to my Lord. He will “reach out his hand and take hold of me.” He is loving and gracious! He is working for my good. I want to believe these truths and rest knowing that Jesus can accomplish the miraculous, and even when I get distracted by the wind, he is there for me. What an gracious, kind, powerful Savior! 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rabies scare

Last week Esther woke up with a bat on her leg. No, not a baseball bat. The fuzzy flying mammal. The kind that has been known to carry rabies. She screamed and kicked it off and saw if fall out of her mosquito net and flap down the hall. Of course that woke us and we began searching the house to get rid of it. But to no avail. Finally we settled our two girls back to sleep, and about an hour later Elijah woke and said there was a bat inside his mosquito net. We were still not able to find it. A few days later Ezra found it dead in the boys’ LEGO bin. 

It was a disturbing night, but I didn’t think much about it. We live in a village called Buwundo, which means “bats” in Luganda. Yes, we literally live in a place called Bat Village. I didn’t know the meaning of the name when we moved here. 

In a bizarre series of events, our pediatrician heard about the incident. He highly encouraged us to treat our children as if they had been exposed to rabies. Even though their chance of actually being exposed was very low, once someone becomes symptomatic with rabies, it is too late to treat them.  

As we received this information from our friend and doctor, I was in Kampala with Esther for a mother-daughter weekend. David and I decided that I should borrow a car and drive Esther to a hospital that had the immunoglobulin rabies vaccine. If you are not familiar with driving in Kampala, it can be pretty overwhelming. I asked Esther to help navigate using my phone and Google maps as we set out for the hospital. We eventually found our way there, but since it was after regular hours, it took about 2 hours to get a doctor to say that she needs the shot, take that prescription to the pharmacy, pay for the shot and then go back to the nurse to have it administered. It was quite an ordeal. As we were preparing to leave the hospital, I got another message from David that in addition to the immunoglobulin, the CDC and our pediatrician/friend recommend getting the regular vaccine. I spoke with the nurse and she said that since that is not their usual protocol, she would need for us to wait to see the doctor and go through the whole process again. It was now getting to be late and the hospital was filling with more people waiting to see the doctor. I decided that we would just wait and get the other vaccine in Jinja the next day. The boys were going to get the vaccine too, so it made sense to do that all together. We drove back in the dark to the place where we were spending the night and only missed our turn about 3 times. It was definitely an adventure. 

That night I woke with a panic attack. In the process of trying to decide if Esther was going to have the six injections recommended, we had a discussion about the seriousness of the disease. Soon after we moved to Uganda, a family member of a missionary here died from rabies. As I woke in the night, I prayed for my daughter who means the world to me. I also realized that even though Esther and I were able to joke around together during our two hours in a cross-cultural hospital setting, I was emotionally drained from the experience. As I laid in my bed with high blood pressure and tightness in my chest, all I could do was pray. 

My dear friend in the US just posted the words to a song that we had talked about before, and it was a timely reminder. Here are the words below:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You're the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
To teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
When I cannot stand I'll fall on You
Jesus, You're my hope and stay
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
By Matt Maher

I was definitely feeling like I was falling apart. But God gave me the strength to persevere through that day and eventually slowed my breathing, and gave me His peace as I prayed so that I could go back to sleep and get some of the rest I needed that night. 

As I am writing now, I am again up in the night. Esther has had 4 of her total 6 shots that she will receive over the course of the month. This time I woke because Evie was crying and I settled her down and put her back to bed. Again I will pray knowing my dependence on my Lord. It is definitely true that without Him I would fall apart. But he has given me His grace through this rabies scare and every hour I see my need for him even more each day. In my weakness and dependence, He is “my hope and stay.”

Here is a photo with my two beautiful girls! Since they were matching I needed to take a photo. I am so thankful that I get to be their mama!