Friday, November 20, 2020

Giving Thanks in the Midst of Political Unrest

 Wednesday was quite a day! It began as a normal school day. The students arrived at school and we began our classes. At some point we became aware that the opposition candidate for the presidency here in Uganda was arrested. This isn't the first time. There are currently laws against campaigning since that would gather crowds and potentially spread COVID. This was apparently the reason for the police detaining the candidate this time. Many who support this opposition candidate began protesting and rioting as a result of all of this. Since this occurred in Jinja, our nearest town, there was quite a bit of unrest there. The police then began releasing tear gas around town in order to restore order. While the tear gas dispersed the crowds, they shifted to other locations which prevented or complicated movement around town. 

When it was time for our students to be dismissed, order had not been restored in town, so we kept the students here. Our school is out of town in a village in the midst of sugarcane fields. We have a peaceful environment and are not a location where protesting and rioting is likely. I was so thankful that our students were able to stay with us in a safe place and just play or hang out until things settled down in town. The students seemed to be excited to be able to have more time together. It was an unexpected blessing. While some students were concerned for their parents, we were able to provide some fun diversions with games, music and snacks. 

While afterward I was exhausted, this crazy day reminded me that we have so much for which to give thanks. I am thankful for the opportunity to live in a peaceful rural village where we do not have to deal with as many political issues. I am thankful for teachers working with us who are willing to stick around and help our students have fun on a stressful day. I am thankful for a missionary team that is like family with whom we could process some of the events of the day during devotions together that evening. I am thankful that during the lockdown, we found ways to get things from town without having to go in person, which will be helpful if there is any further political unrest. I am thankful that COVID-19 has not caused a significant amount of illness or death here in Uganda. I am thankful that we will be able to celebrate an American style Thanksgiving with our missionary team. And I am thankful that in the midst of the many challenges of 2020, God has still given us the chance to serve here in Uganda. God is good, all the time! And all the time, God is good!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Giving Thanks in Difficult Times

Yesterday I called my parents and found that they were on the way to the emergency room. It is concerning any time loved ones need to go to the hospital. These days it seems even more complicated and distressing with COVID concerns and fewer people being allowed to enter the hospital. As I spoke with my parents, they told me about all the people with whom they had consulted to determine if they needed to go to the hospital. I was so very thankful and encouraged by the support they have. Being across the ocean from family is hard, but knowing that they have an amazing community through their church and my brothers being there has meant so much. My dad needed to have an emergency surgery that went smoothly and he is now in recovery. He is doing well and should be discharged tomorrow. 

This is a photo from when my parents came to visit us in Uganda several years back

While God did not choose to prevent this emergency, he did provide so many graces in the midst. During this month of November, I like to remind myself of  the many things for which I can give thanks. In this situation, I am thankful for my sister-in-law who was able to advise them about where best to go for medical attention. I’m thankful for other medical personnel who advised them to go to the hospital. It probably took a good amount of convincing to get my dad to the hospital. I am thankful that within one day, the hospital staff was able to diagnose and surgically resolve the issue without complications. I am thankful for the ability to call and text across the ocean. I am thankful for my mom to be able to be with friends through the day and tonight since she was not permitted to be in the hospital with my dad. I am also thankful that God has given me a loving, supportive father who gives me a little picture of God's love for me. I am thankful that God has chosen to give us more years together. I am thankful for God reminding us that we are not in control in this crazy world, but that He is. While it is challenging to walk through some of these scary days, I am thankful that God is still in control. He is teaching me to trust him in the midst of the storms. It feels like I am a pretty slow learner, but He is a patient teacher. 

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus for you." 
1 Thessalonians 5:18

While I feel called to focus on giving thanks in this circumstance, I also acknowledge that I have friends who are grieving right now. God also calls us to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15) Sometimes, I am tempted to tell myself that I "should" give thanks, even when there is something to weep over. Somehow, God calls us to do both. Even Jesus wept. (John 11:35) If you are in a season of grief, please do not hear me say, "buck up." I believe that though it seems contradictory, God calls us to both weep and give thanks. Often for me, it looks like taking time to grieve and then asking God to help me see his goodness in the midst of the challenges. May our gracious Lord give us the faith to trust in him as we walk through this broken world and grieve and cling more tightly to him, giving him thanks.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Immanuel in the Midst of Isolation

 Over the course of one week, we have had so much upheaval. Last Saturday, we got word that some of our school families had been in contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. Because we live and work on a campus with medically fragile, vulnerable children, and our school family also has some vulnerable members, we have to be very careful about any exposure. We decided to switch to distance learning for the upcoming week as we waited for test results from those in our school community that had been in contact with the infected individual. We also needed to reschedule parent teacher conferences and decided to do those meetings via zoom. We quickly realized that the exposure was more significant than we originally thought, and many of our school families had been in direct contact with either the original individual or other contacts who later tested positive. 

On Monday, we were notified that one of our students tested positive. The student had no symptoms at the time and was in good health, but we still realized that others in our school had potential exposure. We have many protocols in place to prevent the spread of illness at our school including frequent handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, masks and distancing. Even though we believed that contact through school was highly unlikely, we needed to let the school families know about the possible exposure and also notified the GSF COVID response team. Since our son, Zeke, is in class with the student who tested positive, we were asked to test Zeke and for our family to isolate from the rest of the GSF community for 2 weeks. Zeke had no symptoms, and the rest of our family had no contact with the student, but we wanted to respect the wishes of the COVID response team. The district health office heard about the case and closed the primary school that meets on a different part of our campus. The students do not have any contact between the schools due to COVID precautions, but they still sent all of the primary school students home indefinitely. A team of officials came out to our campus and met with David and GSF administration. Although we were expecting them all day, the officials did not arrive until 7pm and met with our team for an hour and a half. In the end, they came up with some additional precautionary measures to put in place and said that if there has not been further spread, the primary school can reopen the following Monday, and our school can reopen on Nov. 2. Here in Uganda, the only students who are currently permitted to attend school are those in International schools and candidate classes (those finishing Primary school, Secondary school or University.) The cases of COVID are very low here, and the restrictions have been very intense. 

A week after Zeke's last class with the infected student, someone came out to our campus from a lab in Jinja that does COVID testing. Because the administration did not want the testing company to pass through campus, they asked us to meet them at the chapel. The test was not too bad for Zeke, but apparently those who saw Zeke being tested believed that he was sick. Word passed through the local villages and the story grew. Apparently now, many people believe our whole family has COVID. I later received phone calls and messages from people who had heard various reports about our family. I am thankful that people were concerned and checking on us. The next day we got the results that Zeke tested negative. I was very relieved. All the other students who tested were also negative. It has now been 11 days since the last time we saw the student, and our family is required to remain isolated from others at GSF for 3 more days. I am weary and struggling with another period of isolation. It makes me sad feeling like those in our community want to avoid us. I know that is only because of fear. Our family already sticks out and is treated differently due to our skin color. Being a minority who stands out in every crowd can be draining. Now that many are afraid of us due to this COVID scare, I am getting a tiny taste of what some African Americans have described. It feels isolating and lonely. 

Loneliness has been an emotion I have really struggled with recently. I have been reflecting on what it means that Jesus is "Immanuel, God with us." (Isaiah 7:14) The theological meaning is that Jesus was fully human and fully God. That was necessary for him to redeem us. He took our sin and gave us his righteousness through his death and resurrection. But those truths have much more than simply theological implications. Jesus, as a human, walked through this life being different than those around him. He did not fit. He often took time away to go to a solitary place to pray. (Luke 5:16) In my times of loneliness, I need to remember to do the same. I also need to remember that Jesus said to his disciples and by extension, us, "Surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) Even when I feel alone in this world, my Savior knows and has experienced the struggles of this life. (Hebrews 2:17-18) He is where I can find "mercy and comfort in my time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16) In this crazy year of 2020, many of us have struggled with various emotions. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has felt lonely at times. I pray that we all will remember that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and be comforted by the peace he brings us through prayer and through his presence.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Thing I Hate about Living in Uganda

 Last night I got a message from my brother that my grandfather passed away. I knew that this was coming as he had been on hospice care and had recently been upgraded to 24/7 care. I had each member of our family send him a video a few weeks ago. I knew he wouldn't necessarily know who we were, but he loved smiling faces and family videos. This was my only way to say goodbye. I hate being so far away that I cannot be with my family at times like this. When we visited the United States at Christmas time, I saw how much his health had declined since the last time I saw him. I knew that it was probably my last chance to hug him when I said goodbye. But it still hurts so much. I have said goodbye to three grandparents this way and my heart breaks every time. Of course, anytime we lose a loved one, it is a time of grief. But I have found that this grief from a distance really stinks! I cannot be there to hug and comfort my parents. I cannot help with the arrangements or the funeral. I'm not with my family to sit and talk about how much he meant to us all. I'm also not there to share the funny stories about his sweet tooth or his flirting with the nurses when we need a break from the grief. 

It has occurred to me that many people are also experiencing this inability to be with loved ones during grief in the midst of this COVID pandemic. I know that now, even people who live in the same country may not feel free to travel for a loved one's last days or a funeral. Particularly if the loved one is in the hospital. I am thankful that the facility where my grandfather has been for the past several years allowed my parents and my brothers to be with him during his last days. I'm thankful that they were able to talk with me about their visits and how the hospice workers were managing his pain and praying with him. But I hate that I am not there. 

Don't misunderstand; I love where I live. I love my work and the families were are able to serve here. I love my neighbors. I love that I live on campus with children who need to be shown the love of Christ and we get to be a small part of that. I love that we can empower women in our village by buying their crafts and equipping them with God's Word. I love that we have been able to open our home here to some kids who need family. I love getting to teach mathematics to kids from a variety of backgrounds. I love Ugandan culture and the hospitality and patience of the people here. I love living in a tropical climate and the beauty of this country! I love that as we were having lunch with our teachers, we were interrupted by monkeys fighting over jackfruit from the tree next to us. I love the sense of community and family we have here in our village, on our missionary team, in our house church, and with our school families. But I am still sad that I am not with my family at this time. 

Since I cannot sit around with my family talking about my Grandpa Franklin, I thought I would write one of the things that I loved about him. Grandpa Franklin was an amazingly cheerful and thankful old man. He would talk about how great and healthy he felt, how he didn't need any pills and how he hadn't been sick a day in his life. Not much of that was actually true, but that was his perspective. He had such a sunny disposition and was always pleasant to visit. When I was in high school I used to go visit several people at the nursing facility where my great-grandmother lived. In general, when people are old and in pain, they are not so cheerful. They do love visitors though. I cannot think of anyone I've met in all my years of visiting several different nursing homes who was as cheerful and positive as my Grandpa. I hope that as I age, I will continue to grow in thankfulness and cheerfulness to be more like him. 

While I am grieving and I hate that I cannot be with my family in this time of loss, I want to ask God to give me the thankful heart that He gave to my Grandpa Franklin. It is my hope that even though "weeping may last for the night, joy will come in the morning." (Psalms 30:5) I am thankful that my Grandpa knew Jesus and now he is no longer in pain. He doesn't even have to experience this weeping for the night that we experience right now. He is in the presence of the Lord where there are no more tears, or pain, or death. (Rev. 21:4) My Grandpa's joy is now complete! And even though I miss him and hate not being with my family right now, I will trust God to give us all his peace and even joy in the midst of this pain. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Preparing for the Unknown

This COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we all look at the future. There are so many things that we thought we could plan. For example, will we be meeting with our students in person or only through distance learning? We are scheduled to begin our next semester in 3 weeks and we are trying to plan for the unknown. Here in Uganda, the government has not given schools permission to reopen. We have seen other countries that have reopened only to close after having significant outbreaks at schools. It is difficult to know what to expect.

In addition to these unknown factors, we are waiting for some of our teachers to be able to join us. One of our teachers has been able to schedule a flight for returning Ugandans and Foreign residents with valid visas. While she will be travelling soon. She is required to go through two weeks of quarantine and then testing before being released. Another teacher will be new to Uganda, and we do not know when the government will permit new people to come to Uganda as the borders are still closed.

As David and I desire to provide the best possible education to our students, we are trying to work on plans for how we will proceed with distance learning and with the possibility of meeting in person. I have spent many hours working on various schedules and possible solutions. We have ordered curriculum materials through a shipping company and hope that they will arrive on time. We are seeking to adapt and prepare as best we can with so many unknowns.

I can often feel overwhelmed trying to figure out how this all will go, but I am learning that what I really need is not to solve every potential problem. Yes, I should prepare as best I can for the school year ahead, but ultimately, my hope is not in my plans. My hope is in the One who holds the future in His hands.

When I was in high school, my basketball coach encouraged us to focus on one verse throughout the season. It was Psalm 20:7.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God."
 Our coach explained to us that chariots and horses were what were often used for battle and that having those would protect a people from outside attacks. Our coach also explained that we might put our trust in our preparations or plans, on the basketball court or in life. But he reminded us to instead put our trust in the name of the Lord our God.

As I prepare for a school year of unknowns, I want to do the work God has called me to and prepare well, but not to put my trust or hope in those plans. I want to trust the Lord with our unknowns. I struggle with that and some days I spend too many hours making plans, to assuage my fears. But I am thankful that the Lord brought this verse to my mind and that my coach reminded us of this truth before every basketball game those many years ago. When I begin to worry and feel the need to come up with more solutions to problems that have not yet arisen, I will refocus my mind on the truth that my hope is in the Lord and I will trust in Him. I also appreciate that this verse says "we." This is not just a personal struggle. The people of God need to encourage one another to trust in the Lord. When I forget, please remind me. And I pray that is one encouragement and reminder to you. Let us together put our trust and hope in the name of the Lord our God.

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Rough Night

I woke with my heart racing and my mind spinning at 4am. For someone who has fought with anxiety for years, it is a familiar feeling. I knew that this was my mind processing all the stress of the previous day and week. I knew I needed to get up and process and pray. If  I just lie in bed and allow my mind to wander, it usually ends in a frustrating night of not enough sleep and increased anxiety. 

First, it helps me to figure out where this increased anxiety is coming from. It didn’t take me long. Yesterday was rough. We had a faculty meeting in the morning which began with finding out that our request to have a final week of school had essentially been denied. Of course, it wasn’t that straightforward, but that was the gist. Since March, we have been planning how to do school based on the announcements the president of Uganda makes. At first it was 2 weeks off, then extended to a month, then a few more weeks, then another month. It is really challenging and stressful to always be waiting and adjusting. I know it is the same around the world, but that doesn’t make it any easier. So we all began to process this news in different ways and work on plans for wrapping up the school year. For David and me, this school is the work we felt called to do 8 years ago and is the reason we moved our family across the ocean. We are both people who like to do things well and want to serve these missionary families  as best as we can. This year has been disappointing. Our students have missed Sports Day, Spring Formal, our school outreach project, and much more. They have missed seeing their friends, cooperative learning activities and valuable class discussions. I have missed opportunities to speak into the lives of my students and point them to Jesus. I have missed experiencing that lightbulb moment with my students when they grasp a particularly challenging mathematical concept. I hadn’t completely given up hope of squeezing in a few of those activities until the moment we got word that morning. It was disappointing. 

One additional stressor was that I had hoped to meet with my students in person to help some of them get caught up on missed assignments or concepts they have struggled with during this distance learning time. Most of our students have tried homeschool and/or online school and struggled with those options. They needed the ongoing interaction of being together with other students and teachers. So I also began thinking about how to meet the needs of my students who have fallen behind.

As I mentioned before, our faculty all processes differently. We began discussing plans for how to wrap up this last week with our students. It became obvious that there is a lot to be done. But first we had a parent teacher conference. Every year parent teacher conferences make me nervous. I always wonder if the parents are happy with me and think I am doing a good job as a teacher/administrator. I know that the point of these conferences is to work together to know how to best help our students grow and learn. It isn’t about me. But my desire for approval often rears its ugly head in my heart and increases my anxiety. After completing this one conference, we needed to schedule a dozen more, but we cannot have the parents come to our campus. As a staff we all had different ideas about schedules and how best to do that. So we tabled that discussion. 

In general, I don’t like anyone to feel unhappy. I don’t love conflict. And I often want to try to solve everyone’s problems to make them happy. Guess what? That doesn’t usually work. I’m not God and it isn’t my job. He knows what is best and what people need much more than I do. He is able to do whatever He knows needs to happen, and I should trust that much more than all of my ideas. Nevertheless, my brain feels the need to come up with a solution that will address everyone’s concerns. And when I am not able to do so during the day, my brain often keeps going at night. 

As soon as the meeting was over, I had scheduled to take two of our teenagers to town. We are only permitted to have 3 people in a vehicle which adds some interesting dynamics when our 7 children all want to see friends from town. Today, these two got to hang out with a couple friends while I had some errands to run. Since we live on campus with children who are vulnerable to disease, we try to take extra precautions while we are out. This goal of limiting interaction makes going to the multiple different stores needed to procure items from town more stressful. We don’t really have a one-stop sort of shop. 

While I was moving around town, I had multiple conversations with people who mentioned hearing rumors of various possible government regulations that would impact us. I heard that the Minister of Health threatened to impose a harsher lock-down than before if people do not follow the current regulations. I was wondering if we needed to stock up on food again in case this happens. Since we get most of our money through wire transfers from the US and we are in the midst of a building project, we don’t currently have as much cash on hand. The money that was sent from the US on Friday will likely show up in our account here on Tuesday. I began wondering what would happen if we got sent back into a lockdown before then. I know that worrying about the “what if’s” is not helpful, but that doesn’t always stop me from going there. 

Then another person I saw mentioned that they heard that schools might not start back until February 2021. We have been working on plans for next school year for months, and that rumor also sent my mind spinning. Of course, I have no idea what will really happen. This could be misinformation or simply ideas that have been thrown around. But I began processing all of the possibilities. I know that I should first focus on turning my attention to finishing this year well and then prepare for the next one, but these questions are all in the back of my mind. I’m not great at compartmentalizing. 

All of these questions, concerns and challenges were swirling through my brain when I woke at 4 am along with a few other family concerns. And I wondered what I should/could do. After acknowledging where these concerns were coming from, I needed to ask God to help me remember that He is sovereign over this all. The previous morning, I had talked with a friend who has lots of big questions looming. She is trying to remember that God is the One who is in control and that whatever happens, he has allowed in His good plan. He is in control and working for our good in the midst of all these questions. 

By about 7am I was able to shift my focus from all the challenging circumstances and questions to God’s goodness and sovereignty. I was remembering some of the words to the song “Sovereign Over Us.”
There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You're sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You're teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You're with us in the fire and the flood
You're faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You're working for our good
You're working for our good and for Your glory
These words gave me the peace to be able to sleep for about an hour until I needed to get up and care for my family. I hope that as we all struggle with many questions and uncertainties about the future, that you will also be comforted by God’s sovereignty and love as we learn to look to Him alone for peace. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

My Shield

“Thou O Lord, art a shield about me. You’re my glory, you’re the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)
I learned this verse as a song many years ago and it has been playing on repeat in my mind for weeks now. As we walk through this pandemic, I have been thinking about why this verse has been such a comfort to me. 

When I was younger I would often wake in the night with overwhelming fears. After years of struggling, someone suggested that in those times I should focus on God’s protection around me. I would remember that God was a “shield about me” and would picture in my mind a bubble of his protection, almost like a force field from sci-fi cartoons. I think many of us wish that God’s shield would protect us from all disease and difficulties like the force field Violet is able to generate in the Incredibles movies. I have heard some people jokingly talk about everyone moving around in big bubbles or giant hamster balls to protect them from exposure to this virus that is wreaking havoc across the globe. 

But if this verse doesn’t mean that God will create a force field around us to keep us safe from this virus and other suffering, what does it mean? This Psalm was written by King David as he fled from his son, Absalom. David knew that God was his protection and glory, even when his own son was trying to kill him. But has God promised to protect us from anything bad happening? No. The Bible is filled with statements about how God is with us and working in our lives in the midst of trials. But as I think of how this “shield” applies today, I am reminded that whatever trials God allows past this shield, He will use for my good. I pray that my family will be spared from COVID 19, but if God allows one of my family to get sick, He will work for our food in the midst of it. 

As I reflect more on this shield of protection, I am now  thinking of it as the shield of God’s goodness. It doesn’t mean that no bad thing will ever happen to me or my loved ones. But it does mean that God is good and is working for our good in whatever he allows. I am reminded of another song that has been an encouragement to me during this time, “Sovereign Over Us” by Michael W. Smith. The bridge seems particularly poignant.
Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You're working for our good
You're working for our good and for Your glory
This morning I saw a beautiful picture of what it means for God to be our shield in my living room. When Evie woke this morning, she ran right to her Daddy for comfort and protection. We currently have a little puppy that likes to nibble on everything and everyone, so Evie often uses Mommy or Daddy as a “shield” to protect her. We love her so much and want what is best for her. Sometimes that means picking her up to protect her from the puppy, but sometimes it means teaching her how to stand her ground and train the puppy. As her parents, we want her to run to us for protection, but we also want to equip her to handle life’s challenges. Of course the analogy breaks down at some point, but the protective love We feel for our children is just a small picture of the amazing love of God for us.

As we walk through this pandemic and the lockdown here in Uganda, it is good for me to focus on the goodness of our Lord and the ways that he is working for my good in the midst of these challenging times. I pray that God will lift my head to focus on His glory and goodness. I pray that I will run to Him for comfort and protection in difficult times. I pray that whatever challenges you are walking through today, God will remind you that He is your living Father, your shield, your glory and the lifter of your head. And I pray that in his grace, He will give us glimpses of the good He is doing in the midst of our struggles.