Sunday, September 11, 2016

memories of a land beyond

I never imagined that when I came home this last December that time would stretch on until now without my feet hitting the red dusty soil of Uganda.

 Sometimes as I'm working here stateside something as simple as a sound or brief glance at pair of shoes or the way someone pronounces a word will take me back to a memory of life there and cause a deep aching down in the pits of my stomach. Such recollections are the secret places my mind wanders to when there are no other thoughts to entertain. They are the memories stowed away that only one who has traveled to such a land will ever be able to relate and recite alongside.

It makes for an often lonely road of great missings. No one to laugh at the peculiarities, to remember the sounds of the chickens flying down from their coops in the morning, how everyone greets one another from shops and homes and road side wanderings. How there is no stranger among one another, how the language sounds like a song being sung in a key I've never heard but am beautifully drawn to. Oh, the smiling faces, warm greetings, glorious friendships and bright burning sun! I miss the mornings in my hammock before the rays became too hot to enjoy the company of a book or the way our house flooded with people from sun up to sun down and how I rode my trusty motorcycle to what sometimes felt like the ends of the earth. I miss the toil and hardship, the reward and long sigh that comes at the end of a well earned day.

How I long to be asked just one more question about what mystery lies beyond these oceans. One more chance to recite a story or to simply lay out the exotic monotony of our days there together. Sometimes I feel this great pull within myself to always remember and not forget. But how does one continue to relive memories that no one else around can understand and that no one else has seen or heard? It's the tension I long to find rest in.

There is one thought that offers me abounding hope and joy in the midst of the longing. Soon enough a piece of my world will be crossing oceans to meet me here in this strange, foreign land. A daily reminder of the sound, life, beauty and joy of our existence in the pearl of Africa. A reminder that nothing real can be threatened or forgotten. And though our feet are far from reaching those dusty red shores, our hearts together can leap to lands beyond.

Oh, how I've waited for you, my love. To remember together, at last.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Gracefully suspended

Suspended. Hanging. Stuck.

Those would be my choice words to explain the feeling of the last six months and even more so, the last three weeks.

Being stuck in this tension between believing God for miracles in the process of our visa, our marriage, our future while trusting Him with all outcomes. All. Every detail, every piece, every outcome.

There is absolutely no doubt that God has done some pretty ridiculous miracles in the last few weeks (approving our petition in less than three months instead of the five months we were given, providing miraculous appointment openings for Emma's medical exam, even when I forgot to prepare the payment for it! Also, the fact that Emma's been sustained since his arrival in Kenya and not to mention the dreams God would give the both of us while we slept, confirming our next steps).

But I'll be honest.... this last week has been one of the most trying times for the both of us because who REALLY knows what it looks like to be suspended between believing God for more in this process, while also trusting that He is good, faithful and intentional in each and every outcome? And goodness, will we trust Him when it looks different than what we expect?

I felt a lot of frustration in the fact that things have been so miraculous and speedy and then now at the very last minute when things are supposed to move the quickest, we are getting a lot of opposition and delay. I mean, come on, God! We've been faithful, obedient and believed for impossibilities, what is going on?

The beautiful thing about God is that He doesn't withdraw or withhold himself in the midst of our dissatisfaction and disgruntlement, He embraces us in our messy state. He asked me a simple question,

"What if my faithfulness towards you has nothing to do with what you can do for me? What if I told you to do nothing and I still did miracles for you?"

THAT is the beauty of faith. Faithful resting in who He is. Not what we can do, not in our own faithfulness but simply in how good and faithful He is in us!

I felt His gentleness, His faithfulness and goodness undoing all disappointment.

When the outcome looks different, do we still trust? Do we still fight the urge to fall under fear that we've done something wrong or heard incorrectly about the process? Or do we hide beneath the feelings or frustration and disappointment?

I think it almost seemed easier to believe in faith for the miraculous than to believe in His sustenance and purpose in the waiting. I'm learning that the process is more important than the destination or outcome I've been straining for. He is interested in who we are becoming through trying times, when we feel stretched, stuck and disappointed. It matters to Him that we experience the truth of His faithfulness.

The Lord gave me a picture yesterday of an aerial silks dancer and told me that I'm not just hanging and waiting for the next thing to happen but He's teaching me what it looks like to bring beauty into this season of waiting. 

Gracefully suspended, He says.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The surprises of Jesus

Two hard years in Uganda. I was just shifted from Western Uganda, a place that I loved and could have spent years serving. I felt sad that in light of all the ministerial politics, I was the one who received what felt like punishment for the wrongdoings of another. Being uprooted from the place I felt undeniably called to would have been an impossible task without the overwhelming presence of peace.

"Let peace be your compass," 
I would whisper to my soul. Plus, I had heard that same voice before. The voice calling me to deeper trust, the voice that puts all my fears at ease. I knew I could say 'yes' to that voice and would not be disappointed.

I was moving to Northern Uganda. Leaving the ministry I had known to start anew in a land ravaged by twenty years of war.

I moved right before the end of my second term in October of 2014. Accompanied by two close national pastors from the West and we were as ready as we could be for the adventure ahead. Oh, the surprises of Jesus. Little did I know that I would find something altogether different during my time in the North. And how sweet it is to say 'yes' in the hard places.

We were staying together in a mission's house for about 3 months before I had went back to the States to recoup and prepare for another term. During the three months, we had already started our church plant and I had found a group of widows and single mothers to work with teaching skills to empower their future. It was exciting and challenging, being a stranger in a new land, knowing not the language or customs of the North. It was a new dimension living as the only white with my Ugandan brothers. Eating plain rice with potatoes and beans at every meal stripped away the comfort and preference I had enjoyed in Hoima. But at every point of pain and new growth I felt the LORD speaking that if I could live this next year with the different nations of the world, I would learn a greater expression of His Kingdom. Little did I know that this was preparation for the rest of my life.

I met Emma (Emmanuel) during those first three months. (My dad had asked me if Emma knew that his name was a woman's name in America and the cultural differences are really far and wide so I just keep laughing. So many men are called Emma there that I've forgotten that it may sound strange at first.) I didn't know at the time that the Northern tribe was so beautifully different from the various tribes I had worked with from the past and that with time, the people there (and Emma in particular), would break down the assumptions and judgments I had placed on the Ugandan people at large.

Emma is a carpenter and a close friend to the land lady's son who was staying with us. So he became a familiar face at the house and our church began giving him contracts to make our benches and pulpit. He was kind and gentle, hardworking but shy. I gave no extra thought or attention to anyone actually, so I enjoyed our little friendship and working together with him for the church. I remember one instance before I had left for the States, I was checking on some of our orders at his workshop and as I was leaving, he smiled and handed me 2,000 shillings (the equivalence of almost a dollar). He said, "go and get yourself a soda." I was stunned and blessed. So many seek 'the white' for money but now I was being given money to treat myself to a cold soda? Dismayed and pleasantly confused.

Nonetheless, I left to the States with no thought in mind or intention to ever consider a local for a relationship. And honestly, it just wasn't on my radar.

When I returned to Kitgum, I was full of new vision and life. Time at home was refreshing and sweet and I was excited as ever for this new journey I was on. I felt deeply in my spirit that this year, was the year to express the fullness of what I believe and know the Gospel to be. We wanted to feed the spirit, strengthen the body AND family structure while breaking spiritual bondages. Believing that there is no poverty in God's Kingdom means that we need to teach and empower people to break free from those crippling cycles. I believe that Jesus does just that and that He's given us all creativity and resources to unlock those mysteries. That meant for me that I was going to lead new projects this year. I wanted to focus on employing leaders and teaching what business looks like in God's Kingdom. How to start? Who knew... I sure didn't!

Coming back to Kitgum, I got a call from Emma. Seeing as his workshop was only a few minutes away I had no problem riding there to see what he was up to. He met me with a smile and we began discussing what my time in America was like. But this time, as I looked at him, interacted with him and talked with him I found something profoundly strange entering my mind. A thought that had never crossed any piece of my thoughts for any Ugandan I had ever met...
                                                              "This guy is extremely handsome."
Fancy enough, one of the first things Emma asks me was why I wasn't doing more projects. That brought me to express the urgency I felt in my heart this year to do different projects like farming, rearing chicken, buying grass-cutters, serving women and so-on.
He simply replied with the trueness of who he is,
 "I want to help you in any way I can."

So that's how the story goes. We started working to get land to plant some different crops, he would invite me for lunch every day, we started ministering together and I felt the walls coming down. That's how I knew it was a work of the LORD. My heart was being changed. Something I adamantly opposed was now happening and I realized all the wrongs being made right within it. Emma embodies a servant-hearted man. He loves Jesus so much and loves people best. The ways that I feel great in my loving of others, he shows me a new way with a deeper love still. We've navigated the awkward conversations, the blunders that come amidst cross-cultural relationships, the highs and lows of living in such a desperately poor and challenging land and we've come out stronger, and more sure of the sacrifice of love.

I remember the first time we talked about what we were venturing in to. He had come out and told me that he loved me, in which my tender reply was, "how can you love something you don't know?" The words he left me with were so beautifully simple. He looked perplexed and spoke them as though it was common knowledge in the experiences of our heart, "Don't you know that this love is a gift from God?"

And the weeks and months to follow proved just that. Love as such truly is a gift. Emma was that gift to me and as time pressed forward, I was overwhelmed by this extraordinary gift that was unfolding in my heart. This last year I have seen greater favor, blessing and more surprises than I could have ever envisioned. I've spent this last year building a future with a man of integrity and honor and I would have never dreamt that God would leave me with such a precious and wondrous gift to choose for the rest of my life.