Saturday, September 5, 2015

First post from Phoenix

I have three unfinished documents saved in my computer that I intended to be blog posts.  They all start similarly: “It’s been one week since we arrived in Phoenix.” “It’s been 3 weeks since we arrived in Phoenix.” “Today marks 7 weeks that we’ve been in Phoenix.”  Finally, after the third attempt, I came to the honest conclusion that I was wasting my time.  I just wasn’t ready to unpack my heart here yet.  It was all I could manage to unpack our stuff, keep my kids from killing each other in our 600 sq. ft. apt, not die of a heat stroke, and get a decent but cheap meal on the table every day.  We were in survival mode, so I gave myself permission to just survive.  

Now, today is our 11 week mark.  Things are beginning to feel a lot different.  We are in our house and not an apt; I have the phone numbers of a few new friends in my phone; it’s been two whole weeks since my kids have cried any tears over leaving Africa; and the high today is supposed to be only 95 degrees as opposed to 105!!  I think we are over the first hump.  Undoubtedly, there will be many more humps to come, but I’m ready to breathe deep after this first one.  

I have also concluded that it’s not necessary to write one, long, comprehensive blog post where I analyze how much we miss Uganda, our present love/hate relationship with the First World, our dreams and plans for ministry here in Phoenix… aren’t you relieved??  Not that I won’t feel compelled to publically share all that in the near future, but, for today, I think I will just share some first impressions of this place we now call home.  So, let me introduce you to Phoenix… 

-          She has a population of over 4 million in her metro area, making her the 6th largest city in the U.S.  (Do any of you remember my husband saying he never wanted to live in a big city? How ironic is life?!)
-          She is called the “Valley of the Sun” because she gets over 200 days of sunshine a year, and the other days are only partly cloudy. (that's what I'm talking about!)
-          And because she is in a valley!  There are mountains on the horizon no matter which direction I drive, and, with the palm trees in the foreground, I find it a stunning combination. 
-          She is conveniently located 5 hours from Las Vegas, 5 hours from L.A., and 3 hours from a lovely beach on the Mexican coast… I mean … just in case we take a notion and want to be somewhere cool before bedtime. 
-          She is laid out in a beautiful grid-pattern so that even a directionally challenged person like me would have a hard time getting lost.  (To truly appreciate what this means to me, you would have to look at a map of Kampala, Uganda, which is laid out like a plate of spaghetti noodles!) 
-          Her summers are brutal, but (I’m told) the rest of the year is sublime. 
-          And she is wonderfully diverse!  Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners… we still feel like the minority and we ABSOLUTELY. LOVE. IT.

A few other random things I’ve learned here that you might find interesting…

-          In the summer, the taps on the faucet are not “hot” and “cold,” but rather “hot” and “hotter.”
-          It is simply a MUST that every time you leave the house, you take a bottle of water.  And, if you have three kids, you might as well just pack a cooler. 
-          That you really don’t want to touch that cactus…
-          That my driver’s license won’t expire until 2074??! 
-          That it is perfectly acceptable here to spread gravel all over your yard and call it landscaping. 
-          And that it is also perfectly acceptable to just. Survive. 

So, if you also find yourself in a season of just surviving, allow yourself to create some margin and don’t feel guilty about it!  Not every season of life is meant to be poured out for others.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that our value is never measured by the amount of our output, but only by the value God says He puts in us… which is infinite, by the way!   
So, my theme verse for this season – 

Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (ESV) Psalms 37:3
                                                        Grateful to be dwelling here in the Valley of the Sun, 


Monday, June 15, 2015

We go WEST!

Sunday afternoon, June 14th
I wrote my last post as I caught the last few available minutes of solitude before we left Uganda on April 20th.  So, in keeping with that tradition, I am writing this post in my last few available minutes before we begin our next journey to Phoenix, AZ.   Technically, we’ve already began our journey west, but this is my last opportunity to sit with my lap top open.  I’m riding shot –gun on I-40 somewhere west of Nashville.  The boys have discovered the Hardy Boys on audio books, which is a GREAT discovery!  I’ve not heard a peep out of them for two hours, and the high-action narrative has put Reynah to sleep.  Hopefully, this will continue to make our long, westward road trip more tolerable.   

Tomorrow, we pick up our moving truck in Memphis, take it back to Jackson and load it with our junk.  Tuesday am, we hit I-40 again, Thomas driving the truck and me in the mini-van with the kids (and the Hardy boys!).  After pushing through Arkansas and Oklahoma (bc what is there really to see there??) and making a few kitschy stops along Route 66 in Texas and New Mexico, we hope to be in Flagstaff, AZ by Fri. pm.  We will finish our trip Sat. morning by rolling into Phoenix, and will begin an adventure that we have been talking and praying about for months!  

In case we’ve not been able to personally catch you up to speed… 

A couple of posts back, I talked about our desire to live and minister in the Southwest.  We’ve now narrowed down that desire to say that we want to plant a church in Phoenix, AZ.  The reasons in a nutshell are #1 - There are lots of ppl and not so many churches.   #2 – The climate and culture seem to be a good fit for our family.  Of course, there are more layers of reasoning than that, but I’m trying to keep this brief.  Thomas and I spent a week in Phoenix last month, and God confirmed to us that planting a church on the west side of Phoenix is not just a crazy idea in our head, but it is what our hearts most desire to do in this season.   I refrain from saying, “It is the only thing we are called to do right now!” because the call of God can often be so ambiguous and open to personal interpretation.   However, we can confidently say that we have seen a spiritual need, and we are very eager to volunteer to help meet it.  (side note: Thomas is ordained in the Assemblies of God, and this is the denomination under which we are church planting.)

We know very little about planting churches.  We are making ourselves students through books and conversations, but, still, there are more questions than answers in our heads right now.  Church planting is a slow process, and has a statistically low margin of success.   Woohoo!  We love doing things the hard way!  Honestly, our faith is being tested on a daily basis.  There are more convenient (and financially stable) options that we could pursue in familiar venues of ministry, but we can’t think of anything else that so stirs our hearts right now.  And I also think this is a beautiful season where we can show God how much we trust Him.  We trust HIM, not ourselves.  Thomas and I keep reminding each other that we are really moving to Phoenix to plant JESUS.  The truth of the gospel is fool-proof, and it is not contingent upon statistics or expertise – thank goodness!  

Oh, dear, Frank and Joe Hardy AND their dad have now been captured by the smugglers and are being threatened to be shanghaied to the Far East!!  This is really a terribly distracting situation while I’m trying peck out this update.   Focus, focus…

There are lots of details that I would love to elaborate on, but we really don’t know all those details yet.  We do know that the kids will be starting 6th grade, 5th grade, and Kindergarten on July 30th at a great charter school.  Crazy, I know!  We do know that we have a temporary apartment to stay in when we arrive later this week.  (Otherwise, please pray that God will lead us to a home, preferably SOON.  The housing market is simply insane in Phoenix right now… as in, houses are staying on the market for only a matter of hours!)  We do know that God has been so faithful to us so far, and He will continue to prove Himself to be ALL that we need.  More details will follow as we discover them…
                                                                         Love from the lush, green hills of Tennessee,


Sunday, April 19, 2015

last post from Africa (at least for now)

It's 5:30am on our last day in Uganda.  It's not productive for me to be up this early.  There's no power, and it's no use trying to pack those last few things by candlelight.  But my head is just too full to let me sleep longer... or maybe my heart's too full.  Many people have asked me the last few days about how I feel about leaving.  I don't think I can give a good answer to that unless the person inquiring is in the mood to sit and listen to me talk for an hour.  (I've only subjected Thomas to that.) And, the truth is, I am tired myself of analyzing all of my emotions on the subject. 

But, I've determined that there is one emotion that overrides all the other fickle ones. 


If I could express anything before I get on that plane, it would be how incredibly grateful I am.  I'm grateful to Watoto as an organization for allowing us to serve with them for the past four years.  Child-care ministry is messy, but it is beautiful and Christ-like.  We believe in what is happening on these villages, and will continue to find creative ways to love and support Watoto from across the ocean.

I'm grateful for the many, many friends here that make saying goodbye so difficult.  We have been showered with home-made gifts, cards, and hugs for the last few days.  Beyond the souvenirs in my suitcases, we are taking with us some life-long friendships. What a treasure! It makes the leaving painful, but I'm thankful our hearts are so knitted to this community. 

I'm grateful for all the unique memories that our family has been able to make here.

I'm grateful for all the ways we have been stretched and tested, and to find out again and again that His grace is enough.  

I'm grateful to God that He was so gracious to even give us this season in the first place.  He has protected us - we've had no major illnesses and only petty things stolen.  He has allowed our children to thrive here.  I can't even begin to know all the ways that our time here has shaped our family!  There are so many good gifts in my life right now, and I have to acknowledge that He is the giver of ALL of them!

I'm grateful for the next adventure and the opportunity to see God be faithful in new ways.

I'm grateful for the peace I have in my heart that, even though leaving is hard, it is right.

I'm even grateful for these 10 suitcases that have given me such a headache for the past week.  I'm grateful for the pile of stuff we are leaving behind.  They all represent an chance to simplify and be reminded once again that we don't NEED as much as we think we do. 

And I'm grateful for you who might be reading this.  So many people have loved us, prayed for us, and supported us for this season of our lives.  Such a blessing beyond words.  

I know I could continue to gush on and on except for the fact that my computer battery is at 18%. I want this posted before it's too late!  (so, you are spared my hour-long dissertation.)  Just like the song bird I can hear outside my window right now ushering in the sunrise, I felt I must sing out a bit of the song in my heart.  Because sunrises are beautiful things. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

signs and seasons

There have many long stretches of time between my inconsistent blogging in the past 5 years.  I'm sure this last stretch sets the record, however!  My excuses are tired from being used so often, so forgive me for not dragging them out now.  :)  I will (attempt to) give a nutshell update on life for the past 6 months...

We very much enjoyed spending autumn in the US.  It was wonderful to visit with family, reconnect with friends, and share with churches in different States.  God truly blessed us in so many ways!  Through the unprecedented generosity of individuals, we were able to return to Uganda in December with literally suitcase after suitcase full of ministry supplies for the pastoral teams here on the Watoto villages - from musical instruments, Bibles (LOTS of Bibles!), children's church curriculum, to even printers and sports equipment.  It was our 4th Christmas here in Uganda.  We had definitely already had our "fill" of cold weather by the time we departed the US, so we didn't mind one bit singing Christmas carols in the hot, equatorial sunshine!

 We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to transition back after being away for 3 months; 48 hours after being here, it seemed that we had never left.  Our roles, relationships, and the simple routine of life here was as easy to resume as putting on a favorite jacket.  Thomas has filled his days this year by continuing to serve the pastoral/discipleship team.  Discipleship for 3,000 children ages 2 - 20 entails multifaceted challenges, which Thomas loves being part of!  He has written curriculum/ sports devotions, compiled an "operations manual" explaining the discipleship paradigm on the villages, taught discipleship classes for university students, as well as conducted theological training for the pastoral team.  Meanwhile, he continues to coach basketball teams and invest relationally in some very special young people. 

Basically, the "nutshell update" is that doing life and ministry in this beautiful place with these beautiful people has continued to be incredibly fulfilling to us.  And that makes the real reason that I am finally breaking "blog-world-silence" even more unexpected.  Our family has now entered into a season of transition in order to do ministry in the U.S. again.  Yes, even I have to take a moment and process that sentence!  I feel a flood of emotions when I re-read the line I just typed. I feel torn between ending the sentence with exclamations !!!!!! or with understated periods...... or with ?!?!?!?!?!  We are excited about the future and also very sad that our season in Africa is coming to an end.  Bitter-sweet sums it up better than any other words I can think of.

When we returned to the U.S. last fall, we were quite convinced that we would be back in Uganda for another two years and that the end of 2016 would be a convenient time for us to relocate.  We always knew that Uganda was going to be a special “season” for our family – a few years, not a life-time commitment.  We confidently announced our plans to everyone while we were home.  However, by the end of our time in the States, God begin making it clear to us that His plans were different than our plans.  Lately, I’ve thought a lot about Proverbs 16:9 - A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.  We are very much at peace with how God has chosen to direct our steps, even though the timing has caught us by surprise. 

So, we aren’t leaving Uganda because we feel unhappy or unfulfilled.  We aren’t leaving because we had a “falling out” with our ministry team or we just can’t get along with someone.   This team has truly become our family here, and we are going to miss them terribly!  We simply know that for a variety of personal reasons, it is God’s sovereign time for us to move on.

Even after we determined that 2015 would be a transition year for us, we were still not exactly sure when or how.  We are still working on the details of the HOW, but we at least know the WHEN.  We fly out April 20th and will land in Greensboro, NC.  We will spend a couple of weeks with T’s family.  Then, the first week of May, T and I will fly to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with church leaders and explore some ministry opportunities there.  After that, it is  - dot. dot. dot….!  Our goal is to give ourselves the summer to settle, so that our kids are ready to start school by the end of July.  There are many variables between now and that date, however.  We are completely open to however God chooses to direct us!

At this point, I’m sure you are wondering what there is in Phoenix that has our attention.  Actually, it is more what there isn’t.  God has given Thomas and I a strong desire to live and minister in the western part of the US where the percentage of the population having a "religious affiliation" is significantly low.  Phoenix is consistently in the top 10 list of American cities that need more evangelical churches.  The other cities on that list are located in the extreme Northeast or Northwest – which means extreme COLD WINTERS.  It may not sound very spiritual, but we’ve determined that our family can absolutely do without winter!  A hot climate suits us just fine.

There are many things about AZ that appeal to us, but the main thing is that we want to continue to be missional in ministry.  Not unlike the physical terrain, the spiritual soil in the West is drier and harder than the tilled-up spiritual soil of the Southeast.  We are very aware that planting and growing and harvesting spiritual fruit would not be as easy there as it may seem to be in our familiar “Bible Belt.”  But we are drawn to the challenge.  Really, to put it more accurately, we are drawn to the challenge of putting the GOSPEL to the test.  We know that the Gospel has power to change lives.  We just want to be a channel of the Gospel message, and watch it do its thing!  This part of the transition makes me very excited.  Other details can threaten to choke me with worry if I let them.   Details like … I don’t actually have any FRIENDS in AZ.  And we gotta find a place to live.  AND we have to buy a vehicle.  And I’m pretty sure that I don’t even have a frying pan in storage – much less any furniture!!  

It’s interesting for me to remember what a huge step of faith it was to move our family to Africa 4 years ago.  I would have never thought then that it would be an equally big step of faith to move our family back to North America!  But, it is once again gut-check time.  I keep telling T that I have that same feeling as when I’m strapped into a roller coaster that has just made its slow, clicking ascent to the top of the rails.  You know that exhilarating and terrifying pause before it plunges down and the real ride begins?  I remember feeling that way in the beginning of 2011, and I think that’s where I am right now.   God is again prying my fingers loose of the people and things in this place that was once so foreign and has now become HOME.  He is reminding me all over again that the only secure thing I have to hold on to is HIM.  And He is enough. 

We sincerely ask for your prayers for the coming weeks/months.  I imagine that I will be highly motivated to post updates on here more often in the near future, just so I can solicit those prayers!  I need to feel the support of friends and fellow-sojourners as we continue on with the next adventure.  I don't feel like our journey is ending in any way, but there is certainly a sharp bend ahead in the road!  So many of you have faithfully shared with us in this journey the past four years, and we are grateful beyond words.  Actually, I think T did a pretty good job putting it into words in the newsletter he just wrote, so allow me to just quote him, "The bottom line is that so many of you have simply trusted us.  You have sown seeds of prayer, finances, and encouragement into our lives because you trust that we are authentically ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Thank you.  Thank you for believing in our family and our calling.  Thank you for every encouraging word and every prayer whispered and every dollar given.  We are leaving Uganda with our hearts overflowing with gratitude at God’s goodness in our lives through YOU."  I wholeheartedly agree! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back in America! {Reynah's perspective}

September 18 - 10:10pm
Tomorrow will be two weeks that we’ve been back on American soil – two fantastic weeks with T’s family in North Carolina.  My kids have been in heaven having all their cousins to play with, PawPaw’s tractor to ride, and the yummy goodies in MawMaw’s kitchen.  At this precise moment, we’re on our way to Florida… somewhere in South GA, hoping to make it to Jacksonville before midnight. 
Allow me to pause here and just appreciate what I see before me - a smooth, 6-lane interstate with white lines, reflectors, and informative road signs where we can speed along at 75 miles an hour.  (That’s a 100 klm an hour for my friends who don’t speak “American.”)  A road with NO bodas, bicycles, goats, potholes, and especially no over-sized trucks coming at me in my lane blinding me with bright lights!  It’s beautiful.  Really.  I am already missing some things about Uganda, but her roads are not among them. 
We’ve had just a few culture shock moments here since re-entering.   Interestingly, for me, most of these have occurred at Wal-Mart.  Actually, I guess that shouldn’t be interesting or surprising, since lots of shocking things happen at Wal-Mart. First, there was the lady spending 20 bucks to buy a Halloween costume for her dog!  I don’t even know what to say about that.  Then, there were the countless cereal options.  Oh. My. Word.  How did I ever make a breakfast decision before in less than 15 minutes? In Uganda, it’s either over-priced Kellogg’s cornflakes or over-priced generic cornflakes from Nairobi.  And then, I couldn’t help but think about how my stylish Ugandan friends (who love button-up shirts and high heels) would be so amused if they could see how Americans dress to go shopping.  For my fellow Americans, I’m sure you have plenty of visual images right now, so I need not reinforce this point.
T and I both agree that it feels a little weird being around only white people all the time.  In fact, we’re pretty eager to get to Jackson, TN, see our African-American friends, and have some color back in our life! But, for the most part, we’ve eased right back into the familiar abundance of food, water, electricity, conveniences, Wi-Fi.  I'm sure that when December arrives, we will be ready to head back to Uganda, but, for now, we are here and America feels like home.  As the title suggest, however, there is one little person in our family who has a very different perspective on America.
Reynah was just one when we moved to Uganda in 2011.  She was two when we visited the US in 2012.  She remembers some people from that visit, but little else.  She is 4 ½ now, and this is her first real impression of America.  It’s been quite interesting for us to watch her as she learns some basic things for the first time.  Here are some conversations and situations that I’ve been jotting down in a notebook the last few days…

Day of Departure - Entebbe Airport parking lot, Uganda
Reynah: (chanting) We’re going to America, we’re going to America, we’re going to America…` I’ve never been to America before! 
Judah: (in the expert, big brother voice) Yes, you have.  You were BORN in America. 
Reynah:  (in her tattle-tale voice) Mama, Judah just said I was born in America…
Lay-over – Doha International Airport, Qatar
The boys gleefully spot water fountains and make a dash to get a drink. 
Reynah: What’s that?
Me: It’s a water fountain.
Reynah: (looks at me blankly)
Me: Look, you hold down this button and water comes out and you drink it.
Reynah: (pushes the button and watches in wide-eyed fascination for a whole minute)

Arrival – Philadelphia Airport
Customs Officer (who is a pretty African-American lady) leans over the counter and talks to Reynah:  Well, hey there, little Mama!  How are you?
Reynah:  (in her perfected, sing-song Ugandan accent) I am fiiiiineeee.  And yoooouu??
Me (thinking): Oh dear, she’s going to address every black person she sees for the next 3 months like a Ugandan!
First morning in the U.S. - I wake up from my jet-lag coma and find Reynah has already eaten breakfast with her grandma. 
Me: Did you enjoy breakfast?
Reynah: Yes! I ate circle cereal!!!  (she makes little circle motions with her fingers)
Me: Ummm… Cheerios??
Reynah: Yep!  Cheerios!
After an outing with her aunt and cousins -
Me: What did you do?
Reynah: I played in water and ate black circle cookies with white icing inside…
Me: Oreos?
Reynah: Yeah.  And we saw smoke trucks…
Me: Fire trucks?
Reynah: Yeah.
Bathroom at Wal-Mart -
Me: OK, you go in this stall, and I will go in the one beside you.
Reynah:  Wow!  Mama, that’s a whole lot of toilet paper!!  (side note: Public restrooms in Uganda are generally not equipped with toilet paper.)
Two minutes later: The toilet automatically flushes while Reynah simultaneously screams and runs out of the stall with her panties still around her ankles.
Driving through down town –
Reynah: Daddy, what are those yellow thingies that are green and red?
Daddy: (looks at me with that “What in the world is she talking about??” expression)
Me: Reynah, what yellow thingies?
Reynah: You know, those yellow thingies on a string on a pole…
Me: Ooh, those are traffic lights!
At Mawmaw & Pawpaw’s house –
Me: Reynah, take your snack out on the porch to eat it.
Reynah: What’s the porch?
Me (opening the door and motioning with my hand): This is the porch, Reynah.
Reynah: I don’t see a porch.
Me (stepping out of the house):  Look, Reynah, I’m standing on the porch.
Reynah: You mean on the veranda?
Me: OK, yes, sure!  Go eat your snack on the VERANDA.

 with some of the cousins
 There also was the occasion when she discovered what a vacuum cleaner is, which kinda started out like when she discovered the automatic toilet flush... except, of course, all her clothes were in their proper place.  She has developed her own version of the "punch bug" game, and has yet to grow weary of playing it.  Every time (and I do mean every time) she sees an American flag or a playground, she loudly announces her discovery (and I do mean loudly), punctuated by over-the-top gestures and bounces.  But we do love her exuberance.  Thomas and I had a conversation a long time ago about how fun it would be if we could teleport some of our Ugandan friends to America and watch them experience it for the first time.  Little did we know that we would get a similar experience with our own little, white African.  So, if you find her talking funny or getting alternatively excited/ scared over random things, maybe you'll find it as amusing as I do.