Tuesday, December 3, 2013

walk with me

A long time ago, after we first moved here, I wrote a picture blog where I imagined that you had come over to visit us in our little flat.  It was very fun and therapeutic for me, since I was REALLY wishing for some friends and family to come over.  I am again in the mood to pretend.  But this time, we should go for a walk together... because it has been a perfect Suubi evening.  I may chatter too much for too long, and I may stop to take too many pictures.  But, hopefully you won't mind indulging me.  It is holiday time, and I need to feel like we're "caught up."  At least... as much as possible across an ocean.

I first must comment on the weather, and how, even though this is our 3rd Christmas in Uganda, I still can't get used to putting up a Christmas tree when it is 80 degrees outside.  However, on an evening like this, when it is a divine 70 and there is a fresh breeze - I can't bring myself to complain or wish for a "wintry mix" forecast.  

It is just us and Reynah going on this stroll.  She is packing her tinkerbell purse with the very necessary items - rocks, lip gloss, and a toy car.  She asks me for some money as well, but I say no.  T is at the basketball court and the boys are heaven knows where, doing boy-stuff with their friends.  They always come home filthy at dusk when they are ready to eat.  So, this means our walk is dictated by Reynah's whimsy.  The first thing she wants to do today is pick flowers. 

Meanwhile, I will gush to you about how much I enjoyed getting to talk with about 30 teenage girls today - about sex, boys, body image, and purity.  I always feel incredibly honored to lead discussions on these so-important topics. 

Then, I will start to fill you in on some on of the "happenings" of our little home.  Two weeks ago, we had a baby monkey delivered to our doorstep.  He had been caught by some of the Watoto boys.  His leg was injured, and I wasn't too happy with how they were treating him, so we decided to keep him for a few days.  I must say - ever since we moved to Suubi - I've wished to "babysit" a baby monkey, just for a little while.  He stayed on our veranda for a bit over a week and was SO entertaining!  We called him Timo.  He would fall asleep if we started "grooming" him, would squeal and basically pitch a fit if he saw us eating any kind of fruit, would make the cutest chattering noises when he was happy, and would use our head and shoulders as a launching pad to get to whatever higher destination he wanted to reach.  I did get tired of cleaning his poop off our veranda though, and we let him go rejoin his monkey friends one day when the troop of them came around our flat.

Now, we've reached to top of the hill, the highest point of Suubi's 200 acres.  Reynah loves the little "fish pond" here, and, as you can see, it is a favorite hang-out place for many.

I now get to hold her flowers as she picks grass to "feed the fishies." 

The view is spectacular from here, and this is where our new worship building is almost complete.  It is set to open in Jan. of next year.  So far, our Sunday services have always been held in a school hall that can only comfortably seat 300.  Suubi is a village of about 1,500 residents now, so you can see why this new worship center is needed.

Not to mention... have you noticed the glass walls?  I do question the practicality of glass walls, but, my goodness! What a stirring place to meet and pray and sing - a glass sanctuary on the side of a mountain!  In fact, if I weren't already married, I think I would start planning my wedding to be here.

Here now, I catch a glimpse of one of my boys as he zooms past.  Josiah is having a blast!

There are very few bikes on this village; my kids don't own a bike.  Josiah tells me that this one belongs to one of his friends who got it because he was the "best boy" on his Watoto Choir tour.  If you are one of the privileged children who get a bike, you are expected to share it with everyone else.  And I do mean EVERYONE ELSE.  I will never cease to be amazed at how much better Ugandans are at sharing than we Westerners are.

Other news that you may find interesting (or repulsive) is that November is grasshopper season here.  While we get excited about roasted turkey back home, Ugandans get excited about eating fried grasshoppers.   I have read accounts by other North Americans that suggest Ugandans are so poor they resort to eating these insects because there is simply nothing else to eat.  That's really not true.  They eat them because they genuinely like them, and these grasshoppers are considered quite the seasonal delicacy.  This past Saturday, Josiah, Judah, and their buddies literally spent all morning in the grass field collecting the critters.  Our friend, Mama Andrew, came over to cook them for the boys.

I just found it so humorous to see my pot of veggie soup and her skillet of bugs side by side.

 (Btw, that is lemon grass in my pot... not worms!  -in case your imagination is getting the best of you at this point.)  I do wish I had a pic of the boys eating their treat, but the power went out as we sat down.  So, it was fried grasshoppers and carrot-ginger soup by candlelight.  Ha!

We've now reached the soccer field where preparation is fully underway for graduation ceremonies tomorrow.  The school year is different here, so December marks the end of an academic year, graduations, and the beginning of the longest school holiday.  Here are Maurice and Carlos setting up the climbing rope exhibition for tomorrow.
Maurice and his wife, Jean, are teachers here at Suubi.  They are from the UK and are the only other long-term volunteers with Watoto at this point.  Carlos is a short-term volunteer from Brazil.  We do enjoy making friends with the many international volunteers that come through. 

And here are some of my teachers friends who are also helping to set up ... as they are "setting their hair" to look their best tomorrow.

I hope you're not too tired yet.  We really only have one more stop to see T and the guys at the b-ball court. 

As we walk there, I have to make sure I get in the most excited bit of news that we are looking forward to.  On Jan.2, we leave to go spend 2 weeks in South Africa!  Just our family.  Just for fun!  God blessed us so much - we were able to get all our tickets for free with our airline miles!  Being able to plan this trip has been SUCH an encouragement at times, especially since we knew we weren't going to be able to make a visit home this year.  We will get some refreshing family time away on some pretty beaches.  I'm sure I will post more pictures on here than you would ever care to see.

THEN, a couple of weeks after we return, my mom and dad and baby sister are coming to visit!!! I am just giddy over all this.  We've had some very dear friends come visit but this will be first time to have family.  I won't have to pretend or use pictures, but will have my family right beside me, smelling the same air, feeling the equator sunshine, and meeting our African home.  I've spent so much time daydreaming about this. 

Of course, we have lots of plans to relish the Christmas season... but, really... January can't come fast enough!

So, here is our final destination.  The basketball court is the best place to be at sunset.  It is a ritual every time we come that T has to "fly" Reynah around.

I've enjoyed your "company" so much tonight.  I only wish it wasn't such a one-sided conversation.  If you take a notion to, please dialogue back and send me an update on you and your family.  I would really love that! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

have you seen the "sicklips?!"

I was enjoying a restful Sunday afternoon reading in bed.  I had noticed that the words on the page were getting harder and harder to see, and I thought, "Good grief - how is it already evening?" (Here on the equator, the sun always sets right around 7pm.)  But when I glanced at my watch, it was only 5:20.  At that moment, Reynah ran into the room, her eyes huge and bright.

Reynah:  "MAMA, have you seen the sicklips?!  Come see the sicklips!

Me:  What in the world are you talking about?

Reynah:  THE SICKLIPS! (exasperated sigh)  It's on Joshua's veranda.  The sun and the moon are fighting and the sun is eating the moon.  Come SEEEeee! (pulling my arm)

Sure enough, there was the "sicklips" - at least, that's what it sounded like our Ugandan neighbors were calling it as they gave an exciting narrative of the sun and moon "duking it out."  They were very cleverly looking at it through their X-ray prints.  Apparently, here in Uganda, you get to take your X-rays home with you and make a collection.  And, apparently, one of the best viewing spots in the world to see a total eclipse today is in northern Uganda.  I just read that online.  Thomas is just now coming home from northern Uganda, so he was in the lucky spot... but not so lucky to have a X-ray handy to view it through... or a play-by-play commentary.  :)

So, did you get to see the sicklips in your corner of the world today?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

when I know He knows

I wrote this one week ago while flying home from my grandma’s funeral.  I feel like there is so much I should share – the Dorrell family (our friends from the U.S.) did an incredible job of ministering to each Watoto village while I was away.  I flew back to Uganda with Pastor Carter and Nancee, and we just spent a wonderful week enjoying their company.  Each of these events deserves its own blog post, but I will begin here and hopefully catch up later.

I’m about 30,000 ft. over the Sahara Desert right now-  5,000 miles from one home and still 2,000 miles from my other home.  I’m contemplating, as I often do, what that means – for my heart to live in two places.  And I’m trying to process this very demanding, difficult, yet wonderful week that I just had. 

I start by remembering the week of July 4th, 2010.  Thomas was at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on a mission trip with our teens, so the kids and I had gone to spend a few days with my Mimi and Pappy in Loretto, TN.  It was a great week.  We shucked (and ate) lots of corn from Mimi’s garden, played board games, had a cookout at my uncle’s house.  Reynah was only 4 mo. old, so Mimi loved cuddling her and singing to her every chance she got!

One night that week I stayed up late after everyone had gone to bed.  I sat at my grandparents’ kitchen table and wrote my second post of this blog (this one) where I “announced” we were moving to Uganda.  That blog remained unpublished for 4 more months though, because I couldn’t really announce it yet.  So, that week with Mimi and Pappy was great but also hard.  They didn’t know it, but I understood very well the significance of that time with them.  I was soaking up every precious moment, and already grieving at the same time.  I was grieving that I wouldn’t be able to share my children with them and they couldn’t share with me this last season of their lives.  I was “counting the cost” of moving to another continent - and this specific cost was tallying up to be one of the greatest.  Of course, I’ve been able to see them since then, but the visits have been few and brief.  And every time I’ve hugged them goodbye, my stomach has knotted in fear that it would be my last time.  

Eleven days ago my fear was confirmed.  We had all just recently found out that Mimi had cancer.  Before anyone could expect it, she was in ICU with only quantifiable hours left to live.  She passed into eternity last Sunday.  That weekend before she died, I was more torn than I’ve ever been since moving to Uganda, trying to decide/justify whether or not I should go home.  I won’t explain all the reasons of how and why I decided to come home.  And, as much as I’d like to, I’m not going to make this post a tribute to Mimi and what she means to me.  I can’t unpack all that from my heart in such a public place.  That would just be a mess.

But I do want to share some beautiful moments that God has handed to me -like gifts- in the last few days.  The first one has a bit of background information to it, so stick with me.  It is very cool.  Back in March of this year, Watoto Choir #59 visited my parents’ church.  My mom had told me that she gave one of the Uncles (a leader of the choir) something small to take back to Uganda to give to me.  I never knew what it was, and I didn’t really have much confidence I would ever see it.  The choir returned in July, but I had not seen this uncle yet.  On Friday a week ago (2 days before Mimi died and the day after I found out that she was going to),  I was in Kampala about to teach my English class for Living Hope.  I was trying to stay focused on my responsibilities…but a dam of tears seemed ready to burst at any moment.  My constant thought was – I wish I could just hug my family.  “Uncle” Michael walked into the room as class was beginning.  He called me over and said, “I’ve been meaning to give you this.”  He handed me a small ziplock bag with a white handkerchief inside.  I could smell my Daddy’s cologne before I even opened the bag.  It was just the handkerchief (with cologne) and a tiny note from mom that read, “I thought this might be the next best thing to getting a hug from your Daddy.”  I felt so overwhelmed with affection from my family.   But, mostly, in that moment, I felt overwhelming affection from God.   I knew that HE knew 7 months ago that I would need to know He was near me on this particular September day.  

My other moment came two days later when I was sitting in the Brussels airport waiting for my flight to Newark.  I had thought I would enjoy traveling solo without the kids to look after.  But in that cold, lonely airport, I decided that chasing after them would have been a welcome distraction.  It is a weird feeling of suspension to suddenly be in a different time zone and space with no one to talk to.  I didn’t even know if Mimi was still alive or not.  So in that moment, I began thinking about my dear friend Beth, who does missions work with her family on the island of Saipan in Asia Pacific.  I was empathizing with how very painful it was for her to travel home alone to the US last year - and how she was sitting all by herself in an airport in Hawaii when she found out her mother had passed.  I decided I wanted to pay the money to connect to the internet just so I could send her a msg and tell her that I now understood a bit better.  Before I could even begin to write a single line, a message from her popped up - “are u there??”  How amazing is God that He reconciled the time between Europe and Asia so that we could chat for just 10 min!  I knew that He knew I needed a friend right then.  

There were so many other beautiful moments in the following week that comforted me in ways I wouldn’t have expected – picking some of the remaining vegetables in Mimi’s garden and making a bouquet of her last flowers; reading her Bible; drinking coffee with Daddy and Pappy before sunrise; walking late at night with my sister and cousin and reminiscing in the dark.   

I was able to spend a day and a half in Jackson, TN and attend Missions Sunday service at my home church.  This was always my favorite Sunday on the church calendar.  I knew it was pure, undeniable Providence that I could be there on that day.  Then, the most unexpected blessing of all came through the different individuals who placed money in my hand at different times… enough money to cover ALL my expenses of a last min. plane ticket!  I am still just overwhelmed by this.  I don’t deserve such favor and extravagant generosity. 

So, I am quite a package of emotions.  In fact, the old guy across from me looks slightly disturbed that I keep wiping my eyes and sniffling.  I have a heart that is grieving … but that is also very full.  God has been reminding me in some very tangible ways that He loves me.  He knows how to give peace when I face things I fear.  But I think the most comforting thought of all is this…

I now know that He knew

When I was “counting the cost” three summers ago, He was counting too.  There is always a price to obedience.  Sometimes I act like God is ignorant or indifferent to that, but He isn’t.  He knows.  He sees.  When I compare my “price” to the price others pay, it seems so inconsequential.  Why should God notice or be impressed?  But it’s not about comparing or impressing, is it?  We are each on a uniquely personal journey, learning to let God be our only reward.  And right now, I am so glad to know that He is taking every step of this journey with me.  And that He's writing in every thoughtful detail of our story. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

For all the Princesses

i have too many stories to write ... about new kids on the village, and new friends in the community, and Living Hope ladies, and Kids' Church ... but today i will just stick to this one, lovely story.

Once upon at time, 313 little girls were very much in need of a new life.  all 313 of their stories followed a different script and, yet, had the same tragic themes throughout.  when they should have been tucked into warm beds with full bellies, they went to sleep hungry and alone.  when they should have had pretty dresses to twirl in, they only had discarded rags that didn't fit properly.  maybe the most tragic element of their stories is that actually each little girl was a princess, but she didn't even know it!  no one had ever told her so. 

but, one day, their new life providentially came.  their stories took a amazing turn, as they were moved into a new home.  with a new family.  on a beautiful Watoto village.  some little girls went to live on a majestic mountain-top village, a village infused with as much hope as it's translated name suggests ~ Suubi (hope).  others, went to live in a cozy, wooded village where they were surrounded by a eucalyptus grove and more peace than they had ever before known ~Bbira.  they finally had the things every little girls should have - a bed to call their own, new clothes, a school to attend, a church community to introduce them to Jesus.  their world began to feel secure and promising.

these little girls grew into beautiful young ladies.  and now, on the cusp of adulthood, it was time.  time for them to see the big picture, and understand the intricate threads connecting chapter 1 and chapter 2 of their life story.  so, a whole weekend was dedicated for this unveiling.  invitations were given out, dresses borrowed, decorations hand-made, many prayers were prayed. great care was put into making each girl feel special and beautiful - from personalized place cards to "spa sessions."

but all the preparations and pampering paled in significance to what God had already planned out for her heart.  my pictures and words cannot truly relate what a joy it was to witness HIM change perceptions.  honestly. it was the most beautiful thing i've seen in a long time.


it was more than making a girl feeling good about herself for a few hours.  it was about a Heavenly Father reaching deep into her soul and giving her a new understanding -

that He was there

even though no one remembers the exact date she entered the world, He had planned her birthday and all her following days from the beginning of time.  even though no pictures document those first years of her life, He was there, delighting in her when her tiny, baby legs began to walk.  when no one was noticing her dance and twirl, lost in her little girl daydreams, He was a captive audience.  when there was no one to claim her as their own, He beamed, "she is mine!"  that light of understanding that she has always been His... always a princess.  and, even now, being a princess has nothing to do with the dress she puts on or the place she calls home. 

yes, some girls "got it."  and, for some, the understanding will come in layers, like a slow sunrise.  but, i believe every princess' heart was pursued that weekend.  they were romanced by their Maker. 

and, for me... well, every girl needs to be reminded she is a princess sometimes, right?  many times while celebrating with these Ugandan princesses, i couldn't help but think of a favorite quote from one of my favorite childhood movies (that Thomas classifies, along with Anne of Green Gables, as pure "sappyness" and pigs will fly before he ever watches it with me... but it's ok...he's a boy.)

I am a princess. All girls are. 
Even if they live in tiny old attics.  
Even if they dress in rags, 
even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. 
They’re still princesses.  All of us. 
 Didn’t your father ever tell you that?

                                                     - Little Princess
This princess turns 32 next week.  i'm not sure exactly what chapter i am in right now, but i know that when my story comes to those last few pages - even if my hair is white, even if my cheek is wrinkled, and my legs are too feeble to twirl - i will still be His princess.  what a remarkable thought.

so, to all my princess friends ~ old and young, near and far ~ be His today. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

family pics (and Reynah's fractured sermon)

This month, we had the blessing of having a friend from back home visit for a couple of weeks.  Meg Rushing was a joy to us in many ways (not the least of which was that she brought a whole suitcase full of goodies from sweet friends in TN.  Christmas in June - for real!!)  She also is an excellent photographer, and she captured some priceless family moments for us.

So, of course, I have to share them with you!  

I may have gone overboard there.  That's a lot of pictures.
But I still can't resist adding a few out-takes.  If you know my Judah, you will really appreciate these.  This silly kid never fails to make me laugh! 

And, if that failed to add humor to your day, I have one more thing that will surely do the trick...

I've been helping to teach Reynah's Sunday School class lately.  They love it when I bring in the old Betty Lukins flannel graphs.  (yes, these kids have not been desensitized by DVDs, so flannel graphs are quite state-of-the-art!)  So, a couple of Sundays ago, I came home from church and began putting the felt pieces away.  Reynah thought she should help, but quickly became fascinated by all the colorful pieces she saw in the box.  She pulled a few out and began telling me her own "Bible story."  I happened to have a pen and scrap paper right beside me, so this is her story verbatim.

Jesus had to die on the cross, because the angel told Jesus that he was going to have a baby.  
And, you see, he had a boo boo on his legs and on his arms.  And the soldiers had a sword and they killed Jesus and they put him on the cross.  And then, the whale it came, and he ate Jesus.  
And, Noah said, "EEEW - it stinks in here!"  And it was green, stinky water... 
and after Jesus rose from the dead, then the soldiers made him die on the cross. 


Oh, and here's Meg and Judah "racing" Josiah and me back to Suubi. 
 I can't remember who won, but I am sure the boy's could tell you.  
Thank you, Meg, for loving Uganda and doing life with us for a couple of weeks!
 (and for the very awesome pics :))