You know, some days it’s either laugh or cry… and some days, neither seems appropriate. Today is one of those. I spent my Sunday morning helping out with the 2 and 3 yr. old kid’s church class. (I don’t think I will elaborate.) I then came home to start lunch. We have no water today. This is a rather frequent occurrence. So, I scratched my previously planned menu (bc peeling dirty potatoes and trimming raw chicken is even less appealing without running water) and went with pasta and beans. While I was cooking, amidst dirty dishes and leftover cornflakes from breakfast, my Ugandan friend came by with her sick little girl. I could smell the vomit as soon as she walked in the door. She told me that her daughter has vomited non-stop for the last 48 hrs, and it was obvious to me the girl was quite dehydrated. I got her some water to drink, but two minutes later, it was back up all over my sofa. Before I could clean that up, she had thrown up again, and, at this point, I am going to get her some transport money so she can get to the hospital. BUT, it is Sunday, the mom explains, so the doctors will not treat the patients today. (I make a note to never complain about the emergency room in the US again!) So, as the little girl vomits again a THIRD time, I am wondering what in the world she is hoping I will do for her – besides pray and clean up the messes? I have NO medical expertise. And did I mention that we have no running water?? My dear T came in then and helped to make some phones calls and found out a private hospital that should see her – if she flashes some $ at the right ppl. So, he is off in the van with her (after the girl vomited even a 4th time). I scrubbed my hands, finished lunch, scrubbed everyone’s hands some more, fed the kids, and then bleached down my living room as well as possible. There is still no water, and my kitchen is still full of dirty dishes. And I’m not sure why I am retelling all this, except to make a point to you and to me …
Some days, life is beautiful.
Most days, life is a mess.
On a rare day, I will have the wisdom to reconcile the two.
I love the famous quote by Jim Elliot – Wherever you are, be all there. I love it, but I usually fail at it. Used to, I could think of nothing more grand and exciting than to live in a foreign country – a warm, lush country full of beautiful people and exotic animals and enigmatic culture. In God’s providential plan, He saw fit to give me my wish, for a season at least. Now, it has been two yrs since we first came to this lush land (can you believe it?!). The people are still beautiful, but, otherwise, life is normal. Yes, having no water and having my floor peed and puked on is rather normal. The little vervet monkeys that scamper across the road while I jog are not so exotic anymore. The white, frothy mosquito net draped over my bed is really not romantic… no more so than the pale gecko that drinks out of my toilet bowl every night. Life in Uganda is usually messy – not just in literal ways. Our role here is still very undefined and ever-changing. Things take so much longer to accomplish, as Africans are on much friendlier terms with time than we Americans are. People we’ve invested in have disappointed us, and some relationships feel like they are two steps forward and one step back. (ok, some even feel like 2-forward/ 2-back, and I’m not sure if we’re going anywhere!)
I admit - I’ve been tempted by such frivolous thoughts as, “It’s too hard. It would be so much easier if we were back in the US again. We could have a real home and some privacy and a legitimate title/position and secure salary. .. T could have an office to work in, and people would understand us better…” But this is immature thinking. I know. Life is messy EVERYWHERE, ministry even more so. I will always be misunderstood and taken advantage of – wasn’t Jesus? I will always have to overcome the boredom of the familiar, the tediousness of the mundane. I will always have dried cornflakes to scrape off my cereal bowls.
So, I know that at the end of the day, a title doesn’t matter. What I accomplished that day doesn’t matter. Being recognized doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I am HIS – and that, in being HIS, I am completely content. Moving to Africa 2 yrs. ago confronted me with my sin of discontentment with what I HAVE or don’t have. Now, I am being confronted with my sin of discontentment with what I DO or don’t do. Humbling. If I can center my world and my will, I can see the beauty in the mess.
Like the beautiful interruption in our day when he stops by to just talk – he who was a former child solider, now soaking up his new-found purpose and calling.
The beautiful, giggling mess in my kitchen, making memories that every little girl should have.
That beautiful moment – after he joined me and T and our boys on a jog around the village, and, reaching the end, T clapped his shoulder and said, “Well done, son.” He ducked his head, but I saw that quiet smile that went deep – an orphan boy who knows a man is proud of him.
I really can’t tell you how many times we say it to each other. It has become a sort of catch –phrase between me and T since moving here. We look at each other and say, “It’s such a beautiful mess.” Watoto has custody of over 2,500 orphaned children now. Feeding, clothing, educating, counseling, discipling ALL of them… when you see it from the inside, like we do, it can look like a mess. But it is such a beautiful, glorious thing that it is even happening! Sure it can be chaotic, but God’s fingerprints are all over it.
I am learning that the packaging doesn’t determine the potential. I could compare it to Reynah’s crayons – I don’t know why, but I REALLY love new crayons. Using a new crayon is like being the first to dip a knife into a new tub of butter. (ok, well, for me, both bring great pleasure!) But Reynah has no affection for new crayons. She, in fact, likes to break them in two, and she especially loves stripping them of their paper coating. What a mess! And I want so bad to just throw the whole bunch away – but new crayons aren’t so easy to come by here. So, I look at these old crayons and think, “What does it matter?” Can’t these dreadful-looking things draw just as lovely of a picture? Of course, they can. The essence of color is there just the same. And I look at beautiful Africa surrounding me – broken and stripped of dignity – yet still vivid, full of life, blessed with potential.
I know your mess looks different than mine. Maybe yours is dirty diapers and sippy cups. Maybe it is sleep deprivation and assignments past due, or a lonely heart and estranged family. Anyway, we all have a mess somehow, whether visible or not. I ask you to join me...
Let's find the beauty. See the potential. And be content in Him.
P.S. I wrote this blog yesterday, but didn't get a chance to post it. So, a quick update... the doctor said the little girl had taken poison (they think probably rat poison). So, it is a very good thing she got to the hospital yesterday! I talked to the mom this evening, and she said she is improving. Also, our water came back on finally this evening (it's Mon. pm), and promptly busted our neighbor's pipe, so that water was gushing out of the bathroom and flooding the whole apartment! After 30 min. of trying to find a solution (and T getting soaked!), one of the neighbors thought to hammer a stick wrapped in plastic into the pipe. It is working for now. We all spent another 30 min. mopping up the floor, and appreciating the fact that there is a mess we can all have a good laugh over. :)