Wednesday, May 22, 2013

on dancing, plucking chickens, and other things Ugandans do better than me...

i've been giving this some thought recently.  despite a myriad of cultural differences that i sometimes find confusing/ exasperating, there are many qualities about Ugandans that i admire and wish that i possessed.  T and i came up with this list yesterday as we bumped over the pot holes on the swamp road to Bbira -

  • dancing!  this is a no-brainer, of course.  but even if they don't have the best rhythm or coordination (which is rarely the case), they are still great dancers, because they are completely uninhibited and free.  no matter how shy or how small, they are willing to put aside self-consciousness and jump into the middle of the circle.  
  • along those same lines, they are better at laughing at themselves and finding humor in a rotten situation.
  • waiting.  Ugandans are SO much better at waiting than us Westerners.  waiting in a traffic jam, waiting for food, waiting for the taxi van, waiting - forever waiting! - for an event to start.  and, in this waiting, they have the capacity to just be and not feel the need to be doing anything.
  • carrying things on their heads - an AMAZING talent!  i've seen so many things balanced on the head... from a loaf of bread (just bc they can) to a 20lb. bundle of firewood (WITH a baby tied to the back!)
  • visiting neighbors.  for no important reason.  
  • sharing.  food, money, time, kids - whatever.  (ok, the attribute of sharing your kids, i can't say i admire.  still trying to figure out my take on that one.)
  • making a little water go a very long way.  it truly seems like an art form to me, how many dishes and clothes can be washed with one jerry can of water.  (a jerry can is like a big, plastic jug that we would store gasoline in back home.)
  • another talent is their ability to consume a massive plate of food when given the chance, and then seemingly function physically at a normal level until given another chance to eat.  most Ugandans eat only one high-carb meal a day.  they MIGHT get a bowl of porridge in the morning and a cup of tea at night.  as a hypoglycemic American that can't go three hours without snacking, this seems unfathomable to me.
  • praying with focus.  i'm not saying their prayers are better than mine.  but their prayers are more focused.  they seem to come out from deep within, as if all that matters in the world is that God is listening to them.  
  • learning multiple languages.  my Ugandan friend may not have completed her high school education, but she can speak English, Luganda, Swahili, and a good bit of Luo (a tribal language from the north). 
  • being photogenic.  my goodness! - they are all breathtakingly photogenic.
  • singing acapella. in a small circle.  in the dark.  to just be there and listen is a soul-stirring privilege. 
now, if you are thinking this list is inspired as result of me trying to make up for letting off some steam in my last post... well, then you are partly correct.  but it mostly is inspired by some Scripture i have been meditating on the past few days.  these are verses that the 31 yr. old me has a much harder time living out than the 11 yr. old me did.  and as i walk down Nakirebe hill into the community around Suubi, i chew on these verses, asking God to make them real in my life.  i think the characteristic of Ugandans that i am most envious of right now is that i see them ingest these words of Jesus much easier than i do.

Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them 
and where thieves break in and steal.  
Store up your treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust can not destroy 
and where thieves do not break in and steal.  

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
This is why I tell you, don't worry about everyday life -
whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.
 Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air - they don't plant or harvest or store away in barns, 
because your heavenly Father feeds them.  
Aren't you more valuable to Him than they are?
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? 
 Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow.  
They don't work or make their clothing.  
Yet, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed as beautiful as they are.  
If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, He will certainly care for you. 
 Why do you have so little faith?

So don't worry about these things, saying,
 "What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?"  
These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, 
but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, 
and He will give you everything you need. 
(Matthew 6: 19 - 21, 25 - 33)

i can clearly see that my African friends accept this mandate better than me, but i am wondering why... perhaps we (in the West) feel too entitled to the "food, drink, and clothes" bit.  maybe when you have so few treasures on earth, you feel more delight in the idea of storing all your treasures in Heaven.  what do you think? 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

on being stoned to death with popcorn (and other things i don't like)

When we first came to Uganda in Feb. 2011, a friend of ours, who was a very seasoned expat after living here almost 7 yrs, told us something we have never forgot -

"Living in Africa is sometimes like being stoned to death with popcorn." 

We thought it was funny and clever then.  Now, we know it is profound and very true. 

It isn't a matter of life and death emergencies that make us want to evacuate.  It is a thousand little inconveniences, misunderstandings, delays that come from living in a third-world country.  That never. seem. to. stop. Day after Day.  Then, suddenly, I think I am going to snap if one more petty thing annoys me!

It was a comforting thought our first year here.  T and I would look at each other, sigh deeply, and say, "It's just a popcorn day."  And we knew (or hoped!) that tomorrow would be better.  I believed that after our one-year mark here, the popcorn would eventually seem inconsequential  - maybe even humorous.  

Well, we are well past that mark now, and, while we have definitely "chilled out" in many ways, there are still days that I vacillate between wanting to sit down amid the piles of popcorn and have a pity party or else stomp in the mess and throw a bona fide tantrum.

There's been a lot of pummeling popcorn lately, and I've been keeping a pretty good mental record of it all:
- no hot water in our shower head for 3 wks now.  not that it was ever really "hot" to begin with, but still...
- T's backpack stolen in town last wk.  fortunately, he didn't have his laptop or passport in it, but still...
- not being able to walk off the village into the community without being followed by children begging for "sweets"
- not being able to sit in peace and quiet in my own home bc of children loitering in my doorway and screaming outside my windows
- neighbors who borrow things and don't return them
- friends who are constantly asking for money
- a stomach bug that lingered longer than I would have liked
- T graciously allowing a young man (who needs driving experience) to drive our van in town and (of course) he rear-ends a taxi van and we have to foot the bill
- feeling every single one of the 8,000 miles between me and my family multiplied in my heart... as well as the six attempts it took to finally make a decent phone connection with my mom!

I know I sound very much like Oscar the Grouch right now.

Really, what is more exasperating than the popcorn without is the popcorn within.

I feel the heat and the pressure, and, without warning, something pops up inside of me.  Something very ugly.  Something I had no idea was there.  Or at least, I could pretend it wasn't there.  But, then, my selfishness and immaturity is on full display and I can't ignore it anymore.  I thought a lot better about myself before we moved to Africa, and that's the truth.  I find that it is much easier for me to worry than trust, to be indulgent than disciplined, to retreat behind a wall of excuses than keep my heart soft and vulnerable.  Some days, I don't really like myself... and I esp. don't want to contemplate what my sweet husband must think about me at that moment!

Early this week, I got a msg on fb from my Mimi. (yes, both of my grandmas are on facebook - they are so cool! :))  It was short, thanking me for a Mother's Day package and telling me that she is praying for me everyday.  Lots of people tell me that they pray for us, and I am always grateful, but, you know, when your grandma tells you she is praying... well, it means something on a whole other level.  She specifically said she was praying that I would "be able to sit in Heavenly places."   My was heart immediately gripped with longing.  YES, oh, yes, please!  to sit in a Heavenly place ... how long since I have done that?  I knew that is what I needed.  I knew that I had been trying to equate what I wanted with what I needed.

I WANT a long, hot shower - preferably with no gecko poo in sight.
I WANT a long, uninterrupted conversation with my family - preferable face to face!
I WANT a get-away to a pretty, exotic place - not a day away to stinky, crowded Kampala.
I WANT an extra stash of $, so that we can be generous with those who need it... but not so generous that it actually hurts our bank account, of course.

But these things I want are not going to lead me to a Heavenly place.

I NEED to stop counting the kernels at my feet and shift my focus upward.
I NEED His Word to be my life and my treasure.
I NEED to notice the beauty in the ordinary and the blessings I take for granted.
I NEED the sting, the pressure, the refining fire.  I need the dross to rise and the whole ugly, humbling process of it.

I need to come to the end of myself and remember what I need is Jesus.  All I need is Jesus. 

You have made known to me the path of life.  
You will fill me with joy in Your presence.  Ps. 16:11

Sunday, May 5, 2013

coming clean

i know.  i was doing pretty good, and now it's been almost 2 months of silence.  i've actually been trying to write a blog in my head for a couple of weeks now...

i thought about doing something lyrical about the African rain and posting some cool pics to go with it.  but i'm no Ann Voskamp, and my lyrical attempts at writing are just funny.  lyrical is not suppose to be funny.

i thought about doing something informative about Ugandan culture - like how we shop for food beside the road or documenting how the Ugandans roast and eat the white ants that are crawling around everywhere right now.

but, really, i've been waiting on something spectacular to happen -  some inspiring ministry story or a dramatic challenge that we've recently faced.   something that you would find worth your time to read, and, perhaps (here's the real truth...) be impressed by.

well, life has been quite normal lately, and i have this need tonight to "un-impress" you.  so, i should tell you that i had a little moment today.  (and it really was little - nothing HUGE)  i've had a few waves of homesickness lately; then the big wave came today.  it isn't that i am homesick for a place but, rather, for people.  i miss my family.  i miss my church family.  i miss not being the minority.  (i could go on, but i won't)  so, i gave the T the privilege of wearing a few of my tears on his sleeve, and i felt a bit better.  then, i gave God the privilege of hearing my heart, and i felt a lot better.  then, i cooked french toast for supper after which we watched a downloaded episode of Duck Dynasty, and i do think i'm going to be alright. :)

i wish you could just come spend a week in my home and see for yourself that the highs and lows/ ebbs and flows are just like they've always been.  i wish i would stop putting this pressure on myself to make you think anything different - that our life is more rich, exciting, _____ (fill in the blank) than it used to be.  i do remember, when we first moved here, saying something like this:  "it's is the most challenging thing we've ever done, but it is also the most fulfilling."  well, half of that was a lie.  challenging, oh my goodness - yes!  but, MOST fulfilling - no.  our 10 yrs of ministry in Jackson, TN were incredibly fulfilling... and still fulfilling to us.  this is fulfilling to us as well, but in a very different way.  but, then, i don't think we are suppose to rate and compare the different seasons of our life.  it's not as if we are sitting at a banquet table being served a four-course meal, where one course is simply a prelude to something bigger, better.  as long as we are living in obedience to God, then whatever is before us should be fully consumed and enjoyed.  there's no need to save our appetite for what is coming next.  (i'm giving myself a pep talk right now, if you can't tell!)

but the main purpose of this post is for me 
to remove the filter of only sharing when i think i have something profound or uplifting to say. 
to stop waiting for the riveting days while ignoring the struggling days.

and maybe i will post about the African rain soon.  i'll just stick to the pics, bc i do have some rather cool ones.