Friday, April 11, 2014

I Want to Give Them the World

Music is a pretty big part of my life—spiritually and otherwise.  Growing up I was often reminded that I couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket.”  So, I am not much of a singer, but I love listening to music. 

Since transitioning to my new home here in Busega, most aspects of my life are unfamiliar (very much welcomed, but unfamiliar nonetheless.)  Subsequently, I have found a new appreciation for the collection of music in my iTunes playlists.  I find myself listening to these songs for hours at a time—in the mornings, after school, and on the weekends.  The familiar rhythms and faith-filled lyrics have spoken to me in ways they had never done before. 

There have been many times lately that I struggle to put into words how I am feeling.  As I am trying to sort through my emotions, a song will come on and perfectly detail the unspoken words of my heart.  I know that it is not a coincidence.  It is God, reassuring me that my feelings are real and that He understands them very well, even if I don’t.

Just this morning I was having one of those can’t-find-the-words moments. I was seated at the table for breakfast when I had an overwhelming burden rush over me. I was thinking of my babies at school and I could clearly see each of their faces.  My heart was breaking for the pain they have endured and for the challenges they will face.  I wanted nothing more than to simply hug them. I wanted to hold them so tightly and not let go until all their suffering had washed away.  Their stories played in my mind and I tried to imagine what their hearts feel on a daily basis as these young people do their best to manage the anguish of abuse, neglect, and loneliness.

There is something about seeing a child in pain that can bring anyone to a place of desperation and prayer.  The scars run deep and I can feel God beginning to permeate my own heart with the pain of my students.  It is a humbling experience for me to endure, but I welcome it for the joy of the Lord.

As I sat there, searching for words and struggling to understand the emotions welling up inside me, God answered with a song.

“I want to give her the world, I want to hold her hand,
I want to be her mom for as long as I can.
And I want to live every moment until that day comes
I want to show her what it means to be loved”
(Mark Schultz, what it means to be loved.)

Immediately I could feel the tears beginning to fall.  Since moving here, I have done my best to fight back the tears.  Today, I could not hold them back any longer.  God had spoken to my heart and reminded me that He knows me and He knows the words of my heart even when I don’t.

For many of you, it may be hard to imagine me relating to these lyrics—after all, I am not a mother yet, right? Well, those who know me well, know that God has created me with a mother’s heart.  I haven’t always known what that has meant or how it will eventually look, but for the moment, God has entrusted me with 13 of the sweetest children I know.  Admittedly, I have not given birth to these children—what a testimony THAT would be! However, I cannot deny the fact that God has called me to this place for a reason.  In doing so, He has delicately woven each of ‘my babies’ into my heart. 

The emotion burdens and scars that these children have to endure are nothing short of traumatic.  Each day I witness their pain and fears surfacing via tears, aggression, etc.  I realize that I am unable to erase all of their hurt but I know that turning a blind eye as they scream out for relief and compassion is not an option.

For many of these children, their families see their deafness and automatically deem them worthless.  They are considered a burden and not expected to succeed or contribute to society in a positive way.  I thank God that He has shown me the truth about each of my babies—they have all been made in the image of God, for a purpose.  As I look at them, I do not see children handicapped by their hearing loss.  Instead, I see their potential.  They have amazing spirits and I know that with God’s guidance, they will grow to do great things.

God has called me to love these babies regardless of how others see them.  He has called me to see them through His eyes—it is a calling that I do not want to take lightly or for granted.

I want to know their hopes and their dreams. I want to wipe away their tears and prevent new ones from falling. I want to walk with them through the valleys and hold their hands as they ascend to the mountaintop.  I never want to leave them to experience the pains of life and abandonment.

I want to show them the love of a mother—I want to show them what it means to be loved.

God has been working overtime with me lately. He has reassured me that my love for these babies is not enough to save them.  Only Jesus can rescue them from their pain and offer them new life with Him.  God has simply asked me to lead them to the source of life and He will do the rest. While part of me is relieved in knowing this, another part of me still wants to fight for them.  Any mother would probably cringe at the thought of ‘letting go’ of her children.  That is where I find myself today—having to let go of my babies and trust that God is working all things out.  My job is not to provide their salvation, but allow Christ to work through me to show them what it really means to be loved.

Being able to trust in Jesus is an amazing blessing, but it doesn’t negate the fact that each tear that falls from their eyes makes a crashing sound in my heart.  I know that Jesus sees my heart and He also sees the fragile hearts of my students. I ask that you continue to pray for each of my babies with me, for their salvation and the long overdue healing of their wounds.  Pray also for me as I strive to be the light of Christ each and every day to these broken hearts and souls and offer them a type of love that covers pain and only comes from Jesus.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scratching the Surface...

For most of the evening I have found myself staring at a blank computer screen.  I have started to type several times only to find myself reaching for the delete button.
I don’t know where to start.
I know that I need to blog—after all, God has me on the most amazing journey I could have never imagined.  Why not write about it, right?  If only it were that easy. 

It has been nearly a month since arriving in Uganda.  The moment I stepped off the plane and smelled the distinct and familiar Ugandan air, I felt God reassuring me that this is the exact place He intends for me to be.  Before leaving Raleigh, fellow international missionaries warned me that this was going to be an emotionally bumpy ride.  I heard their advice and prepared for the road ahead as best as I knew how.  But how does one prepare for that which you know nothing about?  God had given me a glimpse into my new life, but there were so many details yet to be revealed.  

A typical day here begins with a devotional and prayer time with Pastor Raphael and his wife, Ms. Allen.  Afterwards, I have a short walk to school, where I teach three students who have recently begun attending.  Most days after school, I have a friend come by the school to tutor me in Luganda (the language spoken here in Busega). Then, several nights each week, there are Bible studies at church.

On the surface, the days here do not seem too exceptional or overwhelming—it is similar to a typical work day in America.  However, the days and the tasks are anything but ordinary.  I will try to explain…

My days begin with a very special time of prayer with two very special people.  This couple is, no doubt, anointed by God and they are exceptional spiritual leaders—to myself, their children, the surrounding community, and the local church that they pastor.  Sometimes, our time together in the morning is brief.  We may update each other on how we are feeling spiritually, pray, and be on our way.  I am happy to say that most mornings are not that way.   Our time together is precious.  We discuss scriptures, open our hearts with one another, share our burdens, and lift each other up in prayer.  I am so blessed to have these wonderful followers of Christ by my side on this journey.  I am thankful for their genuine friendship, their encouragement and advice, their sincere hearts for loving me, and their enjoyable sense of humor.

Next is my walk to and from school.  I imagine it could be easy to overlook the blessings and opportunities God reveals during my short walk, but that would also be disappointing.  Truth is, God is beyond time.  He is using my morning and evening commute to shine His light in the darkness. 
At first glance, you may see a painful life of poverty.  You may see devastation, neglect, and hopelessness.   But despite the outward appearance, God is here. It is along this orange road that little ones stare at my unfamiliar skin tone.  Maamas quickly wave hello and boda drivers take second looks.  My grocery shopping is done here and God is helping me build relationships with store owners as He softens their hearts and draws them to Himself.  Ministry can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  God has shown me that showing love to His people is most effective and He is giving me plenty of opportunities to do just that.  I look forward to my walks every day.  There is always someone new to see and familiar faces fill me with joy.

As I walk through the school gates each day, I never know what I am going to encounter, though I am guaranteed to be hugged by some of the most beautiful children I know.  Three of my kiddoes have just joined the school in February (Alpha, Peace, and Jessy).  Before that, neither of them had ever been in school, nor had they been taught any form of language.  All three are struggling to understand this new environment and have no idea what is now expected of them.  What is worse, they don’t have a language by which to explain to them the concept of school and the reason behind all of the work we are putting before them.  I have spent a lot of time with each of them over the past month.  We have had our ups and downs, that is for sure.  We are currently dealing with some behavioral issues and there are days when I am not sure God has equipped me with the level of patience necessary for this area of ministry.  There have been several days when I have simply run out of ideas and energy.  I have nowhere to turn except to God.  It is my daily prayer that He help me to see these children through His eyes.  Without fail, His faithfulness prevails and I am able to see myself in each of them.  Once, I was rebellious.  I was being swallowed by my sin and God loved me anyway.  He loved me to life and that is exactly what He is calling me to do with these babies—love them and lead them to eternal life with Him.

After school, I have been blessed with the sweetest (and very patient) young man named James.  He is a dear friend of the Kajjubis and has taken on the task of tutoring me in Luganda.  Learning the language and ‘becoming a Ugandan’ has been a goal for me while doing ministry here. Unfortunately, I had no idea how hard it was going to be!  James is great and we have a good time together—probably more fun for him, laughing at my utter confusion and mispronunciations.  Most days I am very motivated and eager to learn as much as possible.  But to be honest, there are some days when I really wish that it was not so difficult and time-consuming.  Some days I wish there was some magical button to push and ‘Poof!’ I will be fluent in Luganda!  Then reality comes swooping back and I have to ask God for more patience again.

This whole ‘depend on God’ thing is becoming a common theme in my life.   I had a feeling it would be.

In my short time here, I have begun to discover God’s plan for me, but I feel like I have only scratched the surface.  Days are filled with joy, freckled with frustration, and illuminated by God’s presence.

There is so much more that I want to share, but the words just aren’t there yet.  For now, please know that God is doing an amazing work here in Busega.  Amidst the pain and poverty, He is transforming hearts and lives. He is calling me to deeper dependence on Him and is molding me into the woman He desires me to be. 

I pray that my heart and my life will be clay in His hands. 
I pray for the people of Busega, to take hold of His hands that are reaching down to them, offering abundant life.
I pray that God’s will be done here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Am Not Brave...

Brave (brāv) adjective

1.  Feeling or showing no fear : not afraid
2. Possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance
3. Having or showing courage, especially when facing danger, difficulty, or pain

According to online dictionaries, this is what it means to be brave. 
Growing up and transitioning into adulthood I was taught to be brave. I think we all have, am I right?  As a child I watched cartoons with superheroes rescuing people from burning buildings.  When I fell and skinned my knees on the concrete, or stubbed my toe on the bedpost, I was encouraged to "be tough" and not cry.  In college our motto was "fake it 'til you make it."  In other words, don't let people see you sweat and for sure, don't let them know how you really feel.
Over the last few months  I have shared my story with dozens of people, resulting in numerous conversations and a lot of questions.  Most commonly,  am I scared?  and am I nervous?  I always answer them the same way.  I tell them that I am not scared.  I am excited to see my babies fall in love with Jesus, ready to see families restored, and eager to witness lives being transformed by Christ.
All of that is true, except for the "I'm not scared" part.  
I didn't realize how afraid I was until today.  For months I have been floating in the clouds, thrilled and humbled to follow Jesus on this journey.  I have refused to entertain any thought or emotion that seemed negative or unproductive.  Fortunately for me, Jesus got ahold of my heart and brought to the surface all the feelings and emotions that I have been trying so hard to hide.  Like, what if I disappoint the people who are expecting me to do great?  What if I fail to relate and communicate with the children I am called to minister to?  How do I leave my best friend behind and pretend that I will be okay without her being right around the corner? 
These are just a few of the questions and concerns that have been strolling through my head recently.  Today, I was gently reminded of this:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!"
Psalm 139:23-24

It is easy for me to hide my true feelings from people who don't really know me.  Some people who know me really well may even be fooled by my faux-bravery.  God, on the other hand, is never fooled by me.  He knows me better than I know myself.

The emotions that I have been feeling are real.  God created us to be emotional beings and it was unfair to Him for me to deny and suppress the blessings that He built into me.  Now, I know some of you are probably thinking about the well-known verse that says, "God did not give you the spirit of fear..." However, I believe that He allows us to feel that way sometimes in order to bring Him the most glory.  My recent nervousness and anxiety has made me very aware of my  weakness and insufficiency.  By recognizing that fear, I have become much more aware of my need for Him. 
Am I going to disappoint people? Probably.  Will I make mistakes trying to navigate two new languages in a foreign country and culture? Definitely.  And there is no doubt that leaving my 'other half' is going to be one of the most painful parts about this move.  All of that means that I will have to press into Him more than ever. 
As children, we are conditioned to avoid using the word "can't."  But truth is, I can't do this.  I can't give up everything I know and I can't meet the needs of my deaf babies in Uganda--not without Christ at the helm, guiding my steps and my words.
I can't live up to people's expectations and I can't save souls.  But Jesus can.
I can't be a perfect missionary because I am not perfect.  But Jesus is.
God has not asked me to do His job, He has simply asked me to be obedient and depend on Him.  I can do that.  Not because of my own ability, but because He is equipping me for the mission.

For a long time now I have been wearing my 'brave' mask.  But I am not brave. I am not courageous.  I am not fearless--especially when it comes to danger, and pain, and scary things like spiders and giant African rats!  I am just not brave.
You may think I am brave when I talk about where God is leading me, but I don't want there to be any confusion. My 'bravery' mask has turned into a 'confidence' mask because I am confident in Christ.  I trust that He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it. And I believe that The Lord Himself will go before me, never to leave me or forsake me.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Declaration

I have learned to love quiet times like today.  Outside is cold and dreary, but inside is nice and cozy.  I am wrapped in a fluffy fleece blanket, sipping on creamy hot chocolate--with extra chocolate. :) 
It isn't often that I can just sit here, without an agenda and without being rushed.  All is quiet and it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on all the awesomeness God has been doing in my life lately.

Constantly, I am reminded of the peace that He has placed in my heart.  I am often asked if I am scared or nervous about the road that lies ahead.  I can honestly answer with, "No, not at all."  God has completely protected me from any fear or anxiety.  He has been holding my heart in His hands and not allowed my faith to be shaken.  But don't misunderstand, my heart has definitely been breaking.  In fact, it is hard to recall a time when my heart was this shattered.  It takes enormous strength to hold back tears when I tell people about the deaf kids I have met in Uganda--their desire for love, acceptance, and healing. Their need for hope in Jesus Christ.

At times I feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster.  There are days when I am ready to face this challenge head-on, like a confident superhero sent into battle with a secret-weapon cape.  Other days I see the magnitude of despair and wonder how I am so 'lucky' to be entrusted with such a massive mission.  It isn't that I don't want to, because believe me, there is no place on earth I would rather be than with those babies, telling them stories about an amazing savior named Jesus.  But there are times when I feel completely inadequate. 

I'm just being transparent, y'all. God has given me a glimpse into my future.  There will be mountains to scale, suffering to endure, and uncertainty to persevere through. God has shown me these daunting tasks, but He has also reminded me of His strength and promise to go before me.  (Deut 31:8)  I know that there will be tough days ahead, but I also know that I will experience a joy like I have never known.  Deaf children will begin their walk with Jesus.  Families will be restored.  Faith, hope, and love will radiate the hearts of Busega Community.

Lately, I have been finding myself at a loss for words about where God has me. I have tried to find the right adjectives and emotions to describe what this feels like and I have come to the conclusion that there are no words to adequately explain the feeling we get when we know God it actively working in our lives and in the lives of the ones we love.  It is a calming peace, a thrilling excitement, a longing anticipation, and a relentless trust all wrapped up--and you see--that still is not a satisfactory list.  Regardless of my lack of words, I know that God is in control and is leading every step I take as I continue to discover His will, and His journey for me.  He has placed a new love in my heart and a passion like I have never known.

I want nothing more than to see Christ living through those kids and their families. 
It is going to happen. 
God is going to radically change their hearts and rescue souls.

Please declare this with me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Update:

It has been a little while since I last posted an update on my move to Uganda, so this is what has been happening recently:

Earlier this summer I came across a ministry out of Alabama called Lifeline Children's Services.  They work heavily in domestic and international adoptions. Another part of their ministry includes a Deaf school in Uganda.  After several closed doors with other Deaf schools in Uganda, I had a really good feeling about this one.  I contacted Lifeline and talked to one of the directors that oversees their ministry in Uganda. I went through an interview process and during several conversations with Lifeline, I was able to ask questions. This helped me get an understanding of where they stand, missionally, spiritually, etc.
From a distance, this school looked and sounded like a great fit.  I wanted to be confident that this was the place God wanted me, so in September I had the pleasure of joining a ministry team from Kansas on a trip to Uganda.  We served at Busega Community School for the Deaf (BCSD) for one week.  I met the pastor and staff at the school and fell in love with them and the students. 
Going into the trip I wanted to be very intentional about prayerfully seeking God's will and direction.  He made it very clear to me that BCSD was the place for me.
Once returning to Raleigh at the end of October, I began working on the next-steps of planning my return trip to Uganda.  That included researching and creating a monthly budget; meeting with Lifeline and Journey Church to discuss details, logistics and timing; and continuous prayer.
The new school year in Uganda begins in February.  Therefore, that is the target for returning full-time.
I am currently focusing my time on building a team of ministry partners.  This includes financial supporters and spiritual supporters.  My spiritual support team understands that this ministry is a product of God's call and that Christ is at the center.  They love Jesus and strive to make Him famous both here and in Uganda by committing to pray for God's will and restoration of hearts.  Financial supporters believe in what God is doing in Uganda.  They understand the Great Commission and recognize that God has uniquely qualified them to participate in His ministry through financial support.  They commit to faithfully serve and worship Christ through their giving.
I believe that God is doing amazing work in Uganda and I would love to have you as part of my team to win hearts for Christ.  If you feel lead to join either of my ministry teams, please let me know.  Together, we can share Jesus with deaf children in Uganda and watch God change a nation.

This is a summarized account of where God has lead me up until now.  The process is far from over.  There is still a lot of work to do and I promise to keep pressing on in order that these Deaf children in Uganda know and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  I believe that God has a plan for each of their lives.  I trust that, even through their pain, God has been with them and will continue to be with them. I love these kids and it is reassuring to know that God loves them even more. 

Thank you for following my journey to Uganda and thank you for selflessly partnering with me through prayer and financial support.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I've been transformed...

I walked through the doorway of the Babies Home and gazed around the sun-lit room.  I scanned the sea of exuberant children with beautiful, nearly-bald heads and bold, glowing smiles.  I could not wait any longer to see my sweet girl again.  It had been months since my last visit and seeing her was the first thing on my mind.

Moments later our eyes met and Maselina ran to me with a smile plastered across her pretty little face.  Joy flooded my heart as I hugged her and kissed her sweet, chocolate cheek.  My heart was nearly overwhelmed by the love I had for her in that moment.  For years I had been praying for her, that God would raise her above her circumstances and transform her into a strong, grounded believer who experienced and knew His everlasting love for her.

The last time I saw her was fifteen months prior.  She was quiet, shy, and wanted nothing to do with me.  But this time was different.  This time she craved my love and affection and there was nothing that would stop me from trying to meet that need.  My heart longed to show her how much I love her. For hours we played pat-a-cake, made funny faces at my camera, giggled at our pictures, and cuddled on the lawn.  My heart was full.

The way I felt in those few hours, I imagine, is how God feels about us.  He loves when His children run to Him.  It doesn't matter the time or situation.  His arms are outstretched wide whether we are distressed or hopeful, tearful or thankful, in despair or triumph.  He takes us as we are and becomes all that we need.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness." Zeph. 3:17

When I saw Maselina in July of 2012, I saw a timid and distrustful little girl that was struggling to understand my interest in her.  She had built-up walls that I could not penetrate.  I saw pain and despair in her eyes.
I saw myself.
Several years back I had been struggling to understand God's love for me.
I could not comprehend the Creator of the world wanting to know me. 
There I was, face to face with Maselina, so much common ground mending the two of us together.  We were both hurt and afraid.
I prayed regularly for my sweet, little friend.  I prayed that God would permeate her heart and love her back to life.

I returned to see Maselina in October of 2013.  No longer did I see pain and rejection.  God had answered my prayers to reveal a hopeful, joyous spirit within her.  He had rescued Maselina just as He had rescued me.  He loved us and restored our hearts to Himself.  Our hearts, futures, and lives were changed. 
Scripture says that God never changes. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8. 

I am thankful for that.
And I am thankful that we DO change because of His love for us.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Apple of His Eye

I would like to begin by sharing a little bit of my story.  I grew up in a small farm town. I have a twin sister and we were raised in a home with parents that loved and supported us.  I was on the varsity volleyball team, found a fun job, and had a lot of friends.  I later went on to college and was headed toward a great career.
From the outside I had the perfect life; but on the inside I was lost.  I felt like something was missing and I didn't like who I had become.  By the grace of God, I transferred to a Christian college in Indiana.  It was there that I found Jesus.  It was there that I found my worth.  I began to see myself through God's eyes for the first time.

Have you ever thought about how God sees you?

Do you struggle to understand your identity in Christ?
I have been in those shoes. But God, full of love and compassion, makes it very clear how He looks at us.

Ephesians 1:4 says, "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus. This is what he wanted to do and it gave him great pleasure."
What Paul is saying in this verse is that long before your birth, before the flood, before the fall, before the creation of the earth, God knew you. He sees past your weaknesses and instead sees you as holy!  Can you even fathom that?!  His love surpasses our understanding, yet to demonstrate His amazing love, He sent His Son to redeem us and justify us on the cross. 
Paul also says that we are adopted into His family.  That word creates such a stunning picture in my mind.  We were once orphans, lost and alone, wandering through the dark, dead-end streets of our lives.  But then, we were hand-chosen to be sons and daughters of The King!

For further confirmation of your identity, check out Genesis 1:27.  "So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
Did you catch that?  Here it is again: God created you in his image.  He gave you eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to perform miracles, and feet to take you to the ends of the earth. 
And think of the complexity of your body. Your heart beats over 103,000 times each day.  Meanwhile, your lungs are inhaling over 388 cubic feet of air daily to oxygenate your blood and feed your trillions of cells to keep your body functioning.
You are a reflection of God and His mighty power.

I love Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do all the good things he planned for us long ago."
Isn't this a beautiful encouragement?  God created all things, heaven and earth, the sun, moon and stars, creatures small and great.  Yet when He made us he called us His Masterpiece. Not only that, as if that isn't amazing enough, He also has a plan for our lives!  We don't have to worry about tomorrow, or the next day, because He cares for His children. We need only to be obedient. He loves us enough to give us hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

These are just a few scriptures to remind you of who you are.  You are created in the image of God.  Adopted as sons and daughters of the Creator of the universe.  You have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. God loves you and cares for you.  You are holy and blameless and created for a purpose.  In other words, you are the apple of His eye.
I don't know about you but seeing that is pretty overwhelming!

I'll leave you with this:
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that very well." Psalm 139:14