Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Washed in the Water...

Most days, the roads here in Busega are composed of nothing more than a fine, powdery, orange dirt.
Most days, taxis and bodas carrying passengers and cargo, whisk to and fro down the village street.
Most days, the warm, sunny, Busega air is greeted by a light, tranquil, afternoon breeze. 
Needless to say, most days everyone (and everything) is glazed with a delicate, orange, Ugandan glow.

But not today.

Today, the residents of this busy little village have gladly welcomed an afternoon thunderstorm.  The merciless, rust-colored soil has been tamed.  Boda drivers sit idle and wait for the skies to clear.  And the air is cleansed by a refreshing, brisk wind.  As I sit here in my room, I can hear the large raindrops pound the metal roof.  The thunder crashes loudly and it continues to roll for miles, gradually fading in the distance. Looking out my window, there is a river of rainwater streaming across the pavement, creating little rapids as it flows swiftly into the tiny channel nearby.  Meanwhile, the sun-scorched flowers soak in the rain and begin to come alive again.

I imagine thunderstorms like this are just another way of God displaying His majesty through His creation.  It is an opportunity to pause and contemplate His goodness and recognize our unending need for His hand in our lives. 

The village of Busega is constantly being polluted by the consuming dust that infiltrates every inch of the air.  Similarly, our lives are also being contaminated—by our sinfulness; by the scars and baggage that we are carrying from our past; by lies being told to us from the enemy; by impurities of social media…the list can go on. Each day, the filth continues to mount and if it is left untreated, our view of life can become distorted.  We will no longer be looking at life through the pure, spotless, lens of Christ.  Instead, there will be layers of dirt preventing us from seeing clearly.
We are sinful people, living in a sinful world.  We desperately need to be cleansed of our transgressions.

In Hebrews 9:22, we are told that everything needs to be cleansed; but forgiveness (i.e. cleansing) is only possible with the shedding of blood.  Thankfully, Jesus has paid that price for us. He bled and died on the cross, sacrificing his own life in order that our lives can be made righteous. 
Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells us that He offers ‘living water’ through his Word, which washes and sustains us.

Today, I was a flower being scorched by life’s elements. 
But as the listless flowers outside my window found new life in the rain, my soul, too, was brought back to life by His living water.
As the raindrops fell to the thirsty ground, His promises fell on my yearning heart.
And as the water flowed to wash away the unwelcomed dust particles, His blood rained over me and cleansed me once again.  

I am thankful that God uses days like this to teach me more about His character.  He has purified my heart and given me a new perspective today. Though the storm rages around us, His presence is never failing.  My prayer today is that each of us would recognize His sovereignty in our daily lives. Surrender to Him and allow Him to wash us in His redeeming blood and unfailing love.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Considering the Costs...

Have you ever taken the time to look back at your life, only to be completely caught off guard at how it has turned out?

I have.  
I remember a day a few years back when I was still living in Raleigh.  It was a peaceful, spring-time, Saturday afternoon.   The morning had been busied with the typical Saturday routine—cooking, cleaning, laundry, and all that ‘fun’ stuff.  As I moved to the couch to begin paying my bills, just as I had done nearly every Saturday before that for the past (almost) ten years, it hit me like a Mack truck. Suddenly, I realized that I was a real adult. I had adult responsibilities, like a house, a car, student loans, and a real job.  For years, I had known that I had achieved ‘adult’ status, but for the first time, I began to understand the implications of carrying such a title.
Recently, I began thinking about that day and the life lessons that it offered.  The decisions I had made in the years prior, had all lead me to that point. When I decided to pursue a career in sign language interpreting, I had no idea that it would lead me all the way to North Carolina and eventually to Africa.   I hadn’t considered that upon walking the university stage, I was also walking into new expectations and responsibilities. As a teenager, I didn’t realize that my weekend job would be preparing me for what was to come. 
 
As a child I looked up to some of the older girls in the neighborhood and dreamed of being ‘big’ like they were.  Well, there I was—sitting on my couch, in my own house, doing ‘big girl’ things.
 
I can’t help but think that all of that bears a strong resemblance to our walk with Christ.  When given the opportunity to accept Christ, we say ‘yes’ without understanding the implications of our decision.  Many of you will probably agree that Christianity has often been glamorized.  People who find themselves at a dead-end, searching for healing, looking for answers, and longing to feel complete, are told that all they need to do is accept Jesus and everything will be fine.  Now, while I believe those Christians have good intentions in leading their friend to Christ, fact is, such a statement is only partially true. Yes, Jesus IS the answer; however there is another truth that is often overlooked.  Or maybe it is simply omitted.
Deciding to follow Jesus does not guarantee a smooth ride through life.  It is not our ticket to the HOV lane that will whisk us to heaven.  Accepting Jesus does not provide us with a genie-in-a-bottle cure for life’s troubles and nowhere in the ‘I’m a Christian’ handbook, does it mention a promise of riches or a glamorous lifestyle.
On the contrary, signing up to follow Jesus means we are enlisting ourselves for duty to go to war.
How many of you, if you were told that, would have happily signed on the dotted line?  Not many, I am sure.  When stated that way, people would have every reason to run the other way.  The thought of going to war is a scary notion for anyone. However, 2 Corinthians 10:3 says that we are at war, but “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” Luke 14 gives us an example of a soldier going to war and the importance of weighing the risks of battle. It goes on to tell us that before making any decisions we, too, must first count the costs.  Someone can easily paint a slanted picture of what life is like as part of God’s army, but before you rush to put on His uniform, let’s see what we are really signing up for:
1.       You might lose your friends and family.

While it is true that accepting Jesus adopts us into His family of believers, choosing to follow Jesus can sometimes lead you down a lonely road.  Jesus called James and John in Mark 1:19-20.  They left their father and their boat behind and obeyed.  Those that wished to first return home to complete tasks were not fit to be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 9:62)  Similarly, you may be called to a position that requires you to leave behind your family and friends.  Even if God doesn’t call you to Africa, your obedience will look crazy to the people around you. Current relationships will change. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues may be ‘happy’ for your decision, but more often than not, they will begin to distance themselves from you.  Your faith and ‘radical’ obedience will be too much for many of them to even begin to understand. Even those that stick around may find it difficult to relate to you, and vice versa.  As a result, your inner circle will shrink and finding someone who ‘gets’ you will be difficult.

2.       Your current lifestyle may drastically change.
 
There is a theology floating around that promises health and wealth in exchange for ‘accepting’ Jesus.  While God has the ability to bless His children that way, scripture shows a higher probability of the opposite happening.   And I think it is important to note that accepting Jesus is an all-or-nothing decision.  If you truly give your life to Jesus, you are deciding to accept the good and the bad that comes with it.  Consider this: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  Jesus doesn’t want half-hearted followers. He wants us to be all-in; and when we are, He has the power to completely transform your life into the life He has planned for you.  This may sound a little intimidating and I know what some of you are thinking, “but I have worked hard to get the life I have.”  (I will politely disagree and say that ALL you have has been given to you from God.) When we accept Jesus we are given a new identity—an identity that is no longer rooted in the world, but found securely in Christ Jesus.  We are told to “…put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24) Those that wish to hold on to their old identity are essentially denying God’s power in their life. 
 
Again, you may not be asked to give up all of your luxuries and toys, but as God continues to transform your heart, such material possessions will begin to fall on your list of priorities.  So, consider this a warning—if you decide to follow Jesus, it is possible that the new, fancy, smart phone that you have been eyeing,  may some day cease to be on your ‘I need this’ list.
 
3.       You will face trials and persecution.
This may be the hardest reality for us to swallow.  No one looks forward to suffering, but Jesus warns us many times in scripture that when we choose to follow him, we should expect to face adversity.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12)  And why should we expect anything different?  Jesus, who was sinless and perfect in every way, was judged, rejected, falsely accused, and eventually killed.  As imperfect sinners in a fallen world, we should not expect that others will treat us with kindness and respect for our faith. (see John 15:19-21)
 
Remember, as a follower of Christ, you are walking through a warzone.  So beware—the ground is rugged and the path is scattered with hidden, dangerous snares.  You will experience pain; physical, emotional, and spiritual. People will through insults at you.  Your character will be attacked and your loved-ones will also be burdened.   

So far, it seems, I have painted a pretty gloomy picture of Christianity.  Though this ‘cost analysis’ is not a favored topic, it is important to know before making such a large commitment.  But before you close the book on Jesus, remember that for wise decision-making, it is necessary to evaluate both sides.  Please consider this: 

“We will have persecutions, trials and sufferings in this life. But the blessings outweigh the difficulties by a hundred-to-one margin!”  1 Peter 1:7              

“Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Matt 19:29
Following Jesus is not an easy road, but He promises that our trials and temporary struggles will be worth it when we are, one day, face-to-face with Him.  We can expect to experience bumps along the way, but even on our toughest days, He promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)  Throughout the Bible we are given a clear picture of God’s character and a confident assurance of His presence and protection.  Yes, there will be struggles, but choosing to follow Jesus will be the best decision you could make.  Only Jesus can offer us eternal life with Him in heaven.  Nothing in the world can give you His standard of purpose with total peace and an unshakable hope.  God is unconditional love.  He is your strength when you are weak; your comfort when you are lonely; your shelter when the storms rage around you. God is your healer, your provider, your protector, your friend. He knew you before He even created you, and He has a plan and purpose for your life. 
The following is not an all-inclusive list, but just an example of who God is and what He has to offer:

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7  
 “When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12  
 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11  
 “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the unsurpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  Phil 3  
I want to encourage you, if you haven’t already, please consider a life of surrender following Jesus.  I can’t promise you a smooth ride, but I can promise that He will be with you, in the valleys and on the mountaintops. 
Don’t be deceived by the smoke and mirrors that glamorize the Christian lifestyle. Jesus’s disciples did not follow him for all the benefits nor were they seeking to accomplish their own goals. They didn’t bail when things got tough. They followed Him because they genuinely believed that He was the Messiah.  I pray the same is true for you.  He will be all that you need, but more than that, unlike the things of this world, Jesus longs to have a relationship for you. 
He gave His life for you.  Will you give yours to Him?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Things I have learned...

I have been in Uganda for approximately three and a half months now.  While there are some days that it feels more like six months, most days it feels like I have just begun to understand the complexity of God’s call on my life.  There is so much that is happening here and during this seemingly short time I am convinced that I have only scratched the surface of what God is accomplishing.  Nonetheless, over the past 100 days, I have learned a lot—about Uganda, about myself, and about the character of God. 
I have started several blog posts in the past month…but still, I am struggling to find the right words to finish any of them.  I guess there are just not enough words in the English language to describe what it feels like to be walking with Jesus and living life in Busega.  In the meantime, I have constructed a list of 100 things I have learned or observed over the past few months.  Some are hard-core truths that God has been patiently teaching me.  Others, I have ‘known’ for some time but am now beginning to understand on another level.  Still others just make me laugh. 
1.          God is faithful.
2.          Physical poverty is not nearly as destructive as spiritual poverty.
3.          I am 30 years old in America, but only 22 in Uganda!
4.          God knows exactly what I need at the exact time to keep me sustained for another day.
5.          Knowing you are loved can change your life.
6.          Faith is developed by stepping out and walking on water.
7.          Cockroaches aren’t so scary when you have a big stick.
8.          The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
9.          My love language is the laughter of children.
10.      Sometimes the smallest gesture shows the greatest care and concern.
11.      I don’t often miss home…until the dog starts barking and I remember that I used to sleep well.
12.      True satisfaction and contentment is only found in the arms of Jesus.
13.      Conflicts are inevitable. 
14.      Becoming like Jesus is not easy, but it will be worth it all.
15.      Moving to Uganda can cure a decade of chronic hiccups!
16.      It is impossible to count how many times my heart breaks each day.
17.      It is impossible to count how many times Jesus has mended my broken heart.
18.      Blessings from God are not for our own benefit.
19.      Ugandans never sleep.
20.      Trusting God can be difficult...but He knows exactly what He is doing.
21.      God is stripping me of my worldy American desires.
22.      Being busy does not equal productivity.
23.      One cannot survive on bread alone…chocolate is very necessary.
24.      My ability to be patient is only possible when I rely on the One who supplies my patience.
25.      Sometimes the ‘cure’ for a wounded heart is quality time.
26.      “I want to be your friend” means a lot of different things here in Uganda—proceed with caution.
27.      When no one seems to understand, Jesus does.
28.      God is always present—we are the ones who become absent.
29.      Deaf children are entirely unaware of their potential to be loud.
30.      Long walks are great medicine—physically and spiritually.
31.      Broken people can be used by God.
32.      Lives are lost in the absence of love.  On the contrary, lives are saved in the presence of love.
33.      Prayer is the best lifeline…along with Skype dates with Randa.
34.      ‘Clean’ is not a universal concept.
35.      Sometimes it is the youngest person that demonstrates true maturity.
36.      Perspective changes things.
37.      To radiate the love of Christ requires allowing Him to indwell your heart.
38.      Being the mother of a teenage daughter for one week is exhausting.
39.      Being the mother of a teenage son for one month is equally exhausting.
40.      Flu in Uganda is different than Flu in America.
41.      African thunderstorms are a lot like God—just when you think He has gone…He powerfully reminds you of His presence.
42.      Pray without ceasing…God is listening.
43.      Uganda, particularly Kampala, has the most beautiful people in the world.
44.      Never take for granted a full night of sleep.
45.      God DOES give you more than you can handle…it provides opportunities to call on Him.
46.      God desires for us to have a teachable spirit.
47.      Empowerment is essential to developing faithful followers of Jesus.
48.      I love matooke.
49.      Mornings that begin with Eddy singing, make for good days.
50.      Above all else, guard your heart.
51.      Spiritual warfare is real and can be oppressive if you are not battling it with Jesus.
52.      African tea is the perfect comfort drink.
53.      Our understanding of God is only limited by our own lack of pursuit.
54.      I am not assertive.
55.      Jesus loves me—and He gave me my Ugandan brothers to prove it.
56.      10 minutes in Uganda really means 1 hour.
57.      Talking to God is not as important as listening to God.
58.      God’s light shines even on rainy days.
59.      Laughter really IS the best medicine.
60.      I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
61.      Sometimes the tears flooding my heart just need to flood my eyes.
62.      The word, Deuteronomy, spoken in a southern American accent, is painfully funny to my Ugandan friends.
63.      Children have different styles of learning—being adaptable is key to being a good teacher.
64.      The best pineapples in the world are grown right here in Uganda.
65.      Real family does not have to be biological.
66.      Everyone needs to be loved.
67.      The character of God is rooted in our spirit, not our emotions.
68.      Pain is universal and God uses it to build bridges between hearts.
69.      I will gladly welcome a phone call at 3am to care for a wounded brother.
70.      Don’t underestimate the power and potential of young people.
71.      It is important to keep an open mind and open heart.
72.      Sometimes a passion must endure heartache.
73.      It is entirely possible to be surrounded by people, yet feel so alone at the same time.
74.      Effective ministry happens with clearly defined priorities.
75.      Ramen noodles taste so much better in Uganda—the perfect comfort food after a long day.
76.      We are not meant to face this life alone.
77.      Spending time with Jesus changes you from the inside out.
78.      I have to earn their trust before I can request their love.
79.      I am nothing without Jesus.
80.      A smile can erase days of frustration and exhaustion.
81.      Ugandan culture does not typically hug…I miss hugging my friends!
82.      A fruitful life is impossible apart from Jesus.
83.      I don’t like being laughed at.
84.      Giving birth to a child does not make you a maama.
85.      “Patience’ is an easy word to say, but a difficult concept to embrace. 
86.      God knows the desires of my heart.
87.      I am a sissy—no, really—it is 70 degrees and I am freezing!
88.      Everything that I say and do must be filtered through Jesus—people are watching and so is He.
89.      Satan has been, and still is, defeated.
90.      Almost everyone laughs when I speak to them in Luganda.
91.      Best friends are a gift from God.
92.      Some marriage proposals just have to be turned down.
93.      I am allergic to avocado.
94.      Jesus is faithful, even when we are not.
95.      The spotlight is not for me.  I much prefer being in the background.
96.      Public transport in Uganda is never predictable.
97.      I never really considered my hearing loss as an issue…until now—a glimpse into the confusion my deaf students feel each day.
98.      I belong in Uganda.
99.      I have so much more to learn.
100.   Allowing God to write my story is a beautiful process.
And a bonus:
101.   “Weebale Yesu” cannot be said enough.

This is just a sample of some of the great things that I have learned so far.  Walking with Jesus is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.  But as we all know, He does not promise a smooth journey.  Many of the lessons I have learned are painful discoveries that have left scars on my heart and tear stains on my pillow.  Fortunately, God has also painted my experiences with a lot of laughter and unexplainable joy. 
I welcome your feedback and would love to know how God is moving in your life.

“Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:4-5

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.