Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Reign of Mouse Terror

I was sharing rodent stories with a friend and realized that I had never blogged about the infamous mouse infestation we had in Kampala. I seriously can’t believe it. In April of 2010, this was my LIFE (slight exaggeration…but only slight). Although in ways I can. Life in Uganda was so busy that I failed to blog much of life there. This time in the States is a good time for me to catch you all up on what happened in the past two years. So, enjoy…

My roommate Kate was the killer of the house. By that I mean she would kill any insect or bug for me. I would cook her dinner. She would kill cockroaches in my room. And reach tall things for me. It was a great deal. She was my hero. However, Kate left for the States to visit her family in the month of April leaving my roommate Kacie and I. I can’t remember if we knew we had a mouse when Kate left but oh, the evidence became clear.

At first we thought we had one mouse but soon we were pretty sure there was more than one. These were no ordinary mice. They had super human powers. They had acrobatic abilities that made me think that they had worked in a traveling circus.  You think I’m exaggerating? The mice would run along the gas line to our stove, jump to a small ledge behind the stove and then leap ON TOP OF OUR COUNTERTOPS. Once on our counters, they had access to the WORLD. We would open our cupboards and out would jump a mouse. There were mouse droppings EVERYWHERE: on our silverware, on our newly washed dishes, etc. These mice literally controlled our kitchen for an entire month.

Don’t think we were sitting back waiting for them to die of old age. We tried everything to kill these super powered rodents. There were mouse traps…that would be licked clean of peanut butter with no dead mouse.  There were sticky glue traps…that I literally watched one mouse land into and get out of it.  Super. Human. Powers.

The mice would hide in the area behind the stove, making it impossible to get to them.

Until…

The mice weren’t scared of us. Obviously. They were brave. And one day, one of them got an extra dose of confidence.

I was sitting at the kitchen table facing the kitchen.  I saw the mouse inch his way toward the door. This happened a couple times and he would scurry back to his haven. I got a broom out for the next time. The next time came and I ran at the mouse with my broom, slamming the broom at the mouse while screaming hysterically the entire time (please, visualize this. I’m sure I looked ridiculous). The mouse ran under our refrigerator and I knew that this was our only chance to rid our house of this mouse. Kacie and I boarded up the area under the oven with bags of flour and cutting boards so that he couldn’t hide there. And then we called reinforcements.

I had Kacie watch the fridge while I went to get our night guard Michael. Michael came in, looked under the fridge and requested a stick. Michael poked the mouse under the fridge, trying to get him to come out. Kacie and I were holding mixing bowls and colanders, clearly ready to help by um, throwing them at the mouse? 



And then…he came.

All of a sudden, the mouse was running rampant all over the kitchen. Within seconds, Kacie ran screaming out of the kitchen, closing the door. Inside of the kitchen was me, screaming while holding my colander, and Michael, chasing the mouse with the stick. Michael cornered the mouse, stepped on it and used his stick to kill it. 



Within 60 seconds, our month long hellacious mouse infestation ended…

…until the next day when we realized that there was indeed more than one mouse.

The problems continued until the night Kate came back from the States, fancy new mouse trap in hand.  Kate set the trap the night she returned. The next morning I came out to the kitchen, checked the trap and…there it was. The second mouse.

THE REIGN OF TERROR HAD ENDED.

Kate had been home for less than 12 hours and the second mouse was dead.

Like, I said, Kate was the killer of the house…and we were forever grateful.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Gifts

As my mom and I were planning our Christmas dinner, I couldn’t help but think of some of my loved ones across the ocean.

We had a Christmas party for our kids. I always loved seeing them perform. You can check out one of the songs they sang:


Aren't they great? I keep watching it on repeat. I miss those little faces so much.

After the kids came back from their Christmas holiday, they would all be bursting with excitement to tell us everything. There were no talks of toys. No one exclaiming about the latest gadget they received. Instead, it was excited cries of …“chicken!!”. Meat is such a delicacy in Uganda and too expensive for many to buy. For Christmas, it is a treat to have chicken.

As I would catch up with each of the kids, I always noted the quiet ones. When I would ask them about Christmas, there would be a hesitance. I would ask them if they had also eaten chicken for Christmas. Eyes cast down, they would shake their heads “no”. For some, Christmas was just another day where even the daily rice and beans was too much to pay for.

I’ve mentioned before how I feel like I live two lives. I see this world here: full of Christmas decorations, the holiday hustle and bustle and shopping for the latest must-have item. But I know of a different world; the one where my heart remains. A world full of beautiful dark skin, big brown eyes and the whitest smiles you’ve ever seen. A world where luxury is considered to be a bite of chicken.  

Ah, but the most luxurious gift of all is the one that baffles me the most.

When I try to visualize God, I picture a big throne; an intimidating scene, really. In my mind, I can never make out what He looks like…just big. He is All-Powerful. He is Almighty God.

Christmas is a time that takes my visual and changes it into something almost unbelievable:

The All-Powerful Almighty God fitting inside the womb of a woman. The Creator God, the One who created the world in seven days, becoming one of His creations. It’s just unreal. It doesn’t make sense. It’s counter cultural in so many ways. Why would someone powerful ever become lower than even those that serve them? Even more, why would the Almighty God lower Himself to not only be with us but to become one of us?

Oh, but He knew.  He knew that in order for the greatest gift of all to be given that the ultimate sacrifice had to be made. The most luxurious gift of all would cost Him a fortune but would be freely given.

“But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” (Rom 6:23b)

Our faults are many. We are undeserving. Our sins have earned us death.  The most expensive gift can’t be bought. It can’t be earned. I can’t work hard enough. I can’t be “good enough”.  This gift doesn’t care where you were born. It doesn’t care how much money you have.

Let us all stop and remember what we are celebrating. Let us worship our King, our Creator, our Savior. Let us be thankful for the gift that He has given us.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Miracles: Big and Small - No Charges


I was finishing a good run when I noticed my knee starting to hurt. I pushed through and finished but the next day, the pain was stronger. That was a month and a half ago. I went to a clinic in Lynchburg where they told me to brace it and if it was still hurting two weeks later, I was to call and get referred to an orthopedic doctor. Due to my crazy schedule, it was almost a month later that I called.

Side note: my mom asked her friend who would be a good orthopedic doctor in Iowa to go to since she would know. She gave me three options and I got the one with the first opening. When I told her which one I was going to, she said, “oh we just LOVE saying his name!”. I totally understood. His last name? Fabiano. Say that ten times. I get more dramatic each time. Fabiaaaaannnnoo. Insert a dramatic Italian shake of the fist. Even. Better.

I made an appointment with a doctor here in Iowa and was immediately nervous. Would it be a serious problem? Would I need surgery? And, above all, how would I afford it?

I won’t go into all the details of how my insurance works with my missions agency but when I go to a doctor, I pay the full cost of the visit right then. So, needless to say, I was a bit nervous about this appointment. When I talked with them on the phone, they mentioned that I would most likely need x-rays. All I could think of was how much this was all going to cost in the end.

I arrived early to my appointment today, finished paperwork in hand. It all went rather quickly. I expected to wait awhile but I was moved from place to place. It was determined that I needed x-rays and in no time, those were done and I was waiting for the doctor to come in. He looked over my x-rays, checked out my knee and determined that he didn’t think that surgery was necessary (PRAISE GOD!) He gave me a cortisone shot (which, by the way, made my knee feel numb and it's still numbish) and said he’d be back with a sheet on knee exercises that would help.

He walked back in the room, handed me the sheet as well as another form and told me to take it to check out. He pointed to a part of the form, said, “Merry Christmas!” and walked out. As he walked out, I looked on the form and it was written, “NO CHARGES”.

Underlined. 

Twice.

It clicked in and I can’t even remember the exact words that came out of my mouth. I think it was a mix of “oh my gosh!” and “are you serious?” and “thank you!” so good chance it came out as, “Oh my serious YOU!”.

He left me alone in the room. Tears sprung in my eyes and I choked back sobs. Tears are still coming to my eyes as I think of it. As I drove to my next appointment, I kept tearing up, still trying to choke back sobs as I praised God. On that note, I probably shouldn’t have driven right after that...

I have no idea why he did that. Maybe he saw that I didn’t have insurance? Maybe he saw that my occupation was a missionary? It was nothing that we talked about. I have no clue. I’m still amazed.

What do I know?

Jehovah Jireh. He is my Provider.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Learning From Scars

What do you think of when you hear the word "scar"?  
Maybe you think of this:
 
I think of something different (although, clearly, The Lion King's scary villain will never be forgotten).   
I was in second grade. My two friends, Bethany and Daniel, and I were bored out of our MINDS waiting for our parents after church. We decided to play tag in the nursery room with various things being “base”. We had probably played at least ten rounds (seriously, our parents were talking FOREVER) when one of them suggested that we use the window as base. At one point, Daniel was guarding Bethany for what seemed like forever (apparently I wasn’t good at assessing time at that age…or just really impatient) and I was getting bored. I decided to bust it from where I was and to head towards the window. Daniel was close and if I didn’t run fast then I’d for sure be caught. The problem with getting caught? Hellooo, I’d get cooties ALL OVER ME. We couldn’t have that. So, fists clenched, I ran as fast as I could. I reached the window, flung my right hand towards it for safety and instead of releasing my fist, I kept it going…through the window.   
I was in shock from that moment on.  
 
I remember walking out of the room and standing in the doorway watching the blood drip. I remember the pastor’s 4 year old son asking me if I had a “boo boo” and if he could kiss it. Still in shock, my lack of response had him scampering off. It felt like forever that I was standing there (seriously, what were those two doing in there besides NOT coming to my rescue?)…until it all kicked in and I screamed bloody murder. An ambulance had to be called as I was losing quite a bit of blood. I remember riding in the back of the ambulance. I remember everything going fuzzy as I went into surgery. I remember the dryness of my throat as I woke up. I remember those few days in the hospital. I ESPECIALLY remember the utter and ridiculous pain of them taking out my stitches a few weeks later (still bitter about that).     
Growing up, I learned a lot through that experience. I learned my left and right by looking at my wrists (scar = right. No scar = left. Confession: I still do that to this day). I learned that playing with glass is a big no-no, especially when the game involves running full force towards glass (how was I not a child prodigy?).    
Every day, I see those scars and remember. It’s a reminder of a traumatic experience. It’s a reminder of pain.  
I have more than physical scars from my life. We all do.  And we can all choose what those scars mean. They can be something we learn from (ie. don’t run towards glass) or we can keep repeating them. We can choose to heal from them or we can keep ripping off the scabs.
As cheesy as it sounds, when I walked to the ambulance that night, I remember this feeling of peace and calm come over me. I knew at that moment that God was in control and that everything would be ok.  And that truth hasn’t changed. In all of my scarring moments throughout my life, He’s been there.
He’s there in the hurt.  He’s there in the pain.  He doesn’t leave.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Luckiest Girl In The World


God gives us far more than we deserve.

More specifically, God has given me far more than I deserve.

It’s been a ten-year journey that God has brought me through to get me where I am now. While those ten years are dotted with specific steps towards my journey, God began this far before I even knew.

In June, I went to WorldVenture headquarters for my final interview and training. My first day there I met with a counselor to go over the results of the 5000000 psych and personality exams that I had taken (they seriously don’t joke around with who they accept). One of their goals (beyond confirming that I’m not crazy which, officially, I’m not. Whew) is to make sure that my personality and gifts match up with what I’m going to do overseas.

When people would ask me what I wanted to be some day, I never knew what to say. I was never especially good at anything. I definitely had no athletic ability (my brothers stole every gene for that). I wasn’t especially good at school. I’ve always loved music but lack any kind of musical talent. I always liked reading and writing but I wasn’t good enough to go for a career opportunity in that. Because of this, I didn’t have a clue what I would major in at college or what job I’d have some day. I often felt discouraged and lost.

As the counselor was going over my exam results, she made a startling insight:

“Sarah, with your personality and gifts, you are exactly gifted for what you are going to be doing.”

My eyes filled with tears. How long I had waited to see how God would use me. How long I had wondered what I could possibly be gifted for. How long I had wondered what would fulfill and excite me.

This means that when God was forming me in my mom’s womb…not only creating my physical attributes but my personality and talents…He had a plan. This was not just any plan. This was a specific and beautiful plan that would take 29 years for me to see what was happening. God has been putting this puzzle of my life together and I had yet to see what the picture could even begin to look like. It has been this last year of pieces that I’ve at last been able to glimpse at what the final puzzle could look like. The puzzle is just beginning, really. There’s so much more that He will add. And it’s stunning. It’s more beautiful than I could have dreamed.

I am humbled.

I am unworthy.

I don’t deserve this.

I know so many people that have desires, gifts and talents that they want to use for God but for some reason, the door hasn’t opened. They’re in places that they don’t understand. I’ve been there and it’s beyond painful to watch my dear friends go through it. My heart aches. I feel the excitement of seeing God’s puzzle for my life and I desire that for all of those around me. I want them to have that peace. I want them to have that joy. God's plans aren't my plans though. God's timing isn't my timing. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what God is doing.

I don’t deserve this.

When people tell me that they can’t believe that I’m going to move to Africa forever, I want to tell them that, really, I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I get to do what God has put in my heart to do…and what could possibly be better than that?

There’s nothing better.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sensing Memories

I told you about that wretched drive down to Atlanta this past weekend. Despite the frustrations, there was a positive.  It was the perfect time of year to take a road trip. The whole drive, I was enamored by the gorgeous trees that lined the road. Bright yellows, reds and oranges. It was downright distracting. I often caught myself smiling at the beauty, praising God for His beautiful display. He was seriously showing off...and I loved it.

So much of memory is in our senses: the smell, the taste, the touch, the sight, the sound. Fall is such a distinct season that all of these memories have been rushing back. The smell of cinnamon and apple pie. The stunning sight of trees changing color. The sound of leaves crunching beneath my shoe. The taste of pumpkin and apple cider. The feel of cold against my skin. I feel like I’m experiencing them all again for the first time with a child-like wonder. These were the kinds of senses that I missed while in Uganda.

Oddly enough, I was able to experience a sense of Uganda this past week. I stopped by my Kenyan parents (translation: a couple who are like my parents who are Kenyan) house for a quick visit.

Sidenote: It’s so weird how we’ve changed places. I first met my Kenyan parents when they were still living in Kenya on my first trip there. Now, I live in Africa and they live in America. Weird.

My Kenyan mom mentioned that they could buy cassava in Lynchburg. Cassava is a root that tastes like mashed potatoes but has a different texture. Very distinct. Very starchy. Very African. 


She went right away to the kitchen to make some for me. With my first bite, the memories came back. I was immediately transported back to Uganda. 

There I was in Gulu at our feeding center eating cassava with the kids.



There I was in our office eating the fried salty cassava that Francis brought in (which, to this day, was the best cassava that I’d ever had…probably because it was fried and salty). 

While I can’t say that I’ve been craving Ugandan food in the States (starch starch starch starch and more starch, anyone? Although if you put a plate of matooke with gnut sauce on top, I'd be all over it), it took me back to that place that I love and made me feel a little sense of home here.

What are some senses that bring back memories for you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Control Issues


You know those days when everything goes wrong? That was my Friday.

I planned to drive down to Atlanta yesterday at noon. I had reserved a car with a certain car rental company that rhymes with "Schmenterprise". After waiting 20 minutes in line behind some (shady) guy (who was getting asked about his full background info, making him seem even more shady), I was informed that they had no cars to rent. 

A car rental place. 
That I had reserved a car with. 
That had no cars. 

Something is very very wrong with this picture. They offered no help after that so I drove to another rental place (Hertz to the rescue!) and finally got on the road.

With an hour delay to my trip, I was ready to get to Atlanta. Sadly, Atlanta was apparently not ready to have me.

There was a major accident right before Charlotte. Major as in the entire interstate on the other side was completely blocked off. Three ambulances. One firetruck. Many police cars. Lots of stopped traffic. Once I got through that, it was all stopped again. Due to my numerous delays, I ended up hitting rush hour evening traffic all throughout South Carolina.

Stop. Go. Stop. Go.

I was really really ready to get to Atlanta.

I got to my friend’s house over two hours later than expected. We had decided to wait for dinner until I got there. Needless to say, we devoured dinner after 9pm.

I hit the point before I even left Lynchburg where I just gave up. Not in a bad way though. It was a giving up of control. I knew that I could do nothing that would change the situation so I just resolved that I would get there when I got there and not stress out about it. 

There’s so much in my life right now that I have no control over. Perhaps God was giving me a hint for everything else: “Give it up. You’re not in control. I AM.”

Easier said than done, right? 

What’s something that you’ve given up having control over?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkins and Witch Doctors


For many, Halloween conjures up childhood memories of dressing up in costumes and traversing around the neighborhood to get as much candy as possible. My childhood memories of Halloween are more along the lines of hiding in our basement with all the lights off. Halloween was the big no-no holiday. Our church didn’t even have any kind of Harvest Festival. It was the devil’s holiday and we steered clear. It wasn’t until college that I attended some Halloween costume parties and dressed up. I never carved a pumpkin until my first year in Uganda.

We expats on our compound celebrated Halloween and bought pumpkins to carve. Pumpkins in Uganda are green and much (much) harder to carve than American ones. I didn’t realize how much harder they were until I carved an American one this year. Adding to the difficulty in carving was that our electricity was on and off the entire night. We kept our headlamps on during carving and turned them on when needed.


It added to the adventure of it all, don’t you think?

I burned some pumpkin scented candles that my friends had sent me and we all tried to pretend that we were in the States for a night. Once we finished carving, we lit them and set them out on our porch.


We left them on the porch for a few days but with the Ugandan heat, it didn’t take them long to rot. My roommate tossed them near the wall of our compound to get them out of the way.

A couple days later, our day guard Biajo approached my roommate in concern: “Your neighbors have put a curse on you! They have taken these pumpkins, drawn horrible faces on them and thrown them over your wall. You have been cursed!”

We laughed and explained that silly American tradition to him which, I’m sure, still made absolutely no sense. Why would we carve such faces into pumpkins? And, actually, why do we? I should probably look that up.

It reminds me of the stronghold that witchcraft and spiritism have in Uganda. When I first studied Animism in my graduate program, all that I researched told me that as people moved to urban areas, their belief in the traditional religion decreased. Living in the capital city of Kampala for two years taught me that this wasn't true. Witch doctors are active. The beliefs of traditional religion seep into the church. Child sacrifice is growing in Uganda. I heard about it often while being there but news has been spreading thanks to the BBC highlighting the business of child sacrifice in Uganda, which has now spread abroad. The BBC went undercover in Uganda to show what a money maker killing children has become (read and watch here) but also that this has spread to England as children are abducted, smuggled into the country and sacrificed there (read and watch here). 
Crazy, right? It's so far out of what we think is possible in America. It's too horrific to even imagine. Not only is it happening but it's increasing and spreading. The spiritual battle is raging in Uganda. It confirms to me that where God is leading me is the right direction. More than rice, clean water or shoes, Uganda needs Christ. 



Monday, October 17, 2011

The Very Worst Missionary

Friends of mine recently told me about a blog called The Very Worst Missionary.  I thought,  “no fair, that’s my title”. I’ve been a self-proclaimed Very Worst Missionary for awhile now. I can’t believe someone beat me to it.

I’ve explained before how God literally kicked me into missions. I never planned or expected it. I never thought that I fit “the mold”. I still don’t. I don’t know what you picture when you hear the word “missionary” but my picture looks nothing like me. Aren’t missionaries like super Christians, with capes, a KJV Bible and a whip to ward off all snakes and vermin? Because I’m not that. I know my weaknesses. I’m not spiritual enough. I need to know more Scripture. I struggle with sin. I don’t know all the answers.

I’m inadequate.

But, aren’t we all?

When God calls us to something, it’s overwhelming. I’m a details person. My mind immediately goes to all that needs to be done. To-Do lists abound. The questions then come. How on earth will all of this work out? How is this going to be possible? How can I do this?

On my own, I can’t do this. On my own, I would fall flat on my face.  On my own, I would crumble. I am so weak.

I went to a conference last week. God taught me so much through it, a big one being: He is present in our lives. Let me be more specific: He is present in my life.

God’s not sending me back to Uganda alone. This school isn’t getting built by me. It’s not me who will be teaching these girls. It’s not my love that the girls will experience.

It’s not about me or my ability.

God is present in my life right now and won’t leave. Ever. He will be present as I move back to Uganda. He will build this school. He will teach these girls. He will love them unconditionally, far more than I ever could. In all of my weakness, He is there.

He is, in fact, my strength.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Homesick Double Agent

As much as I have adjusted back to living like an American, there are times that I am overwhelmed at how different my two lives are. It’s in the little things.

I was looking out the window at my friend’s house recently. It was an average American neighborhood, really. The road was nicely paved. There were sidewalks lined by the well-kept green grass yards. A squirrel scurried around the yard, looking for food. Children played across the street. A man jogged by. One could barely hear any distinct noises. The air-conditioning in the house was keeping everyone cool on that summer day. The houses had been planned to be there. The neighborhood and the surrounding streets connected. It was well planned out. It was all so…so…American looking.

There is no such comparison to a Ugandan neighborhood. There were no dirt roads.  In fact, there was little dirt to be seen. There was no trash littering the ground. There were no walls surrounding each house. There were neither bars on the window that I was looking out nor bars on any doors or windows in the neighborhood. You could not hear the sound of traffic, horns blowing, music blaring, cows mooing, chickens squawking, goats bleating, or taxi conductors yelling. There were no open fires burning trash (which meant no smoke blowing into the house…what a novelty). There was no loud revival/church service/Muslim call to prayer/concert/neighbor parties/any other excuse for a loud speaker to project the event into your living room. The houses weren’t haphazardly put in place.

There are times where it’s hard for me to believe that these two worlds exist on the same planet. They’re so different from each other. It’s hard to explain this to people as there’s no way to fully describe it. Though I can try to put into words what life is like in America to Ugandans but they can’t possibly understand. I try to explain Uganda to Americans and the same problem is there.

I have two homes and both are home to me in different ways. 

It kind of makes me feel like a secret agent living a double life. I just need a gun. And Chloe talking into my ear. And Jack Bauer. I need him.

They say that home is where your heart is. It’s true…and my home is a land with dirt roads, livestock running around and the most beautiful people in the world.

I’m homesick.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Single? And A Missionary? To Africa?



My parents and I went to the Iowa State Fair last month. I saw a booth for an ostrich farm and got excited. Why? Because ostrich meat = delicious! You didn't know? Anyway, there was an older man there and I inquired about getting some ostrich meat and about how they raise them. It came up that I went to an ostrich farm in Kenya (there’s nothing like holding an ostrich egg, seeing ostriches from baby to adult and then eating a sumptuous ostrich meal. Every bite is a piece of delicious guilt.). It then came up that I lived in Uganda for the past two years after which inevitably came out that I’m moving back to Uganda…for good.

Then it happened…as it has happened so many times before. And I mean, SO many times. It’s almost like they have a script.

The Scenario: The person finds out that I’m single and moving to Africa and they respond almost word for word with this:

“I mean, you’re a pretty girl…you have a nice personality…and you’re single? And moving to Africa?”

While it’s encouraging for a stranger to compliment my looks and personality (ok, it's usually creepy), they can’t possibly understand. Usually the person saying this is a stranger so I don’t delve too deep into it. But for you? I shall. In fact, it’s a topic that I’m dearly passionate about.

It’s conversations like these that remind me that what God has called me to isn’t exactly considered “normal” by American standards. Sometimes I like to feign innocence, “What? It’s not normal for a late 20-something single American girl to move to Africa? Say it ain’t so!”. Ok, fine, I usually just think that in my head. The American expectation is to go to college, get married, have 2.5 kids and get a house with a white picket fence. My sophomore year of college, God gave me distaste for that expectation and though I had no idea what He would do, I knew that my life wouldn’t be that.

However, I never (never never) expected to be a missionary. I definitely never expected to be single at my age. None of this was a part of my plan. And if God would have let me in on this little life plan years ago? I would have never agreed to it. In fact, I would have run the other way screaming.

But…now? I couldn’t dream it any bigger or better than this. It was God that put these crazy desires in my heart and because of that, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t imagine not living in Uganda. I can’t imagine not being able to work with Ugandan high school girls. I don’t even want to imagine that. There is absolutely nothing else that I’d rather do. 

Bottom line: I would rather have the peace of God by living in His will than anything else…even marriage. I still would love to get married. In fact, I really desire that and pray that it’s a part of God’s great plan for my life.  However, my To Do list doesn’t come before God’s. I won’t let my desire for marriage or anything else get in the way of what God is calling me to.

Now, that clearly comes with a lot of steps of surrender. This is not a one stop surrender shop. I could tell you about the little and big steps that God had me surrender to over the years and how many times I have to surrender this daily. These are things that God and I have had pleeeeenty of long conversations about. It all comes back to obedience and surrender to Him above anything and everything else, no matter how difficult it is. No matter how insane it seems to anyone else. No matter how much it doesn’t make sense, even to me.

I’ve been in the book of Jeremiah for quite awhile now. It’s encouraging to see that I’m not the only one who was called to do crazy counter-cultural things for God.  In fact, my life is pretty normal compared to what God had Jeremiah do. The Bible is actually darn well chock full of people who did wild things for God that made absolutely no sense to them or those around them. My favorite Bible verse encourages me all the more. I especially like how The Message version says it:

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:1-3)

What are some crazy things that God has called you to? 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reverse Culture Shocked


It happened in the egg section at Wal-mart. I surveyed the numerous options of eggs (small? medium? large? different brands? organic?) and felt the panic in my stomach rising. In Uganda, there was only one choice when buying eggs. I was now faced with about 15. I repeatedly asked myself, “what’s the normal American choice to make? Just make the normal choice…but what’s the normal choice?”. 

On another trip to the grocery store, the cashier asked me if I wanted something in a bag. I raised my eyebrows and looked away. A few awkwardly silent seconds later, the cashier asked me the question again. I then realized that I had answered the Ugandan way, not the American one.

A couple nights before the 4th of July, I was at home and started hearing these popping noises outside. I was immediately transported back to my home in Uganda, wondering if I was hearing tear gas guns and rifles. My heart started beating faster as I tried to assess what was happening outside my window. Living in a home without bars on the doors and windows had been hard enough to adjust to. Even after figuring out that it was the neighbors setting off fireworks, I wasn’t able to calm down.

During a visit at my church’s youth group, I was about 10 handshakes in when I thought, “huh, I bet shaking hands isn’t the most common way to greet American teenagers” but I couldn’t think of what else to do.

After eating at an Asian restaurant, I discovered that one of the workers was from Indonesia. His accent was thick and without meaning to, I started talking with a Ugandan accent. Apparently talking to someone with any kind of accent brings it out. I was mortified.

It’s reverse culture shock. Though I had experienced it in a small way in coming back from short term missions trips (I have a whole theory on the differences of short term reverse culture shock and long term but that’s for another day), I had never experienced it in this way. One of my first weeks back, a missionary couple from my church was heading back to the field. In a prayer, my pastor mentioned how they had experienced a time of having the comforts of American life. I smiled from my pew knowing that; in fact, it was harder for them to come back to America than to go back to their African home. I guess it’s easy for people to assume that American life is easy and that life in Africa is difficult and thus, it’s easier for missionaries to be back in the States. Though there are definitely parts of American life that are great (two words: Air. Conditioning. Ok, two more: Fast. Internet.) I’ve wrestled with the “why”. America IS my home. This is the country that I was born and raised in. This is the culture that I know…right? However, when I moved to Uganda, I expected it to be different. I expected to have to adjust. I expected nothing to be “normal”. Coming back to America, I expected to be normal. After two years of not fitting into a culture, I expected to be able to fit in. Being gone from the States for two years, I had lost what it meant to live a “normal” American life and make “normal” American choices. Making those decisions, even as small as buying eggs, stressed me out and often, I panicked.

I'm now living in a third culture. I have my American culture and my Ugandan culture but with both of those mashing together, it creates this third culture: an American-Ugandan mix. No matter how long I live in Uganda, I’ll never fully fit in (my skin color alone will make sure of that). The longer I live away from the States, the less that it will feel like home. From this point on, neither culture will be completely home. 

I have no doubt that I'll be able to add many more awkward stories to my third culture resume. For your entertainment, of course.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Martha, Martha, Martha...

Twice this month the story of Mary and Martha was told at my church: once during Sunday’s sermon and another at a Ladies Night Out. Hm, I think God was trying to tell my church the ladies in my church some of us me something. Specifically, at our Ladies Night Out, we were given time to reflect on the passage more. As a natural planner, I can always relate to Martha. God struck me in a more personal way this time.

For those unfamiliar with the story, let me give you a quick recap, Sarah style. It starts when Martha opens her home to Jesus (we could do a whole blog on that right there but, I digress). A whole party gets started and Martha goes into full on party planning detail mode. I’m picturing some major market shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. If she’s anything like me, she probably wrote a big long To Do list and got a ridiculous amount of satisfaction every time she got to cross one of the items off. Mary, her sister and party planning helper, is sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking in His words. Not so much into the whole party planning helper mode. When Martha (oh so tactfully) mentions to Jesus that, “wouldn’t it be cool if my sister helped me with all this party goodness instead of sitting here doing nothing?”, she gets a shocker of an answer: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one, Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

Oh. Snap.

Picture Martha’s face for a second. Eyes widened, eyebrows raised, and an expression that’s a mix of surprise, shame and confusion.

While I originally started thinking of my natural tendency to plan (and over plan), God took it a step further.

What if?

What if…instead of going party planning crazy, Martha also sat at the feet of Jesus, soaking in His words? Her to-do list wouldn’t get done.  The house would be dirty. Food wouldn’t be bought much less cooked. People wouldn’t get invited. Or, people would show up and nothing would be ready. There was just So. Much. To. Do.

But…

Think of what Jesus COULD have done. Think of the miracles that COULD have been performed.

“What? The food isn’t ready? No biggie, I do this thing with bread and fish. You’ll have leftovers for weeks. What? We ran out of wine? No problem. Got any water? Check this out...”

I mean, think of the possibilities. Think of how God’s glory COULD have been shown that day. And, going further, think of how God’s glory could be shown in my life every day that I stifle with my plans and my To Do list.

That hit me hard.

These past few months have been planner months for me. My To Do list is still monstrous. I’ve been getting everything together to start support raising again. And planning planning planning.

You know the funny thing? God has seriously been doing miracles left and right. I’ve literally been shocked at how He’s working. The funny part? All those miracles have had NOTHING to do with any of the planning I’ve done. Nothing. At all. It’s like God’s been repeatedly saying: “This is my deal. I got this. Yeah, there’s a lot of money that needs to be raised but…I got this. I’m going to work in people’s lives. And, you know, I own some cattle…on a few hills…”.  

As some icing on that cake, I’ve been listening to the song “Restless” by Audrey Assad on repeat. I’ll close with the lyrics, which is also my prayer:

You dwell in the songs that we are singing
Rising to the Heavens
Rising to Your heart
Our praises filling up the spaces
In between our frailty and everything You are
You are the keeper of my heart

And I'm restless

I’m restless
'Til I rest in You
(Oh God I wanna rest in You)

Oh speak now for my soul is listening

Say that You have saved me
Whisper in the dark
'Cause I know You’re more than my salvation

Without You I am hopeless

Tell me who You are
You are the keeper of my heart

Still my heart

Hold me close
Let me hear a still small voice
Let it grow
Let it rise
Into a shout
Into a cry

I am restless until I rest in You


Monday, July 11, 2011

Goodbye to Kampala: My Home Sweet Home

I knew the day would come when I would write about my goodbye to Kampala. It was hard enough to experience and writing about it is even more difficult. In the past two years, Kampala went from an unknown city to my home.

In ways, my first weeks in Kampala seem like yesterday. The city was full of dust and overrun with taxis, motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas), people, animals and more. The roads seemed a maze of confusion and as we drove through the madness, I wondered if I’d ever be able to get around on my own. The thought of driving scared me to death, not to mention navigating my way around. Familiarity came with time. I remember the moment when I realized that I could navigate my way to the grocery store by myself. It was such a relief. In ways, my life was quite normal. Every day, I drove to an office, worked until 5 and came home. And yet, living in Africa is anything but normal. However, it became my normal and I loved it.

My goodbye to Kampala was overwhelming. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more loved in my life. The Hope Alive! Kampala site put on a talent show for me. It was more than I could have ever dreamed. The kids performed skits, sang songs, performed a fashion show and danced. I loved every second of it. I love watching them perform. I always feel like a proud mother in the crowd cheering them on. The joy in their eyes shows how much they love it as well.





I took a lot of video that take in order so that I would never forget it. The following are two videos that mean the world to me. The first is my girls singing a song together. They added a verse that made me cry. The second is a poem that my sweet Brenda wrote about me. Again, another one that makes me cry.




video



Aren’t they gorgeous!? I love these girls so much and am so proud of them. We got some fun group pictures of that day as well.



I had my last Bible study with my girls. It was so hard to think of ending what we had been doing for so long. Looking into each of their beautiful faces, I wanted them to know who they were in Christ. Not who they were according to what they thought of themselves or what they had been told by others. No, they needed to know what Christ thinks of them and to find themselves in Him. These girls are hard and rarely show emotion. It was because of this that I was surprised at how many tears were shed by many of the girls.







My last couple weeks were full of a lot of “lasts”. My last home visits: visiting the families that I had come to know and love over these two years. It was not only hard to say goodbye to the kids but also to their parents. I visited Monica’s house for the last time. She made an incredible meal for us and spoke truth from the Word of God. My last trip to the market. My last trip to downtown Kampala (I can’t say that I’ll ever really miss that insanity). My last service at Lugogo Baptist Church. The last dinner with my roommates.

My friends threw a goodbye party for me on one of my last nights there. It was wonderful having so many that I love in one place. It still seems surreal that I can’t call them up and see them.

I’m a long processor. When I left Uganda, it didn’t seem real. It was such a hectic time that I wasn’t able to process that I was actually leaving. I didn’t cry at the talent show (I teared up but no tears). I didn’t cry at the last girls Bible Study. I didn’t cry at my goodbye party. It all was so surreal. The only time I cried was when I read a letter from one of my girls. Her words humbled me completely and left me amazed at how God has worked in and through me. Besides that…I was tearless….until it all clicked in a few weeks ago.

I was in Colorado for long term training at WorldVenture. I was about to go into the biggest interview of my life. This interview would determine if I would be accepted as a WorldVenture missionary. It was extremely stressful as well, they could say no. I knew how God had specifically called me to this and the thought of being told “no” at this point? It scared the mess out of me. God kept reminding me that He had truly called me to this and that He wouldn’t stop it now…but my nerves were taking over. It was at this point that it finally hit that I was gone. I wasn’t going to be seeing my girls for a long time. I wasn’t around my kids. I had gone…and the tears wouldn’t stop coming. And they haven’t really stopped since then. Every time I look at my pictures, read the incredible book that my girls put together for me, read the dozens of letters that the kids wrote to me…I can’t stop the tears from coming.

Awkward side note: the tears started approximately one hour before my massive interview. It was like a perfect storm of stressful insanity. For those that know me, you know that I’m not one that cries. I don’t really process by crying and I definitely don’t cry in front of people if I can help it. Tears are literally streaming down my face 5 minutes before my interview. I get it together right before entering the room. First question to me? “Sarah, tell us what you love about Uganda.” Did I mention that I’m an ugly crier? Oh my gosh. It was OUT OF CONTROL. Luckily, they didn’t see me as a psycho emotional crazy girl and still accepted me. Whew.

Goodbye Kampala, my home sweet home.

Goodbye familiar dusty pot-filled roads.

Goodbye morning traffic jams into work. I won’t miss you.

Goodbye to my compound and home. You were such a calming retreat to come home to.

Goodbye to Biajo and Juliet. I always felt safe and cared for thanks to you two.

Goodbye to those creepy men at Nakawa Market that would yell crude things to me. I also won’t miss you.

Goodbye to my sweet Hope Alive! kids. I love each of you deeper than you could ever know. You are in my heart and in my prayers…always.

Goodbye especially to Emma, Joseph, Andrew, Prossy, Dora, Agnes, Kevin, Benard, Lovin, Comfort, Justin and Flavia. Each of you specifically has a special place in my heart. I love each of you so much and hope to still be involved in each of your lives for years to come.

Goodbye to each of my girls: Esther, Emily, Rita, Shamila, Agnes, Brenda, Hope, Dutchess, Sandra, Sarah, Ruth, Jean, Lucy, Joan, Brenda, Jillian, Nancy and Paula. I always felt that I could never fully express exactly how much I loved each one of you. I felt like my heart was bursting every time we were together. You all are my inspiration. I see so much in each of you and cannot wait to see how God will use each and every one of you. I love you from the bottom of my heart. I miss you more than I could ever put into words. My tears come whenever I think of you.

Goodbye to my most amazing friends. I always felt like I didn’t deserve to have such incredible friends there. I am forever grateful to you all for your encouragement, love and support. You shared your culture with me, explained things numerous times and were so patient with me. There is no thanks that could ever be enough. I am so grateful to have each of you in my life. Special thanks to Georgina, Lonnah, Dorothy and Shammah. I would have been absolutely lost without you girls. Nkwagala nyo nyo nyo!

Goodbye to Hope Alive! and to Catharine. It’s been my honor to work for you these past two years. I've learned so much from your wisdom. I can only pray that I made some sort of organizational difference. But, more than the database and paperwork, when I think of Hope Alive!, I think of the people. I think of the site managers, the mentors and the kids. There’s been exciting moments and really disappointing heartbreaking moments…and we’ve grown together through them all.

Goodbye to my roommates. Ugh, do you know how boring my life is without you two!? I miss the laughs, the Mexican fiesta nights, the Alias marathons, the road trip adventures, and really, watching you two shine in what you’re doing.

The good thing about my goodbye to Kampala, and Uganda, is that it is not final. I praise GOD that He is sending me back to this country that I love so much. So, really, this isn’t so much of a “goodbye” as it is a “see you later”. For my sake, I’m hoping “later” is actually “really really soon”.