Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Website!

Thanks to friends who are far more technologically advanced than me (it doesn't take much), I have a new website! I'll no longer be updating this blog and everything from here is now over there. You can update your bookmarks and go on and keep up with what's new over there: www.sarahpish.com.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Inadequate Leaders: We're Not Alone


While rewatching “The King's Speech” recently, there was a part that stood out to me in ways that hadn’t before.

Photo from www.kingsspeech.com
The movie is about Bertie, aka. King George VI, a stutterer who was confirmed as the new king and would be taking over from his brother who relinquished the throne. When it was official that he would becoming the king, the weight of responsibility was overwhelming and Bertie, crying, exclaims: “I’m not a king! I’m a naval officer, that’s all I know!”

Tears filled my eyes. I could relate. Sometimes God calls us to do some crazy things that we feel insanely inadequate to do. Positions that are far bigger than we feel capable. Opportunities that make us feel sorely inadequate.

When Joshua took over leadership from Moses, God had a message for him: “be strong and courageous”. The torch had been passed and Joshua’s fear was evident. I can imagine Joshua saying, “I’m not a leader of Israel! Sure, I’ve helped Moses and led in other ways but that’s all I know”.

And so, God has been saying the same to me. Before, I was a part of God’s vision for others but now, God has passed the torch to me. As much as I can cry out “I’m not a teacher! I’m not a school administrator! I have no idea how to start a school from the ground up! This is not what I know!”, God’s plans are greater and bigger than my own.

As I've told God how I don’t know what I doing, feelings of inadequacy rise along with insecurity. In my weakness, He is seen. My security and adequacy must be in Him alone. Anything else would result in arrogance or self-reliance.

In my fear and trembling, God has continually encouraged me to “be strong and courageous” but not in me. I can’t find my strength and courage in myself, because, well, it’s not there. I must look to Him to find strength and courage. My fears stem from seeing the challenge and only relying on my own limited resources when instead, I need to rely on the unlimited resources that God has. Easy to say and yet, so difficult to do. I’ve been discovering that the greater my trust in the Lord is, the less my fear is. He truly wipes away our fears.

When Joshua took over, God began to do miracles. With the Promised Land sprawling before them, God said to His people: "love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). As they were setting up their new lives, they needed to live those lives with a focus on God.

As God started telling me “no” to jumping back into my old ministry here, I was confused but now can understand why. He has given me these months as a gift.  After years of wandering, God has brought me here, to this Promised Land.  As I look to live here all the days of my life, I need to live with that focus. This is a time to intensely learn language but also to intensely learn more about Him; a time to strengthen and deepen relationships here. This is a time of preparation that God knew I needed. As I set the foundation for all the days of my life here, it must be set so firmly in Him.

As I step into this huge vision from God, I have to rely solely on Him. What He has called me to is far bigger than I could ever dream of much less do on my own. On my own, I'm inadequate and incapable. It is my loving God who goes before me, is right by my side and who guides me along the way. 

Pray for me that I daily put this trust in Him and not myself. While you're at it, pray for all of the leaders in your life. I have this odd feeling that I'm not the only one battling with this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Of The Time That I Got Locked Inside Of My Bedroom


A couple weekends ago I went out of town, planning for painters to come and paint my upstairs in my absence. I was excited to get that part of my house projects done and to return home to it completed.

Clearly, my expectations were too high. I came back to a poorly done and unfinished job as well as a rummaged through fridge (seriously guys!?). When I entered my room, I saw part of my door handle sitting on my nightstand. As I investigated the remaining handle on the door, I realized that the handle could no longer turn to open the door. Thus, if the door was closed and you were inside of the room, you couldn’t get out.

That’s a very important detail…

…and one that I didn’t remember until 11:00pm that night. When the door closed. And I was inside of the room.

Almost immediately after the door closed, I remembered. I tried in vain for 10 minutes to pry the door open with no success. At that point, panic entered.

I called my neighbor to see what my options were. Normally, no one else has a key to my place but luckily, another woman on our compound did thanks to her needing to open the door for the painters. My neighbor tried texting her and knocking on her door to no response.

I’m not one to get claustrophobic but…I’ve never felt more trapped in my life. I had no idea how long I would be stuck in my room. What if I needed to use the bathroom? Would I have to wait to be let out in the morning like a dog? The walls felt like they were closing in on me.

My mind was racing. I scanned my room, desperate to find something to help me get that door open. In that moment, I remembered an episode of Columbo when this woman was being held hostage by her stalker. He locked her into a room so she couldn’t get out but would come in to give her food. She used olive oil and a knife to pry the hinges off of the door.

I eyed the hinges. I had no olive oil or knife. Plus, I was pretty sure these hinges hadn’t been tampered with in 50 years.

I found masking tape and decided to MacGyver the handle back together in hopes that it would work again.

Yes, it’s true: in times of panic, I draw all of my heroic inspiration from 80’s sitcoms.

I channeled MacGyver’s mullet and taped that thing back together. Every time it didn’t work, I added more and more tape until finally…IT OPENED!

FREEDOM!! I can’t even tell you the relief! I almost cried.

I feel like I have a whole new appreciation for people in prison or animals in cages. It's the knowledge that you can't get out that's most disturbing. 

Said from a girl who experienced a pansy 20 minutes of it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Saying No To Say Yes


In order to say “yes” to God, we have to say “no” to something else. Actually, everything else. That's seen in our lives from salvation on.

I’ve been battling with this for the past month. When I came back to Uganda, I wanted to jump right in where I left off. I was so anxious to see my kids and even more anxious to start up the Bible study with the girls again. I was doing all these things plus trying to settle and set up my house and focus on language studies and oh, don’t I still have 500 books to read for WorldVenture? and plan for the future and…and…and…

About three weeks ago, God said a very hard “no”. I kept trying to do the Bible study with the girls but had no peace about it in my heart. I attributed it to selfishness. I mean, why else would I not feel as though that's what I should be doing? But then God made it clear. Through strangers, friends, His Word and more, He had a message for me:

Not now. The time will come when you will teach. For now, you just need to listen. I’ve given you this time as a gift; a time to fully focus on me. A time to dig deep in my Word. A time for us. Take all other distractions away. Now is the time to focus.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. How could God say no to this? On my return, my girls expressed excitement for the study to start up again as it hadn’t been continued in my absence. These girls mean the world to me. I want to spend as much time with them as I can. 

I can do all these "good" things but if it's not what God wants, then it's not right. 

I had to surrender my girls into the hands of God. They’re not mine; they are His. What better hands to give them to?

Through the pain, I felt relief. I finally had clarity on the restlessness inside of me. I had direction on what God wanted me to be doing.  I now have more focus than I did before. I went on a solitude retreat this past weekend to listen. He reiterated what He had already been saying:

Focus, Sarah, focus. The task before you is big. You need to prepare yourself. Focus.

Since then, I’ve been looking at my life and asking God, “what else?”. God, what else is in the way of You right now? What else is distracting me from Your purpose?  God, help me strip all of that away and be completely focused on You. 

He hasn’t given clear answers on that yet but, here I wait: ear pressed closely to His mouth and waiting to hear.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stories of the Abused


In the past two weeks, two girls opened up their lives to me…and my heart is still breaking.

---

Tears streamed down her face as I held her.

“What things did she say to you?”, I asked.

“I…can't...”, she replied, breaking down into fresh sobs.

She explained how she had tried everything to make her aunt love her. Some days were good. But nothing could stop the continual verbal and physical abuse. Mentioning the more often bad days made the tears brimming at her eyes spill down her face. All of the effort was for nothing.

As I wiped tears from her face, I felt helpless.

---

It started when I asked her who she lived with. With the younger kids, I always ask them if they get beaten at home, in an attempt to get a glimpse of how things are really going at home. When she said “yes”, I followed by asking her if they over-beat her. Her tears answered “yes”. When I asked what her mom beats her with, tears rolled down and her tiny frame shook with sobs as she whispered, “stones”. I was so surprised that I asked her to repeat it, praying that I didn't hear her right. After admitting the abuse, she repeatedly begged, “Please don’t tell my mummy that I told you. She will beat me even more. Please, please don’t tell mummy”.

I hate it. I hate injustice. I hate abuse. I hate seeing the pain of my girls as they are so often mistreated. I hate sin. I hate how it takes over lives. I hate the effect of it, as it spills onto everyone around. I hate knowing that these aren't the only ones being mistreated. I hate knowing that so many girls are overworked, overbeaten and uncared for. Tears brimmed my eyes as I held them and I choked back sobs. Oh, God, what can be done?

There was nothing that I could do. No solutions to offer. No quick fix. No answer to the heartbreaking problem.

As much as I wanted to wrap them in my love, I know how small my love is. I feel protective of these girls and feel like Mama Bear when I hear of their hurts and struggles. However, my Mama Bear love is no match for God's Abba love.

I remember when God showed me Himself as my Daddy. I was 13. God gave me a vision of running to Him, pigtails flailing, and jumping in His lap like a little girl. I melted into His embrace, feeling loved and secure in His arms. It brought a depth and intimacy to my relationship with God that I cherish to this day. It is that love that I pray for these girls. As much as our earthly parents are sinful humans, Abba isn’t. No, He is the Daddy that we’ve dreamed of. He will never fail. He will never leave or abandon us. He won’t abuse us. He will love us through our unfaithfulness. He will comfort us and heal our wounds. He will hold us in His arms, knowing us completely and yet grace over flowing.

Oh Abba, help these girls. They are Yours. Hold them in Your arms. Show them that with You, they don’t need to earn Your love.  God, I know that if I feel like my heart will burst out with love for them that Yours is even greater. I know that the outrage that I feel about their abuse is nothing compared to Yours. Oh God, help them draw closer to You and see that you are their Abba.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Awkward Dance of Culture


I've heard culture described like an onion: full of numerous layers, difficult to get to the core and sometimes, stinky to deal with (ok, I added that last part). Culture is complex. Some days I feel as though I’m fitting into Ugandan culture whereas other days it’s like dancing the wrong steps in a dance.

Oh wait, that sounds familiar.

The bride and groom!
My good friends Chris and Kevin (a girl’s name here) are getting married soon and a few weeks ago they had their kwanjula, the traditional wedding of the couple. Bride prices are a part of the culture and the night before the celebration, the groom and his family come to bring the price that the bride’s family has given. If the bride’s family accepts, then the party can go on as planned. After the kwanjula, the couple is traditionally married but law in Uganda requires a church wedding as well.
Lonnah and I waiting in the bride's room, dressed in a gomesi. Check out those shoulders!
 I was honored when Kevin asked me to be a part of her bridal group for the kwanjula. Well, honored and uncertain. Though I’ve been to many Ugandan weddings, I had never been around for the kwanjula. The only thing I knew about the day was when and where to be.

The dearest of friends: Lonnah, Dorothy and I waiting for the festivities to begin
 The bride and her girls were hidden away most of the day until it was our time to bring out the bride. I think it was then that it was casually mentioned that we would be dancing our way out.

Dancing? Not so much my “thing”. Dancing in front of a few hundred people? Oh man. I tried to reassure myself that all I would need to do was to sway a bit to the beat…while walking…and smiling…and holding up my gomesi (seen above) so that I wouldn’t fall. No. Biggie.

And then it happened. Every one else started dancing the same choreographed dance…a dance that I didn’t know. Panic started to rise and I fumbled, attempting clumsy moves.

Kevin and I
In that moment, I felt so out of place. Sometimes living in a different culture is like awkwardly dancing a dance that everyone else seems to know the moves to besides you. We all want to belong and yet, some days, living in a different culture makes you feel like you never will. When everyone else knows the dance of living in this culture and you stand out, making the wrong steps with language and misunderstanding cultural meaning behind things. Uganda is home to me but my skin color will always make me stand out, no matter how many years I'm here. There are some discouraging days when my being a foreigner is just so obvious. It’s a difficult thing to trudge through. It’s awkward. It’s clumsy.
 
And, as there are those days, there are many others that balance that out.

Later on in the night, the bridal party sat on a mat on the ground while the groom’s family danced and brought gifts to Kevin, welcoming her into the family.  The music was loud. The beat was infectious. In a line, the family danced in, smiles so big and cheers so loud that it took over the whole place. As each family member brought their gifts, everything from fruits and vegetables to crates of soda and more, they danced, cheered and celebrated. In that moment, I struggled to hold back my tears. I felt completely humbled and honored. True, I’m a foreigner. I’m not from here. Yet, I have the dearest of friends that open their culture and lives to me. They open up themselves and let me in. They extend their love and friendship to me. They see all of my missteps and awkward moments and guide me. They answer my millions of questions. They love me.

Georgina and I, the best of friends
In that moment, I felt so honored to be a part of that day, awkward dancing and all. What an honor to stand by two of my dear friends at such a big day in their lives. What an absolute honor to not only live in Uganda but have dear friends who are willing to share their dance moves to a crazy white girl.

A most beautiful bride and friend
I am seriously blessed.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Story of a Foolish Girl and Her Sandy Foundation


A classic Sunday School song for me was the one about building your house upon the rocks, not the sand. The wise man built his house upon the rocks (ie. God) and the foolish man built his house upon the sand (ie. anything but God). The rains came down, the floods came up and I took special joy when the house on the sand went SPLAT. You too? I knew it wasn’t just me.

God’s been teaching me about building lately. He’s been showing me that what I’m doing now is building a foundation for life in Uganda.

This foundation process has been as slow as stinking molasses. It’s killing me. I’m all “but God, when do we get to the GOOD stuff? The walls, the windows, the d├ęcor!?” and God’s all, “seriously, the foundation is pretty important.” I so want to rush through this process. I want to at last be settled in Uganda (for the love, can’t a girl just get her container already!?), fly through language training and just get to curriculum formation, discipleship, and forming this crazy awesome school. You know, the GOOD stuff.  I don’t want to live in the present stage that God has me. Really, what that says is: I don’t want to be where God has me now. That in itself is a life long struggle for being content where God has me.

I was so busy rushing through this stage that I was wearing myself out. I about near had an emotional breakdown. And the state of my foundation? I’m a foolish woman. I was building this foundation on my own strength and effort.

The new Hillsong album has a song “Cornerstone” that has been wrecking me. It’s like God wrote it for me for this time. Not only am I building a foundation for life in Uganda, but Christ must be my cornerstone.  Fleshing that concept out in my life has been well, life changing.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly trust in Jesus' name

Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong, in the Savior's love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of All

I was so busy, reconnecting, traveling, busting through To Do lists and I mean, Christ was there but…my Cornerstone? Hardly.

Situationally, it’s been a really difficult last few months. The rains have come down, the floods have come up and I’ve felt like I was drowning.  It’s Christ alone. That’s the only way this can all happen. I have to be so deeply founded in Him, wholly trusting in Him,

The day before I left Uganda last year, I got a call from my friend saying God had given her husband a message for me. What he told me has rung in my ears and heart ever since. He told me that what God was going to do through me would not just affect me but would affect generations to come. Because of this, I was not to lose focus. I must remain focused on God and be in His Word.  My life affects more than just me. That’s true of all of us.  Those words have especially been ringing in my ears lately, reminding me of my purpose. 

I’m beginning this crazy awesome life in Uganda. My foundation must be firm. My Cornerstone must be Christ. This house is being built by Him and for Him. No need for any SPLATs.

Friday, July 13, 2012

He Gives And Takes Away


God gives, God takes.
   God's name be ever blessed.
Job 1:21

God Gives:
Andrew’s mischievous grin and sweet hugs are a part of why he's had me wrapped around his finger for the past three years. About five weeks ago, Andrew was playing soccer at school and cut his toe. Afterwards, he walked home barefoot. He complained to his aunt of pain and stayed home from school for days in pain. That’s when we found out something was wrong. Andrew is an extremely active boy (which is a nice way of saying “that boy can’t sit still”) so to find out that he was staying at home in pain was a big sign that something was wrong. After a trip to a clinic, it was discovered that Andrew had tetanus. By that point, he had lock jaw and was screaming in pain. I learned a lot about tetanus these past few weeks and the horror that it is (if you wondered why we get that shot, read here). Kait, Hope Alive!’s nurse, just so happened to be beginning her required internship at Nsambya Hospital and just so happened to be starting out in the same ward that Andrew was put in, allowing him to have good and dedicated care those first critical days.

God’s miracles are seen so clearly throughout this.

I visited Andrew at the hospital then. Have you ever seen the show 24? You know when Jack Bauer is torturing someone and the spine chilling screams that the person lets out in those moments? That’s the best way that I can describe Andrew’s screams that day. Only this wasn’t some criminal or stranger. This wasn’t TV. This was reality. This was a little boy that I love so dearly. All I could do was sit there and cry. That day, I thought it was all over. I thought Andrew would die.

The hospital did not have a ventilator and without that, Kait knew that Andrew would die. As she put it, “I wouldn’t let my dog die the way that he was dying”.  She found out about another hospital in Kampala that had a ventilator and even an ICU. While we didn’t know what condition these were (hospitals here aren’t, how shall I say, up to US standards), it was Andrew’s only chance to survive. Andrew was put under full sedation, hooked up to machines and tubes that I’ve never seen elsewhere in Uganda and slowly…slowly…improvement came. It’s been over a month since Andrew was put into the hospital.  A couple days ago I went to visit him. At last, he was awake! He was smiling, laughing, stroking my face with his little fingers and hugging me. I felt as though my heart would burst with joy! That day, he was being moved to the general ward and, God willing, Andrew will return home next week.

The nurse in the ICU told me that their hospital had seen many cases of tetanus come through, but Andrew was the first case of tetanus that they had seen where the person had lived. She said, “we did all that we could, but truly, it was God who saved his life”.

God Takes:
This past weekend, as I started to hear the joyous news of Andrew's recovery, I got a message from my sister-in-law that my grandpa’s health was worsening. It wrecked me.

The week before I left the States was the 65th wedding anniversary of my grandparents. My grandpa’s dementia led to him being put in a nursing home just a few weeks earlier. My aunts and uncles came into town and we celebrated together in the nursing home. There were a few seconds in that time where grandpa’s sparkle in his eye would come back. It was a good day for him but it was also a realization that this may be the last time that I would see him. 


I’m someone that always has a glimmer of hope. I’m that girl that will drive around the parking lot one more time because there just might have been a spot that opened. While I knew that it might be the last time I saw my grandpa, the glimmer of hope stayed inside of me. Maybe, just maybe, he would still be alive when I came back to the States in two years.

My sister-in-law’s message wrecked that hope. With the first message, I held on to a small glimpse of hope…that was soon dashed by another message stating that the situation was worsening.

I have cried more in the past week than I have in months. I cried over the loss of a dear sweet man who has meant so much to me. I cried for my grandma; her husband of 65 years is dying. I cried for my mom and my aunts; they were losing their father. I cried that I was so far away. I have never felt lonelier than this past week as I mourned alone without my family. I feel at a loss of words to even describe it. I struggled to know if I should go back for the funeral. I wanted more than anything to honor my grandpa and to be there with my family as we all mourned. I called airlines for bereavement fares. I called my family in the States for updates. I was an emotional wreck, especially when I realized that I couldn’t come back.

At 12:30am Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I got an e-mail from my brother telling him to call me. I knew then that my grandpa was gone.

Our last picture together
He gives. He takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This week has been one of high highs (Andrew) and low lows (my grandpa). I’ll be bursting with joy about Andrew one minute and breaking down in sobs about my grandpa the next. It’s been insane. I’ve felt insane. Maybe I am?

I had prayed that God would either provide the finances for me to attend the funeral or give me peace to stay. I woke up Wednesday morning with God’s all-surpassing peace and I basked in that. I knew that He would be the Comforter that my family needed more than anything. He will be there when I am not. He is here to comfort me even when I’m not with them. That verse in Job has never been more real in my life.

Oh God, help this to be the theme of my life. In good times. In bad times. When You give. When You take. Blessed be Your name.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One Crazy Year Ago, I Was A Mess...And Still Am.


I have different music for different places, times and occasions. I'm assuming that's normal and it's what you do too. Gulu means Mat Kearney, on repeat. For some reason, every time we went to Gulu, I would play him non-stop. I was able to see him in concert last year and as I swayed, danced and sang along, nostalgia took over and I closed my eyes and was brought back to Gulu. The sweat. The dirt. The smells. The people. It causes his music to touch something so deep in my soul. So, here I sit in Gulu, listening to Mat and writing. It’s perfect. So, put on “All I Need”, sway, dance, sing along and read…

A couple friends from my WorldVenture appointee class have written blogs about what happened one year ago. Why? Because it has been exactly one year since we were all appointed to be long term WorldVenture missionaries. Crazy. It’s incredible to look back at that group: such dreams and ambition all together in one room. Our group was headed to all corners of the world, looking towards going out to where God had called each of us. Every one had their own journey.

However…

One year ago. Can I tell you where I was? I WAS A MESS. I didn’t even know how much of a mess I was. Looking back? What. A. Mess. I mean, seriously, all you really have to do is read my blogs from this past year to know that it was a rough time.

One year ago…

…I was experiencing reverse culture shock in ways that took months to identify. I was scared to drive at night, had to adjust driving faster than 50mph and thought all plans were cancelled if it was raining outside. I had panic attacks in grocery stores and in large crowds. I struggled to remember how to talk like an American much less act like one. I had more socially awkward moments than I’d like to remember. I was desperately trying to feel at home in a place that was no longer my cultural home. I was just beginning to realize the weight of cultural homelessness.

…I was an emotional wreck. I hadn’t understood that my goodbyes in Uganda were actual goodbyes and that I wouldn’t see my loved ones for a long time. One year ago, I broke down in sobs in front of an interview committee that would determine if I would return to Uganda. I still can't believe they said yes after that. And, after that, I couldn't stop crying about Uganda.

…I had more questions than answers. Mainly, how the heck will I raise all of this support and when will I get to return to Uganda? There are thousands of more questions beneath those two. There was a helplessness. A loss of control. Living a life of complete unknowns.

Here I sit, back in Gulu with Mat Kearney in the background, and just amazed. Amazed that God can use a mess like me. Amazed that when I was an even bigger mess than normal, He was still there. Amazed at how He orchestrated this past year. I lost control but He gained it. I felt helpless but I was in His arms. I looked towards a sea of unknowns while He steered the boat.

One year later and now I’m back but in the same boat with Him. I have no control. I have no idea what the future will look like. Sure, I have dreams, plans and goals but can God mold and shape them differently than I expect? Oh heck yes He can. And He probably will. It's kind of been His M.O. in my life. I have no idea the details that will get laid out. That’s actually a good thing. I hope that I never leave this boat. I pray that my life is always steered by Him and not by me trying to grab the wheel. Although, why do I have the feeling that He's going to call me to step out of the boat at times?

Oh Jesus, you can understand my struggles more than anyone. I wonder what it was like for You to experience life on earth. Was it ever awkward for You? You probably made it through culture shock seamlessly. I could learn a thing or two (or a million) from You.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Around The Internet In One Blog Post

I've already confessed my habit of having a million tabs open at a time in my internet browser. There's been many interesting articles lately that it's been piling up. I've been needing to clean them out and close some but I just CAN'T because some of them are just so darn interesting. So darn interesting that I thought you might love them too. From missions and charity to Mormonism to old school Christian music and singleness and more, there's something for everyone.

Is Missions About Words Or Deeds? - Relevant Magazine
I’m all for social justice. I’m passionate about it. Christians have to be serving people and loving them not just in word but in deed. But man, if I hear another well-fed, TOMS-wearing evangelical kid quote St. Francis (“preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”) one more time as a justification for their unwillingness to utter a word to anyone about Christ as the one true hope, I don’t know what I’ll do.

When Charity Turns Toxic - Relevant Magazine
Here’s the truth: Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.

Is Mormonism A Cult? - Mark Driscoll 
For the Mormons, it is not Jesus blood that makes us righteous, but rather his sacrifice that gives us grace to be good, which leads to righteousness and salvation. The Mormons do not find the work of Christ to be sufficient for salvation but rather the starting point.

CCM Magazine Was My Teen Beat - Stuff Christians Like
Of course it hurt when I heard that Michael W. Smith had eighteen kids. That he wasn’t dating Amy Grant was enough of a blow. That he was married was a given, a minor inconvenience. But something about all those kids hammered the coffin of our happily-ever-after shut. We weren’t meant to be. (At least I’d always have his Secret Ambition video on VHS.)

Why Aren't You Married? - Shannon Roy
Yesterday, I overheard a conversation at a church event, “How old are you? Oh and you’re not married yet?” Then came silence and awkward laughter. I wondered if the woman who was asked those questions left the conversation feeling discouraged. The question is, why does that question sometimes feel discouraging? Often, if we have the desire to be married, it triggers beliefs that aren’t true about God and about ourselves... (video by Lisa Bishop that's just fantastic)

DIY Laundry Soap, Oxyclean and Fabric Softener
My friend sent me this. While I can't make all of them here in Uganda, I can some! And, for all you extreme couponers, you'll love this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Art of Bargaining in Uganda As A Muzungu




One of my favorite parts of Ugandan life is the markets – and especially bargaining. It’s a love/hate relationship, really. Some days are so much fun – joking with the vendors, bantering back and forth and getting a good deal. Other days are not fun. Those are the days when the men are yelling crude things at me and when no one will negotiate with me because they will straight up tell me that I should pay more because I’m white. I hate those days but luckily, they’re rare.

Last Friday, I went to a local craft market. In the middle of the market, there is a tent full of ladies selling beautiful hand woven baskets. As I approached, another muzungu (white person) was finishing a purchase. Her Southern drawl filled the space as she confirmed the price with the woman – a price that was almost four times what I ended up paying. I shook my head and thought, “someone needs to give these people lessons in how to bargain here”.

As I was bargaining to get my nails painted the other day, my good friend laughed and said, “the student has become the teacher!”. I am insanely lucky to have incredible Ugandan friends who have opened up their lives and culture to me, including teaching me how to bargain. With that, I thought it’d be good to write down some Do’s and Don’ts of bargaining in Uganda. That way, when you come visit, you won’t look like that Southern lady and I won’t laugh at you.

DO:
-Take a Ugandan friend with you, especially the first time. A big part of bargaining is knowing how much you should pay for something. If you don’t have someone knowledgeable with you, then ask someone before you go what you should pay for that boda ride/vegetable/basket/whatever. If you don’t, you’ll pay what we call “muzungu prices”. You may be ok with that, but I’m not. See below for why.

-Learn basic greetings in Luganda or the local tribal language wherever you are. This really is a must. If they start out in English with you, greet back in Luganda. That tells them that they’re not dealing with a tourist but someone who knows the culture enough to know the prices. The more you can learn, the better. Truly, one of my favorite things is when I approach a vendor, their face lights up because they think they'll make bank from this muzungu and then I greet them in Luganda and their face falls realizing that they can't cheat me. I inwardly laugh every time.

-Be patient. Bargaining takes time. Why? Because you’re not just buying a product; you’re building a relationship. In a relational community culture, this is pertinent. Take time. Greet them properly. Ask about their day. Go back and forth about prices. 

-Always be very respectful. Respect is a big part of this culture. Find out how to be respectful and act accordingly. For Americans, this usually means “talk quietly”. Seriously, we all know we get louder in groups and that’s seen as rude here.

-Stick to your guns. If you know what you should pay, don’t falter. Be stubborn. It will pay off. However, know when it's ok to compromise a little. But, a little. Not a lot.

-Watch the body language and tone of the vendor you’re talking to as well as watching your own. Imitate the locals around you to see how they interact with the vendors, watching their tone and body language. Be able to note when the vendor is truly at their last price and won’t go down any further. This one just takes time to learn.

DON’T:
-Not negotiate. I’ve heard a lot of different reasons why people don’t want to even negotiate at all. This is about building a relationship. If you don't negotiate, it communicates far more than you know.
1. It says that you have so much money that you can pay whatever price they give you. You look foolish for paying such ridiculous prices. Also, if you don’t negotiate from the beginning, then they know that you’re willing to pay that and won’t go down in price in the future. Save yourself time and money in the long run.
2. It shows that you don’t want to have a relationship with them – that you don’t want to even talk to them. That's disrespectful and rude.
3. It ruins it for the rest of us. Seriously. If they see that this white person is willing to pay that price, then they will expect me to. And I don’t want to. So, seriously, negotiate. Do it for me and every other white person that will follow you. Because if I hear one more time "ah but your friend paid me this", I'll go crazy.                      

- Go alone. Again, either go with someone who knows what they’re doing or ask about prices to someone you trust ahead of time. It’s an overwhelming experience no matter what. Don’t make it harder for yourself.

-Be disrespectful or rude. Hopefully you’re not rude to your friends so don’t be rude to the vendors. 

-Bring large bills and expect to get change. Unless you’re in a big store like Shoprite or Game, do not give large bills (50000 or 20000 UGX) and expect change. Most vendors won’t have it. That Southern lady gave them a 50000 UGX and you should have seen their faces. Stock up small bills for times like this.

If markets and bargaining aren’t your thing and you live in Kampala, you’re in luck. There are grocery stores where you can buy most of what you can find in the market. For Ugandan crafts, there's Banana Boat. You’ll pay considerably more in both places (and I mean, considerably). I think you lose out in experience, culture, relationship and a lot of money but that’s because I love the market experience. Some people don’t. 

Ok, so now you’re ready! Bargain away!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Coffee Maker Saga


Today was one of Those Days. I didn’t have grand ambitions for the day. My main To Do list was:

1.     Buy a coffee maker. I’ve been using a small French press that I had stashed in my storage trunk. With visitors coming soon, I knew I needed one big enough to make more than one cup.
2.     Organize my pantry. I had emptied the entire contents of the pantry last week for the painters to come and paint it. This pantry had not been sorted through since, I’m assuming from the expiration date of the spices and the amount of dust, at least 2009. I’ve already sorted through the spices and other food items. However, there’s a large stack of dusty containers and other such items stacked on my dining table. It’d be nice to have my table back.
3.     Read! I have a lot of reading that I need to do for WorldVenture and I’d like to get a lot of that done.

Clearly, my plans weren’t grand. Today, nothing went as planned.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been searching every store I went to for a coffee maker. Every store was either “out of stock” or they had one poor option.

I left the house around 10am to go to Store #1 that I hadn’t looked at for coffee makers. If they didn’t have a good option, there was Store #2 that I had been to that had one option that I was just going to choose if nothing better came along. I was getting desperate. In Store #1 they first told me “out of stock” but then found the notorious one option. I decided to just bite the bullet. As I was checking out, I asked if I could return the coffee maker if I had not used it. Return policies don’t really exist here and don't get me started about warranties. However, I wanted to check and see if Store #2 had any more options before I settled for the mediocre option. The cashier said “yes” and I went on my way to Store #2 where I found the perfect option. The plug for this one was South African and the worker helping me told me that after buying it, I needed to go to customer service and they’d change the plug for me. I bought it and left the store, completely forgetting about the plug. I needed to get back to the house to drop off the refrigerated items that I bought.

Bonus: In that visit, I realized that both of my toilets weren’t working. Nice.

I headed back out to return the coffee pot to Store #1 and stop by Store #2 to get the adapter. This blog would turn into 500 pages long if I detailed the entire return process for Store #1. Let’s just say: it took forever, they couldn’t give me cash back but now I have a random receipt with three peoples signatures that I can use as a voucher for later. I then headed back to Store #2. I didn’t bring the actual coffee maker with me because I figured they’d just give me an adapter. No, they change the actual plug. Bummer. Another store employee heard what I was trying to do and told me to follow him back to the adapters. I thought he was just going to give me one but he said I could only pay for it. So, let me get this straight: the guys up there will change my plug for free OR I could pay an exorbitant amount of money for an adapter. Thanks, buddy, I’ll go with the free option. I headed back home to have lunch. I was getting cranky hungry. Clearly.

Bonus: In that visit, I figured out how to fix my toilets! I was so insanely proud of myself. Our business manager came by in that time. I told him about it and he didn’t act nearly as proud of me as he should have because, seriously, that was a proud moment.

After lunch, I went back to Store #2 with my coffee pot. As they fixed it, my friend called asking what had happened to our 1:00 appointment. It was 1:45. 20 minutes later, my coffee maker had its correct plug and we were sitting in a coffee shop. I got home around 3:45: still annoyed at the day’s venture and with a raging headache.

My To Do list completion today: I bought a coffee maker. Wow. That about kills my American task oriented self. However, I really need to be ok with this. I mean, I also fixed two toilets (!!!) and had a wonderful deep conversation with a dear friend. It’s also life here. So often, things don’t go as planned. I know it…sometimes it’s just hard to live through it.

In my conversation with my friend, we talked about the need for our kids to discover their value in Christ and not in others. It’s a lesson that I need to learn. My value isn’t found in what I accomplish; it’s found in Christ. Tomorrow is a new day to relearn that same beautiful lesson. Happily, the day will start with a cup of brewed coffee.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Week of Reunions: They Grow Up So Fast!


So often, we fear the unknown. As much as I was bursting with insane excitement to come back to Uganda, I also had some fear (see previous post for what God has been teaching me on that subject). I feared that perhaps I had adjusted too much to America and would have difficulty adjusting back to Ugandan life.

It’s been overwhelmingly beautiful to realize how unfounded those fears were. I landed in Uganda very early Wednesday morning and spent my first day getting essentials (food, internet, phone) as well as reuniting with dear friends. Honestly, it felt like I had been gone no longer than a day. It was all like I had never left.

Well, that was until I saw my kids again.

On Thursday, my friend texted me to come to the Hope Alive! office because another dear friend was there. I just thought that it would be her that I was seeing. Though it was wonderful to see her, I didn’t realize that being there meant that I would see so many others. It was one surprise after another; one squealing shrieking excited reuniting hug after another. Some reunions were especially emotional for me. How do I even put these feelings into words? The immense joy of seeing loved ones again. The recognition of the loss of not being around each other for so long mixed with the joy of being together once again.

You know those running hug reunions? That was my Saturday. I went to Hope Alive!’s Saturday Club and as I was walking up, about 20 kids came sprinting from a classroom and within seconds, I was engulfed in 20 little hugs.  Or, not so little anymore. And that was when I realized that truly, I had been gone longer than a day. Though I was only gone for one year, the kids had grown like I had been gone for 5 years. I could not get over how much each of them had grown up! Many were now either close to my height or taller. Clearly, it doesn’t take a lot to be taller than me but…my kids! Taller than me! Unreal. I felt like a proud mother seeing them so grown; oohing and aahing over them.

I’ve been back for slightly over a week and it has been a crazy time. It’s been full of those reunions but also full of details. Coming back to Uganda and preparing to stay long term means a lot of work. I’m laying a foundation for the rest of my life here. That’s no small task. I’m currently in the town of Masaka preparing for when I’ll return for language study (also reuniting with dear loved ones here). When I return, my new-to-me to car will hopefully be sitting in front of my house and the downstairs will be painted. I’ve been working at getting settled into my house, which will only get crazier when my container arrives.  I’m really looking forward to at last being settled. After a year of exhausting travel and not staying in one place, I am anxious to make a home here.

Until then, there are many more reunions to be had and a thousand more details to be done. Gosh, it’s just so great to be home.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Have No Fear: Daddy Is Here


I got a call yesterday from my Pre-Field Ministry Coordinator at WorldVenture. She wanted to see how things were going in my last few days as well as gain insight on what this past year was like for me. For one of her questions, she asked, “what was one big thing that God taught you this past year?” I paused for a bit. There has been so much that God has taught me this past year and to narrow it down to one is a difficult task. After thinking I answered, “do not fear, God is present with me”.

Many blogs ago I mentioned that I went to the Catalyst conference last October and was blown away by Mark Driscoll’s message that day. The theme of the conference was “Present” and delved into not only being present in our lives but God’s presence in our lives. Mark’s message has rung in my ears and prayers ever since. He talked about how we become our own false prophets. We say, “if I do this then this horrible thing will happen”. For me, it went something like this, “if I become a missionary, then I will have to raise support and it will be HORRIBLE and awkward and uncomfortable and that’s not worth it”. Or, for the future, “I’ve never started a school before. I could do it all wrong. It could be a complete failure”. I often become my own false prophet. My fears grow and I imagine the worst. Mark continues to say that often, things are not nearly as bad as we imagined. And, we’ve forgotten the most important part:

Do not fear for I AM present with you.

That statement strikes to the depth of my soul. All my fears and insecurity that I have bound myself to gets loosened. Fear and insecurity become like handcuffs to the dreams and plans that God has for me. They hold me back to a place where I can’t get out. They become my own prison. Who am I to bind myself in a prison when there is One who has set me free? I am free indeed!

Do not fear for I AM present with you.

In all of my fears, there He is. In all of my worries, I can cast them on Him because He is right there. God has not called me to Uganda alone. He’s not going to pat me on the back and send me my way. No, He is coming with me and He has paved the way ahead of me. His presence this last year of support raising was…indescribable. I never had a clue how the support would come in. And I mean, not a clue. There were moments when panic would rise within me and then, out of nowhere, God would speak to someone to join the team and I would be humbled. I constantly marveled at His work. Our God is so big and majestic and yet His intimate and detailed love for me were never more clear. I would do this journey all over again to experience that intimate love from my Savior. When God calls us, He does not leave us. He is present in our lives.

I continually marvel at who God brought along this journey. God popped up in so many ways, and many times through the love of others. People who opened up their homes for me to share about Uganda and those who even let me stay with them on my travels. People who listened to the voice of God when He said to join this team. People who saw a missionary's wish list and cared enough to help me make my house my home. People who gave me rides, paid for meals, gave a listening ear, prayed for and over me, spoke truth and encouragement into my life, and so much more. It was a year of helplessly relying on others and, there God was. Each one of you was like a whisper of God’s love into my ear. I felt His warm embrace with yours. You all showed me that He is present with us all. Through each of you, His love overwhelmed and humbled me.

Do not fear for I AM present with you.

Mark ended his talk with a story about his son. The family was going to travel to Scotland and his youngest son was not happy about it. They tried to entice him with different exciting parts of the trip (castles, swords and unlimited juice on the plane!) to no avail. At last, Mark asked his son why he didn’t want to go. His son tearfully explained that he would be all alone. His son thought that he would be making the trip by himself. Mark assured him that he was coming on the trip as well: “your daddy will be there!”. When I become my own false prophet, I envision myself going through it all alone. Be assured, my Daddy is there.

Do not fear, your Daddy is present with you.

Obeying God can be a terrifying thing. There are so many unknowns. You hand over control to the One who has always been in control and…wait. Isn’t it beautiful to know that the One who we hand our control, fears, hopes and dreams to isn’t some distant stranger? No, our Abba is far more than that. The most loving Daddy, He wraps us up into His arms and holds us. Rocking us gently in His arms, He says, “I am here. I will not leave you. I will not forsake you. Do not fear, your Daddy is present with you…”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Panicked Packing Prayers


It was my last night in Uganda. I was aimlessly putting things together in a panicked state when my friend Hannah entered the room. I was paralyzed by this overwhelming fear and stress of leaving and packing up my life. Seeing my paralyzed state of panic, she took action and started helping me pack.

I’m at that stage again. I ship my entire life’s belongings to Uganda on Tuesday when a shipping container will pull into my driveway. Yesterday, some friends came over to help me pack. When my friend Melissa arrived, I was at That Stage. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know where to even tell her to start helping. When she and a few others left that night, we were at a far better place in packing. Since we only have two hours to load the container (you read that right), my mom and I have been working at arranging everything how we want it to go. It’s like playing Jenga…only working the opposite way.

In church today, I caught myself doodling the words “stress”, “exhausted” and overwhelmed”.  The enormity of the details of packing all of my earthly possessions and shipping them to Uganda is insane. I’m looking forward to when the container is loaded and drives away, hopefully driving away some stress with it. However, it’s not finished then. It still has to have safe travel in a truck to New York. It will then board a ship that will go down around South Africa and into that pirate infested Indian Ocean until it ports in Mombasa, Kenya. It will go through customs there and then get on a truck to drive across Kenya. It goes through customs at the Kenya/Uganda border and then ends up at my house in Kampala. Do I even need to mention that it needs safe travel on those crazy African roads?

All this to say, I need prayer. Big time.

Pray:
-       for the rest of the packing and arranging  of everything
-       I have to inventory and value everything still. Pray for wisdom and guidance with this.
-       Pray that I fill out all the forms correctly and that I do everything right on my end so that nothing gets messed up on that end due to some mistake.
-       Pray that everything goes well for Tuesday. Pray that we have enough strong people show up. Pray that we get everything to fit according to plan in the container. Pray that it’s all done in the two hour allotted time.
-       Pray for the safe travel of the container through America, oceans, customs, and African roads.
-       Pray for my customs agents. Pray that they are people of integrity. Pray that they will not ask for bribes. Pray that there will be no hold up of the container in customs.
-       Pray that I put my trust in the Lord, give Him control of the details of my life and rest in Him.

I officially now have 22 days left in the States before I board that one way flight back home to Uganda. I have a lot to do before that day comes. Though I’m bogged down and stressed out with all of these details here, that’s my light at the end of this insane tunnel. Thinking of reuniting with my dear friends and kids brings such joy in my heart! I smile and tear up every time that I think of it. That’s my joy right now. That’s what I’m holding onto. That’s what is keeping me going.