Category Archives: Courage

God “Outdreams” Me Every Time

As I left the Children’s Village and then the Guest House to venture home via safari the question by the children and staff was, “Will you come back?” Well that’s the question I’ve been asking as well. My intention is to return to Uganda but I’m also not about making promises and more importantly I don’t know what God’s timing is and when he will lead me back. I don’t know what my work would consist of in Uganda (though there’s plenty of it) or for how long I would go. I do hope to come back sooner than later and to continue to use my skills. The unknowing causes me a bit of anxiety – Does it mean that I haven’t been listening to God’s leading/direction and am I missing it other places in my life? Yet I believe He led me to Uganda and I went. They are the questions which stir in so many of our hearts as Christ Followers: What is God asking of me? How is He leading? What is He saying to my heart? However this time with the question of “Uganda” on my mind the anxiety is minimal. Isn’t this what God always is asking of us? “Let me guide” “Don’t be anxious” “I’ll care for you.”

His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me. The words repeat over and over in my head and quite honestly now I think of the Safari as I think of the animals rather than the sparrow. It’s true The Lord of Heaven and Earth not only cares for me but he gives me exactly what I need and more. He knows my love for children, serving, travel, adventure, and culture. Sometimes I find myself dreaming about what I believe would be an ideal job, perfect place to live, adventure to take, friends to have and then realize that God each and every time has outdone me. His dreams are better and are not dreams but reality. He has time and time again surprised me by the richness of his gifts of family, friendship, adventure, meaningful work, and moments that seem orchestrated like love notes. Here are two that he gave me.

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The Grace of Jenga and Competition

On occasion friends have commented that I have a competitive nature. Well let’s be honest, friends, family, co-workers, and more have noticed it. I’m not sure how exactly it comes across – maybe it’s the intensity I put into competition with others but also with myself. I strive to do my best, to have personal wins and to improve at whatever goal I have. I hope to not be a sore loser.

As we take out the 2 Jenga games for the 10 girls we have had in our P4,P5, P6 group they get excited. They have played this game before. We divide into teams and set the games on the cement floor of a bedroom lined with bunkbeds. We begin to play and compete. We eat candy and laugh. The towers become higher as these 10 girls (and 2 leaders) are intent on winning this game. I assumed we would play a few times as the towers would fall and we would start over. That’s not at all what happened. The intensity in the room was high, sharp words in Luo to each other, glances at the other team’s tower, advice, correction, and sighs of relief with each block removed and stacked. There was also laughter and celebrating. The girl beside me was full of competitive anxiety as she held her hands around the tower willing it to stay up. There was also physical grace and presence. When these girls dance in a group there is no bumping and stumbling into each other, even as they learn a new dance. They appear to know where their bodies are in relation to others at all times. So it is with playing Jenga. They don’t mistakenly bump another player who may collide with the tower. They are aware of themselves in a way that I admire. The game took nearly an hour.

So, my team lost this competition. There were girls in my group that threw visual daggers at our teammates. Others seem less impacted. So what to do? Talk about competition. I shared about various views of competition and how each person is different. I could not help but smile as if looking into a mirror, minus the physical grace and presence of these Ugandan girls. Many of these girls have highly competitive spirits. So what do you do when your team loses? You find another challenge. I asked the girls if they play football. The boys don’t typically let them and say they’ll get hurt. The Saturday before I left we had a fierce all girls football game with a competitive and gracefulness I’ve only seen in Ugandan young women. I played for each team at different times, and for me it was an afternoon full of wins.

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Last days in Lira Uganda

Last days in Lira. My mind has to leap over the memory hurdle of a 9+ hour van ride (by Jimmey who drove through Kampala to Entebbe straight out of a Hollywood Script), Safari (complete with lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and more), and land back in Lira.

My experiences in Lira the past few days felt a bit surreal. There are no pictures of the 121 men who live at Erute Prison. Imagine bright yellow scrubs – shorts and shirts with vertical lines with flip flops completing the uniform. They are packed in a room sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder, we must sit indoors as it is raining outside and the compound is muddy. Teenagers from the Children’s Village, the visiting team from Oklahoma, the COTN interns, and a few others come to share. There was heartfelt upbeat singing by many of the men and we joined in by clapping. How I wish I knew the words. Singing and sharing by our team. An invitation to pray and accept Christ and a response by over 15 men. I sang when I knew the words but what else did I have to offer other than the gift of presence? These men are not forgotten, even in the rain and mud we have come. My only gift was to be willing to look at these men not as group rather be willing to look into their faces, their eyes and acknowledge them as individuals with stories which have brought them to Erute. Erute we have been told has a new warden/officer who truly cares for the men in the prison. She has brought better conditions (decent clothing and food). They still wait, as they have been charged but it can take over a year to see a judge yet she serves them where and how she can. I pray that they sense they are not forgotten and there continues to be outreach by the church.

There are no pictures of the harrowing drive in the rain and mud to Christopher and Joyce’s home. A yellow van sliding down the Children’s Village driveway and getting lost in the streets of Lira to slide precariously into a ditch yet recovered back to the road by a trusty driver. Walking to the home knowing my shoes will need an inch of mud scrubbed off. Christopher oversees the Village Partnership Program (VPP) caring for (through sponsorship funds) over 200 children. When I was a Dept. of Mental Health case manager for kids and my caseload inched over 23 it was a bit more challenging. Christopher is stretched thin as he does home visits and checks in about food, living conditions, family situations, etc. for the 200 VPP kids. He opened his home to us providing a meal and the entertainment of “Evan Almighty” and his 1 1/2 year old twins. We arrived to a lantern burning and headlamps providing additional light. This is Uganda, unreliable electricity even if your home has it. Eventually the electricity came on. Christopher also opens his home, and his wallet by funding education for 2 other children that are not part of the COTN program. I am struck by the generosity and hospitality of the Ugandans and recognize it is something I admire and can learn from. Nearly everyone is caring for someone who is not an immediate family member and helps fund education in some way. I pray it’s truly a lesson I take home with me and consider what it mean for me.

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Swarming and Snacking

Sunday night at the Children’s Village is quite low key. The kids sometimes watch a movie when they hook up the generator. So on Sunday when a movie was playing suddenly there were swarms of White Ants (also known as termites) around the outside lights. The solution I thought would be to shut the lights off and let the white ants fly away, however the kids solution is quite different. They were elated at the swarming. Out the younger children came with pans and they started to catch them. Soon the other consultants and myself joined in to help. So we swatted down and caught white ants by the hundreds. I would be glad when they landed on me as it was easier to add them to the pots. White Ants are, well, quite stupid. We put them in the pots without any lids and they didn’t fly away. I jumped on the counter in our house to get the ants closest to the overhead light. A young girl gave me a piece of clothing to swat them down and they anticipated each one that fell to the ground to add to the bounty. More and more were put in the pots until our arms were tired.

The kids put the pots away for the following day. After school on Monday they prepared their snack – they sorted the ants and began to cook them over the coals. The young girls had a pot and so did the young boys. They stirred and cooked until they were a bit crispy. Then we snacked on them. A unique snack that after eating I could still smile about.

Yes we have after school snacks here at the Children’s Village, just not warm cookies and milk.

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Grateful Kids – a few thoughts

I have been sharing with friends, family, and co-workers about my upcoming trip to Uganda. In my office I have pictures of children from Moldova, Haiti, and Mexico that make me smile. The children are smiling, and the times I pause long enough to think of the circumstances they live in I am humbled.

A co-worker mentioned in passing that the children in Uganda will be so grateful for whatever I bring and share with them. It was implied that they will be so much more grateful than so many of the kids here in the U.S. My response most likely was unexpected. I don’t want them to be grateful. What? Huh?

Let me explain, yes I do want them to be thankful and have an attitude of gratitude. Yet I want that for any kid, any person, and for myself. I want kids to be grateful for a beautiful sunny day here in New England or in Uganda. I want my students here to be thankful for extra help from a teacher just as I want the same for a student in Uganda. I hope that a teenage girl getting a new pair of shoes here is full of smiles just as a teenager in Uganda would be. Will they be more grateful in Uganda? I don’t want them to be. We should all be challenged to have a grateful heart in all circumstances. We are challenged: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
All circumstances, running water and electricity or not (feel free to remind me about running water in a few weeks). However I also don’t want the children in Uganda to need to be grateful for adult attention, medical care, clean water, education, or a loving home. I want all children to have these basics, and even more, and to be grateful in those circumstances never experiencing the lack of them.

I don’t want children or myself to be grateful as I compare my circumstances to others rather to be thankful in the circumstances I know to be my own.

Enjoy the pics… A sampling from above my desk.

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A Uganda Theme Song

Downloading new music about 6 weeks ago I came across my theme song for the summer. It was apparent as soon as I heard it the first time. Audio Adrenaline’s song Kings and Queens speaks to the hope of children, to be loved but also to change the world.

A few of the lyrics, both a challenge and prayer to God:

Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these

I wondered why Audio Adrenaline wrote this song and found they have a connection with Haiti supporting the Hands and Feed Project
On the website a video by Jeremy Cowart one of my favorite photographer/artists highlights children in Haiti. However he also has a video from art therapy in Lira , Uganda with former soldiers. Check in out Here . I believe I had originally heard about this project on Catalyst Podcast (though I couldn’t find the episode). Though my work will be with Children of the Nations I also am headed to Lira, Uganda!

Red Sox player’s have a theme song playing as they come up to bat and many Olympic athlete’s are shown listening to music just before they compete. As I get ready to go to Africa and my playing field is Lira Uganda my theme song will be Kings and Queens because that is who I will be spending time with.

My Summer Vacation – Uganda Bound July 2013

Uganda Bound, that’s it in a nutshell. The rumblings began along time ago. When they started I’m not quite sure. Seeing a documentary, a National Geographic special, 20/20, reading Kisses from Katie or Love Does I’m not quite sure but in reality I’m not sure it matters as what it all points to is that God has been stirring my heart. When I began working in a school my goal was to use my summers wisely. I began to think of my skills as a social worker with traumatized kids, children in residential care, and my experiences with similar kids in various parts of the world I realized an ideal summer “vacation” would be to use my skills in a new way. Over a school cafeteria lunch conversation with a Gordon College social work intern at my school I learned about a consultant program through Children of the Nations . COTN Uganda has over 60 orphaned children who make their home at the Children’s Village and approximately 200 more who attend school as they also have lost parents and live in single parent homes or with relatives.

For the month of July I’ll be serving as a Social Work Consultant and living in the Children’s Village (without electricity or running water!) in Lira, Northern Uganda. The ambitious goals identified by COTN staff include supporting the “mothers” and teachers in the children’s village, completing assessments, making recommendations for some specific special needs kids, and recommending some “best practices” moving forward. I could not be more excited about what God is planning for this partnership.

Thanks for your continued support as friends and family! My hope and plan, dependent upon electricity and internet, is to keep you informed via this blog and facebook once a week.

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does The Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

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Into the Horizon

The snow continues to fall outside the window of parent’s home in Vermont. Miles and miles of white fields lay on the horizon. The night will prove to be brilliant once the clouds clear and the moon shimmers glistening on new snow. Fresh powder always seems to have a mystery of jewels as it sparkles. It’s been much too long since the snow has serenaded us. The world feels expansive with snow covered fields that seem an unending horizon.

In the coming weeks I’ll be moving a couple of towns away after 14 years in the same home. It’s been a wonderful place to live for a variety of reasons, however one reason that I will miss is horizon. Though I live in a town, a village of sorts, my bedroom is on the third floor of a home set on a hill. My bedroom window faces east and the sun regularly wake me up. No neighbors can peak into my windows and my shades are never drawn. Many mornings pinks, oranges, and reds are found on the horizon and it seems the masterpieces have been scripted just for me. I know that just beyond the window lays a village, fields, woods, a beautiful beach and the Atlantic.

Growing up in in Vermont brilliant sunsets are common though were never taken for granted. Whether it is the sun setting over Lake Champlain or settling for the night behind a hill, the canvas is continually changing. It seems it is always improving. Many a day my parents would call to us to see the display of beauty which God was painting. There is also a drive I love to take through the Champlain Valley with the rugged Adirondack Mountains and glimpses of Lake Champlain on one horizon and the soft Green Mountains on the other. Even as a child I knew that this display was magnificent.

On my way to work I drive through conservation and state forest land. Fields lay on both sides with perfectly set trees that solicit dreams of picnics, long walks and carriage rides. Often there are glimpses of deer or in the fall an expansive pumpkin patch. Horses find their way to barns for hay as I attempt to savor a few more minutes without reviewing a list of tasks and crises. My thoughts in the first few miles of this drive typically turn to God who it seems has orchestrated a perfect commute for this girl who longs for the horizon.

When I go too long without a view of the horizon there is something that goes amiss within my soul. My world seems smaller, the possibilities for the future bland, and my restlessness can’t be identified. With the horizon it’s easy to remember there are adventures to be had, relationships yet to be discovered, and a journey that is unfolding. The mystery of horizon is that it is ever changing whether it is jeweled snow, erupting pumpkin patches, dazzling sunsets, spirited sunrises or courageous explorers on a quest. I long to move into the horizon, to take the walks, hike and ski the mountains, kayak the oceans, swim the lakes, and meet those also on the journey. Each day there is new light, colors, people, and beauty to behold. My soul longs for the horizon and what lies ahead. My prayer is to move into the horizon knowing I will not capture it rather allow myself to be captured by the one who created it.

 

Waiting for Water

Giving a Last Letter

Back in April of 2011 I blogged about Writing Gini The post was a way to keep myself accountable about something I didn’t want to regret not following through with. Gini Andrews, my mentor and friend, is now 95 years old and 11 months. She has been a dear friend for 13 years and has played an integral part of my faith journey. Her life here on earth has been winding down with the support of a group of friends, friendship which is measured in decades rather than years. I am humbled that in a small way I am part of this group that is part of loving her into eternity. I have been thinking of this a lot for the past months. How do I express to her how much she means to me? How for my own process, journey, and eventual healing do I feel I have no regrets and enough been said? Though both of us have been generous with words I chose to write a letter. Yet for many months I didn’t feel the pressure of it. She seemed relatively healthy and I only wrote a bit. However in August there was a diagnosis of cancer and decision for hospice rather than treatment. The pressure moved to writing the letter and my desire to get it “perfect.” How I hate the part of my personality that puts pressure on myself to both overachieve and do things “perfectly.” So I worked on the letter in fits and starts. It was exhausting to write and to edit. Writing each section brought tears as did each edit. Yet finally I finished and it found its way downstairs and into her hands this week.

Having completed writing a letter of gratitude and thanks I leave you with some suggestions when writing and sending an important letter, especially for those leaning toward Type A.

  • It really is the thought that counts. As long as it is readable the receiver is not going to look at it with an editor’s eye. I have comma issues and Gini is a writer. Get over your grammar issues, finish and send it.
  • Allow yourself to use the process to work through your own feelings. Allow tears to flow thinking about saying goodbye whether goodbye is in months or years. Allow tears to flow about expressing things that someday you will not be able to. Assume you will not be able to easily identify all the emotions the process stirs up.
  • Express what you have learned from that person. We all want to know how our lives impact others and wonder if/how we will be missed.
  • Most relationships include humor and if you are able include this aspect of your relationship.
  • Consistent with your own beliefs, share your own source of peace, or if you share similar beliefs/faith this could be the most central source of comfort and strength you share with the person.
  • Get it done, put it on your list, and prioritize it with enough time to allow the emotional process of it.

Other posts referencing Gini and the gift of her friendship: A Childless Mother’s Day
Embracing a Space

Hospice is an agency that excels in helping individuals and their loved ones make end of life decisions with dignity and grace. Hospice of the North Shore

Summer Missions Trip 25+ years later

The impact of summer missions trips has been on my mind today. Because of my office moving to a new location there have been some renewed friendships. One friend, Kim, is a supervisor at the child protection agency we are now located with. She’s excellent at what she does. We have continued to see each other in various meetings in the 11 years I have worked in the city. She’s worked in the city twice as long. She’s a remarkable woman and as a teenager she participated in the high school youth program at the church I attend. For maybe 30 years my church has been sending off youth and adult missions teams. Many times I have gone with them and though I am not going this summer, my heart is with them. Over 110 adults and youth are headed off this year to Moldova, Thailand, Nepal, Haiti, New Orleans, Boston, Malawi, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Kim and I caught up a lot this afternoon but I will remember what she shared with me years ago. It was on a summer missions trip as a high school student through my church that her heart began to be stirred toward social work and adoption. As I’ve been feeling a bit stuck professionally lately she reminded me of the relational impact we can have on others. She reminded me of the impact that can’t truly be measured and that it is not about the title we hold rather the time we spend. Kim has had a rough year personally but I look at her life and see how God has used her in some many people lives. One of the staff she supervises came in as we chatted and the social worker talked animatedly. She shared how a teenager who had repeatedly run from one residential program is going to give her new residential program a chance. The teenager stated to her social worker, “I’m worried I’m going to be a bum when I turn 18. You’re not going to leave me are you?” So this young social worker, who is well supervised by my friend Kim, assured her she would continue to walk with her. The social worker stated “I really felt I connected with her and she’s going to try to make it work. I told her I’m not going anywhere.” Kim is leading and serving well.

A stirring in Kim’s heart years ago allowed her to recognize her purpose then and now, being a light in a dark place. In addition to being a social work supervisor with the state her other role is a mother to 3 adopted sisters from foster care, now edging into adolescence. This is the impact of a missions trip and what God can stir up in one’s heart. God re-stirred up a lot of other things in my conversation with Kim… including an adoption and foster care ministry. Will I be faithful to God’s stirrings as Kim has been? I don’t want to miss God’s “stirrings” and acting upon them.

What has God has been stirring up in you, now or years ago when you were still a teenager?