Category Archives: Family

Summer 2013 – Lessons Learned

What I learned from the Summer of 2013 – please accept my overdue assignment

  1. While some pray for school vacation and summer to come sooner –  in Uganda there are children praying for tuition to be paid and a uniform to enter the classroom doors.
  2. I’m still not sure what world events occurred in July 2013 beyond the birth of a new prince, and my life doesn’t seem any less full.
  3. Lions when they put their minds to it can climb trees in the Murchison Falls National Park.
  4. Ugandan girls are competitive, fierce, and love opportunities to play football.
  5. Despite my bizarre dream of swimming with hippos they are not remotely like dolphins and a swim in The Nile is not advised, their teeth rival sharks.
  6. The Churchill War Rooms are a must when visiting London.
  7. Headphones at night help drown out the sound of rats.
  8. Mosquito nets are wonderful for keeping out rats, lizards, toads, and mosquitoes.
  9. Even a 5 year old can learn to wash their clothes by hand.
  10. The hand-washing soap OMO is better than anything we have in the USA to get clothing looking bright and clean again.
  11. Though cathedrals are beautiful I’m thankful no one is buried in my church.
  12. White Ants are tastier than eating intestine (though I’m not sure if I ate goat or cow intestine and prefer to skip both).
  13. I would catch White Ants to eat again but leaving the cooking to the 7 year olds as they did a great job.
  14. Americans do not literally use their heads enough to carry water and other items (I think we should all start next time we go to Target or even the Mall – ditch the carts)
  15. The children who are “blessed” (some say spoiled) in Children’s Villages in Africa don’t need to be concerned where their next meal will come from, what they will wear or who will pay their tuition fees.  It brings perspective.
  16. It’s humbling to see men in prison be thankful for a simple bar of soap.
  17. It takes 80 pumps at the well to fill a bucket big enough for a “shower”, a few more if you need to shave your legs that day.
  18. Dancing in Church, including a “conga line” is Worshipful.
  19. Thunder and Lighting Storms while sleeping under a Tin Roof is like God’s Drum Circle.
  20. My friend Jimmey can drive like he belongs in a Hollywood movie.  With no re-takes needed we arrived safely for an airport drop-off.
  21. Despite how much I stay in the sun I’m still a “muno” (white person) and intriguing to the neighborhood children in Lira (please tell this to the student who could barely stay awake in my class last week).
  22. Profound Joy is found in Uganda as people trust in God and hold firm to: With God All things are Possible  (Matthew 19:27)

Finally – I have fabulous and supportive family and friends who I am humbled by as they prayed, encouraged, listened, challenged and gave generously to God’s work in Uganda and my small part in in during July.

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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You’re all Fat

Saturday I was sitting with a group of girls. I was helping one sew a skirt by hand. She is about 8 and we were putting a simple stitch in to make a seam (thanks Mom). If I didn’t look at them, rather focused on the sewing, they kept touching my skin and each freckle. If I happened to look up they would suddenly realized I knew they were studying me and possibly could feel them touching me. I let them stare at my skin and run their hands over my white arms as I sewed. Then they informed me “you’re fat.” Thankfully I had already had a conversation with Jimmy one of the fantastic National COTN staff. He had informed me that it’s a complement in Uganda to be called fat. To be be fat means that you look good, healthy, nice, etc.

Without a doubt I’m sure you all look wonderfully fat today.

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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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Charity Water Birthday

In September I turned 40.  For my birthday it was easy to acknowledge that I don’t need or want for anything materially.  Yet, I’ll be honest, I do like gifts.  I enjoy it when someone chooses a personal gift for me.  It is not about the size or cost of the gift but really the thought.   A collectible item found at a yard sale, a picture, book, recipe, a new piece of sports equipment, etc., I love them all.  Yet again there was nothing I needed or wanted so I thought why not ask friends and family to give to an organization that is on the front lines of working to solve the water crisis in the world.  Having travelled to places in the world where clean water is an issue this seemed right.  It’s always bothered me on trips that I drink clean water because I can afford it while others go without.  So I raised funds toward clean water through Charity Water

 

 

What happened was that each time my email alerted me to a new donation there was incredible joy.  What I found that friends and family far and wide joined in celebrating my birthday in a different way, in a way that was deeply personal to me.   Each donation was as precious as a collectible item, a picture, book, personal recipe or  piece of sports equipment.  Each made me smile when I thought of both the good that the donation would make to help bring clean water, but also the relationship I had with that person.  What especially touched me was that a few of the young woman I have had the pleasure of knowing in their high school years through church joined in helping me celebrating my 40th.   As young leaders they understand this water crisis and want to do something about it.  Thank You Charity Water for your birthday present to me!

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?

Friends in Dallas

The Catalyst Conference in Dallas this past week was my stomping ground. It was a fire hose of teaching that was amazing. The worship was moving, centering and refreshing. More on what I am learning through this experience later…it will take a while to unpack. The remainder of my time in Texas was spent with friends who have two young adult daughters. I have known these young women since they were in elementary and middle school and this coming year both will be in college. I am friends with their parents yet I also spent time with only them. They spilled to me a few of the challenges they have faced over the past year. I was a bit surprised how open they were as we haven’t seen each other in a few years. Really listening to the challenges of young adulthood is not to be taken lightly as they don’t always talk freely. They shared about their perspectives on family life and interactions with friends. Being close to their parents and also talking with them about the girls I found myself pondering the complexity of family life. Here I was listening to the stories of two different generations and I wanted to weave them together as I believe they all want the same things – both closeness and openness. They are not quite there right now, though I have hope knowing the foundation upon which this family has been built upon.

I found myself wanting to spend more time with these young women. As they talked with me and appeared to share with me openly and honestly I kept thinking I wish that they had not moved away and I could have mentored them. One young woman has a determination and emotional intensity that are strengths. Her sister has a quick wit and personality that is refreshing. I learned from them as they shared about music and culture. It was further confirmation that I love the “transitional years”, the decisions to be made during these years and the importance of discovering who you are created to be. As I thought of these young women I kept thinking how much potential they have and need to hear from adults other than their parents. Don’t get me wrong, they have loving and caring parents who want the best for them. Yet young adults need other mentors in their lives and I am continually thankful and humbled at the mentors and friends I have who are older and wiser and speak into my life. I have been thinking a great deal about adoption and foster care in the past years and the step(s) I want to take in this direction. Though I love mentoring I must remember that this is not the primary role I will play as a parent and it is essential to allow others to have this role in a child’s life.

My take aways from my time with friends in Dallas are:

I don’t want to miss out on recognizing that I really do enjoy mentoring transitional age kids (15-25) though I have sometimes denied it. I’m not quite sure why I deny it, or think I don’t relate to young adults sometimes, I just do. (I need to get over it)

Though I love working with transitional kids and envision myself having them in my home in the future, I don’t want to miss that it will be important they have mentors outside of my home as well, who can continue pour into their lives in other ways.

Writing Gini

My neighbor and more importantly close friend and mentor is 95. Generally she has been in good health, but she’s 95! She’s an amazing woman who has a depth to her relationships, both with others and God, that is remarkable. I visited with her in the hospital yesterday as there has been concern with her blood pressure. When I arrived she was watching 60 Minutes and had books surrounding her to pass the time. Her well-worn Bible was on her bed tucked next to a book by Henri Nouwen on reflections of Life and Death. I should add there was a fiction book on Cleopatra as well which happens to be the name of her cat. Gini makes me smile. She emails, googles, writes, reads, studies, listens, asks great questions, and prays. I know she prays a great deal for me which is humbling. We have talked about death, her death, and how she is ready to spend eternity with Christ. She said to me one day that she would prefer not to live to 100. She’s ready for the next step in eternity, to have new surroundings.

Gini is a woman of incredible depth whose life has not been easy yet she has allowed it to deepen her understanding of God and how to reach out to others. Gini was an only child, and had a brief marriage but did not have any children. However her life is full of people and there is a loosely jointed group of friends who look after some of her needs. She’s had a full life living many places on the East Coast, then heading to Colorado, Switzerland, and London. When she visited Egypt I believe she was 92. There were 90 people at her 90th party and it was an honor to be invited. Each of us has had deep rich powerful conversations with Gini as she is thinks deeply about her faith and how to encourage others on their journeys. Though she didn’t have children she plays the role of mother, grandmother, and cherished friend to so many.

Yesterday before I left we prayed together as we often do. Tears come to my eyes even thinking of how tender it is each time we pray. From her hospital bed she prayed for me about the anxieties, joys, and hopes of my heart. We hadn’t talked about them last night yet she knows them from the years of our friendship. I can’t quite imagine living in this house without her. Our friendship has evolved to the point where I let myself in a couple of times a week to check on her and do my laundry. Yet it is her checking on my heart with care and concern and directing us both back to Christ. On my 40 for 40 list is writing a letter to Gini – I don’t want to miss writing that letter.

One last note… Gini asked me once how I came to live in this house, in the apartment above hers. I reminded her of what she had said to me previously. “I prayed for a single Christian woman to move in.” Your prayer was answered Gini and so was mine as I have consistently prayed to have amazing mentors in my life. How God weaves lives together is beyond comprehension.

Teaching Skills for Life

The young adults I work with as a social worker have endured some tough challenges. Today was a day in which I realized though I don’t want to miss out on life and what God has for me I am humbled this is what I can ponder. I don’t feel like I am floundering to figure out how to manage my day to day life.  Much of the day to day “life skills” have come quite easily to me.  Most often my parents didn’t explicitly teach specific skills I would need for adulthood.  However through their stability and being available always to ask questions this allowed me move into the world of adulthood with more confidence than anxiety. Because of this I believe I have more energy to ponder deeper questions and also work on answering them for myself.   Does that make sense?  If you are just trying to figure out how to navigate the daily challenges of life such as laundry, grocery shopping, banking, how to register for a class, etc. the deeper questions in life – your goals, faith, values, etc. are important but most often put on the back burner.   

I have a great advantage as well when I get a bit stuck, my parents continue to be a call away.  They still answer questions that I would rather ask my Mom or Dad then Google. “Mom, how do I make the gravy thicker?” “Dad, what type of stain do you think I should use on this project?”

In contrast all of the young adults I’ve talked with this week have significant developmental areas they have missed out on. Today I met with the 21 year old that missed out on a stable family, has been bounced from residential school program to residential school program.  Tons of money spent to help him manage and overcome his emotional/behavioral needs yet despite it he missed out on so much that he can’t pass the tests to graduate high school. Even a basic GED program would be a stretch for him. Another very smart young woman who was raised by her grandmother shared she isn’t sure when she is pumping gas how to know when her gas tank is full. It’s a silly thing, super easy to learn, but knowing that’s a skill most often that would be taught by a parent saddens my heart. There are lots of moments in her life she has needed a parent, and not a grandparent, to guide her through. Another 18 year old young woman today asked me if she could get money to spend at the mall when we go to social security (to work on her benefits) tomorrow. She wasn’t aware that social security is not a bank, doesn’t hand out checks at the counter, cash, or anything else that might help her go shopping at the mall. She doesn’t really understand why she doesn’t have money but also has shared she really doesn’t know how to count change when she does have it. We’ve been working a lot with her on being an adult as she was told that she can’t return home (some challenging family dynamics which can be explained best by imagining Cinderella like step-mother). She proudly told me that she was in her new (supported) living situation for 2 hours alone “and nothing happened” and “I was safe.” This has happened before with young adults I work with, they have never spent time alone, and it’s a skill they need to learn as they’ve missed it.

Today I am grateful that I have not missed out on learning skills I can in turn pass on to the young adults I work with. Though it saddens me that they have missed out I am humbled that I can offer some stability when they feel they are floundering… I don’t want to miss out on teaching skills that will help them be successful adults and give them space to ponder deeper questions of life and faith.

A site I often use to find resources for young adults – resources for young adults, often geared for those aging out of the foster care system: http://www.caseylifeskills.org/