Blog Archives

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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Good Work in Uganda

My Job Description as a social work consultant in Uganda has included working on Child Profiles (a document which includes background, behavior, emotional health, counseling history, school information, etc.) of 30 identified full-care kids. It also includes making social work recommendations moving forward for the COTN staff as they care for kids. I’ve visited 2 other Children’s Villages thus far with 1 more before I head to London. All of the other Children’s Villages are NGO’s run by Americans though with the majority of staff being Ugandans. COTN is different in that though the funding comes from overseas it is a national NGO, meaning the leadership is national. Americans come to support, advise and encourage but are not primarily directive about how the agreed upon goals and values are carried out.

As I’ve worked there have been challenges completing the Child Profiles and I’ve wondered how to make them as useful as possible to both Ugandan and American staff. English is not any of the staff’s first language, they view child development differently, they see behavior/discipline/obedience differently. The chores and tasks children are expected to do is different from American children. How can I be the most helpful knowing that Americans, and those from developed countries, do not always raise children the best way though sometimes we think we do?

As I’m thinking of recommendations to make I first wanted to share what I believe is done well in Uganda – and specifically in the Children’s Village:

Education is highly valued and not taken for granted

The children are bi-lingual (Luo and English)

Older Children care for Younger Children

Children learn to Dance and Sing and adults join in at the village and at church.

Children are respectful – especially of adults

Children are expected to take responsibility for the grounds (sweeping, mopping, weeding, etc)

Children learn to care for animals (goats and chickens especially)

Children understand the importance of farming and know that much food is grown on the property.

Children are taught to cook and do laundry at early ages – boys and girls.

The children are thankful for what they have and learn to care for it at early ages.

Children are raised with regular times of group prayer and Bible reading and as they grow older they choose to also to have these times on their own.

The children are involved in the local church.

The children are given opportunities to serve outside of the Children’s Village

Children visit their extended family / village when possible on breaks.

This is some of the Good Work done at the Children’s Village in Lira Uganda

Sound and Sights

I wake up each school day to the sound of washing at 5am. I’ve never quite sure what is being washed as I lay in bed. I assume it clothes being washed but it seems too early. As the day progresses more washing is heard and the roosters start. Pots bang, birds chirp, and sweeping and mopping are in full swing. It’s now 6am and some mornings I even feel cool here in Africa as I lay in bed surrounded by a blue mosquito net. The sweeping continues and I can hear the water being pumped from the well. The voices of children begin to get louder. A girl sings a worship song as she moves about her morning chores.

Sweeping inside and outside, the floors and the hard packed dirt around each home. Sweeping the road. Washing of floors by hand with towels immediately red with dirt. Floors drying nearly as soon as they have been washed. Red brown dirt at every turn. Always sweeping and the sound of the well, pumping, pumping, pumping. Always children heard at school and here in the village.

A cow mooing. Water being used again, washing, is it clothes, a floor? Always washing. More roosters, chickens and then the bleat of goats, baby goats. Goats galore leaping and playing and seeking their mothers out. I look up and there is a lost goat in my room. Are you here for me or can you catch the rats living in my room which I hear at night? Outside bunnies hopping across the path. Wait now it’s turkeys strolling through the middle of the Children’s Village.

Digging, banging – construction being done for more houses. Children – you can hear them in the school and then clammering for lunch. Laughing, playing games, sitting together under the tree. The smell of fires burning to make food all day long. It’s the end of the day – a school assembly under the tree. A sea of pink uniforms.

School is out and a stream of children in pink uniforms stream home and back to the Children’s Village. Bees buzzing, birds chirping, metal doors and cabinets clanging, blue with color and long in endurance. Boys doing their laundry together, girls as well. Laughter and raised tones from the older children for the younger to behave and act maturely. The clotheslines full of color at every moment. Then I smell charcoal for ironing clothes and newly washed sheets.

Children are sorting beans, finding the rocks, picking out shells. Herbs being dried and nuts being roasted. Children washing clothes, cooking posha and beans, eating with their hands. Football being played, bikes ridden, homework remembered and completed by solar lighting. Singing, a dance practice, washing, bathing, and laughing.

I look hard enough and I see a lizard on the wall in the girls room. Don’t step on the toad as you catch white ants to eat later. It’s a game and our arms hurt from helping children catch them, like money falling from the sky. They’re better than bubbles, grab them and enjoy them later.

Singing, dancing, laughing, playing cards, water pumping, washing, homework and the night begins to wind down.

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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.

Vermont Pure

I was staying with my parents for a few days this summer right around County Fair time. I love the fair, especially Maple Creemees (in Vermont a soft serve ice cream is called a Creemie, the spelling is negotiable). I also love Maple Cotton Candy, melt in your mouth heaven. However this post isn’t about the fair it’s about going to see my friend Val and her family. The maple delicacies recommends were a bonus added in as pure Vermont Maple products are amazing.

Val and I met at about age 4 or 5. We were both witches for Halloween and our hats seemed to get swapped. We could only determine who the owner was by the remnants of green hair that had attached itself to Val’s hat. I didn’t have a green wig, though hers was an excellent touch. Val and I more officially met when we started 1st grade together and remained classmates for the next 12 years. The first 6 years we were never in a class of more than 13 students so despite Val and I never being “best friends” we know each other well.

Val and I got together at her house. I didn’t ask directions, she has moved into her parent’s old home. I don’t know her address but know the road and that her lawn borders a pond where her 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son fish and look for turtles. They know the difference already between painted and snapping turtles and Val also probably learned this important information before starting 1st grade. On another side note, Val and her husband met because she was a single foster parent to a teenage girl. Her foster daughter gave her teacher Val’s number, a little lie about a requested call, some pursuit, and a marriage ensues.

When I think of the time with Val and her family an image comes to mind – purity. Imagine for a moment dirty children. Not the type that are necessarily caked in mud but ones who have been hard at work playing throughout the day. There have been hands washed, but where hands stop baths eventually must take over elbows, ears, and knees. Her son is bronzed from the sun and a shirt only dons his body when he needs it to walk into a store. Yet purity still comes to mind, especially when I think of her daughter. I’m told I witnessed the third outfit of the day. It was a long green dress with ribbons of pink and purple. Not quite a tutu but a similar material. She ran from back yard to front and insisted on showing me the flips she can do on her swing as her dress fell round her head. She hung upside down feet off the ground while Val seemed unfazed seeing it so many times before. Her older brother doesn’t do the same tricks but commented on how well she does them. Then this 4 year old wonder scampered to the back yard and came bounding back to show us her garter snake. This image I want you to imagine – a bronzed 4 year old girl in a green dress with a snake around her neck and hands petting it like a friend. The garter snake perfectly complements the green in her dress.

There was such joy for me knowing that she is doing what she loves. There is a purity her in her joy and living of life. There is purity in that she is learning and doing what she loves with no pressure from a culture that monetizes little girls’ dreams of a royal court. She doesn’t care that dresses can become dirty and aren’t really made for playing with snakes, turtles, and checking the fishing trap. She loves that she is good at swinging and is getting better at turning herself upside down. She loves snakes and even giving them a quick peck of a kiss before she releases them. When I think of purity and this time with Val I think about her kids and their motives being pure, their joy being pure, their curiosity being pure, and their love for their family being pure. When Jesus said “let the little children come to me” I’m going to imagine a little girl in a green dress with a garter snake to match.

Pausing to Smile

Life is most often at a full force pace. Some days my eyes are more open to the interactions and observations that make me smile and I pause to try and soak it in. Here are a few moments that made me wonder, ponder, and smile over the past few weeks.

Yarmulkes: I was driving to an appointment and initially confused about what I was seeing. I was following a car for a number of miles and the sunlight was shining into the car illuminating the guy’s head. He was wearing a yarmulke – but not just any yarmulke. It had an image of Bert (as in from Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street). It matched his vibrant tie-dye shirt and he was singing with the windows down. I didn’t know this was a trend and it made me smile.

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/23/style/lifestyle-the-yarmulke-is-now-a-fashion-item.html

 

 

 

 

 Tibetan Monks: On a Women’s World Cup semi-final day I met up with a friend for lunch. We were going to a sports bar which is next to the China Buffet. If you didn’t know the Tibetan Monks North of Boston are patrons of the China Buffet on Route 1. It made me wonder if the China Buffet was rated a few more stars than I originally thought. Maybe the Tibetan Monks are excellent food critics. I smiled and thought, where do they keep their wallets?

Evan and Seth: My college roommate Kasi, her husband Thor and 2 boys, Seth and Evan drove across country from Colorado. I made the 70 mile drive (to their 2700 miles) to meet them and visit Plimoth Plantation. Evan made a character of me on the game he was playing on his Nintendo DS. Upon asking me what weapon I wanted to use I responded “a sword.” The boys asked me why I picked a sword and I informed them I own a sword. Seth, age 7, informed us later that I’m the “coolest one” because I own a sword. Oh if it was so simple as owning a sword to be cool and loved by a boy. I love those kids. They make me smile.

I don’t always take a moment to pause to smile at simple statements or humorous thoughts but I desire to try and pause more often. Thanks for indulging me. What do you need to stop and pause for so you won’t miss it?

Cubicle Inspiration

 My office is moving this week.  My co-workers and I have been “hosted” at another site within the agency for over a year until reorganization of space occurred.  We will be moving to a new location and sharing space with a much larger state agency.  It is better for the clients we serve as we’ll be back in the city.  I will be leaving my windowless office with its door and moving back to cubicle land.  On the other side of the new building lies the ocean, that will not be my view, I do not have a window.  The rhythm of my work will need to change.  My door is non-existent therefore can’t be shut to my co-workers talk of retirement or to save them from my adventurous musical taste, podcast or Pandora listening.  I know they wouldn’t appreciate my music or voicemails I listen to on speakerphone.

There is a list or rules for our new cubicleville – don’t hang any pictures on the walls, don’t plug in any small appliances, and some rules about tape, tacks, and many others I am already concerned about.  In my other spaces, and the office I just left, I have put up very intentional pictures, quotes, and art that are reminders to me to keep my work in perspective.  I have loved my current bulletin board and white board – I look up and most often I gain a bit of perspective – it was very sad taking it down.  Other people post phone numbers, lists, reminders, etc.  I tend to post what inspires me.   I have been concerned about how I will make this new space one that inspires me to keep moving forward.   I have realized that a new set of headphones is needed sooner than later.   Here’s a glimpse of what I took down.

Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature.  C.S. Lewis

 

This quote is next to a “life is good” sticker and a picture of an important kid in my life who has transformed me…she has not always believed life is good.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.   – Anne Lamott

 “If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99 percent of the world.” Global Rich List as read about in The Hole in our Gospel  (www.globalrichlist.com)

 Children I have taken pictures of in Haiti, Moldova, and Mexico (these are just a few of many pictures)

Below is the picture of a man in Haiti and I love his smile and the TapTap behind him.  I know as I took it he was walking through a road with broken homes and businesses around him. 

 He wasn’t posing… there was joy in his step. 

I also keep a list of the Places/Trips I have been on in the past 10 years – to remind me that I’m not standing still – and usually I have on my whiteboard the next adventure to look forward to. 

 What inspires you in your office, kitchen, at your desk, or in your cubicle?

How do you keep your perspective and stay inspired? (possibly even in a  cube with lots rules and don’ts)

Celebrating Healing

I’m sure this will be one of many times I share about one of the young adults I work with. I wish for everyone to have a glimpse of their strength, struggles, and stories. As a social worker I’ve walked along some of “my kids” for 10+ years. One young woman who is dear to my heart, I’ll call her Beth, has a personal story that I explain this way…think of all the bad things that can happen to a little kid… that’s it. Due to the severe trauma she turned to self-injury. When a little kid finds self-injury and makes it her own personal way of coping it is a bit overwhelming. She did not hear about self-injury from a friend, at the lunch table, or on the internet, rather as an elementary age student she found a way to harm herself uniquely in a way that still makes me wince. 100’s and probably 1000’s of times she has tried to manage pain and memories. It is not exaggerating when I say that due to being removed from her family (safety-wise a good thing) and the subsequent care, but also trauma and treatment, she has had millions of dollars spent on her by the state… her surrogate parent. She did not find her way into a permanent home or family and by the time I met her at age 12 ½ they had stopped looking for a family (though technically they weren’t allowed to say this until age 14). I have been humbled to walk with Beth and she helped me grow. This past week I was visiting with her. She was feeling good and we were just shooting the breeze before we started a meeting. And then she said it . . . like we were talking about the weather . . . “Remember when I used to cut?” I looked at her and started laughing, she did too. Yeah, we both remember, it’s pretty hard to forget. There is not that much distance between the last time and our present day and I wonder if it will last. Today though I don’t want to miss celebrating…. she is healing. On the best of days Beth lets me into her world through her journal and some amazing talks. One of her life goals is to learn more about God and grow closer to him. This past year in simple faith she made a step to follow Christ. That story in and of itself is amazing (I’ll share another time). So Christ’s healing continues to come… and not just to Beth…and I don’t want to miss it. Beth has a long road ahead of her yet today I celebrate healing.

 

Treating Self Injury by Barent Walsh, PhD is a recommended book if you need more information on self-injury. Dr. Walsh is extremly knowledge and having sat in on an assessment I can say he is amazingly repectful and skilled.