One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle was a lean muscularity of simplicity. Forget keeping up with the Joneses. You are the Joneses, when your kids are going to play with kids whose families (who may or may not be literate or have lost a child) live in one room, which may or may not have electricity and running water.
So people expect my light fixtures to, say, look like I swiped them from my church in the eighties. They anticipate that when I serve lemonade, it will cascade from an ugly plastic pitcher.
Perspective is everything.
Randy Alcorn explains in his (highly-recommended) The Treasure Principle, “The more things we own—the greater their total mass, the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.”
Honestly, if I were a weather forecaster, I should have seen this perfect storm whirling my way, shooting out a few lightning bolts. It was brewing for two weeks as my husband and I sprinted to keep up with the pace of American life, which still overwhelms us. (Me to him: “I don’t know how people do this well.” Him: “I’m not sure they do.”) As much as we’d thinned out the “must do’s” from the “should do’s”, the calendar was still practically leaning over with the weight of all that ink. Mix in more work deadlines than I have fingers, and my brain was starting to resemble mashed potatoes.
He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.
I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.
Like you, my heart is twisting as all eyes turn toward Hurricane Irma, which has already devastated the lives of so many in the Caribbean–and soon followed by Jose and Katia. With this morning’s earthquake in Mexico, the pummeling by Hurricane Harvey, and wildfires torching the West–pray with me for those torn from their homes and relying on the kindness of others for their next meal.
Victims of these natural disasters: We remember you, and we’re on our knees.
Readers: Will you pray with us?
Peace. Let them give all their anxiety and fear to you. As they trust you, guard their hearts in Your peace that’s beyond what makes sense (Philippians 4:8).
Provision. Please, care for their physical needs; their daily “bread”. Let them not worry about what they’ll eat or drink or wear, but trust that you see them and care deeply (Matthew 6:26). Let them seek you, and lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). In times of deep need or even when they have plenty, give them the strength to endure anything (Philippians 4:13).
Wisdom. There are so many decisions to be made when life has been shattered. Help them to move forward not in impulsive fear, seeking peace–but operating from peace and in careful wisdom. Help them know each next step as they seek you (James 1:5-6).
Trust. It can be hardest to trust you when we walk through overwhelming grief and loss. Show each person the tender, specific care You take of them, the small graces, and your personal remembering of them. Let them trust You even when you take away (Job 1:21).
Care and hospitality. Father, let them see you in every open door, every glass of water, every kind smile and gentle grasp. Provide love for them through friends, family, and strangers. Go before these victims of tragedy, paving their way in graciousness. Motivate your people to love generously, as an act of love to you (Matthew 25:34-40).
Restoration. Yours is a story of resurrection; of ultimately giving so much more than You ask of us. Restore the happiness and necessities taken by these disasters (Joel 2:24-26).
Refuge. Lord, be their hiding place and refuge, a constant presence and help in trouble. Intimately and personally let them know You are there with them (Psalm 46:1).
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After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatlyquietlyfaithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.
Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.
I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?
“Teacha!” He loped across the pavement to me where I stood shaded beneath the tailgate of my high-clearance minivan.
At 6’5” and change, he couldn’t fit. In fact, the two of us are a caricature of opposites. His skin is the stuff of 80% cacao chocolate. Parts of mine are Cinderella-white (though Africa worked hard to darken me permanently with sun spots). Like his Sudanese ancestors, he’s built like a marionette; still, when he throws that rangy arm over my shoulder, he dwarfs my genetically Swiss shoulders and barrel chest.
Right now, scooter wheels are rattling past my bedroom window. Ugandan kids are out of school—and once 3 PM hits, they know they’re free to knock at our metal gate. They pour in from the neighborhood, sometimes even slinging their legs over the shoulder-height brick walls to leap down in our yard. Though I admit to some sense of relief when holidays are over—there’s a part of me that loves our yard swarming with kids.
Scientist Jared Diamond’s quote remains perennially rooted in my mind:
I have heard many anecdotal stories, among my own friends, of children who were raised by difficult parents but who nevertheless became socially and cognitively competent adults, and who told me that what had saved their sanity was regular contact with a supportive adult other than their parents, even if that adult was just a piano teacher whom they saw once a week for a piano lesson. (The World Until Yesterday, p.190)
TobyMac sung that when love is in the house, the house is packed. There’s a magnetic quality to loving homes where you can practically smell the fragrance of Jesus as you walk up the sidewalk.
I’m already bracing myself for it, even as open duffel bags, plastic storage bins, and carry-ons line the walls of my house. Maybe the question will come at church, shaking hands as we walk in from the parking lot, or when we’re handing over a loaf of banana bread to a new neighbor (strategically timed before my kids’ Nerf wars propagate any noise violations).
“So, where are you guys from?”
Central Illinois. Arkansas. Texas. Oklahoma. Colorado. Uganda.
Nice to meet you! I actually have no idea. Do you have a different, easier question? Maybe ask how many kids we have. I have gotten that one right several times.
Home is such a nuanced, funky question right now. Perhaps an open duffel is just the metaphor for me. I feel transient. Half-packed. Misshapen. Awkward.
I was asked the other day what signified home to me, and…it took a little while for me to answer. While there are a few objects that have made it with us around the world—like the rest of us, home tends to be with the people I care about. Perhaps it’s a no-brainer that I’m a mzungu, a foreigner, here. But sometimes I feel just as much the mzungu in my “home” country. My mind seems to perpetually be working out, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4).
As returning to America spreads before me, the term Nile Perch out of water comes to mind. And truthfully, so does the term lonely.
But perhaps the opposite of lonely is what home is: a place where you belong.
C.S. Lewis’ words capture this exquisitely for me.
We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory…becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. (The Weight of Glory, 8 June, 1942, emphasis added)
When my husband and I first came to Uganda, I remember standing on a porch, overlooking the Nile as it rushed by steadily in the starlit dark. Hebrews 11 will always remind me of that night, when I decided to put all my eggs in an invisible basket. The Message puts it this way:
By an act of faith [Abraham] lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.
(Perhaps this explains why sometimes this work doesn’t bring tangible, number-crunching results: because it’s building an invisible city. This is what I hope.)
A friend and former missionary kid wisely told me this past weekend about one advantage of our overseas lives. She noted we truly understand that as lovers of Jesus, we are “foreigners and aliens in this world” (1 Peter 2:11). Her father told her that because Jesus is preparing a perfect place for us, nothing’s ever going to measure up here. We will always be longing to be more home.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
An orphaned Ugandan friend of mine is struggling with the new nationally-mandated identification cards. How do you find a birth certificate when you don’t have one? What if you were given a surname by the person who took care of you, and you now have to go and procure the “real” one the government will accept? As I think of her, I wonder what emotions this unsettles in that sludgy silt at the bottom of a girl’s heart. So tonight I put my arm around her: I want to let you know that you belong. You and me, we’re sisters. God says our spiritual ties are much thicker than blood (see Matthew 12:46-50). He says You belong with Him. He’s going to give you a new name. His name.
It was one of those moments where I felt a little sheepish, because maybe I should be listening to these words of comfort I was so eager to hand out. You belong, mzungu. You belong with Me. I am the Home you’ve been looking for all Your life. You’ve seen glimpses, but just wait till You get a load of the real thing.
And this is the verse that came to mind:
O Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1)
She learned to read and write in the last decade or so, when she moved to Kampala from her village in northern Uganda. But despite my college education, she has a lot to teach me.
When I visited her shared compound on Saturday, she couldn’t wait to show me inside her house. I had to comply looking into the toothy ivory grin parting that smooth, ebony face. And when I entered, I understood why.
My fridge is pretty much an explosion of Scripture printables. They’re also lining the sides of our bathroom mirror, the back of the bathroom door, and their bedroom doors. I find a lot of benefit in literally displaying verses on our doorposts (Deuteronomy 6)!
So today for Freebie Friday, I’ve got printable Scripture art for you, taken from Psalm 62:11-12.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.