A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Tag: Uganda (page 1 of 2)

No Place Like…

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?”

Um.

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)

You, God, are our home.

 

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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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For the Day You Feel Powerless, Part III: On Hope and Longing

Missed the first two parts? Grab I and II here.

When my husband and I were dating, he had this (irritating!) habit of asking what I wanted. Example:

Him: Where do you want to go out for dinner?

Me: I don’t care. [I really didn’t!] You pick.

Him, pulling over into a parking lot: No problem. We can just sit here until you know what you want.

See what I mean? Good grief.

Truth: I’m not great at knowing what I want. At least, not since high school. Before high school I knew what I wanted. But that’s when—due to some unhealthy insecurity and a mildly healthy desire to serve and surrender to what God wanted—I uncovered a great delight in pleasing. (My husband maintains that I can please with the best of them, but that lurking underneath is still a strong will to be reckoned with. He even goes so far to suggest that this strong will is attractive to him. I mean, can you trust this guy? Really?)

This has been gut-wrenching lately because when it comes to staying in Africa or moving back to the U.S., I actually did want something very much. I wanted to stay. And after giving up a lot of the things that don’t matter to me, it has at times felt almost a betrayal that God might ask me to give up one of the things that does.

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For the Day When You Feel Powerless, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

Last Thursday was one of those days that encapsulated so much of what I love and what drives me bananas about living in Uganda. I veered through jaw-clenching traffic on the 45-minute drive home, assembling all the clutter of my day into the appropriate mental file folders. This is quite a task to begin with–considering both a) my mind and b) at least four sudden oncoming governmental convoys. (Let’s just say mental “papers” kept being upended from their file folders by real life.)

As I do every week, I’d taught Bible at the refugee center. Even after three years, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole for me. There are so many cross-cultural experiences to make sense of at once that I’m flying by the seat of my skirt.

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Prayer in a Broken Christmas

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was walking against the wind so much of the day: straining uphill, my too-thin sweater tugged around me as I grimaced, head down. As my husband and I lifted down plates for dinner, I recounted the parts that made me want to tear my hair out. (Or maybe a small tuft of my children’s. …Joking.) In the course of things, I did remember some good points. Somehow, as I relayed them, they grew a little. I tucked my head with a smile.

He put his hands on my shoulder, leveled his hazel eyes with my blue ones. “I want you to know,” he said, “that you are incredibly blessed.”

Somehow, those words triggered that out-of-body sort of viewpoint I needed, to survey my life not from the perspective of loss, but of gain. Of beauty. Incredibly blessed?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I am.

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When Helping Hurts [You], Part III: When Aisha Died

helping hurts

The phone connection sounded a bit like Oliver, one of my closest Ugandan friends, was crushing newspapers on the other end; I held the phone an inch from my ear. But I didn’t miss what made my hand fly to my chest: “Aisha…she passed. It was just too late. Things were already too bad.”

Aisha. Perhaps you remember her from this photo, snapped from my phone two and a half months ago, outside a mud hut in the slums of Namuwongo. She’s the young mother of four kids. A twenty-something.

namuwongo family

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A Body Good: Naked Truth about Body Image

One of the sadder effects of my time back in the United States is my subtle and instantaneous body-consciousness. (This is not a cultural diatribe; I’ve got body issues.) Unpacking my jeans in the cheap hotel we checked into after flying in, I remarked to my husband, “Why is it that I just feel like I’ve gained 25 pounds?”

He shrugged. “Maybe because it’s so easy to gain 25 pounds while we’re here?”

Later I realized—nope. It’s because instantly—I must sheepishly admit image rises in priority in my mind. Yes, I am inundated with marketing, much containing women both airbrushed and well-paid to look both stunning and underweight. But, as I was recently reminded by my sister’s post, even the time to focus on image, or to work out, is a sign of all the excess I enjoy. Which means that in Africa, I have been fasting a bit from this fixation on modern instruction in beauty. It also means that the geometric shapes of my body are a little more appreciated.

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Hope in the slums: Finding God in Namuwongo

Sometimes it’s hard for me to locate the goodness of God in poverty.

A project with a Ugandan friend of mine, completing her counseling internship, had trailed me into the slums after her. In some ways the dry season made it more tolerable than I’d anticipated. The unnaturally-colored, stagnant water clotted with trash would soon rise bearing cholera, typhoid, and worse.

My heart and my senses were constantly scuffed to a raw alertness. The ten women our project was seeking to assist earned about 1500 shillings per day; about 50 cents. We ducked in their darkened huts, my rudimentary Luganda tripping over my tongue like my tennis shoes over the jutting paths outside.

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3 Reasons I Welcome Refugees (and Three Ways You Can, Too)

It’s World Refugee Day! Today I want to honor the struggle, courage, and hard work of refugees around the world who have so much to offer.

  1. Refugees give back.I’ll be honest with you: Some of my students have never sat in a classroom prior to their seat at Refuge and Hope. Their nations have been in unrest for too long. If you’re trying to stay alive, you usually aren’t sitting in school.

Many of them are learning to read for the first time. They are adjusting to a new culture and so many new ways of doing things; at least one of our Western-style bathrooms has a printed poster: Please don’t stand on the seats. They’re all learning English, business skills like computers or sewing or baking, and health skills. They’re taking Bible. Check it out here:

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If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

As I first stood just mildly observing at our recent refugee center staff retreat, I marveled at the full-bodied–literally!–movement and singing: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes. Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

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