Monday, October 23, 2017

Seasons

"To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the sun" Ecclesiastes 3:1

Our lives go through seasons. Sometimes we pass through a season that feels like fall. We feel like we're preparing for something else. Shedding what's not crucial in order to preserve our energy for what is coming next. At other times our lives may feel like they are in a season of summer- growth has already happened and we simple feel like we're enjoying the beauty of it all, coasting along and reaping the benefits of the previous seasons.

The past three years have been hard. A spiritual and seemingly physical season of the depths of winter (except, we were in Africa, so it was a HOT winter ;)). Seasons of winter are marked by darkness and a lack of new growth or new life. Our past season felt like one death after another. Death of dreams, death of the ability to use our gifts in the ways we had thought they would be used, death of ministry hopes.

On October first, three years ago, we arrived in Mundri, South Sudan. We flew on a 12-seat, propeller in the front Mission Aviation Fellowship plane from Uganda into South Sudan. I arrived slightly trembling. I had never been to South Sudan before, and here I was with Will and 8 trunks filled with, what was at this point, our only belongings. We walked into our tiny tukul for the first time, hopeful, but also terrified at how we would be able to call this place home for the next 5+ years.

We quickly grew to love the people in Mundri. They were full of joy and hope. They gave generously to us from the little they had and were surprised and so grateful when we gave something in return. They were genuine and so incredibly lovely. And we soon began to dream and hope of what our lives would look like in this town. We talked about how to turn our little tukul into a home we could bring a baby into. We planned where we went to church around what community would be easiest to walk to with a baby so I could interact with other mothers on a regular basis. We dreamed and hoped of what life would look like with this community.

And then we evacuated. And there was winter.

What felt like a death of a dream began. Suddenly these people we had come to quickly (in only 5 months!) love were now unreachable to us. Not only could we not be with them, but they were in danger and we couldn't help. Their deep winter was so tangibly felt by us as well. We wanted to help. We wanted to make things better and we couldn't. So we prayed and hoped for better days for them. For new breakthroughs spiritually in the hearts of the men causing the war. For provision and safety and health.

And then we went to Kijabe, Kenya and it was a sweet place to rest as we waited. We thought we were waiting to return to South Sudan. We taught at an incredible boarding school and we are forever grateful for that experience and being able to be connected to community at RVA. This reprieve was so good, but temporary. We knew it wouldn't last forever and our hearts longed to return to our friends in South Sudan. And in this time we mourned the loss of our first pregnancy. Another death. Another loss. Another reminder of darkness and sadness.

Our journey continued with times in Arua, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya and Fort Portal, Uganda. We met incredible people along the way and welcomed our first child into the world during this time (no small thing!!). We had continued hopes of new seasons. Hopes of settling in and finding a new ministry field, a new place to call home and community to call family. But nothing clicked. We thought it would. We hoped and prayed that our last placement would be it- but it was very clear that it was not where God wanted us long term. We were left confused and oh so tired. Why, Lord? Why did you give us hopes of a new team and a new community and then make it clear we weren't supposed to stay? Why did you have us bring a new baby to a new location in Africa if this isn't where you wanted us long term? Why did we have to go through this struggle and disappoint people when you had other plans that you knew of all along?

We didn't know any of the answers, but winter continued. We settled back in the US with the burden of those questions burning deep. The unknowns were so difficult to grapple with.

And then something shifted. As always, when something shifts spiritually in me, I can't point to anything I've done or prayed or read that has made the change. It's always supernatural. It's always something the Lord has done on my behalf, regardless of my faithfulness or lack thereof. A cloud was lifted and suddenly the answers to those questions didn't matter as much as the hope that it was actually going to be okay. We were actually okay. In the midst of the prolonged season of darkness and sadness- we were okay. Despite it all, we deeply knew in our hearts that God was good and even though answers weren't coming, they suddenly didn't matter as much anymore. Our deep understanding of God's goodness in our lives and stories was far more meaningful than having all of the answers to the "why's".

Thawing started. And slowly, slowly, it felt like new growth was coming. New growth isn't always easy and comes with it's own set of pain and difficulty, but it brings along with it hope. Hope of new things, hope of beauty and of thriving.

And this is where we are now. We are hopeful. We don't know how all of the pieces of our past three years fit together yet. We still feel great sadness at times, often, for what could have been. But we're hopeful. We're expectant of seeing evidence of the new life and growth that is still to come. We're hopeful that the pieces will fit together eventually, but in the meantime, the journey is still beautiful. We're hopeful that our Good Father is still at work, as He always has been. Making all things beautiful. Bringing life up from the dry ground. Remaining consistent even as seasons change. Remaining faithful as we sort through disappointments and hopes and losses and joys.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jumbled Thoughts (Reed Update)

Woah, it's been way too long since I've written. Honestly, it's been on my mind almost daily. I have known there has been a large gap on the blog from what was to what is now... but I have had no idea how to put words to the in between. Every time I have considered actually sitting down and filling that gap, I've felt a knot in my stomach. Where to being? How do I put words to something that is still so much in process? Here's my first attempt to do that. Hopefully more words will flow soon...

Will, Ellie and I have been in the States on our home assignment for 5 months now. Next week is the week we were set to return to Uganda. It is when we planned on packing up everything again, saying the difficult goodbyes and diving back into the life we have set up in Fort Portal.

However, while we have been back in the States, God has made it clear to us (through prayer and the wisdom of others who have walked this road before) that we need to return full time to America. We are officially moving back to the States again. And officially leaving life in Africa... again.

Ellie has been sleeping in a Pack N' Play her whole life. Literally since the day she came home from the hospital in Kenya, she has slept in a portable bed. We bought her a crib in Fort Portal, but never got around to setting it up before we came back to the States for our break. This week, for the first time in Ellie's 14 months of life, we are planning on setting up a crib for her. The fact that we will probably end up setting up Ellie's first "permanent bed" the same week that we were supposed to be returning to Uganda has been hitting me hard. It has brought on a paradox of emotions that we are overwhelmed with sadness to be leaving Africa, but also relieved to finally feel like we can "settle" somewhere.

The past three years has been a whirlwind. Three years ago we were about to leave for South Sudan. Five months later, we evacuated and went to Kenya. From there we were in Arua, Uganda, the US for a couple months, Arua again, Kenya to give birth to Ellie and then Fort Portal, Uganda. With each move, we were expecting to find home. We were hoping to find a long-term ministry site. A place where we could fully invest in those around us and build community- a community that we hoped to live with for years. We were looking for a place where we could live out of our giftings- where we could use the passions God has given us to further his Kingdom.

For some reason, we didn't find that. Or, we did, but we weren't able to stay in the places in which we found that in. We can't explain it and we really don't understand why things happened the way they did. One thing we have learned through all of this is to stop trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. It's not for our small minds to try to grasp. What we do know is God is good. I don't mean that as a cliche. I'm done with cliches. I mean it from the depths of my bones. I say it because I've seen it. I've seen His goodness in the midst of much struggle. I've seen His grace when there has been nothing else to hang onto. So instead of asking "why", we're finding that it's much more helpful to ask, "what now, Lord?". "How will You use all of this and where do you want us to go from here?" Even still, we don't have answers. But we're continuing to seek and ask.

I realize this is just a long, jumbled mix of thoughts. But honestly, this is where we are right now. We are still very much "in process". We know where we've been, but we're still trying to figure out where God is taking us next and how He's using what we've been through.

Hopefully more words will flow soon. In the meantime, please pray for us. We are settling back into "American life" in Bloomington, IN. We still have many unanswered questions, but we're eagerly seeking His direction and guidance as to where to go from here. Thanks for sticking with us throughout our journey and for continuing to pray.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

We Don't See You

I was holding Ellie on a flight the other day and the flight attendant said, "Wow, she's so cute! You know, when people see her, they don't even see you! It's like you're not even there." To some, this might seem offensive, but I was thrilled. I was having a day where I hardly had two seconds to get myself ready, so I looked frumpy and tired. The thought of people only seeing my cute baby when they looked at me was a relief!

But this comment got me thinking. What I really desire is that when people look at me, they see God. They see His love, His generosity, His power. My hope is that my frumpiness and messiness wouldn't get in the way of people seeing the Father in His glory when they interact with me.

Lately, I have felt like a mess. And if I'm totally honest, I've been one. I (still!) haven't been sleeping, can't seem to get out of the house much because of Ellie's nap schedule and generally feel chronically frazzled. But you know the beauty of the gospel? It's that God choses to use messy, tired, frazzled vessels for HIS glory and HIS good.

So, I come as I am. Frazzled and all. And I pray that simply but showing up. By showing love and care for the person set in my path for the day, that God would be seen. That His love would trump my mess.

And at the same time, I stand in gratitude. I'm grateful for my frumpy, messy, tired season. Because without a doubt, I know that I have nothing to offer on my own. I am nothing special to see right now. BUT, by reflecting the King, but sharing the love of Christ, I actually have someone to give those around me. I'm grateful for the reminder that He is enough, even (or especially) when I'm confronted with my messiness.

My prayer is that just like when people ew and aw over a cute baby and totally ignore the person holding that child, that people would also be drawn to the strong, capable and omniscient love of Christ despite the vessel that is carrying His Spirit.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

You Have to Stop

This week someone on our street died. It was an old woman who had been sick for "either 4 months or 4 years" one friend told me. It seems like there has been a funeral on our street every few weeks. We'll see cars gathering and more foot traffic than usual and then be told that "so and so" passed away. Honestly, I don't think much of it anymore.

On Wednesday, I had a language lesson. My language helper, Mary, told me that after our lesson she was going to attend the burial for the grandmother on my street (different area than where she lives) who had died. I responded with, "Oh, I'm so sorry, did you know her?" She laughed and said, "No, but when someone dies, you have to stop".  She intended on sitting for the burial for a woman who she had never met, on a compound that she had never been to before. She would stay there for hours to support the family- a family she doesn't even know.

When she told me this I continued to pry. I asked her why she would spend her whole day at a funeral for someone she didn't know. She went on to explain that in this culture, it's a way of paying respect and showing the family that you care and are supporting them in their loss. She said you can even just go and sit for 5 minutes, but you should never pass by a house where there is a burial without stopping to give your condolences. She was floored when I told her that in America, it would be unheard of to attend a funeral for someone you didn't know or weren't connected to at all.

You guys, I've walked by many compounds where funerals were going on and haven't stopped. I had no idea I was supposed to. To my Western mind, I thought it would be incredible strange to walk onto someone's property while they were in the middle of a funeral service and just join in. That seems very odd to me- rude even.

However, as soon as she told me this, I knew I needed to attend the burial. Now that I knew it was viewed as rude to not stop by a burial, I was eager to start participating in this part of culture- as a way of showing the people on our street that I care and want to be included in their lives.

So Ellie and I joined Mary and we sat. It was nothing special. We greeted an uncle to the woman who died and then we found an empty chair and we talked with those around us. It seemed like most of the people we were sitting by probably didn't know the woman either. But they were present.

As we were leaving, Mary told me that the uncle was very grateful that I came. She said I made the family very happy. Really? I didn't do anything. I didn't give money for the burial or even go in the room to pay my last respects (I made sure it was okay to go not in since I didn't know the woman, Mary didn't go, so it seemed safe to follow suit ;)). But I was there. And for some reason, that mattered to the family and the whole community.

At first I was really embarrassed about all of the other burials I haven't attended and about the fact that the people on our street probably think I'm rude for walking by events and not stopping to attend. However, then I realized how grateful I am that Mary told me. The worst part about being culturally unaware is... never being made aware! So I'm thankful that now I know. So, if you need me, I'll be funeral hopping from now on ;).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Somehow Okay

One thing that has fascinated me since we first moved to Africa in 2010 is how different English can be around the world. We feel privileged that we can speak English to most people here in Fort Portal and they will (mostly) understand us. However, we have learned to modify the way we speak and the phrases we use quite a bit. Here are some examples.

Phrases that to use mean absolutely nothing, but are somehow acceptable answers to questions here:
"I'm going there..." As in the response to "where are you going?" In America, our next logical follow-up question would be, "Um, okay, where is "there??" But here, when people hear the response of "I'm going there" They simply say, "Okay, bye!".

I learned this one on one of my many walks with Ellie. People would often ask me where we were going and I would struggle to explain where we were walking to in simple English (most of the people asking only speak a couple small phrases in English). Eventually I started asking children where they were going (since that is an understood English phrase in the area) and the response was "I'm going there..." with a nose point in a specific direction. This response made me laugh because it seemed so vague, but I started using it when people would ask where I was going, and people would simply nod and tell me goodbye.

"I'm doing something" This is similar to the vagueness of "I'm going there". If you are working on something or doing something you don't normally do and someone asks "What are you doing", it's perfectly acceptable to respond with, "I'm doing something...". You will most likely get a response again of, "Okay. Bye!". The other day I was opening Jenna's gate with keys and someone asked me what I was doing. After replying with "Something", they simply walked away. Good thing I don't look too suspicious, I guess! hehe

"I'm somehow okay" or in South Sudan, "I'm a bit somehow" This really means, "I'm not doing very very well", but when said as "I"m a bit somehow" people usually just respond with "Oh, sorry" and then move on in conversation. It's a way of acknowledging that you're not doing great, but without really having to explain why.

Phases with different meanings than we are used to:
"It's okay" as in the response to, "Would you like some water?" In the US, if someone responds to that questions with "It's okay", it means no, I'm fine. Here, it means, "Yes, please!"

"I will come at 3:00" 3:00 really means 9am. Blog readers, this completely blew my mind the other week! I realized I had misunderstood something about this culture for the whole 7 months we've been here! The people here use 7am as the starting point for time and for the day. So after 7am, they count the hours up. Therefore, 8am is "2:00", 9am is "3:00", etc. Usually, they only do this to other Rutooro speakers and the more educated people will say the "clock times" when speaking in English, however, that is not always the case. The other day our day guard told us that he needed to bring his son to school and he requested to come at 3:00. We said it was fine, but were really confused when he showed up the next morning at 9am. This is when we discovered that 3:00 is really 9:00... good thing that's  not utterly confusing ;).

"You've been lost!" I wrote about this phrase recently, but it means, "You haven't been here in a while". It's another way of saying, "I've missed you and have noticed you haven't come here lately. Has everything been okay?" Usually it is expected that you will explain your absence. For example, when we travel and then return, the people at the grocery store will say, "Ah, my friends, You've been lost!" and our response is, "Yes, we have been, we've been in Kampala".

It's always an adventure figuring out what different phrases mean! I've learned the best way to discover if I'm understanding people correctly is look at their face when I respond. If I'm totally off base with my response, their face will be quick to show it. This is when it is time to ask, "Wait, what do you mean by that?" It's always a learning experience!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

We are in Kampala this week running errands and doing paperwork/ doctors appointments. Today we had the privilege of spending time with three South Sudanese friends. Rina Bismark, the wife of Bishop Bismark, the Bishop of Mundri. We lived next door to the Bismarks when when lived in Mundri and have kept in touch with them since evacuating. Mama Penina and her husband were also able to come today. Mama Penina is the leader of the Moru church in Arua that we partnered with while we were living in Arua last year.

It was such a joy to catch up with these friends today. It's always interesting because it never takes more than about 5 minutes in these visits to hear devastating news. Today, that news was the death of a woman from the Moru community in Arua. She was traveling to a funeral in Juba and was shot by a soldier while she was sitting on a bus. She was holding her young baby and the baby was also shot in the leg. The woman died three days later, but the baby was okay. The devastating news is never-ending. There are always stories of deaths- either directly connected to the war (being shot by soldiers) or indirectly (sickness, but not being able to find basic medicine because of inflation or a lack of availability due to fighting). It goes on and on.

During the conversation, we talked about the need for Christ to change the hearts of the people in the government in order for true peace to come to South Sudan. Mama Penina's husband said that he and the other elders of the church in Mundri held peace meetings after the main fighting last year. They got together and publicly forgave the soldiers who had come in and destroyed their homes, businesses, families, etc. He said that by speaking forgiveness, they were releasing these men in their hearts. They wanted them to know that they no longer condemned them and they saw them as forgiven. He said this was a way to show them that Christ also forgives them and desires a relationship with them.

I was blown away.

These are the men that caused them to hide in the bush with their small children and old grandparents for weeks on end. These are the men that ignited fear in their hearts and caused their bellies to be empty. They stole everything they had and destroyed the rest just because they could.

But they forgave them.

They wanted them to know they were released from condemnation.

Men like Penina's husband are why I still have hope in South Sudan. God is moving through people like this. God is using His people to show His love to those in desperate need of it.

The issues in South Sudan right now are completely man-made. Two men are the cause of thousands of deaths, huge gaps in education (kids having to be out of school due to fighting), lack of food (people away from farms during planting season because of fighting), etc. Pure evil.

We have a God who is powerful enough to work in even the most stubborn and ill-intended hearts.

My prayer for South Sudan today is that more people would be willing to stand up through the power of Christ and work of the Holy Spirit and forgive their perpetrators of the evil they have done and are doing. I pray that in doing so, hearts would be completely changed and the gospel would take root in the place where evil once reigned.

I don't say this lightly. Forgiving such atrocities is not easy to do, and definitely nothing that can be done on our own accord. But that is exactly why true forgiveness can lead to reconciliation- because it is not something we can muster up by our own strength. It takes the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When we are able to forgive, it opens up the opportunity to share about the One who forgave us of our own sin and evil.

Please join us in praying for South Sudan. Pray that as most of the missionaries have been forced to leave due to the fighting, that God would continue to rise up South Sudanese Christians who will take a stand for peace, forgiveness and grace. Pray that God would continue to protect His people and strengthen them for the work He has prepared for them. The stories are devastating, but our God is stronger and our God is able.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I've Been Lost (Returning to Gratitude)

In Uganda, if you haven't seen someone for a long time you tell them, "You've been lost!". This is a way of saying, I've missed you and I've noticed you haven't come here for a long time. If you have been traveling or haven't been somewhere in a while, you can say, "Sorry, I've been lost!" as a way of acknowledging your absence.

So, blog-followers (aka: Mom ;)), I've been lost! It's been a busy season with welcoming Jenna to Fort Portal and having her live with us, and we have been dealing with some major sleep issues in our house, so all of that lends itself to not easily finding time to blog. However, if I'm totally honest with you, I also just haven't known what to say.

It's been a hard season. We were hoping to finally find a place to find our footing and thrive when we settled on moving to Fort Portal, but that hasn't been the case yet. In general, we're just very weary. However, having new team members here and getting to live life with them and with Pat has been a huge bright spot in this season. We are so grateful for team. We are excited about the team God has placed here in Fort Portal and looking forward to seeing what he does through each person on the team.

A verse that God gave me after our season of evacuation and a miscarriage last year was,
"Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." Psalm 116:7
In this season where we were hoping to feel settled and able to put down roots, I'm reminding my soul to be at rest even in the disappointment. I'm remembering all the times God has been good to us before, and recounting daily the ways He IS good even now in this season.

Taking the phrase, "I've been lost" to heart, it reminds me to think of all the ways I get distracted by difficulty and allow it to lead me astray. I believe the way we return back from being "lost" is through gratitude. When we get stuck in the daily difficulties we are facing, it causes us to look at ourselves and feel depressed and disappointed. However, in the midst of disappointment and struggle, when we can recount the ways we are thankful, it returns our gaze to the Creator. When we acknowledge the giver of the good things in each day, it reminds us that He cares for us in the little things and therefore is also present in the big things of life, even in our circumstances don't convince us of that at the moment.

Ellie with "Aunty Beth"
One current example of this in our lives has taken place this week. On Saturday, a good friend of ours, our neighbor and Jenna's landlord, passed away from breast cancer. Beth was one of the first people I've connected to her in Fort Portal and we had discussed getting together regularly to fellowship together and pray together. I was really looking forward to getting to know her more and having a prayer partner across the street. My heart was so heavy when we heard she passed away, and it is still heavy now. Beth was an incredible woman and loved by many people. She loved Jesus and was a person of peace and truth to others. I wanted to sit in my sorrow over her death. I wanted to allow it to be another reason why this has been a hard season. I wanted to use it as an excuse to be sad and discontent. However, although I am extremely sad about her death, it has also been an opportunity for me to praise the Lord for the depth of relationships we have already been able to form here. I'm grateful that I truly felt like I knew Beth. We've only been here a few months and I already had a friend that felt like a family member. When I went to pay respect to her family, I recognized many people there and knew a lot of them by name. I'm grateful for this community. My gratitude in no way covers up my sadness of Beth's death. I am still mourning her loss and wishing I had more time with her. However, my gratitude points me back to the Creator. It reminds me of His gifts in the midst of the challenges.

So, friends, I hope I will not get lost again. Meaning, I do hope to blog more regularly ;), but also that I will always have a heart of gratitude, despite my circumstances. My prayer for myself, and all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, is that gratitude will be our default- so that even when life gets hard, our hearts remain steadfast on the Creator.