Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Picture of Jesus

I’m 9 years old, lying in my bed with the blanket of darkness wrapping me snuggly. Many children are afraid of the dark, but not me. It’s the fear of something more sinister that has me paralyzed beneath the covers: demons. I’ve heard stories about them: people seeing them, hearing them, watching objects around the house be moved by them. I peek open one eye towards the door. I’m sure that any moment the form of a demon will appear in the doorway, and a chill runs down my spine. My only small comfort is the form of my sister, Melinda, curled up in the bed beside mine. Her presence brings temporary relief, and I fight to fall asleep in that moment. It’s this way every night. My fear of going to the bathroom at night and walking the halls in darkness surrounded by the spirits of darkness. My steps racing up the stairs to my bedroom, unable to simply walk in the darkness. My cover pulled high over my head, fighting to shut out any hint of demonic activity. At least in the day, I have the company of my family to chase any fear away. In the darkness, I’m left to battle the fear alone.

I’m 13 years old, sitting under the teaching of my Gaga (Dad’s mom) as she proclaims God’s truth about fear. God says time and time again,
 Do not fear.
 Do not be afraid.
 Perfect love casts out all fear.
My spirit is convicted,  and I cry out to the Lord confessing my fear. That marks the beginning of months of nightly fear, confession, and begging the Lord to take this fear from me. I constantly remind myself that, He Who is in me is greater than he who is in the world. I speak the words again to myself: do not fear for I am with you, I will never leave you or forsake you. But the fear still comes, creeping down my arms and legs, and numbing my mind. The next night, I decide anew, And I force my legs to walk slowly up the stairs in the dark.  But the exercise in self-control still does nothing to still the panic of fear demanding my legs to run.

I’m 14 years old, and it’s a supremely dark night, with not even a sliver of moon showing itself through the windows. Once again, I flip off the light at the bottom of the stairs, determined not to bolt up to my room. I force my steps one by one by one up each stair. There are sixteen of them. I’ve reached around number 7 when the fear shoots through my body afresh, and I stand paralyzed. My mind cries out the Lord, desperately pleading, Please Lord, I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to sin against you in this fear. Please help me not to be afraid. In that moment, my eyes sealed tightly shut, my mind is filled with an picture of Jesus. He’s dressed as a shepherd in shining white robes, and the light surrounding him surrounds me too. Saying not a word, He reaches out His hand to me, and grasping mine in His, walks me up the stairs. The light of His presence fills me with comfort and serenity. That night I sleep in perfect peace. And each night after that, when the fear starts to grip my heart again, the Lord brings that picture back to my mind. It’s my constant reminder that He is with me. Really, and truly with me. And His presence makes the presence of even demons irrelevant.

Just before I moved to Africa, I was looking at cross-stitch patterns on Amazon. Curious, I clicked on one and the image of a shepherd, with a baby lamb tucked in one arm and many more gathered at His feet, filled my screen. Tears filled my eyes as I realized the similarity of that picture to the one in my mind all these years. It wasn’t exactly the same, but similar enough to bring back to mind all the promises the Lord had given and fulfilled night after night. Mom ordered it for me that week, and my whole first year in Uganda I worked on it stitch by stitch until it was finished. Today, it hangs in my room as a reminder of my Lord’s faithfulness and enduring presence.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
 Isaiah 41:10

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
 Isaiah 41:13
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
 Joshua 1:9
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Proverbs 3:24
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27
 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Sunday, July 14, 2013

News, News!

One of the things my kids love to do in school is tell ‘news’. Each day during the appointed time, one by one the kids jump up front like popcorn singing out, “News, News!” All of the other students chime, “Yes please, tell us!” Then they can tell about things like what they ate for supper the night before, if their cousin is visiting, what they did on school holiday, ect. It’s a fun way to get them out of their shells, teaching them stage presence and improving their English.

Well today it’s my turn to tell the news! These past months have been so full, I never really had a chance to catch my breath until this past week when a nasty head cold landed me in bed for  a couple days, and rest was no longer voluntary. But the upside of that is a chance to finally put pen to paper!

My 6 weeks in the States were a whirlwind, as I knew they would be. I’m hoping to do a longer post about my brother’s wedding, so stay tuned!

I arrived back in Uganda with a team who were an absolute joy to be with! During their time here, Pam did a mini-teachers’ training with all of my teachers, which they so enjoyed! Meanwhile other team members took over the teaching duties, managing all 63 of my mischievous, overexcited bundles of energy quite successfully… language barrier and all!! I was so grateful for the fresh vision for the teachers and new practical tools for them to help the kids learn faster.

We also had the joy of loading the team, all 32 of our primary kids, and our primary teachers to go ‘on tour’. aka FIELD TRIP!! We drove 2 ½ hours away to Jinja where the kids got to tour the candy making factory at Kakira Sugar works. It was the farthest almost all of them had ever travelled in their lives, and the journey itself was almost as exciting as the tour. Almost. 

The tour was awesome. Kids+candy=timeless bond. I know the best part for them was entering the last room where lines of ladies sat hand-wrapping ‘sweeties’ in cellophane. As the kids passed by, the ladies would pour handful after handful of sweeties into eager little black hands and pockets opened wide. It was a miracle that the boys’ shorts, heavy laden with sugar, managed to stay in place on the walk back to the bus. 

My favorite part was watching their faces. (since I can’t say I’m too eager to ingest the sweeties after seeing the sanitary conditions they were made in…..:) ) I have a feeling that the looks of unbelief, ecstasy, wonderment, and sheer happiness were a tiny glimpse of what our faces will show entering heaven. Watching them, so many parallels raced through my mind: The long journey of anticipation with only the slightest idea of the pleasures waiting in store for us to enjoy. The bounty laid out in front of us, and all not because of our own merit, but the  kindness and generosity of Someone who delights in our pleasure. The inability to contain all the riches we are offered. And the chorus of thanks offered up as a result. My tiny glimpse of heaven for the day!

Last week I also got to make another trip to watch the graduation ceremony of my good friend, Sharon. After a long test of patience, endurance, determination, diligence, and faith in the Lord’s provision, Sharon completed her studies and graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Social Development. If we think getting our BA is a challenge in the States, it’s triply so in Uganda. Sharon comes from a very poor family, that has sacrificed even more for the sake of helping her complete her studies. That struggle made for quite a day of celebration! Celebrating Sharon and her hard work, but even more celebrating the faithfulness of God in bringing her to this point. I felt so privileged and blessed to be with her.

And the last bit of news for now….I got a new roommate!! Coming home, I found the house empty: both of my previous roommates having returned to the States. God knew I would need company, so He brought Callie J Callie will be staying with me until November, and I’ve determined to cherish my time with her for as long as she’s here. 

 Callie, Me, and Natalie
Sometimes, it’s hard when my life is filled with so many short-term relationships. So many visitors come here for a couple weeks, a couple months, or sometimes even a year. But very few stay longer than that. It’s a temptation sometimes to give up on those relationships before they start. To try to protect myself from the pain of saying goodbye to yet another friend I’ve grown to love. To refrain from pouring time, love, and effort into those relationships simply because they’re going leave again. But the truth is, I am called to love. Wholly, fearlessly, selflessly. To give wholeheartedly in each moment to each person Jesus brings into my life. After all, even Jesus’ disciples had were with him for only 3 years. But I know for sure Jesus loved them better in those 3 years than anyone else could have loved them in a lifetime. So I’ll continue to pray for not my love, but Jesus’ love in each friendship and relationship He brings my way. And I’ll keep deciding to make the most of the moments I do have with people….like dear Callie!