Saturday, March 26, 2011

To talk or not to talk, which is the victory?

I just spent five days at a women's retreat in Kenya, held annually for East African missionaries. Before we left for the retreat, Mona Lee, the woman who would lead the teaching/discussion time, asked me to be part of a discussion she would facilitate on the topic of suffering. No problem, I replied. Except...there was a problem. As I counted down each day of the retreat, I realized that the discussion was going to take place on March 24th. Oh.

[For those of you who don't know me, the "suffering" I would be talking about was the loss of my son, Tai, fourteen years before, and some pretty difficult associated fallout, involving my grieving husband turning to cocaine, and my daughter and I eventually having to literally sneak out the back door one day to get away while he was sleeping.]

March 24th happens to be Tai's birthday. It's one of two days of the year during which I consciously avoid any stressor that might make me dwell on that time in my life. (The other being March 7th, the day he died.) And when I say "avoid any stressor," I mean it. Just visualize me like a little kid, closing my eyes and putting my hands over my ears, saying "lalalalalalala" nonstop for, oh, say, about twenty-four hours. Or maybe an ostrich, sticking my head in imaginary sand for a day. I used to take those days off work and spend the day in a hidden location. Well, perhaps not so much hidden as unfindable. It usually involved, if possible, my daughter and shopping and chocolate and the avoidance of looking at anything with the date on it.

Take my word for it, it's a wise decision on my part. For instance, at the women's retreat last year, I was blindsided by not one but TWO rather sad songs sung during the worship time, and I broke down so completely I had to leave the chapel. What day was it? March 24, of course. Talk about embarrassing. By the way, I neatly took care of that situation this year by asking the worship organizers to avoid singing those two songs. Of course, then I spent the whole worship session worrying if there was another song that might set me off. Oh, well. I was so busy brooding over that, at least I didn't cry. Whatever works, right?

Obviously, the thing to do here was swallow my pride, go to Mona Lee, and explain that not only would I not participate in the discussion, but I would not even be with the group during that session, and would instead be hiding out in my room listening to music with headphones so as to make sure NOTHING of that particular powwow wafted its way to my ears. (This, even though the dialogue would be held in a separate building a hundred meters away from my bedroom.) After all, what good would I be during a discussion on suffering if all I did was sob uncontrollably? Which would no doubt make all the other poor women suffer, but I don't think that's what Mona Lee had in mind.

Good, sensible decision. Whew. Glad that's settled. No problem. Except...there was a problem. It was the wrong decision.

Why? Because the one thing I have learned is that sometimes God has a reason for me to share a little about the plain old awfulness of that period. God is amazing and awesome, and he worked for his glory during the most heartbreaking, sad, even scary time of my life. And he worked for victory. Not all victories involve jaw-dropping healings or visions or amazing stories of wicked people becoming incredible Christians. Some victories involve just getting up every day and continuing to breathe in and out when you really don't want to even wake up. Some victories involve thinking you've lost almost everything and thinking that your ten years of prayer and fasting for your family have come to nothing, but deciding still to trust God. Some victories involve the quiet realization many years later that God answered your heartfelt prayers, and that someday your family will be completely reunited in heaven. And some victories involve being willing fourteen years later to sit in a room with thirty women on March 24 and risk making a fool of yourself so that you can tell them this.

To talk or not to talk. Guess which I did.

[But don't you all dare give me any special credit. Nope. Linda Tyler and Carol Maples, you were incredible in your openness and willingness to also talk about what had happened in your life and in your giving all glory to God. You are amazing women, and I was so blessed to hear you.]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sometimes it's hard to guess the ending

As we go forward with the work on the university, Satan is NOT sitting still. The team has been very aware for the past year that we are under attack. Sickness, lawsuits, attempts to break the unity of the team (both on the African side and on the missionary side), behavior issues that resulted in the loss of important members of the African leadership and staff -- the list just goes on and on.

Last Wednesday night, the missionary team went out to the land to have a pre-dedication dedication. We worshipped the living God ON the land itself, we spent some time in prayer, and then Phillip anointed the land with oil. As he poured the oil on the land, a gentle rain began to fall. To the Ugandan people, rain is a physical sign of blessing. It was as if God were taking the oil Phillip was pouring in one particular spot and multiplying it over the whole land.

The next day, the team (African and American) divided up to finish preparations for the official land dedication and also to work on the Churches of Christ National Meeting which was to start Friday in Mbale. As we were all busy with our tasks, we suddenly received tragic news: Simon, Jennipher Ndegemo's father (Jennipher is an African member of the team), was struck and killed while crossing the road out at the LIU land site. A young man with him was critically injured. In Uganda, there is no 911. It was up to members of the team to go out to the site, take the boy to the hospital (and make sure he got treatment), pick up the body of Jennipher's father, and take care of Jennipher and her mother as they now began to get ready for the funeral. All this while going forward with the other preparations. People were doing their work as they cried. No one doubted that this was an attempt by an angry Satan to stop the dedication.

Yes, the dedication went forward as planned. We stood on the land and again praised the living God -- this time with 350 people participating. Pastors preached. People sang and danced. There was much worship and praise. Phillip again anointed the land with oil. He then invited people to come forward to be anointed with oil and proclaim themselves ready to be set apart for God. So many people came forward that I began to wonder if the oil would hold out. It did.

The land dedication lasted until early Friday morning, and we all knew that God had had the victory that night.

But the story isn't over yet. No, indeed. Today, Shadrack, the guard who works out at the land, came to meet with Phillip at the office.

Shadrack had been plagued by a large snake -- "Oh, very large, very, very large!" -- out at the land. No matter how hard he tried, he could not kill that snake. Snakes, by the way, represent evil to most Ugandans (and I must say that I totally agree with them on that). On Friday, a few hours after the dedication ceremony ended, guess what happened. Shadrack finally killed the snake? No. The snake decided to leave the just-dedicated land. It began to cross the road.

The snake was struck and killed -- on the very spot that Jennipher's father had been hit.

Do I believe that was God's hand at work? Yes, I do. But that is not as important as the fact that every single Ugandan who hears the story will understand the symbolism. They will fear and reverence the living God who continues to make known that He is in control of the land and of the construction of LivingStone International University.

Sometimes it IS hard to guess the ending. But sometimes it's easy.

God wins.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Ceremonies and Celemonies

Part One: In Which I Ponder What I've Lost

There was an important ceremony held in Austin, Texas, a couple weeks ago: The baby dedication of Magnolia Jane Carroll, daughter of Jennifer and Jonathan Carroll, sister to Noah David Carroll, and granddaughter of Ron and Mary Carroll...and of Mary Beth Bodiford. So far I haven't seen a photo of the affair (probably because all the photo-takers were part of the ceremony), but I'm sure it was wonderful. I'm also certain the family celebration after the dedication was full of joy and laughter.

And I wasn't there.

Part Two: In Which I Ponder What I've Gained

There was an important celemony held in Kamonkoli, Uganda, a few weeks ago: The baby dedication of Tricia and Tracy, twin daughters of Benard and Juliet. ("Celemony" is how many Ugandans pronounce -- and spell -- the word "ceremony.")

I will tell you the whole story of the dedication some other time, but for now it is enough to tell you that I, along with Jennifer Ashlock and Emily Daw, was privileged to be a part of this important family celebration. I had the incredible blessing of being allowed to pray for Tricia and Tracy.

It was a wonderful day. A day of rejoicing with the Kamutono family as they committed their daughters to the Lord. A day of joy and laughter.

And I was there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How Did I Get so Lucky?

- or -

In Praise of Sons-in-Law
Named Jonathan
Who have a wife named Jenni
And a son named Noah

[For all of you who faithfully follow my blog (modest cough here), you may remember that last year about this time I wrote a shamelessly sentimental tribute to my daughter, Jenni, on the occasion of her birthday. I just reread it, and you know what? I can't improve on it. And it's all still true. So scroll down this blog until you get to October 2008 (if you're reading this on fb, you'll have to click on the link to my blog on my profile), get out your kleenex, read about wonderful Jenni, and then quick hop back here.

Are you back? Good. Okay, here we go.]

Like most parents, from the time my daughter was tiny I prayed about the man she would someday marry. Now I have talked to moms who had a shopping list of requirements they laid before God in regards to their future son-in-law. Intelligence, education, vocation, family background, hometown, sense of humor, favorite football team...
I don't remember getting that specific in my prayers. I prayed that Jenni would marry the man the Lord had prepared to be her husband. I prayed that she would marry the man for whom the Lord was preparing her to be a wife. I longed with all my heart that Jenni marry someone who really, really loved the Lord and really, really loved Jenni.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you ask God for something, he graciously gives you exceedingly more, pressed down, shaken together, and running over?

Let me introduce you to Jonathan David Carroll. He really, really loves the Lord and really, really loves Jenni. He works hard to take care of his family. In my book, that makes him a great son-in-law right there. But Jonathan has done so much more than that. Not only has he shown wisdom and sensitivity in accepting me into his life, he has often gone out of his way to make sure that I feel loved and welcomed into their family. Jonathan seemed to understand from the moment he married Jenni that there would be times that I would need -- well, a son, and he willingly stepped into that role, whether it was to offer a helpful male point of view when I needed advice, or to change that 12-foot-off-the-ground, burned-out light bulb in my townhome. Even now, sometimes I find myself sending a frantic e-mail or iChat message to Jonathan from Africa, asking for help with my Macbook or Jenni's birthday present. And he's always there for me.

But see, if that's all I say, I'm not really giving you a true picture of Jonathan, because in addition to all that, Jonathan just happens to be the coolest, funnest, best-sense-of-humor-est son-in-law in the whole world. He's talented, funny, and much too witty for his own good. Spend a day with Jonathan, and you'll never be bored.

Jonathan's birthday comes on October 22, exactly one week before Jenni's. So this year, when you give Jenni that hug and tell her that her mom loves her more than life itself, please give Jonathan a hug as well, okay? Tell him that Jenni's mom loves him and is exceedingly grateful that he is her son-in-law.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

So I guess Dr. Don's to blame?

It is 2
006. I am office manager at Brown Pruitt Peterson & Wambsganss, and I am in Don Ferrill's office, waiting to ask a question. He ignores me to finish reading something on his computer, so I shamelessly peek over his shoulder to see what is so engrossing. Ah! It's a newsletter from Phillip Shero, giving the highlights of the recent University Advisors' Summit held in Mbale, Uganda. I sigh. "Oh, how exciting! I would sure love to be a part of the work God is doing to build a university there."

It is 2009. Joy, Diana, and I are standing in a small booth (eventually to be a sound booth) at the back of Mbale of Church of Christ. In front of us are neat stacks of 50,000-shilling notes counted into one-million and five-million shilling bundles. We look out the sound booth window at the group of about forty landowners, mostly couples, who will be coming back to us in a moment to collect their money. But right now each person is waiting their turn to meet with Phillip and the solicitor to sign a contract selling their land -- land on which someday, as the Lord provides, LivingStone International University is to be built. I think of my wish three years earlier, and I think of where I am now. I sigh...

God is good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cleanliness ISN'T close to godliness?

(I'm sure it's in there somewhere. Try Proverbs 32.)

The longer I live in Uganda, the more I am humbled and awed by -- what? Western technology? I do appreciate cars and computers and the Risograph at MTI (and the technician who fixes it), but no. Electricity? I mean, where would civilization be without electricity? Yes, I love the sound of the refrigerator humming along and I do love that green Internet light glowing on the modem and I get really tickled by the fact that I'm communicating to you back in the States almost instantaneously from AFRICA, for goodness' sakes, but no, I don't spend a lot of time contemplating the wonder of it all. And I don't believe civilization is dependent on technology or electricity. Both Greece and Rome seemed to get along just fine without either satellite communications or Hummers.


I am becoming more and more entranced with water.

Just stop and ponder for a moment: How long would any person/family/town/state/country last if its water supply were cut off? Would people begin to die of thirst first? Or disease?

Or let's put it another way. Let's say you live one kilometer away from a water supply. Only one kilometer. About six-tenths of a mile. And you can have all the water you want from that water supply, but you must walk there yourself and take the water home in whatever kind of container you can make or can afford to buy. One gallon of water weighs eight pounds, which means that the five-gallon bucket you managed to buy and that you're proudly using to carry the water in weighs forty pounds. Every drop of water that you drink, cook with, wash clothes in, and clean house with has been carried by you in five-gallon, forty-pound increments from that water supply six-tenths of a mile away.

I'm sure you see where I'm headed with this. After you have saved out enough water to drink -- because you must have water to survive -- exactly how much water would you use to wash your rice and beans before you cook them? (And both rice and beans are quite dirty until they're washed.) How often would you feel it necessary to wash clothes? dishes? yourself?

And how good would you feel those rare times when you were able to be completely clean and still have a cup of water in your hand to drink? And how much easier would it be to think of spiritual things when you didn't feel, well, filthy? Okay, okay, so I know that "Cleanliness is next to godliness" isn't really in the Bible. But I think I understand the reasoning behind the equation a little better now.

Praise God, even though I live in a third-world country, I still have the marvelous gift of running water. But I watch people every day who do not. The mission team, as part of their efforts to serve the people of Mbale, offers a well for public use. The well sits just inside the grounds of Messiah Theological Institute, and it is very rare that you come to MTI that there is not a group gathered there, waiting their turn to get free, clean water. Today it was a group of children, pumping water to take home to their families.

(As always, click on the photo to get a high-res version.)

I tried to get an unposed shot, but the moment they saw the camera,
they all turned into little hams.

The writing on the ramp says,
"Let anyone who is Thirsty come to me. John 7:37"

Water is precious. Water is life. So is it any wonder that Jesus talked about water so much? And that he referred to himself as the Living Water? And is it any wonder that the people listening to him found that statement overwhelmingly attractive? To never have to go to the well again...

"Whoever drinks this water will thirst again,
but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give him will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
John 4:13-14

Thank you, Jesus, for being our source of Living Water.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Joys of Drudgery

This morning as I was drinking my morning tea and reading my Psalm of the day, appreciating the fact that I did not have to jump up and go anywhere for a few hours, it suddenly hit me: Power had stayed ON since I had gotten up, instead of the seemingly constant on/off/on/off of the past week or so. I turned on the kitchen faucet and - yes! - city water was on. Staying home + stable electricity + city water = LAUNDRY DAY!

I managed to get three and half loads done before Umeme (Uganda power company) decided that I'd had enough excitement and turned off the power. (My yellow load is condemned to sit in the dryer until power returns or until I hang it up in the bathroom to dry.) But still, three and half loads!

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of plenty of clothes. And thank you for the gift of a working washer and dryer. And finally, thanks for the gift of electricity and water.

Funny, it doesn't seem like drudgery anymore...