What I’m learning about death…

If you had asked me a few years ago what my biggest fear was, I probably would have said, “My parents dying.” Which, if you think about it, is a dreadful “biggest fear” to have considering it will inevitably happen. My biggest fear will come true. My parents WILL die.

While it’s clearly still nothing I look forward to, my views on my parents dying, or anyone close to me for that matter, have drastically changed.

I would guess that I’ve been to about the average number of funerals in my 35 years of life so far. I’ve buried three grandparents and been to the funerals of plenty of family friends.

72057898_130951453673I’ve experienced two funerals that came from tragic deaths. One was that of a 16-year-old I knew who was shot, simply for defending his sister in an argument. The other was for my 23-year-old cousin Rebekah, whose wedding we had all attended a mere nine months earlier. The same family and friends who celebrated her nuptials gathered in the exact same church to say our unexpected final goodbyes.

There’s no question that death brings pain. We’ll miss the person.  We want more time with them. The list goes on and on. Death sucks. It’s difficult for those of us left behind.

And the number one thing “they” say you aren’t supposed to say to someone after a death is, “He/She is in a better place.” Although true if the person was a Christ follower, it doesn’t seem to soften the blow of the death of a loved one. It’s like trying to put a positive spin on someone’s death.

About a month ago I started a new job as the marketing director for a local nonprofit that serves the homeless by providing them food, shelter, and long-term programming. I had been a volunteer there for almost two years prior to that, and there were a number of residents I grew to love. One of them was Cortez.

Cortez was a total sweetheart. He often sat at the front desk and greeted me when I came in to serve breakfast each week. He would tell me about his latest job, and he always asked how I was doing, and always, always greeted me by name.

After an outstanding first day at my new job, late that night I received an email that Cortez had died. I didn’t know how to react. The next day at work people were visibly shaken and upset. I felt the same, but didn’t want to show it too much considering these people knew him on such a deeper level and saw him every single day for years. But on the inside, I was hurting so much.

That same day we had an all-staff meeting with a previously scheduled speaker who was a local pastor. He said many wonderful things to us as we mourned Cortez’s death. He told us that it’s OK to miss him, it’s OK to cry. And he never said, “Cortez is in in a better place,” but he did say this:

“If you for one second think that you are in a better place right now than Cortez, you’ve got it all wrong. He is the one who should feel sorry for us. Things couldn’t be better for Cortez right now.”

I felt like I’d been smacked, but in a good way. Talk about a wake-up call. It didn’t take all the hurt away, but it certainly gave me something to think about. And it certainly gave me perspective. In short, it’s changed everything for me when I think about death.

For most of my life I have feared death. At times it was because I wasn’t sure if I loved God enough to make it to heaven. Other times it was because I feared the process of death and how much it would physically hurt. Other times I feared it for those I love most.

It will sting, it will hurt, it will make me miss them like crazy, but when my parents die, they will be so much better off than I will be. They’ll be in a place without ANY pain and suffering. It’s impossible for us to imagine, but if you’re a Christ follower, you know it’s true.

10366073_1108747122478765_2903832708728791301_nThis weekend we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Christ after He died on the cross for our sins. This is exactly why we don’t have to fear death. We don’t have to question what happens after our time on earth is over. As Christians, we know that this life is nothing compared to what it will be like in heaven with Jesus.

Please keep it in the back of your mind that when a fellow believer passes on, do not be sad for that person. Don’t for one second think that you’ve got it better than they do.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

 

Terror threats: it’s different when you’re there

Screenshot_2014-09-14-07-59-09I’d been in Uganda less than two months when the first email from the U.S. Embassy arrived in my inbox in 2013. The Nairobi terror attacks were ongoing, and we were in the country next door. Our military was serving in Somalia, just as Kenya’s was. And that’s why they were attacked.

It was made pretty obvious that Uganda was next on the list.

It was scary. We have had varying levels of “terror threats” here in the United States, but I’ve never received an email from the government telling me to be careful about where I go.

While my co-workers, who had been in Uganda for more than a year, seemed to not worry too much, those of us who had never experienced anything like a serious terror threat were pretty uneasy. It didn’t help that my two European roommates at the time told me that the U.S. is paranoid and always sending out terror-threat messages. They completely brushed it off.

I might have smiled a little in October of that year when they said the same thing after I got my next email from the US Embassy, and within hours they received one from the Dutch Embassy as well.

Americans know terror. On September 11, 2001, we experienced true terror. We don’t take it lightly. And I thank God for that. I’d rather be “paranoid” and nothing happen than the other way around.

The emails continued throughout the year, but nothing ever came of them. Some were as simple as, “Be vigilant.” Others were more specific, “Don’t go to the mall this weekend.” And security at school was beefed up with armed guards and emergency drills.

Yesterday, from the comfort of my warm, cozy bed, I checked my Facebook and saw that Uganda was under another terror threat- this time a “shelter-in-place” terror threat. I don’t recall ever being on this type of threat when I was there. People were told to stay in their homes. Do not go anywhere. “This is serious” was the basic message the US Embassy and Ugandan police were sending.

It upset me. Uganda is filled with people I love. Some of them I know, others are just the people there in general, but my heart loves them all. I thought of Florence, I thought of Gideon, I thought of my teacher friends and their families. I thought of the guys selling toilet paper at the intersections downtown, I thought of so many wonderful people and how terrible it would be to lose even one.

I prayed, and then I went about my day. I went to my best friend’s house and we packed up her two boys and headed to the University of Saint Francis football game. We tailgated with her family and then headed into the game. It was a gorgeous fall day yesterday, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Then I remembered what was going on in Uganda. I started to feel guilty. There I was- enjoying the many luxuries we have in America, and people I love were stuck in their homes because of a terror threat. It just wasn’t fair!

Then it all came together for me, and I remembered this: It’s different when you’re there, especially compared to how Americans would imagine it’s like.

No matter the threat level, never once did I find myself cowering in a corner or hiding under my bed. If there was a warning to be vigilant in public, we were for about a day… and then we’d forget about it.

There was even that one time we were told to stay away from Acacia Mall because of a planned terror attack. But we really wanted Cafe Javas, which was right across the street. Cravings for Cafe Javas simply must be addressed! So we went. I remember telling my friends, “If we go and I die in a terrorist attack, my mom is going to kill me!”

It’s different when you’re there.

Yesterday I saw a few people post things on Facebook about how they aren’t living in fear because of the terror threats. Initially I thought, “Yeah right. Stop putting on that Christian front that you aren’t scared!” However, then I remembered what it was like to be there. Sure there’s fear to some degree, but you cannot let it consume you, or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Life must go on as normally as it possibly can.

I was pleased to wake up this morning and see in the news that although there really was a planned attack on Kampala, it was stopped. Praise God! But I imagine this is far from over, and my Ugandan family is in my prayers daily.

I now know how my family felt last year when I was there and the terror threats moved in. It’s scary because you automatically picture the worst. But for the people there, it pretty much just becomes another day. I can guarantee that life will continue as usual today in Kampala, as if there was or wasn’t a major terror threat the day before. I’m not, by any means, trying to minimize the severity of the situation, I’m just hoping to shine a light on how brave the people are who dedicate their lives to God in countries who face things like this every day. It’s sad, but terror threats have become so common for so many people in this world.

It’s different when you’re there. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop praying for my loved ones in Uganda, their safety, and their mental well-being as they face a million other obstacles while doing God’s work in Uganda. Compared to some of the other junk they are dealing with, terror threats aren’t all that scary.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff – they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Waiting on terror…

IMG_20130704_173200Geology class. Indiana University. Someone beside me said, “Whoa. I guess a plane or something was hijacked and crashed into a building this morning.”

We all remember where we were when we first heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I’m pretty sure every moment of that entire day is burned into my memory like it is for most Americans.

Terrorist attacks aren’t common in the United States, but we do know what it’s like to live through one. We know the fear, the terror, and the aftermath of such a vicious and heartless crime. And we never want to experience it again.

We didn’t see September 11 coming. There wasn’t any fear or anxiety leading up to the attack. It just happened, and we reacted. Now, I’m living in a country on the other side of the world and I’m basically being told to stay home until further notice.

I am in Uganda, where police have raised the terror threat to red- the highest it can go. The US Embassy has sent out multiple emails warning people of a possible attack. Some say it’s imminent.

A few of my European friends here in Kampala think Americans are a little too paranoid about the terrorist threats. But if they had terrorists crash planes and blow up buildings in their home country, I imagine they’d be a little paranoid as well. They haven’t lived through a September 11 like we have. Our fears are legit, and they bring up emotions we’ve tried to bury since 2001.

Yesterday I talked to a friend who was going to run to the store with her family. Her husband ended up not letting her and their child go with him. It was a risk he didn’t want to take.  My friend asked me, “Since when did a trip to the store require thinking about whether or not you’ll come back alive?”

Another friend of mine told me today that they were debating on whether or not they should go to church tomorrow, because theirs is the largest in Kampala. Her husband works there, so he has to go, but they weren’t sure about the rest of the family. “Then we thought maybe we should all go, and if something happens, we’ll die as a family,” she told me.

These are the conversations that have become normal here.

The city of Kampala has become my home.
The city of Kampala has become my home.

The sad reality is that some people live in countries where this is all they know- a consistent fear of terrorists. They live each day wondering whether or not it’s safe to go to the store or go to church. We are getting but a small taste of their lives.

There isn’t anything we can do to divert an attack. Right now we pray for peace and to shed the fear that comes along with all this. I believe that God’s will is what’s best, and if something were to happen to me, know that it doesn’t reflect on anything God did. His reasons are bigger and better than what we can imagine. So if He allows something to happen to me, there’s more to the story than we know. And I’m fine with that.

The best case scenario is that the governments, both Ugandan and American, are paranoid. Hopefully their information is wrong, and no one gets hurt in the coming days, weeks, or months. In the meantime, I refuse to hide in my closet and cry in terror, but I’m also not going to take it so lightly that I make poor decisions regarding my safety.

As Americans, we may know terror on a scale that some people from other places don’t. And then there are also people who know it on a much larger scale than we do. Either way, we all need your prayers right now in Kampala. I have grown to love the smiling faces here and would be devastated to see anyone get hurt.

“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I’m not afraid of gorillas and war…

“Aren’t you scared?” is the number one question people have asked me when they find out I’m moving to Uganda for at least two years. I’m not sure if they think I should fear being eaten by a lion, bit by a spider, contracting malaria or being captured by rebels.

“Not really,” I say. But I’m starting to realize that that’s a lie. I AM scared, but not for the reasons everyone probably thinks.

I don’t fear for my physical safety. I 100% percent believe that God has that taken care of, and I’ve given up those fears to Him. I am completely at peace about my physical safety in Uganda. I’ll be sleeping each night with an armed guard outside my door. What do you have protecting you?

Although I’m not afraid of wild animals (there really won’t be any in Kampala), or of war (always a strong possibility in Africa), there are plenty of things I am nervous about. These are the things I need to turn over to God, and I ask that as you pray for me, you pray that I find peace in these fears:

1043957_10151475508866573_1969601688_n1. People won’t like me. I’ve yet to interact with anyone in Uganda who has been even remotely unkind. As a matter of fact, everyone has been super helpful and constantly letting me know that they are excited about my arrival. Still, my fear is that they will meet me and not like me. This is part of my ever-present flaw of being a people pleaser. I don’t worry about Ugandans liking me, but my fellow teachers at Heritage International School. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t like me, but it’s a big fear I have.

2. The work load is too much. I’ve never taught more than three classes in one semester, and usually it’s only been two (with the same class taught a few times a day). At Heritage, I’ll be teaching Freshman English, Junior English, Senior English, SAT Prep and the school’s first Journalism class. That’s five classes, two of which I’ve never even taught before. I know God qualifies the called, but I’m pretty nervous about taking on so much.

3. I’ll inadvertently offend someone. Cultural norms in other countries are so different from what we know in America. I’m already learning a lot about what to do and what not to do, I just fear I’ll do something terrible and not know it until I have a bunch of angry Ugandans getting upset with me.

4. I won’t be able to “connect” with my students. In IMG_1096America, this is what made me a good teacher. I connect with my students, they feel they can trust me, and I find great ways to relate material to pop culture in a way that they understand it. I’m about to teach an entire group of students who not only come from Uganda, but literally from all over the world. My fear is that I won’t be able to find that “connection” with them.

5. Someone important to me will die back in the U.S. As I say my goodbyes to people here, I am already thinking, “What if that’s the last time I’ll see them?” I have been especially dreading the goodbye with my parents. But I’ve also realized lately that ANYTIME you say goodbye to someone could be the last time you see them. Still, my fear is that someone important to me will die while I’m in Uganda, and that I won’t be able to be here to support my grieving family and/or friends.

I know God will help me overcome these fears, which is why it’s important that I am fearful about some things. Otherwise, why would I need to turn to Him?

www.wgm.org/trout

Walking on Water

“You called me out upon the waters
The great unknown where my feet my fail.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand.”

I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful bodies of water. From the Caribbean, to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean, to Victoria Falls and beautiful blue rivers in Africa, I can honestly say I’ve seen some incredible waters on this earth. It wasn’t until recently that I truly connected the idea of water, Jesus and what it means to have faith.

I’ve always known the story of Jesus walking on the water, but it’s taken a new meaning in my life lately, and it’s eerie how God has revealed to me the importance of this event.

IMG_3120In Zambia a few weeks ago, we taught the story to the children at Lifesong for Orphans. In short, Jesus approached His disciples by walking on the water, and not just any water, but it was also in the middle of a storm. The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, but Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Oh how often Jesus tells us that, yet we fear so much!)

Peter had such great faith that he told Jesus to call for him. Jesus did, and Peter also walked on water. But when Peter lost sight of Jesus and focused on the winds, he began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus grabbed his hand and saved him.

“I will call upon Your name.
Keep my eyes above the waves.
My soul will rest in Your embrace.
I am Yours and You are mine.”

Beyond teaching this story I’ve known since childhood to the kids at Lifesong, my friends Mo and Janeth played a song for me while we were in Zambia. The song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong began to speak to me, as it did to Mo and Janeth. I didn’t really get a chance to listen to the lyrics until I got home and downloaded it, but when I did, it all came together for me.

Everyone has their own ways of relating to the story, but here’s mine. Me going to Uganda is God calling me out upon the water. I’ve never been in a position like this where I’ve had to have so much faith and rely completely on God. I have to trust Him for my safety and my fundraising. Some people say I am doing such a great thing and that I must be so strong. I look at it as God did this because I’m not strong. He wanted me to be in a position where I had to surrender to Him completely, because before now, I hadn’t.IMG_2678

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters.
Your sovereign hand will be my guide,
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.”

Peter started to sink when he lost sight of Jesus and focused on the storm around him, and Jesus asked him why he doubted and where his faith was. There will be storms in Uganda. I will experience things I’ve never experienced before, and the biggest storm of all will be missing my family and friends. I’ll sink if I don’t stay focused on Jesus, and if I don’t keep my eyes above the waves.

God has been calling me to step out in faith for years, but only within this past year have I had the faith to step out of the boat and onto the waters. These final lyrics I will type now are so perfectly and beautifully written, that I feel like they came from my own heart:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feed could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

—————————————————————–

Lyrics from Hillsong’s Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
All photos by Natalie A. Trout

Could it happen to you? Of course. Tragedy knows no limits.

When the September 11 terrorist attacks happened, we all said, “Things like this don’t happen in America.”

But then things like that continued to happen, and not from foreign terrorists, but from our own people.

While tragedies like Sandy Hook and now the Boston Marathon break our hearts, if you stop and think about it, senseless killings happen in America every single day. It might be a drive-by shooting, a teen committing suicide, or a “doctor” killing a living, breathing baby after a botched abortion attempt.

Life is apparently just a worthless thing to so many people, whether they are taking lives in large numbers or just one person.

Growing up in America, I never really felt scared or nervous. Even as an adult I once had a student in my car (on our way to church) who pulled out a handgun, and I wasn’t scared. Lately, though, I’ve found myself a little nervous at a few particular spots.PhotoGrid_1365290616255

My friend and I went to see Jurassic Park a few weeks ago. I rarely go to the movies anymore because they are so expensive, so the shooting in Colorado last year didn’t even cross my mind. That is, until my friend said, “Make sure we know where the exits are.” She went on to tell me that a friend of hers said he always checks now, just in case he has to make a quick exit. I’ll be honest, until the movie started and I got engrossed in it, I had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Would someone bust in with a gun? It was the first time I ever felt unsafe in a theater.

Most of my trips to the bank are at the ATM or the drive-thru window, but last week I had a huge bag of coins to deposit, which meant I had to go inside the actual bank. I’ve never in my life thought twice about walking into a bank, but as soon as I walked in, I remembered all the news stories about bank robberies in town lately. It seems like every single day there is a hold up at a bank here in Fort Wayne. I got a little nervous. Would someone be here to rob this bank today?

I believe we shouldn’t live our lives in fear, we shouldn’t let the sick people in the world make us scared, but it’s getting to the point where it’s tough to not think, “Could what happened THERE, happen HERE?” And let’s be honest… it certainly could.

The only peace that can be found in this world today is Jesus Christ. I think more and more people are seeing this as they search for something to believe in, something pure and perfect to cling to, something they can put their faith in because there is NO hope in this world outside of Christ.

I don’t want to die anymore than the next person, but at least I know where I’m going when I do. And at least I have that to cling to as this world continues to fall apart and destroy itself.

“… I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live.”
John 11:25