Closure: When the timing is right

grace2I remember being curled up one night in my bed in Uganda in 2014, under the protection of my mosquito net, a fan trying its best to keep me cool as it oscillated around my room. I was crying, which wasn’t unusual considering some of the things I had been through during my year as a high school English teacher at an international school in Kampala.

I had but a few months left to go, and I was wrestling with whether or not I should return for a second year. There were so many reasons to leave: I’d been spitting up blood for ten months, the Uganda dust was doing a real number on my sinuses, my administration was shady, I was thousands of miles away from friends and family, hardly any of my friends were coming back, and I’d been fighting a deep depression. But there was one reason to stay: my students.

The battle was fierce, and I was at a loss. So I cried out to God, “You have to tell me! I can’t make this decision on my own!”

readinggroupsThe next day at school it was like God hand-delivered my answer on a silver platter. It was time to go. I simply could not put in another year. This certain situation was handled so poorly that it even gave someone else the final push to not return.

I left Uganda an emotional mess. But there was no time to think about it. I came back to the US, where I was living with my parents because I’d sold nearly everything before leaving for Uganda a year prior. I was unemployed. I was trying to fit back in to a society and friend groups that all seemed so different now. Things were happening quickly, and I had little time to process my year overseas.

All I knew was that I was hurt, and the taste in my mouth for Uganda was a really bitter one.

Eventually, I began to see things more clearly. Through prayer and reflection, I began to see the part I played in some of my hurts from Uganda. And while that helped to ease a bit of my resentment, it didn’t completely erase it.

kidsThat part came in the past few weeks. My dad and I went on a mission trip to Uganda. My prayer was that God would give me the closure I needed. I didn’t know what He’d do, but I knew He could and He WOULD do it.

Over two weeks, I rediscovered Uganda and why I wanted to serve there in the first place. I fell in love with a country that deserves endless love. I was reminded of the Ugandan people, who are so loving and welcoming. I even met up with a former student who used to be an atheist. He’s accepted Christ and is now a light for God. He thanked me for the part I played in his dedication to the Lord, even though it was years before he accepted Christ.

It had been five years since I arrived in Uganda for an emotional and life-changing year. God knew that a return any sooner than this wouldn’t have been beneficial. I needed to grow, forgive other people, and forgive myself.

We tend to want closure immediately and on our terms. But God has His reasons for not giving it to us immediately. Like all things, God’s timing is best. The day I left Kampala in 2014 in complete shambles, He knew I’d be back in four years. He knew that’s when He’d help me heal my wounds.

If there’s an area of your life that you’re waiting for some closure on, don’t give up hope. Keep praying, and trust that God will give you the closure you need at just the right time. 

When I look back at Uganda now, I smile. I see the good. God took a hurtful and tough area of my life and made it special again.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.
The old has gone, the new is here.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

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The post I’ll always make on June 3rd

IMG_4864Every June 3 I will make this blog post:

“XX years since I returned from living in Uganda.”

It’s impossible NOT to write about the year of my life that has had such an impact on who I am today.

This post today is 2 years since I got back from Uganda. The excitement has faded some, but is still there. The pain has faded some, but is still there. The scars are still pretty fresh, but I also know why I have them. God doesn’t want me to forget.

Only 1/35 of my life was spent in Uganda, yet I think about it every single day.

Seriously. Every. Single. Day.

How could I forget? It was best AND worst year of my life thus far.

So many of the memories were experiences that blew my mind. Washing feet at the jigger clinic. Visiting the babies at the baby home. The amazing chocolate cake at Cafe Javas. Stoney! Trips to Kenya. Late nights with my roommates dancing in our living room. Getting to teach the greatest teens from around the world. Going on safari. The list goes on an on.

IMG_20140307_172741Somehow, depression made its way in. Doubt made its way in. Insecurity took over my life, and I felt like I had no one, not even God, to save me. Few people know this about my time in Uganda, but it was the first time I ever seriously considered ending my own life, and that’s mainly because I truly believed that no one cared about me. I look back now and see how untrue that was, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.

Needless to say, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What ended up helping towards the end of my stay was learning that I wasn’t alone. Others were hurt. Others were struggling. But our school was less than supportive when we needed it most.

I’m working on having grace for the people who hurt me and others. It’s not easy, but who am I to judge them for not having grace on those of us who struggled? I should model what I preach. I need to forgive. Easier said than done.

Wow. Two years later and I’m still processing. Two years later and it still hurts. Two years later and I still miss Uganda every single day.

I wish had something more profound to say. Maybe it’s this: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Two years ago I stepped foot on American soil after a year in Uganda, and I was a totally different person. And I continue to change. God isn’t going to let my suffering be in vain.

10334337_10202468687703087_3077441966965500961_nMy prayer is that when I post my “3 years since I returned from living in Uganda,” I’ll have found the grace to forgive, not only those who hurt me, but also forgive myself for mistakes I made while I was there. I hope to have processed more, grown more, and accepted the fact that if I’m going to want people to show me grace, I’m going to have to show it to others as well.

I am a work in progress. I should probably walk around with an “Under Construction” sign around my neck. It’s a sign I would have to wear the rest of my life because I am so, so far from perfection or anything near it.

Most milestones in my life are now built around my year in Uganda because that’s when everything changed for me. And like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Africa destroyed me, and for that I am thankful.

IMG_4864It’s been nine months, and I am just now figuring out what to say to people about my time in Uganda. What’s ironic about that is that no one is asking anymore. In a few months I’ll have been home longer than I was there.

But just because no one is asking doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking about it. To be honest, I think about Uganda every single day. I often have dreams about Uganda, whether it’s that I’m riding a boda through downtown Kampala or teaching my students back at Heritage. It’s true what they say: once you experience Africa, it will always be a part of you.

But aside from all the good times and unforgettable experiences… Africa destroyed me. Not only because of the poverty and suffering I saw- I’d already seen that in Niger, Zambia and Nicaragua. God sent me to Uganda to be personally and spiritually destroyed, torn to pieces, ripped to shreds. And He did it because He loves me.

IMG_0318I needed to be destroyed. There was no true way to piece me back together, into what God wanted me to be, without destroying me first. So He did what He had to do. He allowed Africa to destroy me.

Somehow God used me in other ways while I was there. He used me to be a friend to people, a mentor to students, a feet washer at the jigger clinic, a tub scrubber and a window washer at the baby home. I actually find it quite amazing that He had the ability to allow Africa to destroy me, continue to use me for His glory, and put me back together as a new person, all at the same time

If your life seems a mess, if you’re feeling defeated, remember that God is still at work. He will do whatever it takes to make you the person He wants you to be. I know I still have growing to do, as we all do, but looking back on my year in Africa, and looking at who I am today, I am eternally grateful that I was destroyed in Uganda.

Thank you, God, for loving me enough to destroy me and then put me back together.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:5

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

10 days left, 10 memorable moments…

Left in July, returning in June. For nearly a year I’ll have lived in a third-world country. Uganda has been everything I hoped it would be, and yet it’s been nothing like I imagined. I am forever changed, and I am returning to the United States a totally different person.

I have ten days until I return to the United States. I’m sure there will be plenty of memorable moments in the coming days, including a safari with the 12th graders, and I had some amazing moments in my two trips to Kenya, but right now I want to reflect on 10 of the most memorable moments from the past year in the Pearl of Africa. These are the silly moments, the moments that are behind the scenes in the lives of expats living in Uganda.

Going Raw1546282_10151849897326573_2063871615_n

My roommate Ashlie and I were psyched. We are going to eat raw for one week. We would lose a good amount of weight and use it as a jumping off point for eating healthier overall.  Our great adventure was kicked off with a trip to Ggaba Market. Our arms literally ached from the many bags of fruits and vegetables we collected and carried back to our apartment.

The night before the big day (our first day eating raw), we chopped and sliced like crazy. We even found lots of great raw recipes online. Eating raw was going to be amazing!

Monday came. I had a delicious smoothie for breakfast. For lunch I munched on carrots. Come 3 p.m., I was starving. I remember walking into our apartment. Ashlie sat on the couch with Analeigh and said, “Do you want to eat at Little Donkey tonight?” My stomach rumbled as I thought of my favorite shredded beef burrito and guacamole. “Yes!” I replied with enthusiasm.

We were officially failures. Eating raw lasted approximately 12 hours, and many of our co-workers loved making fun of us when we failed. But Ashlie and I will never forget the 12 hours we went raw!

IMG_20140518_113900Stoney. Period.

Every Stoney I’ve had is memorable. Stoney is a heavenly drink that Coca-Cola has for some reason decided should not be available in the United States. It’s a refreshing blend of ginger and soda, so strong that sometimes one sip will make you cough.

I have had Stoney’s at dinner, at school, at the beach, by the pool, and just lounging on the front porch. Every moment with a Stoney is memorable.

The Detour

It was December, and a group of ladies had gone Christmas shopping downtown. My car was loaded with me, Ashlie, Abbey, and Tiffany. About halfway home, the road we typically take was closed. This forced us to take a detour.

This wasn’t just any detour. This was a detour that movies are made of, like when the Americans get lost in a third-world country and never again see the light of day. The detour through a super sketchy neighborhood gave us all sorts of interesting sights: cats who looked like they were on meth, boda drivers who smelled like meat and cheese, nuns, and beggars who didn’t even want our G-nuts for a snack.

It had been a long day, and we were downright delirious. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed and cried as much as we did on our detour. You definitely had to be there, but it was a moment I will never, ever forget from my time in Kampala.

The Acrobatic Cockroach

I screamed my head off. A giant African cockroach was crawling around our kitchen counter.

“Ashlie! Bring the Doom!” I yelled.

She knew what that meant. She grabbed the can of Doom, Uganda’s version of Raid, and ran in the kitchen. Ashlie chased the giant bug as it crawled around the counter. She doused it in Doom, but it was resilient. It wasn’t going to die.

Somehow, the roach made its way into a big pot on the counter. We were afraid to look and see if he was alive or not. As we slowly approached the pot to peer inside, the roach catapulted itself out of the pot and back onto the counter. Our screams echoed throughout all of Kampala, but after a few more minutes of spraying, the roach was finally dead.

Morning Surprise

It was Sunday morning, and we were headed to church. As I rounded the corner of our second-story apartment porch, I looked down the stairs and saw a kitten.10155465_603901271423_936196015706335090_n

I started to say, “Awww!” when my eyes were drawn to something further down the stairs.

“O….M…G….” I screamed, loud enough that the neighbors heard.

Ashlie walked around the corner and saw the kitten.

“It’s just a kitten!” she said.

“No! Look!” I pointed.

There on the steps was a dead baby chicken. How a chicken even got on our compound is a mystery, but he clearly didn’t last long!

Crazy Caterpillars

It started off almost as a pimple, but after a few days, it had grown. And it looked nasty.

The disgusting sore on my arm changed shape and size every day, and it was growing new blisters by the minute. Finally, I went to the doctor to have it checked out. As usual, the doctors didn’t have much of an answer, except that it might be a caterpillar burn.

IMG_4723A what? Yup. Many of the caterpillars here in Uganda are poisonous. Just brushing up against the wrong kind of caterpillar can literally burn your skin.

To fix me, they popped all the blisters, drained out some nasty stuff, and then packed it with honey and gauze. Yes, honey, the apparent fix-all for any skin problem in Uganda. Sure enough, after a few days they took off the gauze, cleaned off the honey, and I was good to go!

I do, however, have a scar from my caterpillar burn. I’m quite proud of it. How many people can say they have a scar from an encounter with an evil caterpillar?

Solar Eclipse

Living on the equator means getting burnt after only a few minutes in the sun. It’s a pain, but living on the equator also means experiencing awesome, once-in-a-lifetime things like a solar eclipse.eclipse2

In November we observed a solar eclipse here in Kampala. It happened in the evening, and while it did get darker than usual, it was not a full eclipse that darkened everything. Still, I’ll never forget viewing it through the solar shades the school provided everyone. It was an event I’ll always remember.

IMG_20131217_185925KFC Crazy

I thought there was a McDonald’s in every country. Or maybe even a Taco Bell. There had to be SOME sort of Western fast food restaurant in Uganda that would cure our cravings when we missed home.

There were none.

Until December. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors to the people of Uganda, and we were some of the first in line to experience the awesomeness.

Did I eat a lot of KFC when I lived in America? Not at all. Hardly ever, actually. But just to have a taste of home was something we were dying for by our fifth month here. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Uganda, simply because it was a small reminder of home.

Power Outage Party

It happens here. A lot. The power goes out and you never know if it will come back on within a few minutes or a few days. We quickly learned, however, that you just have to make the best of it.

There was one night we were particularly excited because we had purchased bread, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese at the store. (Cheese can be next-to-impossible to find around here.) We were going to make one of our favorite dinners- pizza bites.IMG_0485

But the power went out.

Being the awesome gals we are, we didn’t let the lack of electricity cramp our style. Me, Ashlie, Stephanie, Elise and Nyenhial and her two boys packed ourselves into the kitchen, made our dinner by candlelight, and sang the hits of the 90’s. It was most definitely one of my favorite Africa memories!

Frozen with Florence

Florence, our dayguard’s daughter, is quite possibly one of the cutest four year olds on the planet. It’s such a blessing to be greeted by her each day, and sometimes we like to hang out. Florence knows very little English, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Sometimes we just play on the porch, sometimes I paint her fingernails and toenails, and the other day we watched Frozen.

IMG_20140517_071757Her reaction to everything was priceless. Throughout most of the movie she just pointed at my laptop screen and smiled. And the icing on the cake was after the movie when she looked at me and began to sing, “Let it Go.” The only words she knew were, “Let it go,” and that was fine. OK, it was amazing.

Every moment with Florence this year has been special, but one of my favorites was definitely watching Frozen together.

So many memories here in Uganda! I’ll never forget the faces and places from my year in the Pearl of Africa.

 

“Sorry!” and other things we say in Uganda…

I had only been living in Uganda for about a day when the strangest thing happened. I dropped something in the kitchen in front of my Dutch roommates, and they both said, “Sorry!”

Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I've picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!
Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I’ve picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!

It was my fault I dropped it. I was just clumsy. They weren’t in my way. They didn’t cause me to drop it. But still, they said, “Sorry!”

I chalked it up to being a Dutch thing, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that it’s a Uganda thing. And while I found it so strange, so unnecessary, so ridiculous… I find myself saying it all the time now. It’s one of the many words or phrases that we expats have picked up since living in Uganda.

Did you stub your toe? “Sorry!”

Had a bad day? “Sorry!”

Trip and fall? “Sorry! Sorry!” (some situations warrant two)

Here are a few more things you might catch an expat saying when they return to the U.S. after living in Uganda:

“Now now”

Although the very definition of “now” suggests that it means, well… now, here in Uganda there is something you say when you want something even quicker. “Now now.”

The other day I called for a boda. The conversation went like this:

“Hello Frank! I need picked up and taken to Italian Supermarket. Can you come now?”

Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come "now now!"
Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come “now now!”

“Yes. Now now?”

“Now now.”

“OK I am on my way!”

I guess “now now” has a greater sense of urgency than just “now.” So you must be very clear here about when you want something. Do you want it “now,” or do you want it “now now?”

“You are welcome!”

The first time we went to Friday Market, I approached someone’s shop and said hello. The lady said to me, “You are welcome!” I froze. Was she being smart? Did she say that because I was supposed to say, “Thank you” for something, but I hadn’t?

It took me weeks to realize that when you enter a store or even someone’s home here, they will say, “You are welcome!” It is not a response to “Thank you,” like it is in the U.S., it literally means, “You are welcome here, please come in!”

“It is paining me.”

One day I asked our house help how she was doing. “Terrible,” she said. “My tooth is paining me.” In other words, she had a toothache.

I’ve yet to hear anyone here say that something hurts. It’s always “paining” them.

“I won you!”

My elementary teacher friends hear this all the time on the playground at school. “I beat you!” or even, “I won!” aren’t phrases often muttered from children. Instead, if you win a game or are victorious in a race, children say, “I won you!”

“Just put it in the boot.”

The trunk. The back. I’ve never once heard of the storage portion of the car referred to as “the boot” until I moved to Uganda. I’m not even sure how it makes any sense. It doesn’t look like a boot. I don’t see people carrying boots in the backs of their cars. But nonetheless, here it is called “the boot.”

“Hello! How are you doing today?”

Clearly that’s a phrase we all know in America, but how often do we say it to strangers? In Uganda, it’s pretty much flat out rude not to ask how someone’s day is going. I was taught early on here to always ask how cashiers are doing, shop owners, support staff at school, and others I encounter. 1965021_10203543500770823_1566835692986534743_n

What a friendly concept though! I can only imagine some of the strange looks I might get when I return to the U.S. in June and ask the cashier at Target how her day is going. But honestly, I love it! I think being here has made me an overall friendlier person to strangers.

I might say some strange things when I get back to the US in 25 days, but it’s all part of the experience. I’m glad to know that my experience will continue long after I get back to the states. My friends and family will just have to adjust to my constant replies of “sorry” and wanting something “now now.”

Another early goodbye…

IMG_20130914_080640Four months ago when I went to pick up my friend Katrina at her apartment here in Uganda, I was greeted through the security gate by a precious little face and painted fingernails. I instantly fell in love with the little girl peering through the hole in the gate and snapped a photo.

“Who is that?” I asked Katrina when she got in the car.

“That’s Florence, our day guard’s daughter,” she told me.

Time went on. Katrina moved back the United States, and I ended up moving into her open room on the compound. I remember my first day going home to the new apartment after a day of teaching. I opened the gate and tiny little Florence came running towards me. You would think I was her best friend that she hadn’t seen in years. Behind her waddled Gideon, her little brother.

I thought it was because I was new, but as it turned out, that’s how I was greeted every single day- with love and hugs from two of the cutest kids in all of Uganda.

IMG_4757I quickly learned that Florence loves to dance. She would twirl for me, hop around, sing and dance for as long as I would watch. And she would always say, “Look!” in her little Ugandan accent, which actually made it sound like she was saying, “Luke!” She spoke very little English, but enough that I could tell her every day that she was beautiful, and she would reply, “Yes!”

Florence loves having her picture taken, and she especially loves being in videos. We’ve had fun with my camera and computer just being silly. She’s been the first child here that’s made me think, “I get it. I now know why people come here and go back to America with a child.”

But Florence isn’t an orphan. She isn’t without a family. She’s got a mother and a father who have gone through the very worst in order to do what’s best for her and Gideon. I learned recently that they are refugees from Congo. They arrived here on foot. They have seen two children die already. They’ve been through things we can’t even imagine.

On the worst of days, and I’ve had my share of them here in Uganda, Florence has been the shining light that makes me smile. Today, Florence and her family leave to return to Congo.IMG_20131116_002418

To say that this breaks my heart is an understatement. Not only am I sad that I won’t be able to spend time with her, but I’m horrified for the family’s safety. The worst part is, I’ll never know what happens to them. I’ll never know if they make it back to Congo safely. I’ll never know what happens to them if they do make it.

My initial response to the family returning to Congo was one of shock. Why on earth would they return to such a war-filled country? They escaped! Why return? I was somewhat relieved to learn today that apparently things have been peaceful for a few weeks now. Also, they cannot afford to send Florence to school in Uganda, and in Congo, she will receive an education. If that’s what’s best for Florence, I am all for it.

The compound is going to feel really strange now. I know I’ve only been here a month but I’ve grown to love Florence and to always look forward to her smiling face. I’ll even miss Gideon, even though he was prone to peeing on our front porch. It’s hard not to love that little ball of goofiness with a smile that melts your heart.

Please pray for Florence, Gideon and their parents. Pray for their safety and that the move is what’s best for the family. Pray that God will provide them with whatever they need to live a happy life.

And pray for the rest of us who will miss their glowing faces and their giggles that once echoed throughout the compound.

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