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Giving even when it hurts

Mark 12:44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on.

Luke 21:4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

I have been thinking about this lately as we have fought a great deal of heartache. I often am most upset when I see people suffering who give the most, even when they have the least. Since I am living in Uganda I will speak about what I see and what other Ugandans have expressed about their culture. I see families in our Gayaza project who don’t have much, commit to giving back. We emphasis a culture of paying it forward to your community. Our students over the years have put into action what we have taught by completing several service projects throughout their community. They want to see those around them succeed.

When I think about the verses mentioned above I see the generosity of many families who take care of each other. When one family member is struggling or can’t provide it is almost expected that other family members will take on the burden. At times I think to myself that doesn’t seem fair if that family member is being neglectful and foolish they deserve to be without. I thought that at times with our foster boys and their mom and sisters who seemed to rely on others to help them instead of working themselves.

I then think of how wonderful it is to give and to receive support. I used to not like getting help, I wanted to do things on my own and not rely on others for help. Then I became a missionary HA! Literally having to rely on others for everything! We have faced so many difficult situations that I am so very thankful that I have people I can rely on.

When everything is going great ie. wealth, it is (or should be) easy to give. To give time, money, support, guidance etc. However, when things are not going well and you are (poor) whether it be financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically it seems harder to give. I am then reminded about the widow who gave ALL she had and I am taking a liberty here but I am pretty sure she did it cheerfully.

From personal experience I remember early in our ministry we had spoken at a church that was fairly small and afterward had a table set up to sign people up for monthly support or one time donations. Lots of people passed us by (avoiding eye contact) but one elderly lady came and said “I am on a fixed income so I don’t have much to give but can I write you a check for $10 a month?” I wanted to weep because in that moment I was encouraged by her willingness to give even when it was very hard to give.

My song for this season is Toby Mac- Till the day I die. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWLZ_MrPplk

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My New Years Letter

Passion, I used to look at that person who seemed to always have the energy to worship or the person who always seemed to have a testimony. This is my new year’s letter since it is after Christmas and it is a walk through my year. The point of view is of mine and not anyone else’s, Matt and the kids have their own experiences they have walked through.

I would like to start with Christmas 2017 when we had 5 kids in our home to celebrate Christmas with and we were in warm Uganda. The budget was tight and the experiences were bitter sweet because we had just found out that Tendo, Kitibwa and Happy would be having a reunion with their biological mom. We didn’t know what that would look like, what emotions would come from it and how it would impact our year ahead. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year felt a little less happy and merry with that heavy burden put on our shoulders.

The meeting took place on a rainy day in January at a restaurant near our home with a translator, the whole family came; our family, plus the boys, their two sisters with their children and mom. The only one missing was their older brother and well no other male influences were present. The bond was almost immediate and they acted as if 3 years hadn’t gone by rather only a few days. It was in those moments that my heart broke. Here I had been sacrificing and working very hard to balance a full time teaching job, taking on the duties of getting everyone to school and practices, helping with homework, cooking, cleaning, discipline, wife and mom. In an instant I felt worthless that all the sacrifices were for nothing, all the days and nights that I wept for them to open up and talk through their problems and feelings. All the hours I spent teaching reading, math, spelling, working on school projects, taking them to parties, practices, after school activities, cooking meals, cleaning up after and just showing them love in the midst of an absence of appreciation. I did it all because I thought if I just gave it time they would one day bond, that all of the work and tears would pay off because they one day would understand how much I cared.

In February the boys traveled to Rwanda with their mom for an update on documents and we went to Kenya with another family for a getaway. We took a bus and almost didn’t make it across the border due to some paperwork issues. The air B&B was fabulous and we often woke up to see the sunrise and looked over the national park often seeing giraffes, elephants and other amazing creatures. It was a wonderful time of relaxing and bonding only a few days, but worth the Burger King and Coldstone food. The bus ride back was a little less pleasant as we had a broken seat and no bathroom breaks for 14 hours.

The next month we would worry about the boys as they were having difficulty getting paperwork, Kitibwa got really sick due to unclean conditions where they were staying and there were still hard decisions that were needing to be made about how we would transition them back to their mom. Their mom expressed that she didn’t really want to have the burden of raising them and worried that they would just become street kids if she had to take care of them. There really is no “foster care” system in place and since they are Rwandan living in Uganda it would have pretty much been impossible for us to adopt them with living relatives. She wanted to have them visit every weekend, but have us provide for their education in town, live with us during the week, provide for all their basic needs and then on the weekend she would get to spend time with them. We decided that this was not a healthy alternative for anyone (except her) so when they were spending so much time with their mom in Rwanda we felt their transition back to live with mom would need to happen.

In April we had a football trip to Dubai with the U14 team and we decided when we returned we would transition the boys into a local Ugandan school near our Gayaza based ministry center where we could keep an eye on them and they could receive the services that we provide. We made an agreement with their mom that we would finish out their school year financially and this would allow her 12 months to find work and save up for the expenses that would arise when she took over all responsibilities for caring for her three sons.

In May Parker turned 5 and we could see the positive changes in our two biological kids having less stress at home with the boys being gone. We were finishing up the school year and preparing for a big trip to the U.S. for a summer tour with the U16 team. In June we had lots of preparing and fundraising to make everything line up and be possible for a successful tour to 4 states in the U.S. over a months’ time on our summer break.

July we left on Jacob’s birthday and traveled to the U.S. through Dubai making for a 14-hour flight and a run through the Chicago airport with over 20 members of our team. We would have 4 adults from Uganda and a team of U16 boys and one girl plus our two kids. We started in Detroit staying with various host families and Matt and I would pick up and transport to various practices and games along with some fun experiences like visiting the Big House and the African American Museum. We then flew to Minneapolis for the biggest American soccer tournament where we competed in a weekend and a week long tournament. I was able to travel to Nebraska early to spend time with my family and get one week of relaxation. Matt managed and balanced several stressful moments without me and took a bus with the team to come to Nebraska. They played in a few friendly matches and were able to go to the Omaha Zoo, Matt again coordinated host families and we were responsible for transporting them to all their events.

We then took a flight to our last stop in Dallas in August where again we were hosted this time by a church. I was able to stay with a friend and enjoy some down time in the evenings. Matt stayed at the church with the kids, which resulted in mostly restless nights. It was there that two of our Uganda adults betrayed our trust and friendship by abandoning their responsibilities and duties to selfishly do what they wanted to do. It was a hard thing to go through and led to a feeling of betrayal and added even more pressure to an already stressful trip.

We returned to Uganda with about a week to relax before I headed back to school. I was offered a new position at the school as a Kindergarten teacher an exciting but stressful new role. Jacob was starting 2nd grade and Parker kindergarten, I had a week to prepare and my TA was about 8 months pregnant so I had no time to waste as I learned the new roles as a lead teacher for Kindergarten.

In September we were hit with the realization that our day guard who we had hired after our scary break in the year prior had started stealing from us. He wasn’t just stealing from things that were outside but was stealing from our trash, then moved into our garage and guest house and then finally into our home. He was able to sneak in to those areas when we were busy with other things or people. We caught him red handed and took him to police where we are yet to actually have any justice served as he made bail and is currently a fugitive. Again our trust had been broken, again my children were afraid to go anywhere in the house alone, again I became bitter toward Ugandans, again I felt attacked. I felt trapped because now I had to lock myself in and had to try and convince my kids that they were safe.

October and November I was tired; while our ministry was strong, our football program was also making positive changes, the kids were more involved in school and after school clubs, Matt was very busy and I had many more responsibilities at school. How was I supposed to manage it all? I joined a Bible study and it was really something that I needed we studied the armor of God, exactly what I needed prayer, community, a break and resources I could apply to my life. Blessed by the opportunity, but I was still tired and people liked to let me know “Hey you look tired.” to which I replied “I am.”

December our pastor in Uganda told us 3 weeks will not be enough, you need more and you need to rest. To which my reply was how? Well God knew how and He made it happen, we changed our return date to add an additional 3 weeks, my school allowed me the time off, we were blessed with donations toward our rest time, we were given free counseling, cars to drive, homes to stay in, friends to talk to, family to see, and time with the kids and without the kids.

As we go into this NEW YEAR we are hopeful that we will have less attacks, but through it all we have realized that God has never left us and we continue to rely heavily on his promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Matt and I are a strong force who are very passionate about what we are doing in Uganda and we will not let Satan take over. We feel we have been able to endure when others probably would have given up because we have been blessed more than we have we have been attacked. I am that passionate person that I once looked at in awe, because God is faithful and I will endure. So from our family to yours have a blessed 2019 and may you feel God’s presence and promises and have a renewed sense of passion for God and his creation.

 

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Connection

Connection is something that is seemingly impossible here. Yesterday was a difficult day and I wanted to take it personally but really it isn’t about me. You see I was returning from taking Parker to ballet and she had fallen asleep I pulled into the prison and headed to the football pitch. There was one more match to be played and so I pulled into the makeshift parking area and instantly I was overwhelmed. Every single man turned and stared at me and not just a quick glance to see who had just arrived. It was uncomfortable, but not anything I hadn’t experienced before. I was coming to watch, not because I loved football, but because these were my people. I waited in the car as I didn’t want to wake Parker and as I waited slowly the heads turned back to the start of the match. As I waited a young girl and her friend start coming closer and start circling the car, they just stare and chuckle. It seems harmless after all they are just kids, but then it makes me feel like a protective momma. I go to the mental place where Parker has been made to feel uncomfortable because children stare at her, try and touch her, and she cries feeling overwhelmed. Eventually we all are watching the match and Jacob finds it all a bore so he starts to read (his rather large book “The BFG”) and just minds his own business reading. I look over and slowly more and more kids are sitting close to him and just staring for an uncomfortable amount of time just staring.

I had time to reflect and process but in the moment I was feeling overwhelmed, isolated, alone, uncomfortable, protective. When I had more time to think about it, sadness was my next feeling. I felt sad because I remember when we had our three boys with us and they behaved the same way. Quiet, disconnected and unable to relate to things that are different. I thought of how kids that are at the international school setting are much different they are “cultured”. Students that have come into contact with a variety of races and cultures. They don’t feel uncomfortable making friends who are different and they don’t act amazed at the little things (like reading a book).

I think about how long it takes to form bonds with people here about how most everyone I encounter doesn’t know me. It is hard to cope at times when you feel like you don’t have any friends who understand. This past week though I was reminded on my birthday that it took almost 10 years for me to form a bond that was authentic with the boys now men who have been in our lives here in Uganda.  But in the same breath we have so many cases of people we thought we had a connection with who turned out to be nothing but counterfeits. In the 3.5 years of being here we have made so many great friends and they too have moved. It is exhausting to always feel like no one knows you and the ones that you open up to and connect with leave.

I think the hardest thing I find here is that my friends that I love so dearly back home I have to follow on Facebook. Friends have to follow me too and then it becomes such a hard thing when we do visit for such short amounts of time to “catch up”. I don’t want to catch up I want to literally just pop over to my friend’s house and just hangout and talk about currently life and not “Hey, how is life been over the past year?”

This is me. This is my current state. I am processing. I am exhausted. I am ready to be home with family for Christmas. I am ready to pop over to a friend’s house and not talk about life as a missionary and just hangout. Anybody want me?

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Reflection

It is my week off and I went to the ministry center to give support to Olivia and observe her in action. It was great to see her working with the Primary 1 students the equivalent of a kindergarten class but generally in this primary school in Uganda they are about 2-3 years older than they should be in that class. She was managing a class that had 30 students and she told me that they are only on single sounds still because there are 5 groups of the same class. She teaches Primary 1 students every day of the week only one time because there are so many. She is also teaching other classes in the school up to the Primary 5 level. I was overwhelmed by how many students are in school and that they are one of 54 primary schools in that district. The cool thing is that we have a space designated for teaching reading and they actually get to then look at books they are learning how to read. I was encouraged to see how Olivia was able to manage a class and try and make it an interactive experience. I was able to give some feedback to hopefully help ease her burden, and offer some strategies to keeping order and encouraging good participation in the sessions.

I was also reminded of our needs that still exist in the Gayaza office. We run on solar power for many reasons, and that morning we were low on power. See at night we have security lights for the protection of the school and our building to deter theft. We have security cameras that run all night. That means in the morning hours when it is a cloudy rainy day power is very low. The lights might not turn on or the computers run on their backup power. Yesterday Matt was replacing our printer for a more efficient running one. But I still reflected on how much of an impact we are doing even if the things in the office aren’t running we still show up and we work hard. Even when it starts to rain and you can’t hear over the tin roof clanking. Meetings with coaches were being done, sessions with the secretary were being conducted so that work and ministry could continue. I don’t get to see the day to day operations often because I am working at school, so it is a good reminder of things that are hard and things that are working.

We have been reflecting on our 10 years of ministry and we asked the staff to do a little memory video of their memories of us. We still haven’t seen it because I am sure it needs a lot of editing (wink, wink). So many good memories came up as we were talking about how it all started and I was reminded of how faithful God has been. We have made it through some incredible challenges and I am in awe at times at how God has remained faithful to complete a good work in us. The odds were stacked so high against us and we could have so easily just given up, and no one would have even faulted us for it; except us. We knew deep down from the very beginning when we were only 24 and 25 years old and newly married. We quit our successful jobs, sold our things, moved to Uganda where we had no one to help us or hold us accountable. We had frontal assaults, spiritual warfare, behind the back attacks and much more. One thing remained for us though, we had God and we had each other. To me that is so amazing to reflect back on, but also propels us on because if we can make it through these past 10 years, no one but God can stop us from continuing on for another.

Through these times of reflection, I am reminded of those who did stick with us. The people who were worried for us and prayed fervently for us. Those who wanted to tell us to come home, but knew that we had work to do in Uganda. Those who gave money when they didn’t have much to spare, those who helped us get paperwork filed and mail posted. The ones that put on fundraisers for us and gave us a place to stay when we were visiting “home”. Those who told their friends and hosted parties to raise awareness, gave big donations so we could purchase things we really needed. Ministry is a partnership that is more than Matt and Brecka and we have always tried our best to tell the kids here and relay our thanks to those who have stuck with us all these 10 years and those who are new supporters. We appreciate and we continue because you make it all possible. Please keep giving and praying and sharing we love you all.

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What a wonderful name it is

What’s in a name?

When introducing yourself to new people you mention most obviously your name. If you have a semi unique name you often get asked is it short for something or are you named after someone. I have always had my name mispronounced and misspelled. When I tell them that it is not short for anything but that I was named after a nurse, I always am reminded of my cousin. I was named after a nurse who took care of my cousin Jeremy who was born with a hole in his heart. As the story goes this nurse was a nice lady who was involved in the care of him when he would frequent the hospital. My cousin was much older than me and I mostly remember him through various stories that were told. He passed away when I was about 4 years old.

I was telling my name origin to a man who was visiting the school this past month and he said something that I had never thought of before. He was saying that often we are named for a reason that we don’t even know, but later fulfill the intent of the name given. He was saying that maybe that me being named after a nurse meant that I would find myself in a role that was nurse like. I thought well interestingly enough that day I had to give first aid to two students who were not even from my class during the lunch break. After our meeting Parker needed first aid for her scraped up knee. I reflected loads of times that I had to be the team nurse out on the soccer field and in the office at Gayaza.

The interesting bit is that I don’t know that my name has anything to do with what I am doing in my life, but I do know that there was intent in the name that I was given. We are all given a name and we may not fit that name that our parents gave us, but we do fit the name that our Heavenly Father gave us and that is child of God. We all have a purpose with that name child of God we are supposed to be reflective of the name that we have been given.

Ironically enough I just joined a Bible study Wednesday mornings and the first time I come a fellow woman had come late because she had been attacked by a dog. The person that brought her was asking if anyone felt comfortable helping in dressing her wounds or new first aid. I felt inclined to go and help, now I was way out of my league in knowing all the technical stuff to do but I did take first aid many times. The woman I helped was the woman who had let me know of the Bible study that was going on. Weeks prior I had put it out there that I was looking for a Bible study on Wednesday mornings and she told me of hers. I feel that in her time of need God had used me to be there for her and to show her love and compassion when she was hurt and scared.

I don’t know what your name means and really my name is a nickname of someone I never even got to meet, but I believe that we can all cling to the truth that we are all named after our God and that is the best name ever.

By the way when you get married and change your name and it also is always misspelled it is a bit annoying to have to always correct people, but just remember the one who named you never spells your name wrong and neither does your heavenly father.

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I forgive, because He forgave

I forgive, because he forgave.

I am going through the Gospels and I am particularly fascinated these days with the disciples. Jesus is nearing the time of his death and resurrection. Before that he is betrayed. He knows he will be betrayed and he knows who will betray him.

But I didn’t know I was going to be betrayed and I didn’t know who was going to betray me. I sure as heck don’t expect to be put to death. So how then do I have the mindset of Jesus? How do I forgive someone who has betrayed me, someone who really could care less if I forgave him?

I can because Jesus didn’t just die for me he also died for people like him. I am a sinner and he is too. He died for all of us.

A friend of mine who has an inspirational blog called sonyabrunner.com Fifty Shades of Grace. Is someone who is constantly helping me to see that no matter what someone has done to you. You are the one who can take control and not let it control you. That Jesus died for someone like me and someone like him.

Music has always been a way of therapy, a way to connect to God, a way to release emotions. One of my favorites lately is Mercy Me- Even if.

verse-                                                                          chorus

They say it only takes a little faith                            I know You’re able and I know You can
To move a mountain                                          Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
Well good thing                                                             But even if You don’t
A little faith is all I have, right now                                   My hope is You alone
But God, when You choose                                           I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
To leave mountains unmovable                        Would all go away if You’d just say the word
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing                      But even if You don’t
It is well with my soul                                                     My hope is You alone

verse-                                                                              chorus

You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good                   I know You’re able and I know You can
All of my days                                                       Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
Jesus, I will cling to You                                                 But even if You don’t
Come what may                                                            My hope is You alone
‘Cause I know You’re able                                              I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
I know You can                                                      Would all go away if You’d just say the word                                                                                            But even if You don’t

My hope is You alone”

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Truth because Fear is a Liar

I am sick of all the lies! “Fear is a liar” by Zach Williams is an amazing song and I heard it a lot on our trip in America. (I love that there is Christian music that you can tune into on the radio without streaming.) Mostly I am sick of people in our lives that continue to spew out lies to others about us; lies to us about themselves. I am sick of not being able to trust someone at their word and take it at face value. I am over the people who lie so much they start to even believe their lies and then try and come “clean” about the truth only to speak more lies about others.

It is really hard for me to make real relationships in Uganda; relationships with Ugandans, expats, and people who are in America. It is hard to be open and allow people into my world; the thoughts that I have and the things that I hold dear. Hard, when I have to have relationships over the internet; internet that is less than reliable, expensive and now even being taxed. Hard to have relationships with Ugandans because we have been burned more times than we can count by people who know how to talk the talk and then screw you over the moment you let any guard down. Expats are hard to open up to for fear of judgment, lack of dependability because of frequent turnover and they too are very guarded about what they let others know about them. They too have been taken advantage of and lied to by the people of the world.

I am not saying that this problem exists only because we live in Uganda. We have plenty of pre-Uganda liars in our life. We have people who are family that have held major lies, who cover up sin and deception. I have been lied to recently and will continue to be lied to because I understand that there is sin in the world. Lying is a sin and sin is everywhere, but I am still really sick and tired of lies and liars.

So where do I go from here? I have to trust people and I have to have faith in people. I am called to forgive people, but how do I stay safe from the lies and the liars? How do I make sure that I am always open and honest and also not putting up a façade? Often like the song “Fear is a liar” I think the reason people choose to lie is out of fear. Fear that they are not good enough on their own, fear that they are not going to be the right one for the job, fear that they can’t stand up to someone so they just lie and run away from their problems.

But I also think that people often try and live a life of fantasy; they try and live a life that they want and they want others to see them as living. They lie to themselves that it won’t hurt anyone or affect anyone if they tell “little lies”. They lie because they don’t believe that there is God our Almighty Father who knows our thoughts, fears, intentions, actions and the words we will speak before we speak them. They don’t want to believe that God is here for us and he is asking us to first just listen to Him. To listen to the truth and not believe the lies that we tell ourselves or we hear from others. It all comes down to the fact you have to be in the Word of God the BIBLE and believe in Jesus Christ for any real truth to rule your life. We are all born into this world as sinners and one of those sins is lying. We can’t overcome that sin if we continue to listen to the ultimate liar; Satan who tells us we don’t need Jesus and we deserve things so it’s okay to lie to get what we deserve.

So today I am praying for all the liars the ones I know and the ones that I don’t. I am praying that they find Jesus, they confess and they turn their life of lies into truths. I will continue to live my life as honestly as I can and tell Satan to go away. I am praying for strength to form relationships and not let fear get in the way. I am not going to deprive my happiness I am casting my fear in the fire, because fear is a liar. Pray for me because this struggle is a daily decision that has to be consciously made. My prayers for you is that you can find truth in Jesus and that He will guide you as you cast out your fears.

Lyrics to Fear is a liar and link to his video

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Oh, let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Oh, fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

‘Cause fear he is a liar