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Better to give…

Guess what I have been doing on my “summer break” …cleaning and organizing. I actually am not complaining; I love doing it. Matt thinks I am weird because I like watching that show “hoarders”. Over the years I have learned that most people fall into certain categories of why they keep things. Some are collectors they like to save memory items; they like to buy matching items that carry a theme. Some people keep things they think they will use in the future and they are so frugal that they will figure out a use for that pipe cleaner and empty jar of peanut butter. Then there are the people who don’t even know they keep things, they are so disorganized they don’t even realize they still have that shirt from 10 years ago that didn’t fit or look good then, but for some reason they kept hold of it.

I ended the school year cleaning up and storing items for next year (along the way found some things that did not need to sit in the closet all summer long). I then got to sort lots and lots of donated items for our football program (thanks to Puma) J. I then went on to our home and moved my art supplies from the guest house that didn’t end up being my sanctuary that I thought it would originally serve as. I went through the kid’s memory boxes and purged quite a few very random items. Then I spend a day and a morning cleaning out a storage container at the Gayaza office that I have sorted on more than one occasion. I have more faith this time it will stay a bit more functioning fingers crossed.

I have grown more sensitive to why people like free stuff or want to hold on to things. When we started fostering the boys they came with some of the strangest things and we would get people who would give us things to use for the boys and we also went to the markets and got items. It was so hard for them to let go of old items, items that would not fit, had holes, were made for the body type of a female and someone way shorter than them. I would try to convince them to give it to a younger brother or donate it to the kids in Gayaza and after some time of trust they were able to let some things go. I find here in Uganda with the people that I work with or serve alongside like to find a good deal. I can appreciate that, but I think that for so long they have struggled with obtaining “stuff” it is hard for them to let it go. They would rather keep it for a “rainy day” so to speak than to find someone else who needs it or even (gasp) throw it away.

I reflect on the verse Matthew 6: 19-21 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I just want to give people some way of remembering to trust God and not rely on the stuff that ultimately won’t protect them or provide fulfillment. It is easier to give up things when you feel that you have plenty some might say. But I have experienced loss in a variety of ways from selling everything to come to Uganda, getting robbed of lots of stuff and what I learned from it all is that God always provides. There will always be stuff some stuff is nicer than others, but it is still stuff that you will not need when you leave this Earth. I never want to be a person that has stuff lying around not being used just because I fear losing it or needing it someday. I choose to let other people benefit from it and hopefully they too will end up giving something they don’t need any more to someone who needs it more than them.

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We are the Church

Recently at school we talked to my students in the early years about church. We talked about the buildings and how some are very big and decorated with lots of expensive things. We then talked about how church looks for some of us with church being held at schools, huts and some in big buildings. Then we explained that the church doesn’t always mean a building. We had them repeat “I am the church” as they looked in the mirror at themselves. Then we talked about how if you are a believer in Christ that you belong to the church and that being the church means that you worship God. Remember these are 3-5 year olds, we kept it simple, but as we finished I wanted them to have a feeling of being the church together and I put on the song “Come, now is the time to worship,” and as these cute little ones began to sing praises I fought back tears of joy.

We are the church and here in Uganda I needed a place to call “my church”. I remember that it was some of my most lonely of months when we first came to live in Uganda in 2008 and I couldn’t call any place my church home. This go around through God’s grace it was actually such a blessing to find a church we felt connected to. The international church is an interesting concept as we are believers from all over the world and we gather together to worship. We come from all backgrounds and denominations, but that doesn’t limit our ability to come together as one church body.

These past years the “church” has been the support that we have needed throughout this journey of ministry. Believers in Christ have prayed for us from all over the world, given us advice, support financially and so much more. I would also say that having Godly women in my life has really helped me emotionally to continue to do all the things that I do. I am blessed to work with Christian women at school and Sunday mornings worshiping alongside other families in ministry. Then the few important opportunities to go on weekends away to really refocus and have women who also have ministry life struggles to pray for you and lift you up. A few months ago I was blessed to have one of those weekends and I met many amazing women. One of them shared this song with us (she happens to be my new neighbor too) and it really gave me the boost I needed.

Singer:   Ginny Owens   Album:   Without condition  1999            Song:   If you want me to

Lyrics:

The pathway is broken

And The signs are unclear

And I don’t know the reason why You brought me here

But just because You love me the way that You do

I’m gonna walk through the valley If You want me to

‘Cause I’m not who I was

When I took my first step

And I’m clinging to the promise

You’re not through with me yet

So if all of these trials bring me closer to you

Then I will go through the fire If You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen

When you lead me through a world that’s not my home

But You never said it would be easy

You only said I’d never go alone

So When the whole world turns against me

And I’m all by myself

And I can’t hear You answer my cries for help

I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through

And I will go through the valley If You want me to

My encouragement to you is to find out what the church means to you. It doesn’t mean just a building, in fact the building could be a distraction from what the church is supposed to be. Find people of faith that you can have a relationship with and can hold you accountable. Going to Bible studies, prayer meetings, retreats, Sunday morning worship and fellowship. I encourage you to meet people and as a person who doesn’t really like to try and meet new people, I know that can be a challenge. Pray for God to open up opportunities for you to get involved somehow in the church as it will not only benefit other people it will be a blessing to you. The pastor is not the only one in the church that can minister to you, WE ARE THE CHURCH. YOU ARE THE CHURCH. I AM THE CHURCH. Now GO BE THE CHURCH and be blessed.

 

 

 

 

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Women’s day…everyday am I right?

Last weekend I was blessed with the ability and opportunity to have a weekend away with some amazing women. I knew a few of them but the majority I had never met as they were coming from all over Uganda and even South Sudan. As I was reflecting about that weekend I am amazed at how strong God made us women. Throughout my life I have come to know and cross paths with some of the strongest women that God is using for his Kingdom. I truly believe after hearing stories of trials and tribulation that women face, it is only through God’s grace that women can turn a tragedy into a triumph for His glory. I am so thankful for the testimonies and the amount of prayer that went on this past weekend. God has a world full of amazing women who are faithful to complete the work that He has set before them. I wanted to highlight a few amazing women, ones that I won’t name but want to give the Glory to God for the impact they make in my life and in the lives of countless others around the world.

One woman came into my life through her amazing music. I always love hearing her sing and all for the glory of God. You can tell when someone has passion for what they are singing it radiates through them and just gives you goosebumps. I only found out about her life story years later when she was open enough to share with the world the horrible life she led as a child. But even though she had to deal with a whole lotta crud she is dealing with it and she is make a difference in the lives of others who also have dealt with abuse.

Another strong woman is a friend I made when we first returned to the United States and God intentionally put our lives together for a reason. We did life together and it was wonderful to have a friend and a fellow mom who also was just doing her best to raise tiny humans. Then for a reason we will never understand her son died and the heartache that followed at times seemed unbearable. But what I know is that she has never wavered in her love for God, and she is brutally honest about how hard life is, but she still lives it and loves in it. I am proud to be her friend.

Another woman who probably never knew how much she meant to me because she left this earth too soon for me. She was caring, friendly and a bit of a rule breaker. She was a great mother and wonderful grandmother and even got to be a great grandmother. She fought through injuries, cancer and a whole lot of responsibility. She loved to travel and meet new people and I believe that is how God used her. God used her outgoing caring personality to reach people wherever they were and she didn’t even have to mention God because they saw it in her. She was a witness of how amazing God is just through her presence. She was social, she was relational and that is what made her special. She has taught me to be okay with who I am and to take risks by how much I love others, even strangers.

God has placed so many women in my life who I can learn from and grow because of. I am eternally grateful that women in my life have been the ones who led me to Christ, taught me how to be a mother, a teacher, a leader, a speaker, a singer, a missionary, a friend, a mentor and much more. This journey that God has placed me on is not an easy one but He has placed women along the road to help me, pray for me and guide me into being a woman that God can say…”Well done my daughter, you good and faithful servant.”

 

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Grandma Deeeeee

This holiday season we are away from our extended family and I will admit the memories come flooding for me. My grandma Dee (my mom’s mom) always brings back great memories of Christmas time. The travel to Beatrice, Ne wasn’t long and so the time spent in the car wasn’t torture like when we would travel to Iowa. I can’t compare the two places for Christmas, because they were different in so many ways. One thing was the same though memories. The memories I made were generally with my cousins and sleeping in sleeping bags or on sofas. We would play games, we would make up songs, we would talk about how lame it was to play with younger cousins (who now we totally would hang out with). Grandma Dee always made every child feel unique even if they got the same gift as their cousin who was in their age range. She always had Christmas cookies, we ate pizza at least once, because when you have 14 grand kids you order pizza.

The reason I decided to dedicate this blog to my grandma Dee is that she used to send out emails updating us on her many adventures. She would literally tell us at times everything she did. I was just looking through my emails and saw that I had saved some old family emails from my grandma. It was an email from 2009 when she was travelling in Colorado. She was so funny when she wrote often laughing at her own jokes. My mom does the same things now a bit shorter stories (and usually about Nebraska sports and weather). I will probably do the same when my kids get to the age of emails…if that is still something that exists when they are older.

Memories are something that can bring joy and a bit of sadness. I miss both my grandma’s a lot during the holidays. My grandma Ruby passed away on Christmas eve when I was a freshman in college. It changed the holiday for all of us because Christmas was one of my grandma Ruby’s favorite holidays.  She literally would have a pile of presents surrounding her chair and she wouldn’t open them because she was too busy watching everyone else open theirs. She didn’t want to miss any joy from her loved ones. She would then have the grand kids help her open hers so we wouldn’t have to wait forever. She always cried every single time that we had to leave to go back home, she just wanted her kids and grand kids to live near her so she could show them love all the time.

My grandma Dee was on one of her adventures when she passed away in her sleep. She always said she didn’t want to die old like her mother who lived until she was 96. She wanted to live life to the fullest never wanting to be any burden to anyone. She was a giver not a taker, I would say she also loved Christmas, but more for the family time and servant hood that she could provide.

This Christmas season is difficult for many, but what I have tried to remind myself is that each year we can reflect on the things of the world or we can reflect on the things of eternity. I am so thankful that both my grandma’s are in heaven and putting all the traditions and family time memories aside the reason for Christmas is only Christ. It is not about what we gain from the season from the people on earth, but what we gained on ONE Christmas which was Jesus. I am so blessed to come from a long line of followers of Jesus and one day when my grand kids think of memories of me I want them to remember one main thing… Jesus!

Merry CHRISTmas.

 

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Trials of 2017

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…

What are my trials that I am facing? I want to try and be authentic about this part of my life right now. 2017 has not been the best year of my life, nor the worst; but I can say that many trials have been faced and continue to be faced. The most obvious one is the new addition of 3 tween boys who have lived with us full-time since January. To say it has been an adjustment is an understatement. When you think you might have a good thing going it often changes with the weather, especially when there are now 7 different moods, opinions, behaviors, schedules, stresses, and coping strategies.

We have moved 4 times in Parkers 4 years of life from Omaha to Uganda House 1 Masoli, then to House 2 Bukoto and most recently House 3 Kasanga. We told ourselves I don’t want to move for a long time and then we get robbed in the very house that we want to stay in for a long period of time. That was a major trial and at times still is, our lives were forever altered. I had flashbacks to our first year of marriage where I was robbed outside our apartment at gunpoint. Matt had restless nights waking up to any little sound he would hear outside. Every night it would take hours to fall asleep because any noise outside would prevent us from being able to rest.

Not being able to travel “home” this year has been a big heartache for us. We miss friends and family physically being with us. We miss the comforts that a first world country offers. The familiarity and convenience of getting what we need and what we want. The reality that we are not financially able to just go “home” like other people are. The lack of flexibility we have to leave our ministry in capable hands and see that it would run without our constant support. The fact we can’t travel with our boys yet because they have no documentation or clearance to move around with us outside of Uganda.

Missionary families moving onto other countries and the relationships that we developed with them altered. Opening up ourselves to be hurt, lonely and at times envious of where they are heading and the lives they will lead without us. The stress of making new friends and always having to be the “outgoing” person because if you are shy and introverted then good luck finding friendships.

Friends and family dealing with loss and heartbreak a world away from us and we can’t be there to comfort them. We can’t experience the new births and the deaths, marriages and moves. You can’t be there when someone is sick or going through a crisis; you can’t physically touch someone, hold their hand, hug them tight or say I love you in person.

But if life were only the first part of the verse then it would be a complete tragedy not pure joy. The second part of that verse says… because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

As much as I don’t like facing trials those trials happen for a reason. I often don’t know what those reasons are and I don’t always face them joyfully. But I do know that my God will give me the ability to persevere. He will equip me when I read His word and pray to Him to be able to come out of any trial better than when I faced it.

We have had so many blessings in the midst of the trials, victories in the midst of defeat and hope in the midst of hopelessness. We have gained more than we have lost and loved more than we thought we ever could. It is all because of Christ and His goodness despite our shortcomings. Thank you God for that and through those trials and the ones to come I know that through it all I will always find God with me by my side holding my hand or when I am too weak He will be carrying me through the storm.

I will end with one of my favorite poems…

Footprints in the Sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:
“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”
The LORD replied:
“My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

Author: Carolyn Joyce Carty

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Go into all the world and preach the Gospel

So yesterday when I left school I went out to Gayaza to help in the distribution of ice cream to the students who had earned it. It was then that I asked three of the older children if they wanted me to lead Bible Study tomorrow and they nodded their head yes. I said okay what do you want me to teach about? I had told them a while back that I wasn’t going to be teaching them the same old Bible stories that they had heard for years. I wanted to get out of the baby stage of their faith and really challenge them to want to learn more about the Bible. So I got what I asked for that day, they gave me a list of some really deep lessons that I could talk about and I was able to teach a lesson on the Holy Spirit (I felt very underqualified) it was only through the Holy Spirit that I was able to teach that day.

That was a great day and I had one young man who was searching and I was able to tell him about Jesus Christ and I feel he really got it. See, he was worried about doing the right things and wondering how he would know if he had the holy spirit. What a great opportunity God gave to me. This Friday the three boys said they wanted to 1. Learn how to be a Christian in today’s society. 2. What prophecies have been fulfilled in the Bible? 3. What are miracles that were performed by people other than Jesus?

Again, I thought really; how am I going to be able to do this by tomorrow. I got home and there was no internet to bail me out either; but I did google it this morning and printed something that I thought could at least give me a start. I decided on prophesies and focused on the prophesy that Jesus and others talked of regarding the signs that the end times were coming. I had a larger group than normal due to the many activities of the day and I started out with two questions what is a prophesy and who are some prophets? We had a pretty good list, and then someone said Muhamad. What an opportunity to talk about false prophets too.

Again God provided me the opportunity to share the gospel as one of the prophesies is that the world will have heard the Good News. So I was challenging them because I said that obviously there were still people who have not heard the Good News and that is why I am in Uganda. I also told them a little bit about “The Case for Christ” and his testimony. Challenging them to collect the information, to find the facts, but that ultimately they would have to have the faith to believe it all to be true. I stood on the bench and said to them that I believe in Jesus, that he is God’s son, he died for our sins, and rose again and that he is preparing a place for me and he will return one day. I said to them that I can only tell them the truth and it is them that has to make a decision either accept or reject.

In essence I actually was able to answer all three topics in one lesson as the miracle that Lee Strobel who was an atheist came to believe in Jesus Christ, prophecies of the end times and how to be a Christian in today’s world; tell everyone about the love of Jesus.

I put some kids to sleep, I had some kids never take their eyes off me, and I had kids giving me a hand clap and a hallelujah. I felt good that I had done my part and that I didn’t have to worry that God would do his part. Pray for these boys and girls as they are teenagers who don’t really have any other program targeted for them. They are a forgotten age group and we have a huge responsibility to reach them and to equip them to reach their friends for Christ. I must say though God knows how to motivate me after a week of some frustrating adults, he refreshes me with these crazy kids.

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Childhood Memories

You know when you have good intentions, but then sometimes the reaction you get you aren’t so sure it was a good idea; well that was me today. I was trying to get the kids to work on writing projects today and Matt gave me the idea to have the kids reflect on this past year, where it started and where we are now. The thought behind it was to help improve their writing, to provide an opportunity for reflection and to be thankful for what this past year God has been doing in their lives. Let’s just say Tendo the oldest eventually got it and did a great job, however Happy and Kitibwa were in tears and still didn’t put together a cohesive piece.

During my quiet time I was reflecting on that moment from earlier today and it made me think about childhood memories. I think some memories are made up of what other people have told us through stories. Through those stories that they remember we then imagine in our minds what it would have looked like and replay it for ourselves how we think it would have looked like. Other memories we remember because they were happy, painful, scary…just like that movie “Inside Out”. I don’t know that it is healthy to relive those moments but I do know we should recall moments to help us make decisions in the present and future. I think there is a purpose for recalling that God gives us to help us along the journey of life.

My memories- This one I heard (more when I was approaching driving age) and put my own visual recall. I lost my tooth at an amusement park “Peony Park” on the go cart track. I knew how to go but not how to stop. See I was a tall 4-year-old and I put the pedal to the metal in the wrong direction and ran into the attendant straight into the tires. I lost my tooth when I came to a halt and that was the last time that I drove a go cart until I was a bit older.

Praying to receive Christ with Betty Garrett and sharing it with everyone, even my friend Becky whose mom didn’t like that I was telling her daughter about Christ and then we couldn’t be friends anymore.

Cutting my wrist on broken glass when I was out collecting “treasures” to play house in my tree house out on the farm. My mom put butterfly stitches and I still have the scar today.

Selling my doll house back to my grandma when I had out grown playing with dolls.

Playing “college” with my cousin Bethany whenever we felt too cool to play with all the younger cousins.

My first “boyfriend” in middle school who asked my friend to call me for him to ask me out. Mind you I had no clue who she was talking about but to have an 8th grader ask me out “well sure”. Needless to say that lasted about 2 days when he had someone call me to dump me, because I wouldn’t hold his hand anymore. Almost as bad as the date I had with an 11th grader as a freshman where we couldn’t go to an “R” rated movie because I was too young, he wanted to take a romantic walk around the lake but I wasn’t that into him and I said it was too buggy and just wanted to go home. (he took someone else to prom, and got food poisoning)

There are so many childhood memories that I remember and most of them were pretty great. But I do remember the hard ones that taught me lessons and the ones that I reflect and realize God’s protection. Memories can be hard especially with our kids who have had more difficult ones, but it is always important to remember how God has protected us and shaped us into who we are today. Memories are stories that can help others learn and heal, protect and guide. Don’t be afraid to share your stories-even the ones that may hurt because how wonderful is the journey that God has delivered us from and how amazing is the journey we have ahead.

I challenge you to remember something today that may help you or someone else find hope and healing in Jesus name.