Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Finding The Good in Goodbye

Dusting shelves and packing up dishes. Paying the final bills. Taking down my pictures and calling the electrician to reconnect the original water heater. Returning my P.O. box key and gathering up all my spare apartment keys. Organizing my remaining belongings into various categories: give away, pack, and possibly pack if there's space.

The reality of my immanent departure comes in waves. Usually it doesn't seem real, but other times it hits me. When I'm taking yet another bag of garbage out to the burn pile. When I'm bagging up my remaining food items to give away. When I'm researching cell phone plans in America or checking my email hoping to see something from a potential future employer.

I've crossed over Ugandan borders 20 times, and I have a full passport to show for it. But one week from today, I'll be flying out of Uganda for the final time. This is really happening. I'm moving back to America.

Perhaps it's all the self-reflection getting to me, but I find it appropriate that I'm going home with three bags, like they represent my three years spent in Uganda. As I clean windows and sweep out the long-neglected nooks and crannies, I find it symbolic that I'm alone with my thoughts once again. Alone with God. Much of the past years have been spent just like this--alone.

And that's not such a bad thing I've come to learn. In all that alone time, I've had many opportunities to practice depending on God, communicating with him, listening to the quiet nudges of the Spirit. I relied on Him to speak into confusion and put the chaos into order. I grew to love my time spent alone, with Him. I learned that even in the silence there can be complete fullness.

In these final days here in Uganda, even though everything else is changing, this has not changed. I'm still leaning on Jesus for strength, for patience, for ordering the chaos. I'm asking him to help me finish well. Listening for his voice as I stare at blank walls, empty shelves, and full suitcases. Relying on him for all that's ahead- the final goodbyes, the travels, the unknown of the future. Trusting him with the loss of leaving, the excitement of going home, and the hope for all that might be.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
She who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with her.
Psalm 126:5-6

Monday, May 4, 2015

Not My Home

As my final days in Uganda are ticking away, I'm beginning to face the fact that there are going to many hard goodbyes. Some of these people I hope to see Stateside one day, but I'm very aware that there are others I won't see again this side of eternity. In order to be reunited with some really important people, I have to part ways with others. I'm struck with the reality that I cannot gain one precious thing without losing another. If I want the hellos, I must bear the weight of goodbyes.

Those the LORD has rescued will return. 
They will enter Zion with singing; 
everlasting joy will crown their heads. 
Gladness and joy will overtake them, 
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 55:11

Do you long for this day as much as I do?

For that sweet moment when you'll be overtaken with gladness and joy because all your people are together in one place?

Does your heart thrill at the thought of never facing another day of sorrow and sighing?

No more goodbyes and too many places your heart calls home.

This is why groups of close friends often joke about moving in together. Buying land and living on it with our people.
"Why not? Let's do it! We have doctors, teachers, farmers, and pastors... 
It'll be great! We'll be together forever." 

At this point in my life, I've probably committed to four different communes because all over the world we're longing for uninterrupted, soul-level community. We're close, but we could still be closer. Something deep within each of us knows that we're not designed for "goodbye."
We're not built for parting ways.
We want to dwell together forever.
Eternity is in our hearts.

My soul longs for the day when the word "home" means the exact same thing for all of us.
No more goodbyes.
No more hearts dwelling in multiple places at once.
Just one Home.
Forever. And ever.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mama Said So

I recently had the opportunity to interview Sarah about what it's like to be a single mother in Uganda. Just as we were about to begin, Sarah's friend, Caro, showed up for a visit. Caro is also a single mother, and she was happy to join in our discussion over a cup of lemongrass chai while their daughters played and toddled around us. Here they are...the women of the hour: Sarah & Sofy (16 months), Caro & Layla (22 months).

What's the best thing about being a mom?

Sarah: A good thing about being a mother... If you carry this baby (Sofy), and you go outside, people will see you and respect you. They might not know your situation of being a single mother, but they will just respect you because you have a baby. They respect you as a mother.

Caro: There's a situation we are in... very many girls... but when you're having a kid, even though a man comes, he can fear because he sees you are someone's woman. He doesn't know the man isn't around, and he wont disturb you. And it is very good to have a kid because there are very many men and women who have prayed for children and don't have them. That shows me that when you have someone in the world, it is very great.

What's the hardest thing about being a mom? 

Sarah: The most difficult thing is taking care of them in many ways. Like getting food for each meal, buying clothes, there are school fees... Caring for her by myself is very hard because she keeps me busy even to the extent of failing to cook for myself. I find that I eat at 3 or 4pm because from the time she wakes up in the morning, I make sure that I've prepared something for her to eat. We use charcoal stoves here which can take a long time to cook something.

Caro: When Layla falls sick, and I have nothing, it can be difficult. Another thing. You may also have nothing to feed her, and when she's hungry, she can cry the whole day. And all you can say is, "What can I do?" I have to go to my friend or my neighbor and ask for something for my kid.

There are very many girls who feel burdened by the responsibility of having a baby, and they abandon their baby. If you had the opportunity, what would you say to these girls?

Caro: Sometimes these girls say, "This kid is very expensive. Will I manage? Let me just leave the baby and go do my own things." For me, I am an example. Layla was sick all the time, and I am alone, I wasn't working. So if God wasn't in me or the love I have for her, I could just dump her there and leave her. But for me and Sarah, we stood and said, "Come what may." So if I met that person, I would encourage her just to stand and struggle like a mother.

Sarah: I think these ladies that have that heart of throwing away the babies... I think they think they will not manage to take care of the baby because the fathers are not around. Others fear their parents seeing them pregnant and fear being chased away from their clans. Some parents chase their daughters away because the father of the child is from a different tribe or culture. Other parents say, "If my daughter gets pregnant, I will never allow her to come back in my home." So these girls just abort or throw the child. So I would encourage this girl and say that if even a poor person in the village who doesn't have work can care for her baby, why can't you also? I can also encourage her through preaching the word of God saying that God loves us and has a plan for us. And tell her that if she aborts, she may end up dying or won't be able to have children again in the future when she wants them.

What has given you encouragment recently?

Sarah: Sofy has encouraged me because I can see how she's growing. She's not growing backwards, but she's growing ahead. God helped me, and she's not falling sick all the time now, and she's growing like other children.

Caro: I am encouraged because when Layla turned one year, she was not yet walking. Even the father was abusing me saying he would take her back to the village. But I thank God that she walked, and now she is running! She is somehow growing fat. Before, she was very, very thin and wouldn't even laugh, but now she is enjoying herself and doing each and every thing. That's why I'm so encouraged now.

What advice would you give to other first-time moms?

Sarah:  I would tell her to love the baby in all ways. Second, I would tell her to trust in God. Third, I would tell her to avoid being so angry when things go wrong at home, like if she has no soap to wash or no money. I would tell her to be patient and trust in God and feel hope all the time. During the age of children who have started walking or talking, if she breaks a cup, don't beat her as if you were killing a snake. You should punish her in a good manner that shows her love.

Caro: If she's like us single mothers, I would tell her that things are not easy but just take them as they are. She should focus her heart on God because he's the provider of each and every thing, For me, if it wasn't for God, I couldn't be what I am. Even though we are passing through challenges, He says that he will be with us. I would tell a mother to remember she is not the first one to experience these things. Even your mother suffered to make you grow up, so just stand and believe in your God, The Scriptures you have in your head can make you to pass.

What hopes do you have for your daughter?

Sarah: I have hope in Sofy that she will go to school, and get a job, and feel okay. I have hope that she will also love God in the future and will be a well-behaved girl.

Caro: The first thing, I hope she will grow up fearing God. I also hope that she will get her education from outside countries and that she will grow up to be a musician! I want her to be a woman who can stand and do her own things.

How would you like people to pray for you and your daughter?

Sarah: I would ask those people to pray for Sofy to have wisdom. Being wise is very class, in your own family, it's a good thing. I would also ask people to pray that Sofy can use her talents well.

Caro: I would want people to pray for my kid to not lack anything she should have, like school fees. I'm also pray that she can have the love of her father. It's very important to me that she knows the father so she can have a full life. He was born again, and he backslid, but I am praying he will return to us.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Sarah: Being a mom in Uganda has been hard for me. The are many challenges, but by the power of God, I can overcome some of them. When I pray, I see he provides for me. But being a mother, especially a single mother in Uganda, is not easy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chad Is Rad

Last month I went to Kenya.
This month I went to Chad. Or Tchad, if you're a French speaker... which I am not. For those of us who need a little refresher on where exactly Chad is, I give you this:

I spent a week in the capital city, N'Djamena, visiting my friends and their four boys. They've lived there for nearly two years, and they plan to be there for many, many, many more.

our welcome sign made by the boys

We flew into Chad in the middle of a dust storm, the likes of which I have never seen. It was so dusty that our plane must've overshot the runway on our first attempt at landing. As we were nearing touchdown, the landing gear was put away and we suddenly started ascending again. Fortunately, there are only one or two flights coming in each day, so we didn't have to staying in a holding pattern waiting for our turn again. After making a large circle back, we were able to land successfully on the second try.

Chad is a French and Arabic speaking country, so it was strange to not be able to understand or communicate freely with Chadians, but my friends were gracious translators and helped me out when necessary.

It was supposed to be one of the hottest times of year during my visit with normal daytime temperatures hang out around 110°F or 115°F. I was prepared for the worst. Prepared to pour water on my mattress at night and put on soaking wet pajamas to provide a few minutes of relative cool as the water quickly evaporates in the dry, desert air. But because of the dust storm that blew in on the day we arrived that thoroughly blocked out the sun, we experienced a bit of a "cold snap." Temps stayed around a comfortable 99°F most days, and cooled down to a chilly 70°F at night. Expats and Chadians alike were thrilled and thankful for some relief from the typical heat! While I would've liked to experience "real" Chadian weather to better understand what people deal with year in and year out, I was grateful for the cooler, manageable temps.

the sun blotted out by dust

It's illegal to take photos in Chad without a permit, so I don't have many of the city itself, but here we are dressed up to leave the compound. When living and working among Chadian Muslims, it's extremely important for women to wear ankle-length dresses or skirts and have one's elbows and hair completely covered when in public. These dresses recently became popular in Chad, so we're basically runway-ready!

me, danielle, dawn

Henna is another traditional form of beautification. Single women are allowed to have their hands done, but only married women are allowed to have henna on their feet. In fact, if you're a good wife, you should have your feet henna-ed on a regular basis.

I got to visit one of AIM's schools for missionary children while in N'Djamena. Wellspring Academy offers an American-based education for 1st-8th graders of missionary families in the area. All of the teachers and staff are members of AIM, some short-term and others long-term. This is an incredibly important ministry in Chad, and I was happy to spend a day at the little school observing the classes and getting to know the teachers and students.

Chad is in the Sahara desert, and though I only saw a very small portion of the large country, I was struck by its beauty. It's not beautiful in an obvious way, like all the greenery and rolling hills of Uganda. From the buildings to the streets to the compounds, everything seemed to be the same few shades of tan-ish gray. There were no riots of pattern and color fighting each other for attention, but that could've partially been due to the dust that so quickly and completely covers everything inside and out. Even so, I was awed by the simple beauty that can be found in the desert.

The whole week I was there, I felt a deep gratitude for the chance to visit Chad. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself there, even for a visit! I had no idea what to expect going into it, but I came away full of awe for the work being done there. I have a deep respect for the many people who've dedicated themselves to loving and serving Chadians. Seeing firsthand the outpouring of their lives in such a difficult place was a beautiful gift. Few people get such an opportunity, and I'm forever thankful that I was granted this experience. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Not Lonely

God sets the lonely in families...
Psalm 68:6

Yes, God is certainly talking about orphans and widows. 
Yes, He's also talking about refugees and those who've been exiled.
But it wasn't until recently that I realized this verse was for me, too!

Living overseas as a single woman is not easy.
It means sacrificing opportunities.
Giving up a certain quality of life.
Quiet nights spent alone.
Realizing that no one on the entire continent has any sort of familial responsibility to you.
Putting up with innumerable crass comments, inappropriate interactions, and unwanted attention.
Even those who believe singleness on the mission field is their life-long calling still struggle with loneliness, disappointment, and wrestle with big questions.

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends 
even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” 
– Thomas Aquinas

And that's when community comes into play. I cannot fathom life in Uganda without these four ladies. They're all married with the most wonderful families you'll ever meet, and they've each lovingly, graciously, and completely invited me into their lives. They've opened their doors, and more importantly, they've opened their hearts to me. I've learned so much from watching them love and serve their families and community, on the good days and on the bad ones, too. They free me to be myself, and together we learn to let down our walls. This gift cannot be measured.

Plus, they share their children with me! For play dates and sleepovers, birthday parties and little girl parties.

Sunday morning is one of my favorite times because it means walking up the steps of our church building, turning the corner, and being greeted by shouts of "Miss Carolyn is here!" and all sorts of running-start-knee-high hugs. Grace upon grace.

How can I possibly get lonely with these little friends in my life?

God promises to supply all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus - including the need for family. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Soul Care

"Last week, I took a road trip to Kenya."
I never thought I'd say these words, but it's true!

I had the opportunity to attend a women's retreat in Kakamega, Kenya last week. My sweet friends, Shawna and Aimee (also missionaries in Mbarara) were in charge of the retreat this year, and they invited me along. Another Mbarara friend, Crystal, also planned to attended the retreat, so I was not about to pass up an opportunity to spend nine whole days with these precious sisters!

me, Aimee, Shawna, Trippton, and Crystal

This map showing the drive from Mbarara to Kakamega makes me laugh. Seven hours and forty-four minutes? What a joke. I can tell you from personal experience that it's a solid two-day drive.

We left Mbarara bright and early on Friday morning, and our first stop was at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. There, we picked up two ladies, Cheryl and Renee, who flew in all the way from the States just to minister to the women attending the retreat this year. Bless.

Six ladies, one baby, 12+ suitcases, and a baby bathtub later, we were all packed up and ready to hit the road to make our way to Kenya.

We split the next part of the trip, from Entebbe to Kakamega, into two days. There were traffic jams where we moved approximately five feet in one hour, plenty of roadside stops so baby Tripp could eat, lots of speed bumps, dirt roads, run-of-the-mill police stops, and a border crossing.

Tripp's first time to Kenya

When we reached Rondo Retreat Center on Sunday afternoon, we were thrilled but exhausted. We unloaded the very full van, worked out a few logistical details for all the other women arriving on Monday, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the beautiful main house, enjoying one another's company.

Rondo is located at the edge of the Kakamega rainforest, so looking out to see monkeys in the trees or jumping from the roofs was a fun and common occurrence.

Sykes' monkey drinking from a puddle

By Monday afternoon, ladies started arriving from all over: Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda. Some had been driving since the middle of the night, others had babies in tow, and everyone was relieved to finally be at this place dedicated to rest and relaxation. 

Crystal and me checking ladies in 

Over the next five days, we twenty-nine women lived in true community. We shared meals, shared rooms, shared stories, and the babies were passed around and looked after by many. Before the women arrived, we prayed there would be a spirit of openness and trust among all of us. We prayed that it wouldn't take until our final days together for us to become vulnerable with one another. God answered that prayer exceedingly and abundantly. There was a freedom felt in the group to share the deeper things of our souls knowing that it would be received in love and gratitude. 

Old trees are a beautiful thing, and Rondo is full of them. Twice a day we enjoyed tea time under these trees and talked about things that matter. Things of the heart. Things deep in our souls. Love and truth and encouragement were spoken under these protective branches. 

Twenty-nine women showed up at this retreat. And I don't mean in a physical, they-paid-their-registration-fee sense. I mean they showed up in a spiritual, all-in kind of way. They proved themselves courageous. Genuine. Vulnerable. Honest. Tender. Soulful. Strong. 

These beautiful women ministered to me in such needed ways, and the Spirit's work was evident in every conversation and interaction. 
There were tears. Sweet, healing tears.
Lots of laughter. 
Tenderness and exhortation. 
Truth and encouragement. 
People shared their truest struggles and joys in their ministries, marriages, teams, and towns. 

At the end of the week, one lady said, "I feel normal for the first time in a long time." Yes. Normalcy is what we crave. We need to know that we're not alone in our trials and temptations. As women living overseas serving in cultures so different than our own, we desire genuine fellowship with the saints and true communion with one another. With others like us. With people who get us.

Though we each bring our own histories and experiences to the table, we are one in Christ and share a bond that unites us for eternity. Because we know there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ and for those who walk according to the Spirit's leading, we can open our hearts and lives to one another without shame or fear. We can allow ourselves to be vulnerable knowing we'll be met with love and acceptance.

And that, my friends, is life to the soul. 

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called 
to one hope when you were called; 
one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, 
who is over all and through all and in all."
Ephesians 4:4-6

Monday, March 23, 2015

The House We're Building

" also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 
1 Peter 2:5

When people want to build a house here in Uganda, they buy bricks by the truck-full and pile them up where they plan to build. But that alone doesn't make the bricks into house. They have to first be built together.


The Church is often functioning in the same way. We are a bunch of individuals who love God, desire to serve Him well, and hang out in the same places. But we haven't been built into the body or into the house of God yet. In order to do something useful for the Kingdom, we must begin to relate to one another in love and become united through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

" are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people 
and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, 
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
Ephesians 2:19-22 
(emphasis mine)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Motherhood is a Team Effort

I read this article on Psychology Today's website a few months ago, and I've been reflecting on it ever since. The author, Darcia Narvaez, shares some extremely important ideas about symbiotic relationships essential in motherhood: the community, the mother, and the child. When these three things are working in collaboration, the mother is able to thrive, and the child's development is optimized.

Why community? Mothers raising children at home in virtual isolation is a new phenomenon, and it's certainly not what God intended. Not only are we created in the image of a Triune God, which means there's something at the very core of our souls that requires community, but all over the Bible we read verses like these:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts... 
Acts 2:42-47

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 
Psalm 133:1

In the context of motherhood, "community" means "how well the mother and her ancestors are/were supported emotionally, socially and physically" (Narvaez, 2014). Even when life is physically difficult, there is still social and emotional support for mothers when they are living within a caring community. Studies have shown us that the support a mother receives (or doesn't receive) directly affects the type of attention she gives her baby (Narvaez, 2014), so it becomes essential for the child's healthy development that mothers are well-supported by their community.

But this next little bit of research struck me right at the core. Let's not miss this:
"High nurturing rat mothers raise high nurturing daughters but low nurturing mothers raise daughters who are even less nurturing than their mothers due to cross-generational epigenetic effects" (Narvaez, 2014).

Did you catch that? Experience in one generation has effects into the next generation. There is a connection between community support and how well mothers mother. And not just for the mother's generation, but for her daughter's, and for her daughter's daughter. When we see mothers who are regularly inattentive and disengaged, there's a strong probability that there is a historical lack of community support. 

My heart aches as I see this played out time and time again among communities in Uganda. Child abandonment is an ever-increasing issue. There is much shame and stigma involved with becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Many families will threaten to disown their daughter if she chooses to keep the baby. Therefore, many young, unwed mothers abandon their babies so they themselves won't be abandoned.
Cycles of shame. Cycles of brokenness. Cycles of abandonment.

Though I despise the reality, I'm not surprised because the Bible speaks clearly about the power and pattern of generational sin.

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, 
forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, 
visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. 
Numbers 14:18

There is a continual refrain found in 1st and 2nd Kings that goes something like this:
"He did evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father."

We can look at some of our most beloved Bible characters and see this generational sin played out. For example, in Genesis 12 we read a story about Abraham where he does not trust God's provision in the midst of a famine, he lies about his wife being his sister, and he's rebuked by a pagan king.
In Genesis 26, we read about Abraham's son, Isaac. Can you guess what happens in this passage? Yep. Isaac does not trust God's provision in the midst of a famine, he lies about his wife being his sister, and he's rebuked by a pagan king.

Another example. King David, in a matter of a few days, lusts, rapes, and murders. A few years later, David's son, Amnon, lusts after and rapes his own sister. Two years later, another one of David's sons, Absalom, avenges his sister by murdering Amnon.
Lust. Rape. Murder.
Like father, like son.

Is this a coincidence? Absolutely not. Over and over we see there is a lineage of not only "You have his eyes!" but also "You sin the way he sinned."  We reap what we sow, y'all. 

It's not all bad news, though, because the Bible also speaks about generational faith! There is one kind of generational faithfulness where a father and mother are living in loving obedience to God, and their children grow to do the same.

But there is another type of generational faithfulness that is key to breaking these cycles of abandonment. There are times when there is a man or woman who comes from generations of rebellious people, but God stops that generational sin. He does a redeeming work in that man or woman's life and uses him or her as a catalyst of faith for generations to come.

We can find a wonderful example of this in King Josiah, who came from a long line of men who "did evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of their fathers." But God. He did a huge redeeming work in Josiah's life, put the Law of the Lord in his heart, and changed him forever.

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord 
as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, 
in accordance with all the Law of Moses. 
2 Kings 23:25

Can you feel the hope rising? Can you see the chains breaking? 
Just because it's always been one way doesn't mean it has to always stay that way. Through Christ's work on the cross, generational sin can be stopped, and a new legacy can be formed.

Friends, let's not allow mothers to fall through the cracks. (Reach out.)
Mothers, please don't isolate yourselves. (Receive.)
Church, we are a family of faith, and we have a responsibility to care for our own (Rise up.)

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; 
he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations 
of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Deuteronomy 7:9