Sunday, February 22, 2015

Look Up

I spend so much time looking at the ground here in Uganda, navigating the rocks, rubble, and ruts as I walk. 
But occasionally and graciously, I hear a whispered reminder, "Look up." 
And as I learn to take my eyes off myself, I am never disappointed. 
The heavens are constantly declaring the glories of God, and we're invited to join their praise. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Desert Soul

It's February, which means it's hot, dry, and oh-so-dusty.

It's the kind of heat that bakes you right where you stand. You could probably fry an egg on the sidewalk if there were any sidewalks to be found.

It's the kind of dust that makes you forget the true color of your feet until April when the rains come again. The layers of red take up residence and laugh at my attempts to scrub them clean. Even the roadside greenery cannot escape, and the banana trees turn right red.

I was out walking the other day in this glorious equatorial sunshine, and a thought came to me. Or rather, this thought bubbled up from deep within me and flooded my heart for a moment. I rushed to capture the words and feelings because I felt they were something True. Something Holy.
Something my dusty self desperately needed to hear. 

Because the truth is: I have a dry, desert soul.

The desert is a hard place to be, and things struggle to grow and thrive in the desert. You see, we are not meant to be desert people. God originally placed Adam and Eve in a beautiful, lush, fruitful garden where they walked in the cool of the day. In contrast, the desert is a place of exile, a place of wandering. Moses and his fellow Israelites showed us that.

But sometimes it's necessary for God to take us into a desert place. Sometimes it's the only place where we can hear Him speaking.

"I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. 
There I will give her back her vineyards, 
and I will make the Valley of [Trouble] a door of hope." 
Hosea 2:14-15

But even in the desert, there is restoration and growth. He restores what was taken away. While the desert places usually feel like a Valley of Trouble, God is there with us, and remember? He redeems all things. In our times of trouble, God always offers hope and makes a way where there is no way. He will meet us in the dry places and guide us faithfully. He will show us the way out and into the land of promise.

"The desert and parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom." 
Isaiah 35:1

God is full of promises like these:
      joy in the morning,
            beauty from ashes,
                  life from dust,
                        streams in the wasteland.
                              And now gladness in the desert,
                                    rejoicing in the wilderness.

These things don't happen apart from God. Only the giver and sustainer of life can make the wild places bloom. Only he can make something from nothing.

In my own life, I see how God is transforming me bit by bit... creating fertile and life-filled places in me. Sometimes he creates from nothing, and sometimes he recreates a small bit of desert in me, but he is always making me into something I am not.

"They will be called the Holy People, 
the Redeemed of the Lord; 
and you will be called Sought After, 
the City No Longer Deserted."
Isaiah 62:12

Jesus is making all things new. He looks at me and sees not who I am now but who I will become when His transforming, redeeming work is finished. 

I- the worst of all sinners- am called Holy.
I- an earthen vessel made from dust- am called Redeemed.
I- the stubborn one running toward my own way- am called Sought After.
I- a desert soul- am No Longer Deserted.

"I will plant her for myself in the land; 
I'll have mercy on No-Mercy. 
I'll say to Nobody, 'You're my dear Somebody,' 
and she'll say, 'You are my God!'"
Hosea 2:23

Without God's intervention and word over my life, I am nothing. But praise him that he redeems so perfectly, to the very core of my identity! Apart from his loving mercy, I am no one. I am not His child unless he calls me by name, a new and redeemed name. And he has!

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Could it be any more clear? Jesus takes every dry, desert place... the places that are dead... and he resurrects them into new life.
He calls me what I am not because He sees who I will be. 

And the truth is this: I am because He is. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Free As a Bird

Did you know that over half of Africa's bird species can be found in Uganda? That's over 1,000 species, in case you were wondering, and Uganda has the highest concentration of birds in Africa. It's easy to see up to 300 species in one day, and we're not talking about your average sparrow or humble robin here.

I'm talking about Ross's Turacos flying past your bedroom window.

Weaver birds spinning their nests all over the place.
photo courtesy of Danielle Shaw

Sunbirds like tiny jewels adorning tree branches.



photo courtesy of Danielle Shaw

Saddle bill storks.

Goliath herons standing tall.

Crested cranes, the majestic national bird.

And then there's the Marabou stork...

Massive and gangly. Dripping with flesh. This bird garners many comments and plenty of attention but not for the most honorable of reasons. They eat garbage, which is helpful but disgusting, so they can be found wherever there's rotting, stinking waste. (Unfortunately, that happens to be most places in Uganda.) They perch on impossibly small treetops where they build impossibly large nests. They clack their gigantic beaks and sound like a windstorm when they're getting ready to take off. To be sure, this is not my favorite bird here. Not by a long shot. 

But something happened recently that gave me a new appreciation for these atrocious attractions.  

As I was walking to team meeting a few weeks back, I happened to look up and notice some birds soaring on the thermal drafts. These birds were flying so high, I could barely see them. But the fact that I could still see them at such a great distance meant they were massive birds. Which meant they were Marabou storks, of course.

For the first time, I was struck by their beauty. Yes, their beauty. Perfect silhouettes in a clear, blue sky soaring higher and higher just because they can. And that's when it hit me. That's when my thinking about these birds changed forever.

I watched these huge birds, just a speck in the sky, sail on the heights. Why? They're not raptors. All the food they need is found here on the ground. They're not migratory birds. It's always summer in Uganda. What reason do they have to be flying so incredibly high? 


There was no reason other than the fact that God gave them powerful wings, and therefore, they should use them the best way they know how. These birds were spinning and soaring on the heights simply to glorify their Creator God in heaven. They were living life in the fullest way possible. 

And in that moment, I'm sure those ugly storks were doing a better job than I was at praising God and using their abilities to honor Him. They weren't questioning their purpose in life, what their future holds, or why they were created in such a way. Instead, they took what they've been given and used it to the fullest extent for the glory of God.