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