Tuesday, September 11, 2012

in the boat.

"For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever"
Hebrews 6:16-20

Somedays....you just need to stay in the boat. Stay inside. Stay in bed. Just stay and be. candles are usually necessary in this situation. possibly pride and prejudice (simply because Jane Austen helps spur the processing parts of life on). There are simply seasons where you need to re-group. reflect. renew. 

I had someone ask me the other day what I had been doing all summer. At the time I couldn't really put into words what I had been doing all summer. You see...I have been in the boat all summer. Sometimes a literal boat, and other times a metaphorical one. 

This summer marked the beginning of another new season. I moved to a different neighborhood, and was coming of out of being tossed about by a rather difficult semester. The spring semester of grad school shook me, and left me feeling raw and open to the elements. I felt lost at sea. So many things changed and happened that semester. Jobs changed, community groups disbanded, friends were having babies, I went to Uganda and back, and my work load at school was so immense that many times I felt lost at sea. The hours alone reading books and writing papers and having my faith challenged to its core caused me to find myself in coffee shops alone for a large portion of my time. Then the task of finding a niche in a new community of people who didn't know me or my story all while trying to maintain sanity became exhausting. 

Then summer blew in with its longer days and stifling temperatures. I knew the longer days were giving me time to rest more and love more and fit more into my days. At the beginning of the summer I had this nagging feeling that the Lord was beckoning me to revisit old wounds I had not yet let him fully heal. So with much trepidation and gnashing of teeth I allowed a dear friend to walk me through old pains that were still weighing me down. The refining process....is never easy..but is typically filled with hurt and scrubbing and longing for the simple days where you were blissfully unaware of the pain that existed in the world. I am learning more and more that there is beauty in the process. There is beauty in finding comfort in your own skin and your own life. 

So I cooked delicious meals and devoured them almost giddily--all the while doing it alone and reveling in watching favorite movies. I said no to things that genuinely scared me and said yes to things that might stretch me. I had fun photographing my food and sharing it with others. I figured out the reason I love sharing pictures of my food---good food is meant to be shared---and in this season where there is not always someone to share it with--well I share it in a different way with anyone who is kind enough to look at my picture and take the time to encourage me in something I love. I held, and rocked, and cuddled, and giggled with others babies so their marriages stayed strong. All the while silently praying and wishing that one day it would be my turn, but knowing that right now I lacked no good thing. 

So when asked what I had been doing all summer....what I really wanted to say was that I had been spending a lot of time with me and the One who knows me best. While hours alone, turing down dinner invitations, and staying in may not be the swiftest way to make new acquaintances or meet someone to share all of my fabulous cooking with it is sometimes incredibly needed and incredibly sweet. 

Little did I know that the Lord was reviving and refreshing me for a whole new set of challenges this semester. He knew that this summer I needed to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is the good one, the perfect one, and the true lover and restorer of my soul. If you are coming out of a season of stress and pain and hurt and insane busyness....I beg you. Stay in the boat. If you are terrified on the inter-tube---well then get the heck off and stay in the boat! If you want to make a fabulous meal for your self---then take yourself to Whole Foods and spend $9 on tomatoes and good cheese and enjoy. I learned this summer that this life is already filled with enough darkness and heartbreak and loss to sink a boat. But He is our anchor. He is our ever present help. Cling to Him. Bend low and share this with others. So whenever we can let's choose joy and beauty and laughter and share that with those around you. 

Here is a quick view of my summer with the One who will always call me by name and whisper beloved. 

My Goodness. Life is beautiful. 


Sunday, April 1, 2012


"But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more."
Ruth 1:16-18

Today. I would like to talk about bravery. Sure we hear the stories about the fire fighters that saved the triplets and the family dog out of the burning house. Or the man that landed the plane in the Hudson. But I would like to talk to you about the brave ones I know. The women in my life.....well over the past year I have been struck with how brave they all are. This is a bravery that runs deep and must be called upon in life's hardest moments.

I turned 26 last week. As I sat at my birthday dinner I was struck with the Joy in the women around me. All of them have been brave this year. All of them have endured personal trials and unbelievable heartbreaks. Yet here they were. Out, dressed up, laughing, encouraging me, and choosing to be joyful. While they may not have saved hundreds of lives on an airplane...they were still being brave.

I recently did a paper on the book of Ruth. When I reading I was struck at how brave she was to forsake everything she has ever known and go to a foreign land with just her mother-in-law. Can you imagine. Your husband of ten years has just died. You have no children and your MIL is a widow too. She desires to return to a land where you will be shunned and looked at and gossiped about. Yet Ruth will not budge. She looks at where the Lord has her and chooses to trust. Chooses to say yes, and chooses to be brave.

Ruth. What an example of bravery the Lord has given us.

These women I know....their bravery humbles me to my core.
In the wake of losing a children, or multiple children through miscarriages....they wept and mourned and cried out to the Lord. But they still loved their husbands and loved the heck out of their kids. Shoot, it was brave of them to even get out of bed each day. Every smile and every laugh for months was an act of bravery.

Others choose to fly across oceans for the sake of one. They gave up money, and sleep, and comfort, and sanity, and time with their husband, just for the sake of one little girl or one little boy. They easily could have thrown in the towel when faced with speed bumps, but instead they chose to be brave. They chose to trust. When they were watching six kids and all of them are screaming and they were covered in lord knows what.....they laughed. That laughter---well that was bravery at its finest hour.

Still, there are women who knowingly took a child into their home, no questions asked, even when they were planning for a baby of their own. This child has known love and security for the first time. Sure it would have been easier to say no...but that is what bravery is. Saying yes in the face of the impossible or the improbable.

These women fight like hell for their families when their family and hope for a family is threatened. They weep and cry out and look disaster in the eye, and ultimately choose the promises of the Lord. They claim the truth that He will fight for them and for their family. The fighting back---it's brave.

I know women who love their husbands through the unthinkable, and show an entire community how far the grace of the Gospel can reach. Choosing to forgive and to love and to hope and to fight for a family is brave, and risky, but oh so worth it.

Oh these women, I could go on and on! There are others who stare singleness and loneliness square in the eye and confidently proclaim, "you will not define me or steal my joy, but Christ is the only one who can define me." Even during those moments of immense longing to be loved and cherished by a man----they choose Joy. They keep laughing, they keep talking to boys, they keep smiling, and they keep hoping. Each day becomes a battle to put their hope in Christ and not in man. Simply going out the door to meet friends for dinner can be brave. Smiling and putting on lipstick in the wake of heartbreak....it's definitely brave.

Don't get me started on the women I know who share a love of travel! These women are traveling to foreign lands that hold deep heartbreak and wounds---yet they are saying yes to the Lord and going back. They are headed to countries with travel warnings, and visiting graves of sons that were taken too soon. The going and getting on the plane.....that is brave.

I cannot get over how much these women have taught me. Ladies, you know who you are---please know that your battles have not gone unnoticed. Thank you for teaching me about grace, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, trust, hope, and of course bravery. I hope one day I can remember this, and in the midst of heartbreaks to come choose bravery too. For those of you in the midst of a battle....look up and look around. You are not alone. You have never for one second been alone. He is holding you and calling you to reach out your hand. The Lord will place people in your life to hold you up and help you along the way. Sometimes the Lord may give you Sorrow and Suffering for companions. Trust Him. They are the ones you need for this part of the journey. For you never know who they, or even you will turn into. He can turn sorrow and suffering into Grace and Peace, and He can turn you into the glorious women He wants you to be.

So let's be like Ruth. Let's be brave, and say yes, and lay our cards out like she did for Boaz (but maybe without actually sleeping at a older man's feet...that may not have the fairytale ending we were hoping for :o). Choose joy and choose to be brave.
Life can be hard, but more often than not.....life can be blindingly beautiful.

Friday, February 24, 2012

the return.

as I sit here listening to the quiet rain in an empty house I am reminded of Uganda. Of the land I left just a week ago. My trip. It engulfed me. I was overcome by renewal, and thanksgiving, and joy, and hope, and pain, and my own stagnation.
As the plane landed and I saw the hills and the lights and felt the hot damp air again it all came rushing back. The pain of why I came before, the joy of why I was there, and the brokenness that lives in that land. Then I walked around the corner and looked for the white faces in the sea of beautiful dark ones. They were jumping and smiling and then I saw my friend turned mother overnight holding her tiny bundle of joy. Zoey is 1 but still oh so tiny. The drive to the guesthouse along the dark roads was filled with laughter and reminiscing and I was overwhelmed. My prayer before I left is that I would be completely present the entire time I was there. I was so aware of it all. The vastness and beauty and brokenness and hope and love and pain.

My week was filled with simply living life there. No big plans or crazy trips. It was just the pleasure of being in that home again. It seemed strange to me how a place that is so foreign and a place I had not been to in years could feel so much like home. Maybe because it is the place I came back to myself. It is the place I dared to dream dreams again and saw joy in. By day two I was zipping around on bodas carrying 2 pizzas like I did that every day!

One of the greatest privileges was getting to see the fruit of answered prayers. My friends have been praying for their little girl for so long and to see the way she was already being grafted into their family was simply beautiful. She has the funniest little personality and she talks/ babbles from the time she gets up to the time she goes to sleep. It almost brought me to tears to hear how the first few days she was so shy and so reserved. The child I saw was filled with life and laughter and I was watching her grow perfectly in her mother's love. Love really does change people. I wish more people could see these transformations take place. Maybe then they would see that the sacrifice that adoption requires is worth it. It is worth it to see Zoey's eyes light up when her mother walks into the room. Or to see the way she responds when her mother calls her name. It was worth it for me to be there and it will always be worth it for me to go back.

I'm going to try and paint you a picture of a lovely morning I had on my trip.
It was a hot day. I mean the kind of heat that presses in on you and makes you walk and talk slower. When the boda man lifts his eyebrows to ask "you need a ride?" I quickly comply. Getting settled I respond with the typical "we go! Tu gende!" The wind whips through my mass of gold curls that will forever signal me as a foreigner, and outsider, a muzungu. We weave in and out of traffic and dodge children and holes and baby goats. I am strangely calm and inwardly laugh at how crazy this all is. Riding on a motorcycle with a stranger in a foreign land and being completely calm. But that is Africa. The land of hysterical contradictions. I reach my destination and haggle over the price. Things are more now because of the price of fuel. I quickly spot my old friends. A girl who has a heart as big as the continent and her husband who keeps right in step. We grab waters and hug and begin to walk up the hill towards our destination. Sun growing hotter and brighter as we go we laugh about old times and try to stay in the shade. When we are sufficiently out of breath we see the building.
The small shack of a school where we are teaching music.
To orphans.
who live in the slums.
and as their culture says, who are "infected".

As soon as they see us the smiles and the laughter starts. I am the visitor and my friends know them all by name. Shouts of "teacher Court-i-ney" and "tea-char Chris" echo through the air. We wait outside the school house because they are still finishing up their lecture. Teacher Mary comes outside and lets us know it will be just a little bit longer. Mary may be the happiest woman I have ever met. She saw these kids were not in school and decided to start one. She takes no pay and her husband left her because she chose to love the least of these. Soon, it is time. We step into the dark hot class room and dozens of faces with brown eyes and white smiles stare back at us. We are introduced and the new children are asked to stand up. They tell us their names. Quietly and timidly we meet a Grace, and a Nixon, and even a Gadaffi. They begin by singing to us and their sweet voices fill the air. As I watch and listen I search their faces. Many are smiling but many are empty and void. I am struck, like a blow to the stomach, with what these children have had to endure. The fact that they are standing--let alone singing is a miracle.
It is our turn to teach them a song. Chris has chosen a simple one that splits the room into 2 sections and you take turns standing up during your part. Simple words that hold deep truth.

Praise ye the Lord.

We laughed and sang and stood up and down until we were out of breath. Then the hour was up and it was time to go. Mary told me to not forget them. I assured her that I could not. As we began to go back down the hill I handed my bottle of fresh cool water to a little boy. It felt wrong to stand there drinking it while I knew what they had to drink everyday. The water cost 50 cents. We all have that in our cars or couch cushions. In the slums that makes you rich.

Being there reminds you that love and laughter and time and music and singing really are the important things. It is not money or fame or comfort that we should seek---but simply to love. The Word says that the He is love. If we are meant to live lives that imitate and emanate our Creator then we must love. We must be ok giving up comfort and money and time. As I sit in the comfort of my home in the States I try to hold on to the truths I learned. I don't want to live a life that is marked by comfort.
So I will try to bend lower and love harder and accept comfort less. I will sacrifice more and look continually into the One who is love and the One who gives everlasting Joy.

The hill down to our guesthouse
a new momma and her baby
The nile...no big deal!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

beautiful things.

This still doesn't seem real to me. That all I have to do is hop on a few planes and then I am there. Back in Uganda again. It is hard to believe that it has been two full years since I have been on that land that captured my heart. Most of the time it seems like yesterday. I find it so interesting that the Lord is using Uganda again to usher in a new season. My last trip ushered in a season of healing and growing and learning to trust again. I had quit my job to move and looked for something totally different when I returned.
Today was my last day at my current job, and the Lord orchestrated my time so that I was leaving when I was returning to Uganda. I have applied to about 28 jobs in the last nine months. Yep. 28. So clearly my times are in His hands. My soul is quite weary from my current work situation and I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to go and be filled up and poured out at the same time.

2012 may have to be dubbed the year of new beginnings and the Lord making all things beautiful. There are so many babies being born or coming home, the Lord provided a new job, He provided the finances to go on this trip, and I have all new classes. I have started going to a new community group where the people lean in and push eachother closer to Jesus. My goodness we are only in February!! I cannot wait to see what else He makes beautiful this year.

Everything in me knows that I am supposed to be going on this trip. I have always had visions of me returning to Africa with lots of friends, or a handsome man, or someone in my family---but here I find myself getting ready to hop on a plane by myself again. This trip will be far different than the last. When I get off the plane I will be greeted by dear friends instead of strangers. I already know how to whisper, nkwagala nyo {I love you} to the babies, I know how much a boda ride costs. He has gone before me and I am eagerly expectant to see what this far too quick journey will teach me.

So, here is to embracing adventure, and mishaps (its an international trip--mishaps always happen), and love, and new life, and courage, and trust, and hope. He allowed me to walk among His high places and He changed me from Much Afraid into Grace and Glory.

My eyes cannot wait to behold the beauty that is Africa again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

on going back.

Oh. How I have waited to type these words for so long.
::I'm going back::
To the land of the red dirt, smiling faces, rolling hills, and immeasurable joy and sorrow.

"I was that woman, but am not that woman now"

The me that is headed to Uganda this time is not the same as 3 years ago. The strange thing is. I'm a little nervous. Not about flying, or traveling alone, or that is may be "dangerous". No, I am nervous about how wrecked I may be. You see--the last time I went to Uganda I was an afraid, broken, mess of a girl. My dreams had been shattered and I was fleeing the country. Of course my church answer was that I wanted to go serve the people of Uganda and make his name known...but deep down, I knew that I was running as far away from the States as I could with the whispered hopes that He would meet me there and begin the healing process. When I arrived in Uganda- for awhile I was so caught up in my own pain and misery that my "serving" was really just going through the motions. It took weeks for my heart to soften and open up to loving the people. Thankfully though, it was in this beautiful country that the Lord began to put my pieces back together. He planted new dreams in my heart and renewed life and purpose to my weary soul.

So you see---I am healed and whole and redeemed now. He made me new.
I am terrified I am about to be broken again. But this brokenness....this is the kind that our Father longs for. He longs and yearns for us to turn from ourselves and look to the hurting and oppressed. He wants our hearts to break for the things that break his heart. He wants us to look so closely at Him that we can see the lines on His face. We live in a fallen and sinful world and deep & unthinkable heartbreaks happen to us all. But this is not His plan. He longs for all to be restored and made new. So this time with this brokenness-- I am going to lean into it. I pray that I will not be numb to the things I see but that it would cause me to weep and turn to the Father and ask what He wants me to do.

This leads me to another fear. What if he calls me back to Uganda--but then again, what if He doesn't? This is a point that I have prayed over and wrestled with and sat quietly to discern His answer. For now, He has me here. For now I spend my days working and serving and trying to love on the people He has placed in my life as well as I can. I pray that He will give me the strength to accept whatever answer He gives me. Because I know He is not done with me yet.

The most beautiful thing about this trip is that I am going to help a dear friend with her adoption process. When I initially decided to go to Uganda Lizzy prayed about going too and even sent an email to the same organization I did. While I got responses immediately--Lizzy never heard a thing. Ultimately Lizzy felt led to stay in Raleigh and serve with our church. About a month later she met the man she ended up marrying! Now, this beautiful couple have decided to do something that most people consider "radical". They are adopting their first child from Uganda instead of trying to have children first. For those of us who know Lizzy and Josh well---it just made sense! These two have such a heart for orphans and I know the Lord will use their obedience and their story to encourage so many others. They are in the process of adopting a little girl who will be about 1 when they get home! Since the Lord's timing is always perfect I do get the chance to go to Uganda with Lizzy after all. I will arrive a few days after Josh leaves.

I am beyond excited for the opportunity to come alongside Lizzy as she goes to appointment after appointment with a baby strapped on and figures out being a mother in a third world country. There will also be 2 other families from our church, and dear friends, who are also adopting in country and staying at the same guesthouse! Essentially, this is the trip I have been praying for since my feet hit US soil again.

My thankfulness that the Lord writes our stories runs so deep these days. I am thankful that things come in seasons and that He is never finished refining us into who He desires us to be. One of my favorite books, Hinds Feet on High Places, chronicles the journey of Much Afriad and her journey with the Shepherd. So I leave you with words that describe my hope these days. At a great precipice the Shepherd turns to Much Afraid [and I mean, aren't we all "Much Afraid" at times?] and says...

"I love doing preposterous things," he replied. "Why, I don't know anything more exhilaritaing and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection..that is my special work, " he added with the light of great joy in his face. "Transforming things -- to take Much Afraid, for instance and transform her into-" he broke off and then went on laughingly. "Well, we shall see later on what she finds herself transformed into."

Lord, I cannot wait. To see what you will transform me into this time.