Kwagala

Sometimes I get it so wrong. I think that in order for me to love people they need to be as easy to love as God is. I think that MY love is the love that keeps things going. I think that love on my terms is real love. Then I wind up running out of love. Because, well, my love has an end. True LOVE doesn’t. In reality, God’s love is the game changer. Not mine. Hey, check it out, the Bible is right again: Real love isn’t our love for God, but His love for us. (1 John 4:10)
So it’s His Never-Changing, Never-Wavering, Constant, Forgiving Love that should shape my life. My paltry mimicry of this love is not the standard. The standard gets down in the dirt with us. It sees our ugliness. It sees blisters oozing puss on our hearts. It sees wounds that wound others. It gets snapped at & accused & still.loves.on. We turn our back on Love & love still covers us.

Finally I visited Africa. 8 years since God brought the first memoir of a child soldier into my hands. 8 years of pinning maps to my wall & clipping Nat Geo articles about “the motherland”. I thought I would visit South Sudan, but God took my hands & walked with me into Uganda. Into dust clouds. Into papyrus marshes. Into tiny stores selling only eggs (unrefrigerated!), coca cola, & motor bike tires. Into shouts of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Into wide Ugandan smiles. Into culture stress & outrage at male-dominate culture. Into deeper love, but not as I expected.

Having read piles of blog posts about the experiences of other “Mzungus” (white people/Westerners) in this country, I expected to fall in love. I expected a fresh awakening that left me hungry to stay & do MORE. I expected to look into Ugandan eyes & experience a kind of love I had never known before. By day 4 I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I was disappointed until I realized: you can’t be awakened to something for the first time…twice! I’m awake! Since 2009 I’ve been living a love story (His love moving us forward, remember, not mine) that started in the hills of Jamaica (“Little Africa”–go figure!) where the Holy Spirit hands clasped both my shoulders & shook me alive. Alive to love. Alive to poverty & pain. Alive to everywhere that is not comfy, plush, white middle class America. Alive to REAL life. Life that risks everything, that scurries down a dark shaft in search of one lost miner, that searches the couch cushions for one coin some might call worthless.
I expected Africa to be a first chapter in my life. But that’s not the order of my story (guess what? Lydia’s not writing it…). Uganda is not the first or last chapter, it’s simply a sweet & difficult plot twist.
It’s another deep gash in my heart bleeding the same blood that poured from the side of Christ as He gasped his last breath. The wounds with no Neosporin. The women whose necks are graced with 50 pound loads instead of pearl necklaces. White-collared corruption that kills as many as the HIV stigma & condom-less sex. Those with homosexual tendencies thrown gracelessly into prison & labeled MISFIT.

Trips like this don’t come with closure. There’s no tidy bow to put on the end of something so confusing, so beyond me. There’s just a tiny faith plant in the garden of my heart that is weather beaten by the tragedies. Weather beaten, but somehow stronger. Somehow more green, somehow growing bigger & more vivacious against the odds. Because there’s this paradox. This belief that’s sometimes a rainbow over my soul & sometimes just a tender whisper in the dead of night {Housefires, Good Good Father}. That the worse things get, the more good God is. That His goodness is His identity, & not at all relative to what I see or feel, eat or don’t eat. Whether I accumulate cancerous cells, or millions of dollars, goodness is of God. The deeper the badness goes, the better the goodness gets. I’m a mango & somehow tragedies are scoops taken out of yellow flesh, making room for love & hope. Do I understand it? HA! No. But that little faith tree in my heart reacts to what is beyond me. It feeds on a food that I can’t articulate.

For the past 6 years my playground & battle ground has been the uncultivated love of God. Traveling, I expected to see something new, big, wide. I saw new things, but no new rest for my soul. There is only one green pasture where my soul-feet can stumble to for real rejuvenation. The world is big & wide but never bigger or wider than His love. Seeing more places may show me more physical reflections of who He is but nothing is so sweet & expansive as the wilderness of His love.

May we fall in love every time we open up our eyes. ~Sleeping At Last

Telling Jesus stories through a Ugandan translator!

Telling Jesus stories through a Ugandan translator!

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10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!

It’s All God’s Anyway

Pardon the abrupt transition from airy hypothetical posts filled with wordy generalizations to, well, me.

Three days ago I started a “fast” from buying (I know that to fast traditionally means to abstain from food. Use your imaginations, people.)
Thanks to my ingeniously frugal mother I’m not a huge spender, (OK, so I pack my lunch everyday, never order anything but water, and make it a point to avoid weekend movies because of the price) but I am a rabid control freak. I want to be in control of….it all. A few days ago I noticed a thoughtlessly consumerist tendency in myself: when I get to what I see as a comfortable place financially I start to spend. I spend on me and I buy other people stuff and then I spend more on me. Not huge amounts of money, but the green is flowing faster than it was two weeks ago when I was tight-wadded due to worry. I hate that my spending (giving included) fluctuates depending on how I feel I’m doing financially.

And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves…It is God who clothes the wild grass….~Matthew 6:28 and 30a

So I’m not going to spend. Extreme, you say?

Abject poverty is extreme. Not being ABLE to buy things to meet ones’ basic needs is extreme.
My aim with this silly little fast is not to save money; it’s about not having control. The time I would have spent in line, I will spend in prayer. The movies, book sales, dinners or sports games I would have attended will be replaced by conversation and by solitude. I’ll have to get creative. I’ll have to go without the luxuries I usually bestow upon myself with the swipe of a card. And next time I roll up to a couple of ladies sitting outside of the Salvation Army on 2nd street it will just be me. No brownies and baby shoes. I won’t be a giver or benefactor, I’ll just be a face, and hopefully, soon, a friend.

There it is then, written down. I won’t be buying anything but gas this month (not even Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s new and undoubtedly wonderful CD!) My food is well provided for-gosh, I’m not that crazy. But right down to chewing gum and loose-leaf paper, I hand my control of the money that passes through my fingers to God. Sayonara receipts and restaurants.

Distractions minimized, I hope for two things: clarity towards my own wrong perceptions of money, and a better understanding of how to close the gap between the well-meaning rich and the hungry poor.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Obedience Story

(written May 27,2013 by someone too lazy to post it….)

It all seems quite pointless
Everything seems complete and handled
(Except me)
And I’m just floating along, head barely above water,
Staying afloat because it’s the thing to do.
Then chaos happens
And as I respond with immediate action,
Care,
A picture forms in my mind.
A tale of obedience; A path that I am walking,
Start to finish.
All that I do is a process,
An uphill battle, a struggle towards Glory.
What’s going on now is a part of that.
A girl walks along,
Messing up,
Doing good,
Messing up,
(Repeat.)
It’s her life story:
Always doing wrong
Always coming back.
Wandering-returning,
Walking in the dark, uncertain, bolstered by faith.
It is difficult as people get hurt due to her weaknesses.
By good grace she moves constantly forward,
Upward.
Like a monkey swinging from jungle vine to vine,
She takes the ups and downs in stride.
She flies on,
Living in sunshine brokenness
Overflowing with joy
Terrified of what’s to come
Hopeful for a good ending
At last.

This Wild World

The insanity of roller coaster moments in life continually blow my mind.  Learning about things continuously is exhausting.

EX:  It’s weird how the better I become at being honest with people, the worse I get at expressing myself on paper (eh, computer).  Connecting with people seems to help me improve at only one thing: connecting with people.  I know stuff, I understand people, I’ve got the connections, but good gosh! I hardly have an education.  Not much has been accomplished in these past 19 years of life by general standards.  I’m a professional nothing.  An unbusiness woman.  A full time patient.  Absolutely dependant.  Hopelessly accomplishment-less.

Tsk, tsk.

I suppose all there is to show from this past 9 months is surrender and a couple of unfinished charcoal drawings.  Partial surrender, because complete takes time when you insist on being full of pride.  This is good; this letting-go is the most important thing.  Yet still I wonder, where is my field? Am I going to learn how to do anything?  How shall I express myself?  Will I ever truly enjoy the work that feeds and clothes me? These are questions for the future. Today, my business is love.  I am supportive, I am ready and willing, and I am at peace sitting still.  Later, I will hustle and bustle and my business will be more tangible.

Hopefully I’ll get to jump off of cliffs and rescue children and that sort of thing.  We’ll see.

 

I’m grateful to God for the wildness of this world -N.D. Wilson

 

Revolutions From Dystopia

East, West

Salt, Pepper

Will I succeed, do well?

Shall I excel?

AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?

And the Wind says, “yes,” while the Waves say, “no.”

There is trees and there’s mountains

I’m going up UP uP Up

A hungry belly, ache behind eyes

Only to fall down DOWN doWn DowN

Clouds in the sky, puffy like pipe-smoke

Thousands of people I see in a day, but don’t talk to; how many of them will show up in my dreams tonight?

My tongue is inside my mouth, I feel it laying there, just as lazy and lethargic as tongues tend to be.

What about the 10 human beings that I did talk to today? Where do they stand in the grand scheme of this? Best friend? Boyfriend? Aunt? Uncle? Benefactor? Person.

Colors: red, orange, yellow, pink, fuschia, green-blue, black.

I know that I’ll belong

An orgasmic cacophony of sights smells boredom;

Being alive.