Preface: I am not sure if a preface is appropriate for a blog post, but appropriateness isn’t a large part of my repertoire, so on with the preface. On January 27th, I was having a bad day. I cannot remember the circumstances. I believe it was a culmination of several things. I had actually sat down in on my living room sofa and had started to cry and said aloud to myself, “This cannot be all there is to my life”. Within the hour, I received a text message from my stepdad, Ron that read: Would you like to take a mission trip to Kampla, Uganda with your angel mother? Last week of June first week of July. This is the first of a series of blogs about my experiences while serving in Africa.
It is without question that the “steps” in my life drew the short stick by acquiring me as a stepchild. I will be the first to acknowledge that I tended to be somewhat of a challenge and that adolescent trend seems to have followed me into adulthood. There have been many life lessons that you tried unsuccessfully to teach me, as I have made it a staunch habit to ‘learn the hard way’. You are the sole reason I was able to take the trip to Africa and I wanted to take this opportunity to express to you my sincerest gratitude.
It would be fair to say that I have had a history of producing poor returns on your investments in me, but for what it is worth, I wanted to share with you a few of the revelations that were awakened in my soul along this journey.
1. My mountains have never been mountains. I am the queen of the molehills. I am the princess fitfully agonizing over the pea beneath my mattress. Clawing my way up the perceived summits I have built out of layoffs, wrecked/ruined vehicles, a kitchen with no oven, struggling kids, and dollars that only stretch so-far, I failed to see the blessings surrounding me. Moving through the red clay roads of Africa, each step became a confirmation of how incredibly easy my climb has been. It only took lifting up one hungry child and before she had even completely wrapped her rail-thin legs around me and contented herself in drinking my affection… my mountains crumbled.
2. INXS isn’t just an Australian rock band from the 80s, it is a way of life. There have been countless times I have stood peering into a fairly stocked refrigerator or kitchen cupboard and declared, “There is nothing here to eat.” The same goes for a closet full of clothes and I have absolutely nothing to wear. We had ELEVEN TVs in our home in the recent past! Being graciously welcomed into Ugandan homes, most which would not even be considered suitable to park a zero-turn mower in, much less serve as an inhabitable dwelling, I could feel the shame ignite in the remains of my humanity. This internal realization wasn’t the result of how little these people have or how much I have in comparison, it was sparked by the utter thankfulness they had for their meager assets. These are praises I heard from the lips of those who have to walk a mile or more for clean water, have dirt floors, no electricity, no access to health care, and an AIDS epidemic robbing them of their loved ones at an alarming rate:
“Praise God I have a roof over my head”-Ugandan man wrongly imprisoned
testifying in church
“My sister has HIV, but glory to God she hasn’t fallen sick yet”-Ugandan woman, Kathrine.
“Sometimes I don’t have enough food for all the children I care for, but they go to sleep knowing they are safe and loved”-Joel, proprietor of an orphanage/school for deaf children.
“I prayed for several years that I would get a Bible of my own and today God answered my prayer”-Ugandan woman, Harriet.
I hope that my spirit will never extinguish this knowing. I am working daily to be thankful for all that I have and to be mindful of that which I need and that which I do not.
3. My joy has often rotted on the vine. Being introduced to the Ugandan people, it became quickly obvious that they are some of the hardest working people on the planet. For most, it requires continuous strenuous physical labor to provide the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothes). There are no government subsidies for the poor and struggling in this country and the number who are poor and struggling is staggering. From the outside looking in, it would appear that these folks have nothing to smile about—yet smile they do… and sing and dance and play the drums and laugh. They immerse themselves in joy. I didn’t see any kids running around in $100.00 tennis shoes or tuned into a smart phone or other electronic device, but I saw MANY dance and sing when given a toothbrush. Nearly every child in Africa gave us the gift of song or dance and not one shrugged off a hug or passed on an opportunity to snuggle in the lap of willing mzungu. I wash my clothes in a high efficiency washer, I drive to work every day, my family is healthy, I have plenty of food, I have hot showers and indoor plumbing and a nice warm bed. Even with a life full of amenities, I fail to consistently cultivate joy. There should be a song on my lips and jig in my step every moment of every day. I journeyed 8000 miles from home to learn how to be happy right where I am.
So, as I continue to sort through the lessons this journey has taught me, I wanted to begin by saying ‘thank you’ for still believing there was enough of my ragged old soul to salvage. Thanks for answering a call to send me, even when I have disappointed you in the past. Thanks for knowing, above all, that God had something amazing to teach me. I pray that this experience will be a springboard to serving others, honoring God, and making you proud of the person I am working hard to become.