The Fly, The Dog, & The Open Door

For a while now I’ve been looking for doors. One door in particular.

I’ve felt God calling me to make a drastic change in my life and I’ve been searching for that one door He wants me to walk through: What He’s calling me to next.

A few days ago I was sitting on my couch, reading after work. I wanted to walk to the store but I was waiting to see if it was going to rain.

I had let in my dog, Simba, a dog who came to me from the street and somehow managed to house train himself…Simba began whining to go out, like normal house broken dogs usually do. So I got off the couch and walked over to the front door, only to realize it was already open— maybe six inches or so. Just enough for Simba to see where he would rather be. Maybe he didn’t think he could push it open the rest of the way? Maybe he was waiting for permission to go out? Who knows. But I swung the door wide and watched him run out. I returned to the couch and continued reading.

Not five minutes later I hear a whirring sound somewhere above my head. A loud buzzing fly had entered in through that same front entrance that had been left open. I let him be for a while, figuring he would find his way out on his own. But time went by and I continued to be distracted from my reading by this fly. I walked into the foyer and thought, maybe if I stood by his exit, Mr. Fly would find his way outside where he would rather be. But he couldn’t get it. Even hours later I could hear his drone following me around the house— and I’ve left the door wide open for him to find his way!

It’s a simple analogy but I started thinking, is this what I’m doing?

Am I this fly that feels stuck somewhere. I know the door exists to where I’m wanting and feel led to go but am I so busy freaking out and buzzing around that I can’t see that it’s wide open?

Or maybe I’m the dog and I’m doing so much whining and complaining that I can’t see that the door is already open, I just need to do my part?

Maybe because this post is so much shorter than my normal ones (Am I right?), but for a few reasons this blog entry feels unfinished. And I guess that would be because I still haven’t quite found my door.

But I believe I’m getting closer.

And today I’m thankful that when we try our best to focus ourselves on listening to God, He sends us ordinary creatures like an insect and our own pet to bring perspective.

 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.         -Hebrews 10:23

 

 

Currently Reading: The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler

Currently Listening To: Seasons Change by United Pursuit

The Pictures I Don’t Take

Throughout the last year and even during my first trip to Uganda, there have been so many missed Kodak moments. Honestly, I apologize for those. I wish with my whole heart that everyone I know could experience the beauty, the simplicity, the confusion, the joy of Uganda. I wish I could photograph every experience and send it to you so you all could see why I love this place so much, and maybe even want to experience it for yourself.

I try my best to photograph moments I love, but some of them just get away from my camera.

In many cases, it’s not possible for me to take pictures. Sometimes, photographing certain scenes from people’s normal routines that are interesting to me but mundane to locals, could be insulting or confusing them.

Kennedy Odede, a man from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya illustrates this point when he recalls his first memories of white people in his book, A Path Appears, “One day I saw something very strange, people walking around who looked like they had come directly from the grave, their skin was so pale. Mzungus. They carried black machines that flashed bright when they pointed it at me. I screamed. I thought the machine was going to harm me, and so I fled. Later I learned it was a camera. Its flash and their voices terrified me. We didn’t see them often, less than once in a year. But whenever I saw them, I ran and hid. I had many ideas about them; first, I did not expect them to be smart, because they loved to take pictures of silly things like chickens on the street, shanties and other things that were not interesting.”

Even today, my boyfriend, Michael, will tell me I’m being “so mzungu” when I do things like taking a picture of a goat standing proudly on top of a rock. (I took that photo anyway)

So for various reasons. There are many moments that go unphotographed:

When my neighbor kids ask me to pour for them water from my bottle and they all simultaneously take their shirts off so they don’t get them wet, and unfortunately my phone is dead.

When I’m in a taxi licensed for 14 passengers and I physically can’t take a picture because we’re carrying 31 people (some of them on my lap).

When I see ‘Barbie Savior’ printed on the back of a taxi while I’m in a traffic jam, but I know if I pull my phone out it will most likely be snatched out of my hand.

When I want to take a picture of the gigantic and terrifying Marabu Stork sitting on the roof directly outside my open classroom window, but I know it would disrupt my already rowdy class.

The day I saw a man sitting on a boda (motorcycle) holding a car door and sadly my phone was at home charging.

When I have a perfect shot of little Azza standing, looking out over the hill we live on with the words “Never Give Up” printed on the back of his shirt, but every time I take the camera out he spins around, smiles and yells, “Photo! Photo!”

When I’m sitting in a field in the village with a gaggle of children around me, laughing and staring off at the rolling green hills, and I don’t want to disrupt the moment by running down to the school to get my camera.

Often I’ve thought, “Oh, how the people at home would love to see this.” And I’ve really tried my best to give you images into what my life is actually like, when I can.

But over my last year in Uganda I’ve also come to this conclusion:

Some moments are just too good to photograph. 

Sometimes I really want to take a picture, but I feel it would disrupt the scene or change the atmosphere.

Sometimes I just want to enjoy. I don’t want to be a spectator in my life. I want to be fully immersed in what’s going on around me. Sometimes I have to tell myself to stop watching life through the screen on my phone and just watch it through my eyes.

I don’t want to video tape the kids running down the hill to welcome me home from work. I want to be free to accept those hugs with arms wide open.

I want to enjoy time face to face with a friend, rather than posting an image so everyone knows we were together for lunch.

I want to take in the sights of the many hills of Kampala as I wiz around them, rather than trying to capture them from the perfect angle.

Because in the end, no matter how talented I could be at photography, I couldn’t capture these sights and these Ugandan moments as well as the eyes and the ears ca n. In order to get the real snapshots, you have to see it for yourself.

So please, enjoy the pictures I take, and forgive me for the ones I don’t.

Here are some of my favorite moments that I have caught in the past few months:

Currently Reading: The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers
Currently Listening To: Pieces by Bethel

The Growth Is In The Challenge

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” —John 14:27

First Year Teacher.

Those words are enough to send a shiver down your spine. After the difficult and stressful year I had last academic year, it became obvious to me that I needed to develop the skill of being at peace in any situation. I wanted to grow in my ability to be at peace.

So here’s what happens when you decide you want to grow in peacefulness.

Annoying stuff starts popping up all the time.

Little irritating things show up that ruin your day or slow down your productivity or stress your relationships. It’s like you can’t get away from all these things that want to take AWAY your peace. And worry doesn’t just creep in, it BULLDOZES its way into you. All of a sudden these things show up in your life that you want to get away from.

I left Uganda in June after one of the hardest years of my life, looking forward to a summer of relaxation, going back to my simple job that feels like perfectly broken in shoes, in a place where I’m surrounded by the people that know me best. I loved how EASY my life suddenly was, in comparison to my life in Uganda, yet I wasn’t at total peace. I was being asked constantly what my plans were for after my contract was done—a year into the future! I was hurt by someone close to me. I had computer, phone, you name it, technology problems.

But quickly I started to learn how much control I had over whether I was at peace or not. I continued to pray for God to give me the “peace that surpasses understanding” and remove plots of the enemy that could throw me off track and cause me distress. But I slowly realized that, up until I arrived back in Michigan in late June, the way I viewed peace was not accurate. Peace is not a feeling that washes over you or a place you enter in to only when things in your life make sense, peace happens because of your choice to be still and accept what is happening to you because you trust God is in control.

Joyce Meyer points out in her book The Battlefield of the Mind that peace is not an emotion, it is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22) that results only from abiding in the Father.

Like love, patience, self-control—being peaceful is not something that just happens to you. Sometimes it does come naturally, but usually, in real life, it is a daily, hourly, every moment decision. A fruit that results at the end of a growing process.

Even if you are not a follower of Christ, you are at peace because you trust the universe/fate/luck/etc. will work everything out eventually.

But I can have peace because I believe in a God who KNOWS me.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden form you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

—Psalm 139:13-16

I have peace because I believe in a God who protects me.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

—Isaiah 41:10

I have peace because God knows way more about the world, and the future, and what’s best for me than I do.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” —Hebrews 4:13

And that is a God who is worth trusting my life with.

Boom. Trustworthy God of the Universe = Eternal peace. Right?

But what about when those irritants are pounding at your door and you are struggling to even see God.

In comparison to the year I had as a first-year teacher, my first few weeks back home in Michigan were very easy and restful, but I was not just looking to BE at peace, I was looking to GROW in my capacity to remain at peace.

And that’s why God started letting stressors come into my path.

“Avoiding struggle is avoiding growth.” -The Archibald Project

Recently my eyes have been opened to the fact that God uses challenging situations to grow us. Never has my character or faith ever grown from a situation that was easy. In times of ease is when I notice God’s extreme blessings, but in times of struggle is when I search for Him more, question His plans, seek His purpose for the season I’m in, and look for the good work that He is doing in me.

It’s the same when you’re eager to become more patient. Your spirit can’t become more patient if you have nothing to wait on. Your muscles don’t get stronger if you don’t increase the weight you’re lifting. A child cannot become better at reading if he keeps flipping through the same picture book over and over again.

The growth is in the challenge.

Considering peace, I also started to realize I wasn’t being serious enough about attacking my worry.

I’m so thankful for the revelation God brings to me. One day, in my second week back in MIchigan, I was driving home from meeting with a friend who was also hoping to soon move to East Africa, when it suddenly occurred to me that when I worry, I’m telling God and everyone around me, that I don’t believe He’s as powerful as He says He is. When I worry about my future or the wellbeing of the people I love, I’m telling God I don’t trust Him. In those times I stop praying and thanking Him for His provision, and instead think about what I can do to fix the situation on my own, which is minimal compared to Him, and in the process just makes me miserable.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Birds do not know where there next meal is coming from. I have always known exactly where I will receive all my meals from, yet I still worry.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” —Matthew 6:27

I may not have anymore of my future figured out than I did back in June, but I have started to rest in the fact that in the past 24 years of my life, I’ve had what I thought were some pretty fantastic plans for myself, but I’ve seen God’s plans always, without a doubt, turn out beyond anything I ever could have imagined. And that has become the peace I was looking for.

Currently Reading: I Don’t Wait Anymore by Grace Thornton
Currently Listening To: Still and Small by The City Harmonic

Intermission.

I’ve made it.

The end of the school year.

I don’t want to be over dramatic by saying “I didn’t think I would ever make it.”  Obviously I knew June would eventually come, but there were scores of moments and situations throughout the last ten months in which I could not visualize how I would get to the other side, and do so gracefully.

But now I’m in the last week of my first year as a teacher. A week full of whole school send-off activities, students unwilling to focus on simple tasks, and teachers who can’t blame them.

After this week I will be flying home to America. There I will be reconnecting with friends, especially those whom I’ve had difficulty staying in touch with while so far away. I will spend time with my family who have supported me to no end, in the last two years especially. I will be working my fourth summer at Shine Summer Day Camp for the entire seven weeks I’m home, teaching kids about the heart of the Father and working with an incredible staff to give them an exciting summer. But most importantly to me, I will be removing myself from the stressful, demanding environment I’m currently in, to experience and learn from God in new ways. I’m excited to see what He will reveal to me about what I think I’ve learned in the past year, as I reflect on it from afar. I hope to renew, refresh and reconnect before returning to Uganda on August 17.

As to be expected, my first year as a teacher was hard. I had been warned in many of my education classes in college how hard it would be, but my God, until you do it, you just don’t know. I was faced first hand with the problems modern day schools face, but also additional complications that come when you put together students from nearly every country around the world, and challenges that arise when trying to run a top notch school in a developing country.

On top of simply being a typical first year teacher, I made the decision to do that first year in a foreign country—7,000 miles from home. Because of that choice, I have spent countless evenings alone in my house, wishing I had a community of other young women, or even one female Christian friend to work through life with. I have been confused over and taken advantage of because of cultural differences that result from being a member of a huge racial minority. It has been a year of calling out to God questioning why He seemingly dropped me in this strange country, in a job I don’t feel qualified for, where my co-workers are over worked and burned out and sometimes lash out at me over simple matters. It has been a year of growing in wisdom, patience, and self-control, while I attempt to teach affluent middle and high school aged students from all over the world. It has been a year in which I have often felt completely unsupported both professionally and personally.

In spite of, and ultimately because of, the challenges I have seen this year, God has done so much in me. All of that work deserves time to reflect on in order to really understand His heart behind everything that has happened. And to be honest, Uganda doesn’t yet feel like enough of home to be able to go through this reflecting process here. I need people around me who know my heart and make me feel grounded. I need separation. I need an ocean of headspace.

I know I need to go but In several ways, I am sad and afraid to leave Uganda for so long:

I’m scared to trust God to protect the the kids on my street whom I have built relationships with. Honestly, I’m afraid some of their families’ financial situations won’t allow them to stay where they are until I return in August to see them again. I’m fearful that this goodbye could be a goodbye forever.

I’m a little annoyed that I’m forced to put my long, pain-staking process of building a community around me here in Kampala on hold. I won’t be around for the first several weeks that some good friends of mine come to stay here in Uganda. I’ll be missing so much time with women who are only here until the end of the summer. I can’t help but think of all that could be done relationally if I were to stay.

I’m sad to leave my wonderful boyfriend, who is so often a peacemaker in my life, and be away from him for all those weeks. I’m filled with irrational fears that I’m not as strong as I need to be to sustain a long distance relationship well—even if only for two months.

But for every fear there is a whisper of peace from the Father.

“Yes, of course I will take care of those children, because they’re my children. Stephen, Nakayiza, Kabebi, Nakito, Nakato, Malcolm, Dan, Ashem, Aki, Azza—They all matter to me. I can’t promise I will keep them where you can see them, but I love them more than you do and I will take care of them anywhere they are.”

“I already know the women I have chosen for you to be in community with and you are not losing time with them. Focus on your relationship with Me and I will put you in the right place to meet these girls, when the time is right.”

“Michael will be just fine without you. I will watch over him. You will not lose anything. Remember, he is not your source of peace—I am. Your relationship will grow if you both lean on Me for strength. Look forward to the perseverance you will both gain if you abide in Me during this time.”

On top of all the important character traits God has been rooting in my heart in this season, the most important thing He has started growing in me is the imperative practice of Relying On Him. This is an idea that is thrown around often casually as a skill and mindset good Christians should have. But in the last 10 months, He has shown me more of what it should actually look like in my own life.

God has kept me isolated from close Christian community to intentionally teach me what it really means to rely on Him. He has allowed me to go through challenging situations so I can practice trusting in Him whether there’s something I can personally do about the situation or whether there’s nothing I can do but pray. While I’ve stayed in Kampala, my boyfriend continues to live two hours away at his job. The Father allowed my eyes to be shielded when a girl my own age tried to reach out to me for friendship. He stays with me when it becomes increasingly difficult to remain connected with friends back home and around the world.

God knows me well and He knows I’m way more likely to call up a friend to get together to talk or message someone online than I am to be still and call out to Him. He has shown me how important Christian community is and that it’s something that isn’t going to just come to me like it did in college, it’s something to fight for and be diligent in pursuing.

God doesn’t want me to be isolated from other believers but He knows I’m stubborn, and He has to speak to me dramatically in order for me to get the idea—I have to learn to come to Him first. Developing my relationship with God is why He created me. It’s God I’m going to spend eternity with. He loves me. He wants me to KNOW Him, and maybe I wouldn’t be able to do that as well if I had a plethora of people around to distract me. Maybe.

Clearly my feelings are divided at this point, but I’ve made it. I finished the school year and I can look forward to putting the stress of this year behind me. I am beginning to be at peace with the fact that this time next week, I will be home in familiar Michigan surrounded by family and friends. I’m excited to talk about all God has done and all I expect to see Him do in the future. I may be going home to reflect, but I still have another year to go at this job. I’m now half way done with this contract; It’s only the end of the first act. I’m excited to see what God has planned during this time, my intermission—a short pause in the activities to take a break, move from your seat, talk to the people around you, get some refreshments and prepare for the second act.

 

Currently Reading:

Rooted by Banning Liebscher