Monday, October 24, 2016

A desperate need. A fathers love.

The devastation of the reality will never rest easy in my heart or my soul. How do I make it known to people the seriousness of dirty water? How do they understand the depths of illness and disease that manifests in the water? How do I show the magnitude and dire need for clean water? How do I express that people are dying...that children are dying. The children just like the ones who are showering me with love in this picture. These children! If this picture were taken a year ago, another child may still be here joining us in laughter; and if this picture is taken one year from now, one of these children may be missing. Children just like your son, granddaughter, niece, or cousin. Children that are...simply and beautifully children. Playful, joyful, full of spunk, and sometimes attitude...never ceasing to amaze me with their unique and individual personalities.

I am not writing this to make people feel something dis-genuine or guilt anyone into anything. I am just wanting to lift the veil that sometimes blurs or blinds the truth. I have to admit, sometimes when I'm in the United States, I want to let the veil fall back over my eyes...hoping that if I don't think about it, it won't exist. Unfortunately, it exists. Then I begin picture the faces of the people who I now call my friends, and I desperately want that veil to be burned. I want the world to know and see the truth. I feel that if people knew, it just might be might change things. And if it changes things for just one person, one family, one village...then it is worth me attempting to help lift the veils that blurs our vision.

Today Jennifer and I were working throughout multiple villages that we currently partner with; and a father from a neighboring community was visiting during one of our meetings. Towards the end of the meeting, as I was asking if anyone had any more questions, he raised his hand. With desperation in his voice, he humbly asked for help. People in his village where very sick from the water they are drinking. The worms in the water have gotten worse, and it is visibly evident through everything from skin disease (you can see it on the little boy in the green shirt) to their stomachs expanding to a size that requires surgery. Now as I say their 'stomachs expand', it isn't like your stomach after your Thanksgiving meal, rather imagine a two-year-old with an NBA sized basketball in his stomach. It is so big that surgery is required to alleviate the pain and size, and rid it of worms. If they cannot afford surgery (which many cannot), death may be their only option. In the last month, two people in their village were operated on, one which was a very young child. Praise God, both operations went well, but now they (with the rest of the community) are back home drinking the same water that caused the problem. As he asked for help, every part of me wanted to shout, "Yes!!! We will help, we will drill a well." I am obviously not a father (or a mother), but I can imagine that my dad would do the same thing this man was doing. He would humble himself and do anything to help me, my mom, my brother, and my sister. He would make it his mission to keep us safe and healthy. He was simply a father seeking help for his family. The 'yes' resounded in my mind and heart as my emotions were running deep; however, I know their are still hundreds of villages that desperately need water. Thousands of people falling deathly ill because of the water they are drinking. I couldn't shout yes, but I could ensure him, we will pray. We will pray that God will provide a well.

Now many people (American and Ugandan) may not really understand what that means. Are we praying that God himself is going to come down and drill the well, or maybe just point to the spot...and poof, it will appear? Well no. Although both are possible for God, that is not what we are praying. God has blessed Villages of Hope Africa (and possibly you) to be vessels God is using to reach people for Christ (through water, agriculture, schools, and pastors trainings) here in Uganda. We aren't a ministry with unlimited resources, but we serve a limitless God. It is a body that God uses, a body of people that do a multitude of things (raising funds, advocating for the Acholi people, donating money/resources, serving the Acholi people on the ground, etc). He touches the hearts of people to give to VOHA, therefore reaching the villages of Gulu. And so it continues, we will pray that God will provide.

As we were leaving our meeting, we were dropping the father off at his nearby village, which was on the way back to town. As we reached his village, he asked, almost begging us to simply come and see the water source. As I pictured my own dad asking for such a request, I told him we would come and see. The children greeted us as we pulled into his compound, and we began to walk to the source. It was everything I dreaded, and something I have unfortunately seen too many times. A picture cannot do justice to the reality. I am praying, and I would ask my friends and family to join me in prayer.

I wish each one of you reading this could walk into the villages with me tomorrow. I wish you could hold the hand of a child, as I am certain they would bring a smile to your face and flood your heart with joy. I never want the joy of the Acholi people to be an oversight as our hearts are burdened because of the devastation. It is a joy that has the ability to lighten and fill the village, even when tragedy lurks around the corner. I want you to know that joy that penetrates the heart, but I also want you to understand the desperate need for water. So then I would walk with you...It is likely that we would walk with some of the women of the village to see the source that provides the water they drink. I would want you to see it with your own eyes. It will bring you back to reality with just a mere glance. It is a struggle. It is real. It is a need. I'm not sure how God would move in your heart, but I'm sure he would move. Maybe you would become a prayer warrior with us, maybe you would partner financially, maybe you would be sure to go back and share stories, both theirs and yours. Again, I'm not sure how He would move in you, but He would move.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Run the Race

I sometimes find myself asking “why” God has chosen me for the road he has led me down? Why he has asked me to let go of things I love and embrace things that are foreign to me? Why has he entrusted this calling to me? It isn’t a ‘why’ filled with mistrust, rather in longing and desiring to dig deeper into his plan and love for me. As I dig, the pain of letting go of things turns into joy, as I am completely humbled by His love.

I have been studying and reading through Paul’s letters to the church and I have found great encouragement in his words. In his life, I have seen a follower of Christ whose heart is to be more like Jesus. His heart is pure as he dedicates his life to speaking the truth of the word of God, and living a life where his actions are honorable to his words. As I study and dive deeper into some of the letters (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) from Paul, I find myself wanting to underline, highlight, and take notes on every word. As I long for my actions to be more like Christ, I am inspired by someone who not only desired to be more like Christ, but also followed that desire up with action. It was more than talk for Paul. He lived his short life here on earth as a race… a race that he would run as hard as he could until the day that he met Jesus at Heavens gates. He not only understood and completely accepted that his life on earth was for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God, but he was also genuinely grateful for his purpose. Majority of these letters were written while he was in prison, something that I would easily classify as a time of trial.  He wasn’t angry or asking, “why me God”, rather he was prayerful that the season of his life would glorify God and allow more people to come to know Christ. His time in prison was simply part of his race, a race that he was going to run with everything he had. When he was tired and his muscles burned, he would push forward because soon the race would come to an end, and he was going to give it everything he had. I have to ask myself, on the days that seem hard, that don’t seem like as much “fun”, am I still pressing forward and running hard; or do I sit down and pout in disappointment?

I also love how Paul spoke to the Philippians, some of his ‘support team’, if you will. In the last year, I cannot explain how God has worked in my life, touched and humbled me by the people who have chosen to be part of my journey, therefore helping to reach the people of Gulu, and ultimately serving Christ. There is no way for me to express my gratefulness and even begin to show these people the difference they have made in the lives of the Acholi people. I asked God that if he ever wanted me to serve full time, please make that clear to me and I will go. Almost a year and a half ago he made that clear to me, and I knew it was time for me to take the biggest step of faith I have ever taken in my life and trust my finances completely to him. As I walked away from a job that I not only loved, but that also gave me a paycheck and covered me with health insurance, many people questioned my decision. As I took that step, he brought “Philippians” into my life. To my support team, I quite literally could not do what I do without you. You fund me and are a necessary part of this body. You are part of my testimony of God’s faithfulness in my life, and are a witness to all those who doubted if God would or could provide. I would urge you to go and read all of Philippians 4:10-20 (well really all of Paul’s letters), but let me just say that your prayers, financial support, and gifts have been a “sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have now been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:18-19).  

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Well

I wrote this while I was in Uganda this summer. Wanted to share this moment with y'all. God is just so good. That is simply put, but I am continually overwhelmed by that truth. 

When I think of a water well, or as it is referred to in Uganda, a borehole, I immediately think of life...both physical and spiritual. The physical life that is literally brought to hundreds by the source of clean water. Life seems to abound around the well in the village, maybe as a beautiful reminder of the change and restoration the comes from the Living Water. On Wednesday afternoon, at the was happening to its fullest and I was honored to be a part of that moment. 
Tony and I were loading up the back of the truck with all of the empty jerrycans from Grandmas that we could find. We were making a big trip to the well to bring back plenty of clean water which she would use over the upcoming days. I was excited because I had decided that I personally would fill every jerrycan myself. I enjoy a challenge, and I knew my arms would be on fire by the middle of my mission and would be completely burnt out when the 15 or so jerrycans were topped off. Tony laughed at my ridiculousness (yes, that's a word), but was willing to stand aside so I could complete my challenge.
As we pulled up to the well three little girls were finishing filling their jerrycans, which they would soon carry back home to be used by their families for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing and whatever else was on the families agenda. As I hopped out of the front seat with excitement, happy to greet new friends, giggles burst out of each of these sweet faces. Between the girls initially feeling too shy to speak the English they learn in school and my limited Acholi vocabulary, laughter truly bridged the gap and served as our introduction. 
As they finished filling their jerrycans, I took over, ready to begin my challenge of filling all of my jerrycans myself. Although the girls were finished, they didn't leave, they stood and watched what I am certain was a rare (if not first) sighting of a "muno" (white) pumping water at their well. It didn't take long until they joined in, beginning to help, little by little, until as Tony joked, "You now have a full team". We were developing an efficient process for getting these cans filled, each of us with an important role. As one jerrycan was filled, they replaced it with a new one and moved each of the empty and waiting jerrycans up a spot in line. At the end of filling my third large jerrycan, the girls clearly had a plan in mind that I hadn't yet been clued in on. I got the idea as the third can filled and two little hands grazed my hands, and then took position next to mine on the metal pump. She giggled and rubbed her pinkie finger across the top of my hand, almost to see if my white skin felt different from her black skin. After receiving her answer, she hesitantly looked up at me, building confidence as she made eye contact. I'm not sure if she drew the short piece of grass, but it seemed as though she had been chosen out of the three to convey their plan. Unsure if I would be okay with it or go along with what they thought was a good idea, with a sudden burst of boldness, her eyes clearly said, "I've got this, it's my turn to do the hard part". They were not going to let me fill all these cans alone, after all...this was a team effort. From that point on, each of us filled one can and continually rotated job positions. My goal to complete my own personal filling challenge had been replaced with my desire to spend sweet moments with these girls. I was no longer focused on filling them all by myself. It was one of those moments where you just stop and take a deep breathe, almost as if to actually breathe in the moment, filing it away in your heart. The laughter continued throughout as an overflowing joy was nearly palpable. Few words were actually spoken, but communication created no barrier. 
The moment was simple, joyful, and real. I'm not sure what it was exactly that made it one of those moments that took residence in my heart and will forever remain. Maybe it was all of it...the three girls, the laughter, the well, their servants soul was singing! I am grateful. That 30 minutes at the well truly was a gift from God. 
While driving home that evening, God laid on my heart, how often am I willing to put aside my desires to simply be with Him in the sweet moments He has for me? How often do I stop and just "breathe in" in the presence of the Lord, filing away those moments with Him? That afternoon He reminded me who He is. I will make an effort to put aside "my moments" to be present in His.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

One Year Anniversary

Thirty-eight thousand feet above the ground, traveling 530 mph and for the first time in a couple of weeks…everything is slowing down a bit as majority of the continual metal and physical checklists are complete. It has been a whirlwind getting prepared for our three summer teams, while prepping and finalizing things so that I can be in Uganda for two months.

This past week…well, it was a big week. A week that held a lot of emotion in my life. It was the anniversary of two things. One year since I left SeaWorld, and one year since I officially began serving fulltime with Villages of Hope Africa. That anniversary holds more emotion than I can even begin to express or help someone understand. The departure from SeaWorld seems to hold much more weight on that day as that was the biggest change that happened. I left SeaWorld, as I was and am so blessed to get to continue serving with VOHA. As THE day approached, I tried my best to not think about it, to not dwell on it, and to not be emotional about it because… well, to be completely honest…I just didn’t feel like I had time for it. Every time that the approaching day attempted to enter my mind, I tried to slam the door on it, in hopes of avoiding the settling of the thoughts that surround that anniversary. I could feel the emotion knocking at the door and I knew if I was willing to even crack it open, the emotions would invade…bursting through the door like an unwelcomed guest. With no time for that…I reached for distraction, preparation, and fun (temporary goodbyes) with people I love.

Sadness, although not the only emotion, seemed to linger over that day. A sadness I didn’t want to confront, accept, or admit to. I wanted to just let the day blow past as every other day when I miss my friends (both human and animal) at SeaWorld. But this day was a little different…I seemed so concrete. One year. One year of being away from SeaWorld. One year since I have slipped (okay, okay… squeezed) into a wetsuit. One year since I have scrubbed a bucket. One year since I rubbed Tuar’s back as I give him a huge killer whale hug. One year since fresh fish was the common smell of my workplace. One year since I worked with my co-workers that had become and continue to be so much more in my life than simply co-workers. One year since I danced in shows and had the opportunity to work side-by-side with whales that have forever changed me. One year since I worked my last day at a job that I dreamed and worked my whole childhood and youth to be able to one day do. One year since that was my life. One year since my last day. One year.

I struggle with the honesty of this emotion associated with missing SeaWorld. I am concerned with the perception of the continued heartbreak since being gone. I feel like I have to hide that fact under a rock, hoping no one will uncover it. Although I miss it more than I know how to express in words, I am also extremely confident in how God has called me. God does not call us to live in “emotion”, rather on truth, on his solid ground. The same way that I am at a loss for words about SeaWorld, I also cannot begin to explain the excitement and joy that resonates deep within my soul. I don’t want people to question if I made a mistake by leaving, or to question God and his incredible love for his children. I don’t question those things. As I sit on this plane, I’m realizing maybe that is exactly what people should see and know. I didn’t leave SeaWorld because I was “over it” or I didn’t love it anymore. I walked away because five years ago, I told God I would serve however he called me, and when he called me to serve more in Uganda… I opened my hands to let go of SeaWorld, took a step of faith with him at my side, and leaned into him seeking continued guidance and strength. That isn’t a testament to me…that is a testament to God and how he can work in our lives. Clearly, I alone never could have walked away from SeaWorld. It was one of the loves of my life. I don’t know that I will ever not miss it. Through God’s continued strength and love, I can walk joyfully with him, no matter what he asks of me. God tells us that there will be sacrifice as he calls us to follow him. Now this can and will come in all different packages. I would encourage you, if you have been prayerful and God has called you, don’t fear the sacrifice. When you open your hands and take that step, the joy will be like no other you have ever felt. A true joy of the Lord. It is so raw, so deep, so genuine and true. It is time we pick up our cross and follow our Leader, our Example, our Father, our Friend.

Now let’s talk about the joy. Although I have been serving with Villages of Hope Africa for about 5 years, it has been one whole year since I officially began serving full time with VOHA. One year. One year since I have been considered a fulltime missionary. One year since family, friends, and strangers have become part of this Body of Christ, part of this journey with me as they support me both prayerfully and financially. One year since I chose to take a life-changing step of faith. One year since I truly surrendered ALL that I am to Christ. One year since I undeniably felt the outpouring love from friends and family. One year since I felt God begin to work in my life in a way that is indescribable. Wow! I am so humbled. I am honored that God would choose and call me to serve in this capacity. My love for the Acholi people runs so deep, and I feel so blessed to be able to serve the Acholi people along side my brothers and sisters. It is often a joke that I am part Acholi, that it is in my blood… but I think it just might be true.

The blessings that God has covered me in throughout this last year are overwhelming. I am committed to being fully abandoned to him, no matter what that looks like. I will take one step at a time, following wherever he calls.

Lord, I look to you. Give me wisdom. You are where my help, my strength, my hope, and my joy come from. May my hands and feet begin to look more like yours. May my heart reflect yours. When people look at me and my life, may they see you alone.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Single on Valentine's Day

I am single on the day of love and all I can do is feel joyful. This isn’t because I have the 
“I hate boys” mentality or because I’m trying to be strong and pretend like I’m okay. It is because my heart is truly filled with joy. A joy that cannot so simply come from or be taken away by my relationship status. I am overwhelmed and grateful for the love that fills my life. The love of an incredible family, love of some wonderful friends, a love for a calling I am passionate about, and a love for my Father that is supreme to all else.

It does not come to much surprise for those that know me, but I am fully content and satisfied with being single. To the point that I truly struggle to understand majority of the comments that flood social media come Valentines Day. The overwhelming number of comments of disgust, envy, and sadness are baffling. (This is an area where I can practice showing compassion.) For me personally, to be anything other than joyfully content would be a lack of trust. I trust God with my past, I trust Him with my present, and I trust Him with my future. Singleness, whether it is a passing or long lasting season in my life, it does not reduce or increase my value, it does not validate or invalidate me, and it does not even begin to define who I am. Let’s talk about my singleness (and yours). I fully believe with every ounce of who I am, that no matter the season of life I walk through, God is walking with me. We serve an intentional and loving God. He is intentional in the lessons He is teaching you and the relationship He is pursuing with you. I want to have a heart that is willing to be shaped and molded by the hands of God, so I will open my life to what He has for me.  

So today, on the day of love I will be grateful for all of the blessings that have brought love into my life and joy to my soul. I try to be understanding to the fact that we are all different and some struggle with singleness more than others. However, do not let that struggle take your eyes off of Jesus, do not loose sight of the beauty He has for you in this life. Be confident in who God is creating you to be, because as you walk with Him you are His beautiful masterpiece.
Be defined by Christ, not your singleness.
Stop for a moment and see some of the blessings God has placed in your life, whether it be a cool breeze that is blowing on your face, the laughter of your family, a warm meal on a cold night, or even a pleasing sounds that you can hear in the distance. In trail or blessing, struggle or joy, God is pursuing you. Begin to open your eyes to the little and big gifts He places in your life, just for you!

I know that today is hard for some because of loss that you have walked through. It brings a pain into your life that quite literally takes the air out of your lungs and feels like your heart is shattering into pieces. The longing for just one more hug, one more kiss, and one more conversation is almost unbearable. My friends, my heart goes out to you. Please know this, you are dearly loved. 
God draws near to the brokenhearted.