Thursday, December 27, 2018

Beautifully In Over My Head

Our new neighborhood

It’s kind of surreal that I’m typing this new blog post from our new home in Adjumani. Today is day 12 that we’ve been here and we were just remarking as a family how much it already feels like home.  Ever since we’ve moved here, it’s felt like a really big deal. I think the reason is because when we last evacuated from South Sudan and knew in our hearts that for now that door was closed to us for ministry as a family, our future has been a big question mark. We spent most of our home assignment in the States praying, seeking advice, and dreaming together about all the possibilities. It was such a big decision and we felt that heaviness so many days and nights. We started out this year, 2018, with a month of very intentional prayer and fasting about our future. In May, Eli came to Northern Uganda and did a 10 day survey trip. By September we had moved to a temporary home in Gulu, Uganda and it took 3 months before we knew for sure where God was leading us and had found a house and purchased everything we needed to outfit that house.

And now here we are. 

Only a few days after moving in, I was hit with a flood of emotions. I tried to think of why I was feeling swamped by so many feelings and then I realized it was because we were finally here. Not only that but God gave us confirmations and encouragement since the very hour we landed in our new neighborhood. One of our neighbors who we call Muzee Michael (Muzee because he is an old man) came over to help us unload all our stuff and then before leaving he gathered us under the mango trees in our yard and opened up his Bible to two passages. He read from Gen 12 and Joshua 1. The first passage was about when God called Abraham to go far away to a land He was calling him to, saying He would bless him when he went. The 2nd passage was about being strong and courageous. Don’t be discouraged for the Lord is with you and will not abandon you. Muzee Michael encouraged us to be strong and courageous no matter what difficulties come our way and then prayed for us as we settled in our new home. We’ve also had multiple visitors and pastors visit and when they pray for us, a phrase keeps popping up: “God has brought you here.” Those things have been such a comfort to us as we struggle through the challenges of getting settled in a new place, meeting new people, joining a new church, figuring out where to buy food and necessities, learning new ways to cook, adjusting to the heat, and trying to begin learning a difficult language.

Washing clothes with my little helper
As thrilled as I am to be here and as much as I am sure that we are exactly where God wants us to be, it hasn’t been easy. As the mom, I have my work cut out for me. Keeping a house clean in dry, dusty season because I have a crawling baby, trying to cook nutritious, tasty meals with what I can get here, washing clothes by hand, finding creative ways to cool Carson off, getting out to meet neighbors, and doing lots of hosting is a lot of work. It takes time to get in the groove. I keep trying to remind myself to cut myself some slack. I don’t have to be perfect at everything. And since we’ll be here for a while, we’ll have time to learn and do it all.

Yesterday I had had kind of a rough morning and was feeling so tired. As I was cooking lunch a song came on by Hillsong and a line kept running through my head – “beautifully in over my head”. The song talks about how it is a beautiful thing when we are "in over our head" because it’s then that we reach out for Jesus and He draws near to us. So yes, I’ll admit it. I’m definitely in over my head. But it’s a beautiful place to be and I’m trying to embrace it. I want to embrace what God wants to teach me but I’m also confident that there’s no where I’d rather be. 

Playing Uno with new friends

My simple spot on the back steps where I like to start my days with Jesus and coffee

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Contentment & Fulfillment in the midst of mothering

I have been chewing on something for a while and want to share this because I know I'm not the only mother who struggles to feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile. That sounds harsh. When I stop and think about it I KNOW that teaching and raising up my boys, supporting my husband in his work and ministry, and taking care of everyone by washing their dirty clothes, cooking nutritious meals and snuggling whenever possible IS 100% meaningful, valuable and important. But on the day to day, especially when I've been doing it day after day, somehow LIES, yes lies, creep into my brain and heart making me feel like I'm missing something. Like I could be doing more - making more of an impact.

Those lies have been messing with me the past couple of weeks. You see, after an extended home assignment in the States (in which I felt no guilt at all for resting and not working), we have returned to the mission field but this time to a new country. We landed in Uganda to a wonderful town called Gulu and we've been loving it here but since it's not our final destination, I haven't been able to totally settle. I've made a few friends but haven't put the whole effort I would if we were going to live here permanently. We've joined a church, but I could be so much more involved if I didn't have that nagging thought that "we're not going to be here much longer."

We were supposed to move to our "final destination", our new home, in a place called Adjumani, last week. But just a few days before we were planning to move, we got a phone call that our house wouldn't be ready yet and then a 10 day trip to South Sudan for Eli came up and suddenly, we were delaying our move another 2 1/2 weeks. I kept telling myself it wasn't a big deal. So we have 2 1/2 more weeks in Gulu, great. And yet...with a lot of our stuff already packed, Isaac home on break, and taking our Christmas break from home schooling, I have felt like I'm just floating.

I'm in a holding pattern. Waiting. Again.
And yet, it's really not a bad thing. Since we're just kind of chilling until Eli gets back from South Sudan I can do things like take a mat out to the yard and sit with Carson while we watch the big boys play with the dogs. We can head to the pool for the afternoon. We schedule play dates. And yet in the midst of those sweet things - I feel guilt. I feel like I'm not doing anything.

Chilling after a bike ride
But how can I say that? How can I say I'm not doing anything?!!! I have four precious boys that I'm loving, training, and raising to be Jesus followers, kind young men. And especially with a 7 month old baby who is going through the separation anxiety phase, it is my constant job, all day long. Changing diapers, playing peek-a-boo, splitting up fights, reading Advent passages - all of it is soooo important. And I truly wouldn't trade it to be out working a "real" job or running around every day so I can be involved in ministry outside of the home. Think of all I'd miss!

And when we decided to adopt, I very intentionally chose to continue (and start over really) this mothering ministry IN THE HOME. I don't want to miss Carson's first attempt at crawling or his first words. I want to be the one to put him down for his naps and go to him when he wakes up.


Just look at this sweetness!
My mother in law helped me answer that question yesterday. Why is it so hard to be content when what we're doing is quite possibly one of the most meaningful and important things we could do with our time and energy? It's Satan. He knows how meaningful it is. He knows we're raising world changers. Our work as mothers, Ladies, is a threat. And so Satan will throw whatever darts he can at us as we're pouring out our hears for our families. He tells us the exact opposite of what is true. And the worst part is that we believe it. We start thinking it. And before we know it, we're totally stuck in his trap, feeling hopeless and insignificant, like we've missed something.

I was feeling all those things just yesterday afternoon but the Lord, in His great love, coaxed my mother in law to call to check in on me. Getting a phone call from my mother in law is always very special because she lives in Malawi right now and it's a miracle that we get a good connection. I shared how I was feeling and she spoke TRUTH over me through the phone lines stretched from one part of the African continent to the other. She encouraged me to REJECT those lies and then affirmed how truly meaningful and precious my "work" is.

My way of rejecting those lies is to share this with you all who read this. Please join me in rejecting the lies that Satan tries to get us to believe. And let us not grow weary in doing good, but let's KEEP IT UP and all the more, because we know just how significant it is. We ARE making a difference in the world.

Joshua reading his Christmas story
This Advent season the boys and I are doing a special Christmas activity every day that is written on a slip of paper in our Advent calendar. Yesterday we wrote our own Christmas books and illustrated them and then read them to each other. It was so much fun to spend 45 minutes coloring and writing and then of course we giggled and applauded each reading (the drawings were really hilarious since none of us are exactly artists.)

As I was kneading my dough yesterday afternoon and still processing my phone conversation with my mother in law, I told myself out loud that even that simple task was an important way I'm loving my family. I know I'm going to have to keep preaching truth to myself this week...and next week...but I can't stop. Because this is a battle and I don't want anyone to steal my joy of soaking in every day with my 4 precious boys.

Monday, November 05, 2018

House Hunters - Ugandan Style

House #1 - major con was that there was no kitchen or dining room

Now that we have decided on our ministry location for this term: a town in Northern Uganda called Adjumani, central to almost 20 refugee camps, we have started the fun adventure of house hunting. And I don't say that sarcastically! It's been really fun. I have been amazed at the beautiful houses that are available in a more remote part of the country!

I would like to start by saying that God has provided in such timely ways, 2 very helpful men who guided us around town to see multiple possibilities. They knew some of the things that were important to us: electricity, running water, and a yard.

Since Adjumani is only 2 hours from Gulu where we live right now, we decided to drive up on Saturday morning and spend the day looking at houses. It was such a unique experience that I wanted to write about it on our blog.

House #2 - amazing yard but small, dark house also missing a kitchen and dining room
 This house had the most elaborate, gaudy ceilings I've ever seen! Every room had a special design painted on it.

This picture I'm including to show that houses came in all shapes, sizes and colors as you'll see...

House #3 was our 2nd favorite 

House #4
 This house also had crazy ceilings designs - these were more like multi colored spikes growing out of the ceiling!

House #5 - the house we're hoping for

When searching for a house it's important for a raised water tank so that you have water pressure in your house.

 The cool thing about this last house is that the owner is from South Sudan. It's brand new and very well built. It also happens to be right next door to the AIC (Africa Inland Church) property - this is one of the churches we'll be partnering with. The inside is very comfortable with a good sized kitchen, which is important to this mama who had seen several houses without a kitchen. But one of my favorite things about this house is the community it's in. The picture below shows our next door neighbors:

Our neighbors next door
I'll admit that as much as I love this house, I have felt uncomfortable at times with the prospect of living in such a "palace" when many around us live in huts. But this community looks and feels a lot like places we've lived in South Sudan. It makes me excited to get out and meet our neighbors and have so many wonderful people to live life with day in and day out. I have learned over the years that it makes such a difference to live where we can thrive. Not only will this sweet community and village life help us thrive but so will this beautiful western style house. We will try to do it well - not closing ourselves into our own little world, but inviting the world in. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Living a country away from our 14 year old

On a special run that Isaac and I ran together in our neighborhood one day last year

Where and how do I begin to share what it's like to have my son go to boarding school?

 Many friends have asked how this first term is going and as my heart has grieved and processed this new adjustment over the last couple of months, I think I've come to a place that I want to share what it's been like. The decision for Isaac to go to Rift Valley Academy has been one Eli and I knew was coming for a long time. Our plan has been that I'd homeschool our kids through 8th grade and then they'd go to Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids in Kenya, for high school to prepare them for college. But when Isaac was about 11 or 12 I started noticing a change. He wasn't as content to run around with the younger village boys and his little brothers, climbing trees, fishing, or kicking a ball around. He preferred to work with Eli under the hood of our car or help me with odd jobs around the house. That same year we went to Rift Valley Academy to have the boys tested to make sure they were keeping up and they got to experience a week of school at RVA. It was after that visit that Isaac told us he was ready to start at RVA. That was when he was in 6th grade. We went ahead and applied to get him on the waiting list knowing that it could take a few years. I can't tell you how badly that broke my heart. I knew it was what he needed and therefore what was best for him, but I grieved the thought of him not living at home with us anymore - and it felt premature. I know he'll "leave the nest" for college one day but that's when he's 18, not 14! It's been a few years of constantly giving it to the Lord and asking God to do what was best for our boy (well, all of them) by making it clear when they should go.

Last year we spent in the States and Isaac, Evan and Joshua all got to go to a great Christian private school in South Carolina. We're so thankful for that year of school because it was such great practice for this year when Isaac would be in charge of studying and doing his homework without our supervision! 

When 2018 rolled around, my heart began to cringe again, knowing each month that I was counting down the days until he started school at Rift Valley Academy in August. So much happened in our family with the adoption of new baby brother Carson and then moving to Uganda - a new field. We moved back to Africa only a week before Isaac needed to be at school to start his first day of 8th grade. It was A LOT, let me tell you. I wondered how my heart would manage it all. But truly it was the grace of God.

I remember the morning Eli and Isaac left to catch the bus that would take them to Kenya. Other parents had encouraged us to make our goodbyes short and sweet, not to make it harder than it needed to be. It was early in the morning, still dark, and I was only half awake. My heart was numb. I hugged Isaac, gave him a squeeze and told him how proud I was of him and how much I loved him and then they were off. 

When I had anticipated that day, I thought I would go back to my room and cry for hours. I thought I would cry for days. I thought it would be hard to go along with regular life. But I didn't do any of that. I was so surprised! I went through that whole first day without a tear. Even when our 12 year old melted into tears at the dinner table that night because our family was changing, I stayed unemotional. Until that night. I got into bed and suddenly the tears came. It hurt so bad. I was missing my boy, my first born, the sweet little blond kid that made me a mother. 

The next few days my heart would twist over certain things:
-when I accidentally called one of the other boys Isaac
-when I folded his laundry that had been left behind
-when we only had to set the table for 4 instead of 5

But it was still way easier than I'd expected. I felt guilty about it. Why wasn't I crying more? Why wasn't I thinking about him more? 

We only talk to him on the phone once a week. We might send a few texts here and there during the week but we'd been encouraged by others to release our boy and give him some space to adjust and make friends and not be constantly reaching out to him. He needed some separation. So we decided on a Sunday afternoon phone date and every time we talked to him he couldn't stop gushing about how much fun he was having, how much he loved dorm life and how busy he was! He has told us again and again, "No offense Mom and Dad, but I'm still not homesick. I miss you all a lot but it's like I'm sad about it." 

I think this is why I haven't struggled as much as I thought I would. Because he's so happy. He's thriving. He's made lots of friends. He has great dorm parents. He enjoys his classes and he's doing really well.

In October we got to go to Kenya to spend 5 days with Isaac over his midterm break. We hadn't seen him for 6 weeks. We stayed in a friend's empty house far out of town so we could enjoy being just a family. We soaked up family meals, games, hikes, swimming, and even the things that usually bother us like sibling fights and annoying noises and habits. :)  

As I expected it was hard to say goodbye again when we had to take him back to school- kind of like ripping off a scab. But now we know that in a month he'll be home with us and this time for 6 whole weeks before he has to go back to school.

We day we picked Isaac up at school - this was our first meal together again.

Brothers together again

One of our cool hikes

Isaac said he missed Carson the most!
 I'm not trying to whine and talk about how hard my life is. I'm not asking for your pity. I just know that many of you can't imagine how I could ever do this - send my child to a whole separate country for school before he's 18. Honestly, I can't believe I'm doing it either. But I'm so thankful that it seems to be a great thing for him.

Guess what? Now he's telling Evan he needs to come next year! Evan has decided he wants to go next year. He'll be 13.  I'll be honest. I haven't allowed myself to think too deeply about it. I don't want to think about how it will feel to have two of my babies gone from our home, living in another country. I don't want to think about what it will be like for our 10 year old who will be left behind with a baby brother to keep him company. It's too much right now.

I'm reminded right now of a night in 2006 when Eli and I were preparing to head to Sudan for the first time. Our boys were only 2 and 9 months and I was experiencing an emotional crisis as I wrestled with the fears of taking my two little babies to Sudan - a remote place with no medical care. A missionary friend encouraged me to kneel by each crib as my precious little ones slept and give them over to the Lord. Recognize that they were not mine. They were his. And God wasn't just calling Eli and I. He was calling each of them to Sudan as well. That simple act of kneeling with my hands out and offering my children, these gifts from God, BACK TO HIM, is etched in my memory and I've thought back to that night many times. So I keep on trusting that my Heavenly Father is holding each of my 4 sons in His hands. They are His.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

How are we doing 2 months in?

The pretty street we live on

In some ways it's been a very typical season of settling down:
- unpacking and moving into a house
- getting to know our new town, how to shop in the market, where to buy things, etc.
- finding a church family
- making friends
- starting our home school year

The banana section in our market

But in other ways it hasn't quite been normal:
- we're not in our final home/location yet
- we've traveled quite a bit

Basically: we've still felt like we are in limbo.
Being in limbo isn't a bad thing but as many moms know, it can get old after a while. So we are excited to now have a plan and a flexible timeline for what we can expect for the rest of the year.

This weekend Eli will travel back to Kenya for a week-long Theological training conference and he is taking 2 South Sudanese theological trainers and 1 from Uganda.
Starting the beginning of November, we will take another trip up to Adjumani which is 2 hours away and is the town we hope to settle in by the end of the year. Our next trip will be to try to secure a house for us. We found one that we really liked last time we were there, but we want to look around a little more before we settle on one.

The house we really liked while house hunting

Once we have a rental agreement for a house in Adjumani then we'll need to go on a huge shopping spree most likely in the capital city (Kampala) to buy all the furnishings for our new home. Once we have everything then we can move! Isaac will come home for his Christmas break two days after Thanksgiving and will be home for 6 weeks so we would like to make our move when he's home so he can be involved and feel like it's his home as well. My Christmas wish this year? To be in our new home to celebrate Christmas. :)

It's been an interesting time I'll admit. It was kind of crazy to land in Uganda - a big change from South Sudan - not fully knowing yet where we were going to settle or what our ministry would be exactly. But as we've prayed and sought the Lord and asked daily for His wisdom, He has answered and has allowed His plan to unfold little by little - just enough to encourage our hearts but also to keep us completely dependent on Him. Though never easy, I am grateful that the Lord designs these types of seasons so we can feel and know His nearness and be comforted by the truth that when we are weak and have no idea what we're doing, HE KNOWS and is perfect in His strength.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gulu: our new home

The nice ride we hired to take us to Gulu from the capital city 
On September 1st we left Kampala shortly before 6:30 in the morning while the city was still waking up and began our journey north to Gulu, our next stop and home for a while. We rented one van for us and one van for all our stuff! Though it took about 6 hours we thoroughly enjoyed watching the scenery of Uganda as we drove.
Karuma Falls

The boys' favorite part of our trip was when a baboon jumped onto our windshield to try to hitch a ride!
This is the house we'll be staying in for the next 2 months.
 Since we're still not sure exactly WHERE in Northern Uganda we'll be settling for ministry, we are beginning in Gulu - a major hub and central place in Northern Uganda. We are in the phase of learning about this part of the country, a little language learning, and lots of  "shadowing" Eli will do in these first weeks to see what God is doing in this area, what other missionaries and organizations are doing, and see where we might fit (though it might not be in Gulu). He's also going to start traveling into the different refugee camps in this area to continue gathering information, networking,  and building relationships. One hope we have is that we might be able to move closer to where the South Sudanese refugees are living in the camps (though there are many even here in Gulu.)

This is a scene of our yard - the kids' favorite place
We are amazed at our yard here! No joke these are the types of trees we have and many of them are bearing fruit right now: guava, lemon, macadamia nut, avacado, papaya, and mandarin orange!

Joshua's first pick of guavas, the day we arrived.
 We eat guavas all day and every day. Over the weekend I tried my Mom's recipe of guava sauce which is like apple sauce but with guava. Boy is it good!

Our school books all set up
 In order to establish a routine for the kids, we started our home school year right away on Sept 3. Evan is in 7th grade and Joshua is in 5th. As you may remember, our oldest, Isaac is at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, in 8th grade and LOVING it. We're missing him like crazy but it really helps that every time we talk to him he goes on and on about how awesome everything is there and what fun he's having! Carson is not quite 5 months but joins us for part of school, sitting quietly on my lap while I read or playing on a blanket on the floor.

Auntie Hellen with Carson

A pretty typical afternoon for us these days
 We are daily amazed at how smooth this transition has been for our family. We can't believe how at peace we feel and the ease with which we've all adjusted! My favorite part about last week was when Evan and Joshua bravely ventured across the street to play soccer with a group of boys in the grass. About an hour later when I called them in for dinner, they were smiling from ear to ear and reporting to me everyone's names and that they'd been invited to come back and play every evening at 5.
They've also really hit it off with a few missionary families' children that we've met. We are praising God for providing new friends so quickly!

Another highlight last week: hosting this lovely family!
Last week, we invited a South Sudanese family over for lunch. Eli met Pastor Tito and his wife Edwina on his trip to Uganda in May and he is one of our contacts here in Gulu. We enjoyed our visit with them, the kids played nicely and we went to church with them on Sunday.

Might have been their first popsicles!

So basically I want to report that God has been so gracious, allowing us to settle so quickly and easily and giving us such joy to be here. We are really soooo happy to be here. Though there are hard parts of this transition (like missing Isaac and not having him with us) God is comforting us and causing us to depend completely on Him. We still have a lot of question marks in our future but that's OK. It keeps us always trusting and looking to the Lord to guide us. That's what we want.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

First days in Uganda

Carson enjoying the beauty of Uganda
 After a very smooth trip, we were so excited to learn about this new country we're moving to. The boys have enjoyed playing outside because it's so cool and beautiful here.

Crazy city traffic
 Driving around Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, has definitely been a big adjustment. As you can see in this picture, the roads are taken over with motorcycles. We are slowly learning our way around.
Carson and I enjoying the porch and cool weather

Last talks with Isaac ("you've got to shower every day and don't forget to wash your sheets every now and then...")
6 days after we arrived in Africa, Eli traveled to Kenya with Isaac to get him settled in his new school, Rift Valley Academy. It is an awesome school and being there confirmed to Eli that Isaac is ready for this step of independence. He's been super busy this first week of school but we are able to talk on the phone and he is really excited to be there. We, on the other hand, are missing him terribly!

Isaac moving into his room at school

What a gift! He gets to room with a long time friend.
This is such a God thing! Isaac has 3 other roommates and one of them is the son of our dear friends Phil and Emily Greene. He started at this school last year so he's been able to show Isaac around and help answer questions.
We get to live in the same country as my parents!
 A big perk about being in Uganda is that my parents still live here too. They are in a town about 4 hours away from the capital so they drove over to have a special family "send off" for Isaac and then to keep the other boys and I company while Eli was away.

Mimo cuddles

Enjoying delicious chai

My high school, life long friend, Emily, and I enjoying time together

Big ol' shopping spree for our new home - we filled 4 carts!
Kampala is not where we will be settling down. This is where our mission base is and where we'll pass through on our way to Kenya to visit Isaac or pick him up at the end of each term. So we have been shopping for what we might need in our new home. We will be moving to our next "stop" which is a town called Gulu, this Saturday. Eli has hired 2 vans to arrive at 6 am on Saturday morning. We will pack all our stuff in one and then all of us plus the extra stuff in the 2nd vehicle and make our way north to Gulu. We've been told the trip can be done in 5 hours without stops but Google maps said it takes 7 1/2 hours so we'll see how it goes with 2 boys, and infant and many many trunks of stuff.

The plan is that we'll be in Gulu town for at least the new few months. We will be house sitting and dog sitting for missionary friends and during that time will be working on where would be the best place for our family to settle. We would really appreciate prayer for wisdom regarding WHERE exactly in northern Uganda to live. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Safe and sound in Uganda

Our packed bags ready for departure
The last week in the States was a blur of packing, painting, cleaning and tearful goodbyes. But we are so grateful for all our dear friends who gave of their time to help us.

This is the crew who came to carry all our things up to our storage space the day before we left.

Dear friends ordered pizza to be delivered to our house for our last lunch

Though our travels were long they were uneventful and smooth. The big boys enjoyed watching many movies and Carson was a champ. The best answer to prayer of all was arriving in Uganda and all 20 of our bags showing up in tact.

Carson playing on the airport floor

We are staying at a beautiful place. Our favorite spot is the porch where we can see out on beautiful green uganda and hear all the birds singing.

Carson watching his brothers play in the front yard