Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence

Self-care. Over the last decade or so, self-care has become almost a buzz word for those in missionary care. But rooted earlier in the medical world in the 1950s, self-care assisted medical professionals in rehabilitating patients. Used to describe activities that preserved some physical independence, originally it involved simple tasks to nurture a sense of self-worth such as exercising and personal grooming. Today the definition of self-care expands to include anything that helps develop one’s health, happiness and resiliency in life.

But the emphasis on self-care may resemble self-indulgence to those who don’t fully understand and embrace it. For sure, self-care involves a focus on self but there’s a balance required by the very nature of self-care itself. Self-indulgence encompasses an excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own desires, appetites or whims. Imbalance exists in self-indulgence. It is simply that; self-indulgence without regard to its impact on self except to fulfill that impulse.

Self-care, on the other hand, involves a stability and intentionality that is not about promoting such lack of self-control. Instead, self-care seeks to live a balanced life that influences all areas of well-being: the spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual and even social self. It’s about living life in good health in all areas which leads to resiliency.

For the missionary life, self-care becomes an essential piece of resiliency, livelihood, and contributes to longevity on the field. The intentional balance for a missionary is the direct result flowing out of a vibrant relationship with the Lord. When every decision is first filtered through Him, life balance can result. Self-care must flow out of a deliberate daily choice to put Him first in all things. Outside of this funnel and focus, self-care can easily cross over into self-indulgence. Pure, balanced self-care is an overflow that results from a life fully focused on Him.

This is true for all Christians, not just missionaries. The stress that every day life brings each one of us affects our bodies, our spirits, our souls. Without care, we can easily fall into synicism, a critical spirit and anger before we even realize that we have left living the vibrant, fresh walk with Him that God intends for each of us. We can become entrapped by apathy, anxiety, fatigue and general lack of care. It doesn’t generally happen over night, or all at once. Instead, slowly by slowly these things creep into our homes, our ministries, our lives. Before we realize it, these new attitudes have become a part of our every day habits.

Keeping our relationship fresh and new each day with the Lord is key to combatting such tendencies. It is through that lens with which we can discover the true balance of self-care. Reflecting with Him and choosing intentional activities to refill, refresh and rejuvenate our souls becomes life-giving to all of us. And I am not talking about necessarily taking a two week cruise to an exotic island every year. Intentional activities for self-care encompass a variety of interests and meet different people and personalities in their specific areas of need.

For some, it might mean a two week cruise to an exotic island. But more often, it is regular (and vital) time off each week starting with a Sabbath rest. And then perhaps it is a day once a month where time is set aside for a hobby. For those with social needs, it might mean a day out with the guys for fellowship fishing on the lake. If you work in a high stress environment, it is likely important that you get away for a weekend once a month to decompress. For some it may mean a day at the spa getting a massage. Perhaps it is a morning routine at the gym or an afternoon nap. For some it may mean doing a puzzle or playing a family game. But the primary focus is a relationship with the Lord and not self-indulgence that satisfies our temporary appetites. Self-care is secondary, flowing out of our walk with Him, care that honors Him as we care well for ourselves in all aspects of how He has made us.

One exercises quality self-care so that he or she can serve out of the abundance that results. One is filled up to once again be poured out on behalf of the Lord. It is no small task. It may mean trial and error until one figures out what rhythms truly rejuvenate and which ones just don’t work towards the goals. But setting up these rhythms of life may mean the difference between thriving and just surviving.

I encourage you to seek the Lord and ask Him to help you see where to either carve out some time or add in some new activities that will free you up to be with Him regularly and refresh your very being. Make these new habits until they are literally rhythms of life for you. Start small and build on what He leads you to, so that it is possible. Experts say it takes 21 days in a row to form a new habit. Some say it takes up to two months. Clearly, it varies depending on the person, behavior and circumstances. So don’t give up easily on self-care building. It may take some time, but it is so worth it. It may make the difference between walking in the freedom and vitality that God intends for us.

After all, the Christian life is about walking with Him day in and day out for the purpose of advancing His Kingdom and bringing Him glory. Instituting self-care routines and rhythms can unleash new energy in not only your relationship with Him but others, thereby resulting in a new and fresh outlook as you face each day with Him. Be diligent to seek it and reap the rewards.

A Christmas in Uganda

Twas the night before Christmas in our Uganda house,

And everyone is sweating including the mouse.

The heat’s quite oppressive in this holiday drought.

The fans would be turning but the electricity is out.

The children are sleeping, or pretending to be,

Dreaming of morning and the presents they’ll see.

I work on a bike, carefully tightening a spoke,

Even knowing as I do, in a week it’ll be broke.

Then I hear a great racket and jump up to see,

What wonder or miracle it might happen to be.

Could it be Santa with gifts in his sack?

No, it’s just our guard snoring, sleeping out back.

Then a bang and a rattle, something flies through the air.

I rub both my eyes not believing what’s there.

It’s a flying taxi van all decked out in lights,

Pulled by seven Marabou storks in red and green tights.

The sight is so appalling that I let out a scream,

And awaken myself from this yuletidish, nightmarish dream.

I drag out of bed and to the living room go,

Thinking, Christmas in Uganda is not what I used to know.

Our tree’s artificial, a white Christmas, only dreams.

And Santa’s sleigh’s been delayed at the post office it seems.

No fireplace for stockings so by the window they sway.

We play Christmas music and think of loved ones far away.

So many differences, Christmas doesn’t feel quite right,

And yet the core essentials are the same this holy night.

God’s love still abounds, and the victory’s still won.                                   

Our hope is still found in the giving of His Son.

So let our hearts rejoice and our voices ring.

May we sing with the angels, for the coming of our King.

Wherever we may be over all this wide earth,

Let us cling to Christ our King and celebrate His birth.

(by Bob Peterson)

An American Thanksgiving Tradition in Uganda

Thanksgiving in Uganda, you say? Cultures collide once more. Living in a country not your own means the opportunity to adopt new traditions, but having a taste of your past traditions can also bring some comfort in the absence of normal, or at least what was once normal.

Recreating your home country traditions in a place where you may not be able to access the normal products can be challenging. Perhaps you are accustomed to a particular brand of candied yams or always bought a Butterball turkey. Relying on the readily accessible now becomes a challenge. Those products are simply not available. Culture shock may settle once more as you seek to recreate the same tasty experience for you and your family. Missing loved ones that you normally share this time with only compounds the experience for some. One’s values are certainly challenged as you consider what is truly important.

But opportunity abounds. Creativity calls. Or perhaps advance planning prevails. Bringing some of those products with you in your suitcase could certainly help in recreating that perfect dining experience. More than likely, some of those have already been consumed on previous occasions. Maybe you received a CARE package with some of those items you are missing. For us, the packages were few and far between. Postage is just so expensive to send something to Uganda from the states.

For me, the search was on. Could one even find a real turkey in Uganda? Yes! They are there for the committed researcher, always with a promise of a nice fat, big turkey underneath all of those feathers and worth every penny. Not only that but they were range free, grass fed turkeys left to forage to its heart’s content. Hmmm. Looks can be deceiving and the purchase of the perfect turkey might just be more challenging than the seller is advertising. But! I found one! The purchase is made. The seller will even kill it and remove the feathers! We are in business!

Next? More research. How to prepare a turkey, essentially a wild turkey, in Uganda so that it is perfectly baked with its juicy interior preserved? For someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy cooking, this is an extra challenge. I had never heard of using a brine in advance to help tenderize a wild bird. Another education to experience. My best advice came from fellow missionaries who had already experimented and perfected the technique. Of course, the turkey arrives with most of the feathers removed and far smaller than I was lead to believe. But! It’s still a turkey. I must admit that my turkey never looked like the perfection in the photo above or even close to my seasoned missionary colleagues. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. (Perhaps I should have just gone with chicken.)

Of course, this is just the turkey! Still so many other items on the menu to figure out how to replicate. Pumpkins are readily available, so pumpkin pie will be easy, I “think.” You can buy canned green beans or buy fresh ones. Of course, I prefer French cut, so that will become labor intensive compared to the canned ones I bought back home. Potatoes. Check! No worries over that one. Plenty of “Irish” potatoes in the market. Now the traditional family fruit salad may not happen, but we have tropical fruits galore. A new fruit salad will simply have to be born in its place! So many items to consider.

I don’t know about you, but recreating something in a foreign culture with different ingredients can be challenging. It can also be fun! Inviting in some of our national friends to help us with the challenge and then sharing in its abundance together is rewarding. Uganda with its own cultures and traditions met these Americans with new culture and traditions. What are your non-negotiables for your Thanksgiving holiday regardless of the culture you are in? Is it people and sharing together? After all, preparing all of that food wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding if there were no one to share it with!

One of the things I realized in my quest to recreate the perfect Thanksgiving meal for my friends is the reminder that it really isn’t about the food. Thanksgiving is about being grateful and remembering. This is something God asked the Israelites to do over and over again throughout history. Hold festivals to remember and to celebrate with your friends and family. We would do well to follow this tradition wherever we go and whatever culture we live in.

So on this Thanksgiving day as I remember the years we spent trying to recreate our Thanksgiving traditions in a different culture, yes, Uganda, I am grateful for those who experienced them with us and shared in the abundance together. And I am grateful for all of my friends and family wherever God has brought them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Reverse Culture Shock … It’s A Real Thing

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Reverse culture shock is no laughing matter. Well, perhaps, but it is also serious.  It can occur without notice and blindside the most seasoned missionary. Perhaps it is trying to get in the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road, or maybe it’s using an expression that no one understands here in the United States.  Maybe it’s being overwhelmed at a grocery store because there are just.too.many.choices!  Supposed you were living in a war-torn nation, the sound of target practice by nearby hunters can suddenly be alarming. For me, sometimes it’s realizing that I am talking with my eyebrows and all of a sudden I become self-conscious.  (Normally no one notices, or perhaps they are extending me grace by not saying anything, but I notice.)

Some say that the longer you are on the field, the longer it takes for reverse culture shock to disappear. Some say it takes one to three years. Still others say it depends upon how enculturated you were in the foreign culture you were serving in. Some folks even claim it takes just as many years as you were on the field to fully transition and reverse culture shock to completely leave. But truly, it is completely unique to the individual. While people make predictions of how it will go, the life of the missionary themselves must face each challenge as it surfaces.

At the heart of reverse culture shock is the reminder that you are no longer in the place that you call home, your new home which is not in the United States or wherever you were “from.”  You are suddenly very aware that you are no longer “there.”  It is as if your physical self has arrived but somehow your soul has not quite caught up with your body yet.  So strange to feel like a stranger in your own home country.

I remember as if it were yesterday when we arrived in the Atlanta airport. I rushed to the rest room as quickly as I could because I did not want to hold up the family who was ready to go through immigration and get our bags as quickly as possible. I take care of business and try to wash my hands and think, ”Where is the soap? Oh, in this pretty dispenser right next to the faucet embedded in the countertop. How nice. Okay. Got the soap. But, how do you turn on the faucet?  There is no handle! Hmmm … this must be automatic. Surely, I can figure this out. I wave my hand here and there. No water. I wave it again in another location. Next to me someone quickly goes to the sink, gets their soap and I observe as they just stick their hands under the faucet and the water rushes over their hands. Oh! That looks easy, as I pretend that I have not been trying to make the faucet go all this time. I put my hands underneath. Nothing. Phooey! I move them around and still nothing. Man, am I feeling dumbfounded.  My family must be getting impatient out there waiting on me. If I did not have my hands full of the soap, I would just leave … well, so I give in. The next person who comes to use the sink, I simply ask for help and she is kind.  She just moves my hands to where the water begins. I guess I just needed to hold my hands still longer for the water to begin.  I am feeling silly now. That was so easy. Well, yeah, easy once you know what to do! Reverse culture shock. I was in my own country but things were not as I was used to anymore.  In fact, things had changed over the last decade quite a bit.

To define reverse culture shock, or re-entry as some people coin it, is simply this: it is the process of returning home and feeling disoriented, out of place. It no longer feels fully home. Isolation, depression and hopelessness are common. The book Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back Home After Serving Cross-culturally by Melissa Chaplin is a guided conversation and workbook to help missionaries work individually at their own pace on tackling reverse culture shock and all that re-entry brings. I highly recommend that you gift your returning missionary with a copy. If they take the time to work through it, they will definitely thank you since it will help guide them through their reverse culture shock immensely.

You see, reverse culture shock goes deeper than just certain physical actions and reactions that manifest themselves. It affects the emotional and psychological well-being as well as even cultural implications. You see, adjusting back to American life can be difficult. You no longer value things the same way you once did. You may even have negative feelings toward your own country for a time. You find yourself longing to be back where you were, homesick even for what was – for what you have become accustomed to.

Sometimes it is the expectation, or lack thereof, that catches one off guard when reverse culture shock hits. Keeping in mind and just having the knowledge of its existence can help stave off some of its ill effects. Having good closure at the place you are leaving is extremely important. This involves saying goodbye to friends and favorite places. If this was not possible, it is a good idea to find someone to talk through this with.  Personal debriefing may be helpful and/or seeing a counselor.

Another way to elude deep impact from reverse culture shock is to avoid the comparison game. It can be easy to be critical of your home country. If you are constantly comparing your home culture to the old culture, you are only adding insult to injury. The truth is that each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like apples and oranges. There is no real comparison, so it is best to just enjoy each culture all on its own. Over time, your critical spirit will dissipate as you reintegrate and reverse culture shock fades. But it does take time, so give yourself grace.

When family and friends do not understand what reverse culture shock is or much of your cross-cultural experience, it can be isolating even further. That is why it is important to process your thoughts and feelings with someone who does have some knowledge and cross-cultural experience themselves. It is key to share with someone who has been there, who understands and can normalize your symptoms. Because it “is” normal. You “will” come out on the other end. There “is” a light at the end of the reverse culture shock tunnel. You can and will reintegrate back into your home country when it is time. I encourage you, brother and sister, reverse culture shock is a temporary condition.  It will pass and know you are not alone.

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Trauma: Take Two

Trauma. It hits when you least expect it. Triggers surface without warning. Sometimes it’s even a repeat of similar circumstances. It’s been almost eight years ago now since my husband and I went through the trauma of medical care in Africa which ripped open my soul. If you haven’t read my story, you can read it HERE. Sometimes it is hard to believe the reality of the past.

Now I find myself sitting here in South Africa once more as I type, my husband life-flighted from Uganda because of heart problems once more. His heart back in rhythm now, we are waiting for another surgery. But this experience has been so different than the one just eight years ago now. Instead of increased and ever present trauma, we have only relived it with past fears and been given great care each step of the way. We are grateful.

When his heart went out of rhythm over a week ago now, extreme nerves instantly flew within. It took everything in me to hold back the fears of the previous experience. Focus. Think. What is the next step? What is the right step? Travel to Kampala to the place approved by the medical insurance to see a doctor and get that ECG done. Check. Let him try the medication by IV which wouldn’t work. Check. Contact the insurance for a request to fly to South Africa. Check.

Wait! What? The doctor refuses to sign a “Fit to Fly” letter unless medical personnel is present? Our plans are interrupted. The insurance refers us to another agency to prepare for an air ambulance to come get Bob and fly him to South Africa. Oh, my … the fears resurface as a flood in my soul. Questions fly around in my head at what feels like a hundred miles an hour. What if they say he must try the cardio version in Uganda before they will approve the flight? What if they say he must be readmitted to the hospital and try the IV medication longer before considering medical care in South Africa? What if … wait! I must focus. Focus!


God gently reminds me that He was with us before, has been with us all along, and is with me now. He is working ahead of us, behind us, with and in us. People are also praying. Peace returns. I can focus again. I know the drill this time. Wait for approval. Pack a carry-on sized bag for each of us. Get back to the medical facility. Get checked out by the same doctor. Ride an ambulance to the airport and meet up with the medical personnel and pilots to ride a small jet to South Africa. It’s all too familiar. And yet. This time it is also so very different.

This time we know what to anticipate and are aware of the improvements along the way. The medical clinic we went to eight years ago has now moved to another place. Their facilities and equipment are newer. They actually send a nurse with us in the ambulance. Bob is not strapped to a hard board this time but there is actually some padding to lie on. The ambulance driver is smart. He uses his siren but only as necessary. Weaving in and out of traffic, he actually stays on the road the entire way. Even the road system has improved and part of the journey is on an expressway. It’s almost as if the journey ahead has been cleared for us as people give way.

Once we arrive at the airport and enter the jet, it is clear that Bob is being given the highest of medical care once again. We are safe in their hands, delivered into their care for the next five hours of flight. Reaching South Africa, he is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit as expected and we wait until morning for the requested doctor to examine him. After that, it is only a matter of a few hours and his heart is back into regular sinus rhythm once again. Relief. Unbelievable relief floods my soul.

The journey is not over. We are still here in South Africa, now waiting for another ablation surgery. Trauma triggers may still resurface. Nightmares may still ensue. But at the same time, I can relax somehow. We have a level of confidence in the medical care here and are so grateful for it. God’s peace has been so evident throughout the journey this time. He continues to remind us that He is faithful. He is here. He cares for us and He will continue to. Yes, He will.

And I can focus again without so much effort. Focus. Focus on Him. When those fears threaten to return, I will do just that focus. Focus, remember and rely on Him. If you find yourself reliving your trauma on any level, I encourage you to focus on Him and remember His faithfulness to you in the past. And oh, how much He cares for you, too.

Trauma Comes in Many Forms

If there’s one thing our years in Uganda have shown us is that trauma comes in many forms. The Trauma Healing Institute defines trauma as “heart wounds.” Heart wounds take many different shapes. Sometimes it is as simple as a transition, change. Someone dies suddenly, sometimes violently and too soon. Parents divorce. A thief attempts to rob you. Even the move from one culture to another can cause trauma, sometimes silently and surfaces in later years.

Reliving trauma also surfaces when triggers occur such as a similar sound or smell. Sometimes it is a person that looks like the one who harmed you. Other times it is just a circumstance that unexpectedly mimics part of the previous trauma. Trauma can even be cloaked for years and surface in unsuspecting ways.

As I reflect on the various events of the last decade, I realize that our family has carried more trauma than we ever expected. Leaving home, family, friends and all that was comfortable and known to us was just the beginning of the journey we have faced. We are not extraordinary people. Each carries his/her own experiences of trauma. Each time we share that experience with someone safe, we find healing a little at a time. This has just been our road to walk. Grateful we do not walk it alone, but with a loving Father who cares deeply for us.

My husband, Bob, has had a heart condition ever since the birth of our second child. The doctors actually think he was born with it, but it had gone undetected all of those years. Because of that heart condition, he is at risk for atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia) which has recurred numerous times over the years. It can be mild to very acute, debilitating enough that he couldn’t function to do everyday activities let alone ministry and work. But until he had surgery twice, it was never possible to regulate it with medication. He always had to have a cardioversion performed which is where they shock your heart with electrical current in hopes that it will return to normal heart rhythm. I have lost count of the numbers of times he has had to have this procedure performed over the years.

When his heart went out of rhythm in Uganda a number of years ago now, at that time, there was no diagnostic equipment to determine if there were any blood clots in the heart. This is one of the biggest risks of the heart being out of rhythm. You see, one cannot have a cardioversion if there is a chance of blood clots. It would surely cause a stroke. One is put on blood thinners for 30 days before one can even consider having the cardioversion performed if you cannot rule out blood clots. That was one of the longest months in my husband’s life as his atrial fibrillation was severe. He could barely walk down the hallway from his bed to the couch. Even sitting up for long periods of time was exhausting.

But finally, the 30 days had ended. He was scheduled for the cardioversion at the place that was considered the best and most suitable place in all of Uganda. The doctor came in and explained how the nurse would give the fast acting medication to put him to sleep for a short while, long enough for him to come in and do the procedure before he wakes back up. He left. The nurse came and put the medication in his IV. He was not only drowsy but went to sleep rather quickly. The doctor didn’t return. The nurse didn’t return. I was still in the room. Finally, the doctor comes in with the nurse and fires up the machine that looked like it was at least twenty years old. He puts the paddles on my husband at the lowest charge. He screams so loud that I cannot imagine what is happening. I am frozen, astonished, and cannot speak or move. The doctor says it didn’t work and increases the charge. Bam! My husband screams even louder than the first time. The doctor says it still didn’t work, but he can increase it one more level. Surely this time it would work. Now my husband is groggy and you guessed it. Not only did it NOT work, but his scream is louder than I even thought possible. The whole time I am frozen and cannot peel myself from the wall I am leaning against. The whole situation is truly unbelievable for me as a bystander.

For whatever reason, the doctor didn’t come into the room timely and my husband was coming out of his slumber before the procedure even started. Now what I can’t even imagine further is that the doctor wants to do the whole process over one more time because the first three-some didn’t work. I protest and am able to somewhat coherently tell the doctor that there is no way he is going to do this while my husband is awake. The doctor assures me he will be asleep this time, that it is normal for them to react, AND THEN HE DOES IT!!! I am still in the room. He still yells, but it isn’t nearly as intense in its volume as the first round. And still. No success …

Now because we were in a crisis, I knew I had to hold it all together. I had to be available to help my husband however he might need me to. The next step was for the medical insurance company to arrange to send him by life flight to South Africa where he could get the help he truly needed. This sounds like a rescue (and it was), but not before an ambulance ride that was like a “nightmare from hell” on steroids. He arrived at the airport with intense chest pains just from the ride. No doctor or nurse accompanied us. He was strapped to a hard board in the back and I was given a seat nearby. Off we went with the ambulance siren blaring the entire way. I suppose the driver was being so unreasonable and erratic in his driving because he was in a rush to get us to the airport as quickly as possible. And in Uganda, cars don’t necessarily make way for a coming ambulance and the city is full of jams. That meant we were driving on sidewalks and medians along the way. But we made it, by the grace of God, and surely by the many prayers of His saints!

We were so grateful to get him into the small jet with both the doctor and nurse attending him. The pilot was upset that I showed up with a suitcase as he said I wasn’t supposed to have brought so much with me (it was the size of carry-on) and he wasn’t sure he could take the extra weight. He threatened to not take me with him, but then finally relented. It might have been the look of horror at the thought that I would be left behind. But I had to sit in the very back with the cargo and not move. So that is exactly what I did for the duration of the five hour flight as I watched the medical personnel attend to my husband well. Maybe you can imagine. Each step of the way, I didn’t complain. I was grateful to even be there. I had to be. This was my husband, after all!

Once we landed in South Africa, the care was extraordinary. The ambulance ride was smooth with both the nurse and doctor accompanying us to the hospital. In less than two hours, the procedure was done with newer and more advanced equipment. It worked the first time and his heart was back in regular rhythm (and I was not allowed in the room). He was more than worn out, but his heart was functioning normal again. Praise God! I cannot tell you the relief. But I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t dare let him know how worried I was or how much it was affecting me. I pushed it all down inside and pushed through to maintain stability at all costs. Now to help him recuperate and encourage him all the more.

But nowadays I realize this was traumatic, traumatic for all of our family. It was trauma for me to have gone through and witnessed. Trauma for him FOR SURE as it was his experience directly full of it. It was traumatic for our children as well who watched from a distance and likely didn’t understand completely what was happening. Traumatic for them as they were left behind when we flew to South Africa without them, and they waited and waited to hear if their dad was going to be okay.

This was just one experience over the years that our family has gone through. I don’t tell you this experience to alarm you. Medical equipment has improved in Uganda and it is even possible now to have the test that my husband needed back then. We have each utilized our own defense mechanisms to cope with the trauma. Like I mentioned earlier, each time we share about our trauma a little more healing takes place. I am not bitter about going through this experience, even the different traumatic events that we have faced through the years. I believe God means it to be used for good. His grace is truly sufficient for each of us.

But if you have faced some kind of trauma in your life, maybe realized or not, I encourage you that when it comes to your mind, share it. Find that safe person for you and share it freely. If it brings emotions, release them. Acknowledging it for what it is, now that’s the first step. But then find someone to share it with. Processing it through can bring you freedom from that which you may not have even known you carried. No matter where you live or your walk with Him, I am guessing everyone has experienced some sort of trauma. It’s very real. No one person’s trauma can be compared to another’s trauma as neither is the same. Acknowledge yours, find a safe person to share with, tell God about it, and encounter some freedom. Take that step towards healing from trauma in your life, whatever form it has taken on your journey. You will be better for it! And God will be with you each step of the way.

But Officer, I Did Nothing Wrong …

It’s 3 a.m. and I am just heading to bed. It’s been a long night. The boys have been preparing for their return to boarding school, packing and repacking, weighing and shifting their things, trying to make everything fit. Our trusted taxi driver would be here to pick them up just before 3 a.m. and we all needed to be ready.

But let me back up a bit … you see, this was the end of the holiday break and family time was over. Time to surrender the boys back to boarding school. It happens all too quickly. It’s just part of our life now, a cycle of seeing them and not seeing them. We try to make one trip every term to go see them, but it doesn’t always happen. They are just so far away and yet not so far. It’s an overnight bus ride or about eleven hours by car. Even if you fly, it ends up being a whole day’s worth of travel.

But boarding school has been good for them and we are convinced it is what God has for them for this season of our lives. It, too, will end … in time. We just try to treasure the time that we have whenever we have it. Our time together is often filled with movies, TV shows and games. Many times it is just being in the same room together doing our own thing. But we are together. We are family, after all.

But sending them off to boarding school at the end of this break is different somehow. It is our last one together here in this house in this country of Uganda. You see, the next vacation they have we will be packing up our treasures and selling off those things that we can’t fit into a suitcase or a footlocker to take on a plane. We have spent nearly a decade here of our lives. These boys have lived longer in Uganda than they lived in the states. It has been our home and so it was especially hard to have it come to an end, this last holiday vacation.

But the taxi driver arrived about 2:50 am, loaded them up and was off. So at 3 am, I headed to bed. I wasn’t sure if I could sleep but I would certainly try. The boys had instructions to call if there was any problem at the airport with baggage or whatever. My phone was on and the sound was on high, placed near my head next to the bed. Slumber didn’t come easy, but somehow I seemed to drift off …

But then suddenly, the phone rang. It was 5:55 am and it was my youngest on the phone. No problem with the flight check in or the baggage, but the immigration officer was refusing to let them leave the country! Instantly, adrenalin flowed what seemed like directly to my brain and I was more wide awake than ever. What could be done, I wondered … the immigration officer declared that there was no “entry” stamp in his passport from about five weeks prior when they entered the country which meant that he had entered the country illegally.

Now of course, our sons had not entered the country illegally. They went to the immigration window and handed over their passports when they had arrived at the border just like they were supposed to. Paperwork was passed between them and the passport handed back. If there was any mistake, it was on the immigration officer’s side, but there was no way we could voice that error in fear of upsetting the officer worse. I coached my son as best I could over the phone and just told him we would pray.

I called our trusted taxi driver to ask him to wait at the airport in case he needed to get the boys back. He was still there and no problem. In between thoughts and words, I continually cried out, “Please, Jesus, advocate for my sons!” I reached out to the rest of our immediate family (even though they were all on another continent in different time zones) and also asked them to pray! Then the phone rang again … it was my youngest son once more.

“Mom, he finally found an entry stamp in (my brother’s) passport and so he decided that he would let us through.” I uttered over and over again, “Thank You, Jesus … oh, thank You, Jesus!” As a mother there was little else I could do but pray (being 3 hours away) and the Lord answered by advocating for my sons!!! Hallelujah! What a relief …

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Now you might be wondering why I would send my sons alone without accompanying them. You see, we do this every six weeks. Our boys are well versed in how to pass through the border and making sure they have all the correct documents. They are also 17 and 18 years old. They are young men. I also would not have been allowed inside the airport with them anyways and especially not as far as the immigration counter. But I would never have wished such pressure for them from the immigration officer! Someone else’s mistake caused a lot of unnecessary stress and an immigration officer accusing them of doing something wrong.

Now you need to understand that the immigration officer had every right to hold my sons and charge them money without allowing them exit from the country if he had so chosen. He could have continued to accuse them of negligence at the border upon entry and held them accountable. It could have cost us literally thousands of dollars. If he had done that, my boys would have missed their plane. They would have missed their bus on the other end. They wouldn’t have made it back to school on Arrival Day. It was no small thing!

After I hung up the phone, I cannot tell you how many times I thanked the Lord over and over again. I was so, so grateful! As you can imagine, it took some time for my body to calm down and the adrenalin to subside. I tried to go back to sleep and dozed in and out of slumber. Finally, about 7:45 am, I gave up and just got up. By 9:00 am, the boys reached the next airport and by 11:00 am, the bus had picked them up. They were bound for their boarding school and safe in the hands of a dedicated staff member.

I miss them terribly. The house is so very quiet without them … once again. I get to see them next month when I travel to their school for a special event. I cannot wait. It will be my turn next to cross the border and face the immigration officers. I will look at my passport closely to make sure no mistake was made. But I might miss it, too. I sincerely hope not.

Living in a foreign country that is not your own brings some challenges at times. But the call that God has placed on our lives in bringing us here is stronger than the fear of what might happen here. He continually demonstrates His presence with us here whenever things like this take place. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where He wants, at least for now. So we know that He will provide and care for us through whatever comes our way. And today, yes, today … I am grateful for that, perhaps more than you might imagine.

Africa Invades My Heart Forever

Before we moved to Uganda, I had no idea how cultures would collide in my heart!  Perhaps I should say Africa invades my heart in just about every area of my life.  It might surprise you the many ways.  It surprises me!

I love music and now there are certain songs that immediately draw my heart to Africa. For instance, “Africa” by Toto will always tug deeply. And then there’s this song on You Tube that my daughter sent me this week during Christmas which sent my heart soaring for Africa called “12 Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser. It just sounds like a normal Christmas song you’ve heard before, but listen to it and see! Check out especially from 1:30 to the end HERE. It will draw you towards Africa also. One that might surprise you is “Feliz Navidad.” I will never listen to that song without remembering Africa again. During the Christmas season, it is easy to hear it playing in town on any given day in December especially.

I am not sure that I can ever listen to Kenny Rogers again without thoughts of Africa either. I have taken many night bus rides from Uganda to Kenya and back with Kenny Rogers’ songs blaring pretty much the whole way. Somehow it surprised me as I would have expected to hear Ugandan or Kenyan music instead. But I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that each of us have our own individual preferences. Easy Coach bus drivers apparently prefer country music.

Then there’s the desire to slow down and put people as priority. Africa, especially Uganda, has taught me so much on this plain. Hurrying and scurrying to and fro is difficult to do here. Instead of checking off items on my to do list, it is much easier to slow down. Stop and greet my friend and neighbor. Linger and visit a little while longer. The to do list can keep. I wish I would have learned this many, many years ago.

I discover many ways Africa has invaded my life whenever I go back to the states for a visit. Instead of walking/driving on the right side of the road, I find my tendency is to go left – even in the shopping aisles at the grocery store. It seems I am forever turning on my windshield wipers instead of the blinkers that I am reaching for when driving down the road. Responding to others in conversation with my eyebrows frequently before remembering that I am not in Africa anymore is also a recurrent response.

Shopping at Walmart or Costco is overwhelming nowadays. So many choices and flavors for just about everything. Who knew that my favorite Wheat Thins is now called “original” and mixed in the middle of umpteen different flavors. And then there’s cereal. Oh my, I can’t even talk about cereal … and it’s not just food. Can you imagine how many choices there are when shopping just for underwear? How does one decide quickly when there are so many options?

Storms that seem unequal to other places I have lived also welcomed me. Many storms are what I call “Africa dumps.” It’s not just rain, but it’s a huge downpour. It’s as if the heavens open up all at once and just “dump” its contents in a very short period of time. I will never forget the sounds of heavy rain and in the midst of it huge clatters of thunder coupled with lightening, all indicating the storm is overhead and not at a distance. One of my favorite parts of these storms is that they often came in the afternoon or in the middle of the night. If it was an afternoon rain, it wasn’t long afterwards that the sun would shine brightly. And in the night, the calm that followed afterwards lulled one to sleep peacefully.

During and sometimes afterwards, storms would bring power outages. Not that this was the only time for power outages, but at least one would know to expect an outage. I think that any time the power goes out in the states or a light-switch isn’t working, I will forever be reminded of when I lived in Africa. During our ten years here, I could never even begin to count the number of times the power has gone out or even the number of hours. I never even knew what load-shedding was or that it existed before living here. If there’s not enough power to go around, you basically share it on a scheduled usage basis. I also never worried about power surges, although we were always taught to use power protectors for all of our electronics.

Of course, there’s also the water. I never filtered my water or worried about drinking other people’s water. I freely drank from water fountains and the tap without a second thought. Now when I go back to the states, it doesn’t feel right to brush my teeth with tap water let alone drink water that hasn’t been at least filtered. Daily I was reminded here in Uganda that water is a precious commodity that not all enjoy freely and/or easily. It was a rare day that I could drive somewhere and not see people carrying water in jerry cans. Will I be able to go back to taking water for granted again? I hope not. Hopefully water will remind me to pray for my Ugandan neighbors and friends when I am back in the states.

Yes, for sure, Africa is forever in my heart. It’s not just the place, it’s the people. It’s their ways and their priceless lessons that are ingrained in me. May I never forget. May I forever be changed. May Africa never leave my heart and always remain within.

8 Ways to Help Your Missionary Get Through the Holidays!

Holidays are so great, a time to be with loved ones and those close to you. We celebrate Jesus! We celebrate one another! But sometimes holidays are just plain hard. When you are separated from your loved ones, especially at a distance too far to navigate, it can burn a hole in your heart. Missionaries are not immune to such times.

It might surprise you that there are some simple things that you can do to encourage your missionary’s heart during the Christmas season. It need not even cost you much, if anything! Even if you only pick one or two, it will bless them … and you. Here’s a list of some suggestions that you might try!

  1. PRAY for them! Not only pray, but TELL them that you are praying for them. When you claim a specific scripture to pray over your missionary and their family, the blessing hits even deeper. Taking the time to think through and choose a scripture demonstrates a true act of caring which will bless them deeper than merely choosing a random scripture. There’s power in the Word prayed over someone. Try it!
  2. SEND them a Christmas card! But this one needs to be sent with a little fore-thought. You can’t just send a card overseas and expect it to be there in under a week. Planning ahead is huge! Missionaries are grateful to receive Christmas cards in February, but they are even more meaningful when they arrive in a timely fashion. A simple gesture, to be sure, but it speaks volumes of care and shows that they have not been forgotten during a time when they feel so far away.
  3. REPLY to their Christmas newsletter that they have sent to you! It only takes a few moments to not only acknowledge that you received their greeting, but to communicate your care for them. Respond to something specific that they shared in their newsletter also. It lets them know you read their news and are interested in what’s happening in their lives!
  4. SHARE links to music, blogs or podcasts that you think might encourage them. Again, choosing a meaningful link speaks volumes of care when you express your thoughtfulness along with the link. Not just any song or podcast, but one that clearly is thought through in advance gives special weight to your thoughtfulness.
  5. VIDEO yourself, your family or one of your children expressing a Christmas greeting to them! This kind of love goes the extra mile even though it is simple to record a short video on your phone these days and send it to them! Keep in mind that shorter videos are more likely to be viewed as many missionaries have unstable internet. But having an “in person” greeting adds a special touch no letter or email could match.
  6. PURCHASE a gift card for them to iTunes or Amazon where they can get some new music of their own choosing. This need not be a large amount, but thoughtful nonetheless.
  7. DONATE frequent flier miles to them or make a Christmas donation to add to their end-of-the-year fundraising campaign. Missionaries always have needs and could use a timely gift to boost their funds.
  8. ASK them what would bless them! Your missionary knows better than anyone else and an honest ask might surprise you!

There is no shortage of ideas on how to bless your missionary during the Christmas season! These are just a few of the ways that you can try. I challenge you to consider doing one or two of these ideas and think through at least one more of your own! Letting your missionary know that they are not forgotten is huge during this time of year especially. It can ease the pain caused by the separation of continents and oceans. It can bridge the gap of distance. And … bless them while at the same time in the process you likely will find you are blessed!

Take a Motorcycle Taxi?

Before I moved to Uganda, I had no idea how convenient motorcycle taxis could be. Here they are referred to as bodas or boda bodas. But after a decade of living here, not only have I seen them as handy transportation, but I have often relied on them during times when my car is either in the shop or busy with my husband.

When we go to the states for a visit and only have one vehicle, I find myself feeling impatient that I cannot just go to the nearest street corner and get going wherever I need to at that moment. You see, boda bodas are everywhere in the town that I live. We stay on the outskirts of town and yet, they are even here. You can hail one by merely nodding from a distance or raising your hand in the air. They are always on the look out for a new fare.

Imagine how cheap when you share!

And it isn’t just their availability that make them so valuable. They are reasonable to hire. You can go across town for about 70 cents and then get back home for the same. If you are “tough,” you can get a fare for even less like the locals. But, for us, 70 cents suits us just fine and we don’t mind paying a bit more than my national neighbors. After all, it’s supporting local business.

Even more than their affordability is their resourcefulness. You see, you can take just about anything on a boda boda! Stacks and stacks of trays of eggs. Dozens of chickens. A goat. A cow! I have seen multiple people on one – six at once. Piles of charcoal bags. A huge fish with its tail dragging the ground. I have seen another motorcycle. Stacks and stacks of plastic chairs. A living room suite (couch and two chairs)! I have even seen them towing another motorcycle. It is truly amazing what one can get on a boda boda! I have posted several pictures here for you to see some examples.

So much versatility!

It never ceases to amaze me the resourcefulness of the Ugandan people. They use what they have very well. And if it’s a boda boda for transportation that you have to use and can afford, then that is what is used to transport whatever the need! You see them rain or sunshine. Sure, less of them transport in the rain, but some even have umbrellas over themselves to protect from the rain and sun overhead.

Now, some of you safety gurus may be wondering if it’s safe. Well, very few actually have helmets let alone offer them to their passengers, although nowadays you can see some around. But it is not unusual to see one wipe out. It is also not unusual to have a close call yourself with one while driving your own vehicle. You see, boda bodas aren’t really regulated here, at least not in our town. It might surprise you to find how few actually carry a driver’s permit endorsed for motorcycle driving. One might even wonder how many have actually been given driving lessons.

Waiting at an intersection with traffic police in Kampala, a larger city.

Boda boda drivers dart in and around traffic. Part of their versatility is their ability to get through tight spaces in the midst of traffic jams. When other vehicles are sitting still, boda bodas can maneuver on through. It is not unusual to see people get out of a car they are riding in and hop on a boda boda to get to their appointments on time if traffic gets stuck. You can see boda bodas driving in between cars, down side walks, and yes, even going the wrong direction just to get where their fare has requested. They take short cuts to arrive at their destination quickly and get on to the next fare.

So you can imagine that safety is not of the utmost concern for most. Some times as you are driving down the road in your car, it feels like you are driving in the midst of a “sea of bodas.” They part as your vehicle approaches – or not. They are on both sides of you as you move forward. If you want to turn off, you need to look in both side-view mirrors and still look around, giving plenty of time with your blinker (called an indicator here) to show that you want to turn. Even then, there is no guarantee that the boda driver will see your turn signal. So it is really an art to be a part of the flow of traffic here and show with your vehicle what your intention is as you turn.

A whole living room suite!

But one thing that puzzles me about boda boda traffic is that it seems like they don’t really have their own place on the road. You see, if they are driving down the road and a car approaches behind them, it is often assumed that they will “give way” by getting over to the side of the road in order to let the car pass on by. True, they often are not going as fast as the car that approached behind them, but sometimes they are. A car will beep its horn and not reduce its speed as it approaches, expecting the motorcycle to be on the side of the road by the time it reaches.

Another thing that might surprise you is that they often do not stop at intersections for traffic lights or stop signs. Many times it is just preferred to not stop, but other times, it is purely easier and more convenient. If you have a heavy and full load, to stop may mean it will be hard to get going again. I can understand why many choose to drive on through. It is a common sight though to see a boda driver proceed on through a stop sign or intersection without looking both directions. I am amazed at their apparent peripheral vision, but I have also seen many near crashes as a result of this practice.

So while the system of boda boda taxis may not appear to be perfect, they are certainly a vital part of the economy here in Uganda. They give many a way to earn money and offer a service unequaled to those requiring a lift. Take whatever you like or need. Expect the unexpected. Perhaps you would like to try a ride yourself? Just prepare yourself … and maybe bring your own helmet? You will be in for the ride of your life! Come, enjoy!

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