Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Our dog's unassuming talent has made her "village famous"

Geoff and I take a walk every morning and often in the evenings. Rarely is the dog, Bubbly, not an accompaniment to the routine. She may temporarily disappear into the morning darkness to investigate a smell, but she always rejoins the well-worn route, frequently just as we engage the turn toward home.

In the evenings she remains closer to us, and especially keeps a keen visual on my whereabouts as we meander sometimes off New Hope Uganda property near village dwellings. Apparently, our predictable path has created a love/hate curiosity in the village children. The simple talent of my dog to provide timid, dog-fearing children with a giggle and the urge to run out of their houses or gardens shouting, “Bubb-boo-lee, Bubb-boo-lee, Bubb-boo-lee” got me thinking. If that black, smelly, furry, four-legged creature offers such a sweet diversion from the mundane nature of life, what do I offer those around me? Which got me thinking further...I live among extremely talented people. 

Here at New Hope Uganda, Geoff and I have the rare privilege of working while living alongside our more than 170 staff members. Only 20 of the staff members are non-Ugandan. Who are these non-Ugandans who have left their home countries to immerse themselves in another culture offering themselves and their talents to others? Of course, we’ve all come to minister to the children of New Hope Uganda in one way or another, but most of us add “side-talents” to the mix.

In our small group of Foreign Staff we have a cosmetologist who has kept us cut, dyed, frosted, highlighted and coiffed for almost 15 years. And to add to her line up of talent she has recently been sought out by the plethora of New Hope Uganda delivering mamas as a very helpful and able doula. Plus, if one HAS to prepare something gluten free, she can help the product result in something exquisite.

Another of our missionary mamas is an accomplished, homespun-nutritionist for all your gluten free, dairy free and dye free needs. And, if you develop a hankering for homemade cheese, she’s the expert to seek.

There is an artist who has designed, painted, decorated and sweetened the environment of our primary school classrooms in the last two years, as well as created our beautiful annual themed banners for our church structure each year for more than 14 years. 

We have a theologian delivering well-studied gems on God’s character and truth to both small groups and the church at large. He is also a published author on the topic of orphan ministry.

And speaking of authors and speakers one of us is working on her second publication even as she excels in bringing the message of true womanhood to myriads of our children and Staff at New Hope Uganda, and also to many across Uganda. 

An accomplished physical therapist has found numerous designs for “useless” cardboard. She makes countless implements which function as utilitarian tools for the kids and staff in our Special Needs ministry. She is also VERY adept at giving periodic help and suggestions for exercises to alleviate various aches and pains! I am thankful to have personally benefitted from her expertise!!!!

Imagine having to remember all the details of upper level high school math as you homeschool your older teenager. I can leave fretting behind now that we have a missionary math guru who is willing to fill in the gaps for Toby as he tackles the more abstract mathematical concepts. Not only that, but she has provided an afternoon diversion for Acacia as they work together in the NHU Academy library. Praise God for those who instill unique blessings into our kids’ lives!

An expert administrator might not be the first thing thought of when ruminating on the talents of your friends, but one of our American Staff could pretty much revamp Chip and Jo’s well-oiled Magnolia Market m├ętier eliciting a hearty, “Thanks for taking care of the mishmash! We  hadn’t thought of that approach!” 

Another has the uncanny knack to advance, above expected pace, numerous committee group meetings. Doesn’t everyone love meetings????? Well, with him at the helm it is not the usual death trap.

Hungry for something you wouldn’t expect to eat while in the remote bush of Uganda? A long time missionary has seen it all in her 30+ years on the field. She has learned to work with little, yet has garnered the talent for laying a table with amazingly scrumptious creations on short notice with limited resources. No matter how rushed she might be before you arrive she has the ability to promote a sense of calm and welcome unmatched anywhere else I’ve experienced.

Hmmmmm, a sense of calm, isn’t there an essential oil promising such? We have someone who knows the answer to that question! She keeps a healthy supply of oils for most ailments and generously shares. 

Or, if you desire, you may seek the more traditional approach with our own medical doctor who recently came on staff with us. What a blessing to be able to consult with a friend on site when in the past we might have had to travel almost two hours into town. In fact, the other day I stopped to talk casually with even another medical doctor who is serving here for just a few weeks. I quickly shot off a volley of questions just as if we were shooting the breeze, as I hung out our van window, having interrupted his short walk to another location in the ministry. These are not things we take for granted out here in the bush!!!!

And the children in our care also benefit in other diverse, perhaps more seemingly minute, but still important ways from the missionaries serving with us. A good example is a sort of bicycle shop taken up residence next door as the newest addition to our teaching staff can be seen most Saturdays on her porch repairing the many bicycles of nearby children. 

And last, but by any means never least, is the one accomplished at listening intensively even amidst the chaos of numerous children shouting and running amuck nearby. I do not think I have ever left her presence without her gently placing her hands on my shoulder or back as she sincerely prays for God’s hand to move in my life. Immediately there is a feeling of peace which floods my being. 

My dear friend, this community is unique and we are grateful to have spent the last thirteen years among those who employ their God-given talents to bring life and joy to those with whom they share a small piece of Ugandan dirt.

And speaking of dirt, I need to finish this up and go reroute my talented, “village famous” dog from the cavernous hole she’s currently digging to China as I have the unfortunate talent of stumbling in her works of art.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Change of Course

This morning I drove to kiwoko to meet a friend whom I mentor, but before I even left the front gate I picked up a passenger. (Not unusual) One of the aunties who works in the childcare department needed to go to Kiwoko to check on some of our children, so instead of her waiting for a motorbike ride we went together. On arrival she announced that she was visiting someone who lived directly next to where I needed to stop. 

Shortly after greeting my friend at her place of business, a former staff member of New Hope Uganda arrived and we were all blessed to catch up on the news of his family. 

I was unable to meet with my friend because she was very busy working alone due to a sick coworker. When she described how sick he was I got worried. We had recently lost someone in our community due to a sickness that sounded very similar to what she was describing. Just then a young man came to help her in the shop, but I asked if he could go with me to check on the coworker, whom she said was not wanting to go get medical care.

We arrived at the sick coworker's house, after making only one wrong turn and found his children playing outside and his wife cooking. When we asked about him she went inside to get him. As I waited, I didn’t know what to expect, but thankfully he looked better than had been described. He agreed to let us take him to our clinic where he received care very quickly and was soon ready to go back home.

I am soooo thankful we checked on him! We have lost too many people in our community over the years due to failure to receive medical care—for many reasons. Here is a smattering of  scenarios—they don’t want to spend the money (often they don't have enough), they try the witch doctor first and never follow-up at a clinic, they fear hospitals, they lack money for transport, or the family tries to treat with local herbs.

Once he finished at the clinic I accompanied him back to his home with Sam driving. It has been awhile since Sam had a crack at driving, so I figured this to be a perfect opportunity. I am glad he practiced driving today because once back at our house he heard from his future employer that they need him to report to work this coming Monday!

Sam will be teaching primary school for the next few months until his laboratory technician course commences around late July or August. At lunch we all realized that with us leaving for the U.S. in June we will not have Sam in our house anymore starting Monday except for the occasional visit! I am excited for him, but the changes produce deep emotions for all of us!

This afternoon he played a local game with our neighbor, Mercy. 

The other three enjoyed sitting out in the sunshine listening to music and playing a board game. Kevin is entertaining the younger neighbors now on the side porch.

I will miss the days when they are all around the house!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Airport Bathroom scented hand sanitizer

We are a family of Americans living in a country far away from our birth places. The kids have grown up here--we arrived more than 12 years ago when they were ages 2, 3 and 4. In all of our travels, adjustments to foreign culture and experiences with differing world views, the things we consider comforting can be a bit ODD! 

At lunch recently the kids lamented about things passed by during our Christmas shopping trip a couple weeks ago that would have made good stocking stuffers. One was a three-pack of teeny, tiny bottles of hand sanitizer. This regret brought up a memory in another of our kids who complained that he’d had a small bottle of hand sanitizer hooked on the outside of his backpack, but it was recently finished off by an unknown user when he was in a public place. (Yes, no lie, these are the intensely intriguing lunch table discussions you can look forward to if you ever have the privilege of eating with us!)

Geoff commented that we had plenty of hand sanitizer around the house and we could simply refill the small vial. 

“But, Dad! I LIKED that one! It smelled like the airport bathroom.” Once we all had a loud laugh, he had to further defend his weird statement with, “Whaaaat?! It smelled good and it reminded me of our travels!”

I can see it entirely new line of products created by third culture kids.
Toby and his TCK friends. We hosted a New Year holiday party out at our place. They enjoyed sleeping in a tent, exploring our site, playing ping pong and carpet ball, lots of sweets**, basketball, lots of sweets**, watching movies and YouTube videos, lots of sweets**, playing the games of "Things" and "Apples To Apples" and creating goofy photos.
**We had an overload of sweets given to us in Christmas packages by family members from the states. It was enough to last us a couple of years!!!!!! So, being able to share stateside sweet treats with these other bush-residing expats was a lot of fun!

Friday, October 19, 2018

October Reflections

October. It’s my birthday month—a time I look forward to celebrating. For me it is usually a month filled with anticipation, wonder, joy, excitement and celebration. (Yet, in a month which ushers in the festive holiday season, why are the October calendar pages always drab brown, pale orange, filled with dead leaves and sparse landscape? For once I’d like to see a pretty October representation grace a calendar page. If you’ve seen one, please share it!!!!) 

Last year, just a few days after my birthday, Geoff and I were awakened at 4:30 a.m. by an insistent Uncle Mutaka knocking and pleading on our bedroom window, "UNCLE GEOFF! WE NEED AUNTIE MARY TO COME QUICKLY! AUNT SARAH IS DELIVERING HER BABY RIGHT NOW AT UNCLE OPIO’S!!"

I included a short snippet of the delivery on Facebook, but I never wrote about the balance of that day. (Geoff wrote a bit about it in one of our e-newsletters which you can read here.) )

Every once in a while I have contemplated blogging, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even now I still feel the reeling emotions. In fact, every single day since October 22, 2017, I have reflected on that day and its far reaching ramifications for my life and those around me. 

That day sobered me in a way from which I have never fully recovered. And yet, though life goes on, of course, I don’t want to fully recover, but stay VERY aware of making each and every day count for HIM. I am hoping that sharing the events of that day, and the numerous challenging losses we experienced that month will deepen and further the needed processing.

The last blog post I wrote in 2017 was in October on the 21st, the day before fresh reality of our own mortality arose and pummeled us. Little did I know, the title of that blog, “The Blink,” was to be a precursor to the blow we would receive on the 22nd. In it I spoke about death and life and relationships as I lamented the short life of an infant son of dear friends—he had been born October 5, and died October 15th, 2017. The deep anguish and loss in just ten short days was profound. Even more so, after the 22nd I just couldn’t put words together for quite awhile. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to write a blog again until the following February, and even then I kept it lighthearted in comparison to what was going on inside of me. 

The opening of “The Blink” blog ( ) was this:

“‘Surely the lowborn are but a breath, 
the highborn are but a lie. 
If weighed on a balance, 
they are nothing;
 together they are only a breath.’
Psalm 62:9

The days. In single form: some drain, some energize. As the sum of hours: culminating in weeks, months and years hopefully a rich, rewarding blink.”

Our friends Steve Brown and Wanda Martin concluded their “blink” on October 22nd. The understatement is that it was a surreal day. From about 7:45 a.m. onward I moved through most of it numbly.

We returned from Kiwoko hospital about 7:30 a.m. that Sunday after taking Aunt Sarah and Uncle Godfrey to the hospital to make sure Mama and baby were doing fine. We were so thankful to have been a part of the joyous and very unusual birth!

We were only home about 15 minutes when Geoff answered his phone and gasped, “What? Uncle Steve? Isaac, what are you saying? NO!” With a horrified and panicked look he hung up and said, “I don’t even want to speak what Isaac just told me. I have to verify it.” He would not speak the words, but we all knew what we spent the next 45 minutes frantically trying to verify. I immediately texted Kathryn Brown stating that I’d heard Steve was very sick and asked if she could please call. No response. In fact, somehow we had received the news within moments of Steve’s actual death and Kathryn, alone at Rubaga Hospital, was herself shocked.

In Kampala, news spread quickly. Meanwhile, Kathryn picked up the kids and our IY house coordinator Rachel, and took them to the hospital. Even before they arrived back home there were people gathering at the house to mourn in the traditional Ugandan way—to flood the home and sit is a sign that we are with you in your grief. 

Out in the village we gathered our kids in our living room, confirmed the unreal news and sat, wept, prayed and wailed as a family. Then we coordinated who would go to town with us to comfort Kathryn and the Brown kids. It was decided to take Uncle Robert Ayola, who had worked so closely with Steve in the IY program, and Uncle Stu Dendy, a fellow English staff member and good friend to the Brown family.

The journey in was a mixture of silence, heavy sighs, tears, offered up memories, chronicles of recent conversations and plans made with Steve, repeated statements of unbelief as to what had been told us and where we were going as we rolled down the road together. 

It was one of the longest trips into Kampala EV-ER. And not because we hit jam in unusual places, had to take pot-holed side roads, made a wrong turn and hit more jam, but because we couldn’t believe where we were going—to mourn the loss of a dear friend who had been so full of life and passion, who was fun-loving, animated and a friend to all. Even today, I can hear his spirited laugh ringing in my ears. Throughout this past year since Steve’s death, whenever I am at the Brown’s house I can hear his common expression, “Come On!” 

As Geoff drove we contacted as many people as possible to get the news out, but most of them already knew. The speed of the grapevine here is nothing short of miraculous. I was able to get ahold of someone at their church as they were gathering together for service, so they sent quite a few of the Brown’s closest friends to the house. When we arrived Kathryn fell on me and wept. My insides wrenched and tears streamed again down my face, a path already wetted many times that morning.

Most of that day, surrounded by friends, she was a picture of strength. Taking what had been delivered and moving forward to what needed to be done, talking quietly with various ones of us about details of travel to the UK, the need for decisions about the body, the burial, service, timing, flights, etc. But, each time friends entered the house she hugged and cried again. Seeing people who loved Steve and had been such an integral part of their life together opened up the well of grief with each arrival. And each and every time as I watched my tears began again to flow.

We saw friends we hadn’t seen for years, and given the reason we were seeing each other we vowed to be better at getting together. It was a time of reunion for all and for those of us from New Hope Uganda, meeting some for the first time. Steve’s life was intertwined with a diversity of people. In addition to his involvement with IY, he’d played in a local Kampala football league, participated for a number of years in the Kampala Amateur Dramatic Society, worked with the youth at their church, and served in parent leadership groups at their kids’ school to name some of the activities to which he gave his best. The impromptu gathering of an estimated 200+ illuminated the testimony of his love for all people. 

At some point around midday, with a friend from the Brown’s church, Geoff and I accompanied Kathryn to the mortuary appointment to make arrangements. I could NOT believe we were actually driving to take care of the paperwork regarding Steve Brown’s death. 

On arriving back it was immediately apparent that the house had continued to swell with people so Kathryn asked that someone announce that at 6 p.m. the visiting conclude and she and the kids be allowed to be alone—something they had not been afforded since returning from the hospital that morning. As Geoff took time to make it known, he also began the process of informing how the honoring of Steve would take place and where. There needed to be an understanding of how things would be handled differently than the usual Ugandan approach. 

We had spent hours moving from person to person and group to group sharing memories, speaking disbelief, comforting each other—it was exhausting and yet, Kathryn’s and the kids’ grief far surpassed any one of our experiences. When it came time to leave the shock was still so fresh. We had been jolted from “normal” life and throttled with mortality and the fact that ANY of us could be gone from this life in an instant.

A powerful awareness of our fragility has followed me daily this past year.

The drive home was mostly silent. We were spent, yet suspended in overwhelming disbelief.

Upon entering our house I deposited myself on the dining room bench immediately inside the door and just stared. No thought of what to do next, but sit. A musical ringtone broke up the nothing that I was doing. I had no energy to even move to pick up the phone to answer, so Geoff responded. Another call, this one from the states and the same gasp, but this time from me as I heard my sister tell me that my long time friend Wanda had died that morning. I crumpled in a heap on the bench and began to wail again. It was too much. It was more than surreal. I couldn’t process! God, what are you doing? Steve had been sick for only a few days with a seemingly normal, run-of-the-mill illness. Wanda hadn’t even been sick!

Realizing again that my next breath could be my last, I cried out to God to help me make my life count for what He’d created it for! A plea I have made countless times this past year.

This month, October 2018, I am continuing to process intense loss amidst the desire and privilege to LIVE. I vacillate hourly between being lost in thought over the death of Steve, Wanda, and baby Jessy, an infant whose life began and ended last October, and swept by devotion to endeavors that I hope will make every moment count for His kingdom.

I spent the anniversary of Jessy’s life and death with his mama reliving painful, breath-stealing, heart-shocking moments. I wonder if the 22nd will also find me in emotional suffocation. 

But, I have to keep living. I can’t stand still, I can’t wallow in mournful memories or get swallowed by what-if? or why God? I can, however, let Him encourage me with the truth. The Bible is truth and He Himself is wisdom, ever present, good, faithful, forgiving, just, true and sovereign. I trust Him with my life and the lives of those around me. As much as I don’t understand the losses we’ve experienced, I know that I can trust Him with both life and death.

My time was set before my life began. My time will end according to His good plan. Though I have plans and desires to accomplish much in this life, I trust Him with its length and breadth. And, though I do not want to experience loss, I trust Him with the lives of my family and friends because He is trustworthy. Ultimately, this life is a short breath, yet an eternal gift. 

I don’t know why I am sometimes suddenly arrested by memories of my friends, reflecting on times with them, things they said or did and then getting lost in the muse. It most surely is a stage of grief. Without doubt denial rises frequently as I catch my breath and realize afresh that I will never actually hear Steve’s voice again or laugh out loud with Wanda or watch baby Jessy grow through childhood. 
Steve, 2009

Wanda and her husband, Bruce

Irene, Sam and their son, Nissi

But, another deep breath and I move forward seeking to make the most of the moment I’ve been given.

God, let me honor you in the days You’ve ordained. And let me encourage others to seek You, for in You is true life. 

Thinking back on the 22nd again I recall that I managed to quickly type out, in the 15 minutes of calm, the announcement of the 4:30 a.m. baby arrival. Shortly after it posted on Facebook, I received this text from my fellow staff member, “Okay. Let me hope the drama and excitement of your day are over.” WE HAD NO IDEA THE STORM THAT WAS TO COME!

And honestly? We never truly know what is coming. Only God knows and controls our destiny.

Praise Him.
Steve, Kathryn, Mary and Geoff, 2012, Kampala

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Thank You for an Inch of Snow Over Night!!!

108. Thank you for carpet! Warm, supportive, shock-absorbing.
109. Thank you for instant fire at the flick of a switch!
110. Thank you for decaf Verona (Starbucks) on sale at King Soopers for 4.99! 
111. Thank you for cuties! (Clementine Oranges)
112. Thank you for central heat.
113. Thank you for an inch of snow overnight.
169. Thank you leggings and long, warm sweaters.

Wait! What? Where am I, you ask??!!?? 

Basking in memories of Christmastime in Denver.

 My Journal of Thanksgivings fell open this morning to December 2017. I teared up. I felt the pangs of missing home.

It was the second time in a few days that emotions swelled to longing pangs and tears.

From this recent Friday until yesterday our New Hope Uganda foreign staff were off-site at a retreat. We joined Kasana and Musana Camps staff together to glean the good, process the bad, hear encouragement and teaching from the Word of God, worship, rest and relax as a team.

On Friday evening we played, “Have you ever?” and “Would you rather?” We laughed while learning more about ourselves and each other with questions we could all relate to, “Have you ever eaten white ants?” “Have you ever vomited in a pit latrine?” (And, by the way, those two questions were surprisingly NOT related.) “Would you rather have a jigger or a mango worm?” “Would you rather sit on a taxi holding a live chicken or a holding a bag of mukene?” (Mukene is a VERY stinky dried fish.)

Here’s a little quiz...what were my answers to the above questions? How well do you know me? (Answers will appear at the end of this post.)

Also on Friday evening, Josiah, our New Hope Uganda Ministries director of member care and development, asked us to turn to Proverbs 25:25. 

Go ahead and get your Bible and look up that reference.

I read it and was momentarily caught off guard; I wondered what would come next. Our sessions were based in II Corinthians for the weekend, and this Proverbs passage seemed to come out of left field.

He began to explain, as he pulled out a bag full of Manila envelopes, that he had sent messages to our families and friends and asked them to send us letters of love, appreciation and encouragement. “So, these are for you! Each family has a packet of handwritten, (and some typed) letters from a far country.”

My heart got caught in my throat. Tears blurred my vision. Geoff asked if I was ok. I shook my head, yes! Before I opened the first envelope I was so anxious to see everything at once! Who were they from? What did they say? How many were there?

Sniffles, rustling papers, giggles, sighs and quiet comments between spouses filled 15-20 minutes of bliss as we all eagerly read news from Home. 

There is no possible way to say adequate thanks to those who wrote; you will never know how much your words impacted us. I wish all of you could have seen heads bent into cards and letters and families huddling around to read together.

I can feel pretty tough some days as if I can withstand anything—having to make a way in a foreign culture for years can do that to a person. But, I melted when I read the letters and cards. 

What a gift Josiah gave us by making Proverbs 25:25 come alive!

I have MUCH to record in my Journal of Thanksgivings!!!!!!!

For all of the joy I felt last December while writing thanksgivings #108-113 and #169, they pale next to #379, “Thank you for good news from a far country!”

So, how did you fare on guessing my answers?

1. Yes, I have eaten white ants. One evening I took chocolate chip cookies over to the David family kids. Uncle Mulu said he would eat one of my cookies if I would eat one of his cookies. I agreed, even though I detected a hint of ornery in his smile. He brought out a container of freshly roasted white ants. I garnered two or three, swallowed and laughed. They weren’t horrible, but I wouldn’t go looking for them to stave off hunger! I was really glad to chase the taste with chocolate chip cookies!!!!

2. Thankfully, NO, I have never had to use a pit latrine when I was sick enough to vomit.

3. I would rather have a jigger, even though they can make you itch a crazy amount. They burrow under a toe nail usually and must be dug out. However, if you do it yourself it is not too painful. The biggest issue is to get the whole thing out without leaving remnants! Not an awesome experience, but better than a mango worm in which you must either suffocate it with Vaseline and then grab it with tweezers when it comes up for air——gross(!) or wait until it is large enough to squeeze in order to pop it out, again, GROSS!

4. I would rather sit on a taxi, in the front seat, by the way, holding a live chicken. The smell of mukene is nauseating! At least you can put a plastic bag around the chicken’s hind end to catch any poo and keep the claws from scratching you. And why would I prefer the front seat? Even though taxi drivers are often crazy risk takers, I would prefer a front row seat to the show than be squeezed in the back with no way to get out unless anywhere from four to six people have to move to let you out!!! (Taxis are 14 passenger vans with sometimes 18 or more squeezed into it.)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Cloth Napkins

Last night and this morning I wasn't feeling very well. One of those lovely intestinal experiences we credit to this exciting bush life we lead.

I was awake most of the night and was so tired this morning, plus still not feeling great. Everyone else went off to church and I stayed in bed. 

I had a lovely, quiet morning--windows open, birdsong abundant, a cool gentle breeze and QUIET. This is a rarity here in our community. With my brain able to reflect without interruption I remembered some little things that in culturally stressful times can become very big. 

Recently I have lived in a tiny amount of rebellion. When there is little time to spare and yet the demands keep coming (albeit in the beautiful form of various members of our New Hope Uganda community) I can tend to tighten up and grab for something of my own culture comforts. In the past couple of months such rebellion took on an extremely subtle form as I refused to date my journal entries DD/MM/YYYY and instead pressed in the ink to paper a little more firmly in MM/DD/YYYY. This is undoubtedly getting lost on some of you. 

In the United States I grew up writing the date month first, then day, then year as it is the American way. When I lived in Germany in the 80s, I relished distinguishing myself from the norm as I learned to present a date not only with the day first, then the month and year, but also crossing my 7's. What fun to be different!!! 

Now? Sometimes I grow tired and weary of being different. (dates are also written here in Uganda as DD/MM/YYYY)

Such a very small thing that grows to an annoyance when I'm feeling stressed.

A couple of years ago I went through a fairly stressful period and purged a bit of the pressure by writing down some thoughts. I was reminded of that journal entry today and decided to share it. 

My dear friends and family, please don't get too worried about me. I (and the whole family) am doing well, but sharing some of the struggles as silly as they seem in retrospect, keeps this thing we do real. Perspective on this whole cross-cultural adventure is healthy.

Here is my journal entry from 2016:
"As I fold clothes this morning in Uganda, memories rise then settle, a thin skim on cooled, boiled milk. In my hands, another cloth table napkin whose only current purpose is to host breakfast bread or protect rising bread dough from preying insects, but at one time actually sought to serve its intended design. Honestly, the napkin never held any sense of its destiny, it was me, who so desperately sought some sense of what I deemed to be propriety amidst overwhelming cultural shift.

I painfully remember my eyes welling up when sternly correcting my laundry helper concerning her failure to properly iron said napkin, "How am I supposed to present that on my table with a creased, crooked fold?" The impasse of looming exasperation folded me to tears as she stared at me and I at her. I tried to hold the gaze, but gave up and huffed down the hallway. 

In our early years here in Uganda, I honestly would frequently reply that I didn't experience much culture shock to speak of when asked for advice from newbies or queried by compassionate oldies. I believed that I, except for a minute bit of frustration, sailed through those first few years.

It is amazing what we can convince our minds and hearts of in an effort to cope.

Seriously? I squirm with embarrassment over sharing that little bit of emotional breakdown. And there are PLENTY of others. Yet, I continued to genuinely feel I wasn't suffering much cultural stress. (today's interjection, "HA! HA! HA!")

For crying out loud, who needs cloth napkins in remote Africa?  They were a gift from someone and I convinced myself of their merits by the savings we made on not buying paper napkins (we were a 5 person family living on about $300 dollars/month) but, they became a visual reminder of what I didn't have. Fresh from America's excess of the non-essentials, with magazine covers of beautifully set tables flashing through my mind I must have thought I could create some semblance of peace and "normal" in my new and unfamiliar environment. Yet, I completely believed I wasn't in culture shock, no sir. 

And today? I have chilled out a bit, truly I have. Haven't I? I am not so sure. This morning my house helper told me at 9:30 that we had no beans for lunch. In the past ten years I have lost count of how many times I have been told we have "tewali" (nothing) and in turn how many times I have asked to be told ahead of time, instead of when it is too late to have lunch ready in time. It has happened with charcoal, dish soap, laundry soap, posho flour, sugar, and salt to name a FEW. I still get my feathers all in a knotted tuft when face to face with someone's failure to plan that then affects the smooth running of the day ahead."

And so it goes. I wonder what will catch me off-guard this week. 

Thankfully, God never changes and I have found great strength through reading and studying His word through scripture. Wherever we are He is there. Whatever culture we live in, His is the ultimate guide.

I felt a little bit better around noon and was able to get some of the lunch prep done before everyone returned from church. It's a little more noisy now that the community has returned from church and the nearby kids are playing outside, but I am thankful for my quiet morning spent in the books of Daniel, Ezra and John. 

At the end of this week we will embark on our annual foreign staff retreat and I look forward to the teaching we will receive from Josiah, our member care coordinator. We'll be looking at II Corinthians in light of our unique community and all that means for us as expats.

I hope your day and week is filled with peace and joy.
Blessings, Mary