Thursday, November 25, 2010

My First Thanksgiving in Africa

“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”
Psalm 103:1-5

This post will be a bit more personal than most. I am spending my first Thanksgiving in Africa, and I confess I am missing being at home with my family. Thanksgiving brings memories rich with warm family times, too much good food, reflections on God’s goodness to us over the past year, and lots of laughter. There are some memories I especially treasure, such as the crazy holiday that included the hours-long playdoh fight, and the time our hilarious after-dinner game time led to the term “hot, hot fire” becoming forever a part of our family vocablulary, and the year our family dinner was celebrated at a church in thanksgiving that God had spared my son Sean’s life and he was there celebrating with us. But most of my memories blur together as part of the rich tapestry of togetherness, laughter, contentment, and blessing that were our Thanksgivings.

All of this makes me miss being home with my family very much this year. And I thought today would be an especially difficult day. But somehow being apart from my family has brought the purpose of the day into sharper focus for me. God is so faithful! Throughout the day He has brought to mind so many things for which I am thankful. In fact, living in Africa has helped me realize how fortunate I have been to live in America, and how many things I have taken for granted, even when I thought I was appreciating them! As He turns ashes to gladness, He has turned my difficult day to gratitude.

Some of my random thoughts from throughout the day, in no particular order of importance - and not even all the things I am most thankful for – just some of what God has reminded me of today!

• That I am a daughter of the Most High God, adopted into His family at an incomprehensible cost, the death of Jesus Christ, who died that I might be reconciled to God.
• That He has given me salvation, the greatest of all possible gifts, and yet He still chooses to give me so much more, piling blessing upon blessing.
• “Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin.”
• My parents – knowing I was always unconditionally loved by my mom and dad.
• Wonderful memories of my dad, who is now celebrating Thanksgiving every day in heaven.
• My kind, generous, thoughtful mom, who is my biggest fan and cheerleader.
• My four brothers, including Steve, who is celebrating in heaven with Dad.
• A good, simple childhood with many happy memories.
• My children. Can’t even begin to express what being their mom has meant in my life. The best thing I have ever done! They have no idea!
• My grandkids.! Oh, my goodness! Seventeen treasures to light up my life!
• Tea parties and dress up clothes and sleepovers and lots of fun memories!
• Kids who chose to adopt and add a Ugandan treasure to our family.
• That my kids unselfishly “let” me do this, running off to Africa to take care of other people’s children, and never try to make me feel guilty for doing what God has called me to do.
• That they support me in so many ways, and encourage me, and keep me posted on the home front, and help with all my “stuff” on that side of the world.
• Being born in America. Yes, I love my country! Having lived in another country, I see ever more clearly the amazing freedoms, opportunities, bounty and blessings we so often take for granted.
• American public schools. To have a good, free education that prepared me for life – I never understood what an amazing privilege and blessing it was!
• The opportunity to go back to school to become a nurse, at an age that is older than the life expectancy of women in Africa.
• Clean, safe water.
• Abundant, nutritious, healthy food.
• Good healthcare.
• Freedom to worship. (It has been my heritage as an American. I wonder about my children and grandchildren, though.)
• Sunday school teachers, King’s Daughters leaders, Bible Club teachers, camp counselors, youth leaders, pastors, and others who have poured so much into my life, especially those who taught most clearly by letting me see Jesus in them.
• God’s Word. My copy of it is my most prized possession!
• Challenging, convicting books by Christian authors who help me see myself as I am and help me see God’s heart.
• Books!
• Fifteen amazing little Ugandan kids who teach me and try me and bless me every day!
• Prayer and worship at night with these kids.
• Their amazing faith, and seeing God respond and answer their prayers as He has promised.
• Deo’s big brother heart and his humble and fervent love for God and others.
• Gloria’s servant heart, nurturing ways, and deep faith.
• Saida’s shy smile, beautiful eyes, and good nature.
• Brian’s soft-spoken politeness, ready smile, and love for his family.
• Nicolas’s cheerfulness, sense of humor, and love of learning.
• Allen’s shy grin, work ethic, and the way he makes all the children laugh.
• Esther’s sense of fun, helpfulness, and the deep thoughts you can’t quite reach.
• Peter’s hugs from out of the blue, eagerness to please, and how hard he tries.
• Barbara’s quiet helpfulness, gentleness, and need to be loved.
• Trevor’s friendliness, innocence, and cheerful attitude.
• Sarah’s cuddliness, seriousness when she’s helping, and sense of fun.
• Ivan’s all-boy attitude, surprising tenderness, and the way he prays.
• Joshua’s shyness, adorable grin, and little-boy-ness.
• Gladys’s sassy personality, energy, and sweet singing.
• Natasha’s laugh, bubbly personality, and fervent(!) singing.
• Waiting for the matatu (bus) on Sunday morning in front of our house with all the kids dressed up in their Sunday best.
• Singing with the kids on the bus.
• Singing with the kids when we’re walking down dusty red roads together.
• Having the girls (and sometimes boys!) fix my hair and tie my head up in scarves.
• The way our kids love little babies and toddlers – especially Ivan!
• Watching my big girls fixing meals together.
• Watching my kids sing and dance and share their dreams for their futures with visitors.
• Seeing my boys make inventive toys out of almost nothing.
• Our nightly “clinics” when half the kids gather in my room and I treat headaches, ringworm, malaria, cuts and scrapes, and whatever, and several of them always try to convince me they have coughs, so they can get “sweeties” (cough drops). (I really need some bad-tasting cough drops!)
• The blessing of working with staff members who love God with all their hearts, love me, and love each other.
• Uncle Noah, who loves kids with all that is in him, and has a wonderful sense of humor.
• Teacher Henry, our steady rock, whose tender counsel to the kids is always filled with wisdom.
• Our devoted cook, Mercy, who puts in long, long days, and tries to wait on me hand and foot, and is slowly by slowly learning English.
• Her best-in-the-world fresh squeezed juice.
• Mama Miracle, our unceasingly cheerful HIV+ laundress, and her good humor when trying to teach me Luganda.
• Her willingness to take in 2 more kids (one HIV+) when she is raising 5 of her own, one with Sickle Cell Disease, with no steady job.
• Anna, our volunteer who has become my friend!
• Her amazing photography that is capturing our life here in Uganda.
• Farouk, a driver in Jinja, who has been God’s blessing to us in so many ways.
• My good friend Patrick, now a university student, who has become a great friend to the children, and acquired the name “Cool Man”.
• American friends, good friends, new friends, who have brought good times and fun into my life since my return to Uganda.
• The Kampala restaurant two of them introduced me to that serves passable mocha frappes.
• Novida – second best soft drink in the world! (My friends also directed me to a Dr. Pepper source, but it’s “duplicate”, as they say here, and a real Dr. Pepper fan can’t be fooled.)
• Being able to walk right across the street to a tiny neighborhood store to buy Novida (or even things that are actually important)!
• Being able to laugh with fellow missionaries about the messiness, misfortunes, and downright scams of doing business in Africa.
• Friends who keep in touch and encourage me and bless me.
• Facebook! Linking me to my friends, and my friends to this life, these people, this need!
• People who heed God’s command, and sacrifice and open their hearts and homes to adopt.
• Sponsors who sacrifice for children they will never meet, and fall in love with them.
• Facebook! Linking sponsors and their kiddos.
• Hands of Hope, who have partnered with us and blessed not only us, but the community around us.
• The online Christmas catalog they have put together to further bless us all.
• Worship at our Uganda church on Sunday mornings.
• The preaching in our church on Sunday mornings.
• Ugandan moms who sacrifice and scramble and do all they can to give their kids a better life.
• Ugandan jjajas (grandmas) who are raising their grandchildren with little or no resources.
• So many Ugandans who have taken in nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors – caring for the orphans among them, when they can barely care for their own families.
• Electricity when we have it, and eating and singing and praying by candlelight when we don’t.
• Running water when we have it, and willing kids who fetch it in yellow jerry cans when we don’t.
• Ugandan pineapples, mangos and avocados!
• A wonderful new rental house being prepared for us in Jinja, where we can take in more kids.
• This beautiful land of Uganda, where we have found a great piece of property we hope to buy, so we can follow the bigger vision that God has given us for this ministry.
• The Nile River.
• Lake Victoria.
• Walking up and down the hills of Uganda – in the city, in our village, in the country.
• Wearing sandals every day.
• A cool bath after a hot, dusty day.
• Mosquito nets.
• Being able to shop for food, drink, birthday presents, toiletries, reading material, jewelry, bug pray, mats, or just about any of life necessities out of the window of the matatu.
• The slower pace of life that makes people more important than schedules.
• A new little kitten who makes me smile.
• Friends who bless us by sending packages! Packages of anything, for any of us - a delight!
• People who pray for us, and give, and tell others about us, and love our kids, and follow God’s heart.
• Mission teams who sacrifice, and come, and serve, and bless, and leave as forever friends and partners in this work God has given us.
• Missionary friends with huge responsibilities in another country who have seen the need of Uganda and are asking God if they can partner with us to open a home for seriously ill HIV+ kids.
• Churches who allow us to share our burden and our vision and the amazing things that God is doing in a little orphanage in Uganda.
• The wonderful, Godly, supportive board members of Redeemer House Ministries who make it possible for this ministry to be, who care so deeply about these children, who encourage me and keep me accountable, who bless me and make me smile!
• The privilege, the incredible, unfathomable privilege of getting to partner with God in this needy, beautiful land, of being entrusted with the awesome responsibility of raising these orphans to know Him and love Him as their Father, their God, their Redeemer.