Saturated.

At 3am I get out of bed and begin writing. One dog is snoring. There is a cup of strong black coffee to my left. After a long flight and a mid-night arrival home just yesterday, I feel rested. Very rested. I don’t feel jet-lagged in the usual sense, but apparently my heart and body still think I’m in Africa. I’m ok with that. I’m going to continue pretending that is so as long as possible. I accomplished a vast amount in the past month and I want to continue bringing out the goodness I’m finding in those accomplishments. It feels like a flower, unfurling. I don’t want to stunt this great revealing of what is to come. I attempt to get out of my own way and let the energy of this project and life-building take on its own rhythms. I’ve begun to see the world in terms of growing things. In vivid detail, we too are among this ongoing, miraculous cultivation of being. Being. Yes, I like that term. It includes a lot.

At 4am I chef up a delicious stir-fry. Purple cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, spring onions and dark greens. I’m obsessing over an idea that came to me yesterday: a beautiful way of treating our guests that might also transfer over into all we do locally, too. I’m excited about the way things are going, in directions that I would have never previously imagined or created on my own. I feel this story being orchestrated by God. I like it that way. He’s a much more talented artist and author than me. I like the way His mind thinks. I like the way His heart feels. I like the way His eyes see things. I also like the way He surprises me. He saturates me in colors and visions that are too beautiful to contain. It’s the overabundance of  sight that forces me to live it out loud. Sometimes putting things into motion before I fully understand where it’s all leading. He’s never led me astray. There is a certain knowing and I give myself to it completely.

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The bougainvillea tree bursts with color in The Joy Collective’s gardens. Home Sweet Home. Africa, I love you. 

Really we don’t need much, just strength to believe.

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The further I travel away from Africa, the more sad I become. It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not supposed to feel this way. (but of course it does.) A few days ago I was looking forward to this brief journey back to the States. I’m moving out of my cabin and back into my lake studio for the next few weeks before wrapping up details “for good.” I was looking forward to the peace of that northern Minnesota lake, the vibrant greens and perhaps even the first touches of autumn if it comes quickly. I was looking forward to a bit of ease. The sort of ease that comes with living in a place were things happen, for the most part, as expected. Nothing happens as expected in Africa. Imagining a brief reprieve from the discomfort of constant irregularity of life felt enticing. I was looking forward to high speed internet, ice cubes, a good mattress, hot showers and snuggling my dogs. I was looking forward to using my blowdryer and using tap water to brush my teeth without worry.

But now, instead, I just feel like crying. I’m sitting in the Amsterdam airport. The construction has finally been completed and it is such a gorgeous place. Perhaps one of the nicest airports in the entire world. I’m enjoying good quality coffee with cream and sugar and even this is a luxury. It’s comfortable here. Morning sunlight fills the thoughtfully designed architecture. There is a flow of people from every corner of the planet. A convergence of cultures. I have 20 Euros to spend frivolously on food and drinks as I wait for my next flight. I have a long lay-over and am, surprisingly, grateful. I need time. I’m confused by how tight my heart feels to have left Africa, even for this short time.

Everywhere I look I see mothers with their daughters. Some of these daughters are teenagers, others quite young…all of them good travelers. They laugh sweetly with one another, in knowing ways. Their interactions with each other are simple and in-tune. Tears threaten again at the edges of my eyes. I’m tired of crying. I feel like I’ve been crying ever since Carl died. I find reprieve from those tears more often, but then they return and it feels like they never stopped. Tears have worn me out. I’ve become allergic to them.

I’m suddenly missing my Sharon so deeply that I can hardly stand it. Our time together was more challenging than I expected this time around. She waited earnestly for 6 long months for me to come back. True to my word, I returned. And then she stayed almost absolutely silent until her 9th birthday, just a few days ago. We went out for food and she sucked on the salt shaker. We went shopping for a new pair of school shoes and the store-keeper grew impatient. Then I grew impatient with him because I felt Sharon communicating everything to me, just not with words. People asked what was wrong with her. Is she mute? Can she talk? They asked this in many different languages. Yes, she can talk, I would answer. She is just very shy. She’s adjusting. She’s been through a lot. Give her time…just give her time. She’d look at people and frown. She’d look at me and frown. My heart wanted to break. She would occasionally allow for some ease by speaking in yeses (lifting her eyebrows) and no’s (shaking her head). I learned to ask questions in ways that we could yes and no our way to the necessary answers.

She was quick to let me know that she did, indeed, want to be with me. She didn’t want to go back home. She didn’t want to be any where else. But her silence…I wasn’t prepared for it to last so long. I found myself wondering if I had made a giant mistake. I no longer understood my role. Intellectually, instinctually, maternally…I knew that my job was to just keep loving her. Just keep giving her kisses. Just keep holding her when she allowed me to. Just keep trying my best to invite a smile to transform her over-serious frown. And that’s hard to do when you’re hot and tired and everything else is going seemingly wrong, too. Then I’d find a “love note” in the form of a drawing or a video she made on my phone, something she had recorded in the morning while I was in another room. In these messages, she’d tell me how much she loves me. Other times she’d sing a quiet song, just loud enough so that I could hear. She’d play with Ashraf, the four year old boy who we lived with for 3 weeks and eventually, while playing, she would forget herself and out would come that bright little voice of hers. It was the fuel I needed to carry on with her otherwise endless silence.

It was on her 9th birthday that she finally broke open into a flood of chatter and smiles. It was the gift of a doll that she had been wishing for that finally brought her into the sunshine of verbal communication. She named the doll Mary and a whole new world seemed to open up. The whole day opened her up.

And then it came time for me to leave. Again. I did my best to prepare her for this month ahead. Yet another change. More waiting.  Keep it light, I told myself. It felt wisest not to make a big deal about it. We did things that made her feel happy and loved. I hugged her big before she left for school early-early-early on Monday morning. She seemed ok. I was relieved. She’s been abandoned too many times in her little life. I didn’t want my leaving-taking to be as traumatic as the last. It’s too much for her. It’s too much for either of us. She was ok, but then the reality of the situation started to hit her once she got to her school yard. Just like the reality of the situation is starting to hit me now…here, two days later in the Amsterdam airport. I’ve assured Sharon that I will be back soon. I’ve assured her that she’ll be well taken care of while I’m away and that we can talk on the phone every day. And now it seems that it’s time to begin assuring myself that very same thing.

I make an effort to stop this heavy train from moving in the wrong direction. I’m tired of being sad. I don’t want to be sad anymore. I’m ready for something different. In every moment, things are being reconstructed. A new life is being formed. There is a massive amount of planning and preparing to do before I return to Uganda indefinitely. It’s exciting if I allow it to be. There was one big challenge after another during this past month in Uganda…and with each challenge, I felt the presence of God. Strongly. Tweaking details in all the right days, preparing me. Each time bringing us to bigger, brighter and better outcomes. I have a million things to write about. And, oh God, I so very much want to do just that.

There’s nothing easy about Africa. And yet…
my heart doesn’t seem to care.
There’s nothing easy about any of this. And yet…
somehow it is enough. There will always be enough.

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Enough :: by Sara Groves

Late nights, long hours
Questions are drawn like a thin red line
No comfort left over
No safe harbor in sight

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow

Upstairs a child is sleeping

What a light in our strain and stress
We pray without speaking
Lord help us wait in kindness

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow

Honestly, I don’t know how to do this.

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Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
~Psalm 105:1-4

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It’s a beautiful drive to the place where Carl rests. Curving roads lined in a million shades of green. It’s a landscape of poplar and pine trees, soft-needled tamaracks and trails that wind deep into forests that go for a long, long time. I drove past low-land swamps and deep, deep lakes. Past the place I used to live, the house I built with my very own hands. The house with the bright red roof, it’s back turned to the world, overlooking a wilder beauty. The place where I first met Carl when a friend called to ask if he could lend a hand with the construction. Later, Carl returned many times to sit on the porch, along with friends. We made music, lots of music. But it wouldn’t be until another 15 years later that life would do enough work on both of us to cause us to fall into a love that, before then, I didn’t even have the capacity to experience. It’s possible that our love was never simply our love. Perhaps it was God’s love, all along. A love from God, belonging to God.

Yesterday, as I drove to the cemetery, the words of Psalm 105 were spoken over the radio. I knew those words were meant as a gift to me. To remember. Things have gotten hard again. After a brief reprieve, the wave of grief has raised itself over me, long and hard. But it’s time now to begin shifting into a brighter place…

Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced ~Psalm 105:5

For a moment tho, I need to just sit here. To gather my energy, to allow my earthly self to disintegrate in the salty pain of all these tears. Sitting in that place where even the dogs gave themselves to grief. They know, as I do, this is no easy road.

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I lost much to gain much. I lost Carl to gain God. And here I stand, at my beloved’s resting place. The place where I first met Jesus. The place that I also tend to avoid for fear of coming unravelled all over again. But then I finally get there and what I instead find is a most profound peace.

I’m moving to Africa in just over a month and it is so difficult to imagine being so far away from this beautiful place that holds the body of the man I love.

Absolute uncertainty. Absolute faith.

img_5296Just when I didn’t think I could handle yet another unknown on my own, my world started filling with connections and conversations. Luckily, I have a special person in my life who always tells me that God hears my tears. And it’s true. It seems like those tears have been working their way to the surface a lot lately. I have many different types of tears, but the kind I’m referring to right now come from a deep and anguished place. They come from a place of needing God. Maybe that’s a good thing. The need be close to the Abba I met when Carl died is just as serious now as it was in the beginning.

“The beginning.” What a weird way to refer to Carl’s death. But that’s when everything changed. That’s when I truly found out who God is. I feel like I should be shifting the conversation away from talking about Carl so much. In some ways, I feel as tho I’ve “legitimately” entered some sort of “next chapter” of this story, but my self-made constructs simply aren’t holding water. My theories leak, a lot like my eyes. I’m still making sense of all of this (whatever “this” is) and, quite honestly, there’s a lot to make sense of. My world is being turned upside down…and I’m actively participating in it. Pardon me, but what am I doing?

It’s one thing to give your life to God, have him personally hand you a job several months later, and then be told that you’re supposed to pick up an move to Africa. I think that’s the part that is most inspiring and/or shocking to people. But, honestly…that’s the easy part.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” ~Isaiah 6:8

The difficulties that I never anticipated are the sheer amount of COMPLICATIONS, WORRIES, UNKNOWNS and HARD WORK that go along with the LOGISTICS and LEGALITIES of making such a move! Sorry for all the capital letters, but I need to breathe.

So far, in down-sizing and preparing to move, I’ve managed to turn my studio into a giant, unusable mess; I’ve begun the courage-requiring leap of shutting down my business (and therefore my income!); I’ve decide that I’m going to subject my pets to all the same uncertainties of health, safety and well-being (or lack of) that I’m throwing myself into; annnnd I’ve done a fine job of upheaving the life of a little 8 year old Ugandan girl who has been through more abuse and difficulty than I even want to spell out. She now calls me mum and I take that seriously. The potential to fail is mind-boggling real.

This doesn’t even address the actual issue of my original intention in moving to the other side of the world: which is to work with widows and gaggle of impoverished kids.

Oh my word…WHAT AM I DOING?!!!!!!

And that’s precisely the problem these days: I don’t know how to do this!! I’ve never run a non-profit before! I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve never attempted to live overseas for the long haul. I’ve never taken a dog on a plane or figured out the logistics of extended visas. I don’t even know how, exactly, I’m going to fund this crazy vision!

As I write, I stop to put my face in my hands and simply laugh. Mind you, at any moment, my laughter could turn to tears and then back to laughter again. Tears, laughter, sleep, tears, laughter, sleep…it’s a fairly constant cycle these days. I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I suck at all of this. <sigh/chuckle/sigh>. But God is good and I can only hope that He made me this stubborn for a good reason.

Today I cried out to God. And then I spent the majority of the rest of the day generally weeping or recovering from it. My tears came partly in grief, partly in feeling utterly alone, partly in a state of total overwhelm.

I’m moving to one of the most corrupt places in the world and, the closer I get to my leave-taking, the more I feel as tho I’m walking straight into the belly of the beast. Mind you, my eyes are wide open. I can’t even feign surprise.

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.” ~Psalm 118:5

Needless to say, I’m beginning to feel that I might have been crying for nothing. God’s got this. He’s handling it. He’s opened a door for me that no man can close. (Rev. 3:8) Even now, as I write, He is showering me in a path of verses that have a powerful effect in leading the way.

Before I gave my life to God, the bible didn’t do much for me except make me feel annoyed and argumentative. But things have changed. I’ve changed. The closer I get to the reality of moving, the more turbulent and unsettled I become. You know the old adage: change = stress. Yeah, it’s feeling pretty dang true.

I love change.
I’m hungry for adventure.
I’m in deep need of new challenges.

AND YET…oh, dear Lord, HOLD ME.

I want nothing more right now than for someone to hold me close and tell me that everything is going to be ok. Not only that, I want them to show me what I need to do. Then I want them to hold my hand and help me do it! Am I asking too much??!!

Nothing could have prepared me for so many unknowns all at once. It seems that every move I make, I’m confronted by yet another layer of challenge..and they are starting to pile up. So far, I’ve managed to find myself at the foot of a mountain that only God will be able to move. No one said Africa would be easy. In my old life, I’m pretty sure I would have questioned my sanity in choosing to paddle so hard upstream.

But this isn’t my old life. It’s my new life.

And God sees. He hears.
He really does.

Amen.

The ultimate surrender of no return. 

 


As I unpack and regroup after the whirlwind of action in these past couple of weeks, I find myself feeling stunned and maybe even a little amazed by the intensity of it all. That is, I’ve been running so fast and working so hard that there hasn’t even been time to neatly experience or make sense of things along the way. I just got back home today. It feels like I’ve been away for a long time and, in a way, I have been. As I was attempting to unearth all the clutter from the kitchen counters after the flurry of so much activity, I found a gift that my friend gave to me a couple weeks ago at a women’s retreat that I attended and had been asked to speak at. It is such a special gift from someone very dear to me and, something about finding it woven into the whirlwind of movement and change really struck me deeply. It caused me to stop. It caused a few tears to fall for no other reason than powerfully simple release.

I don’t know when it happened, the exact moment of “no turning back,” but it did happen and now I find myself moving at an ever increasing speed in that direction. I stop and cry again, even as I write this, because the truth is that I do know the exact moment of no return. It is the day of Carl’s death. The moment I gave my life to God while standing next to the Bratlien kitchen table, looking somewhere in the direction of Barbarah’s highchair, the light green wall, and the window that I was not even looking out of. It was the moment when everyone else was talking and I was somewhere else entirely…giving my life to God.

Yeah, so I guess this is what it looks like to give one’s life to God. It’s a giant mess. It’s the biggest faith leap. It’s the ultimate surrender. At its center it is truest peace, deepest purpose, a confidence that is not my own.

Eventually, I’ll get the clutter sorted. This part here in the middle is the part that simply requires all of my faith. Like the hundreds of paintings I’ve done over the past 8+ years, there is this part where it all looks like a giant mess, a failure, a weird attempt of the impossible. But I’ll do my best to live like I paint: as a channel for God. I’ve never taken credit for my paintings because I have always felt that they aren’t “by me,” rather simply “thru me.” Painting is one thing, but submitting my entire life to this way of being is another thing entirely.

For now, my prayer is this:

God bless this mess.

There’s no turning back now. I wouldn’t want to, even if I could. Abba, I love you beyond measure. I’m yours. Even in those dark places I’d rather not go, you are my candle, my light, my safety, my reassurance. Let my life be the next painting.

Amen.

In the morning.

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The rooster crows. When was it, exactly, that the sky full of stars slipped herself into this silky dress of daylight? The transition comes softly in the mountains of eastern Uganda. Subtle movements stir outside. All is peaceful except for the unavoidable and overly officious crowing of the rooster. I love this time of day…despite that damn rooster. Actually, I love even the rooster. Because it means I’m here. I’m in the village, held by morning and all the things I love. Held, even my dear girl, Sharon, who stays with me while I am here. We share a full size mattress, but despite the luxurious amounts of room, I find myself at the edge of the bed, held by the mosquito net on one side of me and Sharon pressed up against me with her tiny arms tangled around me on the other side. I’ve never known love like this. She can’t get close enough. She’s eight years old and so small for her age. She snuggles in closer and whispers for the hundredth time: “I love you.” I think her voice whispering those words is exactly the sound that Heaven is made of. I tell her how much I love her, too. She holds out her hand in mine so that I will run my fingers up and down her little arms. She likes the way it tickles. She doesn’t want to get up. A sadness flits somewhere deep in her eyes when I suggest it. She’s attempting to soak in half a lifetime worth of love. In all honesty, I am equally content to hide from the day just a little bit longer. With her, I become a mother. It is an empty place that I didn’t even realize how much I wanted to fill until she came into my life. It’s a strange feeling to unexpectedly become a mother to someone. We didn’t have time to grow into it and yet it feels like its always been.

The light is soft through the old curtain. It isn’t long before we hear the tap-tap-tap of little birds outside the window. It sounds like a wood-pecker tapping softly. I think of Carl, my woodsman, and smile. After a few days I realize that it isn’t a bird…but the softly tapping fingers of the children. They know they can’t knock on the door to wake me up. They’ll get in trouble from a passing adult if they make too much noise yelling my name. And so they tap…tap…tap. Persistently. Eagerly. Sweetly.

Eventually their enthusiasm to spend the day with me seeps through so thoroughly into my room that I’m reluctantly charmed out of bed. Sharon is always a few steps behind as I shuffle out of the bedroom and into the simple kitchen with crazy bed-head hair standing on end. I am greeted by this: a window full of kids, paper boats, love-notes and flowers on the sill. Someone’s smiling. Someone’s singing. Someone little is crying because she wants to be lifted up.

And I smile.

Because, as much as I crave a little more sleep or just a quiet cup of coffee, what I have instead is even better. My Africa…I love you. It is for this that I live to wake up to every morning. Dear Abba, thank you for giving me something to live for.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. ~Psalm 143:8

 

Miracle thinking.

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Yesterday I went to the post office for the first time since returning home from Uganda. I’ve been home for a week and a half now. I guess you could say that I’ve been avoiding certain aspects of my life. For unknown reasons, the post office was one of them. BUT then a dear friend, Jean, told me to keep a lookout for something special she was sending. I’m glad. I like the way God answers our prayers in such clever ways. As I drove towards the post office I prayed for grace. It was late. I felt anxious and depleted. I was not yet aware of God’s cleverness in that moment. Instead, I was making a grocery list in my head, considering the idea of cookies or brownie mix, even tho I really don’t need to be eating either. I realized that I was missing sweetness in my life and I asked God to help me with that, too.

Truth be told, the only thing I was expecting to find in my post office box was bills and junk mail. I found plenty of both of those…but what I didn’t expect to find was a box filling to the point of overflowing with Christmas cards and even a few packages. Wow! Christmas…and it’s nearly February! Needless to say, the discovery made me realize just how long I had been gone. No wonder my life here in Minnesota still feels so weird. I opened one of the packages right there in the post office. The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. I love books, but this one is special. The package didn’t have a name on it, but I knew who it was from: Jean! What an angel. After losing my Kindle on the flight home, she sent me this second copy of the book in paper form. I went home and opened up the next box, this one was from my friend Lyndsi. It was filled to the brim with love: a beautifully warm scarf, a soft hat, some delicious winter tea and, my favorite (although she didn’t even know it) pure maple sugar candies! Dear Abba, thank you. I asked for grace and sweetness…and what did I receive? Yep, you guessed it: exactly that.

This morning, I cracked open the pages of my new book for the first time. I read it while drinking my first cup of coffee. Afterwards, I went outside to feed my two hungry horses and, because the brittle winter temps have risen just enough to be considered enjoyable, I meandered slowly down the long driveway as my dogs ran through the snow and looked for things that only dogs know of. I thought about my presence here in these northern woods, in this place called winter, in this land that I once called home, but now feels so foreign and strange. I was in a pretty good mood, despite these feelings of ongoing displacement. I was making a list in my head. There were two columns. On the left was my life here in the USA and on the right was my life in Africa. This was broken down yet again into another two categories: advantages and disadvantages. My preferences were starting to weigh heavily in the direction of Africa and, it was then that Albert Einstein’s words echoed in my head.

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
~Albert Einstein

I began working on evening out my two lists. Before I was even 10 steps further down my driveway, with refreshed eyes, I began to see my time here in the United States between now and moving to Africa as being equally advantageous in the grand scheme of things. In doing so, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. An acceptance of the now, just as it is. I heard a wood-pecker tapping on a tree just to my right and, although I couldn’t see my woodsman feathered friend, Carl’s presence filled the moment. I felt encouraged. As I walked back to the cabin, a sense of God’s orchestration settled in around me. Peace. A juxtaposition. My dog Ella ran past, kicking up white snow with cabin-fever glee, dodging the black stumps of pine trees along the way. Perfectly imperfect. It’s all up to us how we approach the details.

Gifts and hardships seem to walk hand in hand. This morning I breathed into that reality and settled into the miracle of what is. I lift my head with a new sense of willingness to be here now. God’s grace is needed in every step, no matter what side of the earth I might find myself walking.

 

The beginning of a new life.

IMG_3320I wish I knew where to start when it comes to sharing the the journey I’ve been on with Sharon. You see, she’s not just a story. She’s not just a photo. She’s not just another kid. She is my heart. She is somehow my other half. She is and always will be my first daughter, even if she’s not biologically mine.

Her story is long and complicated. It is filled with abuse, hunger, abandonment and suffering. But those are words that speak only of her past. Today, Sharon is walking towards an entirely new future. Let’s not over-simplify things tho. There are still struggles, there are threats…but more powerful than any of that, we’ve found a resting place of HOPE. We are finding the first glimmers of HAPPINESS and believe me, for this little girl, the simple gift of happiness is something worth celebrating.

Yesterday, “Uncle James” was able to help me take care of the details of making sure Sharon’s school fees were paid. You see, Sharon has moved. She’s starting a new school. She’s starting a new life. I don’t know what it is about Sharon’s quiet, giggly self…but she breaks open hearts in the most beautiful ways. James is a dear friend of mine from Uganda. He is my brother, truly. We met in August the first time I traveled to the village of Bukibokolo. I don’t mean to throw these terms of family endearment around lightly. I’m not sure when this familial relationship of brother/sister began, but even Sharon instinctually picked up on it and dubbed him with the honorable title of “Uncle.” You see, James loves Sharon, too. As a child, he walked the same rough road that Sharon has had to walk. And now? It seems that God is transforming James’s past pain into a love for children who need it most. Sharon loves her Uncle James and I do too. He’s making sure that her school fees are being spent as they’re meant to. He’s checking in on her on a regular basis. He is a source of constant love and support for both Sharon and I.

I’m attempting to say too much in one blog post. It makes it hard. It’s impossible to contain this much love and difficulty in one sitting. Perhaps I should have been writing more all along, but you see…I couldn’t. Because it’s complicated. It’s a story about real people with real feelings and, in some ways, living in real danger. I tread lightly with all of it. There is still so much untangling and praying to do.

I want to tell you everything and yet I don’t know how. Perhaps there are pieces of this story that aren’t meant to be shared in its entirety, at least not yet…or maybe ever. But for now, I rest in knowing that progress is being made. Sharon is with her mother. The woman who I thought had abandoned her own daughter had her own side of the story. While in Uganda, I made arrangements to meet with her and I’m glad I did. Her story is also complicated. And yet I want to believe that she is doing the best she can. I want to help her to be the best mama she can be. I want to give Sharon and her mother that chance. Because I love Sharon and every child deserves a relationship with their parents if at all possible. The situation with Sharon’s father is dubious, violent and heartbreaking at best. Sharon’s mother is another matter. Now that Sharon and her mother have been re-united, there is potential for goodness to increase, mature and maybe even flourish. For the first time ever, Sharon’s mama has a network of support in a way that she never had before. In the way that she’s needed in order to even be a mama to her daughter. God has blessed me in that Sharon’s mother wants me to be Sharon’s mama, too. The genuineness that is growing out of our gratitude for one another brings tears to my eyes, even as I write.

Sharon has a whole family of people here in the United States that already love her, especially my Bratlien family, who already think of her as a granddaughter, niece and cousin. From that family, she has a very special aunt and uncle who have helped me to cover her first semester of school fees. With each person that becomes a part of my life with Sharon, I become more amazed by the way God moves in our lives…how He changes and heals us in ways that we never imagined. We’re all so broken, but God knows, He sees, He hears, He understands…and He uses us to help heal one another. It is turning out to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.

Sharon begins her first day at her new school on Monday. Let’s pray for her, please! May this be only the beginning of an upward looking life.

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Sharon and I the day we had to say goodbye-for-now. It was a hard day, indeed!

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Sharon and her biological mama, Christine.

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Sharon and BOTH her mamas! 🙂

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Sharon and Joy. They are like sisters. And, to me, both are my daughters.

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Uncle James and Sharon. School starts MONDAY! 🙂

I love you, Sharon! And dear Abba…I thank you beyond measure.
B-E-Y-O-N-D  M-E-A-S-U-R-E!!!!!

Amen.

 

 

 

Folgers.

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I woke up this morning with a migraine that seems to be settling in deeper with each passing day. The tingles of stress walk like fingers across my back with an increasing, morphing presence. It’s -22F and I have a sharp cough from lungs fried by cold air. On a phone call with a dear friend from Florida last night, she said my voice sounds “high in my throat” and accredited to my feeling of displacement in returning home. I have to agree with her. I feel faraway.

The horses were cold and hungry this morning. Their spunkiness to eat was exhilarating, even in my half-presence. I fed them grains and then moved to another area to put out their hay for the day. I had left the dogs inside because their paws couldn’t handle the cold long enough for me to tend to things. It is very unusual for me to even have a minute alone while outside…but there I was: alone. And it felt good. I stopped and took a bite of fresh snow piled weightlessly on a pine bough as I walked past it. I thought about fresh water and the lack of it in the village I yearn for. I wondered what everyone would think of this snow. I wondered how long it would take for me to get frostbite on my fingers and pulled them deeper into the sleeves of my three layers of jackets. My horse jackets…the ones that are too big and too worn out for anything else. The outer layer belonging to Carl. For some reason that comforts me, time and time again.

I stood long enough in the cold to feel my presence, even if from a third-person perspective. I cooed to the horses about their food and they purred back in thanks. Honestly, this life here is gorgeous beyond measure. This sense of displacement is a struggle, but is also a gift…even if I haven’t quite made sense of it. And so I stood in the cold and let its nothingness soak into me, allowing the landscape to reclaim me, even in some small way.

I came inside and watched the crystals of snow fall off my clothes as the the dogs, Henry and Ella, looked at me with exasperated looks of “What took you so long?!” Funny dogs. The floor of my cabin is insanely cold. For a moment I just wanted “out” of all of this. I’m fine with simplicity, but please…let it have warmth and heated floors! In my struggle to become present with my current reality, the old Folgers commercials entered my head. Ha! yeah…that’s what I want. That feeling of “home” and love and the fresh aroma of waking up. With a little bit of sarcasm and some genuine hope for that feeling, that’s what I did: I made a pot of Folgers and here I sit drinking it. Happily, I might add. The coffee snob in me is thoroughly enjoying the associations I have conjured deep in the memories of my psyche.

I even went so far as to pull up a couple of the old commercials on YouTube. I was looking for a particular one (which I never found…a shared father/daughter moment), but instead came across this one. Should I laugh that it brought tears to me eyes?!

Yeah…and so needless to say, this shitty cup of joe is tasting strangely perfect. I’m drinking it out of a cup that my niece and nephew gave me many years ago. They found it in someone’s garbage in their neighborhood after a big rummage sale and, holding it in their small and open palms, gave it to me with a goofy glee in their eyes. It’s cracked and probably going to break one of these days soon, but I love it nonetheless. A discarded cup, resurrected by an act of such simple love. As I write, I’m just noticing now that, if I turn the cup, it says “God Bless our Home.” Yes. Now I love it even more. Thanks Folgers for creating this moment! Never-mind that this stuff tastes like poor-man’s coffee to me. Sometimes there is goodness even in the low-spaces. Anyway, those commercials are filled with everything a person could dream of. Laugh if you want, but there is some semblance of truth in this. I don’t tend towards sarcasm, but yes…I am chuckling at myself. It’s all good…because, this morning, Folgers helped make it so. (for real, cheers.)

A dear friend and fellow missionary, Joe Booker, shared this bible verse with me upon my return. Admittedly, I didn’t read it until now. But now is perfect and so, with you, I want to share from Ecclesiastes 3…

A Time for Everything
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

In all honesty, I love this life.
Thank you, Abba. I trust you.
You know what You’re doing, even when I don’t.

as the cat crows.

This morning I woke not with the crow of the rooster, but from the loud meow of my old cat hollering down from the ladder of the loft. Feed me, love me, be with me! In the village, I got used to the morning ritual of a different set of sounds: roosters crowing, cows bellowing, the soft voices of children being sent to fetch water and beginning a long day of chores.

I woke up this morning at about 6am. The meaning of time has been temporarily erased. Honestly, I’d like it to stay this way as long as possible. Preferring to give myself over to my own internal rhythms, I’m certain I would accomplish much more with a lot less stress. I’ve slept for the better part of 24 hours since returning home. I feel rested although still disoriented from what feels like a very, very long night…lasting several days ever since getting in the taxi with Moses and his two young boys, Joshua and Joel as they accompanied me to the Entebbe 4 long days ago. There were a flurry of goodbyes and hugs once we got to the airport. It all happened too quickly. Time collapsed and then stretched itself into some strange travel warp made even stranger by extreme fatigue and delayed flights. But now the day is sifting itself out of the darkness. Still no sun in this northern landscape, but the quality of sliver-blue holds its own sort of beauty. It is a color made purely of snow and tree trunks. With no visible sun, winter creates its own version of color. Dark pine, naked oaks, white papery birch…yes, I do remember now why I love this place, even in the depth of winter. It holds a certain kind of quietness that cannot be found anywhere else. I burrow deeply into this strange environment, insulating myself as thoroughly as possible while I make the internal adjustments needed to somehow become alive and present in this otherworld, so different from the one I just left behind in the hot, life-filled humidity of Eastern Africa.

I feel as tho I could go days and days without interacting with the outside world. I want time to process and pray and simply get back to work. I want to paint. I have a lot of work to do and find myself wanting to move back into my world of current responsibilities as simply as possible. I want to conserve as much energy as I can so that I might finally celebrate completion of past obligations. On the other side of all those long awaited commitments is a vast and terrifying freedom that is calling my name. In all reality, the cold crispness of winter is a perfect fit for what needs to be accomplished. This is not the time to give into distraction. There is a stark quality to my exterior world right now and, if I’m wise, I’ll use it to my advantage. The lushness of Africa awaits. For now, I have a journey of preparation ahead of me and, since it can’t be avoided, I might was well find the sweet spots of enjoyment. Delicious coffee, being in the presence of my horses, dog snuggles, good music, time spent in the studio, softly falling snow…this time of quiet can be useful if I allow it to be.

Without a doubt, my life in Africa awaits. God has already gifted me with a clear vision of where I’m headed and my trust in that is implicit.  Absolute, complete, total, wholehearted. Faith is a powerful thing. It has, it is, and it will carry us far.

Yes, I cried yesterday with sadness and pain over my return. But I’m not going to allow myself to remain in that dark place longer than what was useful. I have love and aliveness filling my life both here in Northern Minnesota and in Eastern Africa. I choose not to take these things for granted.

The snow has started falling and my horses, Dakota and Colorado, weave their large, magic-like dark bodies through the trees. They are snow-covered, like their landscape…yet their eyes shine with intensity and invitation. They are silently calling me to them. I feel myself respond and it seems that God uses the same technique. God is in those horses, in this snow, and in all the opposites I’m carrying within me from Africa, too.

I let myself become a basket, a skeleton of vines being woven into a better story.

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The work of a basket weaver in the mountains of rural eastern Uganda. The view from his home was breath taking. I came upon him while hiking the mountains from a visit with a widow I’m working with. The view from this man’s chair under the tree outside his simple home is forever embedded into my soul. So is his smile and welcoming warmth. Dear Abba, thank you.

Dear Abba, thank you for the view. Thank you for the past 24 hours of deep sleep, for your undeniable presence in both my dreams and waking thoughts. Thank you for the healing that comes so easily when I allow for it. Thank you even for the starkness of this re-entry. I feel clear and calm, ready to move forward with You from this space. I feel Your freedom, even in the details of now.