Joy in the Midst of Sorrow

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

My heart is broken.

My heart is broken for so many reasons. My heart is broken for the thousands of people affected by this horrible disease ravaging the globe. It’s broken because I left the place I have called home for over two years and am not sure how soon I will get to go back. It’s broken because I keep seeing the statuses of those with whom I used to teach in Culpeper who have been robbed of the joy of teaching a classroom full of students for the rest of the school year. I’m heartbroken for the very first students I got to call mine, who should be walking across the graduation stage this year but have had that experience snatched out of their hands less than two months before they felt the pride of all of their hard work paying off. My heart is broken because I had plans to be there to celebrate with them.

But I am also so grateful.

I am grateful because I was able to fly out of Uganda just 7 hours before the country closed all of its borders completely. I am grateful because I got home safely, even after numerous cancelled flights. I am grateful because a couple, whom I had never met, agreed to let me quarantine at their house because I have family with underlying health conditions who I don’t want to put at risk. I am grateful to have worked with such amazing teachers, who have been bold in vocalizing how devastated they are that they aren’t finishing this school year with the students into whom they have been investing the past 8 months. Not a single teacher I know sees this as time off, and none of them are excited that they aren’t going back to work this year. I am grateful for those who are putting their lives at risk every day because they provide life-sustaining services for the rest of us.

I am grateful because I serve a God who is bigger than all of this. I may not understand why this is happening and why He is allowing it, but I trust that His plan is better than mine. I am grateful because He has not given me “a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). I am grateful because He sees my broken heart and knows it. I am grateful because He has seen every single tear I have shed (and there have been many), and He held me as I wiped them from my eyes. I am grateful for His gift of salvation and that, because of this most generous gift, COVID-19 has no power over me.

Our broken hearts are real, and it is okay to be heartbroken. God sees us. He knows us completely. He has given us so much for which we can be grateful. In this, I find my joy, even when my heart is breaking.

Living a Worthy Life

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)

Today is my 29th birthday.

By now, I thought that I would have life a little more together. Had you asked me ten years ago, I definitely would have been married by now, possibly with a kid, had things gone according to my plan. Thankfully, they didn’t.

But even in the smaller areas of life, I thought things would be different. I thought that by 29 I would be consistent with keeping my room clean. I would stay on top of doing the dishes. I would be better at keeping in touch with friends, both those from whom I have moved away and those who have moved away from me. My workout routine would be less sporadic, and I would be done with getting giant pimples on my face.

However, there are things I have learned that I never would have had the chance to, had things gone the way I wanted. I never would have thought that at 29 I would be the principal of an expatriate school in Uganda. I couldn’t have imagined that I would be able to parallel park on the left side of the road in a car that has the driver’s seat on the right side. Even when I first arrived in Uganda 2.5 years ago, I would have sworn to you that I was never going to drive in the crazy Kampala traffic, yet I did that just yesterday (not for the first time) AND was able to keep my heart rate at a healthy level (though I can’t speak for those who were in the car with me). I have learned how to advocate for myself when the power company tries to cheat me, parking attendants tell me they can’t make change, or when men I don’t know are taking pictures or videos of the white woman (me) whom they don’t know walking down the street.

I have learned what it means to fall on my knees before the Lord when I am afraid because I feel unsafe. I have learned how to run to Him when trauma unfolds all around me and I am struggling to keep my head above water. I have discovered that, even when I feel lonely, I am never truly alone. I am learning how to “count it all joy when [I] meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I am learning how to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [my] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). I am learning what it means to “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

I am sure that I will be trying to master many of these skills for the rest of my life (counting my trials as joy, not being anxious, not letting the dishes pile up, etc.), but I am grateful for a God who does not require perfection in order for us to receive His grace. I am thankful that I am surrounded by so many examples of women with faith stronger than mine. I am blessed to teach children who remind me what childlike faith looks like.

One of my grandfathers passed away when he was 29. Even though I obviously never met him, as I celebrate my 29th birthday today, I can’t imagine not having a 30th to celebrate next year. This has led me to ask myself, “What would this year look like if I knew it would be my last?” While I certainly don’t want to be morbid, my perspective has shifted. We aren’t guaranteed to live a healthy life into our 80s. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. I ought to change the word “year” in my question to “day.”

Ultimately, the legacy that I want to leave behind is one of a life dedicated to the work of the Lord. I want my days to be spent glorifying Him. I doubt that I will master this in my life, no matter how many days God gives me, but to be able to try is the greatest gift.

Work Hard, Pray Hard

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

“It was easier but not better.”

I have a note on my phone where I have recently started keeping quotes (when I remember). A couple of them are from movies, one is a quote about math said by Galileo, and the above quote I added just a week ago. I was at a meeting where our Scholarship Program Director, Benard, was sharing some of the history of Amazima – what the organization has learned over the last 12 years, where mistakes were made, areas they have worked to improve, etc. Benard was sharing about a time when Amazima was doing things much differently than they are now. The way they were operating was a much easier way to manage, but it was ultimately not the best way to promote sustainability and empower the people in the community where they serve. This came just two days after I sat in church and listened to the pastor discuss the life of Joseph, where the theme of the message was, “There are no shortcuts to God’s best plan for your life.”

God often speaks to me through repetition. Probably because I’m too dense to get it the first time. So when I heard within two days the same theme of, “Quit trying to take the easy way out,” I knew He was telling me I needed to ask myself a difficult question:

Where in my life am I trying or tempted to take a shortcut instead of putting in the work God is asking me to do?

I don’t know about you, but I did not want to answer that honestly. I would have been much happier ignoring it and continuing to search for shortcuts in the name of efficiency. And if I am being 100% truthful, there are several areas of my life where I am doing this. However, there is a fine line between vulnerability and asking everyone who reads this to take me on for counseling, so rather than burden you with all of my problems, I’ll just share the one God has put on my heart.

When I started praying through that challenging question, I started thinking about my upcoming trip Stateside over Christmas break. I have been feeling anxious about needing to raise support again, this time for an indefinite period of time as I don’t know how long God has me here in Uganda. I started thinking about my family and friends back in the States and how much easier it would be if I went back and got a job teaching again, had a regular and reliable income, and could be more present in the lives of my niece and nephew.

As I spent time wrestling with this, I also surveyed the life God has given me here in Uganda – the sweet friendships I have made and continue to make, the incredible students and families I get to both serve and serve with, the beauty (okay, and frustration) that comes with knowing that my day will almost certainly not go as I expect, the lessons I continue to learn from the amazing people with whom I do life – and I remember that, while things might certainly be more convenient if I went back to the States, I would be missing out on a beautiful part of God’s plan for my life right now.

I know that eventually my time in Uganda will come to an end. I am sure that when God calls me elsewhere, it won’t be the easy, convenient transition I romanticize when I am anxious about raising support or am missing my family. My prayer is, in that season and all other upcoming seasons of life, I will continue to remember that God calls us to do hard things, but oh, it is worth it.

FAQs

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)

I was recently back in the States for a stint, and there were two questions that I kept being asked. Okay, there were more than two questions, but these were probably the two most frequently asked:

  1. What is your (my) favorite part about living in Uganda?
  2. What is the hardest part about living in Uganda?

Even though these were the two most common questions I received, every time they were asked, they would stop me in my tracks. Because, honestly, there is a lot that I love about living here and a lot that can be really challenging. I love the basically perfect weather! I dislike being away from my niece and nephew (and the rest of my family, but they are the two cutest members). I love the convenience of being able to hop on a boda if you need immediate transport. I miss driving on smooth roads. I love the students I get to teach! I hate the never-ending war on ants. The list could go on for hours.

But honestly, if I really give myself enough time to think about it, my favorite thing about living in Uganda is also the hardest.

It’s the community.

I have here a community that has stood by my side through thick and thin. We have celebrated major holidays and have cried through extremely challenging circumstances together. They have seen me thrive and have seen me at my ugliest. Some people have been a part of my community for the entire year and a half that I have been here, while others have only just recently joined. Without the community with which the Lord has provided me, life here would be so much more difficult.

When you go through exciting new experiences with people, those memories often last a lifetime. But when you go through the trenches with people, it creates a bond that is unbreakable. Things happen in the trenches that you cannot share with others. Or if you try, they may listen and be empathetic, but they will never truly understand in the same way the people do who were alongside you. Life here is not all trenches, but I have certainly had those moments, and I am so grateful that God has surrounded me with an amazing community of people with whom I have experienced both the peaks and the valleys.

So how could such a wonderful community also be the hardest part about life here?

In the 18 months that I have lived here, I have already had to say, “See ya later” to several amazing friends. Some of these friends I know I will see in the next few months, while others I pray I will get to see again someday. It can be really hard to allow yourself to form such close friendships when there is an end date.

But that is what God calls us to do. He calls us to invest in people. He does not say, “Only invest in people who are going to be in your life for at least a year.” He does not say, “Only invest in people who look/think/act/etc., like you.” We are called to build relationships because that is what Jesus did. Not everyone with whom Jesus came into contact ended up being a close, personal friend…heck, a lot of people did not even like Him…but He still laid down His life for them.

So I am challenging myself not to grow cynical. I am challenging myself to continue investing in those around me, not knowing if we will be together for 2 months, 6 months, 2 years, or 20 years. And I want to approach each day with a grateful heart. I am so thankful for the sweet friendships I have formed here and for the opportunity to serve in a community of believers who desire to love those whom God puts in our lives…even when it is difficult.

thanksgiving

Simply One-derful

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

Today marks one year since I moved to Uganda. That time has been a whirlwind of happies, crappies, sappies, and more. I have experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life in the past 12 months, and I have been so grateful for all God has shown me in my time here. I have learned a lot about doing life here, and I thought I would share just a few insights:

  1. It is oftentimes safer to drive off the road than on it.
  2. Teaching is challenging no matter where you teach, who you teach, how many you teach, or with whom you teach – the challenges just look different.
  3. You will probably definitely call your mechanic more often than you call your family.
  4. Ugandan sunsets are some of the most beautiful in the world.
  5. You don’t get to see giraffes, hippos, lions, or elephants on the daily (though sometimes you see monkeys!).
  6. In the first hour you are awake: you will find a ridiculously long worm (that you think is a snake) in your toilet, your sink will spray water all over you so you have to get changed, you’ll burn your finger, and you will spill your tea. (Okay, so this isn’t a typical day, but it just happened to me on Tuesday, so it’s fresh.)
  7. Growing in your faith doesn’t happen easily just because you’re serving as a missionary. I still have to be intentional about my relationship with God, and finding time to be quiet with Him is oftentimes even harder for me here than it was in the States.
  8. It is possible to feel completely at home and also like you are entirely out of your element at the same time.
  9. You might end up getting a dog who turns out to be a bit loony…you’ll love her anyway.
  10. Dealing with the power company will bring out a side of you that you didn’t know existed and teach you a whole different type of self-advocacy.
  11. Your computer might unexpectedly stop working, but you will have amazing friends who offer you a spare while yours is (hopefully) getting fixed. (This generosity will allow you to write a blog about your past year in Uganda.)
  12. Asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.

I am still so incredibly grateful that this is the life God has called me to for this season. Some days it seems like I just arrived in Uganda two months ago, and other days it feels like I have been here for years. Life typically just feels normal. I wake up, have some tea, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch Netflix and go to bed. Of course, living in a transient community comes with its challenges – I have already had to say indefinite goodbyes to multiple friends. But when you live in a community where so many people are living away from the people they love, the bonds are different. Your friends become your family. If I am ever in trouble, I have at least ten different people I could call at any time, and I know they would come running (thankfully, I haven’t had to do this yet).

I feel truly thankful for these people God has placed in my life. I have learned more about who God is and His great love for us through the people around me. I am so excited to see what this next year (and maybe more?!) will bring!

Be Blessed,
Claire

Kenya Believe It?

 

“I said, ‘Oh, that I has the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.'” Psalm 55:6-8 (NIV)

Two weeks ago, I went to lunch after church with a few friends. As we were chatting and discussing life here in Uganda, I made a comment about how we should take a trip to Kenya the following weekend, as we had Monday off. Three days later, our tickets were purchased, and after school on April 13, we were hastily making sure we had everything we needed before hopping on bodas (motorcycle taxis) to the bus station.

We got into Nairobi around 6:30 the next morning (after crossing what may be the most disorganized border ever), where my friend’s fiance kindly picked the five of us up. While the night bus may not be the most glamorous place to get some shut-eye, I somehow slept a few winks. That bit of rest plus an abundance of adrenaline kept us going throughout the rest of the day, as we kissed giraffes, admired baby elephants, sipped tea, and ate. Mannnnn did we eat!

Throughout the trip (and even still) we jokingly referred to Nairobi as the land of milk and honey. This is partly because Uganda imports a great number of supplies from Kenya…including literal honey. But there were also tastes of home we got to experience, such as Dominos Pizza, Coldstone Creamery, and Uber rides (inedible) on paved roads.

There have been a number of trials hitting us this semester. It has been incredible to see God work in the midst of these challenges and to see beauty rise from the ashes, but until we went away last weekend, I did not realize how much I needed respite. I needed a break from the surroundings that had been the setting for so much turmoil. Getting away allowed me to come back with a healthier (albeit tired from another night bus) mindset and a refreshed spirit. I never thought I would be so grateful for 12-hour bus rides and Dominos Pizza!

With Love,
Claire

Jinja Have A Great Year?

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 (ESV)

As today wraps up the year 2017, I have found myself reflecting on this past year more than I normally do on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know if it’s because this year has brought about so much change, because I’m becoming more sappy as I get older, or a combination of the two. This time last year, I was getting ready to ring in 2017 with my good friend, Dayna. I was happy with where I was emotionally, physically, and occupationally, and I did not expect any of that to change. Until God stepped in and opened doors while simultaneously opening my heart and mind to something new.

My word for 2017 was “surrender.” I wanted to surrender my plans for God’s, but I never expected to have that tested so extremely. I learned to surrender my career, financial stability, and personal comfort for the better option of relying on God to fill all of those spaces in my life.

So as you go into this new year, whether you’re happy to see 2017 go, nervous for 2018, excited, or anything in between, my prayer for you is that you will be leaning on the arms of Jesus in both the highs and the lows. As you have reason to celebrate, do! Glorify and bless His name through it all! As you have reason to mourn, do that too, and turn to the One who brings comfort.

Here’s to 2018 and to a lifetime of serving our Savior!

In Him,
Claire