It's hard to believe this is the view we will be seeing in just six short weeks. These last few months have been busy and full as we have traveled from church to church and home to home, sharing stories, memories, and good food with old friends and new. It's been a sweet time of fellowship. We have been blessed beyond measure by the generosity of families, churches, and individuals who have hosted us in their homes, fed us, and gone above and beyond to love on us. What a blessing community is.
This is not the first time we've done this, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but it is one of the most bittersweet things in the life of a missionary. One of the things we value most is our relationships with people, and we are honored to know some good ones! The downside of that is the inevitable goodbyes as we head overseas. In the past this has only been Kenneth and my sadness, our bittersweet thing, but this time we have the added emotions of watching our kids say goodbye to their friends, siblings, and the only home most of them remember. It's just plain tough.
Despite the goodbyes, despite the tough and the bittersweet, I can't wait.
I know that sounds strange. If you talked to me two years ago or even one, maybe even six months ago, that might not have been the feeling I was giving off. This decision has not been an easy one for me, and I struggled for a long time with my feelings, willing them to get in line with what I knew God wanted us to do. Sometimes my feelings have this way of doing their own thing, wanting to run off track or lead the way when they don't really have a clue where we're even supposed to be going. Feelings are unreliable when you're looking for truth. And the truth is, this hard and bittersweet is what we're called to right now. It's part of the path that leads to God's plan for us. Because I know that, I'm not trusting my feelings but only what I know to be true.
This is a great adventure, and one we are blessed to be a part of.
I know it's been a while. We are still alive and thriving here in Silt, CO. We have spent the last 8 years building a new life, a completely different life, from the village we had come to know as home. It's been good, sometimes hard, complicated and messy, but good.
That being said, it probably comes as no surprise that it's about time for something new! Watch the video below for our news!
I wrote this blog about a year ago but just found it this week. It's amazing how far we've come in a year! We still covet your prayers in our continuing adjustment. Please pray, especially, that we will be intentional and purposeful with the relationships God puts before us wherever we are. Thank you for lifting us up!
I lay on my bed and watch, discreetly, through the window as they take her body away. I glimpse white hair framing a now pale face before the body bag is zipped and she's loaded in the van.
The paramedics and ambulance have long since gone, their services no longer needed. The family stands around the yard, unsure what to do next other than cry.
I haven't even met these neighbors yet, but their grief is one I know. I remember the body bag, the pale face, the uncertainty of what to do next other than cry.
My kids are lined up at the window, watching. Death is not a new thing for them, for better or for worse, and their questions tend more toward the practical.
Are they going to bury her in the back yard?
Will they keep her clothes on when they bury her?
Why are they taking her away from her family?
The idea of a mortuary or a coffin or a graveyard is foreign to them. Their experiences to date include only blankets and holes dug in a family's yard. A simpler and maybe not so lonely goodbye.
We've been here only a few weeks, weeks full of relearning a culture that we left behind years ago. For my children it is all new. Only my oldest remembers this strange land full of excess and comfort. Every day they cruise the neighborhood on their bikes, looking for someone they can talk to or play with or smile at. Their constant question would be funny if it weren't so true.
Where are all the people?
They are lonely. They miss the friends who came every afternoon to play football on our makeshift field with the handmade, mosquito net goals. They miss the village trips full of dancing and singing and tiny babies with snotty noses. They miss the school interruptions for cleaning a bloody wound that just couldn't wait or buying a chicken for dinner. They miss the afternoons romping on the mountain, often barefoot, surrounded by friends and beauty and freedom.
Here the streets are hard and black, and there are so many rules.
“Don't ride your bike in the street.”
“Don't walk in peoples' yards.”
“Don't eat things off the ground.”
“Don't ask to hold stranger's babies.”
“Don't stare or point.”
“Don't, don't, don't.”
And then, finally, they begin to meet the neighbors.
One elderly man walks his dog every day. His name is Bill and his dog's is Molly. She has a pink tail and loves children. And my children love her. Every evening they watch for Molly and rush for the door as they see her coming. Bill stops at our sidewalk and we chat as the kids take turns petting and cuddling Molly.
Ms. Charlotte is next. She is a widow, living alone, who had always wanted children. I worry that they are overwhelming her with their daily visits. After all, there are quite a few of them.
“Your children are just so sweet! I just love them to death. Please send them over every day to visit me!”
I watch them hug her, one by one, and her eyes are alive with joy. They come back with stories of her earlier life as a school teacher in Alaska. They are fascinated by her and her by them.
We frequent the free lunch at a nearby church. We line up with our paper plates, the baby strapped in and a little one on each side, big ones ahead and behind. They ask if I do foster care or day care, they oooh and aaaah over every “please” and “thank you”. The elderly Vietnam veteran tells me stories of his days in the war while the sweet kitchen ladies feed my children extra cookies and cake. The homeless sit all around us and watch us with smiles. We leave with our arms loaded with free breads and cakes. My kids can't wait for Tuesdays.
The neighbor girl comes over to play. She was adopted after being taken from a mother who beat her and locked her in a closet. Her twin sister has Down Syndrome and neither of them were wanted. She now takes ceramics and runs track. She teaches my girls to roller blade and comes over to jump on the trampoline in the afternoon after school.
Acuka keeps disapearing to visit another elderly neighbor. His back is bent and his gait is slow. He spends his days pulling weeds and mowing his yard. I wonder how he gets his groceries. His family rarely comes to see him, and he is always alone. Acuka talks his ear off as he weeds, showing him his tricycle and matchbox car. Finally, he gets out his bike and rides the street with Cuk, slowly and carefully. I expect him to fall at any moment, but he rides, back and forth, back and forth. Acuka calls him, “my friend”.
And so it goes.
My children may not know how to fit in here, but no one seems to mind. They love well, they spread joy, they bring hope. These things know no culture or boundary or rule. They remind me daily that this life, not the one lived in Africa, just the one fully lived, is full of hurting people and broken lives, of new chances to love around every corner.
We were blessed to be there, and we are blessed to be here.
We are just blessed to be.
It's morning in Uganda.
Here in Colorado my kids are strung out all over my bedroom, breathing deeply and dreaming of warmer weather and sunny days in a country we all miss daily.
We all wanted to go back this time. We all wanted to walk barefoot again, to eat beans and rice and have an unending string of visitors.
We miss it.
All of it.
Really, we do.
Maybe you think I've forgotten what it was really like. I haven't. I have pictures of every baby that died, even severe wounds that I treated. I reread my own blogs, living those stories again and again because I miss it so much.
I haven't forgotten.
I remember preparing myself to come back here, knowing that I was leaving behind a beautiful life, one that was chock full of all that life should be chock full of: adventure, joy, pain, exhaustion, love, sorrow, community...
It was so beautiful.
But it was hard.
The hard never really goes away over there.
You lock your gate at night and collapse after a full day of village visits and wound care, and your phone rings. It's an emergency. A woman's labor has stopped. She will lose the baby if she can't get to Kotido for a cesarian. And so you pull yourself back up, hastily swallow some dinner and head back out, this time as ambulance driver.
Another day brings another baby, thin and sickly, no mother and no one who really cares. You head back to Kotido again, baby in tow, to find milk and medicine, and move the baby and auntie in to teach her how to care. Only she doesn't, not really. And the baby dies.
You climb into bed at night and try to sleep, but the mosquitoes are so loud and the air is so still and hot. Every inch of your body is sweating, but getting up is unthinkable. The roaches and spiders are out in force, and the resident shrew is rustling in the next room. Your husband reaches for you but you are sticky and hot and there is nothing romantic about our “canopy bed”. Besides, you have no energy left. You've given and given and given some more. You are just so tired.
But the next day...women come with babies who were once thin and chat as their now healthy little ones crawl on our dirt floor. A grandmother-turned-mother-again laughs at the antics of her granddaughter and offers her a bottle, a clean bottle, of milk. Florence begins to read the Bible and women begin to listen. Babies are nursed, rocked or walked, and God is there, present, moving. This is the beautiful. Because it's only when we walk with them in the hard that we get to experience the real beauty, His beauty, there, with us.
I miss the hard because He is there. He is there in the hard, and He turns it all into beauty. He makes beautiful things out of us, all of us. Broken, hurting, hard and sinful people that we are, He makes us beautiful.
Although we are no longer in Uganda, we left behind a team of family and friends who are living out these stories daily. They are continuing to follow God's leading into the hard places, and they are hard.
It's been a rough year for them. More sick babies and people than normal, more needs, more hunger, more exaustion, and more transition. I wish I could be there to help them, I really do. But we know our place is here now, God has called us out, and their stories are no longer our stories.
Instead, we have decided to support them in the best way we know how. Kenneth and three other good friends from our area of Colorado have gone back to Uganda to lead a retreat time for our team there. They will spend three days sharing and encouraging each other in the work God has called each of us to. We pray it will be a time of rest and rejuvenation for our Karamoja team and that they will come away from it greatly encouraged and uplifted. We want them to feel the prayers of their team in the US and our commitment to continue supporting them in any way possible.
Of course, we don't want the cost of this retreat to be on them! We want to bless them in every way possible, including financially, by covering the cost of their travel, hotel stay, and food, and we need your help! If you are a person who prays for our Karamoja team, already supports one of them financially or just wants to help this one time, please think about giving to help cover this retreat. We have about $2,300 left to raise of our $3,000 goal. Please join us in blessing them!
If you are willing, please make checks payable to "Advance Him" and write "Uganda trip" in the memo line. Checks can be sent to:
P.O. Box 151
New Castle, CO 81647
or dropped off at the River Center if you are local.
I haven't forgotten those hard places, and I know that many of you prayed for us and supported us as we walked through them. Thank you for that. Thank you for your commitment to us as we served in Uganda.
It was a beautiful, beautiful journey.
I know it's been a while since I last posted, but man, time really flies when you are getting adjusted to a "new" culture, homeschooling six kiddos, playing soccer six days a week, taking care of a newborn, and trying to help your kids become passable Americans. Life doesn't seem as crazy as it sounds, but it is busy.
In the midst of all of this busyness we are merging our love for all things new and adventurous and our love for coffee into a new venture, Mountain Mama Roasters. If you know Kenneth at all you know he is a fan, to say the least, of anything coffee-related. After years of living and working in Karamoja alongside Andrew, my brother-in-law and another huge coffee fan, they began roasting and sampling Ugandan coffee. One thing led to another, most of it over cups of coffee, and a dream was born. A dream to do what we all loved, to make and drink good coffee, while helping to support other organizations we believe in.
And so I'd like to introduce you to Mountain Mama Roasters. Take a look and see what you think!
I recently became aware that there are many of you who read this blog that don’t get our newsletters. This is an attempt to catch you up on what God is doing in our lives and why we are no longer in Karamoja.
Late one evening, about 9 o’clock, Wari came to our house. I call it late because in Kaceri people do not walk around after dark. Due to raiding and insecurity it’s a real risk. Wari sat down and wanted to talk. I assumed it must be serious to warrant a visit at this hour so we pulled some chairs out into the yard. He began to tell me about the persecution he’d been facing for the gospel and for his association with me, the white man.
Lately it had gotten worse, and Wari asked if he can walk the trails alone and preach alone because when he begins to disciple men they want to know when they are going to get paid the way he is.
“Kenneth, I don’t think anyone will believe I am doing this for free until I do it alone. People call me the white man’s dog because I follow you everywhere you go to preach.”
Wari and I have been traveling around the area for about 2 years now preaching, discipling, starting churches, and sharing the gospel. Everywhere we go people ask us for things, everything from medicine, food, and sometimes even the shirt and shoes I’m wearing.
I’m used to it.
Wari’s used to it.
Due to the extreme poverty all around it’s only to be expected. It’s also to be expected that people would believe Wari travels with me because he’s getting those things. However, I’ve never paid Wari to do ministry because I’ve always wanted him to be above reproach.
And so I agreed to stay behind and pray while he makes his journeys.
That night Kristi and I began to pray with our team about how to handle this situation, and we all immediately sensed that it was time...time for our family to leave and time for Wari to become the leader.
We, along with our team, continued to pray for the next week and continued to hear the same thing.
After our week of prayer I went to Wari’s house to tell him what we sensed God saying. He invited me into the courtyard and I sat on the log that is understood to be a bench.
“Wari, has God been speaking anything to you lately?” I asked him, starting off as we often did.
“Kenneth, I had a dream last night. In the dream God was telling me that you are my father and that it was time for me to leave my father’s house because I am a grown man now.”
He proceeded to tell me how he could not sleep for the rest of the night because he felt like God was telling him he needed to separate from me. He told me Kaceri was his home, and he did not know where else he might move his family.
I then told Wari what I had come to tell him, “It is not time for you to go but for me. As your father in Christ who showed you the word, it is time for me to go and let you stand as a leader.”
We rejoiced in how God had spoken the same thing to us both but were also sad because we knew what it meant.
Since coming to Karamoja the plan has always been to train up leaders and then walk away and let them lead. I know that it is very hard for people to assume the responsibility of leadership when the original leader is there and present. I felt like this was very early in the process, but we knew that God was speaking. God had also given us a prophetic word about coming back to the states through Elise, our teammate.
Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Joel 2:3
And so we have left in obedience.
Andrew and Kerri Meador and Elise Heidi stay behind to work in a different area. Jeremy and Katie Spencer and their kids, along with Eileen Dekker, come to join them. We do not know how Wari and the new believers will do.
Will they make it out there? Will they stand or fall?
The questions for now remain unanswered, but I often think of how God put Adam and Eve in the garden with that fruit, with the choice to live or die, to choose obedience or disobedience. I do know that we can pray for a fire to rage in Karamoja, for the gospel to spread like a wildfire in the barren, dry wilderness.
I will go back to check on him a few times a year to provide further training, encouragement and support. I am looking forward to these trips and pray that I will find much fruit among the Karimojong due to the faithfulness of the few like Wari.
For us, Joel 2:3 says fire devours before them…the land is like the garden of Eden before them...In this Eden of the United States God is at work and is calling us to join Him.
Pray with us to see where He is working and how we can join the fire.
It's only been weeks since we left Karamoja, but I find myself already needing to remember. I hope to write soon about why God led us to leave (all good reasons), but for now we are settling in and words escape me for all I'm feeling.
Instead, I am reposting this blog I wrote for my friend Karen's website. Some days I just need to look back to where God has taken our family and be assured that He is still leading us, although in a new direction, into good places, places where dry ground becomes springs of living water.
It's 6 am, and Kenneth's watch begins beeping. Louder than the alarm I hear the cows lowing as they start their daily ramble down the mountain to find grass. The shepherds call back and forth to each other and sing morning songs to their cows and goats. Light is just beginning to peep around our metal shutters as I tap Kenneth again. I'm his snooze alarm.
I reach under my pillow for my headlamp and quietly climb out from under my mosquito net. I feel my way into my fleece and grab a blanket to wrap around my legs. Mornings are chilly in Kaceri, and this one especially so since it rained most of the night. Kenneth is rolling out of bed now, and we tiptoe out of our room, careful not to wake Acuka. No sound comes from the kids' room, and I breathe a sigh of relief that Selah, our two year old and the kids' alarm clock, has not woken up yet. The seven of them usually share a room, but since Acuka's bout of pneumonia and malaria he has been sleeping in our room so that we can monitor his fever and breathing.
The water filling the tea kettle echoes loudly in our cement-floored bathroom as Kenneth gets everything ready for morning coffee. I unbolt the front door as quietly as I can, but the metal rasps and clangs, another noise bouncing around our small cement house. We'll be lucky if the kids don't hear.
The morning is beautiful. The sky is grey and misty, and the dew turns our fence-webs white. I grab a broom and tighten the leather strap holding the grass stalks in place. They are always falling out as I sweep, making a bigger mess of my already dirty floors. I sweep the porch methodically, moving the always huge pile of shoes and shooing the dog out from under my feet. He's made a mess of his dinner again, leaving mushy posho stuck and drying on our patio. I leave it for later. It's getting late, past time for starting.
I bring out the plastic chairs, setting them in a semi-circle facing inward, our backs towards the fence and the distraction of any passers-by. Andrew is first, cheerful as always, followed shortly by Kerri, my sister and his wife. They are both wrapped in blankets against the morning chill, and they settle into their chairs, chatting quietly and waiting for the coffee. I take out my Bible and begin to work on the chapter I'm memorizing, a Psalm right now. I never thought I could memorize Scripture. I guess I always sold myself short. I also never thought I'd be getting up every morning at 6 am for prayer. God truly is a God of miracles.
The sun is barely peeking over the mountains that surround our house as Kenneth joins us bearing mugs of hot coffee. I close my eyes, letting the steam drift up and around my face and breathe in the heavenly smell. I need this cup of coffee. Last night was long, and I am tired. I struggle to focus, but my mind wanders.
I am still worried about Acuka. He had a rough day yesterday, so rough that I pleaded with God to spare his life. His fever spiked over and over, and convulsions shook his little body. His breathing was scary, ragged and infrequent, leaving me helpless to do anything. There is no oxygen within an hour, and no good doctors within two. Even the dirt airstrip is at least an hour away, not that it matters since it has recently been taken off the fly list. Too bumpy and no one wants the responsibility of fixing it. Today I am feeling the weight of our decisions, mainly the decision to move our family to the middle of nowhere, deep in the “bush”. Most of the time I love living here, especially the adventure of a life lived completely dependent on God. But some days I struggle. Some days I feel the stress, the tension of just surviving here, away from everything that we used to depend on.
I pull my thoughts back to the present and realize that Kenneth is already praying. He's thanking God for sparing Acuka's life. We all know that it is only God's healing touch that has kept him alive.
Help us to endure. Help us to continue to press on in this place where You've called us. Help us to fight discouragement and distractions. Help us, Lord, to remember why You've brought us here.
Why we are here...my mind wanders again as I think about the love God has given us for these people. I know it's from Him because they are not usually easy to love. Vibrant is a word that aptly describes them, but so do the words stubborn and stiff-necked. What a paradox. This place epitomizes “survival of the fittest”, and in our 2 ½ years we have already watched many who were not “the fittest” pass on into eternity. Crossing into this region is like traveling back in time hundreds of years. They are cattle herders by trade, semi-nomadic people who move with their cows during the dry season in order to find fresh grass and live in thatched mud huts during the rainy season. They are known as fierce, blanket-clad warriors who fight and die for their cows. This reputation has kept many people, Ugandans and Westerners alike, from visiting or working in this beautiful place. And it is beautiful.
I think back to the first visit Kenneth made here. He came back full of stories of a culture unlike anything he'd ever experienced. A people so far behind the western world that they lacked even the basic necessities of life: clothes, water (not running water or even clean water, just water), food, basic healthcare, and schooling. But the biggest thing was the lostness. A people who had barely heard the name of Jesus and didn't know even one story about Him. Their morality was nonexistent, not fake play-acting like American morality, goodness without the heart to back it, but outright, in-your-face, immorality.
So we began to pray. The more we prayed the more we felt that we should be the ones to go. We should be the ones to bring the light of Christ to the dark areas of Karamoja. Not exactly something that was in my future plans, but I was open to it, interested. Discipleship and church planting had been our passion for a long time. We had done it in Nepal, then again in Colorado as we returned home. And now, apparently, we would be doing it in Uganda.
As we prepared to go we saw God's hand in everything. From the insane amount of money that He provided in just a few months time to the sale of our house, the last of our financial burdens. He did it all. And it was miraculous. We never doubted His plan or His provision. We knew we were following Him, and that He would see this crazy thing through. After all, it was His idea.
Fast forward a few months, and I'm stressed and homesick and wanting to be anywhere other than my hot house in my dusty brown yard where children surround my walls and yell out my name at all hours of the day asking for water and clothes and food and money. I'm expecting my fifth baby any time, and I'm beginning to wonder what exactly we're doing on the other side of the world. I hide out in my room, the only place I have any privacy and pray and pray and pray.
God, what are we doing here? Today I just want to be in my comfortable home in America with lights and running water and NO MOSQUITOES. I want to deliver my baby in relative safety, with a hospital right down the road. I want friends who speak the same language I do, who like me for me, not what I can give them. I want to eat normal American food, not beans, beans and more beans. I just want to go home!
And God reminds me, gently, of the penalty for looking back. The loss of the land. Was I an Israelite, one who constantly wished for the past despite the provision for the future, or was I willing to take the land, to go forward into the unknown despite the “giants” that resided there? He had promised us the land.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not
perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This was definitely my wilderness, and I was feeling the desert heat keenly. But He had promised us the land and rivers in the desert. My part was to face forward, strengthen my weak knees, and keep walking forward. He was still with us, and He had called us to endure. Point well taken.
Fast forward again and we're sitting in a circle under a huge spreading tree. Children's laughter and babies' cries mingle with women's chatter as we wait for everyone to gather. “Church” is about to begin. As more and more people arrive the singing starts and a dancing circle forms, jumpers in the middle, clappers on the outside. The music is lively and boisterous with many songs having just been written the week before about the newest Bible story that was shared. Most of these people are new believers still wet behind the ears from their recent cow pond baptism, and they haven't yet learned to calm down, to “behave” in church. They are hearing stories about the Creator, the one they knew existed but knew nothing about, and it is resonating in their hearts. God has been answering their prayers and they are experiencing, first-hand, His power to heal, save and change lives.
My husband squats on his stool among the men, clapping and singing along when he knows the words. He knows these people well. They invite him into their homes and share their struggles and joys. He prays over them and rejoices with them as they learn of God's faithfulness to answer. His wisdom has earned him a place of respect among the elders, and he prays often for a humble heart as he disciples another to fill his role. He has been walking alongside them for over a year now, teaching, correcting, explaining and discussing, and is just starting to see the fruit of his labor.
And it is beautiful.
I open my eyes to see the sun rising over the mountain above our house. The view is breathtaking, and I am reminded again of the goodness of my God and His love for us that reveals itself in every waking moment. I hear men singing in the distance; a dance is in progress, probably continuing from the night before. Maybe today they are singing of the beauty of their cows or the power of their guns, but I have no doubt they will soon be singing of the greatness of their God. He is moving here, among these vibrant people, turning the hearts of the Karimojong to Himself, and we rejoice in the “rivers of living water” that are flowing all around us.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'”. John 7:38
“...for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”
I'm sorry for the loooong delay on getting this blog out! I can't begin to explain (at least in this post) what all has been going on, but we have been busy. And I am finally finding time to upload some pictures and give you a report on where the money has been spent.
This is our good friend, Lokong Simon. Lokong was a huge help to Kenneth in buying all the supplies for distribution. There is no Wal-Mart in Karamoja. Instead, everything had to be bought little by little at various shops and various prices. Not exactly the most efficient system. However, Lokong kept meticulous records of every item and its price and was a big help with communication.
Every bag of sorghum had to be weighed and loaded onto our rented truck.
These men are carrying about 300 pounds between them, and sometimes one would hoist it onto his shoulders and carry it alone!
We were finally left with thousands of pounds of sorghum stacked outside one of our huts. Along with sorghum Kenneth bought blankets, cooking pots, jerry cans (for carrying water), and basins.
These women were thrilled to get their things, as you can see by their faces. Actually, I'm sure they were, but getting a Karimojong person to smile for a picture is like pulling teeth. They prefer the serious, angry face :)
We are so thankful for the support that poured in for our village. All together we received over $11,000 in donations, much more than we needed to help every family who lost their home. We were then able to do a second distribution, this time for the elderly and vulnerable widows in our community and still had things left! We then turned to the long-term projects we are involved in such as Akiru and the Moses Project.
This picture was not taken the day we brought our Akiru ladies supplies, but it's a tamer version of their reactions to new blankets, basins, and jerry cans. They are always a lively bunch!
Our Moses Project babies and their families were the last (so far) to benefit from the excess money. We have 11 babies who, depending on their ages, either receive formula or sorghum every week along with soap and medicine as needed. Many of these babies have lost their mothers or have mothers who are unable to provide enough milk as in the case of these twins. So far we have distributed over 650 pounds of sorghum and boxes and boxes of formula, and even have money left to see them through the end of the year at least!
What a huge blessing this has been, not only for the families affected by fires but for our community as a whole!
Thank you for being a part of this. We are grateful for your monetary support and your prayers as the families around us rebuild, as our Akiru ladies continue to work to support their families, and as our Moses Project babies grow and thrive.
It's two days after Christmas when I get the call. The old bull elephant I'd been watching lumbers slowly off as our jeep creeps past. I can hear my kids laughing and talking above me, their feet hanging just in reach of a good tickle, but I don't feel like tickling anymore.
“She's gone,” my mom says quietly. The call I had been expecting. Maybe not here on the other side of the world, a game drive in progress, but no one can say the day or the hour when we are called home.
He looks over at me in concern as I listen to the details, my grip tightening on the wheel. He's wondering when I'm going to break down. And I want to, I do, but some things hurt too much for tears. No matter how much you prepare it still hits you like a punch in the gut, as if you never saw it coming. I'll never understand it. I'd planned to go home, I want to go, but I'm 16 hours from the airport, and my passport is tied up at immigration. There's just no way. My eyes follow the old bull, his tusks yellowed with age. He seems so lonely.
I think of my grandmother the last time I saw her. Stooped, a bit frail, but still spunky as ever. Over the last few years her world had shrunk to the four walls of her home. She didn't feel like going out and had few visitors. It turns out she was struggling the whole time with fierce pain while breathing with only one lung.
The things that go unsaid.
She always was a tough woman, following my grandfather literally to the ends of the earth. Ethiopia for a stint, Oregon for a longer one, both far from her Southern roots. But the draw of home would eventually bring them back to raise their children where the pecan trees grow thick and heavy laden. In my childish memories her house was always a place of mystery and adventure. Woods and fields, worn paths and hidden animals, coke can shooting and pecan tree climbing. The rooms were full of hidden nooks and crannies, bookshelves overflowing with outdated and fraying paperbacks. It smelled of must and damp, a house well-lived in if not well-cared for. I loved every minute of every day I spent there.
But most of all I loved being with her. As the years passed I continued to visit her, alone this time. She sold the old place after my grandfather became too frail, both in body and mind, to keep it up and moved in with my aunt and uncle. I would spend weekends with her as often as I could get away from college activities and growing relationships. She would take me shopping at the mall for things she thought I needed, finishing our trips with the cafeteria line at Picadilly. Those years were marked by cafeteria lines. Afterwards I would ask if I could drive her, and now and then she would let me. Mostly she stubbornly refused, a sign of character traits someday to come in my own children.
When those days finally came she was still there, tucking a check into my pocket every time we visited her. For travel expenses or for the children she would say. And I would kiss her soft, wrinkled cheek and bend down to hug her bent body, hoping she could feel my love in the core of her being. Because I loved her, love her, so much.
Yet she'd been lonely for so long. We buried her husband, my grandfather, in 1999, my dad in 2005, then my aunt, her only daughter, in 2006. I remember our breakfast together before my aunt's funeral service, her untouched food and tired, grief-filled eyes.
“A mother should never outlive her children,” she would tell me, and my heart ached with our shared loss.
But she was right, and since then she's just been waiting for her turn.
The jeep rocks back and forth as we bump along the rutted path, tall grass waving on each side. I look again for the old bull, but he's plodded away, now only a grey speck fading into the hazy savannah. Maybe it's his turn as well, and maybe what I've seen as loneliness is just that pause before death, the letting go of this life and turning to the next.
I hope she knows, I hope she has always known, the things I left unsaid. Not I love you, that I said often, but I want to be like you andYou taught me how to truly love. I hope she knows how proud I am of her.
A breeze stirs, filling the jeep with the scent of dried grass and warm earth. Bird songs echo across the swaying fields as they dip and glide with the rushing wind. I breathe in the life around me and slowly my grip on the wheel relaxes.
We lay in the hammock together tonight, his head resting on my arm, his little legs wrapped around mine, and looked at the moon. Between pointing at stars and trees and glimpses of moonlight he would hug my growing belly, absently rubbing it as he does every day.
He turned three a few days ago, my seventh child, and we celebrated his miracle-of-a-life with cake and candles and many, many heartfelt gifts, one of the perks of large families and generous kids. He was thrilled that it was finally his turn to be celebrated, not knowing the celebration I feel each day of his life.
We visited his first family recently. The whole village came out to see him, and he greeted them one by one, at once both friendly and oblivious. He chased chickens and drank soda and everywhere we went the people were amazed by him.
I found an old journal this week from my first days of caring for him. I seemed tired and worn out, nursing two babies and getting little sleep, but oh, so in love with this boy. Even then, from day one, my heart was crying for this baby that no one wanted the responsibility for, this tiny one so alive, even at 2 1/2 pounds.
I had coffee with a friend the last time I was in Jinja, and we talked about the prevalence of abandoned babies in Uganda. Her girls used to spend time on the street before joining her family and pick through garbage for their living. Abandoned babies were a common sight for them. They would find babies in dumpsters or among the trash, alive and crying. But they were children themselves, barely making it, unable to care for another, and this was just normal life. Babies unwanted, unloved, unclaimed.
In Kaceri we have a program called the Moses Project that was born out of a desire to see babies, from all situations, thriving in their families. Today we met in our school hut, seven mothers and grandmothers with their twins and grandchildren, babies crawling and crying everywhere. We read the Bible together, we prayed for each other, we gave out milk and food, we held little ones and gave instruction about caring well for their children. We tried, with our words and actions, to validate these women who are trying so hard against such difficult odds.
And it's working. They are learning and babies are thriving.
As I sat there with these women, Acuka on my lap, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my son's life. He was one of these children, a motherless child, unwanted by his grandmother, supposed too small to survive.
But now. Now.
He is our joy. It just radiates from him. He jumps everywhere he goes, and his laughter is constant and contagious. He copies everything his brothers and sisters do, for better or for worse. He almost always has a toy car clutched in one fist, but can rarely be found in pants. He is spontaneous and free with his affection and loves everything except napping and bathing. He still makes me stop and stare with wonder at his life, his miracle-of-a-life.
And so tonight I cuddle him close. I kiss his fuzzy head and stroke his brown cheeks. We look at the moon together as the hammock sways, and I give thanks for his life and the chance to be a part of it. What a blessing he is.
(Don't worry, I WILL be posting an update about distribution to the fire victims. Unfortunately my internet is not good enough to load many pictures here, so I will wait until the next time I am in Kotido.)
Kenneth and Kristi Williams
The Williams Family
Kenneth and Kristi
Nevaeh, 20 years old
Rikot, 19 years old
Ezra, 18 years old
Zion, 17 years old
Izzy, 15 years old
Selah, 13 years
Acuka, 12 years
Benaiah, 9 years
Jubal, 6 years
Jireh, 2 years
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