Sunday, May 27, 2012

Investing in a "fruit company"

Lask week found John and I on a refreshing, long-awaited date night in a serene Italian restaurant not far from the center of town. The sun was setting, and the wait staff were lighting lanterns around us. Meanwhile, the two of us were caught in a lively conversation, swapping our cultural observations of the last couple of weeks, and comparing/interpreting the Luganda phrases we'd picked up here and there. It was punctuated with a lot of laughter and wide-eyed expressions as we swapped mental notes, piecing together more of our limited understanding of this fascinating place.

So it hit me again. I thought regarding my husband, I am so glad I got to see you here, like this, in this place. 

These last four months have brought me into another one of those seasons--like your first time as parents--where you learn to appreciate your spouse on an entirely new level. This guy jumps into cultural interactions, braves Kampala traffic all over the city for us to have a sense of place and be mobile (and safe), brings meals out to guards who didn't have a chance to eat. He bargains for furniture on Ggaba and comes home to chat with the kiddos about how they're doing here. He tries out his Luganda in the market and seeks out ways to take care of Oliver and her family. What if I had missed seeing him so strong, compassionate, and courageous like I have seen him here?

See, today we're celebrating our twelfth anniversary. Wowzers. And this year has found me appreciating more and more of the journey that is marriage.

I love all the places and times and situations that John and I have met together so far. Seeing my husband as a father, for example, still blows me away. That first morning in the hospital after I'd delivered our firstborn and finally eased out of the bed for a shower, I came back in to find him reading the book of Matthew to that blue-eyed little bundle with the knit hat. There are all those nights when he's kept the kids up past their bedtimes reading stories or wrestling. Then I recount the long road trips while we raised support in thirteen different states. Or I remember the laughs in our first little campus-housing, cinder block apartment as we survived on rice and pasta for almost a whole year. There was that hike with his dad when we ended up "sleeping" in a tent in the pouring rain with a little stream coursing beneath us.

There were painful times that knit us closer, too: the call in college when my grandmother had passed away. Or so much more so, meeting him in a hospital parking garage, where he would tell me his mom didn't survive. This path of marriage has a sealing, binding effect on two people.

But this has been one of my favorite and most challenging years of this rich adventure that is our life together. Just before our last anniversary was the late evening when John came home and found me propped up against pillows in bed, reading. "What would you think about pursuing ministry opportunities overseas?" he asked. Picture me about falling out of the bed at this point, half out of fear, half delight.

And picture us doing crossword puzzles together on nine flights, three of them "sleeping" on overnight flights, to check out the idea of moving our family to Africa. Picture us talking to our kids about relocating to Uganda--or telling our parents. Picture us sorting through our little trilevel on Lemoncrest, then rising at 5:00 one morning in October for the garage sale where we'd jettison most of our stuff. Picture him playing strategy games with my family into the wee hours of the night before we drove to Dallas, or joking with his family the night before we said goodbye. Picture us waving to our families in the DFW airport from the security line, faces wet. Picture us waking up to the African sunrise in our first home here.

But like so much of what God has done in these twelve years being married to John, I have said, these four months have reminded me of the end of Forrest Gump. You hear Forrest say that he invested in a fruit company. But as the camera glances over his shoulder at a letter he's opening, you see that he's actually invested in Apple computers. That's pretty much how I feel about marrying this guy. I knew God was granting me the opportunity to get involved with a "fruit company" that looked very promising. But boy, I had no clue just what he was giving me.

My marriage is so much richer from having been here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

God-sized prayers for Uganda

Lately, I sense the need to ask God for some prayers that walk by faith more than sight. Here are three biggies. Want to pray with me?

1) Based on an idea I heard from the book :58, I'm praying for the end of extreme poverty in this generation's lifetime. The World Bank defines the end of extreme poverty as a global extreme poverty rate below 2% (equivalent to an American trying to live on $1.25 per day).

2) Prodded on by Tim Keller, I've been convicted by Jeremiah 29:7: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Now, in no way am I seeing myself as an exile in Uganda. :) But God seems to be indicating I should pray for this great city. A lot of times that comes in the form of praying that the government will be free of corruption, or for the healthcare and educational systems and the infrastructure that can give a mzungu a heart attack. I want to cheer Uganda on in prayer, along with God's work here.

3) I'm praying for the capture of Joseph Kony, as well as him being brought to justice and salvation.

I'd love to hear other big prayers that you're praying.

Friday, May 11, 2012

B.'s Eight Regulations

This is obviously a more personal post, but I thought you might get a kick out of B.'s "Eight Rules for My Room." He was supposed to write eight regulations for his room--like the Chinese did in the 1800's to keep out foreigners. (No, I had no clue that they did that until I taught history this week.) The result made me laugh out loud.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Good housekeeping

Many of you were so gracious regarding a post I was initially a little nervous about: What it's like for us having a housekeeper.

In truth, Oliver makes a world of difference for us in living sustainably here and expanding our ministry. And she does it extremely affordably, simultaneously offering us an intensive discipleship opportunity and cultural expert right in our own home, forty hours a week.
Thanks to her, we can host guests regularly throughout the week now, including all the eMi kids and moms at our house on Tuesdays. That's well over 20 people, and most of those are kids racing, bouncing, and climbing around our compound! (I love it, and our kids love it, too.) That's a significant change from living in the U.S., where hosting was infrequent for us by necessity: Keeping a house clean when you're homeschooling three kids and chasing a toddler just ain't gonna happen. Now, especially with our next-door proximity to eMi, people are banging on the gate all the time. I feel like I can finally stretch some hospitality wings, drinking in all the friends that stop by to chat and play with our kids, rather than hoping they don't reach down to pet the dust bunnies. I can invite people for dinner spontaneously--or invite them at all!

I also can run up the hill to work for eMi a couple of afternoons a week, because I've got childcare; it's a mellow time of day anyway while J. naps and the older kids do their own thing. Oliver, growing up in Africa with kids running everywhere, appears unflagged by my occaisonally noisy and regularly dirty offspring. She loves and appreciates the kids, even after seeing them in the entire spectrum of their behavior. In fact, ten years ago--not long after her parents passed away--Oiver found abandoned twin babies in a local dump, and took them home to care for them and help raise them. The twins are ten now and living with the grandmother who raised Oliver and her siblings.

J. and the other kids still enjoy her, and are so excited for her to come. For his birthday, she bought him a little orange plastic mug--his favorite color--so he'd have his own special cup to take his tea when they have their tea time every morning upon her arrival. Her own birthday is two days before his, so we threw her the first birthday celebration she'd had (culturally, birthdays aren't celebrated as much here, it seems). She was ecstatic. She loves fashion, so she seemed about as excited about me painting her nails and toenails for her birthday as she did about her gift!
Recently, Oliver and I decided we'd start Bible study together. I'm so geared up about that. With the poverty here, Christianity promising health and wealth is very prolific. So it was recommended to me that we focus a lot on grace and the Gospel: simple truths that remind us of God's goodness to us despite our performance, and whether we get what we want or not. (I'm using Tim Keller's Gospel in Real Life, and even the second time through, God's doing a lot of work in me.)

Oliver keeps our home humming--sometimes literally as she totes around some Jadon Lavik hymns that she can't play enough of. Occasionally she'll even create artwork with the kids' beds: When she went to boarding school (very typical for education here), they'd have competitions for neatness. She taught C. how to make a samosa out of her sheet and blanket (not pictured).
Particularly as a former farm kid from a long line of hard workers, it's been interesting to consider how to develop a solid work ethic in my kids when we have a housekeeper and a guard/groundskeeper. So far, I've got a short, working list of ideas, but I have a feeling I'll be adding to it. (Wanna help, former MK's?)
  1. Have my kids clean up their own messes: at the table, in their rooms, in the school room, wherever they leave clutter, etc. etc. nauseam.
  2. Have them complete chores, as well as their normal responsibilities of taking dishes to the sink, making beds, etc.
  3. Help them to respect Oliver's work in any form: Don't track mud into the house. Scrape your dish off before you put it near the sink. Help her when you see her carrying something heavy. (Hmm. Unless it's already on her head.)
  4. Help the kids remember to thank her frequently and before she goes home every night; cause them to see what she does--how much she helps our family!--and appreciate it.
  5. Add an act of service to their school responsibilities, so they're looking for one way to serve someone else everyday. Don't hesitate to ask them to help with taking down the laundry or other small tasks, even if they've already done their "responsibility" for the day.
  6. Allow her opportunities to teach the kids how to do things, including her teaching them Luganda--communicating the clear concept that she's an authority figure worthy of respect and that they have things to learn from her.
Now, the trick is getting Oliver to comply so that she doesn't beat my kids to their chores. Oddly enough, I am continually convincing her that my kids' white skin is not an excuse for them to avoid hard work. (Race is a frequent issue in Uganda.) For the love.

If we ever moved back to the U.S., Oliver would be hard to leave behind for so many reasons! I'm praying for ways to make the most of her being here--and I am continually thankful for her.

Need your help--on how not to raise a Pharisee

All right, everyone. I'm looking for your thoughts and experiences for an article idea I'm putting together. The question:

What can parents do to avoid raising their children to be "Pharisees"? What can they do--practically as well as in theory--that can help them raise kids who love and obey God from deep within a humble heart, rather than trusting in their own performance and "goodness", like a whitewashed tomb? Conversely, if you have ideas about what they shouldn't do, that helps, too.

Please comment in response. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Roasting coffee! Or, "not quite Starbucks"

Let's call this the "before" picture.
Back in the good ol' U.S. of A, where a Starbucks is to be found happily doling out legal addictive stimulants on so many corners around the country, I count myself among the many who on occasion would pay too much for a cup of coffee. Not to mention the experience of listening to music that made me feel cooler than I really am, that defining sense of self one gets when ordering a coffee with seven adjectives (You've Got Mail fans, you know what I'm talking about!), that smell that wafts through the warmly lit room, and whatever equally cool person sits across from you, creating a memory. I admit to missing my grande decaf light caramel frappuccino with whip. But if God can put an avocado tree in my yard in Uganda, maybe there'll be a Starbucks counter in my celestial kitchen.

Ah, but let me not tempt my own discontent any further. Instead, let me tell you about the result of a conversation I had with one of our guards, who let me know that he sells the coffee beans he grows himself. Wow, I respond. My parents (renowned coffee connoisseurs) would really enjoy that sometime when they come over here. Okay! He responds enthusiastically.

Which is why, I understand, he showed up at my gate a couple of weeks ago with a black plastic shopping bag full of green, initially unidentifiable beans of some sort. The conversation that followed was filled with some culturally-related explanations and a little bit of laughter glossing over the fact that I was about to shell out more cash for coffee I didn't truly need. Thankfully, the guard is kind, and thankfully, I got at least a kilo of coffee beans out of the misunderstanding, even if I did have to pay for them.

Later that week, not knowing the shelf life of raw coffee, I did what I do to solve so many of life's little dilemmas. Well, no. I didn't pray about it. But I did go online.

This article actually had a thorough methodology for roasting coffee in a pan. One site joked about pan-roasting being more barbarian. Hmph. But anyway, I admit to being encouraged that the roaster was Ethiopian. That's not far from here, right?

So--beans rinsed for hygiene and for moisture. Check. Beans in pan. Check.
Flame on high heat. Check.
Start roasting, and don't get worried when they roast unevenly. Check. Sort of.

Beans done roasting in about seven minutes. Check! But...oh. Okay. Forgot the "tilt pan to about a 20-degree angle" part. Hmm. You've heard of Starbucks' Blonde Roast, right? This is Janel's Kampala Midnight Roast. It's a teensy bit dark. Still usable, but to be frank, a little on the burnt side. Story of my life here: Live and learn. And sometimes that will cost more shillings than others. At least I only roasted a fraction of them! And at least they're still usable. You know, if you don't mind that robust little extra kick from the excess carbon content.

So now, I've been making cold french press coffees in the morning, steeping them in my fridge overnight. It's no seven-adjective taste of delight, mind you. But it does make 6:30 AM look a little more bright eyed and bushy tailed, and my quiet time a little bit sweeter.

Tea with a friend