Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Of Prayer and Promise in the Pandemic

According to my journal, I write this post on Day Five of Phase Two of “reopening California”—following 63 days of Sheltered In status of the COVID19 pandemic. I have written in my journal every single morning during this historical time-- recording accounts of the news updates as well as my thoughts, fears, prayers, joys, recipes, books, movies, and new ideas. My preferred writing area is the small patio outside the French doors that open from my great room. Each day I would seat myself with my candle, coffee, blanket, Bible, journal, highlighters, and my favorite Bob Goff and Oswald Chamber’s devotionals. (Now that's a dynamic duo!) Over the weeks of writing and reflecting, I observed new blooms open on my “Fourth of July” roses, tiny purple and orange flowers emerge from my succulent gardens, and baby birds born in the two nests on my porch, hollering and squeaking for food with open mouths and hungry tummies. It has been a time of illness, death, panic, fear, frustration, sadness, and the daily unknown. It has also been a time of bravery, honor, resilience, hope, patience, and compassion.  It has been a time of judgment, hurt, blame, shame, comparison; and also a time of laughter, joy, creativity, discovery, and innovation and flexibility.

I, along with all of you, including educators, politicians, scientists, reporters, doctors, and essential workers, have been making decisions based on hour by hour changing news. This virus came at us and we had to respond—many times making decisions quickly and at times unwisely. At first it was easy for me to think that everyone should have the same response as me (the right one of course), but as I listened, learned, and kept my head and heart in God’s Word, I recognized wave upon wave of grace emerging in the neighborhoods, the hospitals, the work places, and the backyards. I experienced the love and kindness of neighbors as we walked our dogs, and greeted each other with warm hellos. I met dads who I had never seen emerge from behind their rolling garage door—out walking their babies in strollers along the path of the playground—equipment wrapped in yellow caution tape, forbidding play. But families created their new forms of play—side walk chalk messages proclaiming “we are in this together” and “peace” and “love’.  I greeted families out on bicycles--freshly pumped tires, spiky helmets, neon shoes, pink streamers flowing behind handle bars—calling hello with bright smiles and big waves.

On March 9, I had met with my oncologist who told me that I would not have to be in treatment for cancer and that he would wait until June for my next scan. Of course, any news of NO treatment is great news, but this turned out to be a sweet gift from God—especially when two days later the Shelter In requirements hit California. No appointments, no chemo, no radiation. While the rest of the world was hunkering down, so was I—able to rest and heal my body. My boys were home from college, and they, along with my husband, Saint Greg, did the grocery shopping and errands when needed, so I was able to stay away from people and maintain safe social distancing.
I am sure it was a combination of rest, walks, exercise, cooking and eating well, lots of reading and praying, but my body has grown stronger and stronger each day. I know others are weak; I know that many have died and are suffering grief and loss, and for them, I pray. But for me, in this space and time, I have a reprieve from my treatment, my side effects and my pain.

As I was reflecting and praising God for getting me through this time, I realized with new clarity how much energy I have expended in battling cancer. When I finally had time to pause and begin to feel better, I became acutely aware of how cancer had sucked so much life out of me and how I have pushed and pushed my way forward. This has been my time to heal, renew, and restore. This has been a time of reading, watching Disney movies, baking, delivering goodies and gifts to front porches. It has been a time of welcoming babies and the celebration of new life, of street parades with festooned cars for birthdays and graduations. It has been a time of creativity—as our church has looked at ways of continuing/fostering community, as I have been working on my book, writing letters, and even starting up a new business which I am excited and passionate about. Check out this link to learn more about FLIP Book Club—a learning/reading environment for kids and teens. Flip Book Club

This has been a time of walking the trails and crossing the streams, of trips to Farmer’s Market and getting the yard summer ready. A time for book clubs and Zoom happy hours, and family game nights with Dominoes and Sequence and cards; a time for morning reflections, for reading and sleeping, for cooking and cleaning, for strawberries and fresh whipped cream, for homemade biscuits, grilled steaks and roasted veggies, for backyard barbecues, ice cream pies, and gin and tonics with fresh lime, for cool evenings with purple skies and sparkling market lights over the pool and palms.

This has been a time rest, of anxiety, of loss, of mourning and lament, of celebrating our heroes, of sacrificing our comforts for the concern of others, of cancelling weddings and graduations and retirements and sports banquets. But it has also taught us to lean on each other, to share the sugar, and borrow the cup of milk, to drop off the daffodils, and bake the cookies and renew our friendships with our neighbors…for small and grand acts of kindness and compassion.

As we begin to “re-open”—whatever that might look like for you, wherever you are, let us not forget the promises in the pandemic. That God is with us and has never left us. That we are never alone. That God reigns, has always reigned, and will forever reign.

Those who live in the shelter of the most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God and I trust Him. 
Psalm 91:1-2

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Communal Grief and Communal Compassion

I hesitate to write. I hesitate to publish or post. I hesitate to share because I am not offering anything profound, polished, or packaged. But I am offering my vulnerability, my questions, my scattered thoughts…my ramblings, my prayers. I probably won’t say anything you haven’t already heard or read.

I acknowledge that we are in a global crisis and that we are experiencing communal grief, pain, sorrow, and death.

I acknowledge that my laments (and yours) are heard, known, and expected. 

I understand that we are all navigating this in real time in responses that are new to us. We are getting new information hourly. I understand that many people are disoriented, unfocused, and scared. I understand our need to adapt and change as the news and information changes. 

I recognize that we all cope differently. What works for you may not work for me. I will respect that and try to understand people who are reacting differently than me.

I will pray for and support all those on the front lines in health care. I am thankful for their sacrifice of time, energy, family, and their own health to serve in this unprecedented time.

I will not use this time to blame or shame.  I will use this time for encouragement and compassion.

I will keep my eyes and my heart upward and outward and I will find new ways to help my neighbor.

I will try to keep perspective and I will do my best not to engage in “comparative suffering” (Brene Brown has a great podcast on this idea).

I will pray for those who are working endless hours with huge responsibilities and I will remember that many people do not have the option to rest.

I will rejoice in the resurgence of: sidewalk chalk, family bike rides, playing cards, board games, creative learning, new and free technology, walking the dog, sharing ideas and resources.

I will invite, accept, and listen to anyone who has questions about God and Jesus. I will not judge those who believe differently than me. I will not pretend to have all the answers to the mysteries and questions. I will keep my hope in the Promise of restoration, renewal and revival.

 I will recognize and participate in the need for communal forgiveness, communal patience, and heaps and piles of communal grace.

I will do none of these things on my own, or by my own strength or will;  but with the power, love, and grace of Christ who transforms and renews as He dwells in me.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

When Life is overwhelming

It is hard to believe that it has been seven years since I was first diagnosed with cancer and started writing this blog to keep people updated. It started as a simple way to share my medical updates with all those who were asking, and morphed into this raw emotional journey of faith and doubt and fear and anxiety and yes, even joy. As people resonated with my thoughts and raw emotions, it has become so much more. I am grateful that many of you have shared my blog with people who are diagnosed with cancer or another illness, or with people who are struggling with belief or faith. I am a person who would absolutely LOVE that everything could be resolved and tied up into a neat tidy bow and I could move on to the next thing. But that simply isn’t life. Life is messy and broken and there is no finish line this side of eternity. Most of us are doing the best we can with the life situation we have been given. My hope is that my laments and my joys and my questions and my fears—all as a woman of faith—would encourage those who feel they are alone in their thoughts. I know we all don’t think the same (thank God), but we all have hurts and trials and issues that we face daily. We respond in various ways to what we have been given. It is hard. Those who profess and believe in Jesus Christ are certainly not immune to the brokenness and pain of the world. Bad things happen. To all of us.

As I write this, the world is in communal mourning for the great legend Kobe Bryant and the others who perished in the helicopter crash. At the same time, in my circle of friends, one of my dear spiritual mentors has come home and is on hospice for the time he has left on earth. My heart is heavy. Another dear one—a beautiful 22 year old—has been in chemo for leukemia and is currently awaiting a bone marrow replacement (a match was found, thank God). Other friends are awaiting appointments and results for their cancer updates. Others are caring for elderly parents or burying their fathers and mothers. I have many friends dealing with relationship and family issues that are painful and trying. I could go on and on. This. This my friends is life. It is what we deal with. It is not neat and tidy and resolved. It is ever changing. We all have or will experience one of those “suddenly” or “holy why?” moments when our world is shaken by a phone call, or knock on the door, or email or unexpected news.

A quick update on my health journey. As I wrote in my last blog post in December, I finished chemotherapy at the end of November. This was after spending the entire year of 2019 on radiation or chemo. As I began to feel better and stronger and the side effects began to wear off slightly, I became a “production maniac”.  Because I finally felt well, I was doing, working, planning, socializing—and I didn’t realize until later that it was way too much, way too early. I knew I wasn’t cancer free; I knew my doctor told me I would be chasing cancer, but he was hopeful that we could monitor and treat for as long as we could.

When 2020 started, a number of things happened in quick succession and I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual wall.

*I received a call that the biopsy I had in December on some spots on my forehead were positive for basal cell skin cancer. Slow growing, treatable, but yet another procedure.

*The people at my insurance company who have been supposed to be working on my behalf—did not follow through, and I came back to making numerous phone calls (full time job), talking to a bunch of different people who told me different things. This was also a financial burden that I needed to address.

*My kidney was still inflamed and I needed another procedure to replace the stent in my ureter. The first procedure did not go well and I left without a stent, having to get an ultrasound and then get booked into the OR for another attempt at replacing the stent.

*I had appointments with my primary care and oncologist and discovered through blood panels that my hormones are completely depleted (chemo does that). Everyone who knows about the human body, knows that hormones affect so much—our mood, our energy, our sleep, our brain chemistry.

I share all these things (and there is more) knowing full well that I am grateful to even have insurance and health care. I know that many people do not have these opportunities.
My health team is working on treatments for all these health issues and I have some friends who know the insurance industry who are taking over on my behalf (thanks Lisa, Michelle and Neal).

But here is the thing. All these things as well as more got me so overwhelmed that I could barely function. As much as I tried to be grateful, upbeat, prayerful, and tackle each situation-- I felt consumed and despondent. I couldn’t sleep at night and I couldn’t get up in the morning. I would force myself to get up and attempt to get ONE thing done in a day. I had at least three days in the month of January where I slept all day—never got up. I was throwing up, nauseated, achy, and my mind never shut down. My thoughts spiraled. I tried to get away to rest and pray and think and journal. This was a sweet time for me, but reality was waiting. I still had to address all the things in front of me. My friends would call and text and I shut them out. I would respond to the messages, but I didn’t want to see people. I forced myself to walk my dogs in the afternoons because the outdoors always makes me happy. I haven’t cooked a meal in a month. I have barely eaten. My husband makes cereal and bagel sandwiches for his dinner. My rational mind knew that I was in a deep depression. I cried out to God and prayed and read the Bible and much of the time, I still felt hopeless. I have cried more this month than I have in years.

This is not resolved and I am not going to sugar coat it and put a bow on it and say that everything is going to get better.  In fact, there were a few days in this when I felt absolutely like there was no hope, no joy, no purpose. I felt unworthy to be a church leader, a speaker, a writer, an encourager. I felt like I was a fake, a sham, like I had no reason to write about faith and joy and hope. I felt I was a disservice to God.

But I allowed myself to be in this space, as hard as it was. I talked to a few friends, I went to my therapist, I talked to my doctors. Slowly, but surely, these issues will be tackled (and then more things will come up—such is life). And as I continued to read my Bible and focus on God’s promises (in spite of how I felt), I realized that I was succumbing to a bunch of LIES. Spiritual lies, worldly lies, fleshly lies. I was forgetting what the God of the universe says to me. He says YOU ARE CHOSEN. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EARN MY AFFECTION. MY GRACE POURS OVER YOU. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STRIVE. IT IS FINISHED. I SEE YOU THROUGH THE PERFECT BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS.

I know all these things. I have taught and spoken on all these promises. I know in my head what I believe. I wasn’t allowing it to move from my head to my heart and into my life. I am not going to shame myself because I felt that way and may feel that way again. Christians go through hard and dry seasons. They question, they doubt, they fear. But God’s promises cover them.

I don’t have a finish line with my cancer. I will be chasing it, and dealing with insurance, and dealing with other things in life that seem overwhelming. Just like you. Whatever your trial or struggle—you may not have a finish line. You may be dealing with it all your life. Allow yourself to feel your pain, to cry, to lament, to doubt, to fear. But know this—no matter how dark or how deep your pain or situation, there is hope. And it is found in Jesus. You may not feel it. You may not see it. But He is with you. He promised that. As I continue my struggle, that is what I rest in. That Jesus is with me.

I have been reading this Psalm each day and putting it in my heart to get me through.
Psalm 143 (a psalm of lament)
“I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear. I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. (v 4-6)
“Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk for I give myself to you...may your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing….” (v 8-10)

I am a woman of faith. I believe in an unstoppable God. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt and cry and feel despondent. Don’t let the lies tell you that you have to be upbeat, perky, strong, and know all the answers that sound good if you are a person of faith . Accept how you feel. Because Jesus accepts and loves you just as you are—in your hopelessness, fears, anxieties, and joys.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Through the Storm...

2019 has certainly been a year of trial and suffering, of appointments and treatments, of hope and of pain. I ended chemotherapy three weeks ago. My doctor called it off because my body was revolting (as it should with a full year of radiation and poison in my body.) The side effects have decreased immensely although I have some residual effects. My oncology team (includes liver, colon, lung and kidney surgeons) met last week and decided AGAINST surgery for the remaining one inch tumor that is floating in my pelvis. The risk to benefit ratio was too high. Currently my cancer markers are at the lowest ever (1.5) and not increasing. Because I am already stage four metastasized cancer, (meaning the cancer has already spread to different body organs multiple times), I cannot say that I am cancer free or in remission. But the doctors are all on board to monitor and treat me if it spreads again or comes back. It is likely that it will, so I continue my fight in chasing cancer.

I did not leave his office in despair. I left determined. I left knowing that I have so much and I will continue to pray and fight and live life to the fullest. The words to the song “Christ Alone” kept repeating in my head and my heart:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust is Jesus' name

Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior's love
Through the storm
He is Lord
Lord of all

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil
-- (Hillsong United)

Gosh darn, for those of you who know that song, don’t you just feel the amazing power of Christ as you belt out those words at the top of your lungs? When we sing it at church I can’t help but lift my hands and my whole body up in thanksgiving and praise. “My hope is built on nothing less!” My hope is not built on the doctor’s words or the scans or the surgeries or the blood work. My hope is built on “Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I have been in the storm and through it all I know with all my heart that “He is Lord, Lord of all!” (If you don’t know the song, look it up and blast it!)

You know what chasing cancer has done for me? It has taught me to live in the present and the unknown. All those years that I thought I was controlling things—never have, never will. God is in control. He may be mysterious, He may not answer things the way I want, but He indeed is the “anchor that holds within the veil.” 

Chasing cancer has taught me to pick and choose my battles, to be grateful for the little and the big things, to prioritize my time, to give myself grace and rest, to love more fully. It has taught me who is important and how to say no. It has taught me that drawing near to God is so much better than “working for God.” It has taught me the difference between joy and happiness.

Chasing cancer has deepened my faith. It has revealed God’s truth and His promises to me. It has taught me the importance of loyalty, integrity and authenticity. Even though I may have sleepless nights or anxious moments, or hold tightly to the reigns of control, God always draws me near. He holds me tightly. He doesn’t leave my side. He is my great Comfort. He is my rock, my refuge and my strength.
Chasing cancer has emboldened me to share my faith, to testify of my deep love for Jesus, and to proclaim that it He is WHO makes me strong.

So this is my reality—I will be chasing cancer the rest of my life. I do not know when it will show up again and I will probably never be in remission. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stop praying for miracles. I will continue to pray for a clear scan and no more tumors. I am not in denial of my reality, but I am going to use every moment of my life to proclaim Christ and to give Him glory. I will continue to live with Him and live for Him.

God has given me so many gifts during this continuous battle. I have deepened relationships with those closest to me, I have met new people who have fought as bad ass warriors beside me, I have learned the gift of living in the unknown and being okay with the “right now, but not yet.” I have been reminded of the brokenness of our world and that this is NOT our eternal dwelling place. I am not afraid. I am victorious because of Christ in me.

My earnest prayer for each of you is that you would take whatever you may be “chasing” and give it to Jesus. Trust Him with a child like faith. You don’t need to know all the answers. You don’t need to debate the “legalistic” issues. Jesus died on the cross so you might be free. So let Him take what you are chasing and live a grateful and full life.  

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Of Mountains, Rocks, and God's Glory

The last two weeks have been filled with beautiful glimpses of God—both in His majesty and His intimacy. I have been through hard, hard moments, and glorious moments of joy—some in the same day—but that is what life is—the unknown, the broken, the hard, the joy, the suffering, the hope.

Last week I had the gift of spending time in the mountains at Lake Arrowhead. I had exchanged my time share for a week up there, hoping for a respite from the heat in San Diego (and fire season) and for time to spend with a couple dear friends. My hope was to have time in nature, to relax, reflect, pray, and seek God. My dear and forever best friend from high school flew out from Iowa to spend three days with me. Kathy has flown out for every one of my big surgeries—not only is she a dear friend, but a retired nurse, and her presence at those times has been so helpful. But this time she just came to be with me, and share moments together—not at the hospital! I was still dealing with feeling sick and nauseated from my week of chemo on the day she flew in, but by the next day, when we were set to drive up to the mountains, I was feeling much better and stronger. What a difference one day makes! We talked, shared, shopped, ate great food, and did some crazy off road hiking. It was colder up there (between 30 degrees in the morning to highs of 55—I know that isn’t real cold to some of you, but to a San Diegan, it is cold!) It was so fun to put on a jacket, gloves, sweaters, scarves and hats! I am an autumn girl at heart.

Kath had to fly home on Wednesday, so we came back to Poway to get her to the airport and I spent the day catching up on emails and work stuff, so I could head back up to finish my week in the mountains. Thursday morning, my friend Kendall and I headed back up the mountain. Another two days of intimate and deep conversations with my dear friend (I am such a one on one person—these deep moments of reflection mean so much to me). We shared our prayers and our dreams and our goals and got excited about the ministries we want to pursue (me—my book writing, and Kendall—starting a non profit for education and medical clinics in Africa). Just like my time with Kathy, we ate great food, drank coffee and had long quiet times, and then adventured on some hikes that took us to beautiful heights and glorious glimpses of God’s majesty. There is nothing better than nature to bask in His creation.

Even though I was still experiencing some side effects from the chemo (nausea, sleeplessness, etc), I always love hiking and exploring. As Kendall hashtagged in a post #cancercantakeahike—I push on when I have the strength (and sometimes when I don’t) to do the things I love. Hiking in the fall colors, seeing the majestic, strong trees, and the sun streaming through the clouds—it was all deeply revealing that  God is present in my time of continued suffering. There IS beauty in the suffering even if I don’t understand it.

As I posted on FB a few days ago, while on our hike on Strawberry Peak, I saw a rock on the trail—it stood out even though the trail was strewn with pine needles and acorns and pebbles. It had rough edges, but it was clearly in the shape of a heart. I looked at it and smiled, knowing that God was showing me His presence—yes, in the form of a rock on a trail. I picked it up and I have it with me, on my bathroom counter, to remind myself of Him. That even though this year has been rough terrain, that my heart is broken and misshapen, that the King of Glory is an intimate God who knows me and is with me.

I don’t know where your suffering might be, my friends, but God does. When I returned from my peaceful week, I felt bombarded with busy-ness, catching up, things not going smoothly, people who are hurting and just a big broken world. I began to feel the weight on my shoulders and my sleeplessness kept me up at night crying out to God and praying for others. But God pointed me to His Word and His promises. I am NOT in control. I am NOT the Savior. He is. He is majestic and powerful and intimate. He is King of Glory. Whether I am in the mountains or in the routine of life, He is with me and He is in control.

When I returned, I had an appointment with my oncologist. Because I am still very beaten down and weakened by the chemo, he called off my last round and I am scheduled for a scan on November 16. After the scan results come in, he will meet with his team of surgeons to discuss my next steps. I don’t know and can’t predict what is next. This used to freak me out—the unknown. But after 6.5 years of chasing cancer, I have learned that in the mysterious unknown is when I am closest with God. I have learned that even if I don’t understand my circumstances, He does. It is a mystery. I can’t fathom it. But I truly believe in the power of God and His Spirit, because I have I seen it manifested in my life so many times. And I have a rough hewn, misshaped heart rock that I found in the mountains to remind me that He is with me always. He is King of Glory and Majesty, and He is at the same time, an intimate and personal God who knows me and knows you. Take heart in the midst of suffering. Glimpses of glory are all around you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Fire season and gratitude

It is 99 degrees and Santa Ana conditions forecasted for the next two days here in San Diego…longer fire seasons in California than ever due to climate change. Sixteen years ago THIS week we had moved all our things into our newly built home and were living in the local hotel while the boys went to school and we pulled the final permits….when the Witch Creek fire of 2003 swept through, threatening our new home and our entire neighborhood. Many of our friends lost their homes in this fire and in the 2007 fire, so this week always brings a bit of anxiety, yet a lot of praise and celebration for the provision our Lord has given us in this home and community. We are surrounded by hills and trees and brush, with a creek in our backyard, and yet it is a dangerous place to live during this fire season.

I have written previously about our home and community, so I won’t repeat myself too much I hope. This week is also my ON chemo week with my pump attached for the next 48 hours, and I have been reflecting much on life and gratitude for the material blessings and provision we have been given, as well as the family and friends who surround me, our home, and this family. 

Much prayer and time went into buying this land, setting the infrastructure of the street and utilities, and building the house. If you are a home owner, you know that the work is never done. There is always a project or a repair, but it is still home. I love gardening and changing the flowers and shrubs with the seasons and I love decorating with the new seasons, especially fall and Easter time. Greg has been working on a new living space in addition to the deck and cabana—a pergola, a bar, and a pizza oven (which I have written about before). Setting the stone and the countertop for the bar has been quite an ordeal, and it is still unfinished, but that doesn’t stop us from having friends over, cooking, grilling, and sitting outside and taking in the amazing fall sunsets. The “old me”—the pre cancer me, would have been set on perfection—that everything would be finished before we could have guests. The new me, the new priorities me, the consider it all joy me, is fine with imperfection, unfinished work, and paper plates! This is freedom to me. I still love to make a nice meal, to decorate, to add little flairs of color and pop—but it is okay if it’s not perfect. What is okay is having a space to fellowship in community with those who we love sharing life with. There is not one day I take for granted for this home and this neighborhood and these people who surround us.

“Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” 1 Peter 4:9

This has been our mission and purpose since we built our home—to make it a place for love and fellowship and community. We built a detached casita/guest room since our family lives out of town, but with the exception of about six months in 16 years, it has not been a guest room, but a safe place and a haven for those who are in need of a place to stay. Our longest tenant was three years, but most have stayed 15 months to two years—using the space to live, save money, and spend time in our yard and with us. It hasn’t been perfect and there have been rough patches, but we are so thankful that we have the opportunity to open our home to those who need a place to stay. Currently we are so excited to have Ashley and Jose Ovalle living here with their dog Buddy (who as a rescue dog acclimated well with our three rescue dogs). They are newlyweds—I have known Ashley since she was in fifth grade and I was her Youth Director. They have the sweetest hearts and are so loving to each other and to us. They love studying in our library and having time on the cabana with their Bibles and all the dogs in the mornings.

So this week I celebrate our home. I celebrate my husband who had the vision and the brawn to build it. I celebrate our neighbors, our community, our tenants. We have been given much, and much we want to give back. Thank you to the King of Glory, Jehovah Jirah—the God who provides, for all our abundant blessings.

Friday, October 18, 2019

My African Brady Bunch blended family

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 70’s, most generations know of the Brady Bunch and its theme song. “Now, here’s a story…..” and the lyrics continue later with this:

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch
That this group must somehow form a family
That's the way we all became the Brady Bunch
The Brady Bunch, the Brady Bunch

The Brady Bunch is an iconic show that was one of the first that showed blended families. Well I have a story of my own, that in many ways mirror those last lines….”till the one day when the lady met this fellow and they knew it was much more than a hunch, that this group must somehow form a family…”. My story begins in Africa in 2011, and it was definitely more than a “hunch”—it was a divine appointment from our Holy God—King of Glory.

My Ugandan “son” Godwin has been here in San Diego for the past two weeks. He left this morning and I am still reflecting on our beautiful time together.  We met when he joined our group to drive eight hours from his home in central Uganda to the war torn region of Gulu in the north. We were on a trip to learn and serve with a village in the area called Guru Guru. We were all green and new to this and it was a trip that would begin a relationship with many in what our family now calls our second home—Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. For eight years now I have had the honor and privilege of preparing and leading teams to work in partnership with Godwin and my other Ugandan sons—Hibu, Mark, and Muky, Even when I haven’t been able to go myself due to my cancer battle, it has been a joy to empower others to use their gifs and lead and learn on these trips. As everyone knows who has ever been on one of these trips—it is forever life changing. And it isn’t because WE Americans are giving or serving—it is because of the joy, love, and grace that our Ugandan family extends to US as they show us through their lives about authentic faith, true joy and the sufficiency of Jesus. I could write a book (I probably will) about the people, the stories, the songs, the partnership, the friendship, the prayers, the heartbreaks, the joys—of knowing these people—my blended family.

Last year Godwin received his first Visa ever to travel to the USA and it was an eye opening and eventful trip for him. With God’s provision and blessing, he was able to visit again for some much needed training for his work in his school and basketball ministry. I could go on and on about Godwin with so much mama bear love, but here is a short synopsis. First, he is a child of God, loved and chosen, and he has used his God given gifts for God’s glory. Both of his parents died of HIV within two years and at 11 years old, he was an orphan. He was adopted into a relative’s family and was raised by an amazing family and his new father was the pastor of a church. He is wicked smart, but also has the most compassionate heart. By the grace of God, he was educated and went to university, and worked as a social worker at a school partnered with through Children’s Heritage Foundation. Then he moved on to start his own boarding school called Nation Changers, that includes a specialized program to help jump start young kids in the sport of basketball, with the intent that their skills will help them earn scholarships in high school and university. (Big shout outs to Risen Church, Venture Church, Canyon Springs Church, Santa Fe Christian and CHF for their partnership with him. And many other personal supporters). He is married to Ester (Queen Mama) and before he was married, he had already adopted several children. Together they have ten children—eight adopted and the two youngest, their biological children. They are a beautiful blended family and we get to be part of it. His youngest is named Kirsten Grace and I have the honor of being Jaja (grandma) to all his kids—good Lord, am I really old enough for that???? Greg is Papa Greg or Big G as our son Hibu (in Guru Guru) lovingly calls him.

Here is the beautiful good news. The teams we take to Uganda don’t go there to work in a mission field. We go there because of the relationships we have formed—eight years strong and continuing for eternity. I learn so much from Godwin and the rest of my Ugandan family. I learn about compassion and sacrifice and trust and grace. I learn how to pray, how to sing and dance with joy, how to communicate even when we don’t speak the same language. When I am with my Ugandan sons and families, they point me to Jesus. All the time. They know the true meaning of “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all I need.” They remind me of the freedom found in the grace of Christ. They love me without strings attached and I love them with a fierceness that burns with passion inside my heart. In fact, my heart bursts with pride that I get to call Godwin my son, as well as the others who I call son. Our relationship points me to God—that He chose me and calls me his daughter, not because I chose Him or loved Him first, but because he earnestly sought me out and called me His own.

My family is so blessed that all of us-- Greg, Noah, and Micah as well-- have been to Uganda—many times. We will continue, because it is there that we have our Brady Bunch blended family. Yes, we will serve, we will give—but they serve and give us so much more. They show us a relationship with Jesus in a way that we do not see in America.

I am forever thankful that God gave me this beautiful blended family—one that makes me better each day, one that shows me new perspectives, one that loves unconditionally.

“Till the one day when this lady (Jaja Kirsten) met this fellow (Godwin)….and they knew that this was much more than a hunch…that this group would somehow form a family…” It was a God connection—a blended family for all eternity. All praise to our King of Glory.