In Uganda when crazy things happen, they say “TIA: This is Africa.”  That pretty much sums up yesterday and today.

Yesterday, we planned to go to Bethany Village in the morning then to Buloba for the afternoon.  We left for Bethany a little later than planned, but that is pretty normal here.  We took the boat across Lake Victoria to Bethany Village and stayed there for a little bit longer than we had planned.

Bethany Village is a very unique ministry of Gaba Church.  It is a place where orphaned or homeless children live and go to school.  There are 198 children currently living in Bethany Village, and there are only 11 house mothers/parents for those children.  Most homes have between 10-15 children living in them.  The school is also open to the surrounding villages, and over 400 of those students attending the school are part of the ARM sponsorship program.  The vision of Bethany Village is to raise up the future leaders of Uganda by providing a Christian education, a home, and skills for these children.

Bethany Village is one of the most amazing places on the earth.  It makes me stop and question what I am doing to help raise the next generation of American leaders.  It stops me in my tracks when I look at the dedication these administrators and house mothers have to these children.

When we left Bethany, we were about an hour behind schedule, and our boat ride back across Lake Victoria hit a few snags when the engine stop working.  For a while there we thought we might have to paddle back to shore.

By the time we made it back to the house, it was too late to travel out to Buloba.  So, unfortunately I did not get to meet with the women.  I was a little upset about it, but I realized that God knows what is meant to happen, and maybe the most important thing was my willingness to share and be vulnerable.  And, I’m sure I will have the opportunity before I leave here.

Since we didn’t go to Buloba, we decided to walk up to the Loving Hearts Baby Home and play with the children.  The Loving Hearts Baby Home is a place for children up to 3 years old who are up for adoption or in the process of being adopted.  I didn’t get the chance to go there in October, so it was a nice treat to get to see it.  We played with the kids for hours, and I got to hold the most beautiful baby girl.  She was only 4 wks old and couldn’t have weighed more than six pounds.  It was great to just sit with an innocent child and simply love her.  It was the way the afternoon should have been.

Today, we spent the whole day in Buloba, since we missed being there yesterday afternoon.  We hung rain catches all day.  It was hot.  I was sweaty and a little sunburned, but, it was great.  We had many great conversations and experiences.  I love going to someone’s home and giving them something that not only will impact their physical life, but will be a constant reminder of God.

The Living Water is the one who not only provides drinking water but Living Water.

I think that is beautiful.

For the final TIA moment…On the way home from Buloba we stopped at this store in the  not far from the house because several people on the team wanted to buy machetes.  So there we are, a van full of white people, sitting on the side of a busy street with people and goats walking all around us.  And, at one point David and Eddie (or drivers and guides) were not even in the van.  Then, someone says “You know there is something suspicious about a van full of white people buying 20 machetes.”  The moment was priceless, and the scary thing was that it is true.

**I had planned to add pictures to this post, but the power is out, and my computer is about to die….so, the pictures will have to come later.

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I don’t know why I’m always amazed that God is always about 20 steps ahead of me.  I should expect it by now.

Yesterday our itinerary read something like this: eat breakfast, get adjusted to things, eat lunch, go to Buloba, return to Kampala, eat dinner, sleep.

My first trip pretty well adjusted me, but everyone else only got a few hours to adjust to this

Yesterday afternoon, we went to Buloba Community Church.  It was great to see so many familiar faces and be swarmed by kids.  We walked down to the old well, which I didn’t do on my last trip.  It was really interesting to see, and puts things into perspective when I turn on my faucet and water flows freely out of it.

On the way back to the church, I got to stop at Sylia’s house.  She has grown up so much, and she is such a beautiful girl, and I am so grateful to be a part of her life.

Then, Pastor Isaac showed me the schedule for the week, and I was scheduled to speak with the ladies at the church on Thursday.  I had no idea and was pretty taken off guard when he asked me what I had prepared.  So, I sat down with Mary who leads the women’s ministry, and we began to talk about what the women there at BCC struggle with.

First, she asked me to talk about parenting, but I let her know that probably wouldn’t be the best idea, since I’m not a parent.  Then, she turned to me and said that these women really struggle with anger and forgiveness, and it would be great if I could talk about that.  I could have fell off of my bench.

The subject of forgiveness has been coming up in my life consistently in different places for the past 4 years.  I struggle with forgiving people from my past for deep wounds that I still carry with me.  I have been working through the process of forgiveness in my own life for years and it is a day to day decision that never seems to end.  For someone who has a hard time forgiving, I know a lot about it.  It is the place in my life that is most vulnerable, and today I will be sharing that with these beautiful Ugandan women.

The idea of opening up about my struggle with forgiveness with these women honestly scared me to death, and God knows that.  He likes to stretch me and challenge me.  He always seems to put me in situations where He asks, “Amy, do you trust me?” And, I have to answer yes.

Going to Africa isn’t hard.  Sharing my story is hard.  Being transparent is hard.

Please pray for me today as I share my heart with these women.  Pray that God would break down our cultural barriers and speak truth into these women’s lives.  Pray that God would speak truth into my life through these women.

I’m not sure if today is day 1, 2, or 3 of our trip, but it is our first full day in Uganda. It always amazes me how traveling can completely mess up our sense of time and location.  Our trip was longer than normal because we had to make a little stop in Rwanda.  But, on the bright side, now I can say I’ve been to Rwanda (can I still say that even though I’ve only been on the tarmac?)

It was comforting to step out of the airport into the smells and sounds of Africa.  It was like coming home.  I have missed this place and the people here more than I realized.

This morning my eyes are tired, my legs are tired, and my mind is hazy, but, I am ready for the day.  I am excited about planting my feet on African soil.  I am excited about seeing my friends in Buloba and holding the hands of 20 little children at the same time.

I am exhausted, but I am expectant for what today has in store.

Tomorrow is a big day.  It’s the day I leave for Uganda, and it can’t seem to get here soon enough. I can’t wait to rest my eyes on this again.

I was talking to my aunt the other day and she commented that she was excited I was going to be with my people again.  I told her they are more than that…they are my family.

So, tomorrow I am going to see my family that I haven’t seen since October, and I can barely contain myself.

Monday is a big day for another reason, too.  It is July 11, 2011.  Monday is 10 years since my father died.  Somedays it seems like he was just here yesterday, and other days it feels like his memory is fading away from me.  With every year that passes and as our family moves further and further on, it gets harder to keep him alive in my life.  Beyond popular belief, time doesn’t heal wounds; it just makes it harder to remember what we’re missing.

I’m sure tomorrow will be a difficult day, but I can’t think of a better way to honor my father than being in Uganda.  I know he would be encouraging me to go.  I know he would be proud of me.  And, that makes missing him a little easier.

Please pray for us as we leave on Monday.  Pray for our safety as we travel.  Pray that we would fall in line with what God is already doing in Uganda.  Pray that we would honor God in all that we do.  Pray that lives would be changed for eternity.

Tomorrow is a big day, but it is just the beginning of many more big days to come…

So, today was our fourth day in Uganda, and it was absolutely amazing.  I am falling in love with this place.  Actually, I think I fell in love with Uganda before I even stepped off the plane.

I have heard so much about this place and the people here for so long, that actually being here is like returning to see old friends.  I feel like we picked up right where we left off, even though we have never really met.  I can’t really explain the connection with these people, but they are truly my brothers and sisters, and I love them deeply.

Today has been an amazing day, because it is the first day that we have really done work in Buloba.  We spent the entire day (except for the two hour torrential downpour) putting rainwater catches on houses.  We completed four houses, and while all the men worked, my job was to spend time talking with the families.   Becky, one of my team members, and I got to talk with the families, which actually turned out to be all women.  And, Betty, from the second home we worked on, actually became a Christian today!

It’s hard to put in a blog all the things we are doing and experiencing without giving a play by play, so for right now, let’s just say that this has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  I have been to many places and done many things, but I have never been to a place like Uganda or met people like the people here in Uganda.

All I know is that God is at work in here because God is at work in me here in Uganda.  Lives are being transformed, and one of those lives is mine.

Please continue to pray for us as we work alongside our partners and friends at Buloba Community Church to reach people and show them the love that Christ has given us.

Here’s some pictures from the trip so far…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking to the well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becky and I with Kevin (Pastor Isaac’s wife) and Betty after she accepted Christ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding on the boda boda headed to Bethany Village.

I’ve always wanted to be an adventurous person, but I have a problem…I don’t like change, and I have this fear of, well…failure.  Stepping out and doing something adventurous always requires change and always risks failure.

Yet, I always seem to find myself doing things that seem crazy.  This is what the last six months of my life have been….craziness.  But, in the midst of all of it, I have this peace that I am exactly where I need to be, even if it’s not where I want to be, or where I thought I would ever be at this point in my life.

Last month I was working two jobs.  One job that I was in the process of leaving, and another job that I was in the process of beginning.  The job I was leaving was my position as Youth Minister at Cornerstone.  When I started at Cornerstone two years ago, it was my dream job, and I never thought I would be leaving it so soon.  The job I was starting is my job at the hospital, a place I never thought I would work because I pretty much hate hospitals. But, I guess God had different plans than I did.

Proverbs 16:9 says “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

I clung to this verse while I was in seminary, and I find myself clinging to it now.

Things don’t make sense.  I try to plan, and God always changes those plans.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing to plan, but I do believe that God orders our steps, and He always knows what’s best.  I trust that…I have to trust that.  Because if I don’t, my fear of failing would cripple me.

But, worse than failing, I believe, is looking back at my life after 5 or 10 years and regretting.  I don’t want to regret sticking to my “plan” and not following God’s steps.

So, let’s just say that things are different.  I am in a place I never thought I would be.  It’s not fun, but it is an adventure.  It’s not forever, but it is a step that God has placed in front of me.  And, honestly, that’s all I can handle right now…one step at a time.

When I get stressed out I tend to make hypothetical plans… “What if I had a job making $X, then I could save $X and afford maybe one semester of school in $X if I start is the spring? or summer? or fall?…or if I move to X….or if I….”  The planning usually stresses me out more because it’s all in the realm of “what if’s.”  So, then I do one of two things: I completely shut down or I clean.  These days it’s been the later.

You might think that cleaning is a good thing, but really it’s not, because I tend to make a bigger mess than I had before.  But, at least it makes me feel better for a little while.

Sometimes I even get in these moods where I want to get rid of everything I haven’t touched in last six months…clothes, shoes, dvd’s, books, kitchen stuff, whatever…. I have been in one of those moods for the past few days.  I like to call it purging.  Cleaning out the old and bringing in the new.

I feel like for the past six months God has been doing this in my life.  He has been purging me of all the old thoughts and ideas I had about myself and bringing in a new understanding of who I am and what I am created to do.  It’s not fun.  It feels like He is taking a piece of me that I treasured and staked my identity in and throwing it in the bottom of a trash bag with a pair of my old shoes to give to the Salvation Army.  But, I know in the long run, it’s what is best for me, and I will be better because of it.

Last night I had a great conversation with my best friend, and we talked about how it’s a scary thing to be starting over.  We are both going through life changes, returning to school, and wondering if we will ever be married.  Now, we are in our late twenties and are nowhere near where we thought we would be at this age.  When we graduated from college, we had these high aspirations for life, and now we are finding ourselves back at the drawing board.

It seems like there’s this unspoken expectation that tells us we have to know who we are, have everything figured out, and have at least started to build our family and financial stability by this time in our life.  I don’t know if it’s something our parents passed down, or culture, or the church, or if it’s just my biological clock telling me I’m running behind, but it makes me feel like a failure.  I feel like I have missed the mark because I’m almost 30 and still trying to figure things out.

Starting over is scary.  I think at this stage of my life, I know too much to start over.  I am scared and unsure.  And, am finding myself a little less daring and willing to step out in faith, like I was when I was 18.  Life is different now.  I am different now.

But, I guess it all comes back to the fact that we never stop growing and changing.  I never really understood that until it happened to me.  I have outgrown the girl I was at 15, or 18, or 23, or even 25.  I am not her anymore, and I can’t go back to being her.  I am who I am now.

I feel like God is peeling away the layers I have masked myself in for the past 26 years and getting me down to my core, so I can live out of the core of myself.  He is growing me and changing me.  He is molding me and shaping me.

So, maybe, I’m not starting over.  Maybe I’m just starting new.

As a youth minister, I work alongside college students a lot, and some of them have become my closest friends.  It seems in our conversations lately a theme has arisen.  They feel trapped somewhere in between where they’ve been and where they want to be.  I think we’ve all felt this tug at some time in our lives.  Maybe you’re feeling that restlessness right now, knowing that God is calling you to something else, but also knowing you must stay right where you are until He tells you to move.  And, it is mighty difficult to seize the present when you are reaching for the future.

As much as I want to say that I find myself in that place right now, it’s not the case.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  I’m glad that I’m not where I’ve been and right now the future is down right overwhelming.  I am happy in my present, or at least I was.

Because three months ago, life was difficult (isn’t it always?), but life was also going great.  My job was stressful, but I loved what I was doing.  I was building great friendships, enjoying being a “grown-up,” and finally planting some roots.  But, while all of that was great, God was reminding me constantly that it wasn’t what He called me to.   He didn’t call me to build a stable and “happy” life for myself, He called me to follow Him.

Life was going great for me, just in the wrong direction.

So what do we do when life is going great, but it’s just going great in the wrong direction?

Over the past 3 months I have been bombarded by this question.  It has shaken me to my absolute core, and for a long time, the only answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

As I began to talk through this with some people in my life, I was confused and frustrated and at times angry.  But, then I began to realize that, if I were on a road trip and found myself going in the wrong direction, I would turn around and go back to the last place I knew was right.  So, that’s what I did.  I went back to the last direction God gave me.

I remember it so clearly.  I was sitting in the back of the chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 2008, listening to Francis Chan speak.  Francis is an amazing speaker, but I don’t remember a single word he said that night.  All I remember is God speaking inside my soul, awakening me to this calling to work with teenagers who had been abused.

In that moment, I didn’t really know what that looked like.  I thought God was calling me to start my own ministry (aka speaking, writing books, etc).  In the weeks that followed God confirmed over and over that He was calling me to this, and my ministry began to explode at the church where I was serving.

A few months later, I graduated from seminary and returned to my home town, to begin the job search and embark on my ministry calling.  But, in the craziness of my job search, I pushed aside my passion.  In that time I fought with God…a lot and questioned His faithfulness to me.  I felt like He had brought me out into the wilderness and left me to die.  I began to understand how Israel felt after they had be rescued from Egypt, witnessing God’s amazing power and provision, only to be brought out into the desert without food or water.

Then, in His perfect timing, He led me to Cornerstone and blessed me with, not just a job, but a family.

The past 18 months that I have been on staff at Cornerstone have been some of the hardest and most joyous days of my life.  I love the staff team here and my heart is rooted here in Cornerstone’s mission and vision for this community and the world.  I can’t imagine a better body of believers to be a part of.

So, this question of direction has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to face.  It has cut straight to the core of who I thought I was, revealing who I really am.  Because, as much as I love being on staff here at Cornerstone, my calling is not to be a youth minister. (For more details on that check out this blog)

I know that God led me to Cornerstone and has allowed me to be a part of this family, not only for these students and this ministry, but also to refine me.  I have grown to have a deeper understanding of who I am, my gifts, talents and passions, and, in understanding that I believe God is calling me into professional counseling.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s when we make a wrong turn that we find the greatest treasures.  Maybe it’s the detours in our life that God uses to show us Himself in ways we never would have seen before.  Maybe it’s how He gives us the opportunity to experience beauty we wouldn’t have if He had led us on a straight path.

Like He did with Israel.

God could have easily led them into the desert on dry land, but instead chose to lead them through the Red Sea.  He could have led them straight across the desert to Canaan, but instead let them wander around for 40 years before He led them into His promise.  He could have just teleported them straight into the Promised Land (come on He is God) and totally bypasses all the suffering and death.

But, He didn’t.

God could have made their journey easy, but then they never would have seen God’s power as He parted not only an entire sea, but a river, too.  They never would have experienced God’s continual presence leading them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.  They never would have experienced His unending care and provision through manna, water from a rock, and quail.  They never would have experienced His justice through the Law.  They never would have come to know His abundant love and forgiveness over them in such a real way.

So, as my journey moves me on to the next step, I’m learning to embrace the twists and turns God has in my path.  They are leading me to know Him.  They are drawing me closer and closer to His heart.  And, even though it’s scary, because each turn holds a new set of unknowns, I’m growing to I prefer it over the easy way.  After all, what joy is there in the destination if I can’t celebrate the journey.

Okay, so when I do book reviews I usually publish the  on my bookshelf, but this book has messed me up enough to get its own blog post.

Plan B by Pete Wilson raises the question we have all asked, and if we haven’t asked it we will soon, “What do you do when God doesn’t show up the way you thought He would?” or as it says in the the book, “Why God?”

I have kept a journal since I was in the 8th grade, and I have this habit of looking back every once in a while to where I was a year ago.  It seems like each time I do this I always think, “I never thought I would be where I am now a year ago.”  It never fails.  I am always living in a Plan B situation.  But, this book made me realize that even when I find myself in what I think is “Plan B” maybe it’s exactly where God wants me to be.  Maybe it’s God’s “Plan A” for my life.

You see I have been in Plan B situations: my father died when I was 17; when all I wanted to do was do missions, God called me to seminary; when I graduated from seminary, God called me to go home….and wait in darkness for what seemed like an eternity; I am still single at 26 while my desire for marriage and family grows deeper every day; and now I find myself facing another “Plan B” situation as I try to follow God’s leading in my life.

Wilson writes, “So many people miss out on this designed life because we make an unconscious vow that we will only trust ourselves and the things we think we can control.”

This is so true!  And, I am the guiltiest of all.  I have such a need to be in control, that it is hard for me to trust God, even when He is doing his best work.

Form me, the hardest part of being in a Plan B situation is believing that God is still with me and that I am not a failure.  I can’t even count all the times I have sat in my bed crying because I felt like God had totally abandoned me (one of those times was just a few days ago) and that I was a complete fool for trusting Him in the first place.  But, I believe if we (if I) could truly grasp that God is always with us and that He loves us unconditionally, then we (I) could trust God even in the darkest moments our our Plan B’s.

Wilson addresses this so beautifully in his book, “Just because God calls you to some venture, that does not guarantee the venture will succeed.  Just because life doesn’t turn out the way you thought, that doesn’t mean you missed God’s will….God’s will: it’s as much about the person we’re becoming as it is about where we’re going.”

So many times I completely overlook the process God has me in of “becoming” and focus on the product.  God is more interested in my becoming than my doing.

I know this is true, and yet when the darkness of my failed dreams sucks me in I completely forget it.  God has brought me through SO MUCH pain, grief, uncertainty, fear, hopelessness, and yet when I find my life flipped upside down the first thing I do is get angry at God.  I get angry because I think He owes me something.  I get angry because I am afraid and my gut reaction isn’t to trust Him to protect me.

But, what if God is doing His best work through my fear?  What if God is revealing His love for me by, as Wilson says, stripping me of anything that keeps me from him?

Now that’s a game changer.

But, I struggle, as we all do, with giving up my dreams and being willing to let go of what I want for my life.  Wilson writes, “We must be willing, if necessary, to abandon the life we’ve planned and dreamed of in order to receive the life that our God has authored for us.” Plan B situations will always challenge our willingness to give up our dreams to God.

It’s hard for me even to describe how this book has been like refreshing waters to my soul over this past week.  God has reminded me of who He is and that even when things seem crazy and cloudy and scary, He is in control and is doing great work in me.  If you find yourself in one of those “I never thought I would be here” moments, I suggest that you get Plan B and read it.  It has some very thought provoking questions in the back that will also help as you dig a little deeper into the character of God and what He has for you in your Plan B situation.

I’m not going to act like I have this all figured out.  I actually have a feeling that I haven’t even experienced all the Plan B’s God has in store for me.  Even now, I find myself in the midst of an “I never thought I would be here situation.” I am confused and scared, but, I want to trust God.  And, I do believe that He is working something inside me that I cannot even comprehend.

It has taken me a long time to get here, and I may change my tune tomorrow, but in this moment, my prayer is that I would not settle for safety and shortcuts, that I would not be satisfied living an unfulfilled life, and that in the waiting and in the darkness I would trust God in the process of transformation He is working in my heart.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to succeed.  I asked myself the question, “What does it look like for Amy Coxwell to be a success?”  Because, honestly, I can’t say that I’ve ever really felt like a success in my life.

So, is success what the world says: wealth, power, notoriety, a hot husband/wife, position, possessions, fame, comfort, a vacation home, a Land Rover, and iPad, a private jet…?

Or, is success what the church says: high church attendance, safety, kids with good grades and draw pretty pictures in Sunday School, a nice house, a healthy marriage, the ability to tithe more than 10%, going on mission trips to Africa, reading your Bible every morning, having God’s “blessing”…?

Or is it neither?

In thinking about success, I go to Jesus (since He is our model after all), and I can’t help but look at his life on earth and wonder if people thought he was a success.  Even after the resurrection, the world was not looking at him saying, “Now that’s a guy who had it made.  I want to be like him!”  No, they mocked him and killed those who followed him.

Jesus’ life was anything but glamorous.

Matthew 8:19-20 says,

Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

The Son of God didn’t even have a place to sleep.  That doesn’t sound very successful to me…not even by church standards.

But, I am not pointing a finger at anyone but myself.  I am guilty.  I am guilty of wanting glamor in my life.  I am guilty of wanting to be known. I am guilty of desiring to be successful.

But what if success doesn’t look the way I think it does?  What if God’s “blessing” on our life is not the American dream?

What if success isn’t having a great apartment, a perfect husband, a high-paying job, my name in print, a happy family, a nice car….?  What if success is the exact opposite?

What if success is emptiness?  Loneliness?  Poverty?  Brokenness?  Suffering?  Invisibility?

Not having a great place to live, but having no place to lay my head.

Not being safe, but moving in the face of fear and risking it all.

Not having a perfect family, but leaving family behind.

Not having great wealth, but giving everything away.

Not comfort, but sacrifice.

What if success is chasing after Christ and nothing else?  What if success means living out of my gifts and talents, being what only I can be, no matter the cost?

That success is terrifying.