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When winds turn turbulent the One who calms storms is still Lord! Wave after wave buffeted the hull of Noah’s ark, yet all mankind still descends from his sons. Joseph, though tormented in dungeons, still brought to bear his ministry of deliverance for Israel. Persecuted and scattered, Christ’s own disciples wondered if they’d come so far for nothing, yet they sit as fathers of the Church. “In his heart a man plots his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV 1984). Special waypoints confirm themselves, but the steps in between call for faith in the One who set the stars.

When winds turn turbulent the One who calms storms is still Lord!

In July, I reported a miracle of God’s providence when He landed me an unimaginable job ("Nurse Todd takes a Job"). The Lord planted me in an intensive care unit when I had never dreamed of asking for such a distinction. Since then, I have toiled, wrestled, grieved, and strived, only to find myself involuntarily moved to another assignment less demanding. I grieve the loss of the work family I developed in the ICU, and the blow to my pride since I can no longer say, “I am an ICU nurse.” I would be remiss, however, to think that such was never His will. Any one of the patients I’ve served, the families I’ve comforted, the coworkers I’ve encouraged, the complex health issues I’ve studied, the severe situations I’ve experienced, or even this recent lesson in humility I’ve been dealt could be reason enough for me to have been brought through this season.

I can no longer say, “I am an ICU nurse.”

I well remember that a missionary is not called to do what is easy, but what is necessary. That very notion has helped me to make a decision about where to plant my next footfall. Given the option of a sparklingly attractive job in predictable, routine orthopedics or a more clinically demanding medical-surgical unit, I have opted for the latter and have already joined the ranks of my new work family. They seem to be happy to receive me and, only two days in, I’ve already had an opportunity to make an impact on patients and coworkers alike.

a missionary is not called to do what is easy, but what is necessary

I am learning that the key to living through loss with grace is gratitude. I am grateful for the knowledge that God is sovereign over my circumstances and has a plan for me. I am grateful that my end destination is not God’s only plan, but that every stepping stone en route is no less carefully designed and appointed. I am grateful for relationships built, experiences had, and ministry opportunities capitalized. Today, I honestly thanked God for the lesson in humility represented by my reassignment. I don’t need to know what lies ahead to trust the Navigator.

the key to living through loss with grace is gratitude

Whether you are experiencing turmoil in your life or not, I hope you will remember that the Master of the waves and wind is also the Architect of your soul, sinews, and senses, and He will plant your every step if you surrender your course to His will. That said, I cannot overstate the value of faithful encouragement. The words of my friends through this have really propped me up when I needed it. My hope is that every child of Christ has a family of encouragement to prop them up. The entire purpose of the Church is to glorify God by caring for one another in the manner Christ taught us.

the Master of the waves and wind is also the Architect of your soul, sinews, and senses

Where the Lord guides the Lord provides. The battles to which He brings us are His to win, while the orders of a spiritual warrior are to “pray without ceasing,” “be still and know,” and “after all, to stand.” When those battles have to do with health, we are further instructed:
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14, NIV)

It is in response to these orders that I write this update, which may err on the side of overshare since my recent prayer concerns are of a physical nature. You may remember I alluded to some of this in September's post.

For the last couple years I have endured minor pain and stiffness in my back, but dismissed it as merely part of nearing fifty. It turns out that aging is not supposed to hurt and pain really is an alarm for something amiss. After many sessions with my doctors and an MRI machine, it has been revealed that I have a lower spine issue that requires intervention. I have had two lumbar epidural steroid injections and have been going to physical therapy in hopes that surgical spinal fusion can be avoided. At the same time, another pain symptom in my groin, which green-flagged my start to the doctor after all this ignored pain, has proven to be an inguinal hernia, for which I have been referred to a surgeon. Each of these issues has brought warnings not to lift heavy objects, difficult orders to obey when one is a new nurse on an intensive care unit.

A good military commander will not attack merely one front, but will overwhelm an enemy with flanking maneuvers from all sides possible, and Satan is a crafty destroyer. So it is with my family recently. My physical concerns come at a time when I am also under the pressure of an extended orientation at work. Having failed to achieve satisfactory progress in critical decision-making necessary to remain in the ICU, I risk being reassigned to another new unit where I may have to learn everything anew. On other fronts, someone very dear to me faces the news of a cancer diagnosis, my parents are addressing their own health problems, and so on and etcetera.

I am reminded that the Lord has crafted His handiwork, and the maintenance of our bodies is a shared stewardship. While I should care for His temple with the diligence of one loaned an antique car, I also have to remember that He is the Chief Mechanic and Great Physician. We are called to pray for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, because the will of God is not the rule on this dirt world. God gave authority over this world to Adam, and man has been running the way of sin, decay, and death ever since. The Son of God and Son of Adam, Yeshua (Jesus), was born to combine the power of Heaven with the authority of Earth, and we as heirs were given permission to wield that powerful authority with prayer. It is precisely this miraculous combination that we celebrate at Christmas and, as Christians, every day in prayer. Thank you for fortifying my position with your prayers. My hope is for full remission after my loved one's treatments are complete, that I may be spared spinal surgery, and that a hernia repair will not interfere with my new job.

I am an ICU nurse by the will and design of God - the Lord of Heaven’s armies, and He will resource my development. For where the Lord guides, He provides!

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I am a member of a spiritual accountability group which taught me a particular prayer I say often, but never so fervently as I now cling to the line of it that goes:

“Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life.” *

I recognize a bit of bargaining in that petition, but I like to remember that God’s purposes are always fulfilled (Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 14:24, 46:10), and His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). So, rather than bargaining, I am attaching my troubles to the obstacles of God’s purpose to ensure they are removed. It is that divine bulldozing I am seeking especially now.

As a missionary in training, I recognize that my outcomes are particularly attached to God’s purposes. I acknowledge that my future is not mine, but God’s, and that He has not set me on a course of failure and destruction, but of vitality and grace. As a pitcher is filled not to remain on a shelf but to be poured out into other vessels, I am not equipped for my own edification but for the building up of the Church and its parts.

I am not yet ready to publish my particular concern, but I do covet your prayer support. Please pray that by His Word, God guides, comforts, and heals.

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“In his heart a man plans his course,” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV 1984) says, “but the Lord determines his steps,” and that could never be more true. Mix in a little Psalm 37:4, and you figure out quickly that it could only have been the Lord, my delight, who granted me the desires of my heart the way He just did. My previous post mentioned a job offer from my “first choice hospital,” even after it appeared it was no longer an option. Since then I have officially accepted that job offer, completed my pre-employment screening, have received my parking decal, and am now awaiting the first day of work, July 17th. I will begin with a two-week orientation, then rotate to my night shift on the intensive care unit which will apparently be my home for the next few years.

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NASB)

Let me draw a more accurate picture of what I have just been given. In every sphere of existence there is an untouchable get, the carrot just out of reach. In the crib it’s the pretty toys dangling from the mobile above. In school it may have been that star cheerleader no one dared approach. In the workplace maybe it’s a job assignment or corner office with a view. That’s what this nursing job is! If it had been on a checklist of wants I wouldn’t even have wasted a checkmark on it, knowing full well the competition for it would be far too fierce. On one hand there are jobs a rookie gets and on the other there are jobs to which a rookie can only hope to aspire. This job is in the fist of the wishful thinker. Yet here it is. Throughout nursing school I’ve tried to imagine the most experience-intense workplace to build my skills for disaster and missionary nursing and, in my limited perspective, focused on emergency department (ED) practice. God’s plans are better than my plans and His ways are higher than mine (paraphrase of Isaiah 55:8). A medical/surgical intensive care unit (MSICU) will be more critical, varied, and care-focused than anything I could have dreamed up. You just can’t ask for presents this big!

God’s plans are better than my plans and His ways are higher than mine.

I wanted to share a couple details about the events that led up to this job, just to set it on record. There are sister hospitals in town, one a children’s hospital and the other adult. When I applied online for a job with them, there were checkboxes within the application to select which facility would receive it. I checked both and confirmed in another interactive query that I wanted my application to count toward both hospitals. I waited as patiently as I could for someone to contact me. As time went by and friends began posting online about their new jobs, I started to notice the wind and the waves around me, like I had stepped out of the boat onto the water, but was beginning to sink. About that time, I met a woman who has worked as a nurse recruiter for another organization. She recommended that I squeak as loud and annoyingly as I can to get the job I want. She said the polite applicants stay unemployed. So I got off my manners and sent a quick email to my recruiter, who explained that the children’s hospital only hired bachelor degreed graduate nurses for this cohort, and encouraged me to try again in three months. I pointed out that my application was to both hospitals and asked her to ensure it had been sent to the adult hospital. After checking, she told me it had not, and again recommended I try again in three months but placated me with a concession that she would put me on a waiting list. I hung up devastated. I began flirting with Hagar instead of believing in the promise (Genesis 16), and I sought employment out of town. I had a promising interview that would require either partial separation from my bride or more than an hour commute. Less than ideal, but compromise always is.

Then one day as I was expecting a call from the out of town job, the call from my in-town first choice hospital came in. If I wasn’t opposed to night shift and wouldn’t mind an adult MSICU, then I was welcome to interview for it. I am no stranger to night shifts, having worked it by choice for eight years of my police career. This was the chance of a lifetime, and no way was I going to miss it!

When I arrived for my interview, I met the unit nursing supervisor. She was pleasant, and it was a struggle to remain on a professional first-impression edge even though I was sporting a brand new business suit, because meeting her was like talking to a friend, which we did for more than a half hour. She then introduced me to a team of staff nurses from the unit, my future nurse siblings. They interviewed me for awhile, but seemed more uncomfortable asking some of the rote questions on their forms than answering them was for me. Since each inquiry required professional anecdotes, I was forced to answer with police stories, which this team seemed to enjoy. Our meeting was interrupted by a call indicating the nursing director of the facility was waiting to see me, so off I was whisked.

While I waited in the director's outer office, I amused myself looking at the historical photographs of the hospital and its employees, and began to expect an encounter with someone more like the pictures — old. To my surprise, I was greeted by a lovely woman who appeared younger than I. (That seems more common the longer I live, a side-effect of aging I suppose.) She introduced herself and led me to a conference room, where she told me of her passion and care for the units in her facility and particularly the MSICU. Like a protective mother hen, she seemed unsure whether she could trust this dog at the door of the nesting house. As the interview proceeded, she warmed up and I could tell her anxious alert was appeased. At one point she described how nurses seldom leave the MSICU for displeasure but usually for better paying jobs. I leaned over the table like a salesman laying down a pitch. “I’ve got a police pension keeping the lights on at home, so if you hire me I promise I’ll never leave just for a better paying job.”

“Then you're hired!” came with a burst of just enough surprised laughter that I knew she would have to conclude other interviews and make a real decision before any such words were official. Still, the next business day, I was contacted by the recruiter who told me she was under orders not to let me get away but to call me first thing in the morning. Many procedural steps later, I am employed, though my start date is July 17th, my daughter’s birthday, memorable now for another great reason.

At the risk of sounding like a numerologist, did you notice how many sevens there are in 71717, my start date? At any rate, I like to imagine God’s signature on His blessings. I’d rather see Him than not. Wouldn’t you? He’s definitely been in the details of this tapestry! I'm counting on Him directing every one of my steps though this ministry too. 

Thanks for the prayer support. Please keep it up. God is building something good, and He's allowing Cindy and me to be a part of it.

Copyright © 2015 HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

I confess I am much like the Israelites delivered from Egyptian slavery. A few days in the wilderness with Moses, and they seemed to forget the mountains of water between which they walked across the Red Sea on dry land, and instead began whining about where their next meal might come from. Here I am, a new graduate from nursing school, draped in honor cords, after repeatedly begging for deliverance from what seemed like countless narrow brushes with disastrous failure. My feet are dry and the fish are watching my onward march from the confines of their heaping habitat. No sooner have I heard the crashing of the waves behind me before I’ve turned my eyes to peer past the pillar of fire and smoke to what lies ahead.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced... (1 Chronicles 16:12, NIV)

How will I pass the nursing boards? Where will I work? Who will hire a middle-aged man when there are so many young kids graduating with me? Why did my first-choice hospital pass me over? Why haven’t I heard back from the other recruiters? How did s/he land a job ahead of me?

What is this manna? Did you lead us out here to die? When will we get some meat? Surely we were better off as Egypt’s slaves than being stuck in this wilderness!

“…remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability…” (Deuteronomy 8:18a, NIV)

As it turns out, God is already doing new and wonderful things. Allow me to share a miraculous demonstration of His undeserved goodness:

I was invited to apply for a nursing job about which I was eager but mysteriously uneasy. It seemed perfectly tailored to me with elements of corrections, addiction, and youth all rolled into a low-stress environment which was even conducive to continuing education. It tempted me with its apparent answer to my ongoing question: “Why would God make a nurse out of a retired police officer?” The drawbacks were that it would not give me much clinical nursing experience and it seemed like a step back toward law enforcement rather than forward into nursing. I prayed with friends at church about it, that God would make the right decision obvious, and that a clear “Gideon’s fleece” would be if the nurse I would be replacing decided not to submit his notice as anticipated. The next day, I woke up horribly dizzy (a condition that passed in about 6 hours and was likely related to a recent sinus surgery). When I contacted my friend to postpone our meeting about the job, she informed me that there was no rush to meet because the nurse I would be replacing decided not to submit his notice as anticipated. Soaked fleece identified! The job is not for me. Out of respect for my friend and her invitation, I proceeded a few days later to meet at the rehabilitation facility where she affirmed in several ways that, while this was a good paying job and a wonderful ministry, it was not a place to build the experiential nursing skills I will need to be a productive missionary nurse.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

(Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

The very next day, at precisely 3:06pm, my friend and pastor sent me a text inquiring about my health. I shared with him the details of my progress and the soaked fleece story. He responded prayerfully, “Ok God, send Todd the next test on your agenda.”

At 3:24, only eighteen minutes later, I received a call from a recruiter who represents my first-choice hospital, one I had been informed had passed me over. She informed me that, if I was still interested and not turned off by the prospect of night shift, she had a spot open for me. We scheduled an interview for later this week, and I am over the moon with excitement about the prospect. Other options continue to become available, and I am reminded that, whether I get the whole picture of the destination on the horizon or am blinded by the blazing cloud in front of me, the One in the pillar is directing my steps and I have nothing to fear.

I do believe, Lord Jesus! Help me overcome my unbelief. *

"And if I could tell you all, you would see how God has done all, and I nothing.”  - Florence Nightingale

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. …How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.” Judges 2:10, 17b NLT

I am ashamed to confess that my faith is like multiple generations of the Israelites who, even after deliverance from Egyptian slavery, began to doubt that God would do the next good thing. Just like those who walked across the Red Sea on dry land, I have come out of a bondage and through terrors all my own, only to stand in my current wilderness wondering what's next. I have no doubt that He can do a new, good thing or that He is sovereign over my every circumstance and condition, but I still find myself doubting that I would be the recipient of any more of His wonders. I know it is the religious prejudice in me that judges myself as unworthy of God's delight, but it is a profoundly deafening voice. I need to constantly recall that, through Jesus Christ, God's answer to me is not "If, then," "either, or," or even "maybe," but "yes and amen!"

The storm of nursing school has swirled to a single funneling cloud and it looms over this week, slurping up hope and spitting out turbulence that obscures my vision of deliverance. I remember Peter, who began to sink when he "saw the wind and waves" (Matthew 14:30), and I'm trying to keep my eyes on the Savior rather than my carnal condition, but the stinging surf laps at my ankles and the blistering winds blast my face. 

Plotting a course through my obstacles feels like naming the winds and waves I see, but trusting God to get me past them requires I let go of my illusion of control and perfection concerning them. It also counts as prayer requests when I meter and chart them for you my prayer supporter. So know that this week is a torrential beast. On Tuesday I see a dermatologist to have several precancerous (actinic keratosis) lesions removed from my face. On Wednesday I take our unit exam. Then Thursday I will sit for the standardized nursing school exit (Hesi) exam, which determines whether I graduate and am eligible to sit for the national licensure (NCLEX) exam in about four weeks. Following that, we have our final exam next Wednesday, and the celebratory proceedings including the nurses' pinning ceremony on May 8th and college commencement on the 11th. 

...through Jesus Christ, God's answer to me is not "If, then," "either, or," or even "maybe," but "yes and amen!"

I am surrounded by classmates, some of whom face this week without the advantage of knowing a Savior who has their future in His hands, some who do, and others like me who do but have a hard time keeping Him in view amid the thick, dark, cloudy demands of nursing school. I pray for them faithfully, even when I am too overwhelmed to pray for myself. I do so hope to encourage and inspire them rather than capsize anyone's already unsteady vessel!

This spiritual swamping is why I need friends like you on stable footing to throw out lifelines and prayer from dry land. I covet your intercession and thank you for your support. God bless you as you read, as you pray, and as you go into your own mission field of life, spilling out grace that overflows.

Cindy and I sort of have an agreement that we will not spend our household budget on inflated gifts and flowers for Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put something celebratory in her online profile.

A social media caption I wrote this morning, which grossly understated her contribution, read:

“There’s nothing quite like a girl who's willing to put up with late night shifts, extended hours, insecurity regarding hubby's safety, taking care of things at home, and habitual control issues that can wear and tear on any relationship. My valentine is a champion! "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. ...Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." (Proverbs 31:10-11, 29, NIV) Happy Valentine's Day, Cindy Lemmon!”

Her husband has full confidence in her......

Cindy’s had anything but a happy way of it lately. Our precious furry friend, Duke, took ill a couple months ago and we finally had to put him down.  In his last days, Cindy broke her shoulder heroically cradling Duke instead of catching herself in a fall.  She’s been nursing her gimpy fin ever since, dealing with intense pain and all the inconveniences of not being able to flap both wings, but she’s done it with a smile. As if pain and grief weren’t enough of a duo, they teamed up to form a villainous alliance with unmet deadlines at work, an upper respiratory infection, and the typical specks of irritation in any home or relationship that make everything chafe when rubbed together.

Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. 

I’ve been so overwhelmed with Nursing School and whether I’m making a passing grade on any given day that I have failed to recognize what the lady beside me is pulling off. An honest inventory of the foes she’s fighting would include: my mid-life career change, being a Nursing School wife (every bit as demanding as police-wife), seemingly endless missionary preparations with ambiguous ministry launch plans and dates, plus all the stuff that goes in between like medical evaluations, surgery prospects, emptying nest, outstanding debt, and more. The truth is life is tough. But when the ones who live it give it what they’ve got and come out shining like my wife does, that’s a sparkling example of God’s refining fire at work.

I have failed to recognize what the lady beside me is pulling off. 

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33, NIV

Thank you for praying for my Valentine! She’s got her hands full and I’m not always the most attentive sidekick.

God has been correcting my attitude of trepidation that keeps His joy from being complete in me and limits my effect on others while I trudge through Nursing School. Since the last of four terms in the Associate Degree program starts tomorrow, it is a good time to address this.

I have addressed many in crisis, often in the wake of trauma, and one of the pearls I share in such times is that trauma, whether physical or emotional, causes the human body and mind to focus on self as a preservation mechanism. We need to expect it, address it, let it do its job of preserving our lives, then overcome it so interpersonal relationships aren’t overwhelmed and capsized by the experience. An example of this is the warrior shot in battle who loses peripheral sensation, manual dexterity, complex reasoning, and many other functions as the body focuses all its resources on the wound and survival from it. An emotional example is the grief shared by a family when a central member is lost. While each party recoils from the bereavement, their interpersonal sensitivity and capacity for consideration is shunted in a preserving mechanism of self-interest. Even as blood flow is redirected from extremities to a bullet wound, thought energy is redirected at surviving emotional wounds. Any who attempt to settle a relative’s estate while empathy is in such an impaired condition soon witness the self-serving effects of this biophysical reaction as an attitude of “every man for himself” prevails in such proceedings, often destroying family relationships.

Even as blood flow is redirected from extremities to a bullet wound, thought energy is redirected at surviving emotional wounds.

I am discovering it is similar for those in the tumultuous realm of Nursing School, where fear of failure makes every experience one of perceived trauma. It is something like teetering on a high balance beam when you’ve stumbled once already. Every muscle quakes with the trembling awareness that another slip may send you crashing. Every communique from the faculty seems to impale a student’s spirit with the same advice: “Try not to worry, but if you screw this up you’re out!” It is about as helpful as the dubious advice, “Don’t look down!” to one scraping for their lives on a rock face. I’m tired of looking down and worrying about what happens if the unknown ahead of me is unfavorable. The immutable truth is that God will still be on His throne, and I will still be His no matter what happens. So what is there to worry about? Nothing! (Someone please remind me this in twenty minutes.) God is fashioning me into a nurse. It is not an overnight process. He might be done in four terms and He might take longer. Either way, I will be answering His call to “become a nurse” so I’m fulfilling my part. The rest is to be diligent and live out my calling as a missionary while I’m at it, rather than waiting for some far off day when I am somehow magically transfigured into something I haven’t been.

To grow into tomorrow’s version of me, I have to be today’s best version. That may mean letting go of a lot of yesterdays worth of dysfunctional living, but it most certainly means letting God do the whittling and plastering instead of insisting that I get to be art, artist, and architect. His ways and thoughts are not my ways and thoughts, and neither is His timing mine. That’s the tough part of servanthood: doing what the Master says instead of what I want; letting the results be His design and not mine; allowing Him to fret over the details instead of me. I don’t have a dog in this hunt; I am the dog in this hunt!

One of the ways I plan to accomplish this revolution of attitude is a new way of thinking. When I start my morning reading Scripture and praying, it is easy to get stuck in the “such a worm as I” soundtrack that so often accompanies repentance (especially when reading Old Testament Scripture). God is showing me that I have no business remaining on the floor of repentance once it has done its work. He longs to lift me into His lap if I will but stand in His grace and allow Him access to lift me. Still, we worms have great difficulty standing with no feet to stand on. That is why I plan to limit my morbid reflection to that which is necessary to lead me to Holy Papa’s throne of repentance then, without delay, move into a receptive attitude to receive His grace, declare my royal priesthood, and don His heavenly character with the authority and confidence of one purchased at high price.

It is easy to get stuck in the “such a worm as I” soundtrack that so often accompanies repentance...

This morning, I invited my bride to join me in such a celebration as we took the Lord’s Supper together. The sacraments do have significant power to change spirit, emotion, and attitude! Even as the elements were blessed, those words of affirmation began to have effect.
Furthermore, I was reminded that, since we will be called to account for every idle word, I need to be more careful of the words I say, the thoughts I think, and the postures I assume. Each has a bearing on my faith, and I refuse to be hung by the tongue.

I am. I can. I have. I will!

  • I am a child of God, dearly loved, highly prized, and purchased at great price; a warrior, prince, and priest by Jesus’ declaration and Holy Spirit power.
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can say to that mountain, “Be moved,” and watch it march into the sea.
  • I have the dominion of Adam, the blood of Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the favor of Holy Father who supplies my every need.
  • I will seek God’s will for me and follow it with all I am, have, and do. I will cease to give evil a foothold in my life by doubting, worrying, or fearing those things over which I know God is already sovereign.

I am. I can. I have. I will!

What about you?

It's hard to imagine almost a whole month off, but here I am at the end of the third of four terms of Associate Degree Nursing School, with no classes until January 2nd of next year.

This has been a monster week for me, and I must confess the disturbance has not fully given way to sabbatical just yet with final exam grades yet to be posted and some health issues being investigated today. There was little doubt that I would pass my class going into the final exam since, according to my obsessive calculations, I only need a 46% on that test to achieve a passing overall grade (76% gets me a B, and an A is not possible since it would require 111%). Grades are expected to post some time this week.

Just one week ago, I was on an ego roller coaster, receiving word that I had been accepted into the honor society for associate degree nursing students just before the news that I had failed a previous exam. A dear friend stunned me when she responded to my report with a commendation. Here is the exchange:

Me: I failed (the exam) but God owns the outcomes.

Friend: Yes he does. His ways are so interesting. I'm so happy that your outlook has changed. It was painful to see you flog yourself after a perceived fail. Thank-you for letting me see another miracle today. I love you brother.

I often hear it said that one can make a mistake without claiming they are a mistake. Apparently God is bringing about a transformation in me significant enough to align me with the grace in that statement. I have exercised application of that principle to "mistakes," but the word "failure" resists adherence to the same rule. I am slowly coming to recognize that I can fail a test, whether written or lived, without being a failure. Nursing school is certainly teaching me that, since I have failed several written exams over the course of this venture, and still God has managed the outcomes so that I was inducted Monday into the Alpha Delta Nu Honor Society. Miraculously, even the failure of a week ago was turned around after a faculty review of the exam.

Somehow, the obsessive perfectionist in me refuses to die, and yet I can say with ultimate certainty that there is no such thing as a satisfied perfectionist. Einstein's definition of insanity feels far too fitting: "doing the same thing over again and expecting different results." Furthermore, if I insist on condemning myself even while my Heavenly Father extends me grace, then the wrong one of us is in the Judge's chair. I was reminded this week that, no matter how often I dethrone and place myself at God's feet, the Good Father is never content to leave me there, but gently lifts me up onto His lap and celebrates my sonship which I did not earn, but which He bought at great price. The ultimate irony is that in relationship with Heavenly Papa, I am elevated higher and more securely than I could ever be sitting alone on a throne meant for the Master of the universe.

ADN Induction with term 3 professor, Dr. Sandra Taylor
Last day of Term 3 clinical with Professor Chelsa Fore
My precious bride, Cindy, came to celebrate the occasion of my ADN induction.
My dear friend and sister from another mister, Sarah
My dear friend and classmate from prior terms, Emily
Eryn and Kelly, my clinical and study partners. They keep me young, along with Ashley (not pictured).
Eryn is my clinical partner, study buddy, and closest friend in class. This term wouldn't have been what it was without a friend like her.

oldpenny-tailsIt was a filthy penny, scarred from wear, and blackened from who knows what, but my friend was inexplicably exuberant about finding it on our way from class through the parking lot. It wasn’t even facing heads up, but she grabbed it with excitement, then quickly found another about which she was no less overjoyed. Without owning that little penny for more than a moment, she handed it to me. Charmed by the luck she believed it represented, which I would never protest out loud, she gave me part of what she found. I was dumbstruck. As I held that crappy old coin in my hand on the way home, I puzzled over my classmate’s reaction to what I and many others might have ignored as insignificant. It would take at least two dozen of them to buy even a stick of gum anymore. Still, she found value in it.

 

How selfish and myopic is my sense of value! That little penny reminded me that the way I see things is not the only perspective. My estimate is not the authoritative value. This is undeniably most evident in my self evaluation. The Deceiver slithers around my ego and puts on the squeeze several times a day, and the chronic visitation has taken an erosive effect over the years. “Inadequate!” and “Unacceptable!” have taken various forms through the decades, but today it was “tarnished,” “blackened,” and, “scarred.” The effervescent cheer displayed by my friend told me I was wrong about the penny, and I might just be wrong about many other things as well. After all, God found me worth dying for, and His appraisal authority is beyond question. Why then, do I waste so much energy punishing those close to me for loving me?

God found me worth dying for...

For several months, I’ve been growing through some observations, not the least of which is this. I recognized I live with an angry undercurrent that expresses itself as a nearly perpetual state of discontent bordering on unrest. When agitated, this fragile substrate bubbles over with bitterness from an unidentified source until it pours its caustic toxin onto those around me in the form of wrath. I’ve looked back over the past forty-eight years and recognized that I’ve kept most of my relationships conveniently shallow, guarding my noxious core from exposure by isolation and distance. Those nearest to me know it doesn’t work at close range. Any scratch of the surface during times of pressure and the hissing fissure becomes a geyser of boiling rage. I remember being prompted by our marriage counselor years ago to discover the cause of all that anger, and being more than a little disappointed that he didn’t reveal what it was. I guess, in his wisdom, maybe he knew it was for me to discover.

 

I have tried burying my anger, medicating it with nicotine, alcohol, junk food, isolation, and debt-producing purchases just exercising my will on the world. Each of these I have addressed in one fashion or another, but the worst of my defects of character is that I wield judgment like a battle-axe and wrath like a flame thrower.

 

The most destructive judgment comes with the optional tactical add-on called “religious superiority.” Any weapon fitted with it becomes infinitely more deadly, bearing eternal, rather than merely mortal consequences. Instead of turning people against the assailant, they respond with enmity toward the bearer's religion and the deity s/he allegedly represents. For years I’ve been hacking and slashing others with my judgment and swapping out my religious superiority which interchangeably fits my wrath-thrower. Imagine all the damage I’ve done to terrestrial souls and the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

The hardest ones to forgive are those who “know not what they do,” but Jesus found it possible, and called me to do likewise. I may have been one of those who knew not what he was doing, but I know it now. I'm left to figure out how to bathe in grace enough to get all this tarnished, blackened, scarred copper off me.

 

Before I began writing this post I got a call from a very dear friend I’ve known for decades. He has been my aunt’s best friend since I was a kid. For reasons regarding religious judgment I was not permitted to approve of his "alternate lifestyle" choice as it was called back then, so I stood stripped of his companionship but never his encouraging support. He’s like the uncle who never visits. He just called me to say how much he values my writing and misses it. He wanted to encourage me and to ensure he was still on my publication list. I haven’t stopped crying since. I couldn’t even tell him how much his encouragement meant to me because I was so choked up. The imposition of prejudiced devaluation goes back many generations.
How can a dirty old penny be so valuable? What would make someone giddy over what I would just walk over? The right question is: why would I walk so carelessly over something that was created for the expressed purpose of its value?
God save us from ourselves, and give us the eyes of Your Spirit, the self-sacrificing love of Your Son. Forgive me, a sinner of the worst kind, a slayer of souls, and make me walk so permeated in Your grace that it splashes over on anyone who meets me so that You are all they see. Fill me to assuage the emptiness that comes from recognizing what I am, and make me useful toward Your purposes. In Christ Jesus’ name, by whose life I was purchased, amen!
Postscript: The truth made trivial in light of these other revelations is that I placed a low value on my writing. I author other blogs published anonymously, and have all but quit blogging because I felt I was just dropping pennies that no one would ever pick up. It turns out one of my favorite gems has been missing my discarded trinkets. This one’s for you, John.

 

Believe it or not, every one of these verses came from today’s Bible reading devotion. Want to know how I can tell God talks to me through Scripture? I know because these are the ones I excerpted for my journal this morning:

““Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another.” Ezekiel 34:20-22 NLT, http://bible.com/116/ezk.34.20-22.nlt

“So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”” Hebrews 13:6 NLT, http://bible.com/116/heb.13.6.nlt

““Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. “…You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior. … Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did. But remember, says the Sovereign LORD, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” Ezekiel 36:25-32 NLT, http://bible.com/116/ezk.36.25-32.nlt

“What can I offer the LORD for all he has done for me?
…O LORD, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains.” Psalms 116:12, 16 NLT, http://bible.com/116/psa.116.12,16.nlt

I'm having a hard time knowing where to stand between a position of faith and one of humility and diligent stewardship. On one hand, I know that I need to let go of every aspect of control in order to let God have complete rule of my life. On the other hand, I am told to be diligent, to strive after knowledge and wisdom with everything I have, and to pursue learning as a precious jewel. Every time I share my concern about Wednesday's final exam I am met with well-meaning statements of faith: "Oh you know God will be there for you," "You've got this, and there is no reason to worry," "Oh, I'm not even concerned because I know God will give you the grade you need." I just can't be so presumptuous to expect God will do everything I want Him to do every time I want Him to do it that I shirk my responsibility to diligently study.

I'm reminded of Daniel's friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into the fire. Before their date with the furnace, they exclaimed that the God of Heaven was able to deliver them, but that even if He didn't they would never bow to the idol (Daniel 3:16-18). I want to stand like that, completely assured that God is capable of getting me through this and delivering the miracle I believe I need, but content to know that, even if He doesn't, I will walk in His way for me.

To put it more in terms of Elijah, I believe that the altar has been built, the trench has been dug around it, the wood and the offering have been saturated, and the ground all around is soaked with water (1 Kings 18:30-39). What I need now is fire from Heaven to come and blaze for the glory of God in my grade-book. But even if God chooses instead to administer a lesson of patience and humility, I will walk in His way for me.

OverwhelmSo much has happened! In the blur, I have not written much while school was in session. If anyone wants to recover from perfectionism, just go to Nursing School!

This last session was a snarling grizzly bear from which I only narrowly escaped by the grace of God. I am reminded that while God said, “Become a nurse,” He didn’t call me to get straight As or maintain my place on the President’s List. It’s a good thing! After failing three of the six written tests of the past seven weeks, I will scrape by with what I calculate to be the lowest passing grade plus two and a fraction points. God is capitalizing even the scary moments of overwhelm to His glory, and refining my  character by and in the process. He reminded me that He, and He alone, can only be as consistent as perfection, and that my part is to get out of my own way and lean into trust. Every obstacle ends with His sovereignty - every one!

“Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalms 131:2 NLT

Let me share some highlights of my recent clinical rotations that I found affirming. Those I served were highly complimentary, many remarking that I was the most caring healthcare worker they had ever met. I silently hoped no one told them how new I was, and I met each instance with the prayer that I would always maintain the focus to make each person I deal with the most important thing to me at that moment. In the operating room from behind a surgical mask, I learned the power of touch and the communication of the eyes, as I watched sheer terror on the face of an 80 year-old man melt away with just a smile, a reassuring word, and a hand held. Rather than just observing, I made myself a part of the surgical team that day, and each member expressed what I believe was genuine regret at seeing me go and commended my compassionate fitness for Nursing. My medical-surgical patients bonded with me, and often saw me as their point of contact, even though I was shadowing a supervising nurse at all times. It was a strange and wonderful feeling when, even in a room full of more qualified healthcare professionals, a patient sought me for support and comfort while the others addressed her care. I was permitted to pray with some patients, and readily capitalized the opportunity. A nursing assistant who observed my work on the medical-surgical block asked me if I was also a missionary, then said the reason for her question was, “You just seem like someone who would be a missionary.” I can’t tell you what a pat on the shoulder from Holy Father that was!

Mental Health ChecklistWith all the struggling in the classroom and the affirmation of the clinical practice, the biggest changes over the last seven week session have actually been in my personal growth. God is teaching me how better to pray: to take the dominion He gave Adam (Mankind), combine it with the authority of Jesus’ name, and call for God’s will on Earth as it is in Heaven. I am called to wrangle with this world, not dangle in it. Furthermore, I am reminded that I cannot expect to treat everyone as the most important thing to me in their moment without treating my precious bride with the same priority at least daily. So much gets brushed aside in preference of the business at hand, what is important gets neglected. I need to make the priority of marital unity an intentional part of my day. Last, and perhaps most altering, is the recognition that the sinister voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough or I won’t measure up, is a mental foothold of Satan that has no business in the mind of a blood-bought child of God. Man’s dominion of Earth begins in the individual mind.

I am called to wrangle with this world, not dangle in it.

And so, I close with this prayer I prayed for a hurting sister recently. It stirred my spirit so much, I wept over it and her; and as I reread it discovered it was exactly what I would pray for myself or any of my siblings in Heaven’s family, including you just now:

May the Master of the universe calm your storms. May you see past your wind and waves, to visualize His face guiding your path. May the water at your ankles serve to remind you that the Creator of their molecules also ordered yours to have dominion over this dark world; that you are highly esteemed by Him, betrothed to be delivered from the veil that now obscures your true reality: you are vibrantly alive in a world dusty with the ashes of death - you are destined for a royalty that will never tarnish, corrode, or decay. May the sufferings of this dirt world remind you that you have died to it and are merely preparing to be at home in holiness. May every moment of pain be capitalized as motivation for compassion when, in future moments, you discover another weary soul feebly crossing through their shadowy valleys of fear, anxiety, and despair. May your kindness and gentleness be evidences of God's grace working through you, for His purposes and by His providence. May you live to see this dark day as one in which you turned another revolution of renewal. As seasons ring the pulp of a tree, so may your experiences leave their mark on your spiritual growth. May God grant you, now and always, knowledge of His will for you, resource to carry it out, and faith to see His hand at work for His purposes in Christ Jesus our Redeemer-King, amen!


Prayer partners, please share in my grateful praise to God for the news I received last week: I am the recipient of a full scholarship for the rest of my Associates Degree Nursing program, including books and school fees. God did what I could not do, and filled in the gaps I saw no bridge to cross. He is amazing!

Furthermore, I managed to find a new home for the truck I obtained for interim transportation, and replaced it with a more economical sedan, ideal for a commuting student nurse. God just keeps smoothing over rough places and making ways where there appeared no way.

I know that the view while climbing uphill always seems empty, but as I crest each obstacle I find the horizon always opens up to new opportunities, resources, and motivation to drive onward. Thanks for standing in the gap for me through so many various climbs. The God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills also owns all the hills; so I, one of His blood-bought heirs, lack nothing. Hallelujah!

                  photo credit: National Geographic

Hallelujah! My tuition got paid and the books, supplies, and uniforms have been purchased. Nursing School began Wednesday, ushering me into a new phase of life. I’ve pushed out of the cocoon of the idle fall term, shed the crusty title of retiree, and emerged as one of many new Associate Degree Nursing Students. I’ve already made new contacts among my cohort, which experienced nurses tell me will become like a family of fast friends. Together we are all working out the kinks of a brand new curriculum on a new, all-electronic textbook format. It is nice to know that no one is ahead or behind. I am not expected to lead or follow, but to grow alongside my equally unsettled classmates. God, who called me, equips me, and purposes me, will not fail to escort me to and through this new stage of development

Hebrews 12:11(NIV)

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 

Down to the wire     There was neither fanfare nor chiming of any bells to mark the occasion, but the local state college has upgraded me from “provisionally accepted” to a registered nursing student, with classes beginning January 6th. Among the voluminous correspondence received by applicants was a study guide along with a hint that there would be a test administered on orientation day. Measurements, ratios, conversions, dosage calculations, medical terminology, and abbreviations, much of which looked like Greek to me, was to be mastered by Monday, November 16th. True to my nature, I studied every jot and tittle until I had found every typographical error in the packet and unraveled every mystery within its pages, but not without some measure of anxiety. There was that little voice in the dark corner of my mind whispering that I would not measure up, be enough, win the prize, shine brightly, or whatever it was I was after. Without my devotional exercises reminding me Whose and what I am, I surely would have been pierced by those fiery darts of the destroyer.

When I arrived for orientation, I was surprised at the number of future nurses who were completely unprepared for any such exam. “What study material?” was repeated by more than one horrified face gathered around me. Later, when the topic of the dosage calculation and medical terminology test came up, the proctor dismissed it as merely one of the many forms that would be passed out, signed, and turned in. It was, she said, just a pre-test to determine where the collective starting point was for the group. The “test” was actually a single leaf of paper with twenty questions on it, and would in no way count toward anyone’s grade. Simultaneously, I was relieved for my friends who had not prepared, disappointed that I had prepared so diligently and would receive no credit for it, and ashamed that I had worried for nothing. When will I ever learn to just do my best and let God control the results?

It was a good thing I received that remedial lesson in not fretting, because when I finished registering for classes I was shown the bill for the next two semesters. The amount was staggering, but includes all electronic books. I have been in person and on the phone with every financial aid, loan, and scholarship office available to me, but it looks like I will need $1,200 by tomorrow, November 19th. Those in authority have told me to wait until just before 7:00 pm to contact any of the others in authority, but by then offices will be closed and students will begin being dropped from classes for non-payment. The confusing, conflicting information I received boils down to a choice to go deeper into debt even though scholarships have not yet been awarded or risk being dropped from the nursing program. I sure am glad I learned not to fret! The God who owns all the cattle and all the hills on which they graze will make a way for this to all smooth out.

Dear Father, today, help me surrender the worries to You and to be obedient with the steps You orchestrate as I reach them, never more than one at a time.

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I have been collecting letters of reference and crafting my scholarship application. Below is the essay I wrote to describe my career and education goals, work experience, community involvement, and current predicament. If you're new to this blog, I hope it's a good way to catch up.


In the late nineteen-eighties, there was no college requirement to become a police officer. I was drawn to public service, and so gave up my job pumping aviation fuel at the local municipal airport and went to work protecting and serving for our county Sheriff. That our security was directly dependent on our physical mobility was a fact most of my peers avoided considering. The truth was that without any post-secondary education or training outside our specific field, should any one of us lose a trigger finger or the ability to jump and run, we would be up a very narrow financial creek without a proverbial paddle. Twenty-five years later, only as I have come to the end of that particular creek have I ventured out into greater waters, frantically scrambling for headway with my police pension serving as makeshift oars as I have returned to college pursuing a nursing degree.

When the idea of switching professions was new, I discovered I was entering a field that was undergoing drastic changes. The American medical field rumbled from Presidential mandates and newly enacted laws that shook many doctors into retirement or relocation and shifted emphasis toward nurses. Nursing was responding to changes with advancing education requirements. Associate degreed registered nurses with decades of experience were expected to quickly advance to Baccalaureate degrees. I knew I needed a bachelor’s degree in nursing in order to serve in this changing climate.

At the same time, I was confronted with a grievous need on the other side of the globe. While westerners gulp seven-dollar espressos and drive luxury sport sedans, our brothers and sisters in the East walk six miles a day to heft barrels of filthy water onto their heads and shoulders to present it as the only means of hydration and sanitation for their families, many of whom die from preventable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. The reality of this inequity weighed on my heart, and my wife and I began to consider serving as missionaries. As our love for the hurting would not be silenced in our hearts, we committed to move to Uganda to serve where an estimated 2.6 million children are orphaned by war and disease.

Just after I retired my gun and badge, my bride and I set out to meet the land and people to which we had devoted our futures – Uganda. We introduced ourselves to over a dozen missionaries from nearly as many different missions as we made a circuit around the country. We discovered a people eager to smile, content with their labor, and dependent on a beautiful land filled with want, disease, corruption, and difficulty. Twice we found ourselves in police stations where a newly abandoned child needed attention. The desperation for food, water, and clothing outweighs the human connection of family, and the stigma of AIDS still looms like a death sentence on this uneducated population, thrusting need into despair. The Lemmons fell in love with Uganda, their some-day home.

Our lofty plans and higher ideals screeched and burned like landing gear tread on the runway as our feet again touched U.S. soil. Our burden now is bridging from here to there, building a retired police officer into a useful missionary nurse. The first step is education. I need a degree. The obstacle is finances. A police pension and a wife’s wage keep the roof patched and the lights on, but tuition, books, uniforms, skills kits, and testing all takes money our budget does not allow. The demand for excellence precludes working while in school unless absolutely necessary, and so I am compelled to petition for scholarships, loans, and external support.

My extra-curricular involvement centers around my church, as I am a section leader in the church choir, serve in the nursery, and enjoy contributing to children’s and youth events several times throughout the year. I was recently inducted into the Emmaus community, a religious organization outside my church. At school, I have involved myself in the ASL (American Sign Language) Club and the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. I have supported my peers by forming a study group to which as many as five Anatomy and Physiology students have flocked, several of which have become great friends which I mentor even now. I look forward not only to what I will receive from applying myself to my scholastic endeavors, but to what I can leave in the relationships I make on the way. Every one of us is on a mission field of sorts, sharing what we are with those we contact. I may have a grand destination, but the journey itself is the mission at hand.

victoryPraise God! My Nursing School acceptance letter has arrived. Thank you for all the prayers.

I have an amazing encouragement support network. Even my postal clerk was vigilantly checking my box, eager for the chance to congratulate me upon receiving this good news. As I opened the large white envelope with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas, I was surprised to find that a congratulatory greeting was not the first thing out of the package. Where I would have expected it was a laundry list of things to do, prove, and buy, along with very strong warnings not to miss deadlines which were emphatically repeated in multicolor boldface. About three pages back was a letter that began with the word “congratulations” but the context was even less celebratory than its position in the packet or its peculiarly small and plain font.

“Provisionally accepted” are the terms which describe my current status. They hit me like Mother’s “maybe” (if you can remember those). Some of the provisos about which I have no concern are a background check, fingerprinting, and drug screening, but the one that slows my hallelujah roll is the physical exam. I was almost excluded from being a police officer decades ago because of a spinal condition of which I had no knowledge and even since have had no symptoms. Since then I've aged a bit and lost enough of my hearing to require correction. This struggle with a stethoscope seems far more relevant than whether my vertebrae connect to the tailbone. Perhaps it is in my human nature to be cautious before celebration, or perhaps it is just plain doubt, but either way, my prayer warriors should know to shift from focusing on the acceptance letter to the tedious processing that now follows.

I have ordered most of my supplies and uniforms, have submitted my drug screen sample and fingerprints, and am checking off my to-do list as I go. There will be a basic skills pre-test at our orientation, November 15th, and I am studying for that, brushing up on fractions, ratios, learning how many drops are in a milliliter, how to convert milliliters to teaspoons and tablespoons, and things like that.

Meanwhile, Cindy is on her Walk to Emmaus (a weekend spiritual experience, similar to a retreat but with too many differences to call it one), so I'm playing the bachelor at home, trying to ready the place to surprise her when she returns. In between trying to find a men's nursing shoe and properly size myself up for white scrubs, I’m cleaning and repairing to beat the band, and praying fervently for her and the other lady pilgrims on her walk.

I was confronted with a very basic principle during a chapel visit on my walk last weekend. I confessed to those with me that I have a basic fear of not being enough. As I worked it out in meditation, God reminded me that I most certainly am NOT enough, but that no man is. “All…have fallen short” (Romans 3:23, excerpted for emphasis), “but,” God seemed to continue, “I AM!” So the passage in Romans continues, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24, NIV). I am redeemed, not just from sin and its eternal consequence, but from failure, from not measuring up, from falling short of the glory of God. Who am I to counterfeit the glory of His perfection anyway? I don't have to impersonate the Victor. His victory is already mine by His grace! My sufficiency is not in my bones, my ears, my aptitude, or my grand plans, but in Christ Jesus alone. There’s my hallelujah roll!

Thanks, everyone! Please keep praying.

- Todd

Walk to Emmaus stampLast night I returned from a three day Walk to Emmaus, a spiritual renewal event that jump-started a new chapter of my life. Each new pilgrim on the Walk was asked two questions toward the end of the weekend: what he got out of the experience, and what he would then do about it.

For me the takeaway was summed up in one word: inclusion. Situated between two careers, no longer a part of the brotherhood of law-enforcement which had been my family for two and a half decades and not yet a part of the community of nurses to which I will soon belong, I often feel lost, stuck in the crevice between. The Emmaus community welcomed me with a warm embrace, and I look forward to being a part of that community and a more integral part of my church family.

The second question, which asked what I would do about my spiritual renewal, required something more of me. I made a commitment to abstain from fabricating excuses.

When I arrived home last night, the first thing I did was kiss my precious bride, but the second thing I did was throw away a video game that has become a foothold of sloth in my life. I have found myself in the past weeks manipulating my schedule to allow more time with that silly electronic mind magnet. It has done nothing for me but rob me of energy and time that I might otherwise have used developing myself and supporting others.

This morning, after a refreshing sleep, I returned to the gym after an absence of almost seven months. This absence began with a legitimate excuse, a lingering chest cold that did not permit my physical exertion and which also waylaid my running regimen. Abstaining from excuses meant I would be starting over today, and start over I did. My muscles responded as though they had never even seen a gym before. The stacks of weights were cut nearly in half from my last visit, and my repetitions were also dramatically reduced. Still, I gave myself grace rather than giving into excuses, and finished the workout. Afterwards, I ran the errands I needed to run, and found myself available to support and encourage friends at the hospital.

Nursing School acceptance and rejection letters are being received by some of my fellow applicants, but there has been nothing in my mailbox yet. I was encouraged myself, to learn that my application score is well above the cutoff limit, so I have nothing to fear, but I will still rest easier when the letter is in hand. My primary study partner was one who got disappointing news today, and I spent time adjusting to the loss of her partnership then reached out to encourage and affirm her as she seeks other options.

It would have been convenient to return home and relax, but a precious friend from church is leaving to resume her missionary work in Haiti and was being honored at a send-off party at our pastor's house. I was blessed to participate and to have the opportunity to bless and love on her as she prepared to embark on her mission.

Saying "no" to excuses today freed me up to say "I love you" to those who needed to hear it, including myself.

Cessna 152I’ve been circling a holding pattern for the last couple months, getting a few household projects done, keeping up with some of the household chores, and spending way too much time playing video games. Now I’m turning crosswind for a final approach as the Nursing Program at my local state college was scheduled to send out acceptance letters two days ago. Considering wind direction, airspeed, rate of descent, and drag, I expect good news to land in my mailbox by lunchtime today. These moments of anticipation bring a heightened state of excited awareness mixed with concern and a dash of reverent fear like those tense moments in flight school years ago, when it was time to bring my free-flying wheels over the trees and onto the runway.

Your prayers are always appreciated.

 Problems exist where abundance is abused, and such is the case in the standard American diet, which has caused obesity and metabolic diseases to claim lives at a rate of one per minute. On the less privileged side of the globe, Malaria, a similarly preventable disease given the right resources, is killing just as many. Where there are two problems, an opportunity exists to marry them into one solution. One of the biggest culprits of the declining health of Americans is soda and other manufactured beverages.

What if the privileged in the West volunteered to abstain from manufactured or purchased drinks and donated the proceeds of that fast to the global efforts of organizations like Imagine No Malaria?
Suddenly, health would improve on both ends of the Earth! It requires simply that we take dominion, first over our preferences, next over our stewardship, then regarding our neighbors in the hemisphere next door.

April 25th was World Malaria Day, and people all over the world found ways to inform, inspire, and equip health workers and missionaries to save lives from this deadly pestilence. Since my personal passions include health, the underprivileged in Africa, and those bound in the chains of obesity and junk food addiction here at home, I decided there must be something I can do today from where I am to minister God's will for abundant life by blending these passions. I may not be a nurse yet, but as an advocate for vitality and a recovering junk food addict myself, this seems like a good place to start.

bring change slideI am issuing this challenge to anyone willing: put down the manufactured beverages for 30 days and donate the proceeds to ImagineNoMalaria.org or TheGlobalFund.org, so we can put Kingdom resource back to serving Christ's mission of abundant life rather than the physical decay caused by excess sugar. You might be just one, but you might influence a family, a small group, a class, a school, or even a corporation. Wherever you can, please spread this challenge. It is up to us to #BringChange into our health and into the world.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
- Jesus Christ (John 10:10 NIV)

FMI visit EndSugar

I received a very simple email the other day, and it reminded me that, while I may not know the details of my future, God has not stopped knitting my circumstances to propel me toward His purposes for my life. While preparing for missions deployment, a lot of logistical concerns can plague the mind if we let it. This little picture reminded me that the first missionaries took no spare sandals, no spare money, no change of clothes. Paul worked as a tent-maker, a term now used to describe any missionary who works to pay his/her way. Suddenly, with the receipt of this little collection of digital code and lit pixels, a thousand "What next?" questions were washed away with one very possible godly "What if?"

CURE jobs

There is a CURE hospital in Mbale, Uganda, which we did not get to see on our tour a year ago. They specialize in diseases of the brain, mostly hydrocephalus, a disfiguring and lethal disease, often a consequence of malnutrition and poor fetal development. As I considered the possibilities that open up as a result of emigrating as a "worker" rather than a "missionary" I am amused at how things change with Uganda's Ministry of Immigration. Missionaries need permission to enter; workers apparently just need opportunity.

I need to emphasize this is not a decision that was a made, but merely a suggestion that opened possibilities.

pleasing interviewGod’s hand on Cindy is an inspiring touch to behold. She would never tell the details so I will. She has been doing contract work for a local temporary administrative services agency which has been faithfully attempting to land her choice positions that may translate into full-time positions. One such was with the local chapter of a major national organization that benefits young girls. She was feeling uneasy about the choice, so she laid out a sort of Gideon’s fleece about it when she said, “God, if it is Your will that I should accept this position, make it obvious by causing them to offer it to me before the close of the interview.” When I heard this story the first time, I thought as you might have just now, “Nobody offers an applicant a position until they have completed all the interviews and examined all their options.” God showed up, and she was offered the position during the initial interview.

As time passed in that office, Cindy became uneasy about the position, but was reluctant to petition God about another step because of the amazingly obvious direction God used to get her there. We talked about a Bible reading I had just done that seemed appropriate: Aaron, whom God chose as priest over Israel, did not remain priest over Israel indefinitely. There came a season when God called him up the mountain because it was time for him to graduate on. Cindy saw the relevance and was fairly certain she had learned what she could from this experience. She asked God to direct her next step. Within a week, she was being fought over by the company that made her uncomfortable and a local non-profit girls’ organization offering her a higher-level executive assistant position. This one, though temporary, offered a greater salary, safer workplace closer to home, and a more stable, established work environment, where she has already made herself more comfortable. It was not the fleece laid out this time, but I was amazed to hear that my precious bride was offered her new position while she was still in her initial interview. God has a way of signing His name to His actions by what the world calls “coincidence” or by making what is normally unheard of seem commonplace. When she told me the address of her new office and asked me for directions to get there, I laughed and informed her it was the building owned and occupied by my pension office, so technically (though I am retired), we have the same employment address!

peelingThe Lemmons have been paring down, gradually peeling off the grip that ties us to any place or thing. It looks like moving may not be in our immediate future as I thought when I wrote “Paring Down the Lemmon House,” but we are still taking the cue to shrug off the material attachments that entangle us (Hebrews 12:1). Cindy has written about her “nest stuff,” from which she has begun to at least emotionally turn loose. I have waged war on my attachment to material things landing sword-blows like these:

“..whoever loves wealth is never satisfied…” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV)

"You cannot serve God and wealth." (Luke 16:13 NASB)

The reality is when we move to Uganda we cannot keep what will not move, and what we try to move will not be secure (as if anything really is). The conclusion of this thinking has been surprisingly liberating. There is nothing we cannot live without, and there is nothing we must stay in one place to preserve. As we turn loose of our hold on stuff it is shocking to discover how tight a grip it actually had on us.

I just got back from a road trip during which I delivered to my siblings the prized heir-looms of my house. While I was at it, I got to enjoy several family visits that fit into the trip, and I was blessed by each one. Though delivering these gifts was something of a tearing away, I felt cleaner for the parting. Lighter even! Furthermore, I was enriched in a different way by building relationships with family.

On the return leg of my trip, I learned another lesson in material wealth and resource when I stopped at the scene of a blowout that claimed one of my tires several weeks before. It was a long shot, but I wondered if my missing hubcap might still be somewhere along the highway. I had priced a replacement at $60 but decided that good stewardship demanded I stop and spend time looking to recover it before giving up that much. I walked up and back more than a mile, all the while talking to God about His resource, my faith, and my contentment regardless of the results of this search. “It is Your resource,” I conceded, “If You want to restore it, You are entirely capable of directing my steps and guiding my glance, and I trust You to do just that.” I didn’t find the wheel cover, but I was content that I had left the ninety-nine to seek the one. I returned to the "ninety-nine," my trusty old pickup, in unmolested condition, but not entirely whole.

It turned out the mysterious noise I heard as I pulled off the highway, which I had already determined was not another blown tire, was actually an air compressor and a drive belt, the repairs of which would cost $1,100 more of God’s resources. On any other day, I might have reacted differently, but since I had just spent the better part of an hour talking to my Heavenly Father about the community nature of our property, all I could do was wonder why He would want to spend $1,100 on mechanical parts and service when He already owns the cattle and auto parts on a thousand hills. It is perhaps not for me to know.

What is promised to me is enough. God will always meet all my needs. He may not make my wheel covers match or my paint job sparkle, but He will always be there; and everything I have will always be His. Furthermore, in light of the truths that God owns everything, He has loaned me some of it, He has not delivered me from this troublesome world, yet He has overcome the world (John 16:33), I have cause for neither worry nor regret. My citizenship is of Heaven, and it is there I am building myself treasure. Material here on Earth is but dust on my feet.

Oh, yes! In the waiting room of my mechanic’s shop, just in front of a Ugandan Okoa Refuge missionary display, I did meet a retired transplant surgeon, and we spoke about his heart for service and his current project that just happens to involve a local church congregation – mine. Interesting.

three strikesIt is said that bad news comes in threes. I hope so, because today I received a gut punch that wears that number, and I could use a rest.

It happened this morning when I confidently strode into the Nursing School Administration office to submit my application for the Fall semester. It was promptly rejected by the director of the program, who informed me that the classes in which I am currently enrolled must be completed before I submit my application. This sets back my admission into Nursing School another semester, to Spring, 2016.

Bad news number two was the kind that rattles faith and shakes foundations. I have been engaged in what can only be described as fervent and faithful intercessory prayer on behalf of my cousin, who was expecting a child with complications. I was forced to concede the battle Tuesday, when the news came that my unborn second cousin graduated directly to Heaven without taking a breath.

Bad news number one was merely an appetizer for these later two disappointments. It had to do with a mechanical failure on my 1997 pickup truck that amounted to about $1,200 in repairs. This seems trivial next to the loss of a baby and a rejected Nursing School application, but when one doesn’t have $1,200 and is trying to find a way to pay for school on a fixed pension income, it at least constitutes bad news number one.

I know that God’s will is better and higher than mine, and that there is surely some concealed reason for these hiccups in what I would vainly call “my plan.” I am certain that I am doing what I was called to do, and that God’s purposes, not my vanity, will be served. I am critically searching myself for any sins of the flesh to which these annoyances may be trying to direct my attention. Perhaps I said, “I start Nursing School in the Fall,” too many times without adding, as James 4:15 exhorts, “If it is God’s will.” Maybe I suffer from a case of overconfidence in self. Maybe God is just trying to protect me, my cousin, and my budget from unseen struggles we will never be fully exposed to. Whatever the case, I am content to offer up my expectations as sacrifices to God, and to let Him operate the universe as He sees fit rather than as I would have it. Still, though I am not a superstitious person and do not believe in luck, after this very disappointing week, I sincerely hope that three is the limit of my bad news for a while.

When I was a teenage brother of three, I took Proverbs 17:17 out of context to suit myself. On my bedroom door I posted a sign that read, “A brother is born for adversity,” and I did my best to bring to each of them their fair share of it. I knew it was an ironic perversion of the phrase, but it served my purpose.

The truth of that verse struck me recently, and I was pierced with the awareness that the adversity for which I am preparing has not yet come. I have no idea to what extremes I will be pushed, or to what disaster I will respond. I do know this: God’s purposes are always provided for and He is transplanting a sheepdog to where the sheep are very near the wolves. I will be tending the flock in a different role than I ever have before, but the Spirit reveals to me that, as bad as things have been in Uganda and continue to be in her surrounding countries, there is something coming which none of us has yet seen or understood.

While mulling this over, I was recently preparing for a speaking engagement in which I would address the survivors of fallen police officers. I considered how I could adequately summarize my own traumatic experience in a way that would communicate the gravity of my pain without going into so much detail that it would divert the focus off the healing. This phrase was given to me:

LRA child soldier“I was forced to kill my fellow officer.”

As soon as I said it, I was overwhelmed with passion for the children escaping from the conscripted service of Joseph Kony and the LRA. Recently forced out of Uganda, the LRA press-gangs boys into military service forcing them to kill their family members and neighbors as initiation into their army, and exploits girls as sex slaves and burden-bearers. Refugees from this genocidal terrorist organization, including those who escape its service, often flee to Uganda.

As I prepared to communicate a few thoughts on “support” to a fellowship of  grieving Floridians organized for that very purpose, the appropriateness of God calling someone with my experience to minister healing in Uganda became abundantly clear to me: I, too, was forced to kill one of my own.

 

 

Scripture references:

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Matthew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Matthew 24:22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

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PackingTheHouseI am surprised how fast January flew by. Classes are in session, and this week has brought me four exams. I was disappointed in my failure to prepare for one, and started it more on edge than usual, but received a notification by the end of the day that I had aced it. That glory goes entirely to God!

The big developing news with the Lemmons is a recent decision to sell our house and downsize. We were looking at our finances and recognized the only way to be free of debt before we begin our adventure overseas is to release the house. This idea came roughly a week after I began to prayerfully submit to God that I was ready to surrender whatever He decided was next if He would only make it known to me. The house it is!

An online value estimator predicted the possibility that we just might be able to shake these chains free if God wills that we should do so. We are counting on the knowledge that He does want us free. We calculated the result of rolling our mortgage savings into our consumer debt, and the result (God willing) will be financial freedom in about twenty months. Now that is something to celebrate!

In the meantime, this is sort of a dress rehearsal for the paring down of material possessions that will come prior to our trans-Atlantic migration. I like to think of this move as a wide funnel rather than the eye of a needle we anticipate then. We will likely find ourselves in either a shared house or an apartment, either of which would provide us a one bedroom existence with drastically reduced living areas. God doesn’t want us dependent on material things anyway, so it’s good to loosen our grip on them. It is amazing the perspective you get on possessions when you know you will lose them in several years anyway. The “just in case” collections don’t survive. “What if I ever need one of those?” is no longer a good reason to keep something. If it doesn’t get used frequently now, chances are we won’t need it in the next seven years. It’s actually liberating!

It makes me think: weren’t we supposed to be living that way in the first place? Ready to go at a moment’s notice? Not clinging to the things of this world? If I never make it to see the red clay of Uganda again, I am still pleased to release my grip on the soil beneath me and the trappings of Earth!

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15, NIV)

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21, NIV)

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29, NIV)

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, NIV)

2014-5If there was anything that needed doing in 2014 today is our last chance to do it. I have no regrets.

I planned to retire in March and, after celebrating 25 years of service in January, did just that on March 14th.

I set out to tour Uganda, where God has called me to prepare to work as a missionary nurse. In April, my precious bride and I set out and met our future home as well as some very dear friends we made while in that country. There, God gave us a glimpse into what our future will hold and a burning desire to drive toward that mission.

I planned to return to school as a full-time student, tackling that fear which kept me from getting a college education all these years. I marched through the doors of my classes, made myself at home, and achieved higher marks than I ever imagined I could and made some friends who will be accompanying me in my preparatory track for nursing school and perhaps beyond.

I committed to develop my physical training program to include more than the rudimentary getting off the couch three times a week, and in March bought my first pair of running shoes. With training and a coaching mobile application, I progressed to a 5k then 10k run, then graduated on my own and finished the year by running my first half marathon.

I committed to getting a rein on my finances, and my bride and I have graduated from Mvelopes financial coaching “boot camp” and are well on our way to paying off our debts. The exception to this is a new student loan, which I obtained to meet the needs of this year’s tuition costs while both of us were briefly unemployed.

I renewed my commitment to do my part to maintain my weight and, as of this day, God has held me steady at my goal weight for three years and two hundred two days.

 

Looking ahead, I hope to keep up my grade point average. The adult 4.0 still balances against the sins of my youth to end up somewhere in the high 3s. I plan to graduate with my associate of arts degree following the summer term, during which I will also apply and (God willing) be accepted into nursing school. The fun will really begin in the fall term of 2015, when I hope to be a full-fledged nursing student. Allegedly those are creatures without social lives, forced into isolated study. I will be approaching it as a spiritual exercise, tackling each next obstacle as a fulfillment of my calling.

As for the rest, I am looking forward to keeping on doing what I am doing: seeking God’s purposes in my daily life and fulfilling them to the best of my ability; harming none I don’t have to and helping as many as I have the opportunity and resource; building myself and others up and abstaining from behaviors that would tear me or them down. In 2015 I want to leave the world better than I found it in 2014.

This semester is drawing to a close. With only two days left, I am relieved and amazed at what God can do when we just put Him in charge and follow His lead. I had a choice this past weekend: worry, fret, isolate, disappoint others, and cram for the cumulative final exam in Anatomy and Physiology or trust in God to refresh and recall all that I spent a semester learning. Harried holiday schedules have begun to collide and crowd out any extra time even this retiree might have. I even battled the temptation to break a commitment to sing in our church choir’s annual Christmas presentation to make time to study. As I deliberated I was given this peaceful thought which pervaded both concerns and my entire weekend experience:

The time for Martha-type preparations is over and the time for resting at the feet of Jesus in the Mary way has come. (Luke 10)

As I shared that little tidbit of peaceful reassurance, it progressively became more real to me. My spirit calmed. My thoughts slowed. My worries dissipated. On the eve of the great and fearsome exam, instead of cramming, I went to the concert. As the sound and light engineers, logistics managers, and many of the choir scurried around with last minute preparations, I stood in peaceful surrender, prayerfully accepting things as they were and offering the outcomes to God. My expectations adjusted. My perfectionist nature was whittled back to accept excellent, or even good, if that was to be the product of our service.

photo credit: Ansley Ward
photo credit: Ansley Ward

The performance wasn’t perfect. I didn’t come in on every cue, remember every line, or hit every note, but my spirit was at the feet of Jesus instead of on a stage, and I thought it was a beautiful worship experience. The next day was no different. I went to school, breathed deeply, conceded to accept whatever excellence God helped me attain, and discarded all expectation of perfection. With that air of calm I approached my study buddies and prayed with them before the test, first one, then another, each happy and grateful to join me in prayer. As the exam began, I recommitted myself to sacrifice worry as an act of worship, and recalled my diligent effort and submission to do the necessary work as further acts of worship, with the results being wholly God’s. Then, just like they always do, the walls came tumbling down! The fearful monster that had been the dread of all us A&P students was pacified by God. Though I was walking in its den, its mouth was clamped shut. There were moments when I heard its gravely growl and thought I caught a glimpse of its teeth, but its bite was divinely constrained. I stroked the now domesticated beast, finished my dance with it in about half the time allotted, and presented it to my professor with all the confidence of any I had taken before it.

The exam grades obviously haven’t posted yet, but I am confident and, having given the results to God, am completely secure that His will, which far exceeds my own, will be done. I am left with this constructive thought for the future:

A perfectionist is never content. I can strive for perfection only as long as I am content with excellence. God gives the purpose and the provision. My part is to accept His motivation and take appropriate action steps as my act of worship. The results are the Lord’s.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

ListeriaIn this, the same year during which I toured the African country of Uganda, ate the fare of the locals, and drank water that may or may not have been purified by a handheld UV light, I apparently contracted a foodborne illness right here in Jacksonville, Florida. A week ago today I was attacked by what must have been Listeria monocytogenes. For those who, like me, did not know, Listeria is a bacteria that can live and grow in refrigerators, is common on fresh foods, and is often transmitted in fecal matter like that used in organic fertilizers. The first question I was asked when I told a doctor of my experience was, “Did you eat any organic salads or salad products?”

This week has been one of weakness and disability, but I know that in my weakness, God’s power is glorified. I imagine that the biological war in my body this week will leave the battleground in a better condition to turf skirmishes in the future. As the fever and aches have sapped my strength, I know my systems have been fortified for battles yet unknown and threats that may never be revealed to me. During this spell when rest has replaced exercise I know God has risen up antibodies for my defense. I am content to rest secure in the knowledge that “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

WoH2014damage04Two days ago, the Wells of Hope Academy church pavilion was flattened by a rainstorm that also took the roof off their new kitchen. It is hard to imagine the venue where we fell in love with such pure and joyful souls, the structure in which we were fed both spiritually and physically, being squashed to its foundation. Those happy, eager faces arranged in lines at the windows of that new kitchen must somehow be less bright today as the beans and posho are served even from within the wreckage. I feel helpless sitting in my living room some 7,600 miles (12,200 km) away. I might be tempted to ask God, "Why?" but I already know the answer to "Why?" questions. Somewhere, somebody needs an opportunity to answer their own "Why?" question by responding to this need.  Structures don't rebuild themselves and Eucalyptus poles may grow on trees but the money to erect them into church meeting places doesn't. According to Ephesians 2:10, we were made for the express purpose of carrying out the needs God orchestrates into our lives. Is this one calling for you? There are around 120 little brothers and sisters in Christ who now have no meeting shelter and need a new roof on their kitchen. They have many other needs, but these are urgent. Won't you please help my friends, your Christian siblings? 

WoH2014damage03Visit WOH's donate link to help.

Those of you who followed our journey through Uganda might remember Wells of Hope as the ministry grounds of Steve and Gina Gant, our dear new friends, who hosted us at their home in Kampala and who, coincidentally, lived about a mile from our house in Jacksonville before moving to Uganda though none of us knew the other then. Wells of Hope visits and disciples prisoners in Uganda, serves their families, and ministers to their children at the Academy.

 

kitchen before
kitchen before
kitchen after
kitchen after

 

 

 

 

 

lunch line during our trip in April
lunch line during our trip in April

DoNot Lose HeartTherefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1, NRSV)

I found this in the New Testament in a year reading our local congregation was challenged to follow this year, and needed to publicly confess it, highlight it, bookmark it, and remember it.

IMG_3317.JPGGod allows us to be prompted along His way for us in sometimes strange and alarming ways. After serving there for more than twelve years, Cindy was let go from her position at the school our children attended since it opened its doors. It was no one's fault. When the school board finds a replacement for the Head of School, his Assistant is bound to find herself awash with the wave of ministers brought by the new regime. Now we look forward to whatever lies ahead, faithfully choosing to view this as an opportunity to follow God's divine guidance to more fitting training ground. Meanwhile, with me on a pension and her without a salary, the words, "give us this day our daily bread" never meant so much. Still, I know His plans are to help us, not harm us, and His timing is always proper. If I've learned one thing it is that God signs His handiwork with astonishing timing and breathtaking occurrences of what the world might call "coincidence." I choose to see His hand at work, and I gratefully submit to His will.

Our household is busy with excitement. Long overdue repairs, arranged before news of Cindy's unemployment came, have just been completed; our daughter is facing some medical challenges and is in unsettling discomfort; and our son is facing big career decisions. These all add up to a turbulence that would rattle the rafters of any home. I am trying to keep my focus off the wind and the waves and onto the gaze of the beckoning Christ, to keep from sinking into doubt as, like Peter, I seem to have been called out of the boat. If it is true that only an advancing troop gains the attention of its adversary, then Satan must be fully alert to the Lemmons, as evidenced by the volley of firebrands in our proximity. He is no foolish opponent, but he is already defeated in Jesus' name, and it is that name by which I claim dominion over all that would stand against my home and family, and declare once again that all I am, have, and will become belongs to God. None can take, torment, nor tarnish this offering, because it is God who created us, God who crafts us into what we are becoming, and God who receives the living sacrifice of men as a glory to Himself. And God will not be robbed, least of all by an enemy who stands already defeated.

Romans 8:37-39 NIV
[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, [39] neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 12:1 NIV
[1] Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship.

20140728-132653-48413388.jpg
Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse

As I prepare for service as a minister of health on the African continent I am particularly disturbed by news of the Ebola virus epidemic that has gripped much of West Africa. Dr. Kent Bradley, an American physician working with Samaritan's Purse to fight the Ebola outbreak, has contracted the disease. Please pray for him, for all the workers, the lives to which they minister, the lives to which they might not have the opportunity, the continent of Africa, and for the abundant life of Christ to come to all people. Hundreds have already died from this outbreak, including about fifty healthcare workers.

Please pray against this microscopic protein, but pray against spiritual forces that are using it to steal, kill, and destroy. The Name of Jesus is bigger than the African continent, bigger than the globe this disease threatens, and bigger than evil itself.

"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (Colossians 4:2, ESV)

While we wrestle in prayer, let us not become so distracted even by our God-given passions that we fail to come against the powers that threaten Israel at this very hour also.

Read more about Dr. Kent Bradley at http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/samaritans-purse-doctor-serving-in-liberia-west-africa-tests-positive-for-ebola/

20140727-020945-7785155.jpgGod gave Man dominion, but Man passed on it.

In Genesis 1:28, as God was giving Adam his basic operating instructions, He declared that mankind was to rule over the earth, to subdue it, to master all the wildlife and produce of the entire planet. The next time we hear from Adam, he's ducking responsibility, pointing blame at Eve and at God Himself, saying (and I paraphrase Genesis 3:12), "That woman You gave me - she did it!"

From that point on, Man was separated from God, but Man's job was still the same: exercise mastery over all the earth. I've been thinking about this with regard to prayer.

I know that praying brings no news to an omniscient God. He knows what we need, want, and think before we do, even interceding on our behalf when we don't know what to pray (Romans 8:26). I also understand that there is significant power in calling things that are not as though they are (Romans 4:17), in the exercise of faith, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews11:1). Jesus cautioned His followers not to be "like the babbling pagans" (Matthew 6:7), but still taught them to persist as the relentless petitioner appealing to a judge (Luke 18:1). His instruction was for private, but repeated prayer.

So I have this dilemma: if God doesn't need me to tell Him what to do, and my prayers don't constitute His laundry list anyway, why does He want me to pray at all? There is something about me bringing my will under His that is hugely significant, but that just is not enough of an answer for me anymore. I am growing to believe that there is a link between prayer and our original mandate of dominion.

God's will is done in Heaven but not on earth unless it is called for as in Jesus' example (Matthew 6:10). We are promised that when we ask anything according to the Father's will He hears us and we have what we ask (1 John 5:14-15). When things are awry on Earth then, who is at fault? God, who said there was going to be trouble as long as we inhabit Earth (John 16:33); or Man, who was given dominion but keeps handing it over in preference for convenience, time management, other priorities, entertainment, and just plain apathy?

Even Jesus declared that the devil is a temporary "prince" of this world (John 14:30), but God gave mastery of Earth to us. We have a responsibility to assert our dominion, and, since Eden's fall, prayer is our only remaining connection with God, whose power we utilize for that purpose.

The condition of the world is evidence enough that Mankind is derelict in his duty of prayerful dominion. I have decided that prayer must be a priority, and not just the kind that realigns my spirit with God's, but intercessory, reach out and grab the globe by its horns and shake the devil off his strongholds kind of prayer.

Who's with me?

Caveat: one way I know I'm on to something is the spiritual attacks on me and my household have been intense lately. Be prepared. If you assume this role of prayer warrior and Heaven ambassador, then get ready for the smear campaign.

I haven't written since our trip for several reasons. First, I had so much to say while we were in Uganda, I feel as though I should either come up with something profound to say or keep quiet. Second, school is in full swing and I've been busier than I could have imagined I would be during a Summer semester. Last is the least valid reason of all but probably the weightiest, and that is because we still just don't know where our piece will fit into the whole Uganda puzzle.

From where I am, isolated in my prerequisite studies, a nursing mission in Uganda appears small in my window. It is no less a priority, no less real, and no less the path I am following at God's direction; I just feel so far removed from Uganda and her children. I remain connected to my friends I made in country by way of Internet, prayer, and a common love for the same people, and that helps me keep focused on the mission rather than the baby steps toward it I am making, but progress feels slow and our deployment to the mission field far removed. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." I like "tree of life" references - maybe it's the Lemmon in me - but I'm somewhere in that deferral that makes for heart-sickness right now. It's not a condition of being lost, afraid, or doubtful; it's just that 2021 is so many pages ahead in the calendar.

I'm in good company. Jacob (aka Israel) had to work seven extra years to earn his bride, Rachel. Noah, wasn't told to go sailing; he was told to build an ark. With the world mocking him, he stacked gopher wood until he had the resources to begin scraping, planing, boring, and fitting the logs together into a floating fortress that would be seventy-five years on dry land before the first drop of rain fell on it.

I, too, have received a share of mocking, of condescending interrogations, missiles of doubt fired from people, some nurses themselves, who may mean well but tend to emphasize obstacles rather than successful experiences, strength, or hope. The shock of disbelief that is typical of most people who hear our plans for relocation and service overseas is so staggering that I tend to keep the long-term plans to myself in casual conversation and just say, "I am studying to become a missionary nurse," to which responses are usually more positive. Leaving off the word "missionary" saves me even more interrogations, and usually evokes a response about a relative who is, was, or wants to become a nurse, but removes me even farther from the end goal of treating and educating Ugandans in abundant living in Christ Jesus.

I took a practice nursing school entrance exam, the HESI A2, this morning to see what kind of things I can expect and to feel closer to the process. I was encouraged with my results but received valuable feedback concerning what needs attention. I visited the websites and Facebook pages of my missionary friends, and rejoiced in their successes, praying for their ministries and the people they serve. In my bedroom, a handmade Ugandan souvenir hangs on my wall, reminding me to "Always remember Uganda." I cannot forget her! She's in my heart, which is torn to be this far removed.

Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22 NIV)

It was not for Noah to pump water up the hill or perform test-trials on his workmanship. He was not required to study meteorology or predict weather patterns. His job was to build an ark. Mine is to become a nurse. For now, I don't get to know the end-game, and I am not yet responsible to guess it. Trivial though daily assignments may seem, they are steps along the path of obedience. While I have no child in my arms, and no soul to heal just yet, I do have homework, and no task is irrelevant when I am doing it in obedience to the Lord. I will look to Noah's example as I continue on, as removed from Ugandan souls as a ship on a dry hill, and do what comes next, contenting myself in the knowledge that I am doing my Master's will.

Day Sixteen, April 30:

20140430-134523.jpgThis morning we got up and availed ourselves of the hotel breakfast and committed to get some rest before our flight home tonight. The thoughts and memories of this trip, however, made it difficult to sleep, as Cindy and I both stirred the cauldron, pouring over it our dreams, hopes, and plans for the future.

Restless, I calculated our trip expense log and discovered we spent much less than we planned even with the last-minute hiring of Anthony our driver. Cindy and I marveled at how naive it was to have even considered taking this trip without him, and wondered what we had been thinking when we expected to bus or taxi across Uganda. Silly Mzungu! Renting a car was once an option for the uninformed, but since roads have no markings, and traffic here is a culture-shock nightmare, I would have killed us or someone else the first day!

God has orchestrated every step of our journey to be exactly what we needed, and I need to remember every detail so that I don't miss whatever instruction He has in the experience of it. Conversations play over in my head (complete with accents) and are accompanied by the questions, emotional responses, and spiritual misgivings about what I witnessed here. There is corruption here like nowhere I've been, but there is also unrivaled need and shallowness of spirit, as each person scurries after their own needs, and the women, usually abandoned by self-serving men, are left to scurry after the needs of their children, or are forced by their own selfish fears to abandon them too. Such women either find creative ways to shed their responsibilities or creative ways to meet them. Selling a child might land a mother in prison, but either way she would be free from the overwhelming burden of feeding two mouths with no income. Incarceration is a form of liberty with meals included even though prison is only a slight step up from living in a latrine. Farming is everyone's responsibility here. Even if one has no job, one is expected to grow something to feed their family. Since farming even a small plot is hard work, the lazy choose other means. Alcoholism is rampant here, as there seems to be much heartache to escape and little resource to ease the pain except the gathering of drunkards and the abundance of alcohol in various forms. Certain illicit drugs are being introduced too, and the addiction of the night life, which I have not witnessed, drives them to attack anyone who might have the resources they need. According to police, the number one crime is robbery, followed by murder during robbery, since the primary method is blunt trauma to the head of an unsuspecting victim, most often a boda-boda passenger, who is easy prey since s/he is already exposed and can be delivered to predators by the boda-man. Investigation and enforcement is difficult since a victim could just as easily be identified as a traffic accident victim whose pockets were cleaned out by locals while s/he was incapacitated, as is allegedly customary. Generally speaking, everyone needs, and there is an underlying persuasion that it is okay to take from those who have extra, like Bzungu (white people), who are perceived to be a limitless resource of wealth. This is why most expatriates live in walled compounds behind locked gates and barred doors. Everything that is not secured disappears at night.

I am conflicted about that. In my studies of the Proverbs I read:

"Whoever builds a high gate invites destruction." (Proverbs 17:19b NIV)

I always considered that if one removes the curiosity and includes one's home among those of his neighbors, he is less likely to be victimized by them than if he erects this "high gate." Those that had tried this, however, told us that they found themselves victims of theft, prowling, and vandalism nightly. I considered setting up a reception shelter outside my house, with a bell to be rung when my clinical services were needed. If I freely give, it seems reasonable that I should have no fear of losing what I have, but I can hear all my new missionary friends laughing at that statement even before I ever say it. The proverb, I think, refers to one's attitude that they control the security of their property, rather than trusting God and being a steward of His resources. Proper stewardship requires prudence, and I learned that even the side view mirrors on a twelve year-old Toyota are a hot commodity around here, where some locals have never even seen what they look like. Enough about security. I'm no longer a cop!

Certain aspects of this trip have been especially liberating.

  • Spending time with Cindy without daily hassles. Being on unfamiliar ground kept either of us from being expert at anything, and on even terms.
  • Not driving. Letting Anthony, Carol, Laurie, Steve, and Charlie the boda-man concern themselves with the traffic suited me just fine.
  • Not shaving or styling my hair. Cindy thinks my curls and short beard are adorable.
  • Not fretting over every calorie consumed. Those who know me well know I track everything I eat. This trip, I just ate normal meals, abstained from sweets, cookies, cakes, ice-cream and nachos, and from throwing in the dietary towel, and I was just fine. I probably didn't even meet my minimum calorie goals any day but yesterday when the jackfruit might have put me over.

Recapping our ministry tour, we personally contacted:

20140430-134538.jpgI would be delighted to know that my communication about any of these ministries facilitated a stirring in any heart to contribute toward their support, not that the left hand should know what the right hand is doing, but just so the left hand knows it has a complimentary opposite hand.

Until we land in the States, Todd Lemmon, signing off in the fashion of the Wells of Hope Academy kids:
(from 2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
Now and forevermore. Amen!

Day Fifteen, April 29:

20140429-231058.jpgThis morning we tagged along with Steve, Gina, and Wells of Hope as they met with the local police about a young man about seven or eight years old, who was offered for sale by a man who claims to be his father to a buyer who claimed he was going to use him for a ritual killing. I had heard such things still happen in the northern territories, but I never thought I would sit with, talk to, lay hands on, and pray for such a child in person. Since Wells of Hope focuses on the children of imprisoned men, and this boy's "father" will most certainly be imprisoned, the Gants and Francis Ssuubi, Director of Wells of Hope, responded to the call for help. Posting the need on Facebook, the organization found willing people to contribute to Willie's sponsorship.

While this dramatic story brings a rapid response of willingness, there remain forty-two (42) unsponsored children at the Wells of Hope Academy. In addition to this shortfall, the Academy is in need of desks for their teachers, 120 metal bunk beds, just as many wooden desk-benches, and latrine and septic improvements. There are other needs as well as hopes for more improvements in the future. This group is trusting God for support. I encourage any reading this who sense the Spirit's urging, to please investigate donation details at www.wellsofhope.org and help however you can.

As we sat in that dusty office, in the back of the local police holding yard, we greeted the accused child trafficker, and Wells of Hope communicated their desire to lend spiritual and emotional support during his incarceration. They also offered to care for, teach, and disciple Willie for as long as necessary. This was difficult, especially because the criminal investigators were present and often chimed in to interrogate the accused during the meeting. Knowing no other family but the man who betrayed him to his death, Willie cried when we took him away from that interview room. Taken from whatever he once knew, he had no way of knowing that he was being delivered to the safe, loving care of Wells of Hope and the love of Jesus Christ. It must have been a horrifyingly traumatic day for Willie, and it was a learning experience for all of us in attendance.

The police investigators were amazingly helpful, and patiently explained that there is no governmental provision for any such children. The line level police officers have often contributed to the welfare of such children out of their own meager salaries. We were told that the government relies solely on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Wells of Hope, for temporary custody of such vulnerable or abandoned children. We were shown a converted intermodal cargo container, in which as many as eight children may be housed for a few days at a time, in the custody of the police, while a few more often sleep on the floor of the open police reception area. Mr. Ssuubi told us of a boy who was "defiled" (sexually abused) by an officer in that setting only a year ago. Clearly, there is a need for missionary work, children's homes, and foster care in Uganda. Perhaps there is a need for humanitarian reform at a governmental level, but I have learned that governmental change is difficult, slow, and inadequate in Uganda. The response of Christ's hands and feet must not be to clutch the purse and tap the foot while waiting for social change, but should be to speed, feed, and meet the need.

I still do not know exactly how Cindy and I will fit into this response, but the discarded children of Uganda are on our heart. In Masaka, we accompanied the Okoa Refuge missionaries as they received two week-old Emmanuel, and now Willie with Wells of Hope in Kampala. We were blessed to meet the AIDS afflicted cast-aways at the YES Manna House and watch as a Jinja community and the Acholi women of Gulu were assisted by Amazima ministries and Going in Love (respectively) in keeping their families whole, virtually preventing abandonment before it happens. My mind is still whirling with all the possibilities and the overwhelming need here in Uganda.

From the police station, Steve and Gina Gant took us to a supermarket that felt very much like one we might see at home, although the food items were decidedly different. Imagine being in an American supermarket completely filled with everything that usually occupies a tiny bit of shelf space on what you likely consider "the ethnic aisle" at your local store. From the deli, we got Samosas, triangular fritters filled with vegetables, rice, or meat. We washed them down with the first soda I have had in over a year, a Stoney Tangawizi, and accompanied them with some dried jackfruit and a taste of sim-sim sticks (made of a sesame-looking seed by the same name).

We ate our car picnic as we waited for a Facebook contact to show the Gants a 4-wheel drive Toyota van, and when it arrived it appeared like a possible solution to their need. We shall see. My mind wondered if a similar van would convert to an ambulance or mobile clinic. My brain is already shopping for a vehicle and noting real estate prices! I'm afraid the next seven years are going to be long.

20140429-231503.jpgWhen we arrived back at the Gant's home, we were treated to a jackfruit carving demonstration by David, the guard and all-around helper in the small community where the Gants live. Once he showed us how to separate and eat the fruit and avoid most of its tarry white sap, we had a jackfruit peeling and tasting party, and got very sticky in the process. A jackfruit looks like a tightly closed green pinecone about the size of a July watermelon, smells like a pineapple when it is first cut open, has a fleshy meat, and a tropical flavor like someone blended bananas with pineapple gummy bears.

Our party ended just as Anthony arrived to collect us and take us to the hotel near the airport, where we began our Ugandan circuit. We took the opportunity of having an extra pair of hands to get pictures together with the Gants and also with Anthony. I always hate saying goodbye, and this was no exception. Stephen and Gina Gant were gracious hosts and have become good friends already, as I have already written. Enough about that. I hate goodbyes!

Before we parted from our trusted driver and friend, Anthony, we took him out to eat at Faze-3, a restaurant popular with Bzungu (white people), but which he knew to serve goat, a dish I had not yet experienced. The vote is in: goat beats African beef! And it's pretty darn close to beating American beef too.

20140429-231227.jpgIt was already beginning to get dark as we said goodbye to Anthony and hello to the friendly faces at the Sunset Entebbe Hotel. We knew Anthony had a long ride to Jinja through Kampala, on dark roads which we know he hates, but he delivered us to the end of our trip and I don't know how we would have survived such a journey without him. We have a day of rest before our plane leaves tomorrow night, so we plan to try to get some sleep since neither Cindy nor I sleep well on aircraft. Perhaps tomorrow we will venture back to the market or to Faze-3 in the hotel car, before making an early return to the airport.

Day Fourteen, April 28:

20140428-231119.jpgWhen I was a patrolman, civilians would often ride along with me to witness firsthand what police do. Today, I got to do a similar thing only with the shoe on the other foot. We spent the day with Steve and Gina Gant, who welcomed us to tag along with them as they attended a Wells of Hope devotion and staff meeting, then spent much of the day shopping for a van for the ministry. What an eye-opener seeing the ministry from the inside like that! Oh, and every missionary probably wishes they could watch someone else shop for a car before they are forced to learn from experience when they have to do it themselves.

20140428-230949.jpgOur lunch stop today was at a restaurant called "Daytona" so it was like we are near home. Okay not really. Great food though: roast pork, Matooke, and greens!

In the afternoon, we were met at the Good Africa Coffee shop (sort of Africa's version of Starbucks) with Mark "Boog" Ferrell, who did his best to sum up the ministry of 60 Feet in a brief meeting over coffee and orange juice. The ministry's website (www.sixtyfeet.org) explains their mission better than I could, but I will say that advocacy and support for incarcerated children is the thrust of this ministry, since many children are only incarcerated waiting for it to be convenient for authorities to release them.

It was nice to have Steve and Gina at the meeting with Boog. One neat thing that keeps happening is the more we talk about what I have seen and heard from other missionaries, the more I find that some coordination between them would answer many of their needs. This one has a metalworks shop while that one needs metal bunk beds. This one needs inexpensive travel accommodations while that one runs a hostel or guest house. This one needs someone to transport quilts to the US while that one needs something in their empty suitcases so they can pack zip-closure bags, children's toys, and other such coveted items back home with them. While we were sitting in that meeting, Cindy began to write on a piece of paper. As Steve began to speak of how nice it would be to have a conference to join the interests and resources of Ugandan missionaries, the thought struck Cindy vocal, as she revealed what she had been scribbling: a Uganda Missionary Conference, which we all thought would be a good idea.

Our meeting with Boog was brief on account of the van hunting appointments, so we exchanged contact cards and invited one another to stay in touch.

After our van hunt proved unfruitful but successful, in that the ministry did not jump at the first four-wheel drive van that came along, we headed home. While the girls started dinner, Steve accompanied me on a walk down the busy road to a produce market about a kilometer away. While we talked we considered the possibility of me running an ambulance, and visiting the Wells of Hope Academy on certain planned days to man a clinic and perhaps take a mobile clinic to the villages when their family tracing efforts uncover a need for it. It is a possibility. I still don't know where or how God will have me serve here. We returned home a little after dark (which is a no-no) with avocado, mango, banana, pineapple, onions and tomato, to share with our hosts. Gina made a delightful beef with broccoli dish which she served over rice, accompanied by several fruits we brought from the market.

After Steve and I finished the dishes and comparing music preferences and collections, the four of us hung out and goofed around on our electronic gadgets, sharing interesting bits as we crossed them until bedtime. I'm certain these folks are family and not only new friends!

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Day Thirteen, April 27:

20140428-214516.jpgSteve and Gina Gant prepared our breakfast and graciously explained the ministry of Wells of Hope (www.WellsOfHope.org). They take the true religion of James 1:27, tending to the needs of the orphans and widows, and combine it with visiting the imprisoned and meeting the needs of the needy which Jesus commended in Matthew 25:36.

James 1:27 NIV
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Matthew 25:36 NIV
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Wells of Hope, and therefore Gant Ministries, visits men in prison, encouraging them, discipling them, and caring for them. One of their greatest needs is for someone to check on and care for their families. Wells of Hope does that. They go out and find the families, bring back photos, reunite children who have sometimes been told their fathers have been executed or died in prison, and they work to ensure the fathers have a place in the lives of their families, even if a small one. Furthermore, Wells of Hope operates a school and home for the children of these prisoners, who often have no one else to care for them. This is called the Wells of Hope Academy, where we attended church service today.

We drove for about an hour and a half to get to the Academy, the last few kilometers of which was through a swamp which overwhelmed the roadway in several places. The swampy landscape is what Steve credited for the affordability of the land on which the Academy is situated.

When we pulled up to the complex, we found two large white buildings: a dormitory and a school, with one large thatched-roof shelter in between them. Under the shade of that shelter on a concrete slab were about forty-five of the most precious little worshippers I've ever seen, singing, clapping, and dancing in the name of Jesus. One of their teachers preached, but then a few of the children preached too, and did an excellent job! Ella, a volunteer who is a children's music teacher by profession, led worship, and the children really worshipped the Lord like I have never seen kids of that age do. They weren't just singing, but each one was praying and loving God in an individual way. It was fantastic!

20140428-214524.jpgWhen church was over Steve and Gina took us on a tour of the facility. The dormitories were nicely constructed and adequately furnished, but with wooden furniture, and the state instructed them to replace the wood bunks with metal. The classrooms of the school were empty because the kids dragged all the combination bench-desk pieces of furniture out to the church shelter for prayer meeting and would carry them all back in when it was over. They could use some benches just for the meeting shelter.

We saw how the ministry works with what it has and is seeking to make it better. Steve talked about future plans for upgrading facilities, improving land for productive purposes like farming, and working to include the children in keeping their campus nice. We saw the chicken house, the piggery, the only cow, and we walked to the nearest borehole well, where all the kids have to go to fetch their personal bathing water. They carry it in Gerry-cans, big plastic canisters reminiscent of the fuel cans used by the Germans in World War 2 (thus the name), and have it poured over themselves as there is no running water in much of Uganda. Being among these children and worshipping in such simple purity was refreshing, and seeing how Wells of Hope is caring for the children of the imprisoned was inspiring. Being with the Gants was a lot of fun too. Steve and I are two peas in a pod!

We kept the Gants up again, this time Steve and I swapped war-stories from his Navy experience and my police career. We must have bored the girls, because we found ourselves alone laughing at each other's anecdotes. We are having a great time!

Day Twelve, April 26:

I misspoke about our driver, Anthony, yesterday. He is not Busoga, but Buganda. He confirmed that the Busoga people are very poorly resourced and a main target group for missionaries in Jinja.

20140427-225813.jpgHe accompanied us to the Noah's Ark Children's Home (www.nacmu.org), where we met Peter Buitendijk, the CEO and founder. When we entered the property we thought we had entered a highly organized village, and security personnel directed us to the proper building. After we parked, a small child of about five greeted us and asked what we were there for. When we told him, he took Cindy's hand and escorted us to "Pappa," which is everyone's nickname for Peter. We were guided past huge buildings of western design and quality, and invited to sit on comfortable patio furniture outside a large, beautiful house. Inside the house, a Dutch man of imposing stature tended to business, addressed employees and dealt with someone on the phone, with all the appearance of a business tycoon or political leader of a small country. A few minutes later, Peter emerged and greeted us as if we were no distraction at all. He asked us our story and after showing slight amusement at our explanation, told us his. From his teen years as a misfit among his peers and exceptionally gifted bucker of systems and reinventor of wheels, aided by his wife whom he married at age 17 by permission of the queen of Holland, he started a life of enterprise and ingenuity, which flourished everywhere he went. When he got bored reinventing metal works in Holland, he began smuggling Bibles into Soviet countries. When that was no longer an adventure, he turned to missionary work, and since 2006, has carved out of this mountainside forest a complete village to sustain orphans and school children. With supporters from the US, UK, Germany, Holland, and other places, he credits God, the owner of all cattle on all hills with resourcing his vision for this enterprise. He didn't say how many children he ministers to, but with just under 200 employees, trucks, tractors, cars, intermodal containers, and thousands of acres of farmland and investment property, workshops, every level of school there is, and more children than I could estimate, he is a patriarch. He works on simple principles: if it's not good enough for me then it's not good enough for my kids; waste nothing but repurpose and reuse everything; use good business sense buying low and selling high; God's way works best. He uses the last one I mentioned as his first priority, requiring no less from his employees and business contacts. He is a wise man of enterprise, and he has obviously combined that with his heart for children quite successfully.

When we left Noah's Ark, we began to question the faith of ourselves and of mission endeavors which seemed to struggle, always at the brink of financial disaster. Peter's ideas pivoted on the supposition that if God is truly one's resource, His bounty would accompany His directive. Still, he cautioned that Uganda is difficult on new ministries, and said few last longer than ten years. Witnessing this vast children's project brought a strange mix of emotions that just left me with more questions than answers. It challenged the expectation that God's ministers live by daily provision and that blind faith drives beat-up cars and second-hand clothes. Godliness apparently does not require poverty.

Mukono, by the way, is considered the center for ancestor worship and dark arts in Uganda.

On to our friends Stephen and Gina Gant! These are folks we had heard very little about. Terri Terrill, a friend of mine from work told me she had friends who were missionaries in Uganda but knowing there are many, I gave it little thought until she actually connected me with them. The Gants invited us to stay with them in the capital city of Kampala, and were eager to introduce us to Wells of Hope, the ministry with which they are affiliated (www.wellsofhope.org). We followed the detailed directions to their house, and were allowed onto the compound in which their house and several of their neighbors' houses are situated. Warm smiles, firm handshakes, and the friendly barking of their sweet, silly dog, Molly, made us right at home. As we got to know one another it was uncanny how much alike we are. Not only so, but we discovered we were neighbors back home, with our houses less than a mile and a half apart. Stephen and I are about the same age, and he just retired from the Navy just before I retired from the Sheriff's Office. They made recommendations, encouraged us, and warned us about pitfalls of doing business in Uganda. We four had fun talking about ministry and the growth of our faith and relished the fellowship until yawns got long and eyes got droopy. I never know when to hush! It was tough, but I let them get some sleep, and we retired to our guest room. There were three.

Day Eleven, April 25:

20140425-232514.jpgIt is raining on our parade! We are checking out of the Kingfisher Resort this morning, and there is no sign of the twenty or so South African teenagers who were here on a mission trip, so the place feels empty. The breakfast buffet was not set up, but was exchanged for an a la carte menu, which delayed us in preparing to leave. As I went to settle the bill, expecting to use my Visa debit/credit card, which the clerk repeatedly promised me would be accepted, I was informed that the credit card machine is broken, so they would only accept cash. With our cash issue, this was bad news. The good news was the clerk apparently discounted the rate, because she only charged me 290,400 UGX (~$120 US), which is about right for one night, not two. God owns all the cattle on every hill, and He supplies!

Later:
Anthony picked us up and we drove the now watery clay roads, over some undercarriage-scraping speed humps, and through what appeared to me to be rivers, if not at least streams. Anthony is very careful and intentional, taking obstacles like this pollan-pollan (sp? slow-slow).

Jinja is a beautiful town, with many buildings and houses one might just mistake for American. The red stain of the clay splashed up on everything make two things clear though: first, that we are not in Kansas, and that forceful rains are a regular occurrence here. We crossed the Nile twice as we went about today, traversing Jinja's hydroelectric dam and bridge. As Cindy began to take a picture, Anthony cautioned that amateur photography of this structure is prohibited.

We stopped at a couple banks to attempt to cash our remaining American Express traveler's cheques, but no one would take them. We were referred to a couple branches in the capital city of Kampala, where we will be tomorrow. I guess I can use the ATM until Monday. We had cash enough to stop at the downtown marketplace and get a few souvenirs including a poster-sized map of Uganda Anthony found for me, which depicts all the towns that have highlighted our journey, and most of the roads we used to get to them. I will cherish it.

We got to the Baugh's house, which was a gorgeous home on Lake Victoria, and were received by a precious couple of God's hands and feet here in Uganda. Sent years ago as affiliates with the Bible Study Fellowship, Russ and Marcia Baugh adopted their Ugandan child, Joseph, though the Rafiki Foundation, but have since joined up with Every Child Matters (ECM) as missionaries to the Busoga Tribe, one of Uganda's most poorly resourced people. (See http://TheWayHomeAfrica.com.) They teach the Farming God's Way agricultural principles, and minister to fifty-seven "granny houses," of just as many widows raising their 315 orphaned grandchildren. The Baughs seek supporters willing to sponsor all or part of a granny house, which costs $2,200 to build. They are also starting a pastor training program, in hopes of deepening the knowledge base and Scriptural integrity of the local church leadership. Russ and Marcia were encouraging and helpful, sharing wisdom and anecdotal references to their application. Their primary advice: trust God, and don't need to know the whole plan! They gave us other missionary pointers too, like fund raising basics, discipleship emphasis, cultivating trusting relationships, and a priority of bringing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

As we parted with the Baughs, Anthony took us to his home church, Acacia Community Church, pastored by Terry Nester. He showed us around the grounds and the newly constructed meeting shelter which, he said, seats 300-400 souls each Sunday. He was proud of his local fellowship, as well he should be. I look forward to meeting Pastor Terry.

Anthony then took us to witness the beautiful Itanda Falls, where we took several pictures and walked a tour right down to the Nile. The falls were breathtaking, but we resisted the urging of local "divers" who tried to get us to pay them to go through the class 5 and 6 rapids without a raft. I can't imagine a sane person doing that. I can, however, imagine me taking advantage of the zip-line over these falls. Maybe next trip.

20140425-232855.jpg

We made it to our appointment at Amazima right on time, and met the Operations Director, Brad Lang. (See www. Amazima.org.) We were his only guests this week, so we got a little extra attention. He was relieved we were aspiring missionaries and not just Katie Davis fans. He chatted with us about the realities of missionary work in Uganda, and as he did, his exuberant passion spilled through. It was inspiring talking to someone so dedicated to doing whatever God articulates as His will for ministry! Amazima teaches and promotes Farming God's Way agricultural practices too, and Brad showed us the training fields. The lots farmed in traditional ways yielded smaller, less productive crops than those using the FGW principles, which were already yielding four or more times the traditional method. I was sold on it. Amazima supports community programs, including a Saturday Bible Study program, where sponsored kids are also given supplemental food items to augment their home meals. Since they get school breakfast and lunch, many do not eat supper unless they bring it home. We saw kids packing food bags for tomorrow's supply. We toured the playground, built four years ago, by Brad and some teenagers he taught some construction skills in the process. We walked and talked for quite awhile. Brad was very hospitable and tolerant of the aspiring missionaries from Florida.

Anthony, who is of the Busoga people (correction: Buganda), pointed out a couple ministries with which he was familiar that we passed as we left Amazima: Our Own Home, a children's home for kids with AIDS; and the Good Shepherd Folds, another orphanage in Jinja. I reference these so I can look them up later. We like Anthony's heart, and he has pointed us toward many good things on this trip. He surprised me with a small knife with which we can cut up our remaining mangoes. It was tough trying to do it with a hotel dinner knife. This will work much better. The TSA won't let me take it home, so I will likely re-gift it to him before we leave.

We made it to the Providence Guest House, a ministry of Heavenly Hope Ministries (www.providencegh.org). This is a guest house devoted to missionaries, and the proceeds go to help missionaries. The place was fabulous too! Roomy and well-equipped, we were given everything we needed, including a menu with some Ugandan dishes on it. We had skipped lunch to make our appointments, so I was hungry.

At supper we met a man and daughter here from Pennsylvania, to encourage and support the adoption of a child by the man's other daughter. Adopting parents and grandparents are my heroes, as they are rescuing the very children out of the need we seek to meet. The man, Ken, is a dentist, has been on many mission trips, and even in his fifties adopted a Chinese baby. That's a hero!

Listening to Ken's stories while reflecting on other conversations of the day reminded me there are orphan rescue initiatives, like children's homes and adoption, then there are orphan prevention initiatives, like those practiced by Amazima, where families are encouraged and supported in staying together. The latter goes well with the national Ministry of Gender's philosophy I have griped about in earlier posts, that a child is better off in even a bad home village than in a children's home. It was the idea that families just want what is best for their families that had me choked up in Gulu when I was addressing the Acholi women. I don't know what is in store for us, or what form our ministry will take, but it is exciting seeing the many approaches to ministry that are being taken by God's people.

Dinner at Providence was great, and two hot showers later, we were ready for bed.

Day Ten, April 24:

20140424-211439.jpgLast night it rained through the night and the coolness swept through the room. I don't think I could have been more comfortable. We woke to a symphony of birds: doves cooing so that I mistook them for owls at first, hundreds of sweet chirping things, and the exact replication of the "tookie bird" from the kids' Disney read-along books, "ahh ahh eee eee tookie tookie!" What I didn't hear was a large black annoyingly loud Ibis-looking bird we have seen and heard everywhere we have been, but a walk after breakfast would prove he was here. He apparently was busy collecting bugs with his long straw beak in the mud softened by the rain. I still haven't heard any of his obnoxious "caw cawwing" today. Speaking of birds, yesterday the eagles were swooping down at the roadway, taking advantage of the easy hunting backdrop when critters ventured to cross. Anthony had told us their talons can scratch automotive windshields, so he was nervous about them swooping too near the car. They were beautiful golden brown, much like our Golden Eagle.

The breakfast buffet here at Kingfisher was set with grains, fruits, teas, fresh whole milk, and an omelette bar attended upon request with beautiful brown eggs from nearby chickens. It was great, and we topped it off with a mango and some raw G-nuts we had in our room, a gift from Nancy Cordoza, that reminded us we were in Uganda and not California. Thanks again, Nancy!

Marcia Baugh, our point of contact with The Way Home ministry, told me she and her husband, Russ, would visit us at the resort this afternoon, so I gave Anthony the day off to spend with his family, and Cindy and I looked forward to enjoying our day of leisure at the Kingfisher Safaris Resort. There are boat tours offered here and I think we will take one.

We did our laundry last night and it is drying nicely on a cord I strung across our room. Cindy thought I was weird when I bought a length of 550 pound poly cord, but it has repeatedly proven very handy. As long as I'm talking about handy items for traveling to Africa, I must sound a recommendation for moist towelettes, quick-dry camp towels, zip-closure bags, alcohol gel (though the TSA made us leave most of it behind), travel-sized toilet tissue rolls, laundry detergent packs, and 3-M UltraThon 12-hour insect repellent. Thanks to those who recommended these things to us or supplied them, our travel has been much more enjoyable.

I read a passage in Acts in my devotional yesterday and I read it again today because I heard it speak to me:

"For so the LORD has commanded us,
'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
(Acts 13:47, NKJV; also Isaiah 49:6)

Later:
I spent the morning relaxing, snoozing, and reading the scores of emails I downloaded yesterday while connected to the hotel wi-fi. Internet connection is scarce in Uganda, and intermittent even at its best. I have had little opportunity to respond to correspondence, and calling home seems a mean thing to do until after 3pm, when it is 8am back home. I'm still not sure how much time my airtime cards allow since they are in Ugandan shillings rather than minutes, and hearing this cheap throw-down phone I bought is very difficult for me even with my hearing aids.

20140425-084936.jpgI booked our boat tour to the source of the Nile and we push off in half an hour. Cindy is shuffling the laundry on our homemade clothesline. Leisure doesn't come naturally for either of us, but Cindy for sure. We've wandered the beautiful gardens of this resort and found some very interesting and beautiful plants and animals. There is a Poinsettia tree here as tall as a house, and a strange bean-pod bearing tree with flat fern-like branches, the pods of which are as long as a forearm and quite wide. There are coconut trees and date palms, and pretty flowering mysterious things neither of us have seen before. The rain pushed some great big millipedes up out of the ground, and we were impressed to see how fast they move around.

Still later:
20140425-084943.jpgOur ride on the boat was beautiful! Franco, our captain, took us to where the Nile begins at the edge of Lake Victoria. He showed us many sights, including a monument to the first white man to "discover" the point, another park in honor of Ghandi, a hero in these parts, and a small island where the local tribe offers an annual sacrifice of two black goats to the demon of the lake. He told us the point used to be a waterfall, but since the hydroelectric dam was built downstream, the water has risen to just above the rocks. There was an island at the point, that was almost completely flooded over. The tour shops had water up to the base of them. It was quite a feeling being on such an ancient river, and being at the source of it.

When we got back, we found messages from Marcia, canceling our afternoon meeting, so we went to lunch, resigned to spend the whole day at leisure. After a brief dip in the pool and a nap, it was just about time for supper. Today showed the first sign of any intestinal distress, so I kept the meal simple and vegetarian, as breakfast and lunch had been.

We heard from our Kampala contact, Gina Gant who, along with her husband Steve, will be hosting us Saturday through Tuesday, and sharing with us the ministry of Wells of Hope. I also heard from a missionary nurse who runs a camping ministry, but is stateside right now, Kindri Van Puffelen. She gave me a recommendation for a missionary guesthouse that would be closer to things on the other side of Jinja, so we decided to check out of the Kingfisher Safaris Resort and into the less costly Providence Guesthouse tomorrow. I am told proceeds of that guesthouse go to fund other mission ministries. Anthony will pick us up around 9am.

Day Nine, April 23:

We got up with the roosters and were ready to depart at dawn (7am). Nancy Cordoza made us a lovely breakfast, an omelette of fresh local eggs, onions and tomatoes with avocado, bananas with odie (G-nut sauce), and oranges which I picked off the tree in her front yard. Talk about fresh organic produce! I could easily get used to this.

Saying goodbye, however, especially to such a sweet new friend, was bitter. We drove away leaving her to her ministry as we started out for Jinja.

20140424-145756.jpgWe left by way of the same road on which we had arrived, and travelled through Kamdini, the town in which Anthony and I had eaten on the way to Gulu. We crossed over the Nile River at the site of the future Karuma Hydroelectric Project as we had done before. This time I got better pictures. After we crossed, we encountered dozens of baboons lining the highway. As I raised my iPhone to take pictures, one lunged toward it as if I was offering it as food. This got a laugh out of Anthony and reminded Cindy to roll up her window.
20140424-145830.jpg
At a construction stop, we were rushed by merchants capitalizing on the captive audience. Bottles of cold beverages were thrust into my open window, as Anthony inquired about a local treat, roasted cassava, which was promptly produced. A brief exchange of currency and a wave of the flag man later, we were off again, and Anthony and I enjoyed our early lunch.

A well-timed potty break stopped us at the exact same petrol station at which we had stopped before, just outside Bweyale town. We passed through Luwero, a busy town, where we turned off the main road. Shortly after that, we found the biggest, most amply fruited mango trees I have ever seen. Anthony said these from this region are especially good, so we stopped and bought several from a woman selling them at the street.20140424-145842.jpg

We took a short-cut down Zirobwe Rd. that Anthony swore would shorten our drive by 50km. The problem with this shortcut is that it cuts through Lwajari Swamp and it is the middle of the rainy season. When we came to water that looked impassable, local boys ran ahead of our car to demonstrate that it wasn't too deep. Their dramatics were not enough to overcome the following obstacle however, where a large commercial truck was overwhelmed and swamped. Since we were in a small Toyota family car, we began to back up. Just then, one of the boys, Karema Usam, called out that he knew a way around the washout. He climbed in the car and showed us an alternate path, hardly as wide as the car, and through what seemed like the front yards of many farmers. When we emerged from the adventure through the jungle farms of the Lwajari, we thanked Karema Usam with a coin and watched him run off to save another traveler. The stuck truck was now well in our rear view.

We arrived at the Kingfisher Safaris Resort just after 3pm, only eight hours after leaving Gulu. The resort suites are fashioned after the pattern of circular mud huts with thatch roofing and the whole place has a strong African flavor. It is situated on the bank of Lake Victoria where the Nile River originates. It is beautiful, but feels touristy, and the menu has no pocho, cassava, matooke, goat stew, or other Ugandan food. At dinner, Hilani, our waiter, agreed to bring me pocho with my beef stew, though it was not on the menu. The "potatoes," he explained, were Irish potatoes and not African sweet potatoes. Cindy had rice with her vegetable curry, so that was close, but I already miss Gulu. When he served us, Hilani explained that he had made the pocho himself. Being from Kasese and Mburrara, towns of western Uganda, he knew the dish well. He pointed out that the other waiter was of the Acholi people, from Gulu.

Tomorrow we plan to meet with Russ and Marcia Baugh, of The Way Home, another ECM (Every Child Matters) ministry, although they have family visiting to adopt a child while they are expecting another. It's a big month for them!

Anthony, who is from this area, is eager to show us around.

Day Eight, April 22:

Nancy Cardoza, the founder and director of Going In Love Ministries, opened her home to us. She fed us local cuisine, and it was better breakfast than I remember having in any American restaurant. Matooke (plantains) in G-nut sauce (sort of like soupy peanut butter), avocado with passion fruit, and beans leftover from last night's dinner topped with a little local honey (much darker than orange blossom or clover honey made by Italian honey bees found in America). There is no talk here about "organic" or "unprocessed" because everything is. There are not many refrigerated markets, and when there are, the refrigerators are chilling the water or maintaining ice cream, a novel delicacy around here. We took our breakfast spoiled with such flavorful fare that fit nicely in my personal plan of eating healthy.

Nancy told me that she rarely eats meat anymore, having grown accustomed to Ugandan markets. Since her solar panels are not strong enough to support a refrigerator she only makes meat dishes on special occasions. She said chicken is more costly in the market than even pork or beef, and is a rare treat. There is no such thing as specialized pet food here, so the dogs ate whatever meat we left, plus some sardine-like fish which Nancy fed them whole. We had seen this before, when Carol Adams had fed her cat the same thing plus a couple eggs which I apparently broke on the way home from the market. In my defense, the whole flat of eggs was placed in a plastic bag for transport. This is the practice here.

After breakfast, Cindy washed our clothes and I wrung them and hung them on the line. This act is apparently the African equivalent of washing one's car because as soon as I finished and we left the house, the previously clear sky clouded up with large rain clouds.

Anthony drove Cindy, Nancy, and another guest to the Tegot-Atoo village about 20km away, while I took the boda-boda (motorcycle for hire). I don't know if my perspective was different or the back roads we took just lent us a deeper look into the culture, but the mud huts looked even less objectionable close up. Many were encircled by beautiful flower gardens, but almost all stood along larger planted gardens or farms. The terrain was dusty, as evidenced by the reddish-brown appearance of my clothes and skin after the boda-boda ride. It made me think of how I considered the dirty or dingy as more poverty-stricken. I am the same guy today I was yesterday, but today I am dusty. Big deal!

20140424-145133.jpgThe ladies of the Tegot-Atoo village received us like royalty, singing, clapping, hopping and cheering as we entered the church building. This church building was open, with a dirt floor, and only a few benches. The forty-five or so Acholi women seated themselves on papyrus mats as my boda-man and new friend Ochora Charles, also known as "Charlie International" turned himself into Charlie the English Teacher and gave the ladies a lesson. When English studies were over, the women of the Tegot-Atoo Hill Group got to work on their quilts. Working in several groups of four to five women, they practiced their new skill in hopes of raising money to support their families. The work was quite beautiful too, and we will be bringing one of the finished quilts home.

As they worked, the women got to use Charles' translation services to tell us what their main concerns were. Chief on everyone's mind was the welfare of their children. Some asked for more child sponsorships, others for medical support, many voiced a wish that they might obtain their own building so they could work on the quilts more than just Tuesdays and perhaps safely keep a community sewing machine. About half the women said they were raising children alone with no male support. While we were there, the group was interrupted by village drunks three times, and each time the offender was gently escorted out of the wide open church shelter.

One woman said that when she is sick she has to travel to a far away clinic for medicine, which costs her a day of work plus travel expense which few of these women had. She would like a clinic with medicine in the village.

20140424-145403.jpgThe women fed us, but did not eat. This made me feel honored way beyond my status. One team leader named Nancy (not Cordoza) came around and poured water over our hands for us to wash them as she caught the water in a bowl. Then she unwrapped a large platter filled with delicious food: cassava (a roasted root), pocho (a meal of corn like finely ground grits served as a firm paste), beans (similar to our refrained beans), mashed peas, and chicken. I are everything but left the chicken, too humbled to accept such an expensive delicacy. Everything was delicious, and makes me want traditional Ugandan food rather than the American food available at the hotels and restaurants.

Nancy's trusted helper Renaldo and Charles did a good job translating for the ladies, who speak Lau (pronounced Lu), the language of the Acholi people. These people are primarily farmers, although they mine rock when it is found on their property and fish when possible. Charles took me to a local market and showed me the produce of his community. Other than the dried fish and gigantic ocra, it looked very appetizing.

On the boda-boda, Charles explained to me that several thousand acres of the land through which we were traveling belongs to his family, who had recently decided as a tribe to begin selling 150-acre lots to interested investors. I thought it might be a great place to start or expand a ministry. Charles said he grew up a sponsored child of the Watoto Church, and has aspirations toward political office, which he demonstrated well as he spoke to the group of various-aged women though only a youth of twenty-two himself. A business major at the local Gulu University, he was well spoken regarding what it would take to build a women's center or cultivate a piece of property for the ladies' benefit. He knew how many bricks and how many shillings per brick it would take to make the group's dream a reality. With an iron in every fire, he was an enterprising young man and showed a lot of promise. In 2015, he even plans to build and open a nursery school, which he plans to expand to primary school grades in the future. Also, ladies, watch out! He's in the market for an American wife.   🙂

Back at the Cardoza home, I busily washed out my reddish-orange clay-stained outfit, then showered in what was no longer solar-warmed water, while the girls warmed breakfast leftovers for dinner. We talked until Nancy could no longer hold her eyes open and then we discussed our dawn departure the next day and scurried off to bed. These short stays are less invasive to generous hosts, but heartbreaking when time to say goodbye draws near.

Day Seven, April 21:

Up before dawn which, at the equator, is always 7am, we finally got to experience one of the infamous Ugandan power outages. We were told that it had been an Easter miracle that our power had only been off for a few hours one night while we were sleeping, but now it was out for real, and just as we were needing to pack and leave. Laurie Dickerson, Carol's houseguest, had the place nicely illuminated with candles, and was browning toast in a skillet on a gas-burning stove for us. Laurie is a missionary herself, a pastor of the Four Square Church. She has been quite the helper and well of advice and anecdotal reference. She let us know when our plans were too crazy to be carried out, but I think we left Carol and Laurie both fairly convinced we were crazy, maybe just crazy enough.

It was tough to say goodbye, but Anthony's urging and his warning that we really needed to arrive in Gulu by dark was enough to get us going. It seemed like such a short stay!

As we left the Fort Portal area, we left behind the wealth and cleanliness of their community too. I noticed even the soil seemed less rich, as the clay began to turn from a dark red to a more yellow orange. The clothing of the people we passed got dingier and a little more tattered, though it was still dresses, trousers and dress shirts, short-sleeved ones began to appear, some with holes torn in them from wear and t-shirts began to show up in greater number. The houses got a little farther apart, and a little more run-down, and I felt like we had crossed over into a more rural Uganda.

20140423-163918.jpgAs Cindy and I began to doze Anthony woke us up with the call, "baboons!" There along the side of the road as we crossed through the Budongo Forest, was a group of baboons, pretty as you please! Neither Cindy nor I could get to a camera fast enough to prove it, but Anthony assured us they would be along the road in several places. Sure enough, eight million potholes later, as we wound our way through the clay obstacle course that passes for a road in Northwest Uganda, as we skirted the Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda's largest game park, we encountered dozens of baboons, all lining the highway as if on display. A few seemed as interested in us as we were in them, but we didn't stop, and we kept in mind the advice we got from Laurie earlier: don't open your windows around baboons no matter what. Apparently baboons are very curious and also aggressive.

20140423-163858.jpgWe crossed the Nile River and were both surprised to see a beautifully roaring river over rocks and falls, rather than the long sleepy hippo watering hole we had both pictured in our heads. I guess the Congo River Rapids ride at Busch Gardens was named for this part, not the sweet stream that gently brought Moses to Pharaoh's daughter. Speaking of Congo, we spent the day paralleling the mountain chain that separates D. R. Congo from Uganda. We could only imagine what was going on just the other side of those mountains.

After we crossed the Nile was when I think we began seeing the round mud huts with thatched grass roofs one sees in storybooks about African people. These huts, though, were really neatly made, most appeared cleanly kept, and efficient for their purpose and the climate. I was amazed at how nice some were. Painted with solid doors, some had clothes lines strung between them. Others had laundry drying right on the grass roof. Seeing the ventilation and the thick layers of grass used in the construction, I began to feel sorry for the folks in rectangular brick houses under tin roofs in the equatorial sun.

As we neared our destination much earlier than we had feared, Anthony announced he was hungry much to my relief. We stopped at a roadside restaurant in Kamdini and had some chicken and rice to tide us until supper. Nancy Cordoza, our Gulu hostess, had prepared us dinner so we kept our late lunch light. It was a compromise for me to eat at a roadside restaurant, given the health concerns, but I prayed extra fervently over it and God kept it from being a problem. Cindy, however, had exhausted our supply of G-nuts while we weren't looking, and was too full for roadside fare. She amused herself taking pictures of me taking the adventuresome risk.

Nancy met us at a landmark hotel near her house because (and she is not the first) meeting us and directing us in was easier than giving directions on unnamed (or at least unmarked) roads. When we arrived at her compound, we were shocked at the aesthetic appeal. Even the walls and gates were ornate. The house was no different. Nancy explained the rental process and the fact there are no public utilities was how she found such a bargain, but she makes a lack of refrigeration and laundry work well for her, and we found it comfortable too. Cooking with gas, assisted by a pressure cooker, she prepared us a Ugandan dinner of beans, rice, chicken, bananas, and odie (G-nut sauce).

She made her home our own as she described her ministry to the local Acholi women. She is currently running a quilting group and looking for marketing venues in the U.S. And Canada, to help the women support themselves. She showed us some of the quilts and they were very nice. This group meets on Tuesdays, so we will join them tomorrow.

I got to talk to my daughter briefly tonight, in an attempt to resolve my banking issue, but it's way past bedtime. So good night.

Day Five, April 19:

Normally nine hours of road travel would be a bland tale. Even as a kid I remember the car bingo games to make the time pass on long car trips. Today, however, was eventful, educational, eye-opening, and heart-warming.

20140420-212404.jpgAs we passed from the Buganda territory into the Tooro kingdom, we noticed a change in the landscape, which became more mountainous. There were more and bigger farms with more apparent organization. The strings of markets had longer gaps between them, and seemed to team with greater numbers of people when we arrived at them. In between those markets and the beautiful farms were some of the most primitive looking houses we have seen. Many looked like so many we passed before, but I became aware today that what I thought were market booths were merely the front of what served as homes to the families of those who operated them. Then I began to see less equipped homes, some just sticks and mud, others even woven papyrus mats or grass thatch huts. Surrounding them were families, all gathering for the Easter holiday when, traditionally, families return home to spend time together feasting. Butcheries were popular as folks prepared for the holiday, with most drawing crowds forming lines as a butcher hacked away at a side of beef right at the roadside. I saw a man dragging a steer's head down the road, using its horns as skis to help him drag the weighty load. Anthony explained that the head would be boiled and the meat used for stew. The poverty I witnessed today made me ashamed to be such a self-indulgent, wealthy person, so oblivious to the lives lived by the less privileged. It would get worse before the day was over.

On our way to Fort Portal, however, we got to drive through the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a game preserve. We saw wild elephants, impalas, water buffalo, and some kind of antelope the name of which neither Cindy nor I could remember. Let me tell you, I never imagined we would ever see such things without going on a game drive, and I honestly never imagined we would do that either, so this was a big deal! Especially the elephants. Cindy loves elephants like kindergartners love ice cream. It was an exciting bit of travel!

As we neared Fort Portal, things cleaned up, and it was apparent this was a wealthier region. We found our destination without any trouble and I was amazed at the size and structure of it. Carol Adams, our sweet host, greeted us like family and showed us around the facility of the Youth Encouragement Services (Y.E.S.) hostel, office, and her home. The ten-room, forty-six bed hostel helps to fund the children's home, situated on another property in the village. The home, she explained, nurtures thirty children who suffer from AIDS, a condition that stigmatizes them as "throw away" children. "Why bother caring about you? You're walking dead anyway," Carol described the sentiment regarding such kids. She showed us pictures, however, of kids thriving under the care of the home, and reported of many adopted out and living full, healthy lives in loving homes. In addition to the thirty AIDS inflicted residents of the home, Carol oversees the external project, which ensures that some three hundred children attend school and have necessary supplies, and then follows their progress to ensure the kids do not neglect the gift. By her description she is called by some "the mean Mzungu (white) momma" but is respected by all of them, because they are well aware of her maternal love for all of them. She showed us pictures and told stories of how her love for these people has returned to her in any number of public demonstrations and of quiet gestures. Love like we observed in the heart of this woman and heard in the reports of the objects of her affection gave little doubt that we were in the presence of a heroine of the Kingdom of God, and a pioneer of Christ's loving mercy in these parts.

Carol had a delivery to make, a gift of holiday money from a former employee to a family of twenty-three orphans overseen by their grandmother, who had lost nine of her thirteen children. We went along. As we started out down the washed out clay road, it was good we were in a four-wheel drive truck, a twenty-two year old Suzuki Nomade. No mere car could've made this trip. When we pulled up to the house I remembered some of the stick and mud homes I had seen and thought this was much nicer than it could be. The outside was smooth with defined edges and paint, but was far too small to imagine twenty-three orphans dwelling in it. The inside had concrete floors, and four rooms: one tiny common area, a dark room to either side, one for boys and one for girls, and another room off the girls' room for "Mamma" the old woman who raised all these grandchildren. In each of the bedrooms there were only three or four beds, but several sleep together in each. Outside and behind the house, there was a structure of sticks with a low metal roof. Painted on the side was the word, "kitchen," which I thought strange considering only the oldest kids spoke any English at all, and that was very little. The kitchen was just a dark covered space where a fire was burning at one end, and an empty pot was burning on the coals. There was a pen adjacent to the kitchen, but no livestock in it, although from the smell there had been something recently. The worst, most impoverished housing I have ever seen in the U.S., even in all my years working the lowest income parts of Jacksonville, were palatial compared to this. The children who were there gathered for a quick photo for the visiting Bzungu (white people) and the older ones thanked us for visiting. Our tour guide had been a girl of fifteen both Carol and I suspected of being pregnant, but who seemed intent on trying to hide it. As we left we discussed the old woman's failing health, lack of self-care, refusal to seek Western medical attention, and dependence on traditional herbalists. Upon her demise, the children will be left to fend for themselves, eating what they grow and doing what they can to survive. Three of the twenty-three are in school because of the Y.E.S. program and have a chance at success.

Day Four, April 18 (posted one day later):

What a beautiful landscape Uganda has! Our driver, Anthony, met us at lunchtime yesterday at the Sunset Hotel, where we had a nice lunch before starting the journey to Masaka. With our late start, roads only two and a half lanes wide crowded with boda-bodas, pedestrians, all manner of truck, bus, and car, and the beginning of school holiday starting, there was a very slow ride to Masaka. There is a rich dark clay soil here that is used in the production of just about every building and even roads. The clay appears to crumble under pressure though, so many buildings are in disrepair and many roads are peppered with washed out holes. Our driver was certainly kept alert for his work!

I thought we had arrived at a marketplace, but soon learned that the "market" lines all the roadway in populated areas. Tiny booths, some of sheet metal, some clay brick, and others just stick huts, crowded together like a never ending flea-market. Everyone seemed to be selling something, and only a few, like furniture craftsmen and basket weavers, actually made anything. Farming accounted for some, but not all the market, as most were peddling clothing, used items, or just mobile phone airtime cards. Surprising was the number of idle people just watching traffic ride by.

20140419-065528.jpgWe made one stop at the equator, an obvious tourist attraction and photo opportunity. It isn't every day one crosses the equator! There was a restaurant built right on the line, and they kept the line painted with a stripe through their dining room. Very amusing! We used a public toilet and as I left it I heard a little girl ask me something but I couldn't understand her. I asked her to repeat herself three times and finally concluded she was asking me if I wanted to buy ice cream, so I said, "No, thank you" and walked away. Later it occurred to me, as I wondered why she would giggle so at my response, she was probably asking me if the bathroom was clean, prompting me to tip her. I missed that one!

Huge termite mounds dotted the red clay landscape. Matooke (plaintain) farms lined the unpopulated areas except those near the swamps, which were cluttered with fish peddlers so desperate to sell their tilapia that they stepped into traffic holding their catch as it twitched and flapped in their hands demonstrating its freshness. The swamps themselves were covered in a reed I had never seen before, but which Anthony told me was papyrus.

We ended up meeting Kelsey Linduff, her precious family and friends just as the sun set over the rolling green hills, and were welcomed into her home and hearth while Anthony caught up with Alex, Kelsey's security guard, whom he knew from their home village of Jinja. Kelsey's precious daughters greeted us with hand-drawn pictures addressed to "Mr. Todd" and "Mrs. Cindy." The children were precious and made us feel right at home. We shared stories with Kelsey's other guests and a wonderful meal prepared by Amanda, Kelsey's roommate. Before it got too late, Cindy reminded me we were not family and should get going, and we were led to the Zebra Hotel only a few kilometers away.

The hotel room was spacious and well equipped, but charged by the minute for web access, so I didn't write last night. We retired early and got up for breakfast this morning, baked matooke in a tangy pepper sauce that was wonderful. We met Kelsey at her home and her daughters pointed out the two monkeys swinging in the trees. As fascinated as I was with that, their eyes got even bigger when they reported that recently they had even been visited by a squirrel. Imagine being bored with monkeys and excited by a squirrel! I can't.

20140419-065623.jpgWe rode to the Okoa Refuge and spent a lot of the morning playing with the babies and toddlers. Cindy was in her element, as she found one of the recent additions, Lydia, who clung to Cindy like she belonged with her, and nestled quietly in her arms. I, on the other hand, played jungle gym to the rowdier boys, and was christened with slobber, snot, and all while I enjoyed the giggles of strangers who suddenly weren't so strange, and loved my little brothers and sisters like family for a good while. Around 11:00 and into the early afternoon we were serenaded by the primary schoolers. After listening to an educational Good Friday Bible story by Providence School graduate Audrey, the kids demonstrated a traditional Ugandan dance and took turns introducing themselves in song. It was wonderful, and I was glad to be in their audience. Afterward, Liv, Tyler, Kelsey and the other guests, Cassie and Katie, along with Amanda and the Workman's youngest, Judah, went for a walk to see the new clinic structure and the community center, both newly constructed for the benefit of the locals. It was wonderful to see the potential of those buildings and hear the vision of what is to come through the descriptions by Tyler and Liv. Vocational training, youth entertainment and involvement projects, and health training clinics and services, all in the name of making friends, for only in making friends can one make disciples.

This evening we will tour one of Okoa's rural facilities and see the new piggery. Tyler is excited about the prospect of helping families in the community, as well as Okoa grow more self-supporting through this project. Afterwards, we will dine with the Workmans and retire to the hotel. Anthony tells me we need to make an early start for Fort Portal tomorrow if we are to get there before sundown.

The view from the Zebra Hotel is beautiful! Also, I could get used to this food. It is quite tasty, yet mostly plant-based and unprocessed. If only more Americans ate this way!

Later:
While we were touring the new piggery, an amazing sight even for this transplanted mid-westerner, Liv got a call that a two-month old child had been found abandoned, and was now at the police station, waiting to be picked up. The ministry is so well respected they are the first choice call for such situations. The age estimate was probably off because the child we picked up was two weeks old, three tops, not two months. It breaks the heart to think of someone leaving a child like that at a hospital food distribution center, but warmed it to know that my new friends were there to raise this boy if need be, and care for him in the meantime if not. Inspirational!

We finished the day with a dinner out with the Workmans and Audrey at a restaurant called Port 9 (I think), a quiet cafe, until we got there. The kids all over the village, including our present company, Shami, Gideon, and Judah, were all excited about a termite swarm. Apparently, the kids collect them and the mommies fry them up. Our troupe spilled their bowlful before they made it to the kitchen, although the verbal agreement was already made with the restaurant to fry them up. What do you say to such an appetizing appetizer? You thank God the bowl broke!

Day Two, April 16:
20140417-093025.jpgI have never before traveled outside North America, and Cindy has never done so except on cruises. The Boeing 777 and the 7-hour flight from Dulles to Brussels were both new experiences for me. The plane was bigger than any I've been on, nine seats across, with elbow room everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. I've never gone to the bathroom in a phone booth before. That was educational. Having a meal planned by someone else was new for me too since, as of the last four years, I've been on a very regimented plan of eating, recovering from compulsive eating and food addiction. The in-flight meal was just fine and I wondered why I had given it so much concern. God provides!

Tempis fugit (time flies), especially when you are fugit-ing toward it head-on! We got to Brussles at what should be 1am, but which they swore to us was 7am. The rising sun on the wing of the descending plane on approach proved them right. At any rate, we made it to Europe!

I tried to post this in Brussels, but could not get their wi-fi to work. There was a slight delay as we waited to board the Brussels Airlines A330. This plane was slightly smaller but no less comfortable than the one that preceded it. Cindy and I both agreed, waiting around a strange airport at what our bodies thought was the middle of the night, only to be kept awake by the sound of seven voices speaking in as many languages on the public address was not "the fun part" of this trip.

Day Three, April 17:
20140417-092722.jpgWe arrived in Entebbe last night and had absolutely no trouble at all getting our visas, a process which took about two minutes. It took us longer to figure out the money exchange. At 2,450 Uganda shillings per dollar, there is really no equivalent to think of. We figured our 20,000 shilling tip for our very patient and friendly driver, David, was appropriate, but I am not certain. He had stood for we don't know how long, holding a sign that said, "Cindy Lemmon" on it, and was the first to greet and welcome us to Uganda.

We slept soundly under our mosquito net at the Sunset Hotel, and rose at about 7am (1am Eastern) for breakfast. The compound is beautiful. There are trees and birds I have never seen before, more hibiscus than I've ever seen in one place, and lots of snails. Big ones! They greeted us at our door as we went to breakfast, were all over the outside walls, and even made you watch your step on the walkways.

We were a little uneasy about the ride in on Church Road, since we saw neither church nor parishioner, but taverns, dilapidated buildings, strange looking structures with stranger looking steel fences reinforced with razor wire. The dark red clay road, badly eroded with rain, was littered with boda-bodas, motorcycle-taxis, whose operators often appeared no more competent to drive than their drunken fares. These sights made it seem less alarming to be greeted at the massive hotel gate by a very warm smile on the face of a rifle-armed guard. I say "warm smile" but that was only after two suspicious eyes peered through the gate into the car before the battle-dressed uniformed man unwrapped the heavy chain and welcomed us in. Such a sight might have made us uncomfortable elsewhere, but we thanked God for him and blessed him in our prayers as we retired for the night.

Today at lunchtime, we expect to meet our driver for the rest of the trip, Anthony, who we hired on the advice of Marcia Baugh, one of the missionaries we will be visiting. Then it's on to Masaka and the Okoa Refuge, where we hope to spend time with Leslie and Lumpy Workman's son Tyler, his wife Liv, and fellow CrossRoad Church member Kelsey Linduff.

Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. We appreciate the support!