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You may have noticed that it’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything…that’s partially because I’ve been so crazy busy, but it’s mainly because I’ve moved over to my new blog, Cartas de Amor!  Since I’m moving to Costa Rica in just 24 short days, I decided it’s high time I started my Costa Rica blog.  It’s separate from this one, and I plan on only posting over there from here on out (or, at least for the time I’m in Costa Rica).  Cartas de Amor is going to be focused mainly on my experiences in Costa Rica, the exciting things I’m going to be doing and seeing, the mischief we’ll be up to, and the things God will do there, so if you’re interested in following my trip, that’s where it’s at.

So click here to check it out, and if you’re subscribed to Love Letters updates by email, you’ll probably want to head over and subscribe to Cartas de Amor as well.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Ramblings About Nothing

 

On sickness, death, and the meaning of life.

On Sunday morning, we lost a precious little boy named Alex.  Recent rains in Uganda have taken already-dangerous living conditions and made them even worse, and this brought about an outbreak of cholera in the slum in which Alex lived.  Alex fell ill with cholera last week, and his little body just never recovered.

Alex was three years old when he died, and though his life was painfully short, through it God has taught us all so much.  Alex was born with AIDS, and shortly thereafter lost both of his parents to it.  So for his entire life, he was sick.  He was so ill, so undernourished, that he was expected to die any time.
Then God brought Noah into the picture.  Noah is one of my best friends, and his love for Alex breaks my heart in the best way.  Noah chose to sponsor Alex to pay for food and medicine for him, not knowing that by doing that, he was saving Alex’s life.  He chose Alex simply because they shared a birthday…but God had a bigger plan.
In January, we headed back to Uganda, and I had the privilege of watching Noah meet his sponsor child for the first time.  Alex’s caretaker fell to her knees thanking Noah, saying that if it weren’t for his contribution, Alex would have died long before.  Noah was astonished by this outpouring of thanks; he hadn’t realised the difference that he had made in the lives of Alex and those around him.  It was truly fantastic.
And even more beautiful was the way Noah poured his heart out to Alex.  The way the two of them bonded warms my heart to this day.
So, as you can imagine, we were afraid when we received the news that Alex had fallen ill, and we were utterly heartbroken when he died.
I loved that boy.  I didn’t even know Alex all that well, but I loved him with all my heart.  The love that I have for all of my children in Uganda…I don’t know where it comes from.  Actually, now that I write that, I do.  It comes from God.  A love as strong as the love I feel for Uganda couldn’t possibly come from anywhere else.
Alex knew he was loved.  The last few months of his short life were his best.  He was loved by his caretaker, he was loved by us (Noah especially) when we came to visit, and most of all he knew he was loved by God.

But that doesn’t make it easier to know that he is gone.
It breaks my heart so, when my children are sick, dying.  But really, I was thinking about it, and we’ve been partnering with Ray of Hope orphanage for over a year now, and Alex is the first child we’ve lost in that time.  So when I think about it that way, it’s amazing.  I mean, this is Uganda.  Children die.  It’s what happens.  AIDS, malaria, cholera, starvation, the list goes on.  So the fact that it’s been a whole year is pretty astonishing, and it’s reason to thank God.  Thinking of it in that way makes it hurt just a little bit less.

Sunday was the first day that Alex knew what it feels like to not be sick.  It was the first day he was entirely well, lacking nothing, complete and happy.  And though it’s painful to lose him, it really is better this way.  Dying this way was much faster and less painful than dying of AIDS would have been.  It’s better.  Not easier, but better.

Oh, but it still hurts.  My heart still aches persistently.  My eyes still tear up when the memory of Alex crosses my mind.  But though it isn’t pleasant, his death has brought about good things as well.

For one thing, Alex’s death has clarified my calling in life.  I have never been so sure that I want, even need, to use my life to save others.  Alex’s death has made me all the more eager for the day when I can prevent things like that from happening.  If I can make one less little boy die of cholera, that will make this worth it.  If I can heal one little girl from malaria, if I can sew up one wound, feed one starving child, save one life.  That is what I’m all about.
Mother Teresa said it well: “We can do no great things…only small things with great love.”  A friend of mine reminds me of that quote every time I begin to feel hopeless and overwhelmed by all of the sickness in the world.  And over the last couple of days, it’s become real.  I think I’m finally learning to understand what it means.
We were not able to save Alex’s life.  But we were able to pour love out onto him.  I won’t be able to eradicate all sickness from the face of the earth.  But that’s not the goal.  The goal is to do everything I do with great love.  And if I do them with great love, the small things become great things in their time.  That’s what I am about.  That’s why I’m here.
I am a small thing.  Just one small person in a world of big pain, big problems, big despair.  But love, love is so much bigger.

You know, it’s truly amazing how much my Uganda children have taught me about life, love, Jesus, poverty, happiness, and so much more.  These small children, three, five, ten years old, teaching me these profound life lessons.  They haven’t the faintest idea how much of an impact they have had on me.  Alex is just one of the many precious tiny lives that have changed me.
I thank God for Alex’s life.  I thank God for Noah’s willingness to step up and serve Alex for these months, because the impact that Alex has had on all of us will far outlast the short time he spent here on earth.

 

Loving on my Babies: January 10

10 pm
Not today…I haven’t given Derrick the guitar just yet.  I have taught him some things, though, and he is very eager to learn and catching on very quickly, so I’m very excited to give it to him because it is so obvious that he wants it very much and will be good at it one day.


I’ll tell you what, Derrick can put away some food.  Tonight at dinner he ate all of his and half of mine too!  I guess he’s a growing boy.  I still don’t know whether he is 14 or 15.  He always gives a different answer depending on who asks.  He doesn’t even know what day his birthday is, which is pretty funny.  Sometime in September.
Anyway, today was a very good day.  For the first time ever on this whole trip, I had no tasks.  There was nothing planned for me to do.  So for a while I watched the builders as they lay bricks for the new schoolhouse, but mostly I just loved on my kids and chatted with people and simply hung out.  At times it was frustrating, not having anything to do, but mostly it was very good.  I was started to get a little burned-out from working so much, so it was nice to just focus on playing and laughing and hugging.


Well, it is so good to be back in Kampala.  I absolutely loved travelling about, and I adore Busia, but Kampala is where my heart is.  I just love it here.
I cannot believe we are going home in three days.  I’m tearing up as I write this because this is it.  In three days I will leave Africa and not come back for a very long time.  How does the time pass so quickly?  This week has gone by like molasses, and yet I still find myself wondering how it is already nearly gone.
This just feels so final.  It feels like this is the end.  I know I will see them again someday, but that someday will be very very far away.
I am so in love with this place.  This is the life I want.
This morning Derrick and I decided to try balancing a water bottle on different parts of our bodies, and I was amazed by how we kept entertained for ages with something as simple as a water bottle.  And how they tie together a bunch of plastic shopping bags and call it a football.  I just love the simplicity here.  I always say how I want to bring my babies back to America with me…but I don’t.  It would spoil them.  Take away that beautiful simplicity and contentment that I so love.  I couldn’t bear to bring them into my country of excess.
So that’s why I come to them instead!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Uganda January 2012

 

Back to Kampala: January 9

6:45 pm
I’m up to 58 mosquito bites.  I’m taking my malaria pills very faithfully, so here’s hoping they work.
I love how sexy Uganda makes me ;) My hair is wind-tossed and un-brushed, my skin is burned and filthy, I’m covered in pink swollen bites like some sort of rash, I probably smell like a goat, and I’ve been wearing the same skirt for four days straight.  But strangely, even with all of that, I have still never felt so wonderful in my life.  This is living at its best.

10:00 pm
Finally back in Kampala.  I am almost too tired to write, because it has been a ridiculously long and busy day.  We got up and went to Paul’s orphanage, then drove to another church way out in the bush, then to another church even more out in the bush, then drove another 4 hours to get back here.  So we’re tired out.
Paul’s was fantastic.  It was so good to go to a familiar place and see familiar faces and get a big soft enveloping hug from Mama Janet.  While I was very sad I didn’t get to see Misanyah Grace, I did get to see Moses and Ibra and Stella and my other loves.  We kicked around a dusty football, and tried to see how many different body parts we could hit it with.  We got feet, knees, hands, elbows, shoulders, head, chin, and hips.  It was pretty funny seeing them try to imitate me..
Then one of them kicked it under the crude wooden table, and I ran to get it, and when I stood up I bashed my face on the table corner.  My vision got all fuzzy and I was dizzy and it hurt so bad.  It bled a little and hurt a lot, but everything is fine.  The kids thought it was hilarious, though–I guess pain is funny in any language.
I cried when I left them.  Who knows when I might see those kids again?  I love them so.
But although I love Busia so very dearly, I must say it is lovely to be back here in Kampala again.  Maybe tomorrow will be the day I give Derrick the guitar!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Uganda January 2012

 

200 miles later…

In the past eleven months, I have run 200 miles.  Who’d have thought?

Warning: this post is insanely long.  Enjoy!

On 21 March 2011, I went outside and I ran for the first time.  This is what I wrote in my running log:

A 6 a.m. thunderstorm messed with my morning routine…but I still ran. It was a rainy run, but I enjoyed it. However, I curse those hills with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns. One day I’ll appreciate the hills, but today is not that day.

I started out with the popular Couch to 5K program, but after four or five weeks of the 9-week program I decided that I just didn’t like it and would rather go at my own pace.  It was slow going…really slow.  Four weeks into my running career and I had just gotten to the point where I could run five minutes without having a walk break:

C25K w4d2: I ran for 5 minutes without stopping! Doesn’t sound like much (which it isn’t) but it’s been my struggle this week…I just had to remind myself that if I didn’t finish the 5 minutes, I wouldn’t forgive myself. So I did it!
I bet the non-runners who pass me think that running is something horrible. I mean, my face must make it look like torture! I’m all sweaty and red (stupid Irish skin) and have this fierce look of tired concentration…it must not look like fun at all.
But it is, my non-runner friends. It is.

And that was the last day of Couch to 5K before I decided to quit that and do my own thing.  At that point in my running, it still felt like a chore.  Something I had to do for my morning routine, something that I would beat myself up if I skipped, something that I did for no other reason than because I knew it was good for me.  But soon I began to really really enjoy it:

Didn’t fit in a run today as I’d hoped. Won’t be able to do one tomorrow either. I’m upset.
It’s funny, there was once a time when I’d be super glad for my busy schedule to give me an excuse not to run–now when I don’t have time for a run I actually feel sad! This is progress, people!

And shortly after that, I got my brother Jake to run with me!  Of course, he’s very athletic and on his first run he was already a better runner than I was…but we have fun together.

Ran with Jake today. It was basically awesome. Weather was pretty miserable though…so humid; we got out of breath so fast. But the sunset was pretty.
Jake (jokingly): “I’m tired. I think I’ll skip my shower. What’s a little sweat?”
Me: “Yeah, me too. Then when I wake up, I’ll harvest the salt crystals and put them on my hard-boiled egg.”

It was around that time that some of our best friends took up running as well, which is cool.  We do all sorts of races and stuff together…I love it.
The next highlight of my running was when Jake got me my first pair of Vibram FiveFingers as an early birthday present, in May.  I was running in them the first day I got them and never ever went back to conventional running shoes (and probably never will).

Couldn't have made it this far without these guys. 125 of my 200 miles to date are on these shoes.

Shortly after that I began training for my first race, a four-miler in the end of August.  Early August was the first time I ever ran more than 2 miles in one go:

Three miles–my longest run yet! I ran the first mile, and then alternated running and walking for the other two.
I love the way I feel when I sit down after a hard run–my muscles feel loose and tired and my lungs feel so open. It feels so good to just breathe slow and deep (once I actually catch my breath from the running part!)

It was also right around that time that I hit my first major milestone: 100 miles.  And then came my first race.

My first race ever!
This morning’s Fun Run certainly lived up to its name. Couldn’t have asked for better weather–overcast, 70 degrees, slight misty rain for part of the time. It was super windy too, which I loved except for the half when I was trying to run against it.
I’m not terribly pleased with how it went, time-wise. But now I know what to shoot for at next week’s race–55 minutes. I don’t care if it kills me, but I’m going to go at least one minute faster next time. Today’s goal was just to finish, which I did easily, so my next goal is to improve.

A week after my first race, I ran my second.  This was was four miles again, but it felt a lot bigger because there were >4,000 runners as opposed to the <200 I’d run with the week before.  But it was lots of fun.

Great race, had lots of fun (: The 4-miler I ran last week took me 56 minutes, so this week I made it my goal to do at least one minute better than last week…which I did :D 4 minutes, actually.
Sometime during mile 2 my ankle started to ache, and it was pretty bad…I found myself wondering if I should keep on running or take it easy and walk the rest of the way. I decided I’d keep pushing, and while my ankle gave me trouble for the whole rest of the race, the pain went away as soon as I crossed the finish line and slowed down. So I don’t know what that’s about.
Anyway, this morning was great :D

Then a month later came Warrior Dash Virginia–the most fun I’ve ever had at a race.  And we’ve got plans to do another in May, so I’m excited about that.

The Warrior Dash was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Okay, not really…but it was definitely up there.

Then in November came the double digits.  I distinctly remember when I first began running, thinking to myself, “I wonder if I’ll ever be one of those people who runs like five miles, or maybe even ten!”  Like it was some huge distant thing that I could never do.  Well, I did it:

Perceived effort on a scale of 1 to 5: a million.
My first double digit run, and I gave it everything I had. It was terrible. I’m in pain. But it feels so good! I love this.
However, I think I’ll just plateau at the 10-mile distance for a while until I can complete it without waddling or collapsing.

The day after my ten mile run, one of my best friends, Noah, mentioned to me that he was doing a half marathon in December…and I couldn’t sit there and let him do it by himself, so I told him I’d sign up too.  Impulsive?  Absolutely.  Signing up for a half marathon that’s three weeks away?  I must be crazy to do something like that.  But we got Jake to sign up too, and we made it happen.  I was so proud of Noah, of Jake, and of myself.  I never ever in a bajillion years would have thought I would run 13.1 miles (even if it did take me three hours…minor detail).

I’ve never enjoyed a race like I enjoyed this one. Jake and I stuck together for most of it and just goofed off and had a good time. I mean, it’s not like I actually had any chance of winning anything…so why take myself so seriously? We just had fun. Noah, on the other hand, smashed it. 1 hour 49 minutes. He’s ridiculous like that.
My muscles aren’t nearly as sore as I’d thought they’d be…tomorrow might be a different story though.

After the half, I took a nice long break from running.  For a couple of days I was too sore to even walk, and then for like two weeks after that I was too sore to run.  Then I went to Africa, started back to school, and now here I am.  I’m back into running regularly.  Four days ago I ran my first ten-miler since the half marathon, and while it still nearly killed me, I found it easier than last time.

It simply blows my mind that in less than a year, I went from killing myself to run for two minutes straight, to completing a half marathon.  I can now confidently call myself a runner.  I’m finding that running isn’t so hard anymore.  I’m watching my body change, my jeans get looser, and my calf muscles get tighter.  And most of all, I’m learning to enjoy it.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Running

 

Sight for the Blind: January 8

8:45 am
Will wonders never cease?  Pastor Hummer is on time!  He said to come at 8:30 and lo and behold, 8:30 on the dot he comes marching in hugging everyone with that big infectious lovable smile plastered on his face.
Today will be a good day.
I simply love mornings here in Uganda.  It’s bright and breezy, and the birds are singing quietly from the treetops, and today I’m not pukey.  It’s a fabulous morning.
There is a couple here who appear to be adopting two children, and watching them is making me jealous.  I want to take home some children too.
I have 44 mosquito bites.  I counted.
I can’t do this day.  I simply do not know how on earth I am going to get through this day.  I don’t know how to handle it.  I am very daunted and not ready for it.
I told this to Sue and she said, “You know what?  What’s exactly where a missionary should be.”  I guess that’s true, because it is when I can’t do it that I am forced to rely fully on God.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I want to close my eyes and only open them when today is over.
I love it here in Africa.  I love it to death.  But I’m just struggling.  You can probably tell from reading this how conflicted my emotions are right now.  It’s turmoil.
Everything will be okay.  Mambo sawa sawa.  I can rest when I get to heaven.  But for the time being…here we go again.

11:00 am
This is how you do church.  This is a shelter the size of my living room, with only half a roof, and 20 members, out here in the middle of nowhere where there is no electricity and the sheep wander just outside the church building, if you could call it that.  The breeze blows through and the sun shines in, and here come the children to sing for Jesus.  This is how it’s done.
I never want to forget the sound of their little feet shuffling about in the dirt as they dance.  That sound is so beautiful, so small, so sweet.
I love this.

1 pm
Today I scared a baby.  She’d never seen a white person before.  So I crouched down a couple of metres away from her and waved, and she immediately began to scream.  She took off and sprinted down the path, screaming and flailing her arms, and kept running till she was out of sight, and even then I could hear her screaming.  Her mother just sat there laughing.  It really was hilarious.

8:30 pm
I absolutely hate when my children are sick.  I hate it.  It simply breaks my heart.  There was a little girl with the most terrible cough, and with every painful, wet hack her body shook and she would cry quietly to herself.  I just wanted to take her in my arms and make it all better.  And a little boy with the worst case of worms I’ve seen in a long time, maybe even ever.  His little belly stuck out so far.  I hate being so helpless.  I want to see my children feeling healthy.  It truly tears me apart, all of the sick people I see here.  I long for the day when I am equipped to treat them and make them well.

 Anyway, today at the glasses clinic there was a woman called Nafuta Maria who must have been nearly a million years old and completely blind.  I knew from the start that I couldn’t help her, but I tested her anyway, and sure enough her eyes were so bad that even our best glasses wouldn’t fix them.  So I told her, “I can’t give you glasses.  But I can pray for you.”  She agreed, so I prayed for healing in her eyes, and when we opened out eyes after praying she could see partially out of one eye!  I was thrilled.  So I told her that I’d keep praying for her even when I come home.  Maybe one day God will give her the rest of her sight too…who knows?
Not I go to bed.  Tomorrow we are going to Pastor Paul’s orphanage to visit and I can’t wait to see how my babies have grown since I last saw them!
Oh, one more thing.  Today we painted nails for the women and girls like we did last year, and once again I was blown away by how such a simple gesture can mean so much.  I just love to sit down and take their brown hands in my white ones and colour their nails bright and girly and just love on them.
Tomorrow we go back to Kampala, which I am hugely looking forward to.  I miss Ray of Hope and my people there.  Maybe I will give Derrick the guitar on Tuesday.
Today I thought about leaving Uganda, and I cried.  We only have five more days here, and I can’t bear to think of it.  I just can’t.
Well, goodnight.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Uganda January 2012

 

Church in a Mud Hut: January 7

6:30 am
I just smashed a mosquito.  Inside my mosquito net.  And it had blood in it…lots of blood.
But other than that, I’m super happy right now.  I just woke up at 6:30 without an alarm clock, to another stunningly marvellous morning in Africa.  I can hear voices, and chickens, and every so often a rooster crows nice and loud.  Maybe that’s what woke me up.
I don’t know what we’re going to do today.  The plan is to visit two churches, and Dad and Jake will preach, and Sue and Leenie and I will do eyes, but since when does anything ever go according to plan?  This is Africa!
Ugh, I’m this close to puking right now.  I took my malaria pill without any food…never again.  Breakfast can’t come soon enough.

9:00 pm
With every precious moment I spend here in Uganda, I become more and more certain that this is the life I want.  I can’t imagine anything more glorious than being here every single day of my life.
Today we did eye glasses in two churches.  You know, sometimes doing the eye clinics makes me simply want to gouge my eyeballs out.  It gets so frustrating at times.  So many of the patients want glasses just for the sake of having them, and when I tell them the good news that they don’t need glasses, they insist that they do.  So perfectly good glasses are wasted on people who don’t need them.  Today was especially bad.
But it was all worth it because we were able to help a woman who has needed glasses for seven years and has never been able to afford them.  So we gave her a pair, and she fell to her knees praising God.  This is why we are here.  This is the whole point.
Oh, I’ve got my mud hut picked out.  It’s pretty far down a dirt road, past Paul’s orphanage.  It’s under a lovely green tree, and it’s small and circular with a lovely grass roof.  I will live there one day.
And I made a new friend named Juliet.  We walked and talked and she showed me all of the fruit trees.  Those children are so precious.

Juliet and me

And we had church in a mud hut.  Coolest thing of my life.
And I finally got to drink Stoney Tangawizi again!  It’s my absolute favourite drink, but I have yet to find any in America.  But here they have so much of it, and I love it.
This is a beautiful night.  The moon is big and nearly full, the air is still and cool, and as I sit here under the big palm tree, I think I must be the happiest person alive.
You know, this trip is going by reeeeeally slowly.  Really really slowly.  Which is odd because that has never happened before.  Usually they go by so fast.
Here I am, in Africa, loving every minute of it, and the time is passing so slowly so there are even more minutes to love.

These people know how to do church.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Uganda January 2012

 
 
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