Sunday, June 9, 2013

Africa: a Dream, a Sickness, & a Miracle

I was 16 years old, rowdy, rough edged, and seeking God with a ferocity and desperation comparable to a starving lion. Seriously. I was looking for purpose and wanted to know what the Lord required of me. I was sitting in the middle of a room full of other high school kids at Rainbow Christian Camp in Converse, Indiana. It was almost lunch time and I was hungry but we had a session scheduled with a missionary. In the past there had been some very stereotypical missionaries who came to the camp to speak to us. I'm talking jean skirt and hair bun missionaries here. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this particular missionary seemed fairly normal. More than that though, she seemed genuine, fun, and all around cool. Jill Shaw got on stage and gave us a history of her time as a missionary. She spoke about her many years in Zimbabwe where she learned the native language and loved people fiercely. She also spoke about how she fell in love with the people and how difficult it was to leave them in order to become a missionary in New Zealand. She had amazing stories, pictures, and my heart beat fast in a new way when she spoke about her journey with God overseas. As I sat in that crowd of teens, I felt like God's hand was helping my heart thump in this new exciting way. I wasn't 100% sure what it meant though. I was able to speak with Jill one on one several times throughout my week at camp. She taught me that "God does not call us to comfort or complacency, He calls us to the cross." My life would be forever changed. From that week of camp forward I had this ache inside of me to go to Africa. I came home and told my parents about my amazing camp experience and about my new desires. I don't think they have ever been surprised by my desire to go and do different things. I was their stringy-haired, tough nut, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better child who, when all her friends chose to go to regular camp in 7th grade, chose to go to the jungle-huts week all by herself. Enough of third person: I have always loved adventure and my parents have always supported that. So in the years following my experience with Jill Shaw, I sought out any opportunity I could in order to get myself to Africa. Not a single one ever came to fruition. That was until my sophomore year of college.

Spring Arbor University gives their students the amazing opportunity to experience another culture for 3 weeks before they are able to graduate. We could choose from a whole variety of countries. My sophomore year at SAU I was reading the school's announcements on my email when I saw there was still an opening on the Uganda cross cultural trip. My heart started beating fast and for a moment I was taken back to that room full of sweaty teenagers listening to Jill speak. I immediately jumped up and walked as quickly as I could over to the cross cultural office. They gave me all of the paperwork and told me to bring it back as soon as I could. I went back to my dorm room and furiously filled out the paper work then called my Dad. I told him about the opportunity and also mentioned the tiny detail that the trip cost almost $4,000 and that I was going to apply for a loan. I was determined and, after all of the failed attempts to get myself to my dream, I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I turned in my paperwork the next day, but was told I needed confirmation of loan approval before they could officially put me on the list for the trip. I was anxious and checking my mail constantly for the next week. Finally on a Monday I received the notification that I had been approved! So, before our 10 am chapel I hurried over to the office to hand in my approval. When I got there they told me that unfortunately someone had left the office just before me and took the last spot on the trip. Devastated, I walked to chapel nearly in tears. Adding to my heartache, Invisible Children volunteers were speaking in chapel that day. I endured an hour of IC reps practically begging for students to get involved in helping Ugandan children. By the end I could not help but let the tears stream down my face. I was so hurt and confused. Two of my friends noticed how upset I was and offered to talk with me. I proceeded to sob uncontrollably and question out loud why this was all happening. I had prayed for 4 years to go to the place my heart longed for. I hadn't placed this desire in my heart, I truly felt that the Lord did, so why was He denying me this opportunity? My heart was breaking. (It may seem silly to you to be so upset, but 4 years is a long time for an impatient, crazy passionate red-head.)

I spoke with the leader of the trip, Deb Varland about how disappointed I was to not be going on the trip. We had spoken several times before my loan was approved and we both shared a great passion for African culture and missions. She is a firey woman and decided to take matters into her own hands. She convinced the cross cultural office to expand the trip for me. She called all of the places we'd be going in Uganda and told them there would be one more person with the group. So one week after my denial and emotional melt down, Mama Deb gave me the news that my dreams were coming true. Cue insane excitement. The trip was roughly 6 months away. I spent majority of my time thinking about, talking about, and day dreaming about the trip I had been waiting for since my sophomore year of high school. I was so proud of myself for seeking out an opportunity and making it happen all by myself. My independence was in an ongoing love affair with pride. Little did I know that God would break up that relationship.

Mama Deb :)
About 2 months before my trip I started feeling really sick. I was playing soccer, running for student body president, taking care of one of my friends struggling with mental illness, and started dating the man who would turn out to be my husband. Needless to say, I spread myself way too thin. I had strep throat and mono. Over the next two months I could not seem to kick my illness and was put on medicine after medicine, landing in the hospital once, taking steroids for several weeks in order to open up my throat so I could breathe. As the trip got closer and closer, it was looking like I would not be well enough to travel. Cue several emotional melt downs. Again, I was caught questioning God and wondering how I could come so close to my dream only to have it slip away. I moved out of my dorm with the trip only 3 days away. My parents were not certain I should go on the trip, but definitely weren't telling me I wasn't allowed. The night I got home, I was an emotional mess. I was anxious and on the verge of tears the entire night. I started to pack not knowing if I would actually be going anywhere. My phone rang and a friend from high school who I hadn't spoken to in years was on the other end. He called to tell me about his new found faith and proceeded to speak the Word into my life for about an hour. This is a guy who I had prayed for since 5th grade so that he might come to know the Lord. I was in tears and in awe of my great God. I felt something so much bigger than my situation was happening.

Over the next two days I didn't feel too much different, but decided I was going to go on the trip anyways. I was simply hoping to not make it to Uganda only to become more ill. I boarded the plane to Amsterdam and slept most of the way (7 hours). On the next flight into Rwanda (8 hours), I prayed that I would sit next to someone who needed to hear about God. I ended up sitting next to Dave, a scientist going to Kampala to study the correlation between TB and Aids. He immediately asked me about my school and recognized it was a faith based institution. For the next few hours, from his prompting, we talked about God, Jesus, and what it all means for us. He asked me a lot of questions and I couldn't believe God had answered my prayer. By the end of the flight I was feeling more excited about the days to come because I felt God more closely than ever before.

So what about my illness? When I arrived in Uganda, I was no longer sick. Seriously. True story. No lies. I was healed. I was so much better that I didn't even notice. I was distracted by all of the new sights and sounds that I didn't even know God healed me. Is that even possible? It sure is. Want to know where I was when I did notice? I was playing soccer at the base of a mountain that sported two amazing waterfalls. I was running around with a bunch of Ugandan children when all the sudden it hit me. I was running. Before my trip I couldn't climb a single flight of stairs without getting short of breath because I was so sick. And here I was, in Uganda, running! I stopped moving, looked around at where I was and what I was doing and cried a few simple tears of joy and gratitude. I breathed out a slow "thank you, Jesus." My God is so faithful.

So what is the point of all of this? Why is this story important? Well, first, God performed a miracle in my life. Wow. Second, this story signifies who God is. He is the God who allows us to dream, live, plan, and hope. I was so busy trying to accomplish this desire God placed in my heart that I wasn't acknowledging that He placed it there and would do the work to get me to Uganda. I am convinced that my sweet Lord had to break me in order to get my stubborn heart to see that it is HE who made my trip happen, not my own will. God is the one who gave me the desires of my heart, but He had to wound me in order for me to cling to Him. Once again, even when it doesn't make sense and feels more like pain than goodness, God's purpose is sovereign. 

Where do you need to stop fighting the pain in your life & recognize that it is actually God's goodness? 

Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans."

Proverbs 16:9 "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."

Proverbs 19:21 "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

Deep gladness.

::By His Grace & For His Glory::

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