“If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”
“Come on, Sam, remember what Bilbo used to say: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Today marks 2 years living in Uganda, and it’s the farthest away from home I’ve ever been. Well, the longest away from home. Or the longest in a new home? I haven’t lived in one place longer than two years in a very long time. Two years means I’ve lived in Uganda now for longer than I did in North Carolina. For longer than in my parents’ home they moved to while I was overseas last time. Longer than I ever stayed in dorms or apartments at college. Longer than in Bulgaria. It means this is more home than many other homes, in some respects.
I’ve had two Christmases here. Two dry seasons. Two rainy seasons. I’ve learned language (sort of), learned to make soap, made new friends, learned a new culture, learned my way around a new town (no small feat with my sense of direction).
These two years have been very rich and blessed. But also very difficult and maturing. I’ve cried buckets and buckets. I’ve belly-laughed and snort-laughed and giggled. The Lord has stretched me in ways I didn’t know I stretch without breaking, and he’s grown spiritual fruit I didn’t know was possible for me to produce. There’s no way I can process two years of life in a single blog post. But to give you a taste, I’ll make a list of some of the things I’ve learned and experienced over the last two years. Hopefully this eclectic collection of fun facts and life lessons and cautionary tales will give you a bit of the flavor of the past two years. And maybe they’ll help remind you that my life may not be that different than yours, when you get down to the meat of it.
- I’ve learned that my love for house geckos is strong and never-waning. You eat the mosquitos that try to give me malaria and I’ll be your devoted friend too!
- I’ve learned to celebrate small things, because fellowship and fun, and marking time or achievements are worthwhile encouragement.
- I’ve felt the awe of stargazing at an open sky with a cool breeze from over the Nile.
- I know what it feels like to grieve with my home country over injustice and brokenness and disaster, and to grieve that even in that grief I am separated and separate. I don’t belong entirely to my new home, but I no longer belong entirely to my old home either.
- I know the accomplishment of studying hard and feeling the reward of learning language well enough to communicate.
- I’ve learned to care for two goats (Lottie and Livingston still live happily in our yard and enjoy pleasant escapes in the cool of the evening to the fresh-scented wild oregano fields outside our fence).
- I am learning about humility—what it means and what it doesn’t mean. Usually I struggle to find the line between taking true pride in the Spirit’s work in me through difficult obedience, and denying all compliments because I fear they glorify me instead of the One working in me.
- I’ve learned to love two puppies, and to lose one when it was time to put him down.
- I know how to make ice cream in quite a range of delicious flavors.
- I learned how to give henna tattoos and tie them into Bible stories.
- When I’m sick, I know the exactly where the line is between when I can make it, and when I need to take not only extra toilet paper, but extra underwear with me when I go into the squatty potties in the camps.
- I learned that yelling a battle cry at colonies of ants (we’re talking like, all the British colonies there ever were) migrating through the INSIDE of your home is largely… ineffective.
- I know not to trust myself to go to the brilliantly colored fabric market alone, or with too much cash in my pocket. And ESPECIALLY don’t trust me if I talk to my tailor friend there. I’m bound to come away after placing an order for some new clothes.
- I’ve learned just how much the wild places of the world rejuvenate my soul.
- I’ve learned how to make soap, and teach others to do the same.
- Heck, I’ve learned (haltingly) how to (mostly) run a small business for and with the ladies making that soap.
- I’ve learned to bake so many delicious and fattening things from scratch: beignets, donuts, sopapillas, fries, baklava, banitsa, hot pockets, thin mints, and the list goes on.
- I’ve learned how to teach friends to bake—in a different language and across quite a few cultural differences.
- Shoot, I learned to make my own dang POPTARTS!
- I also learned that if you have intestinal worms for too long and don’t realize it, you can eat allllll these fattening things and stilllll be halfway starving.
- I learned how devastating cultural Christianity can be—a paralytic to discipleship, a false assurance to the nonbeliever, a justification to the radically political, poisoned water to the truly suffering, and apathy to those on the brink of true spiritual growth.
- I grew courage in trying new things.
- I’ve become a pro at riding a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) side-saddle in skirts of all kinds.
- I learned to lean even deeper into the Lord when lockdown stripped away all sense of a schedule or normalcy, of competency and purpose, and of task and accomplishment. I learned to be more content in his presence, and more sustained by his personal love and eternal truth than ever before in my life.
- I’ve learned to love driving dusty roads, because they make me feel at home no matter where they are in the world.
- I’ve learned how to get a car stuck in the mud, and helped plenty of times getting one un-stuck.
- I’ve learned and helped to lead a mental trauma healing program based on Bible stories, and seen the Lord work true miracles in people’s lives.
- I’ve learned so much truth and experienced immeasurable kindness through cross-cultural friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
- I learned to play a lot more piano after getting locked inside with her for a good bit of 2020.
- I’ve looked my singleness dead in the eye and taken just about every difficulty and self-pitying urge to God loads of times, wrestling with contentedness and longing, with brokenness and loneliness, with freedoms and weakness, with past traumas and present gifts. The Lord is my sufficiency, and I’ve felt his presence with me more tangibly and practically than ever before.
- I’ve driven through a herd of giraffes at sunrise.
- I’ve learned to love my family better from afar. And I’ve learned better how to gather family around me wherever I am.
- I’ve waged war on termites and learned how to mark my territory to keep them away.
These two years have been rich with trials that led to growth, but also with nourishing relationships that set the scene for all the learning and opportunities the Lord provided. I’ve learned and experienced many things, most of them still percolating so that I’ll only realized I’ve grown and changed later.
But perhaps more than anything, these past two years, I’ve learned that my home is in the Lord’s presence. My family are his people. My culture is a vibrant bouquet of colors from all over the world—Bulgarian red and green, Oklahoman sky blue, North Carolina green, Ugandan red black and yellow, dusty sunset orange, brilliant open sky starlight, sunflower yellow. Nowhere in this world will I ever feel completely a part, and nowhere completely separate. My heart aches and longs for a better country: an eternal homeland where I can communicate perfectly, always be with family, and never feel like an outsider. But until then, I get to see glimpses and sample flavors of that someday home in all of my temporary homes on this earth. That hope has given these two years their enthusiastic wonder and desperate longing all at once. And for that, I am grateful.