Monday, August 21, 2006

They say animals become restless before birth. There doesn't seem to be a soft enough space to lie or right enough place to make a home. Everything is uncomfortable, wrong, and the places that should feel familiar don't offer the reprieve they used to. When I was retreating in Mbale I saw the most precious miserable dog whose stomach was so heavy with pregnancy that her stubby legs could barely carry her weight. She shied away from me when I tried to pet her to relieve a little of the discomfort she was literally lugging around in her aimless pacing. The world had been unkind to her and she was a little afraid to be disappointed again. When she looked up at me with her sad eyes I thought I was going to lose it right there over this small, fat, hot-dog dog. It made me more sad than seeing some of the gross crimes of inhumanity I witnessed in IDP camps and I was more than a little ashamed of feeling that way. But something about her brave helplessness and determination to bring those little pups into the world really broke me.

In a lesser way I think of that moment now and understand a little how she must have been feeling. I didn't think I would feel this acute lostness in coming back home. Returning to the arms of my loved ones and to the foods I missed so badly was just as good as I thought it would be. I think I've already gained back the ten pounds I lost over there. :) Being able to attach a photo into an email in under two hours is good in a "pinch me so I know this is real" way. Nothing can replace being surrounded by people who know you and love you. Not even my precious Africa. But I feel like a weird alien landing on planet Earth. Everything is just a bit off. Out there I was a fearless adventurer doing what I wanted, over here I'm just another broke girl without a job but with a dream. In my head I know this is only transitional. But I'm having one of those-I'm 25 now, shouldn't I be doing something grownup to earn money and buy my parents that bedroom suit they wanted-moments.

I've had two mini emotional breakdowns, one in the parking lot of a mexican restaurant, both for no apparent reason whatsoever. I oscillate between feelings of guilt that I'm not accomplishing more, to utter uselessness, to sheer thankfulness towards my pillow, towards ice cream, and towards wireless internet and generally anything else that is convenient here. I've watched about twelve movies, ridden three roll-a-coasters, rented a cracker box room in an apartment with girls I don't know, bought a book called Non-Profits for Dummies, and signed up to be a substitute teacher...again. But nothing can make me feel any better about the fact that I feel farther away from my goal than when I started. I feel unhappy which is a strange thing to feel upon returning from the journey that was what I wanted to do. I've gone through the list of what I "should feel" and feel guilty that I'm not feeling what I should. When people ask me, "How was it?" I feel paralyzed to offer a response that in any way encapsulates my experience. "Good," or "amazing," I often respond, both of which are true but pretty lame in comparison to what I might be able to say if I weren't so muddled. If there were a way to describe it at all.

I do have a plan. Sort of. I want to go back, maybe within the year, and build something. Something beautiful and real, loving and welcoming, something in which child mothers and young prostitutes alike can feel at home in, something that will take a long time and be nearly impossible, but with God guiding it will somehow graciously come to be. It sounds crazy and maybe a little naiive, but I don't think I'm being too idealistic. I know what it takes now.

I'm in that pregnant phase. I know the ending and I await it, but in-between I feel bloated and off-kilter with only the hope of the goal in mind. Like the lines in one of my favorite poems, "a pin-hole of light that softly hums and murmurs, whose blurry edges beg to come into view," I can barely see the blessing of light but it has not yet touched me.

The thing that makes it all seem worthwhile, makes all the ideas seem real is the smile of a 10 year old girl in Uganda. My little Ugandan family. They make the purpose, the thing, out there somewhere, fuzzy, come into focus. I got an email from Earnest, the man/saint who takes care of them, saying he had to take Mary and Rachael to the hospital for some sort of stomach virus and racked up hospital bills he can't pay. This month they've run out of food. They still need a bigger place to live. And all of a sudden all the scattered pieces of me converge into a single mass of sadness and determination. Now I kind of understand the paniced helplessness of a mother whose child is sick on another continent. The thing is we can help anyone out there, but we are moved to help the ones we are attached to in some way. I'm hoping that through this litany of the tiniest heroes you've met through me, you've found a connection and that the connection compels. I know it compels me. It reminds me of a verse I read again as if it were the first time the other day:

"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost until he find it?" Luke 15:4

I cry a little. I pray more passionately than I have in the last month. I'm reminded of the fund I want to create for these kids to finally live in security. I'm reminded that the way I feel about them is the way God feels about me, only about a billion times more unconditional. And the God who has felt very far away in all my wounded wandering seems a little closer.

I fell in love with this book, The Zahir by Paulo Coelho (what a name.) I leave you with these lines:

"History will never change because of politics or conquests of theories or wars; that’s mere repetition, its been going on since the beginning of time. History will only change when we are able to use the energy of love, just as we use the energy of wind, the seas, the atom."

"Do you think we two could save the world?"
"I think there are more people out there who think the same way."
"Will you help me?"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

This blog has become a kind of relationship. I’ve had fights with it (why won’t the $#%^ upload my photos!) and I’ve had moments of intimacy and connection reading the comments you’ve left for me and knowing that somewhere out there you care enough to read through a million paragraphs of my journey. It’s humbling really. As I write my final one from Africa, I feel a sense of nostalgia. But I don’t think I’ll stop writing in it. Because in many ways, the journey has just begun.

It isn’t easy to lay your soul out before the world’s eyes and meet the gaze you fear will find judgment. Maybe I wasn’t spiritual enough. Maybe I didn’t learn enough. Maybe my pictures didn’t have great explanations. J My God knows how old, but young as anything amazing Irish-British friend Seamus reminded me the other day of one of my favorite quotes: “To thine own self be true.” Often I find I am more worried about being true to the ideas people have of me, or the lofty expectations of myself I fear people have of me, that I sidle up to the danger of losing my essence. This is me. This is the way I see the world. It has evolved and changed and matured and at the same time remained the same in many ways. What I came here to find—the vision, the calling. I believe I found it. I didn’t preach to thousands and I didn’t build a house for someone. In many ways what I did is immeasurable and intangible. But I loved and I listened. And I learned what the people who matter to me want. I couldn’t promise them, but I promised myself. I’m coming back and next time God-willing I’ll do something that will blow their minds.

I’ve learned too that not everyone wants you to succeed. Whether for threat, or intimidation, for fear of not reaching their own goals, for control, or cynicism from a broken dream, there are those who resent the thing you were made to do. And it’s ok. Because once God has given you something, once he has ignited it in your heart, there is nothing they can do to take it away from you. He has already gone before and he has already given me possession of the land. The how’s the when’s the what’s are all just semantics.

I’ve learned that a lot of people want to join you when you have a dream and that is beautiful. That while we might go somewhere a lone we are never alone and we don’t have to be.

I’ve learned we can do anything we set our hearts and minds to.

I feel like I’d like to write a verse here that encapsulates my experience, or a quote that sums up my time, but I’m in an internet cafĂ© and seriously down to my last shilling. Typical. Not that I could find the words anyway. I don’t feel like this is the end so I’m not going to cry and get over dramatic about it. Surprise. I’ve spent most of my final hours with the kids filming them and getting them to tell me messages so I can cry when I get back home. In some ways this journey ends where it began, with the same passions in my heart. So I guess that does remind me of a quote—it goes something like this: “When I cease from all my exploration and arrive to know the place for the first time.” -T. S. Eliot-

Or something like that. It’s not an exact science.
I go home to dream up ways of making a difference back here. The child mothers I interviewed last week really sparked something in me that I can’t let go of. Some things you see and you can turn your head but others you can’t. Just as you have been a part of this process of getting me here and seeing me through, you will be a part of the force that propels me forward in trying to meet the needs of my little Ugandan family and of these abducted girls. It was cute—as I was leaving the kid’s house last night they slipped a note in my purse that said they will miss me and pray for me. The fact that kids aged 10-18 will be praying for me just amazes me. And I know they will because when we prayed together before they went to sleep they would always pray for the woman who helps take care of them in the US.

I have four minutes left.
But also a whole lifetime.

So if I’m out of commission for the next week—don’t worry you can find me in bed with pizza, ice cream and season two of Grey’s Anatomy.

Don’t forget to do what God made you to do. It is the only thing.
Signing off from Uganda.