About golisaobrien

Check out the "about" page on my website! Here's the quick version: woman, follower of Jesus, teacher, missionally-minded, living in Uganda.

Daily Interruptions via Velvet Ashes

Hey friends!  Today a blog/website I follow for women serving outside their passport country, called Velvet Ashes, published one of my submissions.

Velvet Ashes always has a weekly theme, and this week is Daily Life.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s piece:

I’m not sure I have a typical day. I mean, some things are pretty predictable: wake up, take the boys to school, eat breakfast, pick the boys up from school, go to sleep.

Everything else generally falls into the to be determined category. Don’t get me wrong—I make plans. I have routines. But if I’ve learned anything by living in Uganda, my daily life is rarely described as predictable.

Click here to read the full post.

Enjoy!

Advertisements

When You Need New Sandals

I can’t find sandals to fit my children’s feet.  You know, like flip-flop style sandals. The cheap-o type they need to wear 90% of the time (except when they go to school) in our African lives.  Most people here buy basic sandals, commonly found in the markets and shops.

But they don’t come in my boys’ size.

I can buy children’s sizes, which are too small.  I can buy men’s sizes, which are too big. I have asked for the size I need: 38 in European sizes.  Vendors them tell me it doesn’t exist.

How is that even possible?  How does a whole size not exist anywhere in the country?  What are the size 38 people doing? Are they wearing sandals with their toes hanging out the front or with extra plastic flapping around in the back?

I don’t understand.

Eventually I found some of the slide type of sandals rather than the thing-between-your-toes type.  The length turned out to be ok, but the width….Their feet can’t manage them. All ten toes completely hang off the front of the sandals because they slide so far forward.

The last time I travelled to America, I bought some good ol’ Old Navy flip-flops to bring back for my kiddos.  But little boys living in Uganda seem to be a set-up for destroying things quickly, so….

At some point, maybe after getting a little tired of their footwear options, I began hearing a repetitive question: can you buy us rugabire?  

Ruga-what?  

Roo-ga-beer-ay.

It’s a local name for a local item.

Rugabire are sandals made from upcycled tires.  That’s right, tires.

img_41231.jpg

Men will take old tires and cut them into flip-flops.  Yes, as you might envision, some bigger sizes have a slight curve on both ends when they are waiting to be worn.  

As we say here in Uganda, no wastage of resources.

Rugabire are what my children want to wear.

Now, in case you were not sure, let me tell you: Rugabire are not exactly high-class items.

I’m certain most Ugandans are not thinking: man, I wish someone loved me enough to buy me some rugabire.

I’m don’t know which friend sports tires on their feet, but I imagine the twins saw someone they admire wearing these fashionable footwear.

Yet, as you can imagine, ragabire have some genuine durability many imported shoes do not.

So, as a fun little surprise recently, I had the boys hop into the van, without telling them where we were headed.  I turned off the main road and onto a pothole-filled road, around a couple corners, and to the spot a man usually has a tarp lying on the ground covered with the beloved tire sandals.

When I parked the car, with wide eyes and toothy smiles, the boys realized the day and time had finally come:  I had agreed to buy rugabire.

I handed them money to stuff in their pockets as they climbed out of the sliding door, each toe hanging out the front of their sandals.  Immediately the twins surveyed the mobile shoe store to see if the cobbler had two pair of the perfect size. One boy quickly found some he could wear.  Another struggled a bit, only finding a pair just a tad too long.

No problem.  The footwear artist took the sandals, grabbed his knife, cut off about ¾ of an inch from the back of both sandals, and handed them back.  Perfect.

Each pair cost about the equivalent of $1.30.  Pretty comparable to Old Navy’s once-a-year $1 flip-flop sale each June.

Since that day, whenever adults realize the boys have rugabire, and I tell them my children repeatedly asked for them over the course of several weeks before I finally made the purchase, they give me a big jolly smile.

My friends struggle to believe rugabire were asked for and were purchased for my boys.  But I get the sense that they kind of like it.

Most people would expect an American parent in Africa would be able to buy any type of shoes her children want.  (Of course, provided their size exists…) It is often assumed I have an endless supply of financial resources. So, I’m sure this is the source of disbelief.

Handing over the 10,000 Ugandan Shillings ($2.60) and watching the joy on my boys’ faces got me thinking.

I have a heavenly Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  He has access to all things, and can create what doesn’t even exist.

When I make requests before Him, does he see me like I saw my boys that day?  Does He hand over the simple little things that, to Him, are worth so little, and watch my face fill with joy?

Does He ever listen to my requests, and shake His head a little with a slight grin?  Wondering why I ask for something so simple, as if I do not know what He is capable of?

For weeks I have had two notions from this event simultaneously rattling around in my head.  They seem to be paradoxical, yet I think they both have truth in them.

First of all, too often I long for what is unnecessary and beyond what I actually need.  Instead of focusing on what I don’t have or what seems to be the perfect solution, I should look more closely around my situation.  I should observe what is right around me and truly more fulfilling than the grandiose idea in my head. Maybe I want impressive and expensive new shoes, when old tires are more efficient in the long run.

On the other hand, sometimes I am too satisfied with the simple, the mundane, the ordinary, the everyday.  Sometimes God calls me to dream for more, to think bigger, to push beyond the typical. Sometimes He wonders why I settle for the simple, the good-enough-for-right-now, when He has the absolute best in store for me.  He asks me why my heart is set on rugabire when He can give me so much more.

All in the same minute, I love the childlike request from my boys to wear tires on their calloused feet, yet I wonder why they didn’t ask for something better.

So here I am, sitting before my Father asking for wisdom to know when I should have childlike satisfaction in the simple answers already available to me, or when I should ask Him for what seems unattainable for me, but is easy for Him to provide.

What about you?  Do you ever find yourself longing for something when all the while something even better is right at your fingertips?  Do you ever find yourself making requests of God that may be too simple?

 

When You Catch A Rat

Well, I can’t walk into my kitchen.  I’m currently trapped in the rest of the house for the next two hours, until I bring the boys home from school.

Can you say you are trapped when you are only restricted from one room?  And when you are self-restricted?

I cannot enter my kitchen because a mouse (aka rat if you are Ugandan, but it is a little one this time, so I call it a mouse) is caught on one of those sticky traps on the floor.

Yesterday I was confronted with the reality behind my.  Behind my container stocked with corn tortillas (by the way, if you ever want to make me really happy, send me corn tortillas I can fry into chips), was a layer of oatmeal mixed with mouse droppings, spread out on the shelf.

So I went rat trap shopping.  The snap and kill ‘em kind are not readily available in Ugandan supermarkets, so I had to go with the sticky traps.

IMG_4243.jpg

Ok, who invented these horrific contraptions?  I mean, gross. Ok, I get it.  They take away the need for the varmint to actually be attracted to the bait and whatnot.  All you have to do is put the trap somewhere you know the nasty little thing will likely run.

But then what?  The animal is stuck.  ALIVE! Sometimes they try to move and they are flopping around.  Sometimes you hear their little squeaky voices as they struggle. My shoulders are curling as I type these disgusting descriptions.  Sick.

Here I sit, with my back to the kitchen.  I’m about to turn on some music so I don’t have to hear anything that may or may not be happening behind me.

I certainly can’t do anything about it.  I’m not about to walk into that kitchen, bend down to pick up the sticky trap, and carry the thing somewhere, all while hoping the mouse doesn’t try to move.  Oh my gosh, I can’t even finish describing what I can’t do.

I have to wait.

Once upon a time, when I came home for a break between college semesters, we experienced a mouse problem at my parents’ house.  My closet, in particular, was a favorite residence for the tiny creatures. We set traps with peanut butter as bait. (By the way, peanut butter is way too precious and expensive in my current living circumstances to sacrifice as rat bait these days.)  The traps succeeded in catching (and killing) the little beasts. When I realized the traps did their jobs, I asked my dad to take care of them for me.

He refused.

What are you going to do when you live on your own and you catch a mouse? he asked.

Call a neighbor to save the day, was my obvious reply.

We both stubbornly maintained our positions regarding the situation at hand; meanwhile, my mother—God bless her brave soul—took care of the mouse problem.

Well, every mouse (rat, frog, lizard, etc.) problem I’ve encountered since moving out of my dad’s house (or should I say mom’s?) has indeed led to me calling someone to come rescue me after screaming didn’t seem to resolve anything.

Until two little boys moved into my life and my home, that is.

Now I rarely need to call someone to rescue me.  I just have to wait until the boys get home, or wake up, or whatever.

The first time I had them take care of a rat stuck to a trap while I hid in another room, they were a bit scared too.  I talked them through the process while confining myself to my bedroom, cautiously asking them if they had finished yet.

Yesterday evening, the trap I’d set while they were at school proved to be effective.  By now the twins have saved me so many times, they didn’t think twice about the need to dispose of the intruder while I cowered at the end of the hallway.

After the deed was done, I created a false hope within me and decided I didn’t need to set up either of the two extra traps I’d purchased.  But this morning the boys told me they heard another one in the kitchen while they ate breakfast. I reluctantly set another trap. I mean, I wanted to catch the annoying little thing, but I didn’t want to risk catching it early in the day and having to endure the consequences all day long.

Now here I am, unable to get a snack or fill my water bottle because the last time I attempted such a thing, I caught a glimpse of my latest victim.  I won’t be bringing an afternoon snack in the van with me when I pick up the children today!

I can’t explain why it is so disgusting, exactly.  But it just is. I mean, you get it, right?

As I’m sitting here, completely grossed out, and waiting for my shoulder-high saviors, I began reflecting.  That’s right, a mouse is giving me deep revelations. Good for something…I guess.

I know we generally see fear, being stuck, feeling overwhelmed, etc. as negative things.  Usually we tell people to stand up to those fears. To move forward. To push aside the crippling feelings.

But maybe sometimes we shouldn’t.

Maybe sometimes we should take those moments when the situation seems bigger than we can handle, and just wait.  Wait for our Savior to step in. Or maybe I should say, have patience to see how He is at work. Maybe we need to prayerfully wait to see how God will bring us through the seemingly impossible situation.

Many times our reaction at such times is to do our best to solve the problem.  Then we usually come up defeated when our best efforts come up empty.

Perhaps our reaction shouldn’t be to try all we can, and then turn to God if we are not successful, but rather to wait it out.  Know we cannot handle it on our own, and patiently, prayerfully wait. I don’t mean that we do nothing. I mean on occasion we should recognize our inability and rest in God’s ability.

Waiting to have the boys come home and take care of my little problem is not exactly easy for me right now.  I’m squirming, shuddering even. But I know I have to wait. I am not one of those valiant women who can march in there, pick it up, and throw it out.  Nor do I ever intend on becoming one. And I am totally ok with that. (I mean, aside from my current state of discomfort.)

I wish I was more like that when it comes to the more serious problems in my life.  I wish I was better at waiting. I have two basic extremes most of the time. Either I attack the problem head-on without consultation of people or God, or I become paralyzed and do nothing, foolishly hoping the problem will disappear on its own.  Rarely does either method work out to my advantage. What I need to do is sit down in another room, and wait for God’s intervention. Seek His face through prayer and His Word. I can’t expect Him to always enter in, like a knight in shining armor ready to take the unbearable circumstances out to the trash.  I know sometimes He will require me to be involved in the solution. But I think it would all go better if my first reaction was waiting on Him, calling out for help, and listening for His familiar voice.

God, I know difficult circumstances are going to continue to come up in my life.  Sometimes I can anticipate them, and sometimes they catch me off guard. However they come, however challenging they are, help me to wait on you.  Help me to patiently trust you to intervene. Give me wisdom in what to do or not do, what to say or not say. Help me to rely on your presence in my life.

 

 

Childlike Jealousy

IMG_4241.jpg

This morning I endured unexpected and unrelenting crying from one of my kiddos.  One of my boys took his bike to the bicycle mechanic to work on his chain while the other refused to accompany him.  His refusal came with uncontrollable crying. You know, the kind of crying where streams of drool are slinging all over.

Sure, my children cry on occasion, but rarely like this.  Especially when no physical injury is involved.

Usually I do not allow my boys to go on bike rides alone, but require them to go together.  The beauty of having twins. But after unsuccessfully trying to send the crying child, I allowed the solo adventure for chain repair.

Meanwhile, I sent the hysterical one to cry on the couch while I checked my emails.  Being the sensitive child that he is, he couldn’t handle that solitary environment for long, and found his way onto my lap.  Mind you, the couch is literally seven steps from where I was sitting.

I broke out the essential oils, attempting to alter the mood.  

The magic didn’t work instantly.

I offered a banana.  I figured the breakfast of my leftover birthday cake could have been the culprit.  (Don’t judge, I have one birthday a year. And it was on a Friday. If I was going to have birthday cake for breakfast on a Saturday, then I had to offer it to the spectators as well.)

He refused to eat it.

Then the begging began.

Can I ride your bicycle?

I told him no, and rubbed his back as I read emails and ignored his request, which was on rapid repeat.  Tears were still flowing.

I can be pretty tough sometimes.  But I really don’t want to indirectly teach my children that whining and complaining is the way to get their requests.  So I resist with a balance of resolution and compassion. That can be a tricky feat sometimes.

So, I tried to get the bottom of the issue.

His bicycle is faster than mine.  Totally untrue.  They are exactly the same, except one is blue and the other is yellow.  I even sarcastically suggested maybe his brother’s legs were faster…I know, that one should have stayed in my head.  But it rolled off his back like his tears would roll off a duck’s feathers.

A couple days before, they were racing and it led to a little injury that has resulted in some limping.  The crying child was the victim in that circumstance. He started complaining that he was afraid his brother would hurt him again.  I bought into that one.

Turns out it was not really the root of the problem.

You always let him ride your bicycle, but you never let me.  I’ve only ridden it once. Ok, twice.  Of course this hyperbole was also not exactly true.  But I knew to his small heart, it was as close to true as he could imagine in that moment.

If you let me ride your bicycle, when I come back, I will rub your back.  Wow.  This was getting serious.  We had moved to bribes. And what a beautiful thing that my child knows me well enough that he knows what I would really appreciate.  (Of course, back rubs given by small children are rarely satisfying.)

If you let me ride your bicycle I will never do a bad thing again.  This is how you know that the request is extremely deep in a child’s heart.  What a tempting offer he has presented…if only it was actually possible for him to follow through with his end of the bargain, then I may have accepted.

By this time, his brother had gone to the mechanic, had his chain fixed, and made it back up the big hill to our house.  He returned, so excited about how fast his bike was working now. Not exactly the most helpful statement at the time.

So, I invited the brother into the conversation about how to solve the issue of the crying and desire for riding my bike.

Truth finally came out.

Last night, one little boy was allowed to ride my bike because his was out of commission due to a faulty chain.  There is a hotel near our house on a road with almost no traffic. Perfect for children to ride their bikes. While I was working on supper, they were given permission to ride from home and around that hotel two times.  One on his bike. One on my bike.

So….the real issue this morning wasn’t pain or fear of a repeated injury.  Crying didn’t come because his bike was slower than his brother’s. The problem was jealousy.  He was jealous of his brother’s opportunity to ride my bike the evening before.

These statements were admitted with a dry face.  Together we identified the true problem as jealousy.  We talked about how jealousy was not the best reaction, but instead he should have been happy that his brother had another option when his bike wasn’t working, and they could still ride together.  He could even be happy that his own bicycle is functioning just fine.

After this little life lesson, we made a deal:  He could ride my bike around the hotel twice, just like his brother did last night.  Then they’d come back and get his bike to continue their bike riding excursions. Fair is fair.  I guess.

Miraculously he was instantly very happy with this decision.  Off they went, two dry faces, ready to ride.

As soon as they headed to the door, I felt the lesson I’d been trying to communicate with these young boys, hit me in the gut.

How many times have I had unexpected and unrelenting emotions, even crying, attack me?  

Countless.

I can find myself so upset, unwilling to tackle the things before me.  Not wanting to eat. Feeling so wounded. Yet, when I try to explain what is bringing me down and making my mascara run, none of my explanations seem very reasonable.  At times I may even be found attempting to make ridiculous bargains in my prayers. (Though I’ve never offered to give Jesus a back rub if he gives me what I want.)

Sometimes, if I’m really honest, the truth comes out: jealousy.  It’s jealousy that brings me down.

I will never forget a pastor once defining jealousy as the mindset that you deserve what someone else has, or that what they have should be yours.  

How many times have I been a mess because I want to be married?  Live in a different place? Have more obedient children? Fit into my clothes the way I used to?  Earn a higher income? The list goes on…

Now, I don’t find myself thinking things like her husband should have chosen me, I want to live in her house, I wish I had those children, etc.  It usually plays out a little more generally.  Having a husband would make this so much easier.  If I lived somewhere else I wouldn’t have to deal with these struggles.  Why don’t these kids listen to what I tell them to do?  

See, that doesn’t sound like jealousy.  I am not envying a particular person (most of the time).  But I do have this deep sense that I deserve better than what I have.  That I shouldn’t have to endure what I am dealing with. That the so-called better life that everyone else seems to enjoy should be available to me too.

Unlike the bike issue in the morning, my issues can’t be worked out so easily.  God isn’t in the business of striking deals with His children to settle fairness debates.

But if I can identify the root of my issues as jealousy, when that is indeed what is happening, then I should be able to handle them better.  

I should have the maturity to be happy for other people who are able to enjoy the things that I see as good, and would also want.  I should look for the good in my circumstances. I can recognize that having whatever it is my heart is longing for at the moment, will not actually solve all my problems.  I may even be able to have the wisdom that the thing I’m jealous for isn’t what I really need, but there is a different and better solution available.

In the reality, I don’t deserve a husband, a better place to life, perfectly behaved children, a smaller dress size, a bigger paycheck, or anything of the like.  So, the jealousy is unfounded.

But jealousy is not always unfounded.

You’ve heard it said that God is a jealous God.

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  Exodus 34:14

Sometimes that doesn’t seem right to us, because we have been taught that jealousy is bad.  So how could God, a good God, be jealous?

Well, sometimes jealousy can be righteous.  Sometimes we believe we deserve something that someone else has, and we are right.  It truly is ours. Like if your husband is giving another woman special attention. He is your husband, so it makes sense for you to be jealous of that attention.  How it got to that point or how you react, now that is a different story…

God certainly can be jealous.  In Exodus 34, the situation was that people were worshipping false gods.  And the LORD was jealous of their worship. He deserved to be worshipped by His people.  These false gods did not deserve their worship. Only the one true God deserved it. So he was jealous.

Maybe we are not putting up Asherah poles like the Israelites were doing.  Maybe we are not forming physical idols and putting them on our mantels, praying to them in the evenings.

But maybe we are worshipping the idea of a different lifestyle in some way.  Wanting something different from the blessings God has given us.  Believing satisfaction will come from something or someone other than God himself.

In the midst of our unrighteous jealousy, God has a righteous jealousy for us.  For our worship. For our love. For our devotion.

God forgive us for our jealous hearts and discontent attitudes.  Help us to be content in the life and love you have offered us. May we desire to live lives that do not force you to be jealous for our worship.

Regular Customer

Living in Uganda, I’ve come to see the value in being someone’s regular customer.

I have a variety of motivations for consistently going to the same person for my purchases.

They are the closest, or most convenient.

They need the business more than others.

I know how to find/contact them, so I don’t have to find someone else.

They are friendly.

They don’t cheat me or charge me a Mzungu price.

They peel and cut my pineapple without any extra charge.

Their phone number is in my contact list.

 

In the past two days I experienced another little perk of being a repeat customer: bonuses.

Yesterday I was driving past the lady’s home who usually does my mending and peculiar American sewing projects, and she flagged me down.  I told her I’d stop by on my way back, not sure why she wanted me to come to her house.  On my way back, I parked the car and jogged down the dirt path to her door.  When I entered, she gathered seven avocados and put them in a bag for me to carry home.  I don’t think she even knows that I love avocados.  She was just being nice to her client, and even provided me with a variety of ripeness.

This morning I had a couple of quick errands to run.  When I filled my gas tank, it took more than I expected, stealing some money from what I had allotted for my purchases in the market.  With the equivalent of about $4, I went to my usual spot near the front of the market to buy some carrots.  (Yes mom, carrots.)  Being a good business woman, the lady asked me if I wanted any cucumbers.  I hadn’t wanted any…until she said something about them.  But considering the limitations of my wallet and my list, I denied the suggestion.  As she handed me the bag of carrots, she threw in a cucumber for free.  A bonus for being her customer.

I picked up a couple more things, then headed back to the van.  The last stop was a couple blocks away, where men park their bicycles, heavy laden with pineapples.  Seeing me coming, a man came out to the road, beckoning me to him.  I opened my window and asked for two pineapples peeled and cut.  (I really don’t enjoy peeling and cutting pineapple, to the point of it deterring me from buying it very often.  Then I realized that I could have the man selling it to me do the dirty work.  Bliss.)  Moments later he came back with a plastic bag, filled with the juicy fruit.  But he quickly told me not to drive off yet.  He went pack to the pile and picked out another pineapple, cut and peeled it, packed in a plastic bag, and thrust it through my open window, saying it was a bonus for being his customer.

IMG_3830

(We already ate one of the avocados.)

I drove home very happy with these extra treasures in my bags.  And I couldn’t help but reflect on the generosity I’d received.  Sure, it may have been laced with an attempt to secure my loyalties,nonetheless it was good business sense, and just plain nice.

Am I as generous as these people?  Considering my limited profit margin, am I willing to offer people such sacrifices?  Do I make an effort to appreciate and bless people in my life?  whether regular or just passing by?