Friday, December 26, 2014

Grandma's Green Bean Casserole for Christmas

Hard to believe, but this is our fifth Christmas in Uganda. Some of our traditions we have been able to keep intact, but others had to go by the wayside. For instance, we still get new pajamas to wear on Christmas eve. While this has been a challenge, we have been able to continue this. The other thing that continues is fun filled Christmas stockings for whoever spends the night with us and of course reading the Christmas story before opening any gifts. One of the things that is difficult to replicate though? Food. Just things that seemed so simple in the states to get (ingredients) are either non-existent or difficult to find. For this reason, the green bean casserole that I always made from my grandma's recipe rarely graces our table for Christmas. But this year was different. A couple months ago, I was surprised to find canned water chestnuts of all things! I bought a can "just because I could" even though I had serious doubts that it would make any difference. The other ingredients would not be around. Then about a month ago, I was amazed to discover canned French-cut green beans in Jinja! I couldn't believe it!!! I bought three cans "just because I could." Then sat them on the shelf in the pantry. I would make them at Thanksgiving and use the chestnuts. I knew it still wouldn't taste right, but at least I could get "closer" to the original. Thanksgiving grew closer and it was apparent that we wouldn't even be around for that celebration because Bob and I needed to head to Nairobi Hospital to take care of his heart problem (atrial fibrillation). The green bean casserole would just have to wait. That wasn't very disappointing since I wouldn't have the other proper ingredients anyhow. After Bob's heart got fixed, we had to wait an extra day or so in order for the doctor to have a follow up appointment and confirm that his heart was going to stay in good rhythm before releasing us to go back to Uganda. What else is one to do while waiting in Nairobi? Hit the shopping mall, of course! At one of the supermarkets, I was super excited to discover Campbell's cream of mushroom soup! Campbell's for real!!! I bought two cans "just because I could!" I even found Nestle's chocolate chips and Skittles in four different flavors! I had to pinch myself to remind myself that I hadn't just tele-ported to America somehow ... When we got home to Uganda, I realized that I had almost all of the ingredients now that would make my grandma's green bean casserole! I only lacked French's French-fried onions! No problem. Andy and Karina Smith had asked many times if there was anything else I needed them to bring back ... and Dufur Christian Church had already purchased a footlocker which wasn't full yet just for us that the Smiths would be bringing the middle of December. I couldn't believe it. It was possible that if I just ordered some French-fried onions in time for the Smiths to stick them in our footlocker that we could actually have Grandma's Green Bean Casserole?!! Now you might think that green bean casserole is better than candy to me or, at the very least, it is my all-time favorite dish ever. I certainly seem to be consumed with figuring out how to have it! But, you know what? It really isn't. I enjoy it. I like it. I even miss it, at least at Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I find it at a potluck, I am excited to try it. But it never satisfies. It isn't the same recipe. Even if it was, the ingredients here don't quite taste the same. Last year I even tried cutting green beans (called French beans here) the French-style cut way and it took me an hour to do so. Then I made the recipe but to my disappointment. The mushroom soup I made just didn't taste "right." This year, I did make the correct recipe and it was good. I enjoyed it. But it really wasn't the green bean casserole that satisfied. It was the tradition of having Grandma's recipe on the table. It was like a taste of home, a way to be closer to family somehow. Being on the other side of the planet from family is hard at times and certainly the holidays are no exception. If nothing else though, it was a good reminder of what is truly important during the holidays. Green bean casserole or no, tradition or no, things cannot satisfy our hearts the way our precious Lord and Savior can. And no matter where in the world we are, He will always be with us! I can always, always take comfort in that!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving at Nairobi Hospital

It started after a morning of teaching. I sat down for some lunch and as I sat there, I could feel something unusual going on with my heart. I could feel it pounding in my chest. I checked my pulse and not only was it going faster than usual, it was also skipping beats. “Bummer”, I thought, “not again!” I had experienced heart arrhythmia four times before (actually, atrial fibrillation). Once it had gone back into rhythm on its own, the other times I had needed to be inverted (heart stopped and then started again with an electric shock). The heart didn’t seem to be skipping around as much this time as it had before. It just seemed to be skipping some beats. I thought, “Maybe if I just rest, it will calm down.” I knew it was probably wishful thinking, but last time had involved a month and a half of incapacity along with a memorable but highly unsatisfactory stay in a Ugandan hospital highlighted by an unsuccessful cardiovertion attempt, part of which I was concious for. All of this was followed by being life-flighted down to South Africa to be cardioverted again, this time successfully. So now you know where the “Bummer, not again,” comes from and why I was hoping things would correct themselves. But by morning it was clear that the heart was not going to fix itself. The pulse had slowed down to closer to normal but it was still skipping beats. I wasn’t feeling as bad as I had in the past but I knew I would need some help. I called my cardiologist who was in Nairobi. I had been followed by him ever since the last episode two years earlier. The receptionist would not let me talk to the doctor but told me I would need to make an appointment and come in. I tried to explain that I lived in a different country and it would take me hours of travel to get there. I wanted to know if there were something I should be doing now. She told me I need to make an appointment. So I made an appointment. The next day was earliest appointment I could get, which was just as well as it would take me that long to get there anyway. The choice was between flying and taking the bus. We had tried driving twice and our van had broken down both times, so driving was out. It is just not reliable for longhaul trips or anything with hills and mountains. The flight itself would only be about an hour and a half, but it would take at least four hours to get to the airport, then there would be standing in line getting tickets, going through security and customs and travel from the airport in Kenya. All-told it would take somewhere around nine hours of travel to fly with a lot of activity and stress. The bus would take about 12 hours but most of that I would just be sitting. Plus the bus would be ten times cheaper, so the bus it was. My wonderful wife lined up for our boys to stay at some friends and arranged for bus tickets on the night bus for us, along with a lot of last-minute details. Some Ugandan friends dropped us off at the bus station where we were told the bus would be there any minute. Our bus station consisted of two waiting room type chairs placed at the side of the road. We had a lot of stares at the two white people sitting at night by the side of the road in these nice chairs. We sat there for about an hour waiting for the bus, which was okay, until it started to rain. But eventually the bus did make it and we got going. My seat was fairly roomy and not too uncomfortable but Michelle was stuck by a fellow with a lot of bags that were stuck where her feet was supposed to be. The back of the seat in front of her kept bagging into her knees and her seat back was broke so if she leaned back on it, it would fall back into the lap of the fellow behind. Fortunately it was just a short bus ride, 12 hours or so. So off we went, bumping along. We were both able to get some sleep even if only intermittently. At first I hadn’t been feeling that bad, but by the time we were getting close to Nairobi, my chest was beginning to feel very tight and the pain was increasing. It was morning when we got off the bus in the middle of bustling Nairobi. Michelle grabbed the bags (Did I mention I had a wonderful wife) and we found a taxi. We went and got some food then to a guest house where we could get about an hour of rest before it was time for the doctor's appointment. The rest helped, so I was able to make it up the stairs to the doctor’s office by taking it slow. The doctor looked me over and told me sure enough I had a problem. He told me they could cardiovert me but first they would need to know there were no blood clots in my heart or it could kill me. He gave me two options. I could take some drugs and wait a month. Or they could do a procedure of putting some kind of scope down my throat to see if there were any clots and if not, go ahead and cardiovert me then. Last time, under the care of a doctor in Uganda, I had only had option A, and it had left me virtually bed ridden for more than a month, so this time I jumped at option B. The procedure was lined up for the next day, Thanksgiving. While we had been looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with friends, all the excitement had been put out of my mind. So the next morning as they were preparing me for the procedure (sliding a tube with a scope on it down my throat), I was surprised when the doctor wished me a “Happy Thanksgiving.” I thought, “This isn’t what I had envisioned putting down my throat on Thanksgiving, but oh well.” I was concious for the first part of them putting the tube down my throat (for some reason they needed me awake), but while I felt a little panicky at first it wasn’t too bad. And I don’t really remember much beyond feeling the start of it going down. I woke up in a different bed and was told that there had been no clots so they would now do the cardioversion. The doctor told me to count backwards from 100. I can remember getting to 28, and then I was waking up again and my heart was back to beating as before. A few hours later I was able to leave the hospital. During this time I was able to just rest, but Michelle was kept busy with a lot of running around. We had brought our credit card and debit card and had even called the credit card company in advance. But because of credit card fraud that had been going on in Kenya, they would not authorize the card. To get out of the hospital, we would have to pay our bill in full so Michelle was forced to find a way to get the money transferred from our bank in Uganda over to Kenya. Fortunately, a good friend back in Uganda was willing to give up part of his Thanksgiving to help us out. After a lot of stress and headache, Michelle was able to get it taken care of so I could leave the hospital. (Did I mention I have a wonderful wife?) We got out and stayed again at a guest house and were able the next day to catch a ride up to the school where Janae and Josh attended. As it turned out, they were just heading into Christmas break and were preparing to catch a bus ride back to Uganda the next morning. We were able to get a ride on the same bus. This bus ride took 15 hours but finally we were back home. Getting back to normal would still take about a week, but all-in-all, I was very thankful for so many things.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Where are these butterflies coming from?

A little over seventeen years ago now,I was pregnant with our firstborn, Janae. We were living in Virginia, a long ways from most of our family. I had no idea what having a baby would be like. I had much fear about the pain and just the entire delivery process. Not only did I want my mother to be near, but I especially desired my husband's presence. A few months before I was due (the first week of March), Bob was offered the free trip of a lifetime, a study trip to Israel by the local Eastern Star. Wow! How could he "not" go? Even though the trip meant he would be gone during the last weeks of my pregnancy and even over the expected due date ... how could he "not" go? After all, it was FREE!!! But my sweet husband, who dearly wanted to go to Israel on a trip such as this one, instead said, "No, when I go to Israel, we will go together." I was overwhelmed. From that time on, we have planned and saved some here and there for just such a trip. Tax refund money would go into a CD, so that we couldn't touch it without penalties. It is the only savings we have ever had that didn't get spent on something else. There was always a need. Our dream was that we would go together the year of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. With that anniversary approaching, last year we started wondering if our dream would come true. The giving income dropped all year long for our mission. It soon became evident that something had to change. What was it? Would we need to withdraw our Israel savings and instead live on it or use it for airfare to return to the states and end our time as missionaries in Uganda? What was God trying to tell us? To make a long story short, God increased our giving income so that we could remain in Uganda. He pointed us to join a new ministry here while staying involved with the old. We are excited about these changes. But that is another story. The point is that our Israel savings was left untouched. As we began to look for options of what tour group to join, it became evident that it was no coincidence that the very year we are to go on our dream vacation is also the very year that a friend from Oregon is leading a group there!!! There was no question in our minds that we would join that team! It is just days now before we leave on our dream trip. So why are butterflies entering my tummy? I am convinced that we are supposed to go. I have no doubt that God is wanting to bless us with this time together, learning more about Him and seeing where His Bible people lived and served. I am amazed at His awesome gift to us. Yet I will be a continent away from my children. A dear friend of the family will be with them. There is no reason to fear now. Is that the reason for the butterflies? Or is it that I am not physically fit like I once was when I was younger? After all, this trip requires moderate hiking from 6-8 miles a day being expected to walk/hike. I have been instructed very specifically about purchasing hiking boots and breaking them in. I have read carefully all the other directions on what to bring and what to leave behind. Bob and I have spent months now walking an hour every morning, five days a week, with an emphasis on including stairs in our routine. Living on a hilly terrain the last couple months surely has helped us. I am just about as physically ready as I could be (or so Bob tells me). So why the butterflies? Perhaps the butterflies are just coming from the excitement of the culmination of a dream come true when it doesn't yet feel like it is really happening. I truly don't know. But one thing I do know, God will be with me. God will be with the children. And God will go before us and prepare the way. I covet your prayers that He would accomplish exactly His desires in our hearts (for each of the 48 in our tour group - 14 from Oregon, I think it is) and that we would be changed forever by this dream trip, a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be sure!!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why Do I Ever Doubt?

This past Friday, I was once again confronted with the question, "Why do I ever doubt You, Lord?" You'd think that after so many years of walking with Him, knowing Him and experiencing the life that He has to offer with Him that I would never doubt His goodness and faithfulness to supply my every need. You'd think ... I know I have been silent on this blog now for literally a year, simply because I don't take the time to sit down and write. But I have been challenged lately that I should be. So ... at least for today, I am back at it. We are once again facing some huge changes in our lives. Last year (2013), our support base dropped by an average of $1,200 or so a month. Since we had a surplus that had been built up (because we need it for emergencies and for the expensive flights to the states on furlough, etc. this is important to have), we weren't too worried at first. But as the year went on, we continued to be behind and dipped into the reserves just in order to make it through the month. We went on furlough and this only compounded the problem. Some told us that it would change when we went on furlough and people would give more while we were home. While many did give, the situation only temporarily changed for one month. Then the dip returned. By October, the reserve was completely gone and we were barely able to draw out our basic salary. Money for ministry expenses had been nonexistent for a long time by then which means anything was paid for from our personal salary funds. To say the least, things have been more than tight. Any savings we had vanished quickly just for regular needs. Nothing for when the van breaks down or even regular maintenance, etc. But when October hit with our balance falling in the red, we discovered from the home office that unless we were within $500, we would not be sent our salary. This meant "no" money to live on! Wow. That was literal since no savings was left here in Uganda. We had to confront the problem straight on and honestly. We couldn't ignore the problem any longer or just wait for it to go away. Of course, this meant, we not only 'just prayed' about our situation to the Lord but we finally came to Him with completely open hearts, searching and asking what God has in mind for us. What did this mean for us? Did He want us to pack up and sell off our things, moving back to the states? Did He want us to change our lifestyle here somehow (we feel like we live frugally for Americans already but perhaps we could change even more, for instance)? Did He want us to go somewhere else to serve Him? What??? Send Bob back to the states just to fundraise? Many questions were suddenly asked as we sought His guidance with a new yearning and desire to know His will. Just about that time, one of our advisors from the home office "just happened" to be coming to Uganda. This meant we were able to sit down honestly and seek guidance face to face. His advice was to not only do the fundraising letter we had planned, explaining plainly our current situation, but to also ask some supporters to "friend raise" for us. We reluctantly complied but prayed and asked a number of folks if they would consider "friend raising" on our behalf. This meant asking and hosting friends in their home and directly asking them to consider supporting the Peterson family. We have never been "in your face" direct request type people, so this was uncomfortable for us to ask anyone else to do on our behalves. But we had prayed about it and believed we were supposed to follow this counsel. It definitely has worked for others and the documented statistics in terms of the rate of return and investment is much more successful than other methods. In short, those that responded to our requests said no and only one said no, but could they try something different that would be more appropriate for their situation. The latter was a fruitful one and one new supporting family resulted. Most likely, these efforts also brought forth much more prayer support. But what ensued after our fundraising efforts from a distance, feeble as they may have been, has truly been amazing to us! Literally, every week since then we have received word from someone that something is happening on our behalf. Either they have talked to their missions board chairman or their board is meeting next month and will decide if they will support us or even some new commitments have been made or a missions team is praying on our behalf (and didn't even receive one of our letters by that time), etc. God is so good! We are so grateful! During the month of December many gave sacrificially and added to our support account at the home office. We ended December with one of the highest giving months yet. It is not clear how many of those gifts were one time gifts and which ones will be ongoing monthly gifts. We won't really know that for sure for a number of months as we see what is consistently being given. But we were encouraged and continue to be encouraged. We are so grateful for everyone who has given and taken serious time to pray for our needs. God is obviously working for us! After much prayer, we do not believe God wants us to leave Uganda. Bob finishes writing the basic curriculum for pastor's training in the islands geared at the uneducated pastor next month. The first two year program ends in March and about a dozen men will graduate. The program will be offered again but deeper in the islands of Lake Victoria. It has been so exciting to be a part of instilling God's Word into the hearts of these pastors, some who had never even heard the story of creation before! God's Word will not return void and we are already seeing an impact on their personal lives as they live out His Word practically before their people. Changed lives always inspire changed lives! And it is only by Him that the fruit can be wrought! But ... what does God want from us? We were convinced the shift in finances meant He intended a change to be made of some sort. We had become quite comfortable in our three bedroom house with a large, private compound where the kids could play freely and safely without care. For the first time ever, our children have had their own yard which meant we could finally have family dogs without worry of someone else needing the yard at any given moment since it wasn't really ours. Our home was truly a sanctuary where we could escape even the culture around us, to a degree, when needed and just be "Americans." We could even share that with friends when they needed a break. Hospitality (not my gifting) had even become a ministry frequently enjoyed here. But change? To what and how? To be concise, we believe God wants us to join the staff at Alpha Omega Seminary, also a Global Outreach International ministry. Alpha Omega Seminary is located outside Jinja a few miles and has land that borders the Nile River. Men in ministry come from all over East Africa to obtain a three or four year degree, certified in America. Everything is done in English since they come with many different languages. The students come for five week intensive sessions at a time and return with homework for twelve weeks while they continue to minister at their churches and ministry sites. Bob will be academic dean and a professor. They have offered us housing rent-free which will save us $600 a month which is huge. We are excited about this new phase of our lives. But we are also experiencing some anxiety over what the changes mean. Our children will have to give up their family dogs because we cannot take them with us. No more private compound with our "own" sanctuary. We will be a "fish in a fish bowl" again as we live our lives before everyone, this time in a new culture. We lose quite a bit of our own space inside and outside since the house is considerably smaller than what we have now. But we know that since God is in this, we will benefit and gain so much more than it "appears" that we are losing! Change is just hard. One of the things that was giving me anxiety about the move is that the duplex we are moving into is actually a two bedroom duplex. All of the rooms are smaller and we are losing a fair amount of storage space as well. On the end wall, there was an addition of two rooms, bathrooms and a porch. This area was used/intended for visiting teachers to stay in. We were offered this space in addition to the main duplex since it was clear that two bedrooms would not be large enough to accommodate us and the school room space. I was so grateful for this, but it meant that two of my children would be living outside of our house. While I requested security bars and a security door to resolve my fears, I knew it would be so difficult for me to be comfortable and to sleep well at night. How could I ever know if they needed me in the middle of the night and if they were okay? I quickly thought of baby monitors or some kind of intercom system, etc. anything that would help me with this fear. I finally realized I just needed to trust God with what He has provided. (with Bob's help, of course) I couldn't say I had forgotten this fear, but I had chosen to put my trust fully in Him over it and stopped worrying so much about it. This past Friday, we received a phone call, "Could you come out today and discuss the house with us?" Oh, my ... what did that mean? I had already figured out "mostly" how things could fit and how it "might" could work, especially since they were giving us some space in the maintenance shed for storage. Now what? When we arrived, Jim Clair was in the house with a pad of paper, pencil and a sketch already drawn. It had come to him that morning! He could push out part of the wall, move some plumbing and create a hallway to adjoin the two living spaces; thereby creating one four bedroom house on that end of the duplex!!! I was overwhelmed. Truly amazed. Once again, God was providing for ALL of our needs. Not just "some," but ALL. A mother's heart requires a knowledge that her children are safe and well cared for. Even this, He cared for. He knew that He could care for them without a remodel, that they could be safe because He is in charge and they are in His loving care. But He cared enough to give Jim this incredible plan which meets even the deeper emotional need of a mother. My need. I had surrendered it and He had given back beyond what I imagined. Now I know that it is going to take quite a bit of money to make this remodel happen. But I believe this is God's plan and even that He will provide. We have heard His call to Alpha Omega Seminary and answered, "Yes, Lord. We will go." And He? He is ever so faithful to reward us in even such things as a momma's heart. So I ask, "Why do I ever doubt You, my Lord?" And perhaps, just perhaps, next time I won't!