Thursday, December 23, 2010

As I wrote this poem I considered how remarkable it actually is that most of the world pauses to honor Christ one day each year. Granted, many wouldn't admit that this is what they are doing, but truly, in celebrating His birth, and keeping "the spirit of Christmas" alive, they are honoring, or at least acknowledging Jesus. It is still a far cry from what God expects of us, but it is a tiny, imperfect foretaste of the day when "...every knee shall bow ...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..." (Phil. 2:10-11)

Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Merry Christmas, my friends!

For Just One Day
By Sharlyn Guthrie

For just one day
we will not go
into the city
or the town.
I’m thinking, though,
we’ll light a fire
to sit around
with those we know
and love who will be home
…for just one day.

For just one day
we’ll tolerate
unbridled joy,
excessive noise,
squeals from children
unwrapping toys
with laser sounds
and high pitched squawks
…for just one day.

For just one day
we’ll disregard
high calories
and extra fat,
plus sugared things
we ought to shun.
Tomorrow we’ll go back to that,
but we’ll have candy,
pie, and fudge
…for just one day

For just one day
we’ll set aside
our differences,
our selfish pride.
We’ll do our best
to keep the peace
and not take sides.
We know we must
because it’s right
…for just one day

For just one day
we’ll light the wicks
of candles we
have never lit;
use fine china,
crystal too;
in merriment
wipe dust from games
we rarely play
…for just one day.

For just one day
the world will slow—
perhaps not kneel,
but genuflect;
pay homage to
our God and King,
show some respect.
This side of Heaven
it’s what we get
…for just one day

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Candy Capers

Today I am sharing another true story, this time from (ahem!) just a few years back. Catrina of A Work in Progress is the hostess of Fiction Friday this week, so be sure to pay her a visit.

Christmas Candy Capers
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Soon after school began the fall of my junior year, my chemistry teacher phoned me at home. “I know you like cats,” she began, “so I wondered if you would be up to a special challenge. My cat had kittens and she has a runt that needs more care than I can give. Are you interested?”

Of course I was interested! However, since my mother would need to help out with the care during the day, and would eventually take full responsibility for the cat when I went off to college, I had to consult her. Much to my surprise, she agreed.

The tiny limp bundle looked hopeless. She lay curled in the corner of a shoebox bed, unable to even lift her tiny head. We placed a crook-necked lamp above her to keep her warm and began hourly feedings with an eyedropper.

After several days our frail feline emitted a soft sound whenever we approached. Since her cry sounded a bit like bagpipes, we named her Musette. Soon she was standing, and a larger box was needed to contain her. We added a litter box, which she took to immediately.

After a couple of weeks I started carrying Musette on my shoulder. She was still tiny and maintained her parrot-like balance perfectly as I went about my everyday tasks. As time went on she learned to climb up my clothing in order to reach my shoulder. Fortunately, she remained a perpetual kitten size-wise, but her affinity for climbing knew no limits. She also climbed the couch, the curtains, and the hall tree. We found her in the basement rafters, on top of the refrigerator, and curled inside a hat on the closet shelf.

Christmas time came and Mother decorated the house as usual. In fact, even more than usual, since she planned to do some entertaining before the entire family came home for the holidays. In the center of the dining room table she placed a handmade centerpiece of wrapped hard candies, strictly forbidding my father and I to eat even one piece of candy until the centerpiece had served its decorative purpose.

A tall, narrow Christmas tree was erected in the living room, strung with colored lights and silver tinsel. The tree was purposely chosen for its full, close branches, and a quilt was wrapped around its base to prevent a certain kitten from climbing its trunk. Musette batted at the low strands of tinsel and catnapped on the quilt, but surprisingly left the tree alone.

It was my father who astounded me. Despite Mother’s stern warnings, pieces of candy began disappearing one-by-one from the centerpiece. When Mother chided us as she filled in the holes, my father feigned innocence. I hadn’t touched a single piece, so he was obviously the guilty one!

One late December day I returned home from school to a houseful of women -the members of my mother’s Bible study group. While I unloaded my books in my upstairs bedroom, Musette scampered up my pants leg and onto my shoulder where she remained until I descended the stairs a few minutes later.

I was halfway down the stairs when Musette took a flying leap toward the Christmas tree. Her scrawny legs scrambled and clawed, eventually snagging the lights, which wrapped around and held her dangling upside down between the tree and the wall. Her bagpipe cry wasn’t soft, but piercing just then. Worried that Musette was being electrocuted, my mother quickly unplugged the lights, which sent the kitten swinging. A desperate attempt to escape brought the tree crashing onto the floor, and the kitten dashing for safety.

My poor mother was mortified as her friends began scrambling after the scattered ornaments.

“What’s this?” one woman asked as she knelt at the base of the tree. “Do you normally hide candy under here?” Mother and I rushed to her side and there, under the quilt, was a pile of hard candies, still in wrappers. The mystery of the disappearing candy began unraveling as the identity of the candy thief became apparent, and across the room I glimpsed the twitching of a thin gray tail sticking out from underneath the drapes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bum's The Word

Debra is hosting Fiction Friday today. Pay her a visit and find more links to great fiction, or leave your link to your own story.

Brighter days are back and it's time to lighten up my blog a bit. For today's Friday Fiction I've chosen a story well-suited to this time of year. The story is actually true, having taken place last December. Hope it makes you smile.

Bum’s the Word
by Sharlyn Guthrie

My quest for blue jeans in my husband’s desired size, style, and shade landed me in a mall thirty miles from home one crazy December afternoon. Christmas was approaching, and said blue jeans were on the “gotta find ‘em “ list. So, when a phone call from our local store confirmed that the distant store did, in fact, have them in stock, I was on my way.

Since the jeans were on hold, I made my purchase quickly. Then, I reasoned that I should shop for a few other items on my list. After all, this mall was larger than our local mall, and I might be spared another trip or some last minute headaches.

Soon I found myself in the jewelry department of a fine department store, selecting some earrings. The rack I was searching reached nearly to the floor, and of course the most compelling colors hung enticingly near the bottom of the display. So there I was, bent over at the waist, with my posterior sticking out into the aisle. I knew it wasn’t the most flattering or lady-like pose, but it couldn’t be helped. “Hmmm, shall I buy the red chandelier earrings, or the purple sparkly ones?”

Whap! The slap to my derriere brought me immediately erect. Incredulous, I turned to see who had been so rude. To my right there was no one in sight; to my left a saleslady was walking briskly away. She glanced backward, however, and her face wore a mischievous grin.

The saleslady’s grin lasted only an instant. She froze when she saw me, and we stood staring at each other with matched expressions, both seeming to say, “Huh?” Finally, short, exclamatory sentences came tumbling from her lips.

“Oh my goodness! You’re not Susan! I’m so sorry! I thought you were Susan! You look just like her -at least that side of you did! Oh no! I can’t believe it! I just spanked a customer!” Her face had lost its color and the grin I had glimpsed for a moment had vanished. Her associates gathered around, and were no doubt trying to remember protocol for such an incident. Since they couldn’t come up with any, they all just stood there, watching and waiting to see how it played out. The poor woman was distraught.

I couldn’t think of any protocol either, so I did what came naturally. I laughed. Soon her co-workers joined in, and finally Saleslady, herself, cracked a feeble smile.

“I’ll probably lose my job over this,” she lamented as I handed her the earrings I had chosen to buy. “That was such a stupid thing for me to do. You have no idea how sorry I am. Let me buy these for you,” she said, taking them from my hand.

“Look, it was a mistake, and a funny one at that. I have no intention of reporting you,” I told her, “and I won’t let you buy my earrings; but if it makes you feel better, maybe you can give me the sale price that’s supposed to start tomorrow.”

“Really? You’re not going to report me? I can’t believe it.”

“Consider yourself forgiven,” I said, “but don’t expect me to forget this. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. What a great story! Don’t worry, though. Mum’s the word. I’ll never reveal your identity.”

We continued our banter while Saleslady rang up the earrings at the sale price, and I could tell she was feeling less threatened. Then she handed me the receipt. “Oh Ma’am,” she said, leaning in close across the counter, “Spank you very much!”

“Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy.” Proverbs 28:13 (Today’s NIV)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Praising God for Answered Prayer

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever!” Psalm 136:1

Wednesday, December 1st, was surgery day, and I am thankful it is over. I knew that many were praying for me. I, too, had prayed relentlessly as I awaited this day, and I approached with a positive attitude.

Perhaps I should back up and say that I had an ultrasound the previous Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving). The technician had a difficult time finding the tumor, partially because of a large hematoma that remained from the biopsy. When the radiologist came in, however, he repositioned me a couple of times and finally found what he pointed out as the mass. He said that it had been nearly out of range of the biopsy needle, but it looked to him like the tip of the needle had barely nicked the edge of it, which was probably why just a few cells showed up in the biopsy. I had a clear view of what he was pointing out, and it certainly looked and sounded reasonable. I was encouraged to know that it had been located. On Monday the surgeon’s office called and said that two tumors had actually been identified in the ultrasound, but they were side by side, and would be removed together.

My first procedure on the surgery day involved another ultrasound with a different radiologist. It was her job to insert a wire to locate the mass that would be removed. I could tell she was in a hurry, and she couldn’t find the tumors the other radiologist saw. I tried to tell her where they were in relation to the ceramic marker left behind to mark the biopsy area, but she didn’t want to hear it. In fact she retorted, “I don’t even know why your doctor ordered that other ultrasound. It was completely unnecessary. This one is the only one that matters!”

I told the radiologist that I wanted to be sure we had the right area because I didn’t want to go through all of this again, to which she replied, “Well, about twenty percent of our patients have to return to have more tissue removed at a later time. That’s just the way it is.” Of course this was not what I wanted to hear immediately before surgery. I was ready to back out of the whole thing! She then went ahead with the wire insertion -in a less than gentle manner- stopping at the ceramic marker. I endured several painful and anxious moments. Thankfully, John had insisted on coming in with me and was there to pat my feet and ask questions. This no doubt further annoyed the radiologist, but it was of great comfort to me!

The bright spot in that whole experience was my nurse, Terri, who took the time to tell me what a good job I was doing throughout a difficult procedure. She also told me she was praying for me, which meant a lot! She was like a cold drink of water in the middle of the desert.

Upon returning to my surgery room, my pastor and another church friend were waiting to pray with me –what a comfort it was to hear prayers spoken on my behalf, especially at a time when I was feeling so vulnerable.

I have been reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller. He speaks of helplessness as one of the most important doorways to prayer. “God wants us to come to him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden. Instinctively, we want to get rid of our helplessness before we come to God…Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything he isn’t already doing. He is inviting us into his life of helpless dependence on his heavenly Father.” It’s true. My pride causes me to try to get everything under control before I come to God in prayer, but in this situation it was completely beyond my ability to do so. I can testify that prayer is never more appreciated or more effective than when I am completely helpless, as I was in those moments before surgery.

I had a few minutes to speak with the surgeon, and John and I both shared some of our concerns from the needle localization experience. He did his best to calm us down and assure us that he felt confident that he would be able to get all of it, regardless of whether the specific spot was located, since he planned to take out a wider area. After the surgery, he described the area he removed as “golf ball sized.”

I came home the same evening and began my recovery.

Some friends had brought food to us, and I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours so I was hungry, but I found that my throat was extremely sore from the breathing tube insertion, so I couldn’t eat, or even drink, much. I soon learned as well that the pain medication I was given had the undesired effect of keeping me awake and wired. I didn’t sleep the first night or the next day. Finally, after the second night, I called and got a different prescription. Ah, how wonderful it felt to rest on Friday!

Late Friday afternoon I was surprised by a phone call from the surgeon’s office. The pathology report was in, and the surgery was successful! A Phyllodes tumor was removed with good margins all around it. What was seen the week before as two tumors was most likely just the unusual shape of the one. This was the best possible news! No more surgery will be required, and there is little likelihood of a recurrence, since they got a good margin around it. We are praising God for guiding the surgeon’s hand and for proving, once again, His faithfulness and love. Yes, I believe I had an excellent, skilled surgeon, as well, but his work was directed by my Father, the Great Physician.

I have a wonderful friend subbing for me in preschool until I get my strength back. In the mean time I am resting, listening to plenty of Christmas music, and doing some Christmas shopping online! My throat is still very sore, but otherwise I am healing nicely.

Thank you for your prayers and kind words. It is humbling to be the recipient of such kindness, but it is also a blessing beyond compare!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Path Unknown

A Path Unknown
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Today I walk along a path unknown;
I must admit I never would have come here on my own.
In fact, I don’t know how I happened here,
or where this path will lead; there is so much that is unclear.

But He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

Today it seems I have a choice to make.
I could denounce this path as some immense divine mistake,
or I could view it as a chance to rest
within my Father’s loving arms, held safe against His breast.

For He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

I don’t know where or when this path will end,
but God, the mighty warrior, walks beside me as a friend.
His perfect love my anxious heart will still,
and over me He will rejoice, with songs my senses fill.

For He knows when I sit and when I rise.
He hems me in before and then He hems me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to Him; He fills it with His light.

Lord, you know when I sit and when I rise.
You hem me in before and then You hem me in behind.
And when I cry out in the dead of night,
the darkness isn’t dark to You; You fill it with Your light.

Based on:
Psalm 139:2,5,12
Zephaniah 3:17

Two and a half weeks ago, following a needle biopsy on my breast, I learned that I have a rare form of breast cancer –a Phyllodes tumor. I had never heard of this diagnosis before, and as you might guess it raised a lot of questions. The nurse who gave me the news couldn’t tell me anything except that it would require surgery. My own doctor’s nurse only told me that this type of tumor is “unpredictable,” and although it is benign, it has malignant potential. I began reading everything I could find online, and even more questions were raised.

Finally, I met with a surgeon this week. He was very helpful and patient with all of my questions, carefully answering each of them and reassuring me as best he could. The surgery (a wide margin excision) was scheduled for December 1st. I am relieved to have the date set, and I welcome your prayers for the surgery.
I have many reasons to feel thankful and blessed. Apparently, we caught this growth much earlier than is usually possible, and it is benign, meaning that it does not metastasize. I also have a wonderful support system through my family, friends, and church. Still, it hasn’t been easy.

I first became aware of concerns over my mammogram September 2nd. That means that three months will have elapsed by the time I have surgery on December 1st. Strangely enough, the most difficult thing for me was committing to have the needle biopsy.

Following a routine mammogram I was asked to return for a magnification mammogram. A radiologist showed me the results and spoke to me before I left. She was concerned about some micro-calcifications too small to see clearly, even with magnification. Although 80 to 90 percent of micro-calcifications are benign, she wanted me to have a large core needle biopsy on the area. For this procedure I would lie on my stomach on a raised table, my breast hanging through an opening, as multiple tissue samples were extracted from it by the physician below.

The original mammogram was done the last day of our insurance eligibility before John retired. Our insurance coverage was now catastrophic with a high deductible. I knew nothing about this new insurance, except that we were starting from scratch, and I figured this probably wasn’t a good way to start. I was more annoyed than anything, thinking that this biopsy was most likely an unnecessary procedure. I had already learned that it was very costly. I agreed to think and pray about it before deciding.

I was taken by surprise in the middle of that night when I awoke shaking, tears streaming, soaking my pillow. I supposed that it had to do with the dilemma I was facing, although I hadn’t felt the anxiety earlier in the day. So, I prayed specifically asking God to grant me wisdom and peace, but the same thing happened the following night and the night after that. I knew that this reaction was extreme, but I also felt that I needed to understand why I was reacting this way before I made my decision.

Two weeks passed. I had a few restful nights here and there, but most were interrupted. Finally, during one of my now familiar episodes, I prayed earnestly for both wisdom and peace. This time God answered immediately in the form of a revelation. I was transported to a time when I was twelve years old, pinned against the wall by my brother in law, powerless to protect my developing breasts as he pinched and prodded. Now the tears came like a flood. Isn’t it amazing how memories that have supposedly been put to rest can retain such power several decades later? I realized then that my overwhelming fear was not about the outcome of the biopsy, or even about the exorbitant cost, but about the procedure itself or more specifically, my vulnerability during the procedure. With that realization came an overwhelming sense of peace about going ahead with the biopsy –not that I thought it would be a piece of cake- but I knew that, with God’s help, I would now be able to handle it. What an amazing, direct answer to prayer!

The following day I called my doctor and asked to have the biopsy scheduled.
Those who know me know that I am pretty laid back. I have never minded having dental work or other medical procedures, including surgery. I had many people praying for me, and I could sense their prayers. Still, enduring that procedure was a serious exercise in trust and dependence on God. I softly cried my way through it and was exhausted when it was over.

But it wasn’t over. A few days later I learned the results of the biopsy. Since then it has become apparent that God answered the other portion of my prayer, granting me wisdom to go ahead with the biopsy. As I suspected, the microcalcifications didn’t turn out to be of any concern. Nor do they normally have any correlation with a Phyllodes tumor. However, since the mammogram did not reveal a tumor, mine most likely would not have been found until it grew much larger and more problematic, had it not been for the biopsy. Thank you, precious Holy Spirit, for the wisdom, peace, and direction that only You could give!

These past three months have been filled with crazy, unfamiliar emotions. From the very beginning, however, I have recognized this season as an opportunity to hold onto my Father, God, and trust Him like never before. Spending more time with Him has been sweet, for in the midst of uncertainty it is comforting to always find Him there. I can truly say I am thankful for the ways I have grown in dependence on Him, and the tender ways He has ministered to me through His Word, song lyrics, my husband, wonderful friends, and yes, even middle of the night panic attacks.

The song at the beginning of this post is also a product of this difficult time –a blend of messages God has delivered to me in various ways. It occurred to me after I finished writing these words that my entire life is really “A Path Unknown.” When things are going my way it’s easy to fool myself, thinking I know what tomorrow or next month or even next year will bring, but my plans are only good for as far as I can see. They can unravel very quickly. I am so thankful that the all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present God is my friend and constant companion through all of life’s uncertainties.

Today I am sharing my heart with you, along with some unpleasant details of my life, both past and present. I pray that it may in some way encourage you in facing the obstacles and uncertainties of your own life, or help prepare you for the trials that may eventually find you. Perhaps I have included too much information, but if any part of this message blesses or encourages you, if it draws you into closer fellowship and dependence on Jesus Christ, or evokes an attitude of thankfulness and praise, my journey down this path has been worthwhile. Give God the glory. He alone is worthy!

Ultimately, the best advice on the topic of trials is found in James 1: 2-5 (NIV) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Duck Out of Water

I have the honor of hosting Fiction Friday today. I hope you will join us. Just sign up on the Linky at the end of this post and link to your own original fiction.

A Duck Out of Water
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Last year I joined a gym. I was only one of the hordes that signed up in January following two months of eating like a ravenous sumo wrestler. After popping the buttons off several pairs of slacks, I knew that it was time to take action.

It had been years since I took physical fitness seriously. My shape had become so frumpy I could barely admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I had once been an aerobics instructor. Well, it was never too late to make a fresh start. At least that‘s what I had always told those who joined my classes.

I was no fool. I started out easy, first choosing water aerobics and stationary bicycling. Both of these provided good exercise without requiring total concentration. I prayed through long lists of prayer requests during water aerobics. While bicycling, I became engrossed in inspiring Christian music on my MP3 player as I fancied myself cruising along serene country paths.

Long forgotten muscle groups screamed their resistance, but eventually I gained strength and endurance. My confidence grew, and I felt ready to move on.

Scanning the schedule of classes, I discovered that the gym’s offerings had changed during my absence from the fitness scene. For some un-explainable reason, I settled on kickboxing as my next endeavor.

Kickboxing moved at a killer pace as compared to that of water aerobics, and the music was much less serene than what I enjoyed while bicycling. I struggled to match the tempo as sweat formed puddles under my feet. I felt like a duck out of water. Perhaps I was better suited for Bingo tournaments.

While most of the women in the class wore compression shorts and sports bras designed to accent their slender, youthful bodies, I wore baggy T-shirts and sweatpants in order to conceal mine. I had to think and move more quickly than I was accustomed to. On more than a few occasions I turned the wrong direction, narrowly missing my neighbor’s side kick or forward jab. Yikes!

But the maladjustment went even deeper than that. You see, I am a gentle soul –a peacemaker type. Kickboxing is anything but peaceful. Bobbing and weaving while aiming uppercuts at imaginary rivals was simply not in my nature. In fact, it made me laugh. After all, I had no plans to hang out in dark alleys any time soon.

Suffice it to say that I didn’t take my new pursuit seriously. During my first several sessions the instructor exhibited considerable patience and restraint, but that was about to change. One day I settled into the now-familiar routine and allowed my mind to entertain possible ideas for a story I was writing.

“Pay attention! Focus! Your opponent is right in front of you!” The reprimand was directed at me, only inches from my face. Jolted out of dreamland, I heeded the command, my cheeks stinging from more than the heat of exertion. During the remainder of that class every part of my being remained engaged.

Afterwards, I licked my wounds; or rather I licked the residue of hot fudge from my lips after indulging in an unhealthy amount of self-pity.

Finally, though, I confessed to myself that the instructor was right. She had accurately perceived my lack of enthusiasm and attentiveness. Until that day I had no intention of taking kickboxing seriously. I decided then and there that my attitude had to change if I was to continue.

As I considered my dilemma, the instructor’s words resounded. They rang with familiarity and truth, although I couldn’t pinpoint why until I came across this verse: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”* The words packed a powerful dummy punch, reminding me that I had lost sight of my spiritual enemy.

Is that what had made me vulnerable to overindulgence and lack of motivation in my physical struggles as well?

Oh Lord, keep me focused and alert. Guard me from growing too comfortable in my spiritual routines. Make me aware of the enemy who seeks to devour me. Strengthen me through the power of Your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Lord, for jarring me out of my complacency.

I returned to kickboxing with a new attitude and a new strategy. My opponent was real. He had a name and a purpose. I would take him seriously, blocking his every move. It added vigor to my workout and prudence to my continued peaceful existence.

My attitude adjustment would not, however, be accompanied by a wardrobe adjustment any time soon.

*I Peter 5:8 NASV

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Prayer in the Witching Hour

I wrote the following prayer for the topic "missionary" in the Faithwriters writing challenge. It earned 2nd place overall. It is fictional, in that I wrote it before I had any personal experience with mission work. It is based on conversations with close friends who had experienced fear, loneliness, and other difficult situations and emotions as foreign missionaries. These are the things that aren't often addressed in a traditional missions update. These are the reasons we should hold our missionaries up in prayer on a regular basis. They are people just like any of us, endowed with every human frailty and emotion.

A Prayer in the Witching Hour
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Where are You, God?

Shadows submerge me in darkness. Gloom enshrouds me like a grave. It is the witching hour and the presence of evil is great. Where is Your Goodness? Heavy, my eyelids close. But sleep eludes me. The pallet is too hard, and I miss my pillow.

Where are You, God?

Today I walked strange paths, lined with unfamiliar sights. People pressed against me, people whose manner and odor were strong. I peered into gaunt faces with toothless smiles. Questioning eyes stalked me. Children pointed and giggled as I passed. Adults touched my pale skin and stroked my silky hair. Uncertain, I continued in silence, fearful of committing a cultural sin or murdering their native tongue.

Where are You, God?

My perceptions are keen, but You are remote. I search for a glimpse of Your beauty, but see only squalor. Where is your fragrance? These streets reek of urine. Your voice is drowned by distant drums rumbling to placate the demons. I cannot feel Your arms around me.

Where are You, God?

I heeded Your call and followed You here. You should be nearer than ever before, but You are absent. How will I speak unless Your Spirit speaks through me? How will I serve without your strength to hold me up? How will I love unless You love through me? How will I live without Your presence?

Where are You, God?

I found you as a child. My family lavished Your love upon me. Your grace brought me through cancer treatments and a concussion. Your Spirit overflowed in the prayer meeting where I met the aging missionary. Your joy surged through me when I promised to come to this distant land as her replacement. Not until now have I doubted. Was I duped? Deceived?

Where are You, God?

I didn’t know that I would feel so insignificant and out of place. I didn’t know that I would ache to hear my family’s voices. I didn’t know that I would feel repulsed by the very people I came to serve. I didn’t know that nighttime could be this dark or this lonely. I didn’t know that You could be so elusive.

Where are You, God?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)

Where are You, God?

You are in the loneliness, the stench, the unfamiliarity, the darkness, the silence. Slay my selfishness. Forgive my unbelief. Dispel my doubts. Quell my fears. Fill this jar of clay. Then, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8 NIV)

Today's Fiction Friday is being hosted by Karlene at Homespun Expressions. Please take the time to visit her blog and follow the links to some of the other great fiction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sequence of Joy

Sequence of Joy

Like unexpected cool, refreshing rain
showered on the evil and the just,
joy seeps through lingering clouds of grief and pain,
sprinkling those who do and do not trust.

On chance and circumstance this joy depends
…perilously totters on a rail.
A sudden gust or shifting of the winds
topples and defeats its effort frail.

This joy erupts, but soon it must elapse,
as surely as a wilting withering leaf.
Beholden, it drifts just beyond my grasp,
a temporary bliss however brief.

Yet there exists a rare, uncommon joy
for those who lean upon the Father’s breast;
one that doom and crisis can’t destroy,
regardless how they put it to the test.

Planted deep, this joy springs from the Source.
The Spirit tends His flourishing fruit with care.
Inspiring and efficacious force,
His bounteous, blessed gift He’s pleased to share.

Still, joy is tempered here by sin and woe.
The bridegroom yearns to make my joy complete!
Consummate, boundless streams of joy will flow,
Immersing me before His mercy seat.

~Sharlyn Guthrie

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September's Sunshine

Did you happen to notice that this September's sunshine was just a little brighter than usual? I am about to tell you why. It's because my two new beautiful granddaughters were born this month! Since they are, by far, the best news of the month I can’t let the month end without announcing their arrival here, on my blog. The girls were both due September 18th, so we were eager to see when they would actually arrive. As it turned out, they were both in a bit of a hurry!

Hope Lillian Guthrie was born first, on September 2nd, weighing 7 lbs. 6 oz. Besides her mom and dad (Travis and Kristen), Hope joins her “big” sister, Selah, 14 months. Since she lives over 1,000 miles away, we have been dying to meet her; the next three weeks can’t go by fast enough. Romans 5:3-5, a favorite passage of her daddy's, was the inspiration for Hope’s first name.

For Hope

Hope, the meaning of your name
Is more than whimsy or a game;
more than childish fantasy
or wishing well frivolity.

Hope from God is better far
than pot of gold or falling star.
It’s an anchor -safe, secure-
a place to stand when life’s unsure.

Where God’s love and truth abound
A quiet confidence is found,
giving reason to expect
what nobody has seen, just yet.

Hope lifts eyes to Heaven above;
assures us of our Savior’s love;
keeps your feet from stumbling
when things around are crumbling.

On with life, a “hoper” goes;
Needs not cross fingers or toes;
waits with patience and with peace
as both hope and joy increase.

Hope won’t disappoint, you know;
your mom and dad have found it so.
Sweet child, your parents hoped for you.
God answered, and their dreams came true.

~Grandma Guthrie

Olive Joy Guthrie was born September 10th, weighing 10 lbs. 1 oz. She is Tyson’s and Sarah's first and highly anticipated child, arriving one month after their 9th anniversary! I was asked to write a prayer for one of the baby showers held before Olive’s birth. The theme of the shower was, “Wrapped in Love,” and this baby certainly was!

Prayer for the Talents, Abilities, and Spiritual Gifts of Sweet Baby Guthrie

Father, I thank you and praise you for your marvelous works in weaving the intricacies of my new little granddaughter inside Sarah’s womb. I can’t wait to see what talents, abilities and spiritual gifts you have chosen for her. Will she inherit her mother’s artistic flair, or her father’s songwriting talent? Or will she be endowed with abilities exclusively her own?
I only ask that each attribute be used for Your honor and glory. May we celebrate her as a unique, marvelous being. Please give each of us the grace and the wisdom to accept her just as You have designed her, and in doing so, may we light the path that leads her to You, Lord. For even more than my arms ache to hold her, I yearn for the day when she lays each attribute at Your feet, recognizing You as her Savior and King. Thank You, dear Father! Through this precious creation, Tyson and Sarah and each of us who have earnestly prayed for this child are once again in awe of Your grace, faithfulness and love toward us. Praise Your holy name! Amen
~Grandma Guthrie

Olives are symbolic of many things in the Bible: peace, prayer, promises, and anointing. Tyson and Sarah chose the name "Olive" because of the peace God gave them throughout their difficult journey to parenthood.

Welcome, precious girls! Grandma Guthrie loves you already, and I look forward to many days of dollies, tea parties, dress up...and sunshine –especially when all five girl cousins (now age two and under) get together! Noah, you have no idea what family gatherings will be like for you in the future!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Swish, Hush, Shush-a-bye

Swish, Hush, Shush-a-bye
By Sharlyn Guthrie

“Daddy, what’s that chirping sound that’s coming from the hall?”
A cricket calling for its love, my darling. That is all.
“But Daddy, what’s the loud “harrumph” from way down by the pond?”
Frogs are singing lullabies to tadpoles that have spawned.
“The mama duck is quacking. Why isn’t she asleep?”
From hungry owls and foxes her ducklings she must keep.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

“I think I hear a siren. Don’t policemen go to bed?”
They work all through the nighttime to keep us safe, instead.
“Do other people work at night? O Daddy, tell me, please.”
Doctors, nurses, firemen are just a few of these.
“If just a few, then won’t you tell me, Daddy, are there more?”
Hush, my child, and I will tell of night workers galore:

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

Workers stocking grocery shelves and people sorting mail,
pilots, cabbies, bus drivers, and those who guard the jail,
bakers making doughnuts, birthday cakes, and treats;
semi drivers transporting groceries, milk, and meat;
people printing newspapers, others selling gas,
construction workers mending roads so travelers can pass.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

Listen now, my precious child, before you close your eyes.
Another One is wide awake. He’s loving, strong, and wise.
Those other workers go to sleep while you are wide awake.
But He is always on the job, a guardian for your sake.
He is the great Almighty God. You are His treasure rare.
So do not worry, little one, you’re always in His care.

Swish, hush, shush-a-bye, rustle, hustle who
wings, sings, brushes by whispering, “God loves you.”

This poem won first place overall for the Faithwriter's writing challenge children's genre. I hope to have it illustrated and made into a children's book some day. Please go knock on Yvonne's Back Door and enjoy some more wonderful fiction posts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wormy Apple Cupcakes

by Sharlyn Guthrie

It was a foggy September morning and I hoped at least one student would recall today’s seldom-used weather word. “I noticed something different about the weather on my way to work today,” I hinted. “Jeremy, you’re raising your hand. What is the weather word I’m thinking of?”

Jeremy looked puzzled. “Mrs. Guffry, whe do you wook?”

Since he wears a tool belt, kindergartners think the custodian is the only worker at school. But by the end of that foggy September day, feeling the effects of a hard day's work, I flopped onto my bed, exhausted. “Maybe it’s time to retire,” I reasoned out loud.

Sitting up, I began brushing my hair, but the brush caught and pulled. My hair was a sticky mess! Then I remembered. After snacks, Tony had squeezed the Go-gurt tube he carried just as he passed my desk on his way to the trash can. Green slime had suddenly shot out, splattering my hair and face and dripping down my glasses. What could I do but laugh? My students had certainly thought it funny, seeing their teacher dripping with green goop. I needed a shower.

In the steamy shower more of the day’s events swirled through my mind like the morning’s fog. I winced as I washed my face.

Ow! I hadn’t realized how hard Aiden kicked my lip. Oh, he didn’t mean to, I was just helping him cross the monkey bars at recess. He was trying so hard! He will be elated when he finally does it on his own.

Will I ever get this class to line up after recess? Cole and Zach took their time getting off the climber as Cara and Maya wandered toward the swings. Meanwhile, Mark and Gretchen ran inside. Brandon cooperated nicely –a pleasant surprise, considering how he lunged at his mom later, nearly knocking her down. Oh, and, when I reminded him and his mom to be quiet in the hallway his mom quipped, “I hope you mean me, because I can control myself, but I can't control my son!” Hmm, what an enlightening comment!

Matthew, on the other hand, IS uncontrollable! He yanked poor Emily to the floor by her hair today, which landed him in the principal’s office. I hope his parents follow through on the recommendations Mr. Doyle and I drafted for them today. Matthew needs a thorough evaluation.

I also informed Mr. Doyle that six-year-old Elijah, not yet toilet trained, dirtied his pants for the third time today. We wrote a letter to Elijah’s parents, too.

My new student didn’t say one word today. Her mom can barely speak English. Maybe Habiba can’t speak English, either. Lord, show me how to make her feel loved and accepted.

Unlike Habiba, Melodee never stops talking, but she is impossible to understand. She and Jeremy will start speech therapy tomorrow. Before skipping out the door today, she proudly wiggled her loose tooth. I’ll look for a gap in her smile tomorrow, and prepare to listen even harder when she speaks.

My thoughts returned to the present as I stepped from the shower. I dried off, donned my bathrobe, and headed for the kitchen and the red paper plate on the counter holding six cupcakes, each frosted to look like an apple. Poking out of the apples were gummy worms. A note attached to the plate read:

Dear Mrs. Guthrie,
Hannah helped make these “wormy apple cupcakes” for you.
She loves school, and she loves you. We are so thankful for you!
We pray for you and the class every day. Teaching is a difficult job
and you do it so well!
Mr. and Mrs. Olson and Hannah

A tear rolled down my cheek, splashing on the signature. It was only September. Surely the class would learn to line up in another week or so. Aiden would be zipping across the monkey bars, and Habiba would be making friends. By January, Brandon and Matthew would have more good days than bad, and Blake’s and Melodee’s speech would improve. Elijah would definitely be toilet trained. By May they would all know their letters and sounds and days of the week. They would tie their own shoes and zip their own jackets. I would applaud as they sounded out their first words, and exclaim as they wrote their first wobbly sentences on lined paper.

Retire? I might be overworked, and at times under-appreciated, but I couldn’t think of a job with better benefits. “Lord, thank you for five-year-olds and wormy apple cupcakes,” I prayed. “They sure have wiggled their way into this teacher’s heart!”

Note: About nine years ago a very special family, the Olsons, came into my life. Over the next five years I had the privilege of teaching each of their three children in kindergarten. Kathleen and Jeff were wonderful parents. I always enjoyed interacting with them and I also appreciated the many ways they offered help and support at school.

A little over a year ago, Kathleen was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She left this earth and her beautiful family here for her heavenly home on August 18th.

I offer this story as a small, albeit insufficient, tribute to Kathleen. Although names have been changed and I used a bit of writer’s license with the introduction, most of the events of this story actually occurred all in the same day! I am convinced that God knew I would need some encouragement that day, and Kathleen was the willing messenger. She will always have a very special place in my heart.

Christina is hosting Fiction Friday today. Please visit her at her blog, With Pen In Hand, and follow the links to great fiction.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can You Spell I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E?

For my Fiction Friday friends: This isn't fiction, but since it is Friday, so I'm linking up anyway. :) Back to regular fiction next week, Lord willing!

Imagine you are entering a room approximately ten feet wide by twelve feet long. You step inside the door, slip around the corner, and side-step past dozens of hands reaching out to touch yours. Finding just enough space to turn in front of the chalkboard and face the owners of those hands, you look into a collage of little faces -67 of them, to be exact- all crowded along 6 benches nearly the same width as the room, each with a taller bench-like desktop. The children, ranging in age from six to nine, are in many cases literally sitting on top of each other. Here and there a toddler sleeps in his brother’s arms or clings to her sister’s back. Three or four animal pictures appear on a wall near the front, behind Budesta, the smiling teacher of this group. You have just entered the P-1 class at Smile Africa.

Eli the eagle puppet and I were privileged to address these children, introducing the verse, “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shelter of Your wings.” (Psalm 17:8) Later, Norma and Andrea, teachers from our team, reached in from the doorway to assist with a craft, which simply involved using a glue stick to glue the Bible verse on an apple cutout, and the cutout onto a tongue depressor making a fan. It was extremely difficult to direct this simple craft, since the children are totally unfamiliar with using glue and we had no way of reaching most of them to help. Were they ever proud of the finished product, though! Jane and Cheryl, our nurse and nurse practitioner, who saw several of the children in the clinic that day, read the Bible verse over and over again for children determined to memorize it.

Believe it or not, Budesta teaches the second most difficult class at Smile Africa. Another teacher, Joyce, teaches 90 - 100 children ranging from 8 months through 5 years! Sure, she has an assistant most of the time, but clearly it is impossible to even meet the basic needs of so many children in that age group. The children are much more self sufficient than American children, however. They all arrive at Smile Africa on foot each morning (or on the back of a sibling), after walking up to three miles to get there. Their reward is a cup of rice porridge for breakfast and a bowl of rice for lunch, a bath twice a week, new clothing occasionally, and a lot more love than they can find anywhere else.

Smile Africa’s school may not be typical of education in Ugandan, but conditions in government schools are often not a lot better. In 1997 UPE (universal primary education) was instituted by the government. The number of students in primary schools has increased 149% since that time. Unfortunately, the schools were ill-equipped to deal with such a surge, the teachers were overwhelmed, and many of the students since that time have been passed through the primary grades despite the fact that they are unable to read. In 2009 the percentage of students that passed their P-1 exams was 6.7%, and that was a considerable improvement from the previous year!

Poverty and hunger are two factors that greatly affect school attendance and performance –even for many of the teachers. In fact, teacher absenteeism stands at 30%. For their hard work and nearly impossible tasks, teachers are paid little, and transportation is often a problem. Most can’t even afford a bicycle. Children frequently come to school hungry, unable to concentrate or reason, because of their lack of nutrition. English is the national language, but most children speak only in their tribal tongue. This makes both teaching and learning even more difficult.

Even though all children are now allowed to attend the government schools tuition free, there are many costs associated with school attendance. Parents must provide a school uniform and all books and classroom materials. Many can’t afford to feed their children, let alone provide them with such “luxuries.”

It was such a privilege to meet approximately 100 Ugandan teachers at the conference we held for them in Tororo. They were delightful, and so grateful for everything we did for them. We came to realize that they are just like teachers everywhere. They want to have the tools and materials they need in order to do a good job. They truly care about their students and want to know how to help them learn.

Planning a teacher conference was challenging, considering the limited amount of time I had spent in Ugandan schools. Additionally, the schools I had previously visited varied greatly, and none were government schools. Still, with plenty of prayer and consultation, the conference turned out well. The teachers were attentive and asked plenty of questions.

In planning the conference, we went through the Tororo District Minister of Education. She invited the teachers from both private and government schools. It was a good thing, too, because Museveni, Uganda’s president, came to Tororo the week we were there, on the same day our conference was to begin. We were told that it would be disrespectful to hold an event while the president was in the city. However, the Minister of Education disagreed. Since it was a government sanctioned event benefiting teachers, we were expected to go ahead with our plans.
In step with characteristic Ugandan formality, the conference began with speeches by Rhobina, the education minister; Tororo’s mayor; Sanjay, a Ugandan parliament member; our director, Denise Matthews; Pastor Ruth of Smile Africa; and myself.

The theme of the conference was “From Gravity to Grace,” and Aaron, our keynote speaker, addressed both subjects, gravity and grace, skillfully. Norma addressed the entire group on learning style; Wendy and Michelle on teachers as counselors. Andrea did workshops on learning disabilities and reading and writing; Norma on life skills, Wendy on math and the environment. I did a workshop on early childhood programs and environments, and another on learning through music.

At the end of each of our two days, we provided the teachers with a delicious buffet style meal. On the final day we distributed books, maps, posters, and other educational materials to a representative of each of the schools. The excitement over these items was an amazing thing to witness.

King’s Primary School is located near Bunambutye, in the Sironko District, a mountainous region. The rainy season caused many landslides and extended past its normal time this year, making our travel to the school “interesting!” To complicate things, we loaded six large bales of mosquito nets onto the roof of van already packed with passengers. As we drove through deep, muddy ruts in the road, we literally leaned the opposite direction the van was leaning in order to counter the top heaviness of the mosquito nets. The other van, lacking our added weight, got stuck periodically, and we lost our spare tire a couple of times. It sure made us appreciate the fact that their teachers had traveled to Tororo two days in a row to attend our teacher conference!

By the time we reached the school the children had stayed past noon, when the younger students normally return home. They put on a delightful program of music for us, and we visited all of the classrooms, playing the flyswatter math game and doing a craft and puppet lesson. It was with great joy that I heard some of the children read from the Bibles we gave them when we visited last year. This made the entire trip worthwhile!

Our gifts to the students this year were bananas and mosquito nets to protect them from malaria, which has been more prevalent than usual, due to the longer rainy season. It was such a blessing seeing them walk home with these life-saving nets.

Another school we visited was Royal Palace Primary and Nursery School. The children of this school also sang and danced some special songs for us. Pastor Steven and his wife, Rozelyn operate this school in their church building at Mile Eight Village.

The most extraordinary school we visited was a prison school, taught by the prisoners, themselves. (see previous post for more details on the prison) I have never seen students who took their education more seriously. Yet many of these grown women had never attended school outside of prison. Most of the students were still at Primary school level, just learning to read and write. The school is held in a solid building, nicer than most of the schools we visited, but educational materials there are almost non-existent. The women pleaded for our help in providing them with needed teachers, supplies, and work and study materials.

Finally, we visited Entebbe Early Learning Center. This is a Christian school that provides an education for many children who need protection and assistance. Nearly 100 students are boarded at this primary school. The children here presented a lengthy program for us, after which we visited their classrooms, teaching them, playing games, answering questions, and listening to more of their music and recitations. The students here were bright and engaging, and their classrooms were better equipped than the others we visited. Still, their teachers feel a need for more training and information. Unfortunately, they were unable to travel to the teacher conference we held in Tororo.

Can you spell I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E? From our perspective it would seem a relevant word to describe the obstacles faced by Ugandan teachers, parents, and students alike. Yet most Ugandans are optimistic. They believe that education is more attainable than ever, and they count on it for the future of their children and their country. The hope and enthusiasm for learning expressed by the teachers and students we met is unquenchable. It is also contagious. It has infused me with a passion for helping them achieve their goals. Just a little encouragement and a few simple materials make such a difference. As you can surely appreciate by now, one teacher in Uganda has an impact on an unusually large number of young lives. It is my desire, first and foremost, to introduce them to Jesus Christ, and then to share His love with them in practical ways that they can pass on to their students.

I am excited to see how God will lead and provide in the area of education for Heart of God East Africa. Here is a link to Heart of God International-East Africa. My recently published educational report appears in the September issue. If you feel lead to join us in providing more training and materials for Ugandan students and teachers, your contributions will be much appreciated! Please contact me for more information, or contribute directly through the HGIM website. You will be a blessing, and will also be tremendously blessed in the process.

Even though this post isn't fiction, I hope you will hop on over to Joanne's blog at An Open Book and read the stories of those who joined Fiction Friday today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Was in Prison and You Came...

Josefine groped in the darkness, feeling beneath the cot for her treasure bag. Once retrieved, her fingers easily found the small lock of hair inside, tied in a banana fiber knot. This routine was repeated nightly, first breathing in the fading scent of her only child, then hugging the remembrance to her chest as she began to pray.

“God, my Father, my Rock and strength, I am not worthy to be your child. Nevertheless, you have made me your daughter, because of your Son; because of your grace. So I beg you tonight, hold Fatima in your mighty arms. Whisper your lovingkindness in her ear. Protect her from harm, and if it be your will, let me see her one day soon. I know it is possible, for you are a God of miracles. May I find favor tomorrow in the eyes of the wazungu**. Help them see beyond my yellow prison dress. Let them hear the cries of my heart. I love you, my Lord and my God.” Josefine was comforted by the Holy Spirit’s presence as she revisited the past fifteen hours.

It had been a grueling day in the prison yard, for tomorrow the wazungu would be here. The yard had never looked tidier. The women had scrubbed and mended their yellow dresses, trimmed the bushes surrounding the fence, and swept the entire earthen grounds. They were gathered together and coached on what to say and what not to say. They were granted special privileges for the day –those who had food could cook it in the shiny solar oven that had been wheeled into the commons. Those who made crafts could sell them to the visitors, retaining a small portion of the profit for themselves.

Josefine had never talked to a mzungu*, but she knew of their wealth and their ability to accomplish the impossible. Tomorrow’s visitors had been invited by Pastor Barnabas, who held a Bible study at the prison on Tuesday evenings, so she was certain that they were people of great faith. This had fueled her hope.

Six years had elapsed since the day Josefine entered the gates of Kabula Prison. She was in her eighth month of pregnancy. Ivan, who had been on assignment with the NRA, had returned from Kampala that morning. Angry at finding her pregnant, and even angrier that she refused his sexual advances, he called the police and had her arrested on charges of adultery. Never mind that he had fathered the child. He refused to believe it was true.

Of course the word of a military hero was easily accepted over the word of his impoverished wife. Josephine was badly battered by Ivan before being turned over to the authorities –a fact that was not only overlooked, but expected in such a case. And it wasn’t only the police who looked the other way. Her family and friends turned on her as well, for now that she was in custody guilt was presumed. There had been no hearing or court appearance, and a sentence could not be handed down until the case was tried. Six years later Josephine was still waiting for her case to be heard.

Fatima was born three days after the beating and incarceration -tiny, but strong. No nurse or doctor attended the birth. Josephine smiled as she recalled Diana’s kindness that night. She had kept Josephine calm and cut Fatima’s cord.

Diana was a fellow prisoner and a true friend, although she and Josephine spent little time together. Diana never left the side of her crippled son. Some of the women envied her being allowed to keep Henry, now seven years old. He was unable to walk or speak and demanded Diana’s constant attention. She grew thinner each year, feeding Henry more of the single portion of gruel she received each day than what she ate herself. And now AIDS threatened her very life and made her an outcast, even among fellow prisoners.
Josephine had promised Diana she would look after Henry when Diana was no longer able, but nobody knew what would become of the boy then, and nobody dared to ask or even imagine.

Josephine had only been allowed to keep Fatima for eighteen months. She had seen other children set outside the gate on the fateful day of their eighteen month birthday, and she had cried and prayed, thinking of how soon that day would come for her.

Pastor Barnabas had begun his prison ministry when Fatima was fifteen months old and Josephine began attending his weekly Bible studies. They were such a blessing, and through them she had learned the good news about Jesus -a just, but merciful God who had paid the ultimate price to ransom her from her sin.

Fatima was seventeen months old when Pastor Barnabas approached Josephine with an offer. He knew a kind woman, a believer in Jesus, who would see to Fatima’s care: feeding her, clothing her, and providing her with shelter. When she was old enough she could attend school. Josephine remembered asking how she would ever be able to repay such kindness. “No need,” she was told, “this is all in the name of Jesus Christ. Count it another gift from His hand.” Josephine’s heart had leapt within her.

Now Fatima was going to school. She was learning to write and draw, and Pastor Barnabas often carried notes back and forth between mother and daughter. Although Josephine couldn’t help but wish for more, it was no small blessing. She had enrolled in classes herself, and was now preparing for her high school exams. At least she hadn’t wasted her time in Kabula Prison, and maybe it would help when –if- she ever went before the judge. It would surely help her get a job if she ever got out. Maybe she and Fatima could build a new life together one day.

Josephine heard roosters crowing and knew it was time to rise. Slivers of daylight had just begun to spread across the eastern sky. She breathed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for the morning and began her daily routine.

It was nearly ten o’clock when Pastor Barnabas arrived with the wazungu. They weren’t dressed as smart as Josephine expected, but their smiles were warm. Josephine and some of the others who spoke good English gave welcome speeches and presented their needs, all according to the script they had been given. Their list of needs was long, and included many things that Josephine knew the prisoners would never see, even if the wazungu could miraculously provide them.

“We have heard your requests, and we will prayerfully consider them,” said Gabe, one of the men in the group, as he stood to address the women. “We see that the needs here are great, and it would make us very happy to give you all the things that would make life easier and more comfortable while you are here. “ The women applauded, and Gabe continued. “We can’t give you all the things you have asked for, but we give you what we have: our love that comes from Jesus Christ; our friendship; our support of Pastor Barnabas’ ministry; and our continued prayers for each of you.” He spoke a while longer, and Josephine could hardly contain herself when he asked if the group could mingle with the prisoners, speaking to them and praying with them individually. It was the opportunity Josephine was waiting for.

Through tears Josephine told a Mzungu named Molly her entire story. Molly cried, too, especially when she learned of Fatima. The two prayed together and Molly wrote down Psalm 139 on the first page of the New Testament she gave her. Josephine wrote down her name and Pastor Barnabas’ address so Molly could contact her.

Later, the entire group held hands while they took turns singing songs of worship –first the wazungu, then the prisoners. Josephine let her tears flow freely and Molly squeezed her hand as the women sang, “Jesus never fails. Jesus never fails. The men of this world will let you down, but Jesus never fails.”

The morning ended much too soon for Josephine, but it had been a day of beautiful blessings and newfound brothers and sisters. She had never imagined she would feel that way about the wazungu.

Little did Josephine know that at the very moment she was thinking those thoughts, Molly’s mind was making as many twists and turns as the van in which she was now a passenger. Molly had been humbled by her prison visit and deeply touched by Josephine’s story. She knew that she couldn’t do anything miraculous such as freeing Josephine and reuniting her with Fatima, but she did know the God of miracles. She could pray to Him on their behalf and see what He would do, and she was pretty sure that in the meantime she could arrange some happy surprises.

*mzungu: a person of European descent, or a white skinned person

**wazungu: plural for mzungu

Although this story is written as fiction, I believe that it accurately portrays many realities of life for Ugandan women and children, especially concerning those who find themselves in prison. While in Uganda we had the opportunity to visit such a prison, to speak with some of the prisoners, and to learn about life and education as it is experienced there. We also visited a school that ministers to many children of prisoners. I am very grateful to the Ugandan authorities for allowing us those opportunities, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the ongoing ministry there in any way. For that reason, I thought it was best to write this fictional account without identifying the prison or any of the actual prisoners we met. We were not allowed to take cameras into the prison, so I only have the one photo taken from a distance.

The following passage of Scripture is one that seemed to ring in my ears throughout our entire trip, and especially on the day of our prison visit.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV)

We truly minister to “the least of these” in Uganda, for widows and orphans, (in fact, women and children in general) have little power or position as a general rule. Even within families spousal and child beatings are routine and widely tolerated. One of the major themes our men taught at their pastors' conference was "Loving Your Wife as Christ Loves the Church." It is a timely and much needed message.

One night as I sat on the balcony of my hotel room I heard horrible cries and screams of a child –screams that continued for several minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. I could hardly stand to think of what the child was enduring.

God has given many Ugandan believers a heart for orphans, prisoners, and widows, and we had the privilege of meeting and working with several of them.

Pastor Saphan arranged our prison visit, and we were able to leave him a supply of many personal items for the women prisoners and their children.

Agnes accepts many prisoner’s children into her private Christian school and provides for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs while their parents are away.

Pastor Ruth of Smile Africa is frequently contacted by the police and asked to take custody of children who have been badly abused. One such child was rescued from his burning hut by a neighbor. His father had set the fire, because it was taking too long for the child to die from starvation.

Another child was rescued after being badly burned by one parent, and sliced with a machete by another. As you might expect, this child is so traumatized, he rarely speaks.

After Heart of God International provided housing for a young girl at Smile Africa who had begged and pleaded for help after repeated beatings, her four year old brother was found alongside a remote road by a Smile Africa employee who “happened” to be passing by (Coincidence? I think not!). The child was naked and dehydrated. He had been left there two days earlier by his aunt, who said that she could no longer feed him, since his sister would no longer be stealing food for the family.

An infant was found in the rubbish of the slums –tossed there by the mother/child who had given birth to her. She is now living with Pastor Ruth and her husband.

Ugandan witch doctors recommend burying body parts of children (preferably the head) under new businesses to bring good fortune and success. This most recent version of child sacrifice goes largely unnoticed, for the targets are often “throwaway children,” the kind that Smile Africa gathers from the slums to feed, clothe, and educate. One boy was rescued from the streets with a large wound on his head from a failed attempt to behead him.

We are partnering with the Saphan’s prison ministry, with Smile Africa, and with several Ugandan Christian schools. One of the most critical needs that I sensed on our recent trip, however, is the need for secure housing to care for and protect “the least of these” that God keeps sending to Smile Africa.

Although I am the host of Fiction Friday today, this isn’t my typical Fiction Friday offering, and only the first part of it can be classified as fiction at all, but it is what is most on my heart right now, and in keeping with what I have been doing on my blog since I returned from Uganda in July. I hope you don't mind.

I also hope that you will follow all of the links below and read the fine offerings of the other participators this week. You are welcome to participate, too, by posting your original fiction piece on your blog and using MckLinky, below.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pass the Posho, Please!

Okay, I’ll admit it. I was afraid of African food when I visited Uganda last year. My travel doctor had me more than a little worried, to the point that I wasn’t sure I should eat anything. I took quite a bit of my own food and ordered foods that sounded American, only trying traditional Ugandan foods when I had to –big mistake!

I changed my MO this year and indulged in traditional Ugandan cuisine. It was fantastic! Somehow, even the foods I hesitantly sampled last year seemed much tastier this year. As you might guess, due to the fact that refrigeration is limited, the food is extremely fresh. The milk comes straight from cow to you;

eggs are gathered and sold daily;

vegetables are fresh-picked and plentiful; and meats are, for the most part, butchered and consumed the same day.

Rice is part of most meals, and is often topped with a stew of chicken, beef, or goat meat.

The children of Smile Africa drink rice porridge for breakfast

and eat a heaping plate of rice for lunch.

In fact, their diet consists solely of rice, besides the fruit they have been served once a week since our visit last year, and what they retrieve from the garbage when they are on the streets.

Beans are a frequent accompaniment, as are potatoes -either Irish potatoes (boiled) or chips (French fries). But fried chicken is common as well, and tilapia, whether baked or fried, is simply delicious.

Another very common dish is matoke (mah-toe-keh), or green bananas. Green bananas are sold in the markets.

And carried home in giant bunches on bicycles.

They are steamed for hours over a charcoal fire, turning them from white to yellow. Matoke is served wrapped in banana leaves.

Brown nut sauce (which is actually red, tastes like warm peanut butter, and makes just about anything taste good) is often poured over matoke, rice, potatoes, or vegetables.

Fresh fruits were offered daily. Sweet bananas,

watermelon, pineapple, and papaya are common during this, Uganda’s winter season. Fresh squeezed passion fruit juice was a delicious treat.

Samosas are yummy triangle-shaped meat or vegetable filled pouches that could be likened to egg rolls. Pastor Ruth serves the best samosas made in Uganda!

The Prime Hotel makes some delicious ones, too. The most “interesting” ones we had were filled with peas and served for breakfast.

Chapati is a popular, tasty, fried flat bread. Mmmmm! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Ugandans rarely use silverware when they eat (which is one reason why hand washing is always offered in one form or another before meals).

We ate with our hands sometimes, too, although we always had flatware in the hotel. Chapati makes a good “scoop” for rice, beans, and stew.

Vegetables are plentiful, and they are prepared and served many different ways. One of my favorite vegetable dishes was avocado and cabbage salad. We also had tomatoes, cucumbers, greens (warm and flavorful), sweet potatoes (white, not yellow), sweet corn (Iowa's is still the best!), green beans, peas, and pumpkin.

A variety of sodas are available at the hotels, and I have to comment on one that some of us discovered -Novida pineapple. It is amazing!

I did a little research since returning home and discovered that it is made by the coca cola company, but only distributed in Kenya and Uganda. It is considered one of very few “malt sodas,” which might explain why it looks like beer. It’s non-alcoholic, though –really!

Ugandan fast food is definitely an experience! We stopped at Chicken on a Stick on the way to Tororo from Kampala, and on the way back. Chicken, gizzards, and goat roasted on long sticks are thrust into your vehicle from all sides. Roasted bananas and a variety of sodas and fresh fruits and vegetables are also available.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned posho yet, since I entitled this post, “Pass the Posho, Please.” Well, posho isn’t my favorite Ugandan dish. Being from Iowa, I’m a big fan of sweet corn. Corn is grown everywhere in Uganda, too, but it mostly ends up being served as posho. Posho is white, pasty, mushy, tasteless ground corn. It would be easy to mistake it for mashed potatoes in the photo below.

The students of Entebbe Early Learning Center eat posho every day. We were to eat it too, on the day that we visited. I was a little nervous about this, knowing that I needed to be a gracious guest and a good example to the children. Yet I wondered if I would be able to choke it down. Fortunately, the posho at the school was topped with a tasty mixture of beans and vegetables. It was unbelievable how much easier it was to eat the posho when served that way. I learned that it is often topped with stew, beans, vegetables, or brown nut sauce.

“You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say.” In case you don’t read Dr. Seuss as often as I do, that is a quote from his book, Green Eggs and Ham, a book I often read to my students and grandchildren. These words came to mind many times as I tried on this trip to take a more courageous approach to eating in Uganda. It worked! I relaxed, tried nearly everything that was offered, and, in the end I decided that Ugandan cuisine is delicious!

Another quote by a famous author came to mind on several occasions as well. “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” David penned these words in Psalm 34:8 (NASV) I now realize what I missed out on by refusing to taste more of Uganda last year. In addition to all the foods I’ve mentioned so far, I am so glad that I tasted sugar cane! What a treat!

Wouldn’t it be tragic to miss out on God’s goodness simply due to a fear of tasting?

In Uganda the fear of tasting God’s goodness runs deep. Witch doctors, so much a part of Africa’s history and culture, fight their own demise by fueling that fear. Pastor Ruth was instrumental in building a well and starting a church in her family’s home village outside Tororo. The church quickly outgrew their first building. Part of our team visited and ministered in the new village church that now meets under a tent of sorts.

They showered more of God’s love on these hungering and thirsting people. Nearly everyone in the village -even the witch doctor- attended the church service!

Pastor Phillip,

Pastor Steven,

and Pastor Amos (no picture) could all benefit from your prayers. All three of these men are ministering in small villages, serving up heaping helpings of God’s goodness. All three lack formal training and have few resources, even for their own families, yet they all have a passion for serving Jesus! They have tasted and seen His goodness, power, and might.

And I have tasted, too, both in the literal and the spiritual sense. I feel very fortunate to have tasted so many delicious foods in a country where many are starving. I met many children who would need no coaxing to try green eggs and ham; children who are grateful for the same bland cup of porridge, plate of rice, or posho they receive six days a week. I can't wait to return to Uganda and eat their delicious food again, and with only the slightest hesitation I'll say, "Pass the posho, please!"