Monday, 13 June 2016

Home and Family and Saying Goodbye

Well…this is it. I'm leaving Uganda tomorrow. For the last week and a half my body and mind have been slowly getting used to the fact that I am going back to Canada on June 14 for quite a few months. I started feeling sad, and I told my mind to suck it up and stop. So I stopped feeling sad a week ago and started feeling numb. It's not that I wasn't ever going to be sad about leaving, but I didn't want the sadness to start too soon because I know how my mind works, and I didn't want to have to deal with the circles of sadness that my mind will spin on until I was actually ready for it.

And then last night's fellowship group happened.

As is pretty normal when people leave that group to go to various places, they prayed for me. But my walls came down when I was asked the question, "Is there anything you would like to say before we pray for you?" I thought about the fact that this group has become my family here - a strange hodgepodge little family (definitely seeing the Kingdom of God in them and just how funny the Body of Christ looks at times). Then I thought about the fact that H and S and M and I have made our own little strange family too, and that's when I started feeling. And you know what? It hurts. I hurt. My heart hurt when they were praying for me, especially when my fiancee was praying for me. But at the same time, I know we are still connected wherever I go. That's the wonderful thing about being a part of the Body of Christ. I am not alone wherever I go because we are bound by the same Spirit who is ministering to all of our hearts.

I had hoped that I would be able to stave off the tears and heartache until I had at least reached Amsterdam, but unfortunately this is not the case. As I write this now, I am choking back tears. During fellowship last night I was having an argument with God. 

Me: Can You just let me be numb for three more days? That's all I'm asking. I don't think I can deal with 'feeling' right now. I just need to be distant and numb.
God: Holly - you came here to share your heart with people. And that's what you have done. You need to feel the impact they've had on you. You need to let yourself feel.

I do think it can get more normal to say goodbye to people, but I don't really think it gets any easier - that is of course, unless you harden your heart towards people the more you say goodbye.

I have grown up in a wonderful church whose heart is open to receiving and releasing people. And let me tell you, there have been some very key people over the course of my lifetime who I have had to stand with in prayer and release to go onto more of what God has called them to. And it SUCKS! It sucks every time, at least from a human point of view. You share your life and your heart with people, and some of them are gone within a very short amount of time. And sometimes, regardless of how much you'll say you will stay in touch, you lose contact with these people. But it doesn't mean they are gone from your mind and your heart.

This week I have missed a very important goodbye on the other side of the world, and I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that family. The Horman family has been a huge part of my life for the better part of almost 15 years. They came to my church from Australia, then started teaching at the school I went to, then pastored my church through some very challenging times. I respect them so much, especially for being so faithful to our church community even with personal struggle in their own family and extended family life. I love and cherish and respect them so much, and am so sad that I wasn't able to be at their final church service to be able to say goodbye. But I know that they know that they are loved and appreciated by our church, and that God will be with them to guide them and comfort their hearts as they leave the home they've known for so many years. Thank you so much for serving with the heart of Jesus in all ways. I love you guys so much and will miss you more than words can say.

And so, for me as well, I will be saying goodbye to Uganda tomorrow night, and to people I love so dearly. But I know that we are still connected, though separated by oceans. God has connected us and He will continue to direct and protect us in all we do. I have to learn to grieve the family I'm leaving behind while at the same time being reunited with my family in Canada. My heart is split between two continents, but I also have found that there is something so fulfilling about knowing you have loved and been loved. You end up leaving with more inside of you than when you first arrived. And as much as my heart breaks, there is something beautiful in that pain.

Oh Uganda

Oh Uganda
Land of red dirt and blazing suns
Of open hearts and belly laughs
Of gritted perseverance and joy through all
My heart is glad and grieving
Oh Uganda
Your hospitality invited me in
A total stranger now surrounded by family
You made me one of your own
My heart is glad and grieving
Oh Uganda
Hope rises from the bellies
Of those who have no food or house
Spills out onto the streets in a triumphant shout
My heart is glad and grieving
And yet
God is working all things
Working all things out
All things are being renewed
I am being renewed
- here
My heart is glad and grieving.

Thursday, 2 June 2016


So, I have 12 more days left here in Uganda before I return back to Canada. Only a week and a half. I've been here for over five months and my life has changed forever, in many many ways. 

God has taught me so many lessons, lessons that will absolutely take a book to explain and make sense of. I know He is still in the midst of teaching me things right now, things I won't fully understand until a couple years down the road.

I'm taking responsibility for the welfare of a teenager.

I got engaged.

And now I'm looking at the next year or two and thinking, wow. Things are going to change so much. I guess that's a bit of an understatement, eh?

There have been many mixed reactions to many of the changes that have gone on in my life since I decided to go to Uganda again. This has in no way been an easy stay this time, but it has taught me so many things, and I know I am still being cared for by God, and He is teaching me to be independent and trust Him more. I feel like I'm coming into my own as a woman.

I have been a woman who has let fear rule her life - my whole life. There have only been about three decisions I've made in my life that were free of fear. That's all I can think of. And, in my mind, I know that I have nothing to be afraid of - God will take care of me if I trust in Him and give Him my life. My mind knows that. But sometimes my heart is a little bit slower. I know I'm coming to the end of one season of life, and seeing the horizon of the new one. And this Fear is a little like a comfort blanket. I hold it close to my face and feel it rub against my face. It's strange how something like Fear can turn into a comfort. But it's been with me my whole life. God is calling me on it - now 25 years old - to say, "Holly. Why do you still need Fear as a friend? Let Me lead you." 

And I have to say, my fiancée has been an incredible blessing in this way. He has so much patience and understanding and encouragement for me when I can't seem to see outside of Fear. Fear is a strange thing. It lies to you and says you're alone when you're in a room full of people, and says no one could ever understand - that you burden others with your burdens and make their lives more difficult. It says you need to control everything and be in charge of the little and big things, in case someone messes up and everything goes wrong. Fear is the opposite of Trust. That is what God has been reminding me of. Trust.

Yeah, I have trust issues. And I'm going to admit that. I know every person on the planet has the same issue, in one way or another, although our issues are all as different as we are. But to the person who is reading this blog post thinking, "yeah, this is me," I say to you: ask God to remind you of who He is. And how He feels about you.

So as I am preparing to wrap up the next week and a half here in Uganda, I am trying not to be afraid of the future, or sad at the thought of leaving so many people behind that I love - and people who have become my family. But God knows what's ahead, and I know I can trust Him in all He does. He's a good Father. Sometimes with so many things unknown that's the only thing I can remind myself of.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

To Forgive is to be Forgiven.

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? 
Up to seven times?'
Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.'
…'Then the master called the servant in, 'You wicked servant,' he said, 
'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 
Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.'"
-Matthew 18: 21-22, 32-35

Over the past two weeks I have been incredible challenged on this passage of scripture. I've never felt that I was a person who found it hard to forgive, and yet for one person in particular in these last two weeks, I felt like it was justified for me to not forgive. This person was causing physical damage to a person I really love, as well as emotional stress to both my friend and myself. Although I never felt personally in physical danger, my friend definitely was. And that made me scared, and angry. It made me angry at this one person for taking my friend's peace, and for taking mine. 

I know that forgiveness is a choice, I also know that forgiveness comes in stages, as does healing from what it is you need to forgive someone from. There are things that happened to me over fifteen years ago that I still find myself having to go back and forgive again when it comes to mind. But I know that forgiving is what God tells us to do, because by the same measure we will be judged. If we walk in forgiveness with one another, God forgives the crap that I have done to others and to Him as well.

Our human nature, our fallen human nature in a fallen world, is constantly being pulled back to selfishness. Unforgiveness is one of the easiest traps we can be led into as human beings, because it is within our fallen nature to think of ourselves first before anyone else. 

When this all was happening during the last two weeks, I found myself so angry at a person who I had never met, and yet this person hated me. Hated me. A person they had never met. And this person wished to cause me and someone else harm. Shouldn't it be within my rights as an individual to be allowed to be angry with this person???? Yes, that's allowed. But my error was in my posture of unforgiveness. God challenged me on this a few days ago, and again this morning as I was trying to figure out which passage of scripture to look at for my morning devotions. 

"I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 
Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'

See the thing about this debt that was cancelled, was it was the equivalent to millions of dollars. Not just a small debt. The servant's debt was way more than he would ever have the possibility of paying off. And yet he turned around to a fellow servant who owed a few dollars to him and was violent with him in his insistence to pay back those few dollars. 

This is the exact same as my own debt. The debt that I need to be forgiven for by God can never ever be repaid, and yet He paid it. He didn't have to, but He did it because He loved me. When I harden my heart against someone else and demand that I should be able to have a posture of unforgiveness towards them, my heart becomes even harder, and worse than that, I am spitting on (though in actual fact more like taking a poop on) what God has done for me. I am telling Him that it is not good enough that He forgave me, because I refuse to forgive someone else. I am blind to my own sin, and yet I see someone else's as so much worse. It is a lie.

I cried when I realized just how much anger I had in my heart towards this person I had never even met. God showed me that I actually need just as much forgiving as that person does. I am no different from how she is. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and yet Jesus redeems us and makes us like Him because of what He did for us - dying for us and conquering death when He rose from the grave. We are all on equal ground. So how dare I spit in His face by refusing to forgive someone? My response instead when someone does something wrong to me is to get on my knees and pray for God's compassion to enter my heart, and for His voice to speak to that person and change their heart, because He is the only one who can. My unforgiveness doesn't make one iota of difference in changing their heart. In fact, it does the exact opposite. It closes mine instead. Oh Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner. Make me like You, soften my heart, and break it for what breaks Yours. Give me a heart that sees the world the way You did. Never let me become bitter towards a person, but correct me when I find myself being selfish in the way I view a situation. Thank You for Your forgiveness for me. Keep me in that posture. Amen.

A Toast to the Parents…

So today's blog post is dedicated to my parents, Reid and Aloha Johnson. Being here in Uganda has taught me so much about what it means to be thankful. It has also taught me how blessed I am to have two parents who love God and love their kids as well, and are still together and alive.

The kids I work with on a daily basis do not have that as their story. I have so much to be thankful for in my life, a lot more than I normally think about as being something that DESERVES to be thankful for.

So mom and dad, thank you. Thank you for loving me and giving me to freedom to explore who I am. Thank you for teaching me about God and Jesus' love for me and helping me understand my worth and value in Him. Thank you for supporting me in coming to this beautiful, broken country of Uganda to love and serve others. And thank you for praying for me and giving me as your daughter to the Lord. Not all women can say that that is their life story. But I have been raised to be a strong, independent, capable and loving woman of God because of God's love, and also because of how my parents have raised me. 

I don't often take the time to say thank you, and even though we have had our issues over the years, and I'm sure will have more issues in the years to come, I want to take this time to say thank you to the people who have raised me to be who I am today. Thanks :) I love you both and miss you much more than words can describe.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

All I Know at the End of the Day is That I Don't Know Much.

"There's no limit to what You can do,
Because it all belongs to You, 
Yes it all belongs to You,
You're all mighty and all powerful,
And it all belongs to You,
Yes it all belongs to You"
- "When Jesus Say Yes", Michelle Williams


"'For my thoughts are higher than your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'
 declares the Lord.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.'"
-Isaiah 55:8-9

Have you ever had that moment in deep prayer and surrender to God when you say, "God, I want to trust You more, I want to know who You are. I know You are near, show me"? Well, I had that moment just before I left Canada for Uganda, and it has rocked my world. First of all, Uganda, as I've said before, is a place of extremes. Extreme weather, extreme people, extreme emotions, extreme chaos…anything you can think of. For me, I've never felt so fulfilled and yet so empty at the same time; so exhilarated and yet exhausted either.

Being hit by wave after emotional wave, and roadblock after roadblock of seemingly nonsensical (yes, that is a word, Tori!) bureaucracy gets very discouraging after a while. There was a point in this last week where I thought, "I think I need to change my plane ticket and just go back home. This whole thing is getting ridiculous and way too much for me. It was a nice experiment, but God, I think I've had enough," but there was this still small voice (hmmm, I wonder who that could have been?) that said, "Holly, you were brought here for a reason. You are not finished what you needed to finish yet. Stop running on human emotion and let Me give you the strength you need to keep going."

Some days, actually at least twice daily, I say to God, "What exactly do you have planned for me in the future that You need to stretch me so much spiritually??? Seriously. Is this not enough yet? Why do I need to get stronger?" Every time since I've been here when I think I've had enough, God takes me a little bit further - one step, one step, one step, one leap, one more step…and suddenly I'm looking back, now, and thinking, "How the heck did I come this far???" Some days I don't recognize myself anymore - the timid, terrified, shy, angry, self-hating, ashamed, quiet girl that I was not so many years ago…even thinking about how much I've changed in the last 12 months…God has taken me so much farther than I ever thought I would go; that I ever thought I would LET Him take me.

I think so often we put God in a box, while at the same time drawing a thick black line between us and Him and say, "Okay, You can take me THIS far, but no farther. I'm not (insert adjective here) enough to deal with whatever it is that You think I can take. I can't. I know myself, I know what I'm capable of; what I'm comfortable with, and THIS is where I draw my line. This is how much You can have." When I think of the times I've said this to God, and yet He has been so patient with me, knowing full well that I CAN take whatever He has for me, because HE is with me, my heart breaks…thinking about the blessing and opportunity to see His faithfulness that I have suffocated in my arrogance and stubbornness. Why does my fear always make me feel like I have the right to think I know the depth of God's faithfulness; of His provision and love for me? God, take that away from me.

I'm sitting here in my little bedroom in the maid's quarters of a very beautiful house in Bunga, Kampala, listening to Pentatonix's version of "The Little Drummer Boy" and crying as I write this blog post.

"'Come', they told me…
So to honour Him, when we come...
I have no gift to bring…
That's fit to give a King…
Shall I play for You?…
I played my drum for Him, 
I played my best for Him…
Then He smiled at me,
me and my drum…"

My God is a God who provides. My God is a God who is faithful. My God is a God who knows me and sees me and actually LIKES me, which is more than I can say about myself. And He loves us as we are, but He loves us so much that He doesn't just want us to stay where we are - He wants to take us to places we never dreamed we would ever reach, to see us be at our full potential. He has given us life for us to live it to the FULLEST, with Him; surrendered to Him; trusting Him. And He is patient when we draw a line, He nudges us and shows us little bits of His faithfulness until we take one more step in trusting Him more and more.

I never feel like I have enough to give God. Like that drummer boy, I think that all I have is my seemingly insignificant ability to do one thing, and yet, that's all He wants. The Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. I give God the little I have - the little faith I have (and seriously, I feel like I have such a tiny little bit of faith right now) - and in return I get an increase of faith, and so so much more than I can even write down.

Before I left Canada, I asked God for a few things. One of them was a family here in Uganda, and let me tell you…He could not have been MORE faithful. I have brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles, and a great church that reminds me of Redemption Church at home. I was kept safe during the elections. I live for free in a beautiful and safe house very close to where I work. I have people who love me in every area of my life right now, I am encouraged, fed physically and spiritually and emotionally, lifted up with laughter, blessed with worship and feel at home here. God has given me not just what I needed, and not just what I prayed for, but has shown me abundance. Yesterday I was anxious about money, and when i woke up this morning I found I had money coming to me I hadn't expected. God provides not only what we need, but also in ways unexpected. He knows me way better than I know myself because He created me, and I continue to see His faithfulness and grace in my life here. So why do I keep doubting His ability? It all belongs to Him - there's no limit to what He can do.

The days where I feel the most whiny, and they come here fairly often, are exactly the days where I need to tell my emotional side to shut up and remember all the ways God has been faithful in my life up to this point. Logically, if He HAS provided exactly what I needed thus far, He WILL continue to provide. He is a good Father, and He owns it all. And yet, every time He does provide, I find myself shocked that He did. He's so sneaky, that One. So yeah, I really don't know much. As scary as it is to say, God, I pray You keep stretching me, and giving me incredible testimony of YOUR goodness and love in my life. All I want to do is serve You, not myself, because You are good and You never change. Keep showing me who You are. I want to know You more.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A Humbling Reminder

Yesterday I woke up in a very bad mood. I don't know why, but I was. And it was HOT. And yes, I recognize I live in Uganda, and it is hot here, but normally there is a break from the heat at least in the morning. Yesterday there wasn't. It was heat the whole time, and because I woke up to the heat, I knew that the day was going to be sweltering with no break. So that's where my mood stayed as I went to the paint store to buy more paint for my mural in Kivulu. That was fine but my friend was late to meet me, and I felt so impatient as I waited.

We met up with one more friend before continuing to walk through town all the way to the slum, in the heat that I had already predicted there would be. It was unbearable, and because of my bad mood it was even MORE unbearable. I didn't want to be walking on the street with a thousand people touching me, I didn't want to deal with any of the people shouting at me as I walked, I did not have one ounce of compassion for a man with drug-induced babbling who was following us almost to the slum. Not my usual character traits.

When we arrived at the slum and I began painting the mural again, it wasn't turning into exactly what I wanted. And I realized that I didn't have the correct colours to do what I wanted, which made me even more grumpy. Needless to say, I was a horrible person to be around, and Nathan and Andrew, thanks for your grace for me yesterday. Things that never irritate me were driving me crazy and I didn't want to listen to anyone, or talk to anyone, or be around anyone, and yet I had to be. I didn't even want to go to the street program because of my mood and the heat. And all I thought was, "God, can You just send some rain???"

When I had done as much on the mural as I could, the three of us walked back to the mall to wait for my friend to drive me back somewhere for lunch, me in a cloak of gloom. When we were walking through the mall, Andrew suddenly stopped someone and shouted. They talked for a bit and then came over to me. The teenager he was talking to said, "Auntie, do you remember me???" I looked at him and said, "No, sorry I don't think so." He responded, "I'm the one you prayed for in the hospital!" and proceeded to take his hat off and show me where his skull had been broken. THIS was the boy who Andrew and I found at Mulago Hospital after the riots from the mechanics in Kivulu. It was the boy who had brain damage, could not speak or walk or feed himself when we saw him, and who we prayed for miraculous healing to happen. And GOD DID IT! I started laughing, I was so shocked. When they left, Andrew and Nathan and I sat down and Andrew and I were both speechless at his recovery. By worldly standards, this boy's life had been altered forever, and yet God planned something to happen for His glory out of something so despicable. That boy didn't even remember us praying for him in the hospital, and I will tell you, being in that room, praying over him, it felt like death was in his bed. It was horrible, and yet God worked miracles in his life. He is restored, with no complications whatsoever.

Then when I went to the cafe I love for lunch, the sky opened up and monsoon rain came pouring down. In that moment I felt God remind me, "See? I am good, and I am in charge of this world, and I am faithful IN SPITE of your selfishness." It was very humbling.

God is at work all the time, in ways we don't, can't, or even refuse to acknowledge because our eyes are so often focused on our own issues or daily grumbles. Not only is He at work, but He desperately loves the world that He created, and that He put us in to be a part of. And although it is nowhere near perfect anymore because of sin, it is still His, and we are still His, and He is still working things out for His goodness, and for our good. Sometimes it can be very easy to focus on the things that drive us crazy and the things we wish could be changed, instead of asking God where He is IN THE MIDST of those things. He never promises to give us a schedule of when exactly things will take place, but He does promise that He will work all things out for good for those who love Him.

God, help me keep my eyes focused on You, and help me to love You more.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Learning to Embrace the Sky

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. 
I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest." 
-John 10:10

I had a good-bye thank you party two days before I left for Uganda, and invited certain people from my church and close circle of friends who were the most important to me. One man from church who I look up to very much came up to me before he and his wife left for the evening and said, "Holly, I want you to know that you shouldn't put too much pressure on yourself when you go to Uganda. There will be plenty of opportunity to stress about things and I'm sure you'll make mistakes, but I want to give you one piece of advice. Have FUN. Have fun."

I am a person who has a very hard time NOT stressing about things. I take on a lot of stress myself, and have tended to take on other peoples' stress as well. No, it's not healthy or beneficial. So these two words were a huge wake up call for me before I left. Have fun. HAVE FUN! It's okay for me to have fun and not be serious with everything all the time.

John 10:10 is a great example of this for me. Jesus came for us to have life to the FULLEST, not for me to play it safe or to worry all the time. Living life to the fullest means to soak in moment by moment and live my life to the very fullest as if every day was my last. Now, this is not a call to be selfish in my life decisions. It is to live sacrificially and realize that my actions effect others. Having been hurt by one person a month ago through their selfishness, it made me realize that some people don't understand how to live and love selflessly. The problem with living this way is that you don't even realize how suddenly you are left with nothing but regret. Living life to the fullest means to fully commit my life to God; to commit my life to living as Christ did and living every day in grace and love for those around me. And not forgetting to HAVE FUN while doing it. For me that's a bit like learning cantonese.

For some reason, through much of my life I have thought of "having fun" in life in general as living irresponsibly. I don't know where this thought came from. In my mind I keep thinking, "yeah but if I have fun then I'm not looking out for others". But I think this is a lie. Living my life to the fullest means that I give myself permission to have opportunities to enjoy the life that God created me for TO THE FULLEST instead of living timidly. I think so much of the time Christians in North America think we have to live humble, quiet lives with the bare minimum of tension and ripples, but we miss so much and touch no one as a result.

It took me a long time to come up with a name for my blog. I thought of how huge my first experience of an African sunrise was. It was as if I was being swallowed by the sky as the sun rose. I thought, "I wish I could stretch my arms from one side of the sky to the other and hug it to myself". Maybe it was the artist in me. Maybe it was the romantic in me. But it's amazing. There is something breathtaking about the sky here. Even the most ominous thunderclouds are somehow welcoming. It feels like a small piece of heaven pierces earth with every sunrise I have witnessed. Embracing the Sky is not about just having a happy-go-lucky attitude, but a deliberate posture of readiness, arms outstretched and head lifted, to see what God will do every new day I am here. It's about seeing the opportunities to share life with people who desperately need it, and LIVE LIFE to the fullest. I feel like I've come out of a layer of myself into a place where my heart is stronger, and more willing to know where God is in every situation I face here. I embrace the sun and the moon and stars and wind and monsoon rain and thunder. The sky is alive and constantly changing, just like life. But I will learn to have fun through the sun and to dance in the rain.