Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Goal #25 Complete - Oh My Bleedin' Gums!

Goal #25: Before my annual dentist appointment, floss every night for 30 days. COMPLETE
Mothers of the blogosphere, cover your children's eyes for am I about the reveal a truth you may not want them to be privy to: I've never in my life had a cavity and I rarely (seriously - hardly ever, unless I just ate popcorn) floss my teeth.

Even with my cavity-free record, I'm always reprimanded for not flossing after the dentist's minions make my gums bleed. (Honestly, even if I did floss regularly, I would never do so with the level of vigor/near violence that oral hygienists exhibit - no wonder my gums turn into a gushing red fountain!)

I'm not a fan of dentists. Beyond the endless waiting, the sterile smells and the four-minute, how-much-did-I-just-pay-for-that-cursory-glance by the actual doctor (things that are common for all medical practices) there are three main things that cause me to dislike dentist visits specifically: 

1) The taste of rubber gloves in my mouth. Seriously - couldn't someone develop favored gloves for dentist? Though I suppose the obvious danger there is that some children (or adults, let's be honest) may not posses the self-control needed to abstain from licking, sucking, gnawing on or flat out biting the strawberry encased fingers of the dentist.

2) Awkward conversations. Chit-chat during medical exams are uncomfortable enough, but when a dentist has his hand in your mouth and asks you how your weekend was - answering that question is problematic to say the least. Nothing like being a drooling, slurring ignoramus while talking to a person with an impressive string of initials after their name. I'm convinced they do this simply for their own personal amusement. 

3) Bleeding. Do they really need to use such force when flossing my teeth? It almost feels a little vindictive at times, though I can't image what pent-up resentment the oral hygienist has towards my gums. Especially when one considers the pile of cash they are being paid to perform the simple (though, I'll admit - gross) task of flossing another person's teeth.

So back to my goal: Tired of being reprimanded and convinced that it was the un-called-for exertion being used by the floss-wielding hygienist that made my gums bleed, not the fact that I never floss, I undertook the goal of flossing regularly before my annual dentist appointment to see if it would change anything. For about 30-out-of-35 days before my appointment, I dutifully flossed my teeth. This morning, I trudged into the dentist's office for my annual cleaning. ("Trudged" might normally be an exaggeration for such circumstances, but my appointment was at the bright and cheery hour of 7:00am, so trudge I did indeed.)

The results? I still bled, but not from the flossing. (How had I forgotten about those horribly painful metal hooks that they scrap your teeth with?? My mouth is still throbbing.) My hygienist and dentist were both friendly, but not my-hands-are-in-your-mouth chatty (+1 point). The dentist spent 30 seconds looking at my teeth, plus two minutes chatting with me for a grand total of a two-and-one-half-minute visit (-4 points). My mouth still tastes like rubber (-2 points). Finally: for the first time ever, I was not reprimanded for not flossing! Woo-hoo! (+10 points for me)

Conclusion: While I'm still not a fan of shoving a piece of string between my pearly whites, it seems to have made some small difference. In fact, I was morbidly fascinated by the amount of gunk I excavated from my teeth each night. I think the knowledge that such a plethora of food still remains in my mouth after brushing might be enough to keep me flossing... even if only semi-regularly.

Friday, April 22, 2011

When Darkness Seems to Cover the Light

I've shared before about my battle with depression and how God walked me through that valley. It was a journey I hope never to repeat, yet at the same time I know that should I face those struggles again, God will again walk me through it.

During those deepest, darkest hours of depression there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The darkness had consumed any perceivable light in my life. I had no hope and felt I would be in this pit forever. I felt betrayed by friends who didn't understand or support me during my struggle; who turned their back at the sight of my pain. I felt forsaken by a God who, despite my pleading to be free from the grasp of this darkness, seemed to have left me alone with my fearful, despairing thoughts.

Yet, in the end, the Light did shine brighter than the darkness. God used and is still using those dark hours to show His glory in my life.

Today is Good Friday and this morning I was reading in my Bible the story of Jesus' betrayal; His pleading with God in the garden; His closest friend deserting Him; Peter's denial; God forsaking Him in His darkest hour... and I realized how familiar it all seemed. Those feelings and situations were something I could relate to (though not nearly to the same level of course). I have experienced my Good Friday.

Then I thought about the irony of the name "Good Friday." How can a day which was so dark and full of such deep pain be called "Good"? Because Friday was not it end of the story - it could not be called Good if it was. My battle with depression was not the end of my story, and thus is was Good. Today is remembered as Good because God brought redemption out of the darkest day in history by raising Christ from the dead and providing forgiveness for our sins. And in my life, God gave me healing from my depression and turned something terribly painful into something Good.

It is a Good Friday and even as I reflect today on my own darkest moments, I can say with confidence that God has brought His Good from those awful days. 

There is Hope. Even when it seems that darkness is all-consuming, God is faithful to redeem the darkness for His glory. Trust Him to make the darkness Good.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Goal #32 COMPLETE: Get a professional massage

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.

What is better than checking one more goal off my list? How about completing a goal that includes a professional massage? And what could be better than that? How about a free professional massage? Yep. FREE.

During my first prenatal visit, I was given a coupon for a free 30-minute massage from Elements Massage. I figured the perfect time to use it would be shortly after my 40-hour return trip to Uganda. Mmmmmm.... Good choice. My back/shoulders were a mess-and-a-half and the massage was heavenly.

But it get’s better – not only did I have the sweetest massage therapist in the world (who happened to be named Jennifer), she accidentally gave me a 1-hour massage and then told me not to worry about it – to considering it my first shower gift!! Seriously – she was so nice (even way before she gave me my freebee.)

::Sigh:: If I didn’t have such a strict, needs/others/babies-on-the-way-focused budget, they would have just made a loyal customer out of me. Oh well. If you live in Chandler and have some extra money lying around (or just want to treat yourself to a wonderful just-this-once treat) I highly recommend Jennifer McClintosh at Elements Massage at Casa Paloma.   

(I'm sorry, but it has to be said - This seems so trivial in light of some of the things I've been sharing lately about Uganda... but nevertheless, I'm still completing goals and I committed to blog about eat one, so here we are. Sorry if this is less than interesting.) 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Uganda Stories: Soon

There was a moment, towards the very end of our trip, that brought all the swirly thoughts in my head and all the conflicting emotions in my heart to a complete stop. During this moment, it was as if nothing else mattered except the truth God was trying to show me.

We were visiting Royal Hope Academy and had received the most jubilant welcome of anywhere we had yet been. When we got off our bus, there were hundreds of children lining the long pathway to the school's chapel. Hundreds of singing, clapping, smiling children shouting a Ugandan-style welcome song for us. Drums pounded in the distance and got louder as we approached the chapel. Entering the wood and steel-plated building, we were greeted with the site of balloons and colorful cloth wrapping the worn wooden beams which held the structure up. It was a celebration and we were the guests of honor. My cheeks literally hurt from grinning so broadly at this incredible welcome.

But this was not the moment.

The moment came later, after a number of wonderful songs and dances from the various age groups and a warm welcome from founder "Auntie Becky."

The children's choir began leading the room in worship. The worshipful hearts and postures of these children blew me away. And the it came. The moment. The children began singing a older gospel hymn that I have heard and sung myself a number of times, called Soon and Very Soon:

Soon and very soon we are going to see the King 
Soon and very soon we are going to see the King
Soon and very soon we are going to see the King
Halelujha, halelujha, we're going to see the king

No more cryin there, we are going to see the King
No more dyin there, we are going to see the King
No more suff'r'in there, we are going to see the King
Halelujha, halelujha, we're going to see the King   

It hit me then and the world stood still: crying, dying, suffering... these things are daily realities for these kids. This song means something to them. It isn't just a nice song with touching lyrics about Heaven that might get you to close your eyes as you sing it, especially if you've had a rough week. This song meant so much more to these kids because they live in a world where the destiny of "seeing the King" is something they cling to - something that invokes hope and joy and endurance in their lives. Something that I do not understand the way they do.

I stopped singing then. It didn't seem right to sing along with these children as they expressed their deep-felt joy and hope for Heaven amidst their deep experiences with suffering, dying and crying. It was a moment that was theirs alone, because they sang this song with an understanding that I will likely never have. It was something sacred to witness and something difficult to realize. It was something I will never forget.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This Was NOT Part of the Plan...

... But I'm oh-so-glad God had a different one.

In case you didn't notice, "Have a baby" was not on my list of 101 goals to complete in 1001 days. In fact, my plan was to complete those 101 goals and then start a family. Kinda of last "hurrah" before the all-consuming role of motherhood took over my life. Don't get me wrong - I've always wanted to be a mom. I've looked forward to that role for a long time. There were just a few things I wanted to do before that blessed day arrived. (Not all in a selfish way either. For example: I had goals on the list that were geared towards getting to a position where I could work from home so that I could start having babies.)

Well. As you must know by now, I am unexpectedly expecting twins. Which I am completely thrilled about. However, I can't help but laugh when I look back at all of the "plans" I had in regards to starting a family that have been completely and ironically thwarted by reality. Proverbs 16:9 keeps coming to my mind, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." That and the expression, "Pride comes before the fall." 

Here are just a few of the plans that I was determined (if not flat our prideful) about, and the ironic results:

1) We were using the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control. I was meticulous with my charting and knew exactly when I could and could not get pregnant during my cycle. I was confident in this method (I still am) and had been successful with it for ten cycles, yet one misread temperature, two released eggs and one comment of, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re good,” led to getting pregnant on the plan I thought I was capable of controlling.

2) When people would ask when Devin and I would be starting a family, I would firmly respond, “The soonest we’d even consider, possibly trying would be the summer of 2011”... I got pregnant January 2011: five month earlier than my declaration allowed for.

3) I wanted to time my pregnancy to make sure that I was not going to be gigantic during the hottest part of the Arizona summer... I will be in my third trimester during the hottest part of the Arizona summer (July-September). We're talking 120 degrees, people.

4) Devin and I said over and over again, “As long as we don’t get pregnant before we go to Africa, we’ll be fine.” ... I was ten and eleven weeks of pregnant when in Africa.

5) I said, “I don’t want to get pregnant until Devin has as steady job.”... Devin is still without a job (though working very hard to find something.)*

6) When we found out we were pregnant, we said, “Okay, we can handle this. We’ll make it work. Let’s just hope we don’t have twins. Har. Har.”... We are pregnant with twins.

We also figure, based on the time of conception and the Hanson’s reputation for producing strictly males, the twins will likely be boys. Time will tell if we’re wrong on that account as well.

It's crazy how caught up I can get in "my" plans and yet the Lord says, "I know the plans I have for you," (Jeremiah  29:11). Every day that these twins grow inside my belly is another day I'm thankful God didn't let my plans get in the way of His.

Anyone else out there made plans that had ironically opposite results?

*Since writing this post, Devin snagged a part-time job at our favorite coffee house Sozo Coffee! (We're still hoping the number of hours will increase soon.) The coolest thing? Devin's unemployment benefits ran out this week and what he'll be making at SoZo is almost the same amount as his unemployment check. God provides!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Uganda Stories: True Joy

Something that has always struck me about the believers* in Uganda is their genuine joy. Yes, they are poor. Yes, their lives hold incredible pain. Yes, their day-to-day struggle to survive is harder than anything I could imagine. But when you see them, it is their joy that stands out above all else. 

This joy is what I remember most about my first visit there in 2006 and something that impacted me again this time around. These believers experience the joy of the Lord in a way I have never seen anywhere else. They are poor and hungry, desperate and needy, but they turn that desperation toward the Lord and their faith is radiant because of their need for Him. Some would see this joy and say, "Wow - they are so joyful despite their circumstances." But I fully believe they are joyful because of their circumstances. They have a dependence on God that produces great faith, great love and great joy - because He is all they have.

Since and during this most recent trip to Uganda, I've been wondering if this kind of relationship with God is even possible in American. It has to be – somehow. We can’t all live in Africa, yet we are all called to have that same relationship with God… but it is so much harder to find that dependence when we have so much else to depend on. Compound that even more when we live within a culture that fights and prays to avoid discomfort and trials with everything in us. 

I heard a song recently by Laura Story that reminded me so much of the faith of the Ugandan people and challenged me deeply to accept the very real possibility that the trials of this life could be God's mercies in disguise and perhaps I shouldn't despise them so much when they show up in my life. (Listen to the song Blessings here.)

(Me, Papa and Devin)
The best example I saw in Uganda of this kind of joyful dependence was Papa Issac - the founder of Cannan Children's Home. This dear, sweet, lovable, jolly man cares for 107 orphans. It is his burden to feed them, clothe them, school them, mentor them and provide them with "aunties" (caregivers) that will show them love and spiritual training. Papa Issac is fifty-six-years-old and considered an old man by Ugandan longevity standards. He has health issues that are only getting worse as he pushes forward with God's work each day. In candid moments, the weight of his task is heavy on his shoulders. Despite this (because of this) he is one of the most joyful people I have ever had to privilege to know. It is obvious from Where is hope, joy and strength comes from - from the only One would could provide such joy amidst such trials.

I look at this kind of joy and wish for it. Yet selfishly, when I look at the circumstances behind the joy, I am grateful I don't have them. I want the joy without the trials, yet so often, God uses trails to produce His blessings. Something to remember the next time I face a difficult circumstance I'd rather be rid of - am I willing to forgo some of God's greatest blessings in order to stubbornly cling to my own temporary comforts? 

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
-Blessings by Laura Story 

* I should clarify by saying that as a whole, the people of Uganda are an incredibly friendly, joyful bunch of folks. But there is much suffering in their lives and I have noticed a deeper and more consistent type of joy in those who place their hope in Christ amidst those daily trials.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Goal #93 COMPLETE: Visiting Our Compassion Family

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.

Goal #93 - Visit Compassion sponsor girls in Uganda - COMPLETE!

When I hesitantly put this goal on the list, I could only half-imagine that it could ever possibly happen and yet, by God's provision and timing, I was able to accomplish this life-long dream (so much more than a goal to me) within the first year of Project 101 in 1001. (And just in the nick-of-time too, now that we have twins on the way!)

My first exposure to Compassion International was at a young age. My parents began sponsoring a little boy from Haiti named Ethny when I was about five or six years old. Enthy was our family's sponsor child until he graduated the program at around twenty-years-old. As he and I were close in age, we "grew-up" together via letters and photos. When I was very young, I would have reoccurring dreams about meeting Ethny in Haiti and playing with him there. This never happened sadly, but that experience lit a passion in my heart for the ministry of Compassion.

When I became a sponsor myself in 2006, I remembered those dreams about visiting Ethny and desperately hoped that someday I would get to visit my own sponsor children in Uganda. On March 22, 2011 that life-long dream became a reality! 

Allow me to proudly introduce you to my beautiful girls:

This is Rachael (who I have mistakenly been calling "Nazziwa" for the past four years... apparently Nazziwa is her last name. That was a little embarrassing to straighten out during our introduction. Oops.) When we first saw each other, we ran into the each other's arms for a long embrace full of lots of laughter. Neither of us could believe this meeting could really be happening. After four years of sharing our lives through letters, it was wonderfully surreal to be talking face-to-face.

This lovely girl is twenty-years-old and hopes study for her teaching certificate when she graduates high school next year. Teaching young children about Jesus in Sunday school is her main passion and she loves to sing. In one of her first letters to me she wrote, "I hope I get to meet you someday, I would like to sing for you." I held her to that promise during our visit and discovered my girl has a lovely voice! She sang a song from Hillsong United and it was simply beautiful.

This smiley little thing is eight-year-old Barbra, who wants to be a nurse when she grows up so she can care for the babies in the hospitals and orphanages. Barbra was very shy at first meeting, and being from a rural part of northern Uganda, doesn't speak much English. We had to communicate through a translator (who insisted Barbra was usually a chatterbox) which made breaking down her shy barriers a little more difficult, but eventually she warmed up to both Devin and I.

Another reason she may have been shy is that she has had little, to no exposure to "Muzugos" or "white people." The translator told me that on the seven-hour bus ride to Kampala, Barbra saw a white lady out the window and exclaimed, "I get to meet one of those today! That's what my sponsor looks like!" Too cute. We also got to meet Babra's mother and baby brother Ambrose (right), which was an honor we hadn't originally planned on.

Just for fun, Devin and I performed a swing dance for the girls, family and Compassion workers present. We told them we wanted to show them some American dancing since we had been blessed to see so many African dances while in Uganda. Partner dances are rare in Uganda so all the spinning and twirling delighted our little audience. Chris, the Compassion center director told us, "I need to learn how to move like that!" and then tried to mimic us with a move that can only be described as something resembling dancing spaghetti.

Another fun part of the visit was when Devin and I announced to the girls that we were expecting twins (something that is considered a huge honor in Uganda.) Rachael especially squealed with delight and I teased her that it was because of her prayers (she insisted on praying that God would give us children even though I explained to her in my letters that we were not planning on starting a family for a while yet.) 

It was an incredible, surreal, unbelievable experience meeting these girls and I wish our short visit could have lasted longer (we were literally leaving for the airport three hours after the visit began). However short, it is something I will never forget. These girls are amazing and I am so blessed and honored to be their sponsor. I am so excited to write them this week now that we've met and hugged and talked face-to-face.

No other goal on my list could possibly compare to the last two I've blogged about. Completing the remaining goals seems almost trivial now. Hang with me if I seem less-than-enthused for a while about the remaining 609 days of Project 101 in 1001. I'll get there - probably.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Goal #63: COMPLETE - Serving with My Man

More progress on my Project 101 in 1001 list. Read about my journey here.

Goal #63: Go on a mission trip with Devin - COMPLETE. 

(Devin and me, in Uganda, Africa in front of the Amazima chapel)

This goal was a big one - almost the biggest on the list (trumped only by Goal #93 - Visit Compassion sponsor girls in Uganda). I knew the goal was a huge undertaking. But I also knew that it was something I really, really wanted to do with my husband before we started a family. Little did I know that I would actually be pregnant with twins while accomplishing this goal. Quite the epic babymoon if I do say so myself.

Going on this trip at all started with a lot of faith-stretching. We knew we didn't want to "solicit" our friends and family for support, but we also knew we couldn't cover the costs without some help and some hard, extra-money-making work on our end. We chose to write an update letter to select friends and family members (only the ones we were in regular contact with) letting them know of our plans to travel to Uganda to serve the orphan ministries there. We mentioned very little about financial support and had our "if you'd like to help us financially" information as a P.S. in small italics at the bottom of the page. Then we prayed. A lot. We prayed that God would encourage people to support our trip not because we begged and pleaded and guilt-tripped them, but because they believed in what He would do through us. Because they wanted to give and give cheerfully.

We were blown away by the generosity that was poured out on us by such a small amount of people. Our trip costs were completely covered a few days before the deadline and the money still kept coming in. (Here's what we did with the overage.)

Another area that took a lot of faith was traveling all the way to Uganda once we found out I was pregnant. Especially since I would still be in my vulnerable first trimester. Especially because I couldn't get vaccinated. Especially because I was carrying twins. (My doctors thought I was crazy by the way and were non-too-supportive of my leaving the country in my condition, let along going to :gasp:: AFRICA of all places.) But as I mentioned in my previous post - after a few days of individual prayer, we both felt confident of God's sovereignty in the situation - whatever the outcome.

Sharing Uganda (which has held a piece of my heart since my trip there in 2006) with Devin was a very special experience for me. At the same time, this trip was very different from my first visit. Because of this, we were able to experience many new things together for the first time (for example: eating sugar cane which was freshly cut with a machete right in front of us). Serving along-side the man I love, in a country I love, among a people I love was something I will never forget.

(Devin loving on a whole pile of orphans - be still my heart!)

My only regret is this: We had an incredible team. A team full of amazing people who I probably didn't get to know as well as I could have had I not relied on/spent so much time with Devin. I wouldn't have changed the fact that Devin was there, I just wish I would have reached out of the "Hanson-comfort-zone" a little more. 

This trip was amazing, made even more so by the blessing of having my husband serve along side me. Shoot - the blessing of having a husband with such a huge heart for those in need is a huge, amazing blessing all by itself! As I watched him play with, hug, minister to, and pour into the lives of so many orphans, I was reminded yet again of how truly fortunate I am to have this man that God has made my husband.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

No Foolin' - TWINS!

There may have been some rumors floating around facebook yesterday (on April Fools Day) that I am pregnant with twins. I just wanted to take this moment to set the record straight and say that... it's all true! (Many thanks to those friends and family members who played along with us yesterday - we couldn't have pulled it off without your clever comments!)

TRUE FACT: Today, I am 13-weeks pregnant with twins. 

Other Facts You May Be Interested In:
  • This was a surprise (yeah, no kidding right?), made doubly so by the discovery we would be welcoming TWO unexpected blessings into our lives. 
  • My due date is October 11th - one day after our two year wedding anniversary (ironic? yes.)
  • The twins are fraternal. For which I blame my great-great grandmother, Laura for. She is the only one on either side of our families who ever birthed fraternal twins. So apparently twins do run in our family, which was news to me. (My cousin Sarah has identical twins, but that isn't the same gene.)
  • I was 10 and 11 weeks pregnant while in Uganda (how's that for a babymoon??). Because of this, I learned a lot about trusting in God while there and while deciding whether or not to cancel the trip when we found out I was pregnant (six weeks before we were suppose to leave.) We both felt strongly that God had provided so amazingly for this trip and He knew we were going to be pregnant, so we needed to still go and trust in His plan whatever happened. Which worked out great. 
  • Because I was pregnant, I was not able to get any of the vaccines for Uganda - thus leaving me susceptible to malaria and typhoid fever. I took what precautions I could (long sleeves, leggings under my skirts and a small amount of bug spray). I didn't get one bug bite the entire time I was there - a testament to God's protection and the answered prayers of our parents and siblings (who knew before we left).
  • My first trimester pregnancy symptoms have been mild - which I am exceedingly grateful for, especially since symptoms can increase with twins. 
  • Both Devin and I are very excited about our little surprises. It's actually laughable how not in the plan this pregnancy was - beyond ironic really. But I'll write all about that in a future post. For now, here are some sonogram pictures of our little cuties:   
7.5 weeks: Surprise! It's twins!!

12.5 weeks: Baby A
12.5 weeks: Baby B