Advent 2020: Living in the shadow of Death

The Christmas season started early at my home. My husband and sons decided that November 1st the Christmas tree should come up, and up it went. It’s been a long year. We have been locked down at home since March experiencing the ‘new normal’, why shouldn’t the Christmas traditions change?

The new normal brought with it, a lot more quiet. A restrictive quiet. A solitary confinement quiet. A naughty corner quiet. The infamous SOPs- wear a mask, sanitize frequently, temperature checks and curfew have made a quick dash to the market or grocery store so inconvenient. The social distance that needs to be maintained at public gatherings means I cannot share jokes with my neighbors, there are no more hugs and handshakes, it’s not fun anymore. I have spent more time online and in quiet nooks looking for the best network signal than anywhere else. Very introverted but it became the perfect setting for the reflection of Advent and revisiting the Christmas story.

When I first heard of the coronavirus, it was a bug like flu somewhere in China and everyone was wearing masks. China seemed so far away, so distant, totally unrelated to my equatorial corner of sub-Saharan Africa (we are not even in the same hemisphere) and so much less to my own environment. Then the devastation began, with lockdowns and massive death counts. As I was reviewing material for a Sociology lesson, a CNN interview of nurses from one of the worst hit nursing homes in Washington state, I began to observe the devastating toil the disease had on emotions of the nurses and families. To observe through a glass darkly, the effects of quarantine and the immediate need for ventilators. My niece, Keitangaza who passed away on 28th December 2017, needed a ventilator to breathe and there was none available. This took my breath away for a moment. When it hit the Octogenarians in Italy and wiped them out like a plague, the number counter became a siren wail. Uganda still has a very young population but my parents’ generation, most of them are Octogenarians. It was too close for comfort, anxiety set in and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Then it came for us, Uganda managed to contain the deaths and spread. With the gradual reopening, it has come close to home. I know people who have had it and survived and I know people who have had it and died. Such terror and distress.

While reading the Matthew and Luke’s elaborate details of the Birth of Jesus, it soon became apparent that our ‘Christmas spirit’ as portrayed in most of the Christmas movies is slightly off the mark. Actually, if the Christmas movies had been set in 2020, they would have been so on point.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:16-18 NKJV

The shepherds, were going about an ordinary day’s work, in a season where Augustus Caesar had ordered a census throughout the Roman Empire. Every man had to go back to his home town. Israel was an occupied territory, and so Bethlehem as one of the towns of Judah must have been packed with so many long lost relatives, Romans, transit travellers, yet the shepherds did not have time for chit chat. They were tending their sheep in the field. God, in His wisdom, found it very important to send a host of angels to these busy men. Not the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away, and not to the Romans who were conducting the census. Rather to shepherds, forgotten like David.

The shepherds, left their sheep and rushed to the place the angels told them and found Jesus lying in a manger. This was exactly what the angels had said they would find. They rejoiced to find the Messiah and shared the news widely. How exciting it must have been to see the Word incarnate.

Christmas is the Season to rejoice for those who like the shepherds have received Jesus as their Savior and Lord- we have received peace and goodwill. Tis the Season to make widely known the good news, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want even in the valley of the shadow of death because ‘our the Christ (the anointed one who saves) was born on Christmas day.’

Later, as a child, Jesus is visited by the Wise Men. These Wise Men make a long journey following a star to worship Jesus. In Jerusalem, where they stop, no one had paid attention to the very same star and no one had heard the news from Bethlehem. The Wise men were warned by an angel not to go back to Herod. And Joseph was instructed to take his family to Egypt by an angel. After the visit, the young family had to flee to Egypt by night. And Bethlehem experienced grief like none other, was it not the Messiah they rejoiced to receive? All their young males under the age of two, were massacred by Herod. The heart gripping pain of losing a young child senselessly, who would console them?

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Matthew 2:16 NKJV

Within the Christmas carols is one about Good King Wenceslas, who looked out on the Feast of Stephen. Traditionally, that would be today, Boxing Day. Stephen was one of the seven men ‘of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ appointed to handle the Church business so the Apostles could continue with the Ministry of the Word and prayer. (Acts 6).

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 6:8 NKJV

For all this glowing tribute from Dr. Luke, Stephen is the first Christian martyr. He was falsely accused for blasphemy and even when the Council saw his countenance as one of an angel, and were cut to the heart by his words, they did not receive Jesus as the Christ and stoned him death in Jerusalem. His death was witnessed by a young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul, a bondservant of Christ.

How does one move from gorging themselves on so much turkey and rich Christmas cake to a celebration of martyrdom? One does not. Christianity carries within all its celebration, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christianity also carries within all its death, the life of Christ, eternal and glorious. It is impossible to separate Christmas from Good Friday and from Easter. It is impossible to separate the pain and suffering of calvary from the joy of Christmas and the glory of the resurrection.

It is in beholding the lamb of God, swaddled in remains of priestly garb lying in an ordinary manger that we are able to see Him carry our sins at Calvary and then at last like Stephen, see the Lion of Judah seated at the Right Hand of the Father.

Lord, thank You that while troubles and pain will come, your tender mercies sustain me through them giving me life and peace. In uncertainty and instability, I choose today to re-anchor my life in Your goodness, Your faithfulness and Your mercy towards me. Amen From Lectio365

Fully known

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Psalms 139:13‭-‬15 NKJV

I made up my mind, that I was in a waiting space and when the time was right, like Elizabeth, my sons would come. Of course, everyone is asking how do you know they will be boys? Or inviting me to more prayers for the barren. I simply told them, I am not barren. This was the promise God made to those who obeyed Him, there shall be none barren among you.( Exodus 23:26) Loads of eyes rolling and angst because these conversations tired me. For crying out loud, I had done it all. Alllll! I even had notes.

I got into a space where random people would walk up to me and tell me how they dreamt that I was pregnant. Or they would see me holding a baby. I had been there, done that so I didn’t find it as fascinating as I should have. I would get into prayer meetings and they would pray for me. I would visit someone and it would end up being a prayer meeting. I was like Jacob, the Lord was in this place and I knew it not. God has jokes.

One Friday, I purposed to go to Rubaga Miracle Centre for the overnight. I had spent many overnights there while still a university student. I missed the fire and the noise and just being in a space where believers expected miracles. So I went. It was awesome, never to disappoint. The prayer time. The praise and worship, wooow. The testimonies. Pastor Robert Kayanja came on started ministering to several categories of people, and he called up women who had been told by doctors that they would not give birth. He went on to affirm that as Christians, we are not barren because the Bible says they shall be none barren among you. I knew this was the mother of all setups, so I walked to the front. I just need you to know that if for any reason he had said those words in a different way, I was not leaving my seat. He was not in a hurry, for some reason that overnight was live streaming so we were on cameras. He tells us to imagine we are holding our babies in our hands and rock them to sleep, sing to them. This was like for eternity. He invited the rest of the church not to spectate but to pray. So there we are with our arms cradling babies, we have called forth. Then he says, you have received your expectation, you may go. And back we went to our seats. Only we were received like conquering heroes, there was a loud cheer. A friend of mine, I didn’t know was at the overnight, came running to hug me. Wooowww!

Photo Credit: Pintrest

I took to spending Saturday mornings or afternoons with my mother in town. There were always errands to run in Kampala and home was a convenient stop over. My mother loved my company and I hers, so it worked for both of us. This one Saturday, I decided to head to Nakasero market first, because it could get really crowded. However, I could not get in at my usual 5am because I needed to get Mpafu, a type of fig, from the lower market which did not open till later. By the time, I got there it was crowded. Oh well. Off to see mummy. I spent a whole day there, hoping the traffic will ease so I get in at about 5 pm. My mum asks me what it is I must buy from the market that I could not get in another market. I tell her mpafu, she laughed and told me how I was becoming like her. When she was expecting me, she used to go to that same lady, early in the morning to get mpafu. Hahaha.

I went to the market, picked my mpafu and debated whether to take a pregnancy test. I decided, if not, why not? Headed to SAS clinic and did the test. The waiting was of, real butterflies, my hands were shaking literally. I started shivering but I was determined to maintain composure. Thankfully, the clinic traffic was low. I was the only client in the lab. It was a short wait. The test was positive.

I can’t hear youuuu, louder doctor. Did you say positive? Whenever I receive news that I didn’t anticipate, my ears get a humming sound and all sound is like an echo or buzzing. I was going through that.

I could see the doctor smiling and going on about something. It’s positive. All my years of waiting had ended. Just like that. The doctor recommended a scan to confirm and I am like, sure. Scans are good things. I was at peace with the world. All things were good. I have no problem.

Elated. Out onto the street. Excited. Up the stairs. Exhilarating. Onto the bed. Cold gel. Experience loading.

There he was. My baby. Just a bleep. Such a beautiful, black and white bleep. 7 weeks. God bless the creator of scans.

In part

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!
Psalms 116:1‭-‬2 NLT

I met another guy, cool as can be. Very accepting and confident about the situation. Well, let’s see how long he lasts. He married me.

And started what I now call my fertility journey. This story is intertwined with another story, there was a long standing custody battle for my step daughter going on. The issue of stress and it’s effects on your cycle is the fodder of medical journals. This is not my story, my story is one of overcoming even in the midst of such a strained, stressed and distressed environment.

I had determined, NEVER to go through hormonal therapy again. I was adamant about it. My husband was not there while I was going through it and I could not explain it in enough vivid detail. It was a sore point for some time, but I didn’t see any value addition in taking the medical journey. Yes, I met so many ladies for whom this had worked but it was too painful to go through Godzilla again. Especially as a young, blushing bride.

This was ok for the first year, a few nudges, side eyes at events to check for bulges but well, we were in a new millennium. Who rushes into child birth anymore, right? Laughter and onto more pressing matters.

The second year, pressure started mounting. What are you people up to? One person walked into the office, we had an open office and loudly announced, you girl, if you cannot give birth, you return our contributions to the wedding. Wow! It is a custom to fundraise for a wedding and up till that point, I always thought people did it because they were happy to see you wed. Clearly, naive. There are vested interests. There was a hush in the office, till one of the supervisors checked him for his remark. Later, a few work mates walked over to just encourage me and tell me so many stories about ladies who had gone through years and conceived, some we worked with and others remained stories. Two ladies took me under their wings, and prayed with me every day and encouraged me. One passed on but I shall never forget her kindness and compassion.

Photo credit: Pintrest

My MIL never took life sitting down. She has always been a fighter. She determined that this situation needed a fighter. She told me if you are not going to the doctors, we are going to pray. And so we started the rounds of looking for pastors all over the town. Any pastor she heard who healed, we were there. Sowing seeds. Praying. Counselling. Eventually, her home became a church. She hosted prayer meetings everyday. She lived 20kms away from our home at the time, we were there till late. Praying. It started to take a toll on me, I wasn’t sleeping well and eating well. One night, we had a near kidnap incident while waiting for Traffic lights to change. I opted out of this.

A friend of mine landed on Kenneth Copeland and his teachings on faith. While watching TBN, Kenneth Copeland was never one I would watch. I was watching TD Jakes, Juanita Bynum, Rod Parsley….fire in my bones. Well, here was this calm, Kenneth with his beloved Gloria and their southern drawls teaching on faith. The seed was sown. Every day we discussed the podcasts and faith began to grow. We prayed together daily.

A young, fiery, prophet Kakuru joined as an intern in our unit. As it is with prophets, the first encounters are dramatic. When he saw us across the room, he walked to us and told us he was going to sit next to us for his entire internship. Wow! We didn’t know him from Adam. He came back later, and started to teach us about prayer. Everything he said would tally with what Kenneth Copeland had taught.

Another young, quiet man with a pastoral heart joined our team after Kakuru left, he introduced us to e- sword. It was a downloadable Bible. I started to study the Word of God. I do not take it for granted that in this time, all these resources were available to me. I know God was at work, preparing me and teaching me about Himself so I could be like the tree in Psalm 1.

Still, I did not conceive. The frustration of doing all you know to do and still have negative pregnancy results started to set in. It seeped in like a cancer, slowly and started to settle. My days darkened and I began to feel worthless and useless. I was depressed but I didn’t know it.

God will not let you go. He will come to you. He came to me. Despite, the frustration, the only hope I had was in God. I took leave and decided to have a retreat with God. My maid had headaches that would keep her down for an entire day. I knew God to be the healer. James says if anyone is sick, let him call the elders. I called my pastor to pray for her. He decided to pray with me as well. Some thing lifted off me, I could see clearly.

First things first, faith without works is dead. I decided to go shopping for my baby. I knew it would be a boy so everything was blue. I found a lovely yellow outfit, my mother loved yellow, I got it for him. It was the only non-blue outfit. I researched about pregnancy, what to eat, what to wear, how to manage on a budget, the trending gyns, the hospitals. I attended baby showers, birthday parties and took notes about everything and I mean everything- maids, daycare, schools, curriculums, language, prayer-What I would do and what not to do.

During a visit to my SIL, I learnt that even with children,the romance is not over. A mother was still a wife and a companion.

A vivid conversation, I recall was that babies are also spirit beings so they know God. Hoooo…baby Bibles, baby gospel music. I started speaking to the eggs and hormones to hear the Word of God. I was high on the Most High.

At this point, I was doing pregnancy tests almost every week. They were negative, sometimes it felt there were two Doras. One willing to go and the other questioning her logic. If you keep doing the same thing you have always done, with the same results, why keep on doing it? Well, if it ain’t broke, you can fix it! Then I had it, the very last test, I wrote all the promises of God all over it. I spoke back to that report and told it to keep quiet. And I kept quiet.

Look at the Birds. Selah.

Credit:Pintrest

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 NKJV

This morning as I pondered these words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, a former tax collector, three things came to mind:

  1. This verse is not misplaced. Jesus goes on about birds, lilies, food, clothing, drinks and somehere in his teaching, out pops, this verse. Furthermore, it starts with a ‘But.’ What is the connection?
  2. Birds, flowers, all creation -other than man -was spoken into being in the account in Genesis 1. God said ‘Let the land produce vegetation,’ ‘Let the birds fly above the earth.’ So if God places such care on His Word to perform it, how much more care does He place on you whom He formed and breathed life into.
  3. The Kingdom of God is eternal and cannot be shaken. If you are looking for tangible, things that remain, then you should consider first putting aside birds and flowers and such manner of things(food, clothing, drinks) as concern your life. Because the Kingdom of God is the thing. The thing that does not fade or pass away. The thing that remains when everything else is gone.

Today, choose what you shall seek first. 🐦🐧🕊🦅🌹🌺🌻💐 or the Kingdom of God.

What happens when men encounter the grace of God?

I find myself pondering on the relationship between diligence in study and the grace of God; wondering whether the grace of God removes the discipline of study or empowers it.
As a History teacher, I went back in time.

Photo credit: PINtrest

Martin Luther was a Professor at the time he encountered the grace of God, not merely a lowly monk. He had a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Theology. He was one of the first professors to lecture in German instead of Latin, a great feat, in a time with no German Bible for reference. All this in the Roman Catholic Church with it’s rigor for study. When he encountered the grace of God, he wrote ninety five (95) theses!
John Calvin, an accomplished French lawyer. When he encountered the grace of God at age 26, he wrote a simple catechism in Latin and French, Institutes of the Christian religion, to date one of the foundational expositions of the Protestant Church.
Ham Mukasa, a regent in the Buganda kingdom, the Sekibobo of Kyaggwe wrote a commentary of the Gospel according toMatthew in Luganda. Matthew is deemed to be one of the most detailed and complex gospels because it is written through a Jewish lens. Apollo Kivebulaya, with only a passion for Jesus, studies day and night and translates the gospel of Matthew from Luganda to Rutooro.

What shall we say about Moses the stuttering prince who recorded the laws in great detail and built a replica of heaven in the tabernacle. Peter, a despised fisherman, who went on to write very eloquent letters to the Jews in the diaspora. Paul, a prisoner in chains, formerly a zealous persecutor the church, whose letters are still read to this day- his passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is the read at nearly every wedding in the church. Even John Mark whom Paul cast aside wrote a very brief version of the gospel.

The grace of God empowers the study. Paul writes this,

the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11).

It is not possible that having encountered the grace of God that one would fail to be diligent in study.

Pie Jesu

How would I describe 2019? Like a whirlwind. There have been so many heart-stopping moments between short pauses. Apprehensive yet hopeful.

As hopeful as POTUS crossing the DMZ. With all the James Bond movies, I had watched, I was sure there would be a last-minute curveball. Surprisingly, there wasn’t.

This has been 2019. I set goals to blog once a week. I had all the drafts and story outlines written out in my mind. The actual blogs never saw the light of day. I was blogging. I was outlining. Very hopeful.

I started my books. Outlined all of them. I lost all the outlines and my heart with them.

I lost my temper. I lost my mind. I lost my marbles. I lost myself. In the whirlwind of life, I started to lose my essence. During a short pause, I breathed. I gulped all the air I could and began the slow path to recovery.

I find myself drawn to this meditation, this Advent season. My preferred soloist is Cecilia Bartoli.

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. (×2)
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them rest.
Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them everlasting rest.

The Latin lyrics and the English rendering of the last stanza of Dies Irae (Day of Wrath).

I have found unusual comfort in the knowledge that even on the Day of Wrath or Judgement day, it is Jesus who gives me rest. I have wrestled with the concept of rest and its application to my life this year. I set goals for rest -daily, weekly, annual- and never achieved them.

This meditation is a reminder that even when all my failures gather and conspire against me, Jesus gives me rest. Everlasting rest.

Rest

Go home and do the things you love

This was hardly what I had walked into the clinic to hear. I am doing all the things that I love. Passionately so. Surely as a doctor, there should be a pill you could prescribe that could zap my body back into shape.

No.

The legacy I have as a Mukiga woman is one of hardworking and never resting woman. We cram so much into 24 hours, it is amazing. With modern gadgets, it should give you time to rest.

No.

Do mothers ever have a Sabbath? When God set apart the seventh day, did it include mothers?

Yes.

How is it even possible? Meals to cook, schedules to manage, extended family, laundry piles, careers, hobbies, friends, dreams, hopes. Everything tumbling over, spreading you too thin. Is it ever OK to say, I am resting?

Yes.

Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus into their home. There is so much to do when guests visit and it has to be done. Food will not cook itself, water will not fetch itself, tables will not lay themselves, beds will not lay themselves, fires will not light themselves, bread will not bake itself. Someone has to do it.

Yes.

And Martha chose this.

Jesus is here. I have this huge opportunity to sit and learn from him. The Rabbis will not make time for me. He answers all my questions and His words are so refreshing, they water my soul. There is so much to do, but Jesus is better. There is so little time, I choose to connect with Jesus. Is it the better thing?

Yes.

Mary chose this.

In a world, where we are rewarded and paid based on what we do. As a mother, it is easy to place your premium on performance. It is easy to slip into messianic mode, where everything depends on you. It is easy to bear the weight of the world and comfortably cloak yourself in the label, beast of burden. come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28. Is this for mothers too?

Yes.

In Christ, we are called to a place of abiding. To live in Christ. It is a place of daily connection with Christ, a space where He is number one. Where my chief pursuit is Him. Where apart from Him, I can do nothing. Where I am more aware of Christ and His presence and what He is doing than anything else. This is the rest for mothers.

Yessss.

The laundry calls, the meals call, the school calls, the baby calls, the alarm clock calls, the traffic light calls. Jesus is Calling. Jesus is the field of great treasure, will you sell all to keep Him?.

My answer is Yes.

And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough . But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!”
Romans 8:15 TPT