Margaret, and God in Uganda

December 21, 2010

I felt a little like an honorary R.E.M. member last year, "losing my religion." That's me in the corner, and I've never been one to pretend. My mother noticed, and asked me to, "keep searching." I told her I would, and I have.

In a Davidic psalm, the Old Testament king writes to a seemingly relentless God that, "All your waves and breakers have rolled over me," and I remember feeling that way in Uganda. One particular night, I woke up with hives in the sweltering heat. There was a cow bellowing across the street. I was dreaming that there were insects attacking me. I turned on the bulb hanging in the center of my room. Swinging, it cast shadows with my mosquito net and I could see the lumps on my legs, under my arm pits, breasts - especially raw on my waist band. I took two Benadryl, kicked off my sheets, and sweat the night out. I remember asking God to ignore me, that night. I felt the weight of his involvement in the brutality of Africa heavier than I wanted. And, in the darkness of our cement home, I told him that I needed space. Waves and breakers, hound of heaven - whatever it was, I couldn't breathe.

God came back when I visited Margaret - taking care of five children, and needing a loan to mud her stick hut together. I remember God telling me, almost audibly, that he loved her."You're here because I love her," he said.

He had come back without me asking, but it didn't feel heavy this time. It felt like the water Jesus talks about - like something that could keep me from thirsting again.

Months later, I sat drinking and eating hot wings with a friend after 3:00 AM, and talk turned to Uganda. Tequila brings out the religion in us, and I went for the jugular.

"Uganda made me mad at God," I confessed.
"Yep, I bet. That's fair," he said. "You've got a right."

I didn't say anything else, but I thought of Margaret.

Home, here in Northern California, I remember Margaret's hut at odd times - pouring coffee in the morning, giving Beta a bath - in the midst of trying to find a basket to fit my jeans in, a basket to fit my sweaters in - a basket for my t-shirts. I don't have a closet. I don't have a job that pays a salary. Freelance work is unreliable. I feel defined by the weight of a paycheck. I feel undefined because I just moved home, and my answer to people's questions is vague. A woman I met last night told me, in between glasses of champagne and the glowing lights of a Christmas market I was selling Ugandan necklaces at, that she moved back to Northern California because she "lost herself in the city" during college.

I nodded when she said it, and said, "I stopped knowing who I was in Los Angeles." It was more of a confession, than anything. A confession to a stranger.

Selena nodded back and said, "Maybe you needed to get lost to get found. Maybe what you're doing is finding you."

I thought of Margaret's face when we told her we could try and get her a food sponsorship. I thought of God's voice. I thought of the thirsty feeling. I remembered my friend asking if I thought someone would offer to help after I told her story.

When I looked back at Selena, beaming at her table, I realized that it's me. I'm the person offering to help Margaret, because I've been telling her story to myself for months now.

I realized that that's why I'm going back to Africa, because it is the "religion" that makes sense to me. Visiting orphans and widows. I don't know much, but I do know that you go, you give, you come home and tell about it. Even if the person you end up convincing turns out to be yourself.

Come on self, let's do it again. Let's go make sure Margaret gets the mud she needs to keep her hut from falling apart again.

Let's go because he told me he loves her.