In the tent of my mosquito net, I lay thinking of just where to begin, dear reader, to tell you about the amazing adventure I’m having in Uganda. As so many wonderful things do in my life, this story begins with my grandmother. I’d been missing her like crazy as I prepared for my trip, brokenhearted that I couldn’t tell her all of the little details. Like so many of my adventures with my grandma, this is a story that I wouldn’t have believed had I not been there.
Did you know I’m named after my grandmother? Yep, Alicia Jean. When I was a kid in serious trouble, my mom could really stretch my name out when she felt that my first name alone wasn’t doing the trick. Alicia Jeeeeeeean!!! Few people outside of my family know about my birth middle name because when I got married many years ago, I replaced Jean with my maiden name. What does this very boring namesake lineage have to do with anything? I’m getting there. Promise.
My grandmother, Betty Jean, loved to travel and she loved a good adventure. In fact she loved adventure so much that she kept $100 pinned in her bra at all times “just in case”-not just in case something bad happened, just in case something good could happen with the help of a little spare change. Be it treating the table for lunch or splurging on ice cream sundaes, her bra money came in handy on more than one occasion. Is this really a story about your grandmother’s undergarments? Fine, I’m done talking about my grandmother’s bra and I’ll get on with the story about what happened the day before I left for Uganda.
The day before I left, unbeknownst to me, the local newspaper re-ran the story about my trip that was printed a few weeks ago in the Anderson Valley Post. This was a pleasant surprise and it filled my inbox with well wishes from friends and strangers alike. One particular email caught me by surprise, an email from D.*
D is a local who has been a missionary off and on in Uganda since 1991 and after reading the article about me, she wanted to meet and answer any questions I might have as well as give me some Ugandan Shillings she had left from her last trip. And by some, she meant a LOT, as in an amount that was exceptionally generous, especially from a complete stranger. D told me about her time in Uganda and I told her about my trip that was mere hours away from beginning. Then she took out the envelope fat with money and in her other hand she held a singular knee-high pantyhose.
“Do you know where you’re going to keep your money?” she asked. I told her the variety of locations I planned on keeping it.
“Well, I always kept my money in a pantyhose and then pinned it inside my bra and it worked for me.”
Of course she kept her money in her bra. I laughed when she told me that, but kept the reason to myself, knowing that my grandma would have been nodding her head in staunch agreement.
I asked her if she was sure she wanted to give me all of this money. She did and all she asked in return is that I deliver a kind message to her pastor friend in Gulu. If I felt compelled, I could also give him some of the money.
Before she left, D prayed for me. In my book, the more prayer, the better, especially when it comes to big adventures that leave my stomach snapping with excitement and nerves. After praying for me, D told me God was giving her a word for me and that word was ‘special’. I appreciated the sentiment and the care D bestowed on me, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Yes we’re all special in God’s eyes. What’s the big deal?”
And then, because skepticism never, ever trumps love, D paused and said, “I have a second word for you. ‘Jean’. Your name is Jean, isn’t it?”
“It was.” I stammered, too surprised to tell her anything else. I started looking around my house for anything visible that said Alicia Jean. There wasn’t anything, since it’s part of my name I haven’t used in over 15 years.
“God wants you to know you’re special and that he knows you, right down to your very name.”
I swear I almost broke my neck careening it around the room to see where she pulled ‘Jean’ from. No Jean anywhere. Coming up with nothing, D and I hugged and she went about the rest of her day, leaving me in a cloud of disbelief and wonder.
The money D gave me was an incredibly generous gift, but the real gift she gave me was the knowledge that my grandma was with me in spirit. And also in the Shillings I tucked into a pantyhose and pinned in my bra.
*I’m calling her D because I didn’t ask before I left if she wanted to remain anonymous or not. Plus it’s late here and I couldn’t come up with a more creative name, like say one with more than one letter.