even when it hurts

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Coming home from living over seas sounds like the greatest thing. It’s nothing but sushi, and cheese, and the best of friends – day in and day out. You can go to Target whenever you please (unless you live in Canada, where they took away that liberty) and have a million different options available at your fingertips when visiting the grocery store. It sounds like a dream. And then you get home.

I will admit, the first few days back are as close as one can get to walking on clouds. You get to drive on paved roads, stop for a quick coffee, or even go through a drive thru. Your internet finally works at a normal speed, and you can call your friends and family whenever you want AND be in a similar time zone. You get to sleep in your own bed and take a hot shower that you very likely will never want to get out of. But then real life starts.

Suddenly, everything is overwhelming. The various choices at the grocery store now seem like too many options. A simple decision of where to go soon seems like having to make a major life choice. You frustrate people with your indecisiveness and you are paralyzed with the anxiety of having to make the choice or disappoint those around you. Even the smallest things seem bigger than anything you’ve ever experienced, and you feel as though you won’t ever be able to chose between two options ever again. And even worse, no one understands.

Not only that, but all those friends that you’re SO excited to see have moved on with their lives. Shocker, the world didn’t stop while you were gone. This place you called home for a significant amount of time is apparently not Narnia, and life does not simple pause when you get on an intercontinental flight. You are suddenly without the support system you have come to know, and you feel like everyone is nearing the finish-line of the race and you’ve barely left the starting blocks.

Everyone will tell you your adventures have been so exciting and they can’t wait to hear more stories. But really, that just makes you want to crawl back into a hole. While you absolutely adore them [and their supportive words are invaluable], you suddenly don’t know what to do with all of it. How do you share the stories that were your life for such a long time, knowing that you won’t be able to do them justice? How do you explain a different country and culture and society that has become your home with only words and a few pictures?

Now friends, this is not to say you should stop asking. Please don’t take this to mean that we don’t want to share what has been our life for so long with you. Just please be patient with us if we change the subject or stumble over our words or ramble about things that seem rather irrelevant. We will probably reach a time where these stories will flow more easily and we will feel at a place where we can properly convey our feelings – that time might just not be quite yet. But please, keep asking us these questions and showing us that you care. Somehow in the mess of our brain that still means the world to us.

All of a sudden, your days are unproductive, you procrastinate more than normal, and you bury yourself into an unnecessary amount of Netflix, because honestly, it requires little thinking. You’re still slightly amazed by the fast internet speed, and you sequester yourself in your room and only venture out if you know no one is around. You beat yourself up because you felt infinitely more productive and useful living across the ocean and suddenly you feel like you have no purpose. Each day is Groundhog Day, and wake up each morning hoping that coffee will make life seem normal again. And it kind of does.

But this, too, shall pass. Somehow we will continue to get up each day, drink that cup of coffee, and try again. At some time these decisions will become easier, or possibly just doable. I, personally, don’t know when that day will come. I wish I had the magic formula that made me feel just an ounce of normal in these now foreign “home”. I don’t even really know what steps it will take to get there, so for now I distract myself with school, and travel, and lots of Netflix, hoping that I’ll feel normal again. Like I’m productive, or useful, or needed here.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could explain how I’m feeling to the people around me who so desperately want to break into the shell I’ve constructed. All I can say is: please be patient. Give us a little time and space, but don’t give up on us. One day we can meet at Starbucks and we won’t feel overwhelmed by the infinite choices of lattes and frappacinos and iced coffee and… To be honest, we’d probably be fine if you showed up at our door with a bottle of wine and a plan to watch too many episodes of Suits on Netflix.

One day we’ll understand what it means to live life far away from the place that holds our heart. But that day is not today, so for now life simply looks like, “Play Next Episode”.

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here now

This blog was [mostly] written while I was still on the ground in Uganda just a few months ago. Leaving was a lot to process, and I’m still learning what it looks like to live on this side of the Atlantic each day. I’ve stared at this blog countless nights, trying to find the words to finish it, but I just haven’t been able to. It brings up a lot of feelings that I don’t really know how to deal with. But at some point, I just have to figure out how to take the next step in moving forward. So here it is. I miss that red dirt, my #thereddirttribe kiddos, their parents, and all of the beautiful people of Uganda. One day I’ll be back – and I hope that day is soon. 

Be still my heart.

Today was just what I needed before a weekend full packing & saying goodbye.

We set off this morning, in typical African time, about an hour or so late. This girl who was always [too] early for events or appointments, is now the one who shows up late – because here, late is on time. But this morning I was anxious to leave on time. I was so excited for what the day was going to bring, and I just wanted to get on the road already.

We finally left, all loaded into the Land Cruiser – me behind the wheel for one last Ugandan driving adventure and the new Mumford & Sons album booming through the speakers. I fumbled my way through the back red-dirt roads with inconsistent directions, taking in every bit of the driving knowing it would be my last long drive in this country for a long time.

We finally pulled up to where they told me was our final destination and my heart skipped a beat. There, walking on the side of the road, were two very special kiddos – finally catching site of our big green car as they started waving uncontrollably. I couldn’t help but smile as we slowed down to pick them up before driving around the block to their home.

You may know these kids from stories here and on the Sole Hope blog over the past year. They arrived, unexpectedly, at the Sole Hope Outreach House late one afternoon at the end of July. At the time, they were the worst cases of jiggers our staff had ever seen. Their bodies were infested with parasites, their frail frames could barely walk, and the despair was palpable.

The littles one who arrived that day won a special place in my heart. He was struggling through issues associated with neglect, and was often left on his own. Many mornings, he ended up sitting with me under the cabana as I replied to emails with him sleeping on my chest. But this little one wasn’t little for long. Slowly, his mother and grandmother learned how to care for him, he gained strength each day, and soon was crawling and walking around the compound, throwing side-glances and cheeky smiles as he went.

These kiddos and their parents stayed at the Sole Hope Outreach house for over 7 months as they recovered and got back up on their feet. While most of the family returned home at the beginning of March, their father remained at Sole Hope, earning money to support his family.

So this brings us back to today, the first day I was able to see these four since they left the Outreach House and for the last time before I travel back stateside for an unknown amount of time. These kids all have such unique and precious personalities.

To say I miss them everyday would be an understatement, but their smiles will stay with me for years to come.

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This boy. He has the biggest smile. And by that I mean, he NEVER stopped smiling. He would be the first to run to the gate whenever he saw my mzungu foot step onto the compound. He held my hand and we played games, pretending that we could understand each other – which normally just ended in ridiculous giggles. He is joy personified.

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Oh, this boy’s smile melts my heart. It’s the most sweet & shy smile that you’ve ever seen. He cared for his siblings and nephews so well – his heart was built to care for others. He is the definition of a servant heart & makes sure everyone is taken care of before he worries about himself.

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This one is a goof ball. He’s the perfect mix of mischievous & feisty. You could normally find him on the razor scooter, whipping around the Sole Hope Guest House compound – yet he always stopped to say hello to whatever visitors were stopping by that day. He is a firecracker and has some serious dance moves.

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Yasin-y. Oh boy, how I miss your little face. From the moment he arrived, he had a squawk-like cry that would put a sea lion to shame. He had the biggest personality for a little body, and could often be found giving me ridiculous side glances as I walked by chanting his name. He has a cheeky grin that forces everyone around him to smile – surprised by the sense of humor that could be housed in his two-year-old frame. He was my little buddy, and I miss our morning work meetings (AKA me trying to send out emails while distracting him with anything and everything so he would stop squawking for maybe 30 seconds). Oh, and this is the face he made whenever I tried to take a picture of him when we visited. Stinker.

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Their stories made an impact on me in a way that I’ll never forget. I remember the afternoon they arrived like it happened tonight. They were so scared that first day that they arrived, but to see them come out of their shells and grow into their personalities was a complete honor. I miss these four each and everyday. I long for the day when we’re all running around in the red-dirt, as if we didn’t have a care in the entire world. Whether that will be on this side of heaven, I don’t yet know. But I hope that the next time I’m in the Pearl of Africa, we can be reunited once again.

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ever be

It is already April & I have somehow been back in Uganda for over a month. And what a month it has been.

I hit the ground running that first week in March & haven’t had time to slow down or look back since. It’s been an amazing month, a crazy month, an encouraging month, a draining month, & an emotional month. I don’t even really know how to begin putting words to the things that I have experience, thought, or seen since I arrived back on these red dirt roads.

Until now, I haven’t really had the words to form coherent sentences to share with anyone. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I do now. But in order to stop these thoughts from spinning around my mind, I need to arrange them in some form outside of my head.

So here goes.

My first week in country was spent preparing for the StoryTeller team to arrive (also check out #SoleStories on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter) and a week that I won’t soon forget. I had no idea what to expect when these 10 souls stepped out of the matatu that Sunday afternoon, but what a beautiful week it turned into. Now, let me be honest, teams are a lot of work. A lot goes into planning, organizing, and executing a week full of activities with a large team in a country that doesn’t keep time well on the best of days. However, we ended the week more refreshed, more encouraged, and more understood than we ever expected. This team poured into Sole Hope with everything they had. It was a beautiful thing to witness and be involved in. I don’t think they will ever truly understand how big of an impact they made on Sole Hope – both here in Uganda, and through the words they shared.

In the middle of that week, we took the team to see the new Sole Hope land. And by that I mean Asher took all of us, I had only heard things about it & had never actually laid eyes on it before I drove our Land Cruiser on top of the hill that day.

It was a moment that I will never forget. I’ve had the honor of watching Sole Hope grow over the past two-and-a-half years. From volunteering stateside – watching the Collies get ready to set off on this new journey, to travelling to Jinja in the summer of 2013, to moving and working alongside Sole Hope Uganda starting at the beginning of last year. I’ve truly witnessed this organization, our founders, and our staff grow and change in miraculous ways since Drü & Asher moved their life here at the beginning of 2013. All of this lead up to this one moment, this one piece of land, this one God orchestrated dream.

The emotions took some time to sink in. Asher briefly explained the plans for building, for the well, & for the HOPE filled future that lies on that very land. We climbed on the Land Cruiser, taking in the vastness of this new land that God provided.

Okay, and let’s be honest, it included some shenanigans. It wouldn’t be a true moment with Asher & Lis without a little bit of crazy.

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But then, we took some time to walk around the land, dream about the future, pray over the lives that will be touched, the feet that will be washed, and the HOPE that will be restored in so many families on the very spot that we placed our feet. We came back together to share what the Lord had been saying to us individually, to speak words over the future of the land, and to pray as a community of believers who were on board with this God inspired dream.

And I just about lost it. Okay, I did lose it.

I stood there, surrounded by so many people experiencing Uganda and Sole Hope for the first time, and realized that I wouldn’t be in Uganda for so much of the progress from this point on. I’m here for such a short time this trip, and that’s starting to feel so real. This is the first time that I don’t have a return date – I don’t know when the next time I will step off a plane in this beautiful country will be. And all of it hit at once. My life for the past [almost] two years has been focused around Sole Hope, my feet have been planted in this country, and these people are my family. And now, I have to give it all back to the Lord, knowing that this is all done to make Him GREATER.

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And then I stopped for a moment – this isn’t about me. This isn’t about Sole Hope. This isn’t about what our human hands are able to do. This is completely, from beginning to end, about what the Lord is doing – we are but only the vessels. It is for me to determine whether I will trust him in that promise, or if I will struggle to put pieces together with my broken, selfish, human hands.

So here I stand, wrestling with how I let go, and let God. This is his vision, and has been since the very moment it was a thought in Asher’s mind, and that’s how it remains to this day. He only asks us to go, to be, to live – but to do these through Him. It is possibly the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do, but I am leaving it in the hands of the one who holds every pain & every joy in the palm of His hand.

So as I move through this next month, I pray that it is Him, through me, who moves – who places words in my mouth, and extends HOPE and grace to all those around me. I pray that His presence is felt in such tangible ways, that there is no denying is presence. I pray that he guides me as start each day focusing on the #nexttwofeet.

This life I give to Him. May He use it for his glory – living to only to make Him GREATER.

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If you want to find out how you can be apart of this next step for Sole Hope, you can visit our Pure Charity page for more info.

 

All photos by the amazingly talented Gary Chapman.

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one year later

This is a post that I wrote for the Sole Hope blog about my year(+) of working in Uganda as their International Coordinator. There are still a lot of words to come as I prepare to say goodbye in just over a month. The words aren’t coming as easily these days – circling around in my head, leaving my mind and heart with little rest. However, the words will come. Until then, here’s a little piece of my time here over the past year. It’s been one of the biggest [if not the biggest] learning experiences of my life – one that I would not trade for anything. One that was full of heartache and trials, but so full of JOY & HOPE. Thank you to everyone who has followed my journey to Uganda, to those who have read the countless words written as I worked through what life looked like here. Here’s to the next journey, the next lesson, and the #nexttwofeet.

It has been over one full year since I stepped off the plane in Uganda as Sole Hope’s new International Coordinator. I had no idea what the coming year would look like, or even what my daily life would look like. It was everything & nothing like what I expected. So much has happened throughout this past year. Sole Hope Uganda almost looks like a completely different place. There were many milestones that I was able to be present for and a constant journey that I have had the honor of walking with Asher, Drü, and the rest of the Sole Hope Team. It is a year that has impacted my life more than any before & one that I have learned more through than I could have even imagined.

At the beginning of the year, the Sole Hope Outreach House was still relatively new & the Sole Hope Guest House was just starting to gain traction with local travellers, NGOs, and mission teams. We were small, but mighty – working hard each day towards the mission of #ZEROjiggers. As I settled into life on the ground in Uganda, I came to love this country even more. Days were long & hard, but there was so much joy in each and every day. The joy & HOPE allowed you to push through each hard moment and each long day, allowing you to come out the other side even more in awe of the Creator & his people.

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In January, the outreach house had a capacity of 6 or 7 children. We had a pretty consistent turnover, however, the need was always greater than our capacity. At this point, we had a very limited number of staff assigned to the Outreach House and we all shared the duties and responsibilities that came along with caring for children & providing them and their caregivers with the proper education. We were able to bring in 1-2 families at a time & and we were so full of HOPE and joy for each family that walked through our gate. The Sole Hope Outreach House was created to address a need that crossed our path – and this small but busy house was making a way for us to met that need.

Fast-forward three months and through our partnership with Allume and the Weisburg Foundation, we were able to expand our Outreach House to have a total capacity of 12 children, as well as create an educational space where we were able to teach each child and caregiver the importance of hygiene, wearing proper shoes, & other preventative measures for remaining jigger free. We were slowly able to reach more people, meeting the needs of more families in the community and journeying with them towards #ZEROjiggers.

Before long, we knew that we needed to expand again. As people in the community became more aware of what Sole Hope was doing, we were receiving more and more referrals from local leaders and other community members. We were yet again always running over capacity, trying to meet what seemed like the never-ending need in front of us. In September, we were able to open the Sole Hope Outreach Clinic with a capacity of 30 children! It was a very exciting time for us as we were able to hire more staff to serve at the Outreach Clinic. It is so amazing to see our Ugandan employees serve the people of their country – one pair of feet at a time. While there will always be more feet to wash and jiggers to remove, we focus on the #nexttwofeet, serving each child and family with dignity & respect, working towards a life of #ZEROjiggers.

Since the beginning of 2014, Sole Hope has hired over 15 Sole Hope Uganda staff members and we are so excited by the team that has been built here. We couldn’t do so much of what we are able to now without these hardworking, genuine, caring souls who have come along Sole Hope, treating it as if it’s their own. It has been such a beautiful journey to witness.

Journeying alongside Sole Hope through all of these changes and progressions, all of the hard & fearful times, all the JOYFUL moments filled with HOPE. And those are the moments that keep propelling you forward. The problem of jiggers can at feel overwhelming, but then you focus on the next two feet – that one soul sitting in front of you, who you can serve with love and HOPE. In that, you are able to continue on, pushing forward into the next season of this journey.

I’ve included some of my favorite pictures and moments from throughout this last year. I loved capturing the little moments & big moments alike. This is a year I will never forget & will hold closely to my heart.

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There are some exciting opportunities & plans for 2015 – and we cannot wait to share those with you and allow you to partner with us as we move forward into a new year full of possibilities. As for now, I leave you with a message of HOPE. A message that I don’t fully understand many times, but that I see lived out each day. I am so thankful for the people I work with, for the kiddos who giggle when I make a funny face at them, for a God that has plans so much bigger than my own. Our HOPE is anchored in him, and with that HOPE we move forward starting with the #nexttwofeet.

 

shine like a star

So here’s a little story.

A story about one of my favorite families and their HUGE hearts for adoption. After too many failed adoptions and too many broken hearts, they have welcomed the sweetest girl into their family! Within the first week of arriving back in Uganda at the beginning of the year, I went to Asher to visit the orphanage where Stella was living. From the very first moment I saw her radiant smile, I knew this little girl was special. The interactions between Ash and Stella were something that can only be described by the linking of souls.

Though they have legal guardianship of Stell-Bell, they will have to wait several years in country to fully & legally adopt her as an official Collie. All of these steps and procedures require a great deal of money. Would you consider partnering with them as they continue in this journey? Below I have posted their latest blog post – a beautiful description of their adoption story so far. You can also see the original post here. This family holds a special place in my heart – they are doing BIG things for the Kingdom. 

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It is funny to me that I would ever seriously think that my family’s life would go according to my plans. And really, thank God for that! My plans are far less than what God has planned for us.

Dru and I always knew adoption was something God called our family to. It really wasn’t even a question. So in 2010 we started pursuing the adoption of a child from Ethiopia, Africa. We journeyed that way for about a year, lost thousands of dollars and came to the realization that although it seems wonderful, everyone in the adoption world is not ethical. But, through that struggle and loss Sole Hope was birthed! In 2013, after moving to Uganda for Sole Hope we found out about two children who needed a home. These children called us “mommy” and “daddy” and were with us on and off for six months. In the end we came to know the truth that these two children had families that were looking for them. Again we lost thousands of dollars and ended up heartbroken. In 2013 we also met a tiny and sick little boy we named Eli. He stole the hearts (in a major way) of every person in our family. And he too was taken from us after living under our care for over a year.

But, on Christmas day in 2013 I went to visit my soon to be niece at a local orphanage. She had malaria and was in bed the entire time I was there so I ventured out and started interacting with the other children. A special little girl caught my attention. She seemed so joyful & content. I asked my friend who knew the children to tell me about this little girl. Her name was Stella and I needed to know nothing more. My heart fell in love with her immediately and I experienced nothing like I have ever felt before, I knew she was mine but it scared everything living out of me! My soul pursued her in an unimaginable and uncontrollable way. One day I broke my hearts silence and asked Dru if he would ever consider adopting a child with a physical/mental disability like Stella. And in true Dru fashion he said, “Of course. She needs a family too.” (Love that man!) And so the journey began of bringing Stella into our family.

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Jumping back to July 22, 2014, Eli was taken from our family and it felt like the death of a child. I didn’t know how I would parent any more children; I wasn’t sure how my heart could grow to love another child that wasn’t already a part of our family. I was hurt, broken, torn up, depressed and yet I still had this strange hope that could have only been from the Lord. Only a few weeks after Eli was taken I was sent an email at what felt like a horrible time from the orphanage. “Everything is ready for you to adopt Stella. Just submit your paperwork to your lawyer and we will get a court date.”

WHAT!?

Horrible timing I thought. But my heart still ached for Stella. And because I know that God is the author of all things that have to do with time we pressed in and allowed him to open and close whatever doors he wanted-but, with very cautious hearts. After all, we didn’t want to “lose” another child and we didn’t want to have to tell our kids again that this girl would not be their sister. Stella stayed at the orphanage to guard our hearts and I would go visit her a couple times a week. I finished all of our paperwork like a robot, not really attaching any emotional energy to what I was doing. On October 23, 2014 we went to court and in a quick, matter of fact way the judge granted our family legal guardianship of Stella. What does this mean? SHE IS OURS! We can’t legally change her name for three years because we are waiting to finish the adoption in Uganda, but they can’t take her from us…and that feels Oh! So good.

Now for the cool God story that I didn’t even realize until after she came to live with us…

In 2010 when I was pregnant with Asa, Dru and I said that if the baby was a boy we were going to name him Asa, and if the baby was a girl we were going to name her Stella. Stella was born only 6 days before Asa, in the same year. So little did we know that while our Asa was in our arms in America, our Stella was being born in a little village three hours outside of Jinja, Uganda in the same week!

Let me tell you about our little star, Stella. She is six years old and has the most infectious laugh! Like, more infectious than Ebola. She is happy all the time…unless of course she thinks you are withholding food from her. She is so motivated to move and groove like any six year old, but her little body was made just a little bit different. Stella has cerebral palsy and microcephaly. She can’t walk, YET, but she is in physical therapy and is working hard. She can however get around very well with some amazing upper body strength. She also can’t talk, at least not like you and I can. She can say a few words and we are teaching her American sign language. She is SO smart and picks new things up very quickly. She also has unbelievable rhythm and loves music. Stella has extra needs that will require extra strength, extra stamina from our family and extra faith and we cannot wait to watch her grow and change and rejoice with her in what the Lord does in her life.

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God writes amazing stories. He has taught and is teaching our family astounding things through a tiny human being named Stella who is extra special. If you want to join our story, please do. Unfortunately it comes with a high price (in dollars). Just like any other adoptive family we have lawyer bills, paperwork fees and many other costs that we have to pay to make this little girl a part of our family. If you would like to either help us raise money, or make a donation we would be so thankful.

You can make your donations to:

Online: http://www.gofundme.com/i0m2qk

Paper check: Andrew and Asher Collie
605 East Innis Street
# 3263
Salisbury, NC 28145

PayPal: dru@solehope.com

Or email us at asher@solehope.org to let us know your creative idea for helping us raise money! (We need to raise $16,000)

To read more about Eli’s story on Instagram search ‪#‎ChocolateDropEli‬ and to learn more about Stella’s story on Instagram search ‪#‎SweetStellaBella‬.

Facebook photos from the day Stella and I met by @wanderingwithmary.

[Please feel free to share]

joy

I’ve been missing our sweet outreach kiddos this week. I miss their shy smiles, the sound of the razor scooter whipping around the compound, and how smart they looked with their new Sole Hope shoes on. They helped me choose JOY – each and everyday. On some level, I think the memory of them being here is tied to other emotions. The #blogHOPE team was here when they first arrived, and how I miss them so. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t even think that’s enough to describe these sweet littles.

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I need to send a quick shoutout to @wanderingwithmary. She gave me the best LightRoom tutorial, and I will be forever grateful to her for that. Editing of all future pictures are in some way thanks to her. #editingwithmary

breathe you in

Inspiration.

1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something – especially creative.
2. The drawing in of breath; inhalation.

One word. Two meanings. One life.

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This week, the Sole Hope Uganda Team has the honor of hosting eight amazing bloggers as they journey alongside Sole Hope and invite their followers to experience Uganda with them as they share stories daily. These ladies are not only inspiring writers, but I can now truly call them all friends. They use their voices to display their hearts so gracefully and elegantly. They inspire their readers. They inspire their followers. They inspire me. They make me want to write more eloquently. They make me want to allow others to peak into my heart instead of closing it off like I so often do. They make me want to slow down and just write.

They are walking through so many “firsts” this week. For some, it is their first time in this beautiful country of Uganda. For most, today was their first jigger removal clinic. It’s almost as if I’m reliving it for the first time through them. The expressions on their faces, their willingness to serve, and the smiles exchanged between them and the sweet ebony faces staring back at them. Inspiration. I need not be so wrapped up in the logistics of the day. I need to smile more freely. I need to remember why I’m doing this. In many ways, the experience I’ve gained after attending many jigger removals is irreplaceable – at the same time, I need to approach each removal with fresh eyes. I need to take in the small moments. I need to connect with those sweet faces staring back at me. I need to be more in awe of the One who allows us to do this week after week.

Inspiration – breathing in and breathing out.

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Photo Credit: Asher Collie

The act of being inspired would be nothing without the One who ultimately inspires us. Without His breath in our lungs, we would have no life worth living. His breath is our inspiration.

Inhale.

Inspiration.

Exhale.

Inspiration.

Breathe.

you never fail

It’s been a week for the books.

Highs and lows. Excitement and heartbreak. Love and pain.

I don’t think my brain has actually processed or dealt with much of what this held.

It started as a pretty “standard” week – which, in Uganda, is a very loose description. You never truly know what a day, let alone a week, will look like. As I’ve said many times before, you never know what will come your way, or how it will unfold.

We had someone staying at the guesthouse for the past month that I had met a few times state-side last year. It was nice to have someone here to not only help with the day-to-day tasks, but it was nice to have someone around who I could process things with. I could say something out loud and know that there would be no judgement coming back at me. I was so thankful – especially during this time of adjustment and times of homesickness. She left to head home on monday, but through a series of what I’m sure was God orchestrated events, she missed her flights and was stuck with me an extra four days. Let the week of the unexpected begin – on a good note.

On Tuesday, seven children arrived from Kamuli to stay at the outreach house. I, for the first time, was feeling fairly comfortable with their arrival – I had a general idea of what needed to be done, and I had things under control. I was able to assist our nurse, Teddy, and another jigger digger, Lillian, by taking notes – something I have come to love (more on that later). The day was busy and intense, but I was feeling good and things were on the right track.

Wednesday brought completed cabanas and an afternoon of working outside.

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Thursday was our normal clinic day in Wakisi. I was able to sit between Teddy (our nurse) and Geoffrey (another remover) and once again take notes. This week the job involved a lot of comforting of scared kiddos. I put one girl on my lap and held her tight as Teddy started removing one small jigger from her foot – she didn’t handle it well. She screamed, pulled her foot away, and I could feel her whole body become tense. It was the first time I have ever had to restrain a child while jiggers were being removed. While it was a quick process – something just hit me in the gut. No child should ever have to experience the pain that a jigger brings, let alone be held down to have it removed. So many times, I just go into adrenaline mode and my brain doesn’t always register the situation. I do what I have to do, but I don’t necessarily think too much into it. A lot of times, this is necessary to be able to properly care for whoever you’re working with. But sometimes, you put up walls and you don’t think about the reality that so many of these kids face. Little did I know that when I uttered the phrase, “this is the first time I’ve and to retrain a kid” – something so much bigger was coming right around the corner.

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Friday morning welcomed a strong cup of coffee and a much needed Jesus Calling devotional. I was the mood where anything could set me off. I could feel it brewing, and I knew that something had to give. The first paragraph of the daily devotional was:

“Come to Me for rest and refreshment. The journey has been too much for you, and you are bone-weary. Do not be ashamed of your exhaustion. Instead, see it as an opportunity for Me to take charge of your life.”

Well…how fitting. The next part started with:

“Remember that I can fit everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different. Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting that this is where I intended to you to be.”

This slowly became less funny – as if He picked up my hand and said yet again, ‘Do you trust me?’ He hasn’t let me down in the past, but still I live in fear everyday. I need to give up my control – taking each day moment by moment.

Little did I know, in the moments of reading that, how much that would play into the events of the day.

Photo by Asher Collie

Photo by Asher Collie

Meet Joy.

She is pure JOY – through and through – but knowing her past, you would have no idea why.

We were connected to her by a referral from the police through some friends we met recently. Her father is in prison. Her mother’s whereabouts are unknown. So much hurt has plagued her life – yet this is her demeanour. I still don’t fully understand it, but all I can say is that she is an inspiration.

300 jiggers. Half in her hands. Half in her feet.

After several failed attempts to remove jiggers on Friday, the decision was made to take her to a nearby private hospital to have her sedated while we removed the jiggers. Each day her condition would worsen – something needed to be done. Even with several doses of meds to sedate her, she spent an hour and a half crying out while all 300 jiggers were removed. Just two days before I had made a comment about not having to restrain a child up until that point – I had no idea what was coming.

Yesterday ended in complete exhaustion, frustration, and a general lack of JOY. All it took was one look at that little girl – a giggle escaping her lips – and everything else melted away. So much in this world isn’t fair. So much corruption surrounds our every day. Yet, there is still JOY. There is JOY in the small moments. Those smiles make up for all of the hard moments that the day threw at us.

We have to choose JOY.

We need to embrace JOY.

We need to live out JOY.

This girl is doing it so much better than any of us.

She is our JOY.

It’s been a week for the books.

Highs and lows. Excitement and heartbreak. Love and pain. JOY.

face to face

Emotional.

Uplifting.

Exhausting.

Rewarding.

Indescribable.

That, in five words, was my day.

I still don’t completely know what happened. I still don’t understand everything that I witnessed. I still don’t know the impact that these kids have made on my life. But somehow, I know that today was monumental.

Waking up this morning, I had a general “idea” about what the day would look like. I knew that the family staying in the outreach house would be on their way home and an entirely new family would start that same journey that they did just over a week and a half ago. While that’s essentially what happened, that’s just the beginning of the story.

I had a fairly productive morning knocking things off of my to-do list left and right – and I’m quite sure that I was walking tall and proud having done so. At about 11:15 my day flipped. The new children arrived at the outreach house (seven of them – to be exact) and my brain went into panic mode. So many thoughts

whipped across my mind: ‘I don’t know what to do!’ ‘I can’t reach anyone that can help me.’ ‘Do I cry, or just smile and pretend I know what should be happening?’ While my face made the choice to go with the fake smile, my brain was fixing to cry. Through a handful-and-a-half of “fake it ‘till you make it” decisions, I slowly started to own the situation I was put in. I wasn’t sure if I was making all of the right decisions, but I knew that I was doing all that I could. The afternoon continued on as such, support arrived, and things started to level out – and I think I was able to take a shallow breath.

The rest of the afternoon continued to be a whirlwind of activity that never really subsided. I was running on adrenaline – and continued going through the motions like I knew I had to. Then all of a sudden, I was jerked back into the reality of the moment.

We found out this morning, after previous testing that lead us to believe otherwise, one of the sweet boys staying in the outreach house was HIV positive. On one level it was heartbreaking, but on another level it was a relief to have found this out before he left. Since the children are from a village at least three hours away from Jinja, this little boy needed to stay at the house a little longer so they could set up a treatment plan. While this meant that some plans needed to be rearranged, it was doable to have him stay with us until he was able to receive treatment.

His brother had a different reaction.

In his eyes, he had to go home without his brother. He had to leave his brother in an unfamiliar place for a reason that he probably doesn’t fully understand. He had to go home without his other half who arrived with him just a week earlier. He was a wreck. Tears that turned into sobs that turned into a heartbroken group of teenagers witnessing this entire event. I can’t imagine what that little mind was thinking about having to walk away and leave his brother with these somewhat unfamiliar people.

In that moment, I knew I couldn’t just react to the situation, but I needed to respond to what I was unfolding in front of me. I scooped up that sweet boy into my arms and just held him. He tensed up his body when I first picked him up, but as I held him tight he just sunk into my arms. He was still wailing, but I could just tell that in that moment, all he needed was to be comforted.

He slowly started to calm down, only to start back up when it actually came time to leave. He was half fighting being in my arms, but he clung so tightly to my neck that I couldn’t have put him down if I wanted to. I knew that he was opposed to everything going on, but he needed that comforting arm around him.

As I walked him to the gate – still upset, but slowly calming down – I realized what I special moment I was able to share with that precious little boy. It was a moment I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but it was so powerful to be a part of. We hadn’t just treated his jiggers, played soccer with him, and gave him a pair of shoes that were his own, but we were able to love that little guy with everything we had for not only the week and half stay with us, but in those last vulnerable moments. I don’t think I fully realized how much that moment got me through the rest of the day until I sat down – completely exhausted. I didn’t realize how that small piece in time changed the course of my day. It may not have changed the tasks that needed to be accomplished, but it changed how my heart viewed those hurdles.

Those tears made me realize that I only see a glimpse of what these families are going through.

That tight grip on my neck gave me the power to push through the rest of the day.

That little boy gave me a perspective unlike I anything I could have experienced on my own.

I can’t take these moments for granted. Today is going in my forever memory box. I’m not just here to oversee staff, remove jiggers, and put shoes on feet – I’m here to be the hands and feet of Jesus – and the kids are doing a better job of that than me.

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