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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shadowfeet

“When the world has fallen out from under meI’ll be found in you, still standing.” – Brooke Fraser

A shadow – the absence of light. In order for a shadow to be created, something must come between it and a light source. Perhaps it’s a building or a tree. Maybe it’s a cloud that has placed itself directly between the sun and us down here on the ground. A shadow may be just the thing you were looking for on that unbearably hot afternoon in the middle of July. To a photographer, a shadow could be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. To me, a shadow represents somewhere safe. As much as you crave the sunlight, there is a certain comfort and safety in the protection of the shade.

A shadow can serve a very distinct purpose for us. But while we treasure any shade we can find, it wouldn’t be a beautiful summer day if you didn’t spend some time beneath the warm rays of sunshine. At some point you have to venture out of the shadows and embrace the powerful rays and extreme heat. You have to move past the shaded areas and march right out into the glorious sun.

There are so many points in life where you can either embrace the sunshine or hide in the shadows. There have been so many times lately that I have found myself huddled in the shade when I could could be taking in all that summer has to offer. There’s a certain protection and familiarity that comes with the cool escape of a shaded place.

It’s comfortable, it’s cool, it’s safe.

Safe. Man, do we ever like that word. Safety is something we naturally crave. We’re always looking for a way to make a situation or experience more comfortable. We don’t like to feel unsure or at risk. We tend to like the feelings of consistency and being at ease. But how does that further us in any way? If you don’t take that somewhat uncomfortable step of opening the door to the unfamiliar, you’ll never know what’s on the other side. Heck, there may not be sunshine and rainbows behind every door you open, but you’ll never know if you don’t turn that doorknob. Even if the door has a window, you won’t feel the summer heat until you physically open the door.

I love being spontaneous, but that doesn’t always mean I like taking risks. I love discovering places and experiencing new things, but they have to be on my terms. I have to feel comfortable with my “risk” before I take that first step outside. I’ve realized how safe my life has become. There’s nothing wrong with feeling comfortable and protected, but what a boring and unfulfilling life we would live if we felt comfortable every moment of every day. Some of the most amazing times in my life have been opening that door and jumping out of the house without thinking twice about it. Moving as far away as I did this spring was more of a risk than I’ve ever taken. That’s not to say that there was not thought and prayer that went into the decision, but when the time was right I was able to open that door and step out into the great unknown. I’ve grown more in the past few months than I ever have, but once again I find myself seeking out the protection of a shadow. I’m stuck inside the house, looking out the window but not feeling the warm summer air. Yup, I’ve locked myself in the house yet again.

I’ve reached the point where I’m feeling a little claustrophobic in that house. I know the way out, I just don’t seem to know how to unlock that door and take the first step outside. I know what I want, I just don’t seem to know how to get from point A to point B. I’ve been so worried about trying to find the key that I haven’t even tried to see if the door is unlocked. I’ve been so focused on the plan, I’ve forgotten that the first step has to be moving my feet towards that door and turning the handle. If I want to make something happen, I have to stop putting every piece together in my mind and just start figuring out the puzzle. The piece is hardly ever put in the right spot the first time, but eventually it finds it’s place. Although you may trip down the first few steps, there’s someone that will grab your hand and steady your feet. No one expects you to do this on your own, but you have to be willing to step out in faith knowing that he’ll be there to help you find your balance and encourage you with every step.

Just move your feet. Leave the shadows. Open the door. Enjoy the sunshine. Experience the unknown. It’s the only way you’ll ever discover anything new. Maybe we’ll find that we like the sunshine and lemonade so much better than the air-conditioned house.