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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called me higher

Change: a one word description of my life.

From moving to North Carolina, to an internship in Nashville, to a two-and-a-half month trip to Uganda that turned into something very different than I had planned – change and uncertainty have been in the air through all of it. I’ve never known exactly where I’ll land in the next season, but I’ve grown fairly comfortable with the unknown and the excitement that anticipation brings. Now moving to Nashville for three months was one thing, but this next step is bigger and more unexpected than any of the moves up to this point.

Everyone says that “Africa will change you”. While I didn’t discredit this fact, I just waltzed my way over to Uganda in May expecting it to be an adventure, but not wanting to put much pressure on the situation. Of course, I left Uganda a different person than I arrived there just two months before. I don’t think I can put words together to describe that, and probably never will. I’ve always said that I’d love to do short term missions and couldn’t necessarily see myself committing to living full-time halfway around the world. I knew better than to say “never”, but I cuddled up as close to the word as I could without saying it out loud. I should have known what was coming around the corner.

After two months of praying, discussing, and freaking out later, I have committed to (at least) one year with Sole Hope in Uganda. I know, I’m {insert your preferred word here}. I promise that I’ve told myself that same thing. I still think I’m crazy and there are days when I second guess my choice, but God has so deliberately placed this in front of me that I can do nothing but take his hand and trust where he leads. (I even went as far as tattooing this on my arm as a daily reminder.) A day of baby steps and avoided panic attacks now qualifies as “successful”.

At the end of December, I will be packed up and Jinja bound. To be honest, the living there isn’t my worry at this point. It’s not in the jumble of airport connections, or the long flights. My anxiety lies in the next five weeks. I have approximately five weeks to pack up my life in North Carolina, buy the needed supplies for my move, and say goodbye to some of the people that I love the most. I have so many things spinning through my mind that I don’t even know what to start doing first.

I need to breathe. Sometimes I forget. (Ironically enough, I have another tattoo that reads “God is Breath” as a reminder that when I don’t have breath, He will breathe for me.)

I need to make lists.

I need to take a break from the chaos of life and mentally prepare myself for the biggest jump I’ve ever attempted.

While this time of preparation is filled with stress, it is also filled with unmatched anticipation and unbelievable excitement. I cannot wait to get back and hug all of the people I got to know over the summer. I CANNOT wait to be back causing trouble with the Collie kids and holding that not-so-little Eli. I can’t wait for good cappuccinos, boda rides with accompanying soundtracks, and that beautiful fish room that I’ve been dreaming of since I first laid eyes on it. I can’t believe I get to be a part of something I believe in 100%. I know there will be stressful days, but I know the joy in the small moments will melt all of that away.

Change.

Something different. Something challenging. Something rewarding.

Change.

Live for the unexpected. Respond, don’t react. Be present. Be willing.

Love does.

where feet may fail me

A lack of words and ability to form comprehensible sentences has been the reason for my lack of blog posts and updates.

The last couple of weeks have been filled with down time and processing. The first half of my trip came to a close just as Michael finished his time here. The week leading up to his departure was filled with a great jigger removal in Wakisi and other team activities before the large clinic in Mblumuti. This day proved to be somewhat melancholy for both Michael and myself. I felt completely removed from all the action that was taking place. It was almost as if I was watching myself take part in the clinic. It was an overall confusing day that hopefully I can put words to at some point in the coming weeks.

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That weekend brought a few last adventures while we were still three which included (but was not limited to) a ridiculous kayaking adventure that brought to light the fact that it’s easier to paddle upstream on the Nile than downstream, more rope swinging injuries, a couple last visits to Flavours, and a final boda race back from dinner that Sunday night. It was a hard goodbye, especially knowing that life around here would look very different. It definitely took a few tough days to adjust to a new “normal”. What a wonderful month.

So many laughs.

So many adventures.

So many good conversations.

Through transitions, time here in Jinja still seems to pass at an unexplainable rate. Somehow it’s been two weeks since Michael left. Somehow I only have about three weeks left here. My brain isn’t even close to being in a place where I can start processing that upcoming transition. My heart is still very much here in Uganda, and I can’t imagine having to adjust back to life stateside. I’m trying to be very present in my last few weeks here. I’m trying not to wish them away in the anticipation of my departure. Two-and-a-half months seemed like more than an adequate amount of time to be here. I thoroughly expected to be 150% ready to head home after my ten weeks here. Oh, how that has not at all been the case.

Sometimes I just want to cancel my ticket and not leave.

Sometimes all I want to do is be back in America with my friends.

Sometimes I don’t at all know what I want.

While this mess of thoughts has been running through my head, Asher and I have been able to be a part of something that could only be “a God thing”. About two weeks ago when the team was out in a nearby village, a grandfather approached one of the team members who was holding his grandson and asked if she was able to feed the baby. (Wet nurses are still quite common in these parts, so the question was not quite as out in left field as you may be thinking.) After some inquiry throughout the next few days, we found out that this baby (who is a neighbor of Joyce who works here at the Sole Hope house) has lived with his grandparents, as well as five cousins, ever since his mother died in childbirth. They were not able to provide this little one with proper formula and had been feeding him cow’s milk, sugar, and porridge. This completely broke both of our hearts. This little baby, who was just over two months old, wasn’t having one of his basic needs met. His jajja (grandmother), grandfather, and extended family loved and cared for him with everything they had, but they were not able to meet all of his physical needs. This sweet little boy weighed (with our best educated guesses mixed with some loose translation) approximately six pounds.

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Six pounds. Two months old. Heartbreaking.

He was nothing but skin and bones. The first day we saw him he was hardly responsive. He would open his eyes, but would barely move his arms or legs. His fists were completely clenched all of the time. We spent a good few hours with this little one and his jajja, provided them with a can of formula, filtered water, and a thorough explanation of how to prepare the formula properly. We took them back with the promise of checking on him within the next day or so. By this point, that little peanut already held a place in both of our hearts. We stayed true to our promise and checked on him at the end of the week. I still cannot believe the difference we experienced in his demeanor in just those short few days. He was more alert, more responsive, and grinning wide enough to melt your heart. Jajja kept telling Asher and Drü that they were now her children and this little boy’s parents. (At this point we still didn’t really know what his name was. It is a Muslim name that even our African friends could not pronounce). Jjajja was very adamant that Asher would pick out his name since she was his mother now. The name she decided on was Elias, which means “my God is Yahweh”. A meaning that I believe holds even more significance with him being born into a Muslim family. Who knows how God may move in their hearts through this entire process.

Let’s just say we love our Eli time. We have been watching him some days so that Jajja can take care of her other grandchildren, and we can monitor his feedings a little bit closer. As I write this, he is peacefully sleeping two rooms away. I’m still in awe of the fact that God has allowed us to play a part in this little boy’s life. Not only are we able to partner with this family and provide things that will allow them to care for him in the ways he needs, but this little one has been changing my heart. I can’t even begin to think about the day that I have to say goodbye to that little man. I’ve become more and more aware of the fact that I am going to have to put my trust in God to have his tiny life in His hands. He loves Eli more than I could ever dream of. He has a plan for this life beyond what I could even comprehend right now.

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Being removed from this will be heartbreaking. I won’t be involved in his everyday life. I won’t get to see his precious smile. I won’t be here to witness all of the milestones he’ll hit over the first few years.

It’s definitely going to be a lesson in trust. In giving the things that I can’t control over to God. He has a plan far beyond what I can envision. Where my feet may fail me, God still has Eli’s life in His hands. He has my life in His hands. Let me have trust without borders. Let me go wherever you have called me. I’ve been so blessed to be given the opportunity to hold this precious life in my hands. Sleep well little Eli, God’s got both of us in his hands.

smile

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Two and a half weeks. how have I already been here for over two weeks?

On one hand, it feels like I’ve already done so much since arriving in Jinja, but on the other hand, it feels like I just pulled up to the Sole Hope house yesterday.

Two weeks to fall in love with this place.

Two weeks to know that I don’t want to leave.

Two weeks to start thinking about a return trip.

It’s such a unique culture. It has it’s own rhythm. The pace has been compared to that of a small beach town back in the states. Replace the surfboards with bodas and the sand with red dirt and it’s a pretty accurate description.

Observations/thoughts so far:

  1. You can make plans, but they probably won’t go as planned. Things will be delayed, things will come up, and sometimes it will just pour rain. You go with the flow and adjust accordingly.
  2. Although I have seen three stop signs, I have never once seen anyone observe them. Instead of “stop” it seems to be “go when you want to go and pray that there is no one in your path”. And by that I mean the boda driver goes when he wants to go and you are at his mercy.
  3. I will probably be ridiculously sick of avocados and mangos when I leave, but I know that I’ll miss them terribly when I get home.
  4. I want nothing more than a hot shower.
  5. Coca-Cola tastes 10x better in Africa. Thank you cane sugar.
  6. Uganda is a beautiful country.
  7. Even if there is wifi available, it probably won’t work. Or you may fall asleep before your Facebook homepage loads.
  8. You can easily have three children holding on to each of your hands at once. Perhaps a few more.
  9. If you wear sandals, your feet will be red by the end of the day.
  10. Everything is better as a chalkboard.

Needless to say, life here continues to be interesting, yet fun. Some days are super relaxed with not much on the agenda but a trip into town for an americano and a few instagram uploads, while some days come with a list of things to accomplish. Somehow, everyday fills up with errands, babysitting, and other Sole Hope tasks. Each day ends with a meal surrounded by friends that tend to include a few good laughs. Although, a few evenings have been graced by uncontrollable laughter with tears to follow.

This change of pace has been a difficult, but needed adjustment. I’ve been forced to slow down and enjoy my time here. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my to-do list may not play out as I intended. I tend to burry myself in the jumping from one task to another. I plan out my time, know exactly what’s coming next, and move from one task to the other without giving it much thought. As much as I still find myself trying to jump right back into that “safe” routine here, that has not been how things have played out at all. Although I find myself getting frustrated at times, dare I say that I’m enjoying every minute of my non-scheduled “routine”.

I’m still trying to find my footing. I’m still determining what the next few months here may look like. I’m still curious to see what happens.

I have to say that one of my favorite things so far has been the time spent in the villages. If you know me at all, you know that I love being around kiddos. Village days bring many “Mzungu!” (meaning white person) screams and enough little smiles to melt your heart several times over. I’ve never experienced something so exhausting, yet so joy filled. Although I have made many attempts to capture those captivating white smiles popping against that beautiful ebony skin, nothing can do that little giggle justice. I wish I could take those precious laughs with me, but each time I must settle with a few waves and the echoing sound of “Mzungu, bye!” while looking forward to our next meeting. The joy that they have is infectious, and I’m trying to bottle up as much of it as I can.

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Lessons learned so far:

  1. Be flexible and go with the flow.
  2. It’s okay to barter with your boda drivers.
  3. People will try to take advantage of you because you are a mzungu.
  4. If a mango smells disgusting, there’s probably a worm in it.
  5. ENOing in Africa is where it’s at.
  6. Sometimes Saturday nights involve boda races.
  7. Ugandans are beautiful people.
  8. Slowing down isn’t a bad thing.
  9. Being here isn’t easy, but it’s worth all the sacrifices.
  10. The next two months are going to fly by far too quickly.

Oh life, what an adventure you’ve become.

make us ready

Uganda has been good to me. Here I sit on the top bunk (I have about six to choose from) with Gregory Alan Isakov playing in one ear and the sound of falling rain in the other. This music makes me feel like I’m somehow sitting back in Nashville, but the smell of the rain and the sticky heat I’m sitting in quickly remind me that I’m halfway around the world in a country that is still very foreign to me. Sometimes being surrounded by familiar people creates the feeling of normalcy, when really just beyond the gate is a whole culture that is completely different than anything I have ever experienced.

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Saturday proved to be a very quick reminder that I am completely out of my normal surroundings. We made the fairly short drive to a surrounding village where Drü and Asher have previous connections. This was the location where most of us would experience our first jigger removal clinic. (Go to http://www.solehope.com/who-we-are/our-story/ for more information about jiggers and the importance of prevention/removal.) It was thought that this would be a fairly short clinic day where we would visit several families who were known to be suffering from jiggers. About three hours after our anticipated completion time, we found ourselves having to call it quits. While I’m sure we could have found many more hours of work, we had to finish somewhere. However, it did allow the Sole Hope team to determine that this area was more affected by jiggers than previously thought, and will allow them to plan more clinics in the area.

That, in a very tiny nutshell, was my first jigger removal clinic. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve had so far in Uganda, but it was one of the most challenging. While the living conditions and smell brought me right back to my time in Cambodia, this experience was completely different and overwhelming. The sights, the smell, the people, and the consistent flood of children wanting to hold your hand lead to a sensory overload. While I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it, there were too many things going on for my brain to even begin processing pieces of it. While the medical aspect of it was not completely foreign to me, the nature of the issue was hard to grasp. These tiny children, some less than a year old, were so severely affected by something that can be easily prevented and treated. These little kiddos are being put through such pain and can have so many health issues stemming from something that can be removed and treated in a matter of minutes. It was heartbreaking.

Photo Cred: Tiffany N.

Photo Cred: Tiffany N.

It is completely different hearing about the “jigger issue” in Africa, knowing that it’s such a large problem, encouraging people to be a part of the Sole Hope mission, and then physically being able to see how people are so personally affected by such a little bug. Everything completely changes when you see the face that is paired with that infected foot, which cries tears of pain, but does not pull away the foot that is being poked and prodded. It suddenly goes from being a statistic or picture, to being a person.

A person with a story.

A person with a family.

A person whose life is valued by our Creator.

This person who was so beautifully and wonderfully made is suffering. They’re suffering and there is something I can do about it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt completely helpless, yet incredibly motivated. There is something I can do.

I’m here.

I’m available.

I’m willing.

I know that I was put in this situation for a specific reason. At this point, I still don’t completely know what that reason is. However, this is something I can do while I’m here. This may be one of the reasons that I’m here. This may be the reason that I’m here. This may be a small step in my journey to something leading in an entirely different direction. Right now, I can only be here. I can use the resources and situations I am given to make Him greater. That is my goal. Being a broken human, I know it won’t turn out as perfectly as I would like it to. It probably won’t be efficient. It probably won’t be pretty to watch. I’m trying to “be” right where He has me placed. I’m physically here and I’m trying to align my mind with my physical presence. He knows what He’s doing, and I hope to SEE even a glimpse of what that vision is.

set a fire

Sole Hope.

I first heard this name over a year ago from a good friend in North Carolina. As she started telling me about what they were doing in the United States and Uganda, I don’t think I could make it to their website fast enough. I started reading about how the idea for Sole Hope came to be and all that they were doing at that point. After reading through the website and watching some of their YouTube videos, I knew that I somehow wanted to be a part of what they were doing.

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Check out the Sole Hope website. (They explain everything that they do much more eloquently than I ever could.)

I had first contacted Drü early last spring wanting to find out more about how I could specifically get involved with what they were doing. At that point, I knew that I was moving to North Carolina, but I really didn’t have a single detail past that. With the craziness of moving and all that came along with it, I never ended up meeting with Drü and those emails got lost in the chaos of moving from one country to another.

Now let’s rewind to October. I finally decided that I needed to contact them again with the intention of making sure that I followed through with it this time. I sent Drü a message and a quick few emails later, I was signed up to help with their annual Art of HOPE event in Asheville.

This may surprise some of you, but I may be one of the shyest people you will ever meet. I know, I know…that’s now how I come across. I’ve worked many years to get to the point of coming across and confident and comfortable. I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a good chance that if I’m put in a new situation, I’m freaking out on the inside. I’ve made a point to not let that feeling hold me back, but that does not make things easier…at all.

I showed up for the Art of HOPE event not knowing who I was really looking for or what I was doing. The funny thing is, the minute I met everyone at the Altamont Theatre that afternoon, all my nerves disappeared. Working with Holly and Jessica that afternoon really solidified the fact that this was an organization that I really wanted to be a part of. I was also able meet Drü and Asher that night and had the privilege of hanging Asher’s wonderful photographs. That night was not only a great introduction to Sole Hope, but it was a wonderful event that involved so many amazing artists and photographers.

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Two weeks later I started what would develop into an internship at Sole Hope. I have loved every moment that I’ve been at the office and it has been a pleasure working with everyone there. (Okay, so counting hundreds of bead necklaces that ended up sprawled all over the floor may not have been the most fun I’ve ever had, but it does make for a good laugh now and again.) I’ve so enjoyed getting to know Jessica, Holly, Drü and Asher more, and this internship has truly turned out to be a blessing for me. It’s really solidified the fact that this is something that I could really see myself doing long term. I’ve even found myself putting more effort into my other job, just because I so look forward to heading over to Asheville and the Sole Hope office in “that building behind the iron”.

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Next week Drü and Asher make the move to Uganda where they will be running the Jinja side of Sole Hope. It will be sad to see them go, but I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through them over there. Hopefully I’ll be able to say “hi” in person this summer when I journey over there myself (and maybe listen to a little bit of Celine with Asher, just because we can).

Dear Sole Hope, you guys are awesome. I’m so thankful for the opportunity you’ve given me to join in the fun and gain so much experience that no textbook could ever begin to teach me. Y’all are great and I promise to try my best to keep your supply of Nibs at an acceptable level.

Head over to the Sole Hope Website and take a look at what these guys are all about. Check out their shoe cutting parties and feel free to order lots of merch. I’ll even write you a nice little note to send with it. Also, say a prayer for the Collie’s as they prepare to make the HUGE move to Uganda.

“Only those who risk going too far can possible find out how far one can go.” – T. S. Eliot