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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heartbeats

Here’s to the living the little moments. The everyday. And two blogs in one week.

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Sometimes I forget how incredible it is that this gets to be my “everyday”. In the hard moments, the stress, the exhaustion, the missing of family and friends – these smiles greet me every morning. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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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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forevermore

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What a weekend.

Thursday started with a rather chilly ride to Asheville, a quick Target run, a drive to Greenville, a bit of procrastinating at Starbucks, and a trip to the Greenville airport – all before 10:30am. We picked up our much anticipated guest Natalie (a blogger and Sole Hope Advocate who can be found at Take the Cannoli) just in time for me to realize that I had forgotten all 200 shoe patterns that we needed for the conference. It was 11am and the weekend was off to a…stressful start. While Nat was ecstatic that she would be able to visit the Sole Hope office in Asheville, Asher and I were trying to crunch the numbers and figure out how we could fix this little mistake of mine. We started our trek up the mountain and found ourselves at one of my favorite overlooks. It’s the perfect time of year to visit the mountains, and Nat was experiencing all this beauty for the first time. We continued to Brevard, said our quick hellos, and sped off to Asheville as fast as our loaded down van would allow. A quick visit to the office, three inhaled crepes, and a walk around the block later – we were on our way to Greenville – again.

After the morning chaos, the stress of setting up our booth, and forgetting to give the van keys to the valet, we settled in for a much anticipated weekend at the Allume Conference. Sole Hope had the honor of sponsoring the conference which allowed us to not only share our mission on stage in front of 450 attendees, but we were able to host an Impact Opportunity on Saturday in the form of a shoe cutting party. It was incredible seeing this group of 45 women coming together with the SOLE purpose of cutting shoe uppers that will eventually be put on the foot of a child in Uganda. I was honored to be a part of the event, and was taken aback by how excited everyone was about being involved with Sole Hope. I loved seeing people as excited about these projects as I am. It was a successful weekend of not only connecting people with Sole Hope, but making personal connections with so many women that attended the conference.

It was three days full of laughter, tears, ridiculous humor, blogging, and friendships. To say the three of us had fun would be just the beginning. To say we got enough sleep would be a joke. To say I’m thankful for new and old heart friends would be an understatement. To say I’m even more passionate about Sole Hope would be nothing but the truth.

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Asher was able to bring back a few of the shoes whose uppers were cut in the States, sent to Uganda, and have returned in the form of the most adorable shoes. While I spent all weekend being a little jealous (okay, unbelievably jealous) that they do not yet come in my size, we had a few pairs that fit Nat like a glove. Clearly, a mini photo shoot in the cold (or freezing cold if your Miss SoCal Natalie) air of Greenville followed. Hopefully these shoes will be available for purchase in the States within the next year.

From the USA to Uganda to South Carolina – these shoes are world travellers.

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The weekend was more of a success than I could have ever imagined. I left with a refreshed passion for Sole Hope and blogging. I can’t wait to share new updates in both of those areas, but we’ll leave that for another post…

The weekend was filled with amazing speakers that made you think about life and art in a completely new way. Refreshed, renewed, and a little sleep deprived, we left the conference excited about not only the future, but where we are right now.

You are where you are for such a time as this; not to make an impression, but to make a difference. – Ann Voskamp