But share our lives with you, too…

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“We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives.”

1 Thessalonians 2:8

Throughout this past chapter of my life serving as a missionary overseas in Jinja, Uganda, one thing I know is this:

I came and learned way more from the people here than they could ever learn from me.

I think that’s what life in ministry with Jesus is all about, though…

Yes, I followed God’s call to come and serve the least of these (widows, orphans, and vulnerable women and children) during this season, but more importantly,

I shared life with them

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I learned their culture. I fell in love with not just my friends I worked with and alongside at the James Place, but with their whole families and communities, too.

We shared meals. Shared burdens. Shared joys.

Shared our lives.

We took turns bathing little ones, sweeping floors, tending to cuts and wounds, tucking little ones in for nap time, and holding babies while the other worked and did chores. 

I received life advice and wisdom from older and wiser African women. I got to hear their stories and how they ended up at the James Place, and where their dreams are taking them now – whether it be a new business venture, a move or change for their family, or a burning desire to share God’s love with their communities and friends.

How powerful…

As I not only had the opportunity to be used by God to spread the good news of Jesus in this place through the means of education and encouraging women’s empowerment, I shared life with my friends here.

I spent my weekends and days off with the people that made every second of being in Uganda worth it, who brought me more life and joy than I could have ever dreamed of. Memories and stories of God’s incredible faithfulness that will last for generations to come, that I will get to share with my family and loved ones for the rest of my days. And that, I have learned, is where true ministry begins. In friendship. In love.

In sharing life.

In weekend visits to their homes, in the middle of the workday life-chats, and in the shared joys and laughter of loving and serving those we care so deeply for…

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Going where God calls, loving others like He loves, and being loved by Him through the people He so divinely and purposefully places on our paths along the way…

To be molded into more and more of His image.

Through people who know Him and love Him, too.

1 John 4:16 –

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

I saw God in Teacher Rebecca. Her incredible wisdom and integrity. The way she so intentionally led our students in not only their letters and numbers, but in their walks with the Lord. We spent the first thirty minutes in the classroom each morning singing songs about God’s great love and lifting our hands in prayer, asking for God to bless us, bless our teachers, bless what we are going to eat, heal the sick, feed the poor…and the prayers our little ones have memorized by heart go on and on. It was truly the most beautiful thing to experience, and my favorite part of each day with them. 

And how amazing that, on one of my last days with her in the classroom, she had an important teacher observation (by her school supervisors) and not only did she teach an amazing lesson, but she got the highest score in all of the district! God is so so good. And so faithful to allow me to see Rebecca’s own personal growth as a teacher during my time here. All glory to God!

My precious students, and the children from the local slums and villages at our weekly Kids’ Club, were God’s little sheep. God’s little angels to me… to teach me more and more about His love and faithfulness.

And truly showed me that one little seed of faith planted in the heart of a young child can take root, grow, and extend to their families and generations to come.

I saw His gentle, kind, unconditionally loving spirit in each of their little hearts.

In each of their beautiful eyes.

In each of their joyful smiles that spread across their faces, always.

Their futures ahead are bright – with education and the love of Christ in their hearts – nothing can stop them!

I saw God in my friend, Alice. So Godly, beautiful and wise.

The most humble and servant hearted woman I have ever met. Who so selflessly loves her family, supports her husband (who pastors a small church in a local village), and shines Jesus’ love onto everyone she meets. I am so thankful for her motherly love and affection, and the way her family and church welcomed me in and treated me like one of their very own, from the day that I met them!

I saw God in my dear friend here, Grace, who I met my first day here because she was the loving mother of one of my precious students, Joshua.

Oh how thankful I am for her incredibly gentle heart and strong spirit. She is the definition of a Proverbs 31 woman, and I have truly never met someone more hardworking, diligent, and worthy of praise.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness…”

– Proverbs 31: 25-26

Grace is loved and adored not only by her beautiful children, but by all who are lucky enough to know her. Even the little ones nearby that she always welcomes into her home. You can always count on Grace to welcome you with the sweetest smile, most comforting hugs, and words of wisdom encompassing exactly what you needed to hear in that moment – words so fitting that they could only be coming from the Lord Himself, speaking through His beautiful, beloved daughter – Grace.

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And I definitely don’t think it was a coincidence that, on my last visit to see her family in Masese Slums, there were beautiful sunflowers blooming right outside of their home. If you know me at all, you know that sunflowers have always been my favorite flower and bring me so much inexpressible joy.

“And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers, he will certainly care for you…”

– Matthew 6:30 

God is all about the littlest details, and these sunflowers blooming on my last afternoon with Grace were such an example of that to me…

That He cares. For Grace. For her family. For her community. For me. For us all…

And of course, sweet baby Malachi. Oh the number of hours and days I have spent just loving on and cuddling this precious little bundle of joy. It literally hurts to think about not getting to carry him up and down the red dirt path at the James Place every afternoon, but this little angel of the Lord will always hold such a special place in my heart. And I will miss him every single day…I am sure of that.

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And in every beautiful little child and strong, hardworking woman that I was blessed to get to know and spend my days with during my time at the James Place.

Children with a joy so great that it can only be explained by one thing –

the love of Jesus Christ in their hearts.

Women with strength and confidence so unshakable, despite their circumstances, that can only be explained by an infinite, unstoppable, redeeming God.

A God who never, ever leaves their side…

My  heart is just filled to the brim with gratitude for each of these beautiful faces and hearts I have been able to know, love, and share life with during my time here, in the land of the living. I can’t help but think of this verse as each of them come to my mind,

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”

– Philippians 1:3

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I am so grateful for this past season of being fully known and loved by God’s beautiful people – big and small –  in Uganda, but more importantly, of learning how to be fully known and loved by Him…

I love this quote by Oswald Chambers that says,

“The only way is by allowing nothing of the old life to remain, and by having only simple, perfect trust in God – such a trust that we no longer want God’s blessings, but only want God Himself.

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Saying goodbyes and heading into a new season as you close the door on the one behind you is never easy…but I don’t think it was meant to be. If it was easy to say goodbye, then you probably didn’t let your heart feel and fully love, the way God intended it to be. I poured my heart and soul into the people God placed in front of me here, both young and old, and a part of my heart will always be here in Uganda. Forever.

As hard as it was this past week to say goodbye to my students and to my loved ones on my last visits to their homes in the nearby slums and villages, I was so comforted in my morning devotional by the words of Jess Connolly,

“We can go wherever He’s calling us, and we can move forward expecting Him to be right where we are, ready for us wherever we’re headed next…”

And after a season of learning what it looks like to fully rely on Jesus for my every single need while serving day in and day out here in Uganda, I am excited to bring all of these lessons and sweet reminders of His faithfulness into this new season of my upcoming marriage to sweet John Wesley and serving God in whatever He has in store ahead of us. I even have pottery (made by my dear friend Grace, at the James Place) to place in our little fixer-upper home, and a “bridal necklace” that she made and gave me on my final visit to her home, as a way to show me just how excited she was for our upcoming marriage and life together. So so sweet.

As I shared and grew in the love of our Heavenly Father here with the beautiful people of Uganda, we shared our very own lives, too. The highs and the lows. The laughter and sorrow. The beauty of learning life alongside one another.

And it has been the greatest joy.

“We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives.”

1 Thessalonians 2:8

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His love will lead you home…

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Proverbs 3:5-6 –

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

             With full intentions and hopes of coming back after my sister’s wedding, for one last month with my dear friends here, God laid it on my heart this past weekend that it is time to go home, and close this chapter in my life on such a high note. Through a lot of prayer and discernment, and lots of conversations with my Ugandan friends I have been serving with and alongside here, God has made it abundantly clear that He wants me to end this chapter well, with so many wonderful memories and stories of His faithfulness, and fully walk into this next chapter of my life and all that God has ahead of me with my upcoming marriage with sweet John Wesley and so much more. Not at all what I planned or thought, and definitely not an easy decision, but I trust His still, small voice and the nudge He placed on my heart. Because, as we all know, His plans are always way better than our own…

Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.”

           As the time got closer and closer for me to head home for my sister’s wedding, the thought of the upcoming goodbyes to my dear friends, like Grace and Alice, Baby Malachi, and my students and co-teacher, Rebecca, was almost unbearable.

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       After praying and talking with my loved ones here in Uganda, it became abundantly clear that one goodbye was about all my little heart, and their hearts, could handle, and I truly believe the Lord will bring me back to Uganda one day, even if just to visit and introduce my sweet John Wesley to them, if that is God’s will.

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             But I didn’t want to put any of us through the pain of one goodbye after another, and to fly back after my sister’s wedding just for such a short period of time.

             Instead, I believe the Lord is calling me to prayerfully and financially support my dear friends and their families here in Uganda, and entrust them into His merciful hands. Because, at the end of it all, He can care for and provide more for my little ones and friends more than I ever could. I love my students and friends with all of my heart and soul, but He loves them more. Always and forever. And he has them in the palm of His hands. 

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           As my little preschoolers love to sing in the mornings here, “He’s got the wholeeee world in his hands, He’s got the wholeeee world in His hands, He’s got the wholeeee world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands!”

            And He does. I have tasted and seen that He truly does.

             He loves to care for and provide for His children. And as much as it hurts that this is now my last week here in Uganda with friends (big and small) who are more like family now, it is comforting to know that God has a plan. That He has it all under control. He didn’t ever need me here in Uganda. He simply chose to use me as a tiny part of His beautiful, sovereign plan to bring His love into this part of the world. To spread the same light and hope that He has given to me, and to teach me more about Himself through the incredible relationships He led me to develop and learn from during my time here.


             The last four months have been a chapter and season full of so much growth and beauty… more than I could have possibly imagined or asked for. God is so good. And so so faithful. I am so thankful for these four months of serving Him will all of my heart, soul, and mind, and learning what it looks like to trust Jesus with everything that I have and all that I am. To serve His littlest children and see what true joy looks like in Him alone. And to develop best friends who have made a forever impact on my life, who I will miss dearly and pray for and support the rest of my days.

             I have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to use my education degree and two years of teaching experience back in the States to serve at the James Place Preschool with HEAL Ministries here in Jinja, Uganda, by working alongside and building up the local Ugandan teaching staff. In particular, my incredible co-teacher during my time here, Teacher Rebecca.

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             In discussing this incredibly hard decision the Lord was leading me to with her and the Director of our Ministry, it was wild to see how God had already softened their hearts as well, to fully support and encourage me to follow what He was telling me to do. That He has a reason for sending me home earlier than I had originally planned, and that the time I spent loving and serving my classroom of students and fellow teachers was used for His glory, and that all that God had asked me to get done in terms of curriculum planning and teacher development had been accomplished in the past four months, more than enough. It was like God affirming, yet again, “Your time here is done. Well done, good and faithful servant.” I don’t say all of that to build myself up, but to give God the glory in all that He was able to accomplish in and through my time serving here. He is so good. And so faithful.

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             And to top it all off, I had a sweet friend randomly text me the following verses in a devotional about God being a God of Comfort, and Paul’s sudden change of plans in his own ministry in the Bible, as I was processing this incredibly hard decision and change of plans that God was laying on my heart:

1 Corinthians 1: 12-24 –

…Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee…”

             I definitely don’t think this was a coincidence…but how sweet of King Jesus to so timely have someone, unbeknownst to them, text me the exact verses I needed to see in order to confirm what He had already so clearly been telling me.

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Hebrews 6:9-10 –

“Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case – the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

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             A part of my heart will always be here in Uganda, and I will forever cherish the beautiful relationships and memories I have been so blessed to make during my time serving here. But with such a beautiful testimony of God’s faithfulness from start to finish under my belt, I am heading home in a week from today with a renewed faith in God and all that He can and will do through us, if we simply let Him…

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Ephesians 3:20-21 –

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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His love has led me home,

both literally and figuratively.

God essentially told me, as I asked for His will to be done and not my own, 

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Now, go home, and keep following and trusting me the way you have the past 4 months in Uganda, where I was your daily bread. Your best friend. Your only true comfort. Your source of joy…. Your time in Uganda is done, for now. Close this chapter well, and walk into this new chapter with your head held high and your faith in Me stronger than ever…

I have taken care of you here, and won’t stop now. I am faithful.

My love will lead you home.”

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His love will lead you home, too, friends. Wherever and whatever that may be…

There is a season for all things, but Jesus’ love remains constant through it all…

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Psalm 63:3-4 – “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”

            The seasons here in Uganda may be completely opposite of the seasons back at home in America (on the other side of the world), but seeing flowers bloom and plants come to life (Ugandan springtime) while seeing friends’ pictures of the fall foliage back at home (American fall), has honestly been pretty cool. It has given me such a new perspective on seasons, and the beauty there is in change – the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of something brand new. Something beautiful.

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            I have a little over a week left here in Uganda (one full school week) until I head home for my sister Laura’s wedding – where I will be reunited for 2 weeks with my loved ones, and of course, my handsome fiancé (I am just a little excited about that, if you can’t tell…)!

            But with all that to say, I feel like God has really been whispering to me these words – “Sweet one, there is a season for all things. And I’m with you in each one.”

How beautifully comforting…

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            Despite how much I love and adore the people here in Uganda, it’s okay to be excited to be reunited with loved ones. And it’s okay to be sad, at the same time, about the thought of my time here in Uganda quickly coming to an end. After my upcoming two weeks at home for my sister’s wedding, God willing, I will be coming back to Uganda for about five more weeks, to finish up the school term with my precious preschool students, and spend more sweet time loving on and being loved by my dear friends here.

            So much of my first weeks here, I was missing and desperately longing to be with loved ones back at home. But now that my weeks here are quickly coming to a close, I am already beginning to feel bits and pieces of the pain I will experience at home come December, longing to be back with my loved ones here in Uganda.

It’s funny, though, how God makes us grow in this way…

In seasons.

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             Seasons of great longing. Seasons of waiting. Seasons of great joy. Seasons of great hardship. Seasons of great change. Seasons of mundane. Seasons of healing. Seasons of sorrow. Seasons of excitement. Seasons of fear.

           The seasons go on and on…they never end. And the most beautiful part? They are always changing. Around us in the world, but more importantly, inside of our very own souls.

But in it all, you know what I have learned is constant?

Jesus’ love.

             From little injuries and incidents during my time here, I have been left with little scars on my body. Sweet reminders, as my fiancé loves to tell me, of this season in Africa and how God has been faithful through it all, even when I am not.

2 Timothy 2:13 – 

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

            Whether we feel it or not, He is right there with us, in whatever season – good or bad, steady or great change – we are walking through.

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            I have definitely learned that – through the beautiful ups and heart wrenching downs of being a missionary here in Uganda. Having my heart full to the brim, but yet trampled by hardships and circumstances I am constantly surrounded by, in such a poverty-stricken land, all at the same time.

But seasons…

             It is in these seasons that we grow. That we change. That we let God transform us into who He has created us to be all along.

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             For the exact season we are walking through, and the one just around the bend (that we can’t even see or comprehend yet…but He sure can…). All for the glory of His great name.

And isn’t that so comforting to know?

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             That whether we are serving across the world in a third world country, or caring for our little family or neighbors right in our own hometown, we are right where God wants us for this particular season.

To celebrate new beginnings and watch little ones grow up right before our eyes, like sweet baby Malachi’s first birthday yesterday!

To have sack races and dance parties at recess, and share the joy and laughter of being with those we love.

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To run into smiling faces on our walks home from work or around town.

And to be there for one another when the going gets tough and we just need a friend to lean on and confide in.

 

             I believe it is true, we bloom where we are planted. And God is the great gardener. The one who orchestrates our “planting.” He is the one who places and plants us exactly where He wants us to grow, flourish, and become who He created us to be all along…

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

             So, through it all, the seasons of great joy and of great trial and testing, I will praise my God. The God from whom all blessings flow. The God who has every season of my life right in the palm of His hands.

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             …Just like when He called me to transfer schools after my freshman year of college, when it didn’t make sense in the world’s eyes. Just like when He called me to stick out a tough work situation because He wanted to show up in miraculous ways, when everything in me (and everyone else) told me to just give up. Just like when He asked me to move to Uganda and leave my fiancé and everything I loved back at home, and trust it all into His hands. Because He had better things in store than I could have ever planned or imagined on my own. More of His great love to be shared and experienced.

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             All He calls me, and you, to do is bloom where He plants us. And follow Him where He calls. And praise His name through it all, being image-bearers of His great glory. For His great name.

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Psalm 63:3-4 – “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”

Light of the World

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John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Another translation of this verse says,

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

            I find this verse so encouraging, because in the midst of so much brokenness all around me here in Uganda, in the lives of those near and dear to me, I have seen even more light. Light so incomprehensible that it can only come from above.

Light that outshines darkness… Every. Single. Time.

            I love the description of this concept as like a child with a flashlight. No matter how dark or scary the room or surroundings may be, as soon as they turn that flashlight on, the light overcomes the darkness and shines through, every time.

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In John 8:12, it says,

“Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

             Someone here explained it to me as, when the light comes in, the battle is over. Darkness cannot even compete with the light, because the light shines through, immediately. And where there is light, there is absolutely no room for darkness.

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            Another dear friend here was talking about a vision she had about, as Christians, our call to be lighthouses. Jesus gives us light to shine out to others, beckoning them in to receive the love, grace, and hope that He so desperately wants all to see and experience.

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I love the verse in Matthew 5:14-16, that says,

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

            We are called to be lights in this world. Because, when we know Jesus, He puts His spirit inside of our hearts. And, if you think about it, that means we literally have the  light of the world living inside of us. And how powerful is that!

I see this light in my students.

In my best friend here, Grace.

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In her beautiful, radiant children.

In the smiles and waves of strangers I pass by on the red dirt roads I walk or travel on. In the hugs of little children who run up to me, saying, “Mzungu! Hello! How are you?!” (in the broken bits of English they have picked up on over the years), sometimes in the middle of a FaceTime date with my sweet fiancé back at home. 

            In the joyful spirits of the children from the nearby slums and villages who come to our Saturday Kids’ Club, to play, dance, be fed, and hear about the good news of Jesus Christ. 

             I have been so humbled, daily, by the joy that I see in the midst of some of the most challenging circumstances my friends here face. Whether it is the frequent deaths of family members and friends, the sickness of loved ones, or the struggle to provide financially, I see women who trust in Jesus. Who continue to combat the darkness around them with the light. Who pray without ceasing, wholeheartedly trusting Jesus to provide exactly what they need. To meet them where they are.

             In the lives of my students, I see eyes that have seen and experienced more hurt than I can possibly comprehend, but yet, so much light. And the contagious joy they have every minute of every day, no matter what may have happened at home the night before, is absolutely indescribable.

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             Elevation Worship just came out with a new album, and the lyrics to one of the songs I have had playing on repeat the past few weeks, called God of the Promise, go like this:

“Light of the world, trampled the darkness. Nothing can stop it, you are the God of the promise. Every word, will be accomplished. Nothing can stop it, you are the God of the promise…. Throw off your chains, Jesus destroyed them all. Up from the grave, He is with us now!”

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             My precious fiancé, Wesley Mabry, was speaking so much truth to me the other night during our FaceTime date to encourage me as I continue to serve day in and day out here in Uganda. He started reading in Philippians about the call on these Christians to live a life worthy of the gospel. But the part that really stuck out to Him, that He continued to repeat to me over and over again, said, “…then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:15).

             We are not called to fit in. Or to follow the cultural norm. We are called to be lights in this world. To shine like stars in the night sky. Because in Jesus Christ, we have the greatest light of all, the light of the world, living inside of us!

             A light that was meant to be shared with others, because not only does it brighten up a room or the sky, it brings life and hope to the hearts of those around us. The same hope that has been given to us.

1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

             As I am so beautifully learning from the people I have met here in Uganda, no matter the circumstances around us, we have a light that cannot be taken away. Like my preschoolers’ song, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” we have a light. Every single one of us. And we are called to let it shine for the glory of God!

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Isaiah 60:1 – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

“Take a good look at God’s wonders – they’ll take your breath away.”  ~ Psalm 66:5

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            We had Monday and Tuesday off work this past week for a Ugandan Holiday weekend, and had the incredible opportunity to go explore the beautiful Murchison Falls National Park here in Uganda, and adventure out on a safari.

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            This long weekend was such a needed break and time of refreshment and just soaking in the magic of being here in Africa. And after all that I got to see,  I can now fully agree with what people here like to say, that Africa is “where God makes His home…”

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            There really aren’t words to describe the beauty that I got to witness, but I felt like this verse pretty much summed it up:

Psalm 66:5 – “Take a good look at God’s wonders – they’ll take your breath away.”  

            From the rainbow over the beautiful Murchison Falls (hence the name of the park) to the breathtaking rising of the sun to the way it would so beautifully set back down over the Nile River, I could not help but just be in awe of God’s beautiful creation.

Psalm 19:1 –

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

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            From the inside of our little safari van, I felt like I was seeing God’s masterpiece painted right before my eyes. From the rolling plains, to the rushing river, to the blue haze of mountains far across the horizon…you couldn’t help but just look in wonder. Realizing just how small you are, and just how Grand our God is.

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“I am the Creator of Heaven and Earth: Lord of all that is and all that will ever be. Although I am unimaginably vast, I choose to dwell within you, permeating you with My Presence. Only in the spirit realm could Someone so infinitely great live within someone so very small. Be awed by the Power and the Glory of My Spirit within you!”

~Jesus Calling Devotional

            Ellie Holcomb (one of my favorite singers of all time) just released a new album titled “Sing,” where the lyrics of her songs (originally targeted for children, but many adults – like me – have fallen in love with them as well), talk about who sang the first song – God. Her songs tell the story of how God literally sang the Earth into creation. If you haven’t heard this album yet, I highly recommend going and checking it out…

            And it got me thinking… in return for this beautiful gift of God singing this Earth into creation, all we can do is merely worship Him upon seeing His Creation. Sit in awe at the wonderful works of His hands. And that’s what I did the entire time we were on the safari. Praise Him and thank Him for letting me experience a tiny taste of His glory here on Earth….a small glimpse of what we will see one day when we are united with Him in our Heavenly Home…where all things are made perfect, right, and whole again.

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Psalm 105:2 – Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

            I could do nothing but just stare in amazement out the window of our van, trying to soak up every last moment of admiring His beautiful creatures and stunning landscapes. Full of life and vibrant color. Full of His glory.

Psalm 104: 24-25 – “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small.”

            We got to see elephants (my favorite animal of all), giraffe, baboons, warthogs, monkeys, antelope, leopard, and many other land animals.

Getting to see an actual “elephant crossing” across the little red dirt road was one of the coolest things I have ever seen…and I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get to them!

             On the river boat, we got to see crocodile, hippos, and all kinds of beautiful birds making their home along the Nile River.

             Seeing how God’s creatures and landscape so perfectly work together in harmony was such a picture of His goodness. The way He created the Earth to be.

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Job 12:7-10 – “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

             Throughout our time on the safari, we camped in tents on a little Safari campsite, and I even woke up my first night to a Hippo right outside of my tent. To say I was scared would be an understatement…but at the end of it all, it was such an incredible experience to be such a part of nature and living so simply in the middle of God’s Creation.

            Our campsite overlooked the beautiful Nile river, so it was always such a treasure to see the sun rise and fall over the water during breakfast and dinner time.

            This long weekend was full of adventure and exploring the beauty of Africa, and it felt a little bit like I was in the Lion King.

            I am forever grateful for this gift – and my heart is oh so full and ready to share God’s love with my little students back at the James Place tomorrow morning!

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The Lord is My Shepherd in the Land of the Living

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            Recently, with the time approaching for me to come home (for a week or so) for my sister Laura’s wedding (in Asheville, North Carolina) in the beginning of November, and the incredible excitement approaching of getting to be reunited (for a little bit) with my sweet fiancé, friends and family, I have been able to talk with a lot of people dear to me over text and FaceTime.

            And with all of this excitement, they all just keep asking me the same question – “Ahh tell me everything! What have you learned? What is it like living in Africa?!”

            And, well, my answer is always pretty simple…because I honestly cannot even begin to attempt to put into words all that I have learned here, but more importantly, I have seen the Lord in this place. He has been with me like never before. And His love truly is enough…

            And, especially this week for some reason, these verses have really been making sense to me like never before…

1 Peter 2:3-6 – “…now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

1 Peter 2: 9 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

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I have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…

             Without even realizing it, this has really been an anthem for me during my time in Uganda…in the midst of so much joy and, yet, seeing and living amongst some of the most heart-wrenching poverty, unexplainable circumstances, and brokenness you can possibly imagine. With people who are my friends. Not just people I am passing by…

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Psalm 27:13 – “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

            And this has really been proven true to me in all that I have seen, dealt with, and experienced here living in Jinja, Uganda.

            In the midst of poverty, God provides. In the midst of heartache and pain, God heals and restores. In the midst of tears and mourning, God brings hope. And in the midst of little to no material wealth, God gives pure joy and true gladness to those who seek Him with all their hearts…because the joy He gives cannot be wavered based on circumstances.

             And for me personally, when I have come face to face with fears or sickness here, God has fought for, healed, and restored me…every time. When I have felt alone, God has been right here with me and my very best friend. When I have needed comfort and encouragement, God has provided me with exactly what I need, my “daily manna,” to keep serving and pouring my heart out to those He has put before me each and every day. And He’s still working as we speak…and always will be.

            I have seen God show up again and again, in both my own life, and those that I have grown to love like my own family here.

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            After all that I have seen and experienced here, I can say all of this from a place of true, heartfelt cries of my heart…but man He is GOOD! And worthy of all of our praise. Worthy to follow after and be trusted. Worthy of putting our hope in. 

             There’s a reason my little preschoolers always beg me, again and again, to read them the story of Jesus’ birth. There’s a reason that a classroom full of energetic little children suddenly turns calm and at peace the moment you put on soft worship music for nap time, and tuck them in while whispering to them just how much Jesus loves them…and you can see in their little faces that they know His love and provision more than I will probably ever experience and can even imagine…because He is all that they have. He is the reason for their hope…

             Ever since last summer, when I came here to Uganda for the first time, the lyrics of one of my favorite songs the preschoolers and children at Kids’ Club (where we feed, wash, sing, dance, and learn about Jesus each Saturday with kids from the local slums and villages), goes like this:

“The Lord is my shepherd in the land of the living…the Lord is good…forevermore!”

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And I now understand and know why…

Psalm 34:8 – “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

            I have tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness in this place. In some of the most unlikely and unexpected circumstances and situations. And I am forever changed because of it.

Psalm 23:1-6 – “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It’s about the journey, not just “getting to” the destination…

           

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            While running with a fellow missionary (a few life stages ahead of me, that I met a few weeks ago) here in Jinja last Saturday morning, we were sharing our stories and bits and pieces of what God is doing in our lives. And she, without even realizing it, shared some of the most profound words with me, that have honestly stuck with me ever since…

“You know, something I’ve learned with the Lord through all these years, is that, well, it’s not just about ‘getting to’ the destination…it’s about letting Him teach us along the way what He wants us to see and learn…

It’s about the journey, not just “getting to” the destination….”

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            Later that morning, at the new BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) bible study I have started with a group of women in the surrounding Jinja area, we just so happened to be talking about a similar topic…because the study we are going to be going through is, of course, “People of the Promised Land.” Story after story of God’s people, traveling the long and hard journey to the Promised Land, learning, again and again, that “there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you. There is no rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).

It’s like God was trying to tell me something….

            When we began talking about how our final destination, as believers now in Jesus Christ, is heaven, one of the older women in the group so beautifully added in,

“And while here on Earth, we have to look after and lock arms with our brothers and sisters, and bring them along on the journey to the final destination with us…”

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            So, all of this got me thinking…what am I doing here on Earth to bring brothers and sisters along on this journey with me? Yes, I love Jesus with all of my heart and soul, but I am a broken sinner, just like everyone else, and the only true hope I have is Jesus Christ.

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            He is the reason for my joy. He is the reason for any strength I have. And His grace is the only reason I am currently living and serving Him here in Uganda, halfway across the across the world from the love of my life and everything that has always provided me worldly security and comfort. And, through some really special conversations with my precious fiancé (over Facetime, of course), I felt like these verses just kept coming up, again and again:

1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have…”

1 Peter 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

            …The same message that brought me to fall in love with the Lord all those years ago. The same message that keeps me coming back to His word each morning for more and more, because as I grow in my walk with Him, I realize how desperately I need His grace…day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. The same message that I have to keep reminding myself of, as my flesh wants to run the other way and after worldly desires, and Jesus so lovingly welcomes be back…every single time. He never gives up on me, and He never gives up on you… and never will. His grace and His forgiveness is the reason for my hope. The reason for our hope.

            In my favorite devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, I read the following words and have been chewing on them all week…

“Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). That is the way the grace of God begins. It is a constraint we can never escape; we can disobey it, but we can never start it or produce it ourselves. We are drawn to God by a work of His supernatural grace, and we can never trace back to find where the work began. Our Lord’s making of a disciple is supernatural. He does not build on any natural capacity of ours at all. God does not ask us to do the things that are naturally easy for us – He only asks us to do the things that we are perfectly fit to do through His grace, and that is where the cross we must bear will always come…”

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            As I have been learning to trust God on this journey, I am learning that His grace is enough…truly enough. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to make God love me anymore or any less. He loves me. He loves us. And He wants a relationship with us all. And it is this same grace that compels me, and compels us all, to love and serve those around us. People who so desperately need to be shown the same grace and love that we have been shown. As the pastor at the Amazima church spoke about last weekend, we are no longer living under the law, but under the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Romans 6:14 – “…for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

Romans 8:1-2 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free…”

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“Walk with me in the freedom of forgiveness…If you carry a burden of guilt on your back, you are more likely to stumble and fall. At your request, I will remove the heavy load from you and bury it at the foot of the cross. When I unburden you, you are undeniably free!”

– Jesus Calling Devotional

            My best friend here, sweet Grace (and mother of Baby Malachi) and I were talking during lunch today about life. As she shared some things that were going on, I asked her how she keeps her radiating joy, day-in and day-out. And she just stopped me, mid-conversation, and said, “Oh Emily. Heaven is the only thing worth fighting for. It is the reason we have hope…it is our only hope. When you get a chance today, I want you to go look up these verses in 1 Peter that have spoken to me and been what I have needed all these years…”

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            So, as soon as I got back to the classroom, I whipped out Teacher Rebecca’s Bible and read the verses she told me to…and was just blown away…

1 Peter 4: 14-15 – “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”

1 Peter 4:8-11: – “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

            These words (above) are just some of the verses Grace spoke about….and I don’t think it was a coincidence that these very verses were the exact things God had already been laying on my heart and teaching me during my time here….

             I have been so blessed by the Lord’s gracious love through this journey of coming back to Uganda to learn so much more about His character, through His word and through precious time with Him alone. Through this journey of drawing closer to Him than ever.  I may technically be the one over here “serving,” but really, I am being served and loved more than I could ever deserve by my Heavenly Father and His beautiful people here.

            My students bless me each morning with the biggest hugs and smiles, and reminders of their love for me, throughout the entire day. As I lay them down and tuck them in for nap time each day, I am just in awe at the Lord’s grace in bringing me here. To love and be loved by His precious, adorable little children.

            We even got to take them on a little field trip to the local Ripon fishing village today, so that our little ones would get to go look at boats…since we have been studying the letter “B” this week…

            …And their curious little hearts just had the sweetest time. The whole time I was there, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite verses in the Bible about what Jesus calls us to do in this life…

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Matthew 4:19 –

“And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

              My friends, like Betty and Grace (who I got to visit in Masese Slums last weekend), who welcome me into their homes and families and treat me like one of their very own…

…Friends who, honestly, feel more like family. They are my family here.

            …The faces I so look forward to seeing each and every day at the James Place, and the hugs I can’t wait to give and receive. The smiles of pure joy that cross not only their faces when I walk up, but sweet Baby Malachi’s too…who has just completely stolen my heart…if you can’t already tell…

            My fiancé , sweet John Wesley said something so stinkin’ wise, and right in line with what my friend Grace and I discussed, when he said, “the world around us doesn’t need to hear stories about great faith, they need to hear, see, and experience the reason for the hope we have, no matter what is going on and no matter the worldly circumstance.” He even sent me this amazing sermon by a pastor named Charlie Dates (who pastors a church in inner-city Chicago), where he was talking about the mystery and beauty in the gospel…

“Not only that, Christians were viewed a strange people. I mean they were calling one another brothers and sisters, even though they were married to one another, and in family with one another. Because...the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends the barriers of age and ethnicity and of blood lines. It does something, by making us a family, even though we come from different parts of the world, and different parts of the city, and other sides of the track.”

            …My friends and little students here in Uganda have become more like family, as we share in our love of Christ, our living hope. His love unites our hearts like none other, and it is such a beautiful thing to experience.

            I am so thankful for this journey the Lord has not only called me on, but called us all on… To fall more in love with Him as we journey to our Heavenly destination, and lock arms with our brothers and sisters all around us, big and small, on our way there! Sharing in the hope, love, and grace that only His Presence can bring…and inviting others in along the way!

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“Live first and foremost in My Presence. Gradually you will become more aware of Me than of people and places around you. This awareness will not detract from your relationships with others. Instead, it will increase your ability to give love and encouragement to them. My Peace will permeate your words and demeanor. You will be active in the world, yet one step removed from it. You will not be easily shaken because My enveloping Presence buffers the blow of problems. This is the path I have set before you. As you follow it wholeheartedly, you experience abundant life and peace.”

-Jesus Calling Devotional

“Behold, I am doing a new thing…”

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“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

            To say that this verse has been an anthem for the past week (and past few months, unbeknownst to my little self) of my life would be a vast understatement. I stumbled across this verse in my quiet time about a week ago, and the Lord has continued to speak it over me…through devotionals, His soft whispers, glimpses of His beautiful creation, and encouragement from friends (this exact verse…which of course they had no idea at the time), and it has honestly been so overwhelmingly comforting to my heart and soul. It felt like God was reminding me, over and again, “Hey little one. I see you. I am with you and I am for you…”

This week was the first week of having my precious preschool students back after their three-week “term-break,” and man was it sweet to be able to hug and love on them again! We spent this week adjusting back into our classroom routines and even wrote this verse on our little whiteboard, as we are entering into a new term, with endless possibilities, dreams, and “new things” to be accomplished. Dreams of being able to write our names, to correctly write our letters and numbers, and for some, to read sight words!

I know it sounds crazy, but in just three short weeks away from them on term break, it is mind-blowing how much my little ones have seemed to grow up right before my eyes. Not only physically, but maturity-wise and academically as well. Some students, who before could not even write the first letter of their name without guidance, are all of a sudden now able to write almost every letter of their name correctly and seem to have this new excitement and motivation to learn! And it is so beautiful to be a part of!

           But in this season of serving the Lord across the world, it has felt a lot like letting go of control and holding my hands open to God and what He has for my life. Having left my community of friends in Greenville to not only move here to Uganda, but also just closing on a house with my fiancé (eek! – while currently on opposite sides of the world) in a new town (where I will have to start over and make a whole new community and find a new job), while entering into a new season of preparing for marriage… I have had no choice but to live my life fully surrendered. Learning to truly believe that God has it all under control, and He is doing a “new thing” in my own life as well…

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            But I think this crazy season is honestly the most beautiful place to be. Because I have been so sweetly reminded, over and over again, that my life is not my own. That I am a daughter and servant of the King, and I can trust Him…with all that I have and all that I am. When the world around me is changing, Jesus is my constant. He always stays the same.

Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

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             He may be leading me on a whole new path, full of unknowns and so much change, but being in His will is the safest place to be of all…

“Safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – C.S. Lewis

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            It was a blind leap of faith to say yes to Jesus in this season…having no idea how hard and trying it would be at times to leave everyone and everything I love and know for 6 months of serving Jesus in Africa…maybe some would even call it naiveBut no doubt it was God’s plan all along. He made it clear before I committed, and has continued to affirm, through both the highs and lows of being a missionary in a foreign country, that this is His will for me. I am right where He wants me…and this is just the beginning of what He is doing in this “new thing” ahead of me…that I can’t even begin to see or comprehend, because He is the guide…I am just doing my best to follow Him one step of obedience, one “yes,” at a time.

Philippians 3:13 – “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”

            Sometimes, actually a lot of the time, I think our culture has a way of inadvertently teaching us to “play it safe,” and follow the “cookie-cutter American Dream.” But you know what? I don’t want to play it safe. We aren’t promised tomorrow, or even the next hour…so I want to make sure I am walking in steps of obedience to my Heavenly Father during my time here on Earth, because His will is the safest place to be.

            In one of my daily letters from Wesley (yes, he made a journal for me with 158 letters, one for me to read every day during my time overseas in Uganda), he wrote,

“But can you believe God is going to use us for His kingdom one day?!” 

            And you know what? Yes. Yes I can believe it. If I have learned anything in my 24 years of life thus far,and especially during my time here in Africa, it is that God is all that truly matters. My faith is my anchor. It is the basis of my time teaching here in Uganda…the basis of my upcoming marriage…and is going to be the basis and foundation for the rest of my life.

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The new little home we just closed on in Spartanburg, South Carolina! Eek! 🙂 

            Whether God calls my fiancé and I back to the international mission field one day, or to stay put in our new little house in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and faithfully love and serve our community there, I trust that He will use us to build up His Kingdom, but it doesn’t mean it will always be easy or comfortable. And that’s where we want to be. Living for God’s glory, not our own. It’s not about where you are or what you do…what matters is the why. And, as believers, the why should always be the same… Jesus Christ.

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Psalm 139:5-10 – “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

            This past week, our living quarters were heavily infested with termites, so we ended up having to pack up everything we own and move out for the next week or so, while the termite men literally spray down the entire house and get rid of the termites that have slowly been taking over the house, and would have, ultimately, destroyed it. But isn’t that how God works sometimes, too? He has to literally uproot us out of our sin and what seems “comfortable” at the time, in order to “make all things new” and restore fullness to our souls. He will “make a way”…always. It just may not be “the way” we would have picked, but since God is the one behind and before it, we can trust that it is best. His ways are always better…

Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.”

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            Whether it is moving to a new place, a new home, or a new season, we can trust God when He says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

I read in a Proverbs 31 Email Devotional the other day something so powerful…

“The battle plan for Joshua to take the Promised Land was as simple as it was strange, complete with marching for seven days around the city of Jericho, a whole army shouting and priests blowing trumpets. (Read more in Joshua 6:1-21). Now, that was a strange plan. God’s infinite ways often don’t make sense in our finite mindsSometimes you have to be willing to look ridiculous and be radical to live a remarkable life. The choices you make when you feel God’s nudge will become the hinges on which your destiny swings. Jericho was “tightly shut” (Joshua 6:1). Sometimes it can feel like our promises are “tightly shut” as well. That doesn’t mean we give up. That means we suit up, step up, and keep moving forward.”

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            Following God into a season of change may be scary, and not always “safe” or comfortable, or even always make sense, but it is worth taking the risk. Worth stepping out in faith. Because it is in these leaps of faith, following God in obedience and letting Him do this “new thing,” that He can work the most in and through us…because He is the one directing our steps.

Jeremiah 10:23 – (Jeremiah’s Prayer) “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”

            When I said “yes” to leaving my fiancé and everyone back at home to come here and serve in Uganda, I had no idea how God would use this time to grow me and bless me beyond measure…through the people I would develop relationships with and give my  whole heart to, while at the same time, learning how to place Christ’s desires above my own. But I am thankful. And if I hadn’t taken the risk, I would have never seen the fruit that has come from this leap of faith…fruits of the spirit that not only affect me personally, but affect those that I love and care about as well. 

            When we let God do this “new thing” and make us who He created us to be, we are able to accomplish far more, because it is the King of all Kings doing all the work..not us. We are not our own…

Isaiah 64:8 – “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

            No matter where we go or what we do, we have God on our side when we trust in Him. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

            So I choose to trust Him with both this season serving His people here in Jinja, Uganda, and the “new thing” He has up ahead on the horizon…

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“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

But the greatest of these is love…

1 Corinthians 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.”

            Every week here, during quiet times and just day-to-day life in Jinja, I try to sum up what I have been learning into a collection of words. But this week, I feel like God has just been overwhelmingly present…and honestly blowing my mind with just how good and how real He is. In particular, though, the Lord has laid the following words on my heart:

Faith, hope, and love

            My whole life, and especially in my walk with the Lord, these have always been three of my very favorite words. They elicit so much joy, and bring to mind so many beautiful images and memories. But during my time here in Uganda, learning to rely on the Lord like never before in my entire life, these words have taken on a whole new meaning. If anything, I think I am learning, for the first time, what these three words really mean – through both my own experiences here living in Africa, and my time searching God’s word for the strength to serve Him and His people each and every day.

Faith….

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

            In the midst of falling more and more in love (and missing) my fiancé, while also falling more deeply in love with the beautiful land and people of Uganda, I have had to surrender my heart to the Lord like never before.

            A lot of the time, it has felt like my heart is torn between two different worlds. But, the Lord is kind, and a sweet friend gave me the wisest words when she said,

“You know, Emily, I think that you are getting to experience a tiny taste of how God feels all the time…to have your heart torn between two places and people that you love with all your heart. It’s actually the most beautiful place to be…and God is just growing your capacity to love all the more, beyond what you ever thought or imagined you could…”

            While this season may look different for me, being engaged on a different continent than my fiancé, I have fallen in love with the beautiful women and children here like I never even knew was possible. The thought of going home to America in a few months breaks my heart, because I know that I will be leaving a huge part of it here in Uganda, forever. This place has been so special to me, in ways I can’t even begin to describe. As I attempt to explain to people at home whenever they ask, Jesus has this beautiful way of using Africa to heal me, wreck me, grow me, and adore me all at the same time. And it is beautiful. Only Jesus could plan a story like this.

            With Hurricane Florence crashing into the Carolina shores (where my family vacations in Oak Island, near Wilmington, NC…where the eye of the storm apparently hit the hardest) and flooding across North Carolina (where all of my family is from), I have had to completely surrender control to the Lord and trust that He has it under control. With my upcoming March wedding, I have honestly not done any wedding planning while I’ve been here, but trust that God has it under control, and have realized preparing for a lifetime of marriage with sweet John Wesley is way more important than simply a “day” in my life. And I have had complete peace…that only God can give!

Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

            On the days here when I have dealt with sickness or the power going out (constantly) or simply desiring biblical community and spiritual guidance, I have had nowhere to look but Jesus. And you know what I’ve learned? He really is enough. He is trustworthy…with every emotion, with every joy, with every tear, and with every fear. He loves me better than anyone else ever can or will, and I am so thankful for this season of being forced to learn that like never before.

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            I have never in my life uttered the words “I trust you, Jesus” more than I have during these past few months, and before I try to run to someone or something with whatever I am going through, I have been learning the discipline of truly running to Jesus first, in prayer. Because that’s the way I think He wants us to be…

Just like watching Baby Malachi *attempting* to learn how to walk this week, Malachi has to let go of my hands at some point and have faith that his little legs, eventually, will be able to hold him up. It doesn’t happen overnight, but after time and time again of seeing, even when he falls down, that I am still there to help him back up, his faith and confidence will grow.  I think this is pretty similar to how God teaches us to have faith too…

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 – “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

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Hope…

Romans 5:5 – “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 

             Hand-in-hand with the act of faith, in my opinion, comes hope. In order to have the kind of faith in Jesus that He desires, we must hold on to hope. Cling to it.

            Spending all of my time here loving on and pouring out my heart and soul to the women and children at the James Place has been such a blessing, but when you are constantly giving and giving, it is important to make sure you are finding a way to get poured back into, as well. Something that I was really praying for the past few months was older married women to pour into me and speak life into me as I prepare for marriage in a few short months.

             Even when it seemed impossible (all the way here in Uganda), I believed that God could and would provide. He would make a way. He has been faithful in every season of my life, and I knew he wasn’t going to stop now. So I prayed and prayed, and held onto this hope… because I knew this was a prayer that God not only could, but that He wanted to answer for me.

Romans 8:24-25 – “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” 

            And you know what? Out of nowhere (literally), I got invited to participate in a BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) small group that meets every Saturday morning. It consists of 15-20 missionary women from all over the Jinja area, and I was just blown away. And, to show God’s faithfulness even more, I met the kindest woman recently who just moved here with her family (her husband is going to be the Bible Teacher at the Amazima School) and she wants to start meeting with me one-on-one to pour into me and speak scriptural truth into me as I prepare for marriage (and to make it even more wild, she and her husband have been in marriage ministry for the past ten years in the States….).  And…she and her family live about a ten minute walk from the James Place, where I work every day. Talk about God answering prayer!! 

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            God knew all along that He had this blessing in store for me, but I think He wanted me to cling to hope and trust that He would provide exactly what I needed, just when I needed it. And as I clung to this hope, my faith has only grown that much stronger. And all I want to do is shout Jesus’ love and faithfulness from a mountaintop – because HE IS THAT GOOD!!!  

Romans 4:20-21 – (speaking of Abraham) “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.” 

Love…

            This week, I was introduced to Carrie Underwood’s new song, Love Wins, and I have literally been listening to it on repeat…over and over again. I love it so much, and can’t get the lyrics out of my head, so here are just a few of my favorite lines (you can thank me later when you go listen to it for yourself):

“I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers

And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other

And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand

Put a world that seems broken together again

Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins

 

Sometimes it takes a lot of faith

To keep believing there will come a day

When the tears and the sadness, the pain and the hate

The struggle, this madness, will all fade away, yeah

 

I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers

And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other

And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand

Put a world that seems broken together again

Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins

 

Love is power, love is a smile

Love reaches out, love is the remedy

Love is the answer, love’s an open door

Love is the only thing worth fighting for, yeah.”

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            In this season of learning to trust Jesus more than I ever have before, I have learned the the importance of love. Yes, everyone talks about love, and the “rainbows and roses” aspect of it. But, you know what I’ve learned? Love is messy. Love is hard. Love sacrifices. But love is always, and I mean always, worth fighting for. As I mentioned above, the whole time I have been here (as any engaged person would be), my heart has been torn between longing to be with my fiancé (who has been my absolute BIGGEST cheerleader) and longing to stay with the women and children here forever.

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            But I have been learning the beauty in letting love not always make sense. When you truly love, and pour all that you have into those near and dear to you, you will feel their pain. You will feel their joy. And that’s a beautiful thing.

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1 John 4:16 – “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” 

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            In having my heart in two places at once, I have learned that only Jesus can truly take care of those that I love. And that He is just using me as a vessel of His love here on Earth, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. My heart was made to love, because I am known and loved fully by the Creator of the Universe.

As C.S. Lewis, in all of his wisdom, so beautifully wrote:  

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

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Let Us Rejoice!

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Psalm 118:24 –

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

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            I was not planning on posting a blog today, but this Sunday afternoon was filled with so much pure joy and abundant life that I couldn’t help but want to share a tiny taste of it through pictures and a few words!

            Alice had invited me earlier this week to come visit her beautiful home in Walukuba after church, and I am so grateful I was able to come today! My cough has slowly been getting better and better, thanks to lots of prayer, extra “dodo” (spinach-like vegetable here) and TLC (tender love and care) from my sweet friends at the James Place, like Alice (who is a heavenly angel, I truly believe), so I am rejoicing in that! 

            Alice has been blessed with the ten most radiant children I have ever met, and when you are around them, you can’t help but see Jesus in each one of their eyes. She and her husband (the Pastor of their church that I was able to attend with them a few weeks back) have raised such incredible children of God and have set their family on such a firm foundation of loving God and loving others.

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             It is honestly breathtaking how beautiful their entire family is, both inside and out. Such pure, precious spirits, and I have honestly never felt so loved, welcomed, and accepted in a home like I was today.  

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            As soon as I arrived, I was welcomed by hugs and handshakes and the happiest little squeals from the little ones. My heart was so full I could explode!!!

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            We spent the afternoon singing worship songs, dancing, playing with little toddler Leviticus (Alice’s first grandson), eating sugar cane (that they chopped down in front of me with a “panga” and showed me how to prepare) and bananas, and just laughing and enjoying sweet fellowship with one another. 

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Alice had even made me the most beautiful bracelet and necklace that her family was so excited to give to me as a gift of their love, and I was so blown away by their kindness. They are truly the most selfless, generous, and kind family I have ever known.

            All of Alice’s children were constantly walking around and getting chores done (like hanging the laundry on the line, feeding the pigs, bathing the little ones – both their family and neighbors), while spending sweet fellowship with one another and playing all at the same time. It was so beautiful to see the way a family can be when it is functioning the way God intended – in perfect unity and uplifting one another, full of abundant life and joy in the midst of mundane, everyday life. Being there for and loving one another, and graciously welcoming all of those that God brings into their home (even a “Mzungu,” like me!). 

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Philippians 4:4-5 – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

            At work and at home, you will never hear a complaint or grumble come out of precious Alice’s mouth, or a single member of her family. They embody the meaning of joy like I have never seen lived out before, and no matter what life throws their way, or what they may be lacking in material wealth, they are full of unwavering light, love, and hope. They live out their faith and anyone who meets them says the same thing – “Wow…I think I just saw more of Jesus today…”

            One of Alice’s daughter, Joy, has the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. And she kept asking to perform, lead and sing songs for us, and boy did we have a blast! We spent the majority of the afternoon singing worship songs – in both English and Luganda – and laughing as sweet little Leviticus played the “drums” on an empty water jug. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. And I don’t think I have ever laughed or smiled so big in my entire life. Or experienced so much pure joy.

            At church earlier this morning, the pastor talked all about how rejoicing in the Lord is a spiritual discipline, and that rejoicing produces joy…not other way around. Because whatever you give your attention to is what is going to drive your attitude. Attention determines attitude… and I would say that Alice’s family definitely has this spiritual discipline ingrained in their walks with the Lord. 

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            The pastor talked through the book of Philippians and how Paul, though he was in prison (of all places), was full of more joy than ever before. Paul wrote, while sitting in this same prison cell, the most beautiful verse that encompasses what it means to count your blessings and constantly look for what is good, no matter what season or trial you may be walking through. He preached the importance of keeping your mind preoccupied with all of the things that are beautiful and worthy of praise in your life – just like Alice and her family exemplify so well!

Philippians 4:8-9 – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

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            I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Lord had me visit Alice’s family and see such pure joy today, of all days, after listening to a sermon on rejoicing in the Lord…. Because there is always reason to be joyful, because there is always somebody who cares and loves you more than anyone in the world ever could – our Lord Jesus Christ!!

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            Like we learned about at church this morning, and like Alice and her family exemplify in all that they are and all that they do, we can always practice the spiritual discipline of rejoicing… in all circumstances. Rejoice that one day God will provide. In the middle of a struggle, we can rejoice that we get to be counted as one who suffers like Paul.  Rejoice that there is healing on the way. Rejoice that none of what you do with, through, and for Christ is ever in vain. Rejoice that we are loved, adored, and accepted by the most wonderful Father and Creator of the entire universe! It doesn’t mean that our circumstances will necessarily change, but our attitude and perspective always can. But, like the pastor taught us this morning, rejoicing is a spiritual discipline that does not always come naturally, and we must learn to train our minds to do it more and more, as followers of Jesus Christ.

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Philippians 4:10-13 – “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

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Like Alice teaches me everyday, there is always joy to be found. Always reason to rejoice and be thankful. Every day is a precious gift from the Lord and something to rejoice in!

Psalm 118:24 –

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

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