“Living radical isn’t about where you live; it’s about how you love. How you love the beauty of Him, how you love His beautiful people. It’s about realizing: Real life, large love, doesn’t happen when you arrive in a certain place. It happens when your heart arrives in a certain place. Wherever you are, right where you are, dirt-road Africa or side-street America. When your heart decides to move into God, you are always given what you’re really hoping for: more of God. Daring to hope for big things isn’t about having extraordinary faith; it’s about being faithful in the small, ordinary things. It’s about leaning into the next right thing and finding what you’ve always hoped for: His shoulder to lean on, His arms to carry all, His heart to be your home.” – Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors
I wanted to open this blog with this quote from Katie Davis Major’s new book, Daring to Hope, because I have recently started reading it during my time here in Uganda (since I am living in the same city as her now and attending church at her ministry, Amazima, each Sunday). It has been really special being able to read it while living (and breathing) in the red dirt of Jinja, amongst the broken but beautiful surroundings that break your heart each and every day, but yet, where you see God at work constantly. Because God meets us in the broken. He lives and makes his dwelling place with the hurt, the sick, the needy, the desperate. The broken sinners, just like you and me.
Yes, I may be currently living across the pond in Africa, but we all still have the same desperate need. A Savior. Jesus Christ. He is, and always will be, all that we need. No matter where you live or what you do, there will be challenges. But when we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, we can weather the storm. We can cling to Him, our anchor in the storm. He can bring beauty out of every situation that we face in life…if we let Him open our eyes enough to see it.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
My little students are such a beautiful reminder of this truth to me. Every morning, no matter what has gone on at home the night before or whether they have had a meal since the last time I saw them, they greet me each and every morning with the biggest smiles and joyful hugs. “Teacha Emmillyyyy! We are so happy to seeeee you!” Talk about joy. These students of mine come from some of the most broken home lives and living situations you can imagine, yet they have the most joy out of any children I have ever seen. In the picture below, my students were attempting to make a tree out of their individual leaves (while learning the letter L), and I couldn’t help but think of this verse as they were doing it:
James 17:7-8 – “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Because of their brokenness, they are so open to learning about Jesus. In fact, they crave to know more about Him and His great love for them. Last week during planning, I was sitting outside our classroom on the steps trying to jot down some bible verses to post around our classroom as daily reminders and encouragement. Within a few moments, my students had woken up from nap time and surprised me by jumping on my back, asking me what I was doing. When I told them I was writing down some of my favorite verses from the Bible, they immediately begged me, “Teacha emmilyyyy! Please read these for us!”
Oh, how they hunger for God’s word. How they hunger for his love. I do not pity or think less of my students because of where they come from. They are, actually, the ones who have it right. They never for a second think that they don’t need a Savior, because they know what it is like to be desperate. They know what it is like to see loved ones die, way too young. They know what it is like to be without food to eat, a roof to live under, a stable family to depend on. With living conditions and quality of life being much lower in Uganda, this leaves people no choice but to look somewhere for help. Without stable healthcare or even access to many medical needs, often there is no choice but to pray. To rely on a Savior who is always working in the midst of their brokenness and hurting to bring comfort and beauty that only He can provide “…and bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and of garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
Psalm 34:10 – “Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.”
I have been learning so much about what God sees as beautiful during my time here. What we may originally see as trash or mess, God sees as beauty. When we think we are at the end of our rope, ready to give up hope, God meets us there. In the broken places. In our hurt. In our confusion. In our pain. In our mess. In fact, I believe that is exactly where He wants us. It’s when we are at the end of ourselves that we can truly see God for who He is. Almighty. All powerful. All that we need. Because, at the end of it all, He is all that we have. And that is where we are most open to receive His incredible love that He has for us.
Everyone has heard the old saying, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” – and in our lives, even when we can’t comprehend or see the beauty of a certain situation on our own, God can see beauty. He can make broken things beautiful again. He can redeem all things. All of my students’ stories and their home lives. All parts of our stories and our lives. That’s what He has done and is continuing to do for me. And He wants to do the same for you.
He sees my students. He cares. He sees me. He cares. He sees you. He cares.
We are all broken, but beautiful, pieces of pottery, that Jesus is slowly piecing back together again, turning our broken mess into His beautiful masterpiece. He is the maker. We are the clay.
And we are all in desperate need of something. Broken in some way or another.
As any engaged person would, I miss my amazing fiancé (who loves me and encourages me so well, even halfway around the world) like crazy, and would never have planned to be away from him for 6 months of our engagement, but I know that God is using this season to draw me so much closer to Himself and to become more like Him. But it doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Jesus is all that I have here, and it is His kindness to teach me to rely on Him alone during this season of loving His little ones and serving Him day in and day out, away from everyone I love and every comfort I know. Because it is in these seasons that His love shines brightest. He is using my precious students, the incredible women at the James Place, and the beauty of this place to show me more of His love for me, and I am growing more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined than if I had stubbornly stuck to “my plan” or “my wants and desires.” And it is so, so beautiful.
His plans are way greater than ours, and even when we can’t see it, He is working to make us into His beautiful masterpieces.
At church yesterday morning, the pastor spoke about the importance of laying whatever “desperate need” and cry or longing of your heart at the feet of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what it is, we all have it. We all are longing for something, hurting in some way or another – whether we are brave enough to admit it or not. But, as the pastor told the church, when we are brave enough to trust Jesus with whatever our “desperate need” is, He intersects us there. In the midst of our waiting and in the midst of our doubts. In the midst of our brokenness.
In John 11, why do you think Jesus waited 2 days to raise Lazarus from the dead? When, so easily, he could have just snapped his fingers and brought Lazarus back to life right at that very second? Why? Because he wanted Mary and Martha’s faith to be strengthened.
And it was just so funny that, in the midst of a hard day and feeling extra broken yesterday, God met me there. He not only provided His sweet sweet love, but He provided a friend here to comfort me in ways I didn’t even know that I needed – with a sweet note of encouragement and the gentle touch of a hand in prayer. And later on that day, my precious fiancé decided to come up with this great “plan” to frame his picture of me and take it with him places so that I would always feel like I was still with him, even though I may physically be over here in Africa.
Yes, this was so cheesy. But so stinkin’ precious. And man, God has been bringing so much joy, beauty, and fruit into our relationship and engagement season because of this trial of being apart. Only God can plan a story like this.
Philippians 2:17-18 – “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Though we can’t always see it, and sometimes never do, God is bringing beauty out of what we are facing. And God sees nothing more beautiful than us pressing more into HIM. He will do whatever it takes to do that, because He loves us that much.
John Piper wrote, “God so values our wholehearted faith that he will, graciously, if necessary, take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on – even life itself. His aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself will be all we need.”
He wants us to be able to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73: 25-26).
Yesterday, watching the sun shine through the clouds after a slow, rainy Sunday afternoon here, I came across one of my favorite songs – “I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hellos and the lyrics just kept ringing through my mind –
“And the sun it does not cause us, the sun it does not cause us to grow. It is the rain that will strengthen, the rain that will strengthen your soul. It will make you whole.”
How will we grow if we never get rained on? Just like the flowers and the crops of the fields, we need both the sunshine and the rain to become who God created us to be for His glory!
And I just happened to read in my devotional that morning, too:
“In the Bible, clouds are always associated with God. Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no faith. ‘The clouds are the dust of His feet’ (Nahum 1:3). They are a sign that God is there.” – My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
But isn’t this the truth? Yes, we all love sunshine and happy times. But isn’t it the hard times, the broken times, that make us who we are? That cause us to grow? God takes our broken and makes it beautiful. God takes our test and makes it a testimony. He can and will bring beauty out of all things, if we let Him. I pray that we will learn to trust Him more. To let him transform our broken into beautiful, one moment at a time. He is making all things beautiful in its time.
Revelation 21: 3-6 – “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write these down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”