Beauty in the Broken

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“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 MajorsProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

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.”

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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:

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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!”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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What I’m Learning From My Many “Teachers” Here in Uganda

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I may be known and embraced as “Teacha Emily” here, but I am really the one constantly growing and learning so much more about Christ-like love and joy from my many “teachers” of all different kinds here in Uganda. From the strength and dignity of my dear friends at HEAL Ministries, Rema and Grace (and their little ones), to the gratitude and unconditional love of my precious preschool students, to the joy and wisdom of my incredible co-teacher Rebecca, and most of all, to the peace and grace that only my Heavenly Father can give… I am learning from the greatest “teachers” I could ever ask for.

The Lord is so kind and has already used these past 3 weeks to humble and grow me in ways I could have never dreamed of or imagined. He has used all of these “teachers” to not only show me but walk alongside me daily as I learn different aspects of character and fruits of the spirit from each of them.

Philippians 2:1-2 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

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To start off, I had the privilege of going to visit my dear friends Rema and Grace (and their precious little ones) for lunch in Masese Slums (the largest slums in Jinja) this afternoon and am still trying to process the overwhelming joy and beauty of it all. Rema and Grace both encompass everything about the words strength and dignity, and I could go on and on about their inward and outward beauty. Rema was my dear friend from my time here last summer, and it has been incredible to have the chance to be back with her for 6 months to deepen and develop our friendship even more. Grace and I recently became close because one of her 8 children, Joshua, is in my preschool classroom, and apparently brags all the time to his friends in the village about how much his teacher, “Teacha Emily,” loves him (which I do… and yes, he goes home with stickers and prizes at the end of most days because he is so stinkin’ precious)!

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Proverbs 31: 25-26 – “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.”

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Both of these women possess the most incredible strength and dignity in all that they do. Whether they are looking after their little ones, taking care of daily tasks and chores at work, sharing all that they have with others (even a “Mzungu” like me!), or caring for others in need, they have the best outlook on life and find such beauty in the mundane, no matter what is going on around them. They are strong and full of the genuine beauty that the Lord says is beautiful.

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1 Peter 3:3-4 – “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

I pray that the Lord will continue to use these special “teachers” to grow me in these areas of strength and dignity, and that I will get to continue being able to spend such sweet time with them and their families – both at the James Place and visiting their homes in Masese.

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Now, my students. Yes, they may call me “Teacha Emily,” but really, they are the ones teaching me every single day. They teach me gratitude. They teach me unconditional love. They teach me that every day is a beautiful day that the Lord has made! I am so beyond blessed to be in their presence each and every day, and I am overwhelmed by their hugs and love each morning…and humbled that Jesus chose to use these little ones as instruments of His love for me these next 6 months.

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And seeing my students (outside of the classroom) at Kids’ Club each Saturday…where to even begin. They show me Christ’s love in ways I could never even imagine. Seeing them shine like little lights among all of the children from the local slums – The Works, Fishing Village, and Masese – and run up and embrace me upon sight as “Teacha Emily” in front of all of their friends…I can’t even put this kind of joy into words. They teach me constant and unconditional love in a way I have never experienced before, and I can’t help but think that this same loving embrace and welcome is the same way Jesus accepts me when I come running to Him for help and the love only He can give me, no matter what. I am so, so extremely grateful for these little “teachers” of unconditional love, and feel so undeserving of their constant, daily love and reminders of God’s love for us all.

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

Luke 15:20 – “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – (the story of the Prodigal son finally coming home to his loving, forgiving Father)

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To start off each morning in the classroom, we sing songs about Jesus and His great love for us, and then we pray. Not just a simple prayer, but a pretty extensive prayer (that all children know by heart) – praying for the Lord to bless our school, bless our teachers, bless our students, bless what we are going to eat, teach us wisdom, open our eyes and hearts to what He is trying to teach us, and the prayer continues. These children know how to pray, and most importantly, they know how to thank their Heavenly Father for the daily blessings He provides – food, water, baths, the opportunity to learn, and more. It has honestly taken the past 3 weeks for me to get used to how many times a day either I, or my co-teacher Rebecca, are told “Thank you teacher, God bless you.” Honestly, it is so humbling. And their gratitude for every little thing has really challenged me in my own walk with the Lord, and how little I time I spend thanking him for all the little things He does for me, or even more so, how many kind things others do for me each day. Gratitude is right at the heart of our Father, and he desires this in all that we do…every single day. And these students of mine are really being such “teachers” of gratitude to me.

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1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

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Now to my coteacher, Rebecca. She is joyful at all times and full of wisdom, that I am lucky enough to get to learn from throughout our time teaching our little ones together. No matter what is going on – if the power is out, if our schedule is thrown off, if one of us gets pooped or peed on by African bats (which, unfortunately, thousands of them made the James Place their home for the last 3 weeks of their migrating season) – you can always count on Rebecca to be full of joy and have the biggest smile across her face. She brings so much life and light into our lessons, and the children absolutely adore her (as do I).

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We were learning the bible story about Joseph earlier this week, and what did Rebecca do during recess to make this lesson come to life? She got herself stuck in a pile of tires and pretended to be Joseph, stuck in the pit, as the children tried for the longest time to tug and pull her out. I have never seen such joy come out of a bible story lesson, but you can always count on Rebecca to make us laugh, sing, dance, and have the best of times! I feel like I am always asking Rebecca questions, whether it is on her perspective on things, or how she handles certain situations in life and keeps her joy. All I can say is that I am learning daily wisdom from one of the absolute strongest “teachers” I know.

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Most importantly, Jesus. The greatest teacher of all. In only 3 weeks, He has been teaching me more about His peace and grace than I could’ve ever imagined.

Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

He is teaching me that HE alone is my peace. That HIS grace is all that I need. That sometimes, He has to take me away from everything comfortable for me to finally listen to what He is trying to teach me. It has been in the moments of stillness and quiet that I hear Him most, and the ways He is stretching and growing me here in Uganda are beyond anything I could’ve ever asked, or even known, to pray for. He is teaching me to come to Him FIRST – whether it is with my fears of daily transportation and trying things completely out of my comfort zone, little cuts/injuries or sicknesses pertaining to my health (because healthcare here is not the best), and that, no matter what, He is always with me and will never leave my side. He is teaching me the beautiful importance of always putting others before myself, and that sometimes, we must lower ourselves to the likeness of Christ so that HE may lift us up in his due time.

John 13: 13-17 – “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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I am so grateful for this opportunity to continue learning from the best “teachers” I could ask for during my time in Uganda. I am learning that, even though I may be known here as “Teacha Emily,” I am really the one constantly being taught – about strength, dignity, joy, love, wisdom, grace, and humility. What a sweet, sweet gift of incredible teachers that I get to learn from these next 6 months! Thanks be to God!

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2 Peter 3:18 – “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever! Amen.”  

 

“I Know You Can’t Do It, But I Can.” – Jesus

 

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Most of you have probably heard the Sunday School song that we sing each morning with my students, “Jesus Loves Me,” but have you ever really listened closely to those lyrics?

“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but HE is strong!”

I feel like the world we live in sees dependence and weakness as a bad thing, but it seems, when I read the words of Jesus in His word, that that is exactly what He desires. He not only desires a humble, childlike faith, but He loves when we confess our desperate need for Him, because, like this little Sunday School song expresses, when we are weak, HE is strong!

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

But to go even a step further, I believe that the Lord wants us to be honest with him. Express our fears. Express our vulnerability. Express our feelings. He is not looking down on us, judging us for needing Him, but rather, loves when we come to him…always welcoming us with open arms, just like a loving parent or guardian would to a child. So often, I tend to think that I have to be strong, fearless, and that I have to have it all together…but the reality is, when I am weak and can admit that I am absolutely nothing apart from Christ, He is able to do far more in and through me than I can even imagine, and show His glory and His strength through me!

In my email devotional the other day, it was talking about the apostle Paul and that, as he faced each day’s ministry burden, he bowed his head and confessed that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, he would not be able to do it. Perhaps he recalled the words of Jesus, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So he prayed for future grace for the day, and he trusted in the promise that it would come with power.

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” 

Then, he acted with all his might.

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This past week, I got pretty sick (physically) and also missed my fiancé, family, and friends a little extra – which probably had a lot to do with the physical sickness and wanting the comfort of being cared for deeply. The joy that I get from loving and serving my precious little ones at the James Place is hard to even put into words, but nights can be lonely and adjusting to a completely different culture (that will be my home for the next 6 months) can be hard and physical safety is a constant worry of mine (that I have had to lay at the feet of Jesus each morning). My life is constantly at the hands of the Lord and I have found myself praying more than I have in my entire life – on my way to and from work each day on the busy Jinja roads, finding my away around a part of the city that is completely new to me, being forced to trust complete strangers at times, and dealing with different foods and fears of sickness/infection that is never really a thought at home. After pouring my life out to the women and children at the James Place day in and day out, it can be hard to come back to our living quarters and not have any close friends or family to confide in or to even just be known. But, as the Lord always does, I am learning that Christ alone is all that I need. HE can fill me back up to keep pouring out each day. HE is my best friend. HE is the best listener and person to confide in. And most importantly, HE is my strength.

Romans 8:14-17 – “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

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When God brings us to a place where we are weak and no longer self-sufficient, He always has a purpose:  “…but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9). 

That is the very heart of the Christian message, as Paul explains in one of his letters. “Our sufficiency is not of ourselves,” he says (2 Corinthians 3:5). Through our circumstances, God teaches us not to rely on ourselves but upon him who raises the dead, who works in us to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think, according to the power at work within us.

On Thursday during the preschooler’s nap time (on the day when I was, physically, feeling the absolute worst, and, ironically, the day when this joyful picture at the top of this blog post was taken), I was sitting on the floor, listening to a song my sweet fiancé had sent me (see lyrics below), and burst into tears. I had the sweetest moment with the Lord, admitting my weakness, and how I can’t live and serve in Africa for six months, away from everyone I love, in my own strength. 

But, as soon as I admitted this to him, you know what happened?

The Lord sweetly whispered to me, “I know you can’t do it. But I can. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

At the same time the Lord gave me this sweet realization, the following lyrics and verse that came to mind felt like they were washing me over with peace:

 “Take a moment to remember, Who God is and who I am. There you go, lifting my load again.” (“Take a Moment” by United Pursuit)

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

What a blessing. Here I was, trying to mentally convince myself (in my own strength) how to make it six whole months away from all of the friends and family (and comforts) that I love, when all along, all Jesus wanted me to do was admit that I, in my own strength, can’t do it. Only HE can. Though I originally thought I was here solely for the children, God has been teaching me that His plan is soo much bigger than I can even comprehend and that He is accomplishing way more in and through this journey that I may never even see or experience the fruits from.

Proverbs 20:24 – “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?”

This proverb is a call to recognize God’s sovereignty over our lives. God intervenes and directs our steps in ways that often become clear only after events have unfolded.

As soon as I admitted my own weakness to the Lord, it was like a covering  was lifted from my eyes. I was free to be joyful. Free to be present. Free to love each and every moment with each of my precious little ones. Yes, I miss my fiancé and loved ones each and every night (and know that I will continue to do so), but at the end of it all, what more could I want than to grow closer to Jesus and serve Him in an environment where all I have is Him – the greatest comforter of all. What greater gift could I ask for, leading up to marriage and life ahead. The more we allow Jesus to fill our needs, the better able we are to selflessly love others and put the needs of others before our own, without expecting anything else in return.

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I can’t help but think of the lyrics from one of my favorite Hillsong Worship Songs, “Christ is Enough”

“Christ is my reward

And all of my devotion

Now there’s nothing in this world

That could ever satisfy

 

Through every trial

My soul will sing

No turning back

I’ve been set free

 

Christ is enough for me

Christ is enough for me

Everything I need is in You

Everything I need.”

It is easy to read those words and say/sing them aloud, thinking we believe them in our hearts. But those words possess an entirely new meaning when you are stripped of everything and forced to rely on Christ alone, because at the end of it all, He is truly all that we have and all that we need. IMG_6219

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So, for these six months, my prayer is that the Lord will work in and through me to love and teach my students, to love my fellow Ugandan teachers, and constantly put the cross before my own desires. Whether I am here to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children, or just one precious child of God, it matters. God cares for the one and leaves the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep – every. single. time. I was that sheep, and God chose to save me. Thus, I owe my life to Him and Him alone, giving it away for the glory of God – putting HIS desires above my own.

Psalm 28:7 – “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” 

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Matthew 10:39 – “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Here’s what I’ve been learning, summed up in a few final words:

When I am weak, HE is strong.

The joy of the LORD is my strength. 

I am nothing apart from Christ. 

And as the Lord so sweetly reminded me during nap time the other day, “I know you can’t do it. But I can.” 

 

Following Jesus is worth it – even if that means being far away from the ones you love.

“Watch”-ing the Lord Provide

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Sometimes, there are moments in life that simply have no explanation other than God. Today, I had one of those moments. After telling the beautiful story to my fiancé, and other friends here in Uganda, they each encouraged me to write it out tonight so that I would never forget it…so here it is. A small story that demonstrates the power of an Almighty God!

You are probably wondering why the title of this blog is “’Watch’-ing the Lord Provide.” Well, as cheesy and punny as that title may be, that is exactly what happened to me. My dear friend Rema (who is in one of our women’s empowerment programs at HEAL Ministries to transition out of poverty, that I wrote a blog about last summer about how much she taught me in seeing possessions through the Lord’s eyes… when she gave me her nicest gold ring as a token of our friendship, knowing that that was probably the nicest “worldly possession” she owned – go check it out!), has already been used by Jesus to humble me to my very core…yet again.

I had just recently been telling the other girls, and my fiancé back at home, that I wished I had brought a watch here – so that I would be able to keep time during the school day and to track my runs (that I try to go on most days after work to pray and process through my days) in the area around our living compound. Over the past few days, sweet Wesley has been talking about sending me a watch in a package he is planning to send soon, but little did I know, the Lord had already taken care of it for me…. even this…this tiny, little, minuscule, non-important item that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

As I was leaving work at the James Place today and heading into a team meeting, Rema’s friend pulled me aside and said that Rema had a gift for me. A gift that she had been so excited to give me all weekend and wanted to make sure I got today! Rema had already left by the time I got out of the meeting, but her friend came and found me and handed me the most beautiful black, shiny gift…none other than, you can probably guess… a watch. Probably one of the nicest, if not the nicest, material possession she owned. Amid a wide range of emotions, debating whether I should take this incredibly kind gift (because I felt so guilty taking it, yet, it is completely rude in Ugandan culture to not take a gift…a gift is to be received…ironically enough…just what my blog the other day was about), I couldn’t help but realize that this beautiful watch was not just a gift from Rema, but a gift from the Lord. Rema had given me a small gold ring and several handmade bracelets last summer, but a watch…now that is something that I have never even seen for sale on the streets in Uganda. I had barely even been able to speak to Rema during lunch the other day, and definitely never mentioned to her, or anyone in the vicinity, my recent desire to have a watch during my 6 months here. Last summer, the Lord used a similar experience to remind me that our treasures should be stored up in heaven alone, but this time, He is teaching me something else as well.

Although there is nothing inherently spiritual about a simple watch, this was as pure of an example as you can find about God showing off. I had never asked, or even thought to ask, the Lord about something as silly and unimportant as a watch, but the Lord chose to use Rema to show me, in a tangible way, what He means when He says He will always provide. Jesus says in the Bible,

Matthew 6: 31-33 – “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

There is verse after verse in the Bible about God providing for the needs of His people, and though we don’t always get to see it in such a tangible way as this simple watch example, that doesn’t mean He’s not still at work, answering prayers that may not have ever left our lips. He knows them before we even speak a word. Even the ones that may seem like nothing to us. But even more so, the ones that we are crying out to him – ones for healing of loved ones, reminders that He is still there, and ones that seem impossible to even ask for. God will always provide exactly what we need, exactly when we need it, whether we have been able to verbalize and voice those needs or not. I hope this small example means as much to you as it did to me…and I hope you are encouraged in whatever God is calling you to do, wherever that may be!

2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

The picture on the right is the only picture I have of Rema, from last summer. But now, her little son Elijah is a whole year older and Rema is just as radiant (inside and out!) as always! 

Sweetly Broken, Wholly Surrendered

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Jesus is good. So, so good. That has been the theme of my life– through every season – and will be the theme of these next 6 months in Jinja, Uganda. I arrived at the Entebbe Airport late Sunday night, rode on a bus through the night (through Kampala and other Ugandan towns) to Jinja, and have officially been here for a week now. Having been here last summer, I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect. But in the short week I have been here, I have already seen, learned, and experienced things that I never even encountered last time. Life in Jinja is thriving and busy, with people driving bodas and selling chipati and other yummy street food every corner you turn, but life here is no different than life at home – ever-changing and yet surprisingly the same all at once.

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It has been mind-blowing to see some of the same children I fell in love with last summer already a whole year older – with blooming personalities and new haircuts, some of them in school for the very first time (praise the Lord – who hears and answers our prayers)!

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I was able to have some of the sweetest reunions with some of my Ugandan staff friends at HEAL Ministries, as well as my dear friend Rema, who is in one of our women’s programs here, and her precious son, Elijah, who is no longer a baby, but a walking and active little one now! And yesterday, at our weekly Saturday Kid’s Club Outreach Program (my favorite part of the week), I was able to see and rejoice with so many of my little friends (from the local slums and nearby villages) from last summer as we danced, played, sang, the children were fed, given a drink of water, had their hands and arms washed, heard the gospel, and left with a memory verse to study and bring back next week for a “sweetie” (the name for a lollipop over here). I can’t even put into words the joy it has brought me that so many of these same children are now able to attend the James Place Preschool (many of whom are in my class now!) during the week, due to the Lord’s provision through generous donors and answered prayers that led to the school expansion this past year. This whole week at school has just been such a reminder of how beautifully God has been at work during my time teaching in South Carolina this past year, and it has been such a sweet, sweet gift to be able to come back and teach alongside my wonderful Ugandan teacher friends and have my same students (and many new little faces from Kids’ Club due to our scholarship program!) in my preschool classroom.

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It’s been so incredible to be back with HEAL Ministries with people who have left a forever impact on my heart, and so incredibly humbling that the Lord has seen it fit to call me to spend half of a year back in this special place before I marry my incredibly supportive and encouraging fiancé, Wesley Mabry, and start a whole new life serving Jesus with him. In the midst of so many sweet reunions and joyful moments, I have been so sweetly reminded, as I mentioned above, of God’s goodness and grace. If you had told me 5 or even 2 years ago that I would be serving 6 months in Uganda, working with vulnerable women and children, while being engaged to the love of my life on the other side of the world, I would have told you that you were completely crazy! It’s funny, though, how God’s timing works…and how sovereign He is in piecing our lives together and creating us “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  And for that, I am grateful. Last summer while I was serving in Uganda, I was healing from some things that had happened in my own life leading up to coming here, and experienced Jesus’ love and grace through the eyes of the women and children here like never before in my life.

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Sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.

          I believe when we truly know how broken we are apart from the love of Christ, we are able to most fully experience His overwhelming grace and surrender our lives to Him to the fullest capacity. And, as I first-hand experienced and learned this last summer, the Lord was able to work in and through me like never before. At Amazima Church this morning (the church at the school Katie Davis Majors from Kisses from Katie founded), the pastor spoke about gratitude and said that “when we really feel like we received a gift we did not deserve, we will constantly show our gratefulness to the giver.” In this case, the giver is obviously God, and our life is a gift. He talked about how we are to live out of our gratitude and that true followers of Jesus know how undeserving they are of the grace of God! Gratefulness comes from grace. Grace comes from knowing how undeserving we are. Thus, gratitude is a humble response to grace.

Ephesians 2:8 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

2 Corinthians 9:11-12 – “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous in every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”

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I am filled with gratitude as I am called to spend these next 6 months teaching, serving, and loving on so many of God’s precious children, but even more so, filled with gratitude for the life God has given me. God’s saving grace is a gift. One I could never earn or deserve. Jesus deserves our gratefulness, and calls us to live our lives humbly devoted to Him alone. Even in the midst of transitioning to a new culture and on the nights when I am missing home and those that I love so much that it hurts, I am comforted by the saving arms of Jesus Christ and the love that only He can give. When there is no one else or nothing else to provide us worldly comfort, Jesus is still there. What a gift.

When we realize how sweetly broken we are, we are able to wholly surrender our lives to our precious Jesus, and experience the fullness of life Jesus talks about in John 10:10 –

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

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(in the picture above, you can see that we got to learn about “Teacha Emily’s” home country on July 4th…and we had a blast putting together our American Flag Craft!)

 

To God be ALL the Glory!