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Parked in front of a row of shops in Uganda, I heard someone in the row behind me say “coffins should never be made that small.” I turned my head and saw a shop full of wooden coffins, some for adults, some small enough for infants, and every size in between. As I watched the people passing by, I tried to imagine which of them had suffered that deep loss, the loss of their own child. Little did I know, that I would one day begin to understand the pain of that loss.

In February 2008, I received news that a little eight year old girl had lost her life. In that instant, my world was turned upside down. Mackie was a girl that I had met the previous summer in Uganda. She caught my attention the first day I met her. I saw her dancing and worshipping with a pure heart, a pure joy, that could only come from God. We instantly bonded and spent the remainder of my trip trying to communicate by drawing, playing and laughing together. On the last day, we both cried as we said goodbye and I held her, telling her that I would come back to see her again. Little did I know that God had different plans.

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Three years later, I was is in Mackie’s village, visiting her family. Her sister took me to the edge of their property where the family had buried her. It was a humble grave, unidentified by anything more than a small, raised pile of red dirt. As soon as I saw it, those words flowed through my mind, “coffins should never be made that small.” Her sister and I began to remove the weeds that had grown over her grave, and I cried, thinking of this young life that was taken so unexpectedly. In that moment of sorrow, I felt a wave of grace and I pictured Mackie dancing and twirling, like she had years ago, but this time in front of her Daddy in Heaven. She was beautiful and I was overwhelmed with the peace of knowing that one day I would dance beside her as we worshipped the Lord together.

Today, I was reminded of that journey as I received news from Emily, saying that Jojo had passed away in his sleep last night. Anyone who met Jojo smiles at the mention of his name because they know his quirky facial expressions. They know the funny noises that he makes. They know the amazing cuddles that he gives. They know the smile that can melt your heart in an instant. For reasons we don’t know and may never understand, the Lord decided to take Jojo home last night and I know that he is now walking, and running and praising God in a way that he was never able to do in his previous body. I am grateful for the hope of knowing that I will see Jojo again in Heaven, but it does not make the pain of this loss any less real. 

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Please pray for the Ekisa family and everyone who was impacted by Jojo’s short life. He was greatly loved and will be greatly missed.

 

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Zak-a-versary

AMMENDMENT: I just want to be clear on one thing. This story is not about how awesome I am or something great that I did. It’s so much bigger than that! This is the story of what God’s love can do in a life. This is the story of how God can work in even the most hopeless situation. This is the story of redemption that comes ONLY through the Lord. Ekisa and I are both instruments used by Him, please don’t give us the glory.

Even though a year has passed, I remember the day I met Zak like it was yesterday. To say that meeting him impacted my life is probably the understatement of the year. That boy was thrown into my world, promptly turned it upside-down, then latched onto my heart and never gave it back. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

The day I met him, I was sure that he wouldn’t make it through the night. He was a little skeleton of a child. I could count every single bone on his body and his joints popped and cracked every time he moved. He had been neglected and abused for so long that I was sure the damage could not be undone.

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I hated that Zak didn’t smile. I hated even more that Zak didn’t cry because I knew that he had lived a life with no one to answer his cries. I hated that we would hand him toys to play with but he would hand them right back because he didn’t know what to do with them. I hated that he would flinch when we would kiss him. I hated that someone could do such horrible things to a child.

My eyes were suddenly opened to injustice. My heart shatterd for the neglected and rejected. I saw firsthand the way that disabled children and adults are treated in Uganda and it made me sick. That day, I completely understood the vision that inspired my friend Emily to start Ekisa. I vowed to make that little boy feel loved, no matter what it took.

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I spent that first night praying healing over Zak and whispering words of love and value in his ear as he slept. By the grace of God, Zak survived that night and all the nights to follow. A couple weeks later, he began to smile and dance. A month later, he had doubled his original weight.  Six weeks later, Zak started to play. A year later, he is one of the happiest (and chubbiest) boys you’ll meet.

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I cannot tell you how amazing it was to watch God transform and restore that boy!! The changes went far beyond the physical and deep into the spiritual and emotional realms. Today, Zak knows that he is loved and joy radiates from his face. He is so incredibly resilient and inspirational.

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I am so grateful for a God who is faithful to repair and restore even the most hopeless of situations. I am also thankful beyond words for Ekisa for taking such amazing care of him (and for all of the volunteers that send me updates along the way). If you haven’t checked out Ekisa yet, PLEASE do so today. You won’t regret it. (www.ekisa.org)  (http://ekisainternational.blogspot.com/)

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Five months later.

I’ve been home from Uganda for five whole months now and my life has become entirely different. I don’t care what anyone says. Serving God is easier in Africa.

I didn’t look into Zak’s hallow eyes when he first came to us, malnourished and afraid, and say “I know just what to do.” I didn’t look at the burns that cover Walter’s body and say “I know just what this boy needs.” I didn’t hear about children at Serving His Children whose life on this earth ended too soon and say “I know exactly why this happened.”

Everything I encountered there was so much bigger than me. Everything seemed so impossible and I had no choice but to cry out to God for the answers. Each day I begged for the wisdom and grace to make it through the day. Each day I asked that He would use me to pour out His love. I was constantly broken but I was ready to be used. I ached to be a vessel.

It’s here that I struggle. It’s here that I feel like I know just what to do. It’s here that I find myself relying on my own knowledge and wisdom to get by. It’s here that I’m constantly asking “What are you doing here God?” It’s here that I question His meaning, purpose and timing in my daily life. It’s here that I have difficulty finding ways to be Jesus to others.

But the beauty is that I’m learning.

I am learning to ask for help in day to day life. I am learning to step away from self-reliance and to dive into complete dependence. I am learning that life here is a lot easier when I choose to surrender. I am learning how to be present in the lives of others. I am learning how to be a better wife, daughter, sister and friend. I am learning to seize opportunities to be used by Him on a daily basis rather than waiting for the next trip or big ministry opportunity. I am learning to let go of my own ideas and to embrace God’s purpose and plan. I am learning how to be a part of a church family and to open my life to others. I am learning to be “content in whatever circumstances I am.” I am learning what it looks like to serve Jesus here. I am learning to choose JOY.

Yes, I am doing a cop-out post and putting pictures of the kids instead of writing but I figure that’s more of what you’re interested in anyway. Here we go!

reality.

I have less than two weeks left in Uganda. Honestly, I don’t know where the time has gone. The last six months passed in the blink of an eye.

Last Friday I traveled back to Masaka to get another week with Rita and the boys. Between visiting Jireh, seeing Rock’s family (including the new baby!), going on school visits for Scripture Union and making videos for Faith, Hope, Love Missions and Serve to Save, I’ve stayed busy. Mostly though, I’ve just been trying to make the most of every moment. I have been reflecting on all that these six months have held and I am slowing down to take in the beauty around me.

There is a part of me that is eager to go home. I am really excited to be with my family again – to see my nephew (who has grown WAY too much since I’ve been gone), to have late night talks with my mom, to laugh with everyone. I can’t wait to hug Chris again and to not have to rely on sketchy internet or five minute phone calls to communicate. I am anxious to see and catch up with friends because, let’s face it, we’ve all been too busy to send emails and let each other know what’s been going on. I am looking forward to finding a job and place to live. I want to plug into a community.

There is also this part of me that never wants to leave. I love this country, I love this life. There is something so incredibly beautiful about utilizing every moment of every day to love others fully. There is something freeing about not having commitments of a job or rent payments so I’m free to play with kids or stay over night in a hospital or whatever else may come up.

There is a big part of me that is legitimately scared. I don’t really remember how to live a “normal” life and I fear that I won’t be content in my “normal” environment any longer. I want so badly to take all of the new things I’ve learned into my old life but I’m really not sure how they’ll fit together.

I have been in this place before and I know how hard it is to go back. I know how hard it is to see how life has gone on without me and to see that some things still haven’t changed. It’s hard to make people understand where I’m coming from when they haven’t been there themselves. There are moments here that are impossible to ever explain with words and that is what makes the transition so difficult. Trust me, I’m not in love with unreliable electricity or limited food selections or language barriers or cultural differences. I am in love with the relationships, the trust, the laughter, the songs, the experience. And these are the things that I would love to explain but fail to find words.

I guess the point of me writing this is to ask for your prayers, to ask for your patience. Leaving is always the hardest part – on both sides.

photo break.

Really, there aren’t a lot of words for the last week. Aside from a couple hospital visits, it’s just been a lot of laughter, smiles, cuddling, playing and fun.

The last week and a half feels like a blur to me. It’s been full of laughter and fun and learning, that’s for sure. I have really enjoyed getting to know all of the kids at Ekisa and would love for you to meet them too!

Natasha was the first official child in the care of Ekisa. She is between two and three years old, tiny and absolutely adorable. It’s been fun to see her become more alert in the last few weeks. We still have not managed to get a smile out of her, but I am determined to make it happen before I leave for the states. She might be my favorite kid to snuggle with.

Debra has the most beautiful smile and an absolutely beautiful spirit to match. She’s got a lot of challenges to face on a daily basis, and yet she is full of joy. She is incredibly determined and I know that she will be making HUGE progress in her PT in the coming months and years.

Jason. Small package, big dude. Jason is always the first to comfort anyone who is crying and is always ready to climb on your lap for story time. Watching him put on his gangster face while dancing to Ugandan rap music one of the first days he was here made me decide that I love him.

Mweru is very special because he will soon be Emily’s son. God put adopting Mweru on her heart a long time ago and I look forward to when that crazy dream will be a reality. He is loud and a little bit crazy, but his giggle is contagious and I LOVE being able to act crazy right with him! It’s been a lot of fun for me to see firsthand why Emily loves him SO much.

I wrote about Zak in my last blog post. He’s been doing so well here! He’s gained a little over 6 kilos, has been walking all around the house in the yard and even started dancing a bit yesterday! Every day he makes me smile and every day I melt when he calls me “Momma” and every day I fall a little more in love with this boy.

Selina is a six-year old doll that joined our home last week. She has one of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen – and that smile, oh that smile. She hates being fed but loves bouncing around – whether on your legs on on a trampoline. She is also a cuddler and I am a pretty big fan.

As you can see, the house is filling up with amazing children and there are more that are waiting to come. Please pray that things would continue to go smoothly here and that Emily would have wisdom in knowing when to bring new children into the house and which ones to bring. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how many kids Ekisa can take in – which sucks since there are so many who would benefit from being here. Also, please pray for Emily as she continues to recover from Malaria!