Uganda 2014: The end is just the beginning

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort,
and letting it be there until some light returns.” ~Anne Lamott
 
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda.

When I originally started writing this I was sitting on the balcony of my lodge room, overlooking the Nile River in Uganda. My view was beautiful, the warm air comforting, and the sounds coming from the African forest were soothing to my soul. I was preparing to spend my last day in this incredible place and although my heart was heavy at the thought of leaving, I was also very much at peace. This trip had been so full of unexpected blessings and was far more than any trip I could have ever imagined. For 10 days, I had been surrounded by amazing courage, whole-hearted joy, peace, healing, beauty, and LOVE. My heart had been opened and my soul expanded. I had been reminded that even though no one on this planet is immune from heartache, HIS love never fails us. It will always carry us through the worst of times if we choose to let it.

At the dedication of the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children's Home.
At the dedication of the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home.

Fast forward a day. . .

As I decided to continue writing, my surroundings were far less than the bliss I had enjoyed at the start.  I was just one hour away from United States soil and s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g to make gracious choices. I had been on a jam-packed flight from Amsterdam for the past eight hours with some loud, annoying, and rather rude people who thankfully decided to ease up on their alcohol consumption. (As my friend Jaynee would say, “They were seriously harshing my mellow.”) I had not been out of my seat for several hours, showered for nearly two days, and I was d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e-l-y in need of a run. I am pretty sure my a@@ had grown two sizes and my ankles had swollen to the size of elephant legs from the multitudes of hours I had spent not moving. I had only had about 10 minutes of crappy time on the internet in the previous four days. I was crawling in my skin at that point and all I wanted to do was talk to my kids and see the hub. That peace, love, and joy I had experienced less than 24 hours ago had completely left the building.

The tulips were in full bloom in Amsterdam. A bright spot on the otherwise LONG flight home.
The tulips were in full bloom in Amsterdam. A bright spot on the otherwise LONG flight home.

And now, three weeks later. . .

I’ve been back to this page several times since my return from Uganda, never quite finding the words I thought I needed to create some sort of crazy-amazing post that would inspire everyone reading  to drop what they were doing and hop the first plane to Uganda to work with orphans. (When I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen, I decided just to finish,  and to be okay with however the words tumbled out.) It already seems like a lifetime ago since we left and although there isn’t hardly an hour that goes by that I don’t think of the orphanage or the trip, I haven’t chosen to slow down enough to let my mind “go there” yet. Ya’ll know what I mean? And while I have yet to begin to comprehend and process everything that I have seen and experienced, that’s not the whole story. The root of the problem– really– is this. . . I know that the longer I put off reflecting and writing about my journey, the longer I have to continue in my COMFORTABLE, tidy little world. 

Which brings me back to one month and three days ago. . .

As I was attempting to relax in my nightly bubble bath a few days before I left, I suddenly had the INTENSE feeling that when I returned from Uganda this time around, my life was about to get really UNCOMFORTABLE. Not  in the physical way (like I was on the plane), but uncomfortable in the emotional and spiritual way, (which, for me, can be somewhat angst producing.)  I had no clue what was going to be such a game-changer, I just knew it had something to do with knowing better and doing better.

“When you know better you do better.”

 ~Maya Angelou

I knew I wouldn’t be able to unlearn what I was about to learn from this trip therefore I knew upon my return, I would have no choice but to DO better.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without

clothes and daily food. 

If one of you says to them,

“Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”

but does nothing

about their physical needs,

what good is it?

In the same way, faith by itself,

if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

~James 2:15-17, NIV

But, that is the hard part–the doing, the action– mainly because that is where the messiness comes in. It’s in that mess where the uncomfortableness begins and it’s in those uncomfortable messes where we have to make our toughest choices. Do we simply say “go in peace?” Or do we put our faith in action?  Like I said, the action is the hard (uncomfortable) part, especially, when it is SO easy (comfortable) to just say “go in peace.”

But, when you know better, you do better, right?  

At this moment, I have NO idea where my life is headed.  I only know that I have learned the hard way that no matter how much I try to control it–no matter how much I try to stay comfortable–I can’t. And I am now grateful for that. I have faith enough to know that I will trust in the journey–despite the heartaches and uncertainties-because I know that God is faithful. ALWAYS. All the time. Even when we can’t see it through the mess. Even when we are uncomfortable. His love never fails us. The evidence of that rests in a beautiful little orphanage in Uganda. . .

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The 2014 Oman/Minnesota Team with the children of the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home.

Uganda 2014: Love shows up

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The Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. Photo credit to the beautiful Sarah Elbing.

It’s a love story that began long ago.

One that will go on long after I am here to write about it.

Rising from the Ugandan dust. . . 

An orphanage grew.

Seemingly overnight.

That doesn’t just happen.

Orphanages don’t just appear.

But this one did.

Beauty from the ashes. . .

An orphanage born of redemption and grace.

But most of all LOVE.

Because love never fails.

It shows up.

Even in death.

Even when we are brokenhearted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a few short days, I will be boarding a plane to Uganda to visit the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. I will be traveling with some very special people. At the moment, I feel like I am about to burst from pure joy and excitement.

And yet, I can hardly believe it. . . even though I’ve been there before.
I’ve seen it.
I’ve hugged the children.
I’ve touched the red earth.
I’ve felt  joy and grief simultaneously flood my heart. . . until I thought it would explode.

It’s all very real. . .and yet, still so surreal.
I sometimes can’t help but wonder if this all a really long, tragic-yet-beautiful, neverending dream.
Some days I think that maybe this will be the day that I wake up.
I’ll call my mom and sister-in-law and tell them about this crazy dream I had about an orphanage.
And they will listen as I recount every detail.
I’ll chase butterflies with my niece and tell her that I’ve met a whole bunch of her 100 kids.
And she will tilt her head back and laugh wildly!

Then I realize that I am awake. . . and I remember that they already know about this orphanage.
Because, when I was there, I saw their spirit everywhere. . .
In the faces of the beautiful children and in the butterflies that would linger.
I saw them gloriously looking on from above.
Their love reigning over us.

Love is like that.
It shows up.
It builds orphanages.
It transcends death.
It heals the brokenhearted.

Love never fails.

And the story goes on. . .

Uganda 2014

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Some of the children of the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home in Uganda. Thank you Sarah Elbing for this photo!

As I write this, I feel like I should be pinching myself.

I’m going to Uganda for the second time in one year?

What?

I know.

I feel like the luckiest girl alive at the moment.

I could never thank the people that have made this trip possible for me enough. I don’t have the words to describe how truly grateful I am. I don’t know if I ever will. All I do know is that this trip will be incredibly special. I can feel it already.

I failed miserably writing about my last trip. I am not exactly sure why. Yes, I can be terribly lazy about my writing, but that wasn’t what this was. It was something more. I have a feeling much of the experiences of my first trip will come out in the blogs of trip number two, which, by the way, I PROMISE to write!

So in the mean time. . .

Stay tuned.

It’s Uganda or bust!

All things Africa: Our day at the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home

If you would have asked me at that moment if I thought that this was real life I would have told you NO and meant it.

If you would have asked me at that same moment if it is possible to feel your heart breaking and mending at the same time I would have shouted a resounding YES, and meant it.

If you would have asked me at that moment if it was possible to feel terribly heart-wrenching grief and the most immense joy ever–simultaneously– I would have screamed OF COURSE IT IS and meant it because that is exactly what I was feeling at that moment.

If you would have asked me in that same moment if I ever thought God’s redeeming grace could be SO GOOD, I would have shook my head in bewilderment and mumbled no, and truly meant it.

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The first building we saw when we arrived at the Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home in Njeru, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of True Impact Ministries.)

Driving up to the Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home was one of the most SURREAL moments of my life. As I had on so many days prior to this one since the crash, I felt like a bad actor in an equally bad Lifetime movie. Nothing around me seemed real, yet I knew it was. Every sight, sound, and emotion were so very real. But how could it be? How? I have yet to wrap my head around this. Maybe I never will. It was just a year ago when our family was locked into group hugs at the MSP airport welcoming Mike,  Michelle, and the kids home from another school year abroad.  And now? Just months later? We were about to spend the day at an orphanage in Uganda that was named in Michelle and Julia’s honor? How could this be real life? How could it be?

There are still days that I think that we will all wake up from this nightmare of the last year and our family will be whole again. Then? I actually wake up and realize that this IS real life. I wake up and realize that the pain and heartache of the last year are very real and there isn’t a single thing we can do to change it. Thankfully though, God’s redeeming grace is so wonderfully amazing. 

The blessings that are beginning to rise from the ashes of this nightmare are good, SO VERY GOOD. There is a beautiful little orphanage, rising up in love, that brings a hope of healing for so many. For that, I am so very grateful.

Here’s a few pictures from our day at M & J’s. . .

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Most of the 51 children that will be living at the orphanage came out to meet us when we visited. Just over half of the children have sponsors already and the rest are waiting. . .
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Enjoying some sweets!
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This little sweetie’s name is Harira. She is six-years old and is in need of a sponsor.
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Dressed in their finest and happy to have a soda. These guys were so full of life and love that day!
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The children were rather quiet and shy at first. It didn’t take long though before this beautiful place was teeming with laughter and love.
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And there was even some dancing!
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We were blessed to have the chance to meet our little sponsored guy Mayanja! 

To see some video from the opening ceremonies click here http://youtu.be/KRQN-VOWZHY and here http://youtu.be/v5ZZ1vQ18J0.

For more from our day at the orphanage you can check out the True Impact blog here–http://www.trueimpactministries.com/blog/michelle-julia-hoffman-home-day/.

You can keep up-to-date on the progress of the home by following The Michelle & Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/HoffmanHome and by following True Impact’s page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/True-Impact-Ministries/289875141039444.

All things Africa: Part two, the foreward

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A roadside stand in Uganda.

Driving down the long stretch of road from the airport to our first destination in Jinja, Uganda I suddenly felt my soul stir. The sites, sounds, and smells of Africa were new to me--the roadside shops, the dusty air, the ever-present aroma of fires, the roosters perpetually crowing— yet, eerily, I already knew them. A part of my soul had longed for this place as far back as I could remember and now that part of me was finally home. . .

In June 2013 I was blessed beyond belief to have had the opportunity to travel to Africa on a mission trip with a group of AMAZING people that I believe only God’s loving handiwork could have brought together.  For two solid weeks we laughed, we cried, and we experienced the joys and heartaches of the beautiful Ugandan people together. I know that some of the friendships made during our time together will last a lifetime. It seems that many of us were forever changed from the moment we stepped off the plane onto the deep red soil of Africa.

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Ugandan children with their jerrycans, . .

A tremendous thank you to Andy and Susie Stewart, the founders of True Impact Ministries, for graciously sharing your love of Uganda and its incredible people with us. Thank you for following your hearts to do God’s work and THANK YOU for accepting the call to establish The Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home. You both lead by example with grace and love (and facts too, right Andy?).

Thank you also to all of my family and friends for your endless love and steadfast support. With God’s grace, you made this journey possible. Every dollar, donation, and prayer made a true impact into the lives of more people than we will ever know.

Over the next few months I will be writing about my experiences on this God-sent journey across the sea. I don’t know yet how this story will unfold. I have pages and pages of handwritten journal notes to look over, thousands of photos to sift through, and so many precious memories to recall–some that long to be shared, others that will be tucked away in my heart forever. Stay tuned for more. . .