Saturday, November 2, 2013

His Grace Covers Me

His grace covers me… When I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m excited, when I’m heartbroken, when I’m joyful, and when I can’t find the words… His grace covers me. 

As many of you know, my brother from Africa—Duncan Okuku, came to visit our family in Minnesota this past summer… and it was such a wonderful trip. I’ve had so many of you ask me about the details of his trip… how it happened—How in the world did God arranged that? …I’ve been wanting to share this story with all of you for such a long time now… because it’s beautiful… it’s a beautiful reminder of God’s grace… and how He has great plans for His children … and how His timing is perfect. Always. 

…And so I’ve been wanting to share with all of you the fun and exciting things that have been happening—Duncan’s visit to Minnesota … as well as to share with you my heart for the orphan… and to share with you about God’s unfailing love. 

So, here it is. 

If you’ve followed my blog and have read from the very beginning…Or if you know me, and maybe you don’t even know me that well—but either way, you most likely already know that I have a heart for Africa.  …And so what does that mean, exactly?  A heart for Africa? It means, for as long as I can remember (somewhere since middle school) …my heart has ached for the people and children of Africa. It means that always—every single day—they are on my mind, on my heart and in my prayers. It means that I long to learn more about them… to educate myself, to know all that I can… because any type of knowledge could be valuable and maybe… just maybe, something I learn, read or hear could help them—somehow, someway. It means that I adore the people of Africa. It means that despite all of the horrible statistics and sicknesses that so many of these people face, I think it’s the most beautiful continent. I adore these people. I want to help make a positive difference in their life… I want to somehow, lighten the burdens that so many of them face… 

But wait, I’m just one person? Can I really make a difference? Is that even possible to do to so many people who are hurting… so many children who are lonely, hungry and in need of love? …These questions can be defeating.  They can be suffocating… knowing there’s just SO much that needs to be done… that there are SO many children in need.  And so sometimes, I wonder? …God, I have a heart for Africa… but is that enough? And time and time again He reminds me… That when I fully give HIM my heart, my efforts, my talents, my life… He will take it and MULTIPLE it for good.  For HIS good.  To bring GLORY and HONOR to HIS kingdom. So although the statistics are enormous and only seem to increase by the second, He reminds me that HIS LOVE is far greater than any statistic.  And that HE brings comfort, healing, protection, satisfaction and LOVE to the needy, the the sick and to the orphan.  

…And so I take a deep breath, I remind myself to live my life by having faith like a child… knowing that God is in control and that all I have to do is love Him and live for Him.  Everything else? He has it in the palm of His hands. 

During the summer of 2011, I went on my very first mission trip to Africa for 2 weeks. It was pure joy and pure heartache… all at the same time.  Then the following summer, I went to Africa for 3 weeks in July of 2012... My second trip was even more amazing and my heart broke even more.  So, after I got back, planned my wedding and married my sweetheart… I looked ahead to the spring and summer months.  I was almost certain that I would go back again to Africa that summer … Of course I would go… My heart is for Africa.  My passion is to help the people of Africa.  I long to visit orphans and to care for them… even if it’s just a short period of time. Yes, I need to go back… again. I didn’t have all of the details quite figured out yet, but I never had the details figured out, so that didn’t surprise me…  I was confident that God would direct my paths… He would tell me what the plans were and He would let me know when the time was right. So, until then, I continued to pray and be confident in His plans. So I waited. I prayed… and I waited… and I prayed some more.  

To my surprise, as the time went on… I found that God was telling me the complete opposite than what I had thought He was going to tell me.  Instead of, “Yes, daughter. Go.”  It was, “No… just wait, not yet.”  I remember being so confused, like what? Wait… did I hear you right? Did you just tell me NOT to go to Africa this summer? Ummmm… Don’t you know my heart? Don’t you see the desire I have to go love your children there?? 

Yes. Of course HE knows MY heart.  HE created it…He created me and formed those desires in my heart to love and care for His children in Africa LONG before I was even living here on earth. Yes, He knows exactly what I want… But more importantly, He knows what I need and what I want even before I do.  So although I was completely shocked and confused with His answer, I was committed to listening to Him.  Listening to His ways—Even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear… and even though it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I decided to wait on the Lord… and to wait for His direction. 

My heart was sad, but it didn’t bother me too much… because I knew for some reason God was telling me to wait to go to Africa… the time was not now. I didn’t understand, but I didn’t need to. All I needed to do was trust Him. Yes, I’ll choose to trust You God.  Everyday …I’ll choose trust over fear. 

As the time passed, I had been in contact with Pastor Benson and our team leader Diana.  The word was that Pastor Benson was planning a trip over to America at the end of the summer… And he was wondering if we would like to help care for Duncan during his visit to America.  Immediately I said YES! … I doubled checked with Patrick and his response was the same as mine.  So we said YES... and waited with excitement for this adventure that God was preparing.

That afternoon, I sat down and realized something.  I so badly wanted to go to Africa that summer…I really really did.  And although I had peace in my heart, I still missed it.  And that’s when I realized… I might not be going to Africa this summer, but the next best thing was going to happen... 

A little bit of Africa would be coming to me.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for your grace and for your love that always covers me.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

And The Journey Begins...

Wow, I cannot believe that a whole year has gone and passed since I first went to Africa last summer…Since I first stepped foot onto that piece of land that has had such an impact on me…on my life…and on my heart….And here I am again, sorting through donations, getting my shots and taking my malaria pills…and of course, trying to pack as much as I can into as many suitcases as possible!! I’ve prayed for so long to be blessed with the opportunity to go back and I’ve worked on preparing my heart—again—well, as much as it can be prepared. And now here I am…Saying good-bye to my nice, warm…comfortable home and ready to once again leave it behind for a few weeks while I step outside my comfort zone, ready to take in all that God has in store for me…ready for Him to use me…and in doing so giving Him all the glory. 

As I prepared my head and heart for this mission trip I spent a lot of time reading my devotional: Anticipate. This book is filled with great stories and prayers from others who have traveled the world and gone on mission trips with desires to change a life, change a heart, change a community and to change the world. All of the advice is wonderful and quite helpful, but as I read this book two specific themes played over and over in my mind…Peace and Patience. And, maybe these subjects weren’t even written about that often…but for some reason they just stuck with me and I felt as if I would need to be reminded of them throughout my trip.

So, I packed my suitcases into my car and I was headed towards the cities to stay with my sister Steph. I went to bed appreciating my comfortable sleeping arrangement but was so excited that I could hardly sleep. My flight didn’t leave until the following afternoon so I didn’t need to wake up early, but I knew from last years experience that I would absolutely appreciate having a full night of sleep and would enjoy waking up feeling refreshed and ready to go…Although it wasn’t quite that easy! What’s a girl to do when she’s just SO excited and ready to go?? … My phone beeped and I had received a text message from Caitlin…she was still up too! This made me laugh—we were both so excited and couldn’t sleep! Finally after making sure we had everything and were prepared for our trip, we said goodnight and that we would see each other tomorrow once we both landed in Washington, D.C. 

The time had come…Patrick was dropping me off at the airport and I actually found myself getting a little teary eyed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited for Africa—because I certainly was! I’m just not sure what it is about Patrick and airports but it just reminds me of him in the Army and brings back these sad emotions. However, as he helped check me in and helped me with my 3 LARGE suitcases that each weighed 50 pounds EXACT…and as I carried my 20 pound backpack and my other carry on…I realized that this was hopefully the last time I’d be going on a mission trip without him…and that hopefully next time he would be able to come with. Just that thought brought happiness to my heart…because I so deeply love these trips and all that I learn from these experiences and I know that he would too. 

I arrived to the airport early just to be sure I had plenty of time…I was waiting at my gate to hopefully start boarding soon and my departure time got pushed back 40 minutes…Okay I thought, that isn’t too bad…I should still have plenty of time in Chicago to make my connecting flight. Soon we were able to board and once we all got settled in on the plane, we ending up waiting again for another 45 minutes before we even took off. Thankfully we had landed safely in Chicago and although I was a little nervous I was going to miss my connecting flight I reminded myself that it would definitely be okay. Well, once I got to my gate I found that my flight had been delayed again…then soon my gate was changed….and it was delayed again. I was originally supposed to arrive to Washington, D.C. around 6pm…but by the time I actually left Chicago, I didn’t get to D.C. until 10pm that night. It wasn’t bad at all…I had a great attitude, made some new friends… and I reminded myself of that one key word…Patience. Yes, peace and patience. I hadn’t even left Chigaco yet and God was already teaching me about patience! 

Thankfully Visiting Orphans supplied each of our team members with the same “Go. Be. Love” t-shirt so as I traveled around the airport all by myself—along with ALL of my luggage, I looked for our V.O. shirts and before I knew it, I found a group of them! And, Caitlin was on her way to help me with my luggage. YES!!! This was it! Meeting the rest of the team members made me SO excited…I could hardly wait for all that God had in store for us…for our team…for the people of Africa…for the children at Fiwagoh…and for my heart. Oh Lord, you are SO good to me…thank you for calling me to Africa…thank you for our team…thank you for this opportunity.

You are called to be so much more. God has opened doors for you to go on this trip. He is calling you to grow in your faith, to become someone better than you are right now. He is opening your eyes to live differently than ever before. The challenge for you will be not just to know the right things to do but to put them into practice. And to do this, not just on your upcoming trip, but from now on.” 

Caitlin and I had so much to catch up on and we ended up staying up pretty late—only had a few hours to sleep before we had to get up and check out again. I remember laying in my bed having such a familiar feeling about this hotel…because not too long ago Shelby and I were in this same exact hotel…feeling so excited and also a little nervous with the uncertainty that trips sometimes hold…but yes, we were excited. And, now here I am…sharing a room with Caitlin and falling asleep with a heavy, grateful and excited heart. Morning was just a few hours away and soon we would be on our way…soon we would be boarding a long flight to the one place that for some reason, has always had my heart—even before last summer. Yes, soon…we would be landing in Africa…So, I thanked God again one more time and I rested my eyes…I needed as much sleep as I could get…

Because in the morning, my second journey to Africa begins.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Philippians 4:7

As most of you know, when I was in Africa last summer there was a little boy named Richard that stole my heart. We had an instant connection and I am certain it was love at first sight. After I met him I was trying to figure out all that God was doing. In the short amount of time I was there, I tried to comprehend all that I had experienced and all that I was feeling for this sweet little boy. I soon realized that God’s ways are far too great and that I wouldn’t be able to figure all of this out without His leading. So…after coming back home to my big, soft bed and a nice hot bubble bath…I prayed…and prayed…and prayed. I had such a variety of emotions  and I realized that I had to commit every plan, thought and idea to the Lord…and then, I was reminded that HE HOLDS MY WORLD IN HIS HANDS…Of course He knows what is best for both Richard and me. So I will pray about it and I will follow His leading. From day one I agreed I would pray about this and that if God opened doors…I would walk through them. 

As I prayed I felt God encouraging me to fight for him and to particularly pray for Richard’s grandmother. Then, this past spring I believe God was working a miracle. I was informed about a blog that was written ALL about Richard and his grandmother…this was absolutely HUGE and I felt as though this was another hard…heavy door that was being opened…and although finding Richards grandmother seemed impossible…God planned for this and provided me with answers that Patrick and I had been praying about night and night….This whole time I had been telling myself to fight for Richard and to depend on God…and that if God’s plans are for Richard to be our child—than he simply will. And if in the end God closes that final door, we’ll know this isn’t what He has planned for us…and that if we are unable to adopt Richard…we’ll pray about another child we’re supposed to adopt. 

I messaged Amani to explain our situation and how Patrick and I would just love to adopt Richard. I asked if I would be able to at all meet with his grandmother just to inform her of the love that we have for Richard. I understood that maybe she wouldn’t be fully supportive of the idea—especially since I am aware that she would like to see Richard live and grow up in Uganda…but I just felt like she needed to know our interest in her sweet grandson. After waiting and praying patiently for God’s blessing, I received an email from Amani that said: “We understand your love and concern about Richard, and we really do appreciate it. But to follow Amani’s rules and to protect Richard and his situation, we are sorry to say that we are unable to introduce you to his grandmother. We feel this is just best and we hope you understand.”  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but there was a big part of me that thought it was very doable to meet his grandmother. She is just about 30 minutes from Amani and I really felt like maybe God would allow this. Once I received the email I was of course bummed…but I continued to rely and put my hope in God. I also had the thought of, “If this is God’s will it’s not going to matter—He’ll make a way and will continue to move mountains. I’m not worried.” …And honestly, I’m not 100% sure this door is closed…maybe when I actually get there something miraculous will happen…and Oh wouldn’t that be beautiful if it did! I know God performs miracles on a daily basis and so I believe with all my heart that something powerful and BIG could happen! …On the other hand, maybe God is closing the door on Richard…and if this is the case, there is no doubt my heart will be broken…and no matter what happens…my love for him will always be there…  Patrick and I will continue to hold him close in our hearts. After all, this little boy has had such a big impact on my life and has inspired me greatly!!! Although this wasn’t the news I wanted to hear…I am thankful that I found out beforehand so that I have a little bit of time to prepare my heart.  I also am finding that I have peace….I do feel at peace about this. I thought maybe my emotions would be out of control…or that I would be stressed about this…and honestly…I have such a peace about this that it is sort of hard to understand…I’m a little surprised at myself that I’m not going crazy over this!! …But I was reminded about Philippians 4:7 The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The reason why I have such peace about it is because I am confident in Christ and I know He has GREAT plans. I don’t need to fear—yes, it’ll break my heart of that final door closes…But either way, I know and love the One that is in control…I have nothing to fear…nothing to stress…I simply have peace.

I want to remind you that I am very calm about Richard’s situation currently as I type this and before I leave…But oh boy, I have no idea what it’ll be like when I can hold him in my arms again. No matter what happens…no matter the future…and even though I won’t be able to meet his JaJa, my heart is absolutely FULL of JOY …knowing that I’ll get to live with him at Amani for a full week! I can’t even comprehend what this will like and although it might break my heart even more, I am okay with that. My prayer for some time now has been Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours. My heart was shattered when I first went to Africa last summer…and I won’t be surprised if it’s shattered again.

Now, I would like to share some pictures with you of Richard.  These are a few pictures that I have come across over the past few weeks and months. They just put a smile on my heart every time I look at them. OH RICHARD—You MELT my HEART SWEET BOY!!! Can’t wait to be back with him!!!

As I have written and talked about the blog I came across of Richard that was all about him and his JaJa. It was my friend, Brooke, that informed me of it. Brooke and I have never actually met but she is volunteering at Amani this summer. She has been there since June and leaves in August. We’ve talked so much and so although we’ve never actually met in person—I feel like we already are such great friends! It’ll be SO FUN to finally meet her as well!!! :)

There is something else that I would like to share with you. When I first found out about Richard I was told his dad was never in the picture—which he wasn’t…and I was told that his mother was sick (and eventually died) due to AIDS…which she did. I was also told that Richard was not HIV+…which is false. Richard is HIV+. When I was first told that his mother was sick because of AIDS—my first thought and concern was of course for Richard…and before I was told that he wasn’t HIV+…I knew it didn’t matter what so ever. I love him and if God led me to be his mother I would of course feel honored and would love, care and provide for him regardless of his health—simply put: it didn’t matter. When I told right away that he was negative and that he wasn’t an HIV+ baby I felt relief…thankful that he wouldn’t have to live the rest of his long life with this virus. But this past winter I was indeed informed that Richard is a HIV+ baby and that because of this he is of course on daily medication…Can I just tell you my first thought?? ….I wanted him to be my son even more. I wanted to be able to fully care and love and provide and give him the proper medical care that he is in need of…I wanted to rescue him and devote my time and energy to him…I wanted to do what all mothers do: fight, love and protect their children. I understand that some people might think I’m crazy…might think this is dangerous…to adopt a child that is HIV+…when really, I just want to be honest—it is NOT as bad as most people think it is. Richard is on daily medication which keeps the virus under control and prevents it from actually turning into AIDS…he will NOT pass it on to me through a hug or a kiss or if I give him a bath. I understand that this is a serious medical condition…but at the same time I am NOT concerned. So what if Richard is HIV+…I.LOVE.HIM.

Because Richard is HIV+ his immunize system is weaker than the “average” child and he is unable to fight off common infections as easily….one common thing is warts…over the past few months Richard started to slowly develop small warts on his face…mainly around his eye…but over time they have continued to get worse. When I realized this it broke my heart and I wanted to be able to help him…I contacted Amani and they informed me that he was being treated and that it would just take time for the warts to pass. I just wanted to explain this so that you were aware and understood everything about Richard…and if you could of course continue to keep Richard in your prayers.  Below is a picture of Richard and Brooke on one of Brooke’s first days at Amani!!! :) He is SO BIG!!!!

Well it’s about time for me to start to get ready and to head to the airport…But I wanted to share a few more pictures with you. Over the past few weeks and the past 2 months…there have been so many NEW babies that have arrived to Amani. I’ve been seeing all of them from the pictures Brooke and Sandra have been sharing. I see these pictures and I know without a doubt that I am supposed to go to Amani. Yes, my first initial concern was for Richard…I felt like I needed to go back to him…to visit him again and to love him. Which of course is still true…But I am also realizing that there are other children just like Richard that need love and that deserved to be cared for…and these are just a few of them.

I leave for AFRICA tomorrow morning around 11am!! Please pray for a safe flight for my team and me!! We appreciate it and I hope to be able to connect and share more pictures with you all once I am there!!! :)   

Monday, July 9, 2012

Africa...6 DAYS!!!

Oh my goodness! I leave for AFRICA in less than a week!!!! This Saturday I will fly out of Minnesota and then I will leave with our team on Sunday for AFRICA!! I have just a few days left at home and I feel like I still have quite a bit to do until I leave! ...Finish packing...finish my summer class...and help as much as I can with all of Shelby's last month wedding well as try and get some of our wedding details set. Goodness, goodness! So much to do but SO thankful for all of these BLESSINGS I have in my life!!!! 

My team leader for this trip to Africa is the same team leader I had last summer when Shelby and I went.  Her name is Diana and I am so excited to be able to be back in Africa with her! Her daughter Liz went last summer as well and I am super excited to see her again too!!! This trip to Africa is such a unique trip and I can just feel that it's going to be POWERFUL! And what is really exciting is that Diana's whole family will be coming over to Africa this time!! 

....Diana's husband, Bret, and Liz are actually in Africa RIGHT NOW!  They went two weeks early to start planning and figuring out the details of the playground at Fiwagoh. So although most of our team hasn't physically left yet--in a sense it feels like our trip has already started because those two are over there and are starting the process!! They made it over safely and have been at Fiwagoh working hard and loving on all of the kids there.  Here are some pictures of their work...

Diana shared this video and I thought it was powerful.  Some people wonder why I go and serve the many orphans in Africa...while others are 110% supportive. Regardless of how you feel, I want to encourage you to watch this video.  This is such a great description of how an orphan feels and WHY it is IMPORTANT to live out James 1:27 and to VISIT them. A short term mission trip IS DOES make a difference and it will make a positive impact on the children we love and meet. 

...I'm so thankful God has given me this desire to serve His children and to have a HEART for the ORPHAN.