Sunday, January 1, 2012

[2011...what a year!]

Last New Year's Eve, I welcomed 2011 by gazing into the distance as I stood on my balcony under a starry Ugandan sky. To be completely honest, I wasn't super excited about a new year. In fact, on January 1 I penned in my journal: "For some reason, this year ahead of me is a bit daunting. I wonder to myself, 'in what ways will my life be changed, impacted, and affected in 2011?'"

Quite honestly, I was a bit fearful of the unknown. I was so in love with Uganda, yet I was scheduled to leave in March. Turns out I was able to extend my stay until May, which was wonderful. “But then what??,” my anxious heart wondered.

[my neighborhood kiddos in Uganda]

[my incredible neighbors in Uganda]

But I knew God wanted me to trust Him and take it one day at a time. As I sit here this evening reflecting on the past 12 months, I can see that my life in 2011 was “changed, impacted, and affected” by
the places I went and the meaningful relationships that He has provided.

I am grateful that I now have a spirit of
contentment that I certainly didn’t have during the summer. I came back to the U.S. in May (after living in Africa for 11 months) and had a VERY difficult time adjusting back to this culture…day after day, I kept wishing I was back in Africa with my dear friends there (the week I said my goodbyes in Uganda, I probably cried more tears than I had in the past 5 years! It was ridiculously hard.)

I gradually realized I’m supposed to be in the U.S. for the time being, so I applied for jobs in Colorado and Virginia. Nothing happened. In early September, I remember feeling a sense of peace and understanding that I was supposed to stay in PA for now. Who knows when that will change (I still have a heart for missions and am still trying to figure out my life’s purpose...hoping for a full-time job instead of several part time ones...etc : ). But I can honestly say that I REALLY VALUE the friendships I have here in PA—I’m glad I’ve been here longer than anticipated.

2011 has been full of rich experiences and fantastic people. I recognize a need to purposely remember those things (by writing this)…so that year after year, I can look back at my journals/writings and see where I’ve been and be reminded of His faithfulness. Here are some things I’m grateful for this past year:

Family events such as being in my sister’s wedding, as she said “I do” to Abram. Thanksgiving with my wonderful cousins (good food, fellowship, and Mario Kart!) Also spending Christmas with the whole family (including my former college roommate) last month was so special.

[With my siblings last week on Christmas Eve]

A church that challenges/encourages: I visited ECC in May and haven’t looked elsewhere. I was sick of church-hopping, so this was an answer to prayer. I only know a hand-full of people there, but I know that takes time. There’s a vibrant, refreshing, passionate atmosphere at ECC…

Protection while living in Uganda…particularly during the violent riots during elections. My cousin pointed me to Psalm 56: 3-4 during a fearful circumstance this year. “…in God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”

The kids/staff at Dwelling Places who taught me far more than I could have imagined

My Grandma (dad’s mom): thankful for 24 years with her. her passing away was difficult, but I’m confident she’s in heaven. No more suffering.

New friendships: in Uganda: Maria, Derrick, Laeticia and family, Lauren C, Rachel W, Antonia, and others. In the U.S.: Joy, Jess, the Hoffman family, Greg. Thank you for walking through life with me this year…those of you in PA, I can honestly say the past 7 months were brighter because of you. Looking forward to more memories!

Continuing friendships: too many to list. But thank you for your honesty, for challenging me, for laughing/crying with me, for being patient with me through the years.

All my amazing photography clients who allowed me the privilege of telling your story with my camera. I am a changed person because of you. Thank you!!
[Mary & Nick's wedding, October 2011]

The local newspaper and churches who invited me to share stories/photos from Africa and who allowed me to advocate on behalf of the street children

Exploring places:
-Rwanda (began 2011 with a trip to Rwanda. Met people/saw things in Kigali that were touching and that I will never forget.)
-London, England (May. Stopped for two days on the way home to the U.S. Saw the important sights and had a blast.)
-Haiti (Nov) Had the opportunity to do mission’s photography in this beautiful land-
-Nashville, TN (May)
-Lynchburg, VA (May, my sister’s college graduation; Aug to visit friends
-Wisconsin (June. to photograph my dear friend, Erin’s, wedding)
-Chicago, IL (June. thanks, Carol!)
-Oklahoma (July. visited family friends and helped them fix up a rental property)
-Colorado Springs, CO (July. Stayed with family friends and realized once again that I wouldn’t mind living here someday.)
-Richmond, VA (job-hunted and visited Kate)
-Raleigh, North Carolina (Aug. time with Rach!)
-Philadelphia, PA (Oct)


[Tower of London in England]

[Chicago]

[Haiti]

Lord: thank You for each new breath you choose to give me…I realize I am not guaranteed tomorrow. Thank you for every moment of 2011. Thank you for loving me, despite the times I am ridiculously selfish, choosing not to trust You. In 2012, please allow me the fervor to fall more in love with You and to be obedient.

I am eager to see what 2012 holds. It is certainly starting off with a bang! In two weeks, I will be spending a month in Africa (2 weeks in Kenya doing mission's photography, followed by 2 weeks back in Uganda volunteering/hanging out with dear friends). A total God-thing...I never dreamed I would return 8 months later.
[An ornament hand-made by my friend, Amy.
I teared up when I opened it last week!]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

[the last days...]

Can I freeze time, please? I am trying to soak up all the memories with my dear friends....but I wish I could just stop time for a bit.

I just have one more full week in Uganda. Where did the last 10 months go?? A week from now I'll be heading to the airport. I will spend two days in London with several girls that I went to university with. I'm eager to sightsee London, but Sarah (who's been in Uganda for 2 years!) and I may be a bit emotional after leaving. Should be an interesting trip ;) I will be arriving on American soil on Mother's Day...yes, my mom is more than slightly excited :) I'm looking forward to standing next to my best friend (who happens to be my SISTER!) on her wedding day next month...and it will be a wonderful time of reuniting with family friends and relatives.

I could write a novel here with all the thoughts floating in my head. But my eyes are glazing over, and I desperately need sleep. So for now, I'm just pleading with you and asking you to pray for me during this transition time. It's painful and emotional...goodbyes are not easy. I have a strange feeling that I'll be back at some point, but even if that happens it won't be the same. This chapter is over, and my future is unknown once again (ahhh story of my life!! Thankfully my Father is holding me and won't let go...)

I can't wait to sit down with some of you and share stories, photos, and videos about my experiences in Uganda. It would be an honor, so let me know if you want to get together! :)

Here are two photos from this past week. The first was taken tonight outside of my apartment complex. Meet my second family...what a blessing to have them as neighbors! (and yeah,I know, they're ridiculously beautiful!) I wish I could bring them all in my suitcase...words can't express how much I'll miss them. I love just sitting outside with them...watching movies with them...eating their yummy homecooked food :)...hugging the kids multiple times a day...etc. It's been wonderful learning about Rwandan culture from them. :) [bottom row from L to R: Mimi, Jimmy and Gloria who are ugandan children they're looking after, little Natasha. Top row L to R: Mom, Natasha (the mother to the young natasha), Ivan, Sylvia, me, Laticia, Frederich.]

The second photo was taken Easter weekend. These are the two darlings from Dwelling Places (Lucia in blue. Patricia in red) who stayed with me for a few days. We played HARD and had a blast, but wow their energy is endless and I was exhausted (I got awful food poisoning the day before, so I think my body was still weak from that.)



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[same language]


Everyone smiles in the same language. And for that I am grateful.

[My sweet Patricia. I can't wait to be "mom" for her and another one of our girls--during a long Easter weekend.]

Saturday, April 9, 2011

runaways...

I love “God things”—the type of situation that He undeniably orchestrated. Recently, I went to the post office here in the city to pick up a package that my friend, Janine, sent me (mail from America is the best!!) When I arrived, it was two minutes before closing time. Yet I was told to go home; the staff had already locked up and were heading out the door. I wish I could say I had a good attitude. Instead, I was grumpy and thought to myself, “It figures—the post office staff are as slow as snails when they’re helping their customers. But how convenient that at closing time, they lock up early and rush out the door.”

So I’m admitting to you that I had a crummy attitude. But in my defense, you have to understand that picking up a package at the post office here is not convenient. First, I have to pay my boda driver several dollars to take me to the post office. And it’s an hour round-trip from my house. If you know me well, you know that those are two things I don’t like to waste: time and money. : )

I had no choice but to turn around and go home. The next day, I was determined to get to the post office and pick up the package. I need to explain what happened that morning at work: two of our girls (recently rescued from the streets) escaped and ran away. No one knew where they were. We alerted the police, but that doesn’t help very much here. We lifted them up in prayer at our staff morning devotions, trusting God would protect them. (Nevertheless, we were worried because one of the girls has mental disabilities because of her drug use while living on the street.)

That’s an important piece to this story, so bear with me.

So after work, I went into the city to try for the SECOND time to pick up my package.

I was sick and also exhausted, so I was riding on the boda not paying attention to the thousands of people we passed by. As we got closer to the city, I looked up suddenly and saw two girls walking towards us. I still can’t believe that I recognized our girls after a quick second as we zoomed by them….(especially because I had only met them a few times briefly, since they were new additions.)

I asked my boda driver to pull over onto the side of the road, and I called my boss to double-check that the girls were still lost (at this point I was thinking “surely that wasn’t them….”). She encouraged me to go look for them. By this time, the girls had walked onto a different road, but we thankfully found them.

I brought them back to the office, thanking God that He had been watching over the girls (they had been wandering around with no food or water for nearly 12 hours in the hot sun…and had walked MILES!)

(No package for Ashley that day either ;) But I didn’t care….I couldn’t help but smile, realizing that God had a reason for me being sent home from the post office the previous day. He wanted me to head into the city and find the girls the next day!)

Quick update on the girl with the mental disorder: she refused to stay at the organization, and we can’t force her to stay. So that same evening, she packed up her things and went back to living on the streets. The next day when I was in the city, I heard a voice say “auntie…..!” and it was her. So crazy. I told her we were praying for her, and she should consider returning since it’s a safe environment.

A few days later, she realized she had made a mistake. She is now back with us at DP! Please pray that she decides to stay and get an education, receive the love we want to give her, etc.

On a completely different note, 4 weeks from tomorrow I will be waking up in my family’s home in Pennsylvania. That’s a lot to process, and I have incredibly mixed emotions—but that’s a post for another day. I’m excited to see my friends and family after nearly a year! But my heart begins to ache when I think about leaving my dear friends and kiddos here in Uganda. This truly feels like home in many ways.

I selfishly would love your prayers during this transition phase and that I get everything done that I need to in my remaining 4 weeks.

The goodbyes have already begun. Yesterday, I got to spend some time with this dear Rwandan girl who I met my first week in Uganda. She’s going to her father’s house for a holiday break, so I doubt I’ll see her again. Isn’t her smile endearing?

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Two videos!

Our kids are adorable. Period, end of story :)
Over the last two months, DP has rescued about 20+ new children from the streets of Kampala. And will continue to do so. They wanted to send their greetings. (They like stickers all over their faces, can you tell? :)

The second video is three of them speaking Luganda, and it basically translates to: "Auntie Ashley, we love you, because you are our friend. And you take our photos..." oh how they love the camera!


video video

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rwandan wedding!

Well this is a bummer. Since returning from my trip to Eastern Uganda 3 weeks ago, my stomach has been fighting something (each day, practically). After multiple tests this week, the doctor isn’t 100% sure but she thinks it’s a parasite. All I know is, SOMETHING is attacking my stomach and it’s no fun. I’m able to eat a little but not as much as usual, so I’m rather weak/lethargic. Plus I’m incredibly dehydrated—in the past two days, I drank 9 liters (more than TWO GALLONS) of water. And I’m still thirsty…bizarre.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying. I’m hoping I can go back to work on Monday feeling like a new person. And also, I appreciate Marsali who took me to the clinic…and also my other friends/co-workers who have popped over to my flat to pay me a visit: Lauren yesterday, Katy today, a surprise visit from Solomon/Richard/Dennis/Eddy this evening, and Maria tomorrow!

Now, for something more cheery: I recently attended a Rwandan wedding here in Kampala. My dear friend, Laticia, told me her cousin was getting married and asked if I’d like to come along. It was a lovely and very classy event. When the bridal party entered the reception hall, they were lead by a display of fireworks as well as traditional Rwandan dancers (incredible!) Not too shabby!

After about two hours of wedding speeches (which were in the Rwandan language which I don’t understand a word of!), Laticia and I slipped out and sat in the cool evening air. We talked a lot about our growing-up years, our families, etc. I appreciate friends like her who challenge me and aren’t afraid to ask blunt questions such as, “Ashley, what has made you sad in your life….” Definitely opens doors to some honest, deep conversations.

I brought my small point-and-shoot camera and my flip-cam, so here are a few photos from before and during the wedding.

Pre-wedding: Laticia and I (she's one of my closest friends here in Kampala, and I'm so thankful for her! She lives right outside my gate which is awesome :)

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Two of my lovely friends, Laticia (different shirt this time) and her older sister Natasha.

laticianatasha

The next 3 photos were taken by Laticia on my point-and-shoot camera which does not take impressive indoor photos. sigh.

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My other friend (the third sister) was a bridesmaid and she looked stunning! Sylvia's in the purple dress (I have no idea who the others are!)

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Phenomenal traditional Rwandan dancers. My favorite part of the reception.

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um I tried to give her the memo to make a silly face. Instead, she looks scared of my goofyness :)

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My friend, Natasha, and I in front of the lovely wedding cakes. [Don't you love her traditional Rwandan dress?]

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Oh and by the way, if you're the only white girl in a crowd of several hundred Africans, you can expect something unusual to happen---such as the two men (one was quite intoxicated w/ alcohol) who spent ten minutes trying to convince me that they needed a photo with me. They literally refused to take no for an answer, so when they called the wedding photographer over, I just forced a grin while he snapped a photo. The one man said he was a teacher in the village and couldn't wait to show them my photo....I definitely felt like an animal in the zoo. A good lesson for me to remember to have photo etiquette when I walk around with MY camera! It's important to be sensitive so that others don't feel that way.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Inward battle [during worship]

This has a different feel from my usual blog post. It's not just about Africa....it's relevant across continents. So, read on...

By being completely honest and vulnerable with my next statement, I hope some of you who also struggle with it can breathe a sigh of relief and know you’re not alone! Lately, I have found myself VERY DISTRACTED in the very place where I should be completely consumed with the Lord: worship during church services.

People are perhaps one of the main things I'm distracted by! I’m very people-oriented, and I love people-watching. Always have, always will! So combine my personality with the fact that (in my church here in Uganda), many people arrive quite late—even when we’re 45 minutes into the worship. So if I’m not careful, I find myself looking around at all the interesting people….thinking “Have I met her before? She looks familiar….” or “aw, that child is all alone. I wonder if he’s a street boy.” or “oh no she didn’t—does she know she’s in CHURCH wearing THAT?” [I don’t want a petty, judgmental attitude anywhere—especially church. Yet, sometimes the thoughts sneak in :( ]

So then, as the scenario usually goes, I realize my thoughts are wandering when I should be WORSHIPPING. Feeling guilty, I silently scold myself, and I close my eyes to block out distractions.

But during the next song, my mind is flooded with other things….

*My future.

*What I’m going to eat for lunch after service.

*ugh, not this song again....I wish we sang more hymns!

*Men.

*That new book I want to read.

*Oh, I have to remember to tell my friend [insert name] about such and such.

*I wonder which pastor is preaching today.

None of those are BAD things to think about, in and of themselves! But I am truly annoyed with how easy it is for me to be distracted during worship.

I want to enter His presence and be consumed with His love, forgetting what and who is around me. Why does that seem nearly impossible when I’m standing in a room full of people?

I don’t know. But as I sit here, typing….I know I’m guilty of putting too much emphasis on myself and also on the music itself. Maybe I need to make time to meditate on scripture (and pray) before I get to church….If you have any thoughts, please share them here. Maybe ways that you try to block out distractions during worship?

I just read an INCREDIBLE article from Christianity Today that has changed my thinking regarding the act of worship. Take a few minutes to read it….the first half is a bit slow-moving, so I’m giving you permission to skip ahead to the “Reversing Field” section. click here to read it. <------

The article makes a great point that many Christians think that worship ORIGINATES with US. That worship moves from earth to heaven. But really, it’s the opposite:

The trajectory of heavenly worship begins with God and descends to earth.”

When we are standing in church singing to the Lord, we are part of a MUCH bigger picture….a much bigger chorus! We are so small. It’s not about us. We are joining with those in heaven as we worship our Creator. What a privilege!

The author of the article says it beautifully (after I read this, I called my roommate over and read it to her. All we could say was “WOW! I’ve never really thought about that before!)

"A day will come when our conflict and mutual discomfort over the church's worship will end. Until then we must muddle through the best we can by reminding ourselves that we are part of a much larger congregation—one populated by patriarchs and prophets, saints and angels, where we are invited to join a chorus that began on the first day of creation. The first notes were sounded by those who surround the throne in heaven. Their theme echoes through the rest of God's domain. All that remains is for us to add our voices to their song."

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Can’t have a post without a picture! Worshipping with people from other nations is a small glimpse of heaven! It was a blessing to watch our Children of the World choir kids praise their Savior while singing their little hearts out. (I can’t remember who took these photos...this was 2 years ago!)