Saturday, September 28, 2013

Damaged Petals

Willy making dinner
This week, two different boys opened up and shared with me things I never knew about them.  Every time I get to hear more of their stories, I am absolutely amazed.  I am amazed that they are still in the home.  I am amazed that they are overcoming their addictions.  I am amazed that they are able to love and trust.  Their stories are so heartbreaking, the stuff you think only happens in movies:  escaping wars, seeing your parents killed by the rebels.  It seems unreal.  But it is their life.  And now here we are, in a home with people that love and adore them, safe.  By no means is our home perfect, but we are making strides every day to be better than we were yesterday.

Moses and little David

One of the most frustrating things to me is when people tell me the boys are stubborn.  They have no idea what these kids have had to face.  Yes, looking at them today, we still have a long way to go but if you knew them 3 years ago, you would wonder how they made it this far.  If you heard their stories, you would wonder how they ever left their drugs and addictions behind.  For some of the boys, I know it was so hard for them to make the choice to stay in the home.  One boy in particular, I thought that the morning after our first night in the home I would wake up and he would be gone.  Some boys I know have to wake up every morning and make the choice to be sober for another day.  Sometimes they are able to make those choices and sometimes not.  But that doesn't mean that they failed or aren't worth the effort.  Eventually, things will get easier for them.  They will think less about their drugs and more about their future.  We are already seeing it happen. 
Richard and Shafik

For years, the only person that these boys had to count on was themselves.  They raised themselves on the streets and grew up way too fast.  They have endured more in their short lives than I probably ever will in 5 lifetimes.  But still people choose to look at their mistakes instead of seeing how far they have come.  Our friend that is staying with us just shared a quote from Tupac that she heard over the summer.  I think that it fits the boys perfectly.

We wouldn't ask why a rose that grew from the concrete has damaged petals, in turn, we would all celebrate its tenacity, we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why, thank God, and ask me how.”

One boy in particular, when I met him he was so tough and cold.  I thought he would never love me.  I tried and tried and tried.  After so much time, he finally warmed up to me.  Since we became friends, I have seen him change.  He started to open up to other people too.  Now, even though he is the same tough kid, he has a soft side that he actually shows people.  Now when I see him holding the other auntie’s hand or being friendly with visitors, I appreciate it so much more because I remember how he used to be. 

Abraham with our cook's grand kids
I was encouraged this week by the pastor that comes to the home every week.  He has been with us from almost the beginning.  He told me that he knows God is good and worthy of our praises because he never thought these boys would be where they are now.  He told me that in the beginning they were so much more difficult than they are now. He also told me that people unfairly judge them because if they knew where they came from they would be so impressed. 

Just like Tupac said,  these boys are roses and even though they have some damaged petals, they survived where many of their friends haven’t and came from awful circumstances.  It is amazing that they have made it this far, that they have stayed in the home, gone back to school, are overcoming their addictions and each day are changing a bit more.  We should be thanking God and praising Him for his goodness and faithfulness in bringing the boys this far not pointing out how far they have to go.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lessons learned

****I started this post before I left for Uganda but am now just finishing after being in Uganda for several weeks.****

I feel lighter.

As the day gets closer, I somehow feel lighter.  I am not sure why, because the responsibilities are just beginning and some of the hardest days are probably ahead.  But it feels different.  It is frightening and exciting all at the same time.  I can't believe that in a few short days, I will get to see the kids again.

Maybe that's why.  Because I feel like I am finally getting to go home after a really hard time away.

It has been the hardest year and a half.  Lots of ups and downs but I finally see an end in sight. It was a strange place to be in all year because I completely believed that if God wanted me back, he would and could raise the money I needed overnight.  And that left me questioning so many things.  Was this really what God wanted from me?  How could He bring these kids into my life and then keep us apart?  If I am not supposed to be in Uganda, what should I be doing?  When is enough enough and I should just call it quits?

There were many days when I felt like giving up and was certain that I was not supposed to be in Uganda.  But I trusted that God had a good plan for me and tried to be patient.  Every time i doubted, I got confirmation that Uganda was where I needed to be.

Because I believed that if God wanted me back in Uganda, I would be back it left me questioning why I wasn't.  Now that so much time has passed and I can step away from the situation, I can see why.  There were lessons to be learned.  Things had to happen.

I decided to start this project before it was fully funded.  Probably one of the craziest decisions I have ever made in my life.  When we started, we had one person committed to giving $50 a  month!  Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking or why i thought that was a good idea.  All I knew was that I loved the boys more than anything and it broke my heart to see them on the streets.  I knew I couldn't return to the US while they stayed on the streets, worrying each day if they were ok.  It was a crazy decision but definitely one of the best of my life. It was amazing to see God showing up day after day for us.  I learned to trust Him fully and completely and He never disappointed.  He always provided and always made a way for us.  I learned it is ok to dream big when following Jesus and what it really means to surrender it all to Him.  I don't think that I could have learned those lessons any other way because all I had every day was my faith in Jesus and trust that He only wanted what was best for us all.

I think the biggest lesson I had to learn this last year and a half is that I am not needed for this work.  I knew it in theory, but that lesson was just magnified so much. God has brought me into these boys' stories to love them and take care of them, but at the end of the day, I am doing nothing.  He is the one doing it all.  I just show up each day and after that, He takes over.   I think it is so easy to get caught up in it all and this life and start to think we are the ones working miracles.  That it is our hard work that is paying off.   But you see, I can't say any of those things because I wasn't here. These boys have changed, they are not the same ones I left behind.  And I can't take any of the credit for it.  I know where the credit always needs to go, and it isn't me.  I know I am not needed for this work, but I am lucky to be a part of it.  I know that I should never take a day for granted with these boys, that they are my gift from God and I need to cherish them through the good and the bad.  It has helped me put things in perspective and really value the good I see and how far they have come and not just focus on the negatives.  It has been so sweet to be back with them.  Even though everything hasn't been perfect, I can still see the good in the situation.

I can also now see how God was working for us and bringing the right people together.  I know that this was definitely His timing because I felt like I just had to be back and had peace that everything would work out.  Once I started feeling like that, everything just happened.  At the beginning of August I didn't know i was leaving, by the end I was on a plane.  We still aren't fully funded, and I knew it was crazy to leave before everything was settled, but I just felt like it was the right time.  This whole experience has shown me over and over again, that God loves us more than I can imagine and He will always come through for us.  Time and time again, I thought there was no hope, and then there was.  I was ready to give up, and then He showed up.    If I would have followed my own plan and not His, there are tons of amazing people I wouldn't have met, we wouldn't have been able to be a part of the documentary, just so many things.

It sucks that I was away from the boys and I missed so many things, but in reality it just makes it that much sweeter to be back.  I know that this was His plan and I should never question that His plans are good.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'm back

I thought that these days would never come.  The days where I am happily at home, listening to blaring music and shouting kids.  Life has been crazy these last few weeks and have flown by.  Before i got back, I was afraid that maybe I had been gone too long and things would be too different.  I am happy to say, I feel like I was never gone and we picked up right where we left off.  When I got here, the kids were on holiday from school so we had plenty of time to catch up.  It was so good to have that time to relax and adjust without having to jump back into a routine.

Today the house is so quiet because school has finally started.  There are still 4 boys at home and we are getting ready to home school them.  Two of the boys will be going to a garage, so we just want to teach them to read, write and do math well.  One of the boys just got to the house and has never studied before.  To make his situation even more difficult, he is from a village very far away that speaks a completely different language and he is still learning the language here and doesn't speak English at all.  If we were to send him to school now, he would have to start at first grade.  Since he is around 16 years old, that would be super frustrating for him and setting him up to drop out.  We are hoping that we can work with him enough that he can at least enter 3rd grade.  Still not the best option, but as long as he can get started the possibility for him to skip grades later is there.  The last boy is kind of indecisive with what he wants to do.  We are hoping if his skills get better, he will want to return to school also.

Since I have been back, it has been so busy.  The day I got here, not only was I greeted by all of the boys, but I was also greeted by 3 guys that are working on filming a documentary for Hospice in South Bend.  I got connected to them back in South Bend and they invited us to be a part of the film.  They wanted to catch my arrival at the airport and meet the boys.  They came back about a week later to interview some of the boys and have the boys show them their former lives in the slums.  The boys were really excited to show them around and had a great time, even though it down poured.

About a week or so after I arrived, a friend came to live with us.  I met her a while ago when I was teaching and she was actually my initial connection to Uganda.  We are lucky enough that she is going to be around about 9 months and help out with the boys.  She has spent the last 3 years working in El Salvador with youth in prison that are affiliated with gangs.  Even though the boys don't have the same violent backgrounds, they do have a lot of the same issues of trauma and abuse, addictions, etc. She helped the boys in prison to write their stories through poems and has published a book. When the boys here saw the books, they were really excited and wanted to do the same.  She is starting small groups with the boys from the curriculum she used in the prisons.  It is a great help to have her here and the boys took to her immediately.  Many of them knew here from the first time she was here about four years ago.

That is enough for now I think.  If I could ask you to be in prayer with us that all of our needs would continue to be met each week, for the boys to perform well in school this term and to stay focused and for continued heart changes and healing for them.

Check out our new website design.  A friend was kind enough to create it for us.  Thanks Evan!