Recently, a couple of my friends went to Uganda to serve, to love on orphans and to praise Jesus with the locals. (Yes, I am aware… The Lord has surrounded me with some of the most incredible people- I am beyond blessed). One of them (Ashley- who is one of the sweetest, most inspiring girls you will ever meet) is the very talented photographer from Ashley Lauren Photography and took some of the most glorious/love-filled photos I have ever seen. This week she posted some of the photos from her trip along with the current status of her heart. Her words were too inspiring not to share. The Lord’s love and grace just flows out of her. I pray that soon the Lord will turn me into a woman like her, a woman who clearly has the Spirit dwelling within her. You must visit her website and check out her photography blog. If you ever need a photographer- she is your girl! If I would have thought about it sooner, I would have begged her to make time for my wedding!
Below are Ashley, of Ashley Lauren Photography’s inspiring words (I have bolded/italicized/underlined some of the lines that I loved or felt convicted from… I almost bolded the whole thing, then realized that was a little excessive). Upon reading the last line I realized that I had goosebumps and was grinning from ear to ear. Trust me, it is well worth reading every word. Enjoy!
“What a whirlwind of days it has been since stepping back into America. A culture that was so comfortable less than two months ago, is now something I challenge myself to not fall too comfortable with. My desire for organization, routine, and productivity often collide for an exhausting longing for comfort. One evening in Uganda as we walked home I found myself questioning my definition of comfort. A handful of girls from the primary school would join our team as we headed back each evening. After walking a ways from the school I asked if they should head back before it was too dark, only to be informed that our home was the halfway point to their destination. Shocked, I asked “Sweet girls, are you scared to walk home in the dark?”. Quickly, without hesitation they responded “Silly, mzungu we are not scared God is always keeping us safe.” Thinking nothing of the power behind their statement we hugged and parted ways. In that moment the heart of an eleven year old left me evaluating the past 22 years of life. Things like hours of thought in regard to how others view me, temporary emotional satisfaction from others statements, a daily routine, good movie, or even a pint of Blue Bell’s newest flavor are what molded my definition of comfort over the past years of my life.
Never have I really stopped long enough to truly believe that just maybe comfort can be found most clearly in the seasons of uncertainty during our lives. There are so many things each day that are uncertain to the people of Uganda; life, food, family, a place to stay, if their earnings for the month will even be enough. I took a moment to gather a handful of uncertainties in my life currently and not one is comparable to a handful of theirs. I know food is available for three meals a day , my 22 years of life is a great celebration in relation to the older ages in Uganda, and if needed I have a very long list of places to call home.
As my mind sorted through the comparison of our worlds, I was overwhelmed with hope evaluating the magnitude of surrender the children and teachers from God Care’s have for the Lord each day. Uncertainty is not a place of fear in their minds, but a place of faith. In faith, they wait patiently knowing our uncertainty is God’s certainty.
“All to Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I freely give, I will ever love and trust him, In his presence daily live” flowed beautifully through the classroom windows as the girls worshiped in chapel on the overcast Wednesday afternoon. Never has this song reveled more power than in that moment as the words came to life reflecting the true place of each one of their hearts.
To him they freely give. To him they love. To him they trust. Daily in his presence, they live. They live peacefully knowing they are loved. The way in which they speak while sharing stories carries such a high level of humility for each of God’s blessings in their lives. Each beautiful heart longs to be in his presence with every step they take.
Other than conversation time, one of my favorite things was to just observe how they go about life…talk about impressive time management. It is evident, God is their number one priority and naturally fills most of their free time. I could not help but be sad for our culture thinking God is often far first as we pencil in our daily plans. James 4 says: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says,”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4: 6-8
Every day they give all there is with hope of fully submitting to God. In a country that many are quick to label poor, I have come to realize they have absolutely all they need and are truly rich by the truths in which they abide. In our first moments at God Cares I met Mable. Mable is full of joy, a contagious joy as she sings songs of worship with her captivating beautiful voice. Gentle, genuine, and nurturing are my three favorite words to describe her spirit and her smile can light up a room. She shared her favorite scripture one day during conversation:
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”. Psalm 119:9-11
She told me that she prays for wisdom so that she may have a greater understanding of God’s unconditional love and that she can rely on his word as she walks through life. I thought, what power this would hold if turned into a prayer I committed to praying each day “Lord, I pray that I walk according to your word so that I may be guarded from the impurities this world presents. I desire to seek you so that your word can be the foundation of my heart. So in all that comes from my heart may it be ever so pleasing to you”. Forever, I will remember praying this with and for sweet Mable and I hope it will pull my heart back on track in times I am overwhelmed by new distractions of being home.
I did not expect to return from Africa with the mindset of giving or about what I gave. Actually, I prayed for months that I would not be consumed by pride, or self promotion upon my return. My “creative and capture every moment” oriented mind can easily drift to a place of pride and ownership when I display photos or tell stories. I asked that the Lord would use my heart to love but more importantly for it to be open to learning from the things he would reveal. He was most definitely present in every interaction from the first moment at the primary school to teary good-byes on a dark Sunday evening at the high school. I know that he has so much more to reveal as I continue to process all that happened over those two weeks. As I prepare to walk with a changed heart, I hope to find the same comfort in my Heavenly Father that my brothers and sisters across the world so confidently live in each day. I pray my heart will be at rest knowing that wealth is not defined by the ways of the world but by a heart that seeks to live in the presence and walk in the ways of the Lord.
I’m hopeful a collection of my favorite pictures will help bring my words to life, inspire those who have a heart for missions, and show the true beauty of God’s children who have left my heart forever changed.”