Oh wow, hi! This sure was a long time in coming, and I apologize for that. I just realized I left you hanging without part 2 of my story. Sorry.... I shall continue.
Remember how I wanted to be an actress? And remember that night God changed my heart? Well, it wasn't quite that simple (things rarely are, I've noticed). Looking back, I realize God had been working in my heart for quite sometime, and I just hadn't noticed. He brought His change of plans to the forefront of my mind at exactly the right time for me. My heart was ready to accept them then.
Did I still want to be an actress? You BET I did! In fact, that very summer I entered into an intensive drama conservatory with a well-known theatre company. As well as being the time that holds some of the best memories of my stage life, it was also the time I was at my lowest spiritually.
See, when I'm on stage I tend to throw myself into my roles with pretty much everything I've got. In the theatre world that's good - in fact, it's encouraged! You NEED to put all your time and energy into a role in order for it to "work". I had always done that in the past (and would continue to do it in the future) with my homeschool theatre company, and it had never been a problem. But this time it was different. I won't go into details, but some of the things I was directed to do did not line up with the worldview I had grown up in. It made me uncomfortable... and not in a good way. It wasn't the sort of situation where I felt I could speak up and not do the scenes. I was scared that I would get asked to leave the program - something I REALLY didn't want to do. And I knew the response I would get if I opted out of the exercises: reminders that the acting world was cutthroat and to "make it" I'd have to do whatever I was told to do. And I knew that.
So I went along with everything.
Don't get me wrong... I don't regret that summer. I made some awesome friends that I'm still in touch with today, learned new acting techniques, and had a bunch of fun. And cliche as it may sound, it did have an influence on who I am today. That summer made me realize how much I would have to sacrifice - both spiritually and morally - to become the kind of professional actress I was aspiring to be.
But that realization was in hindsight... as I was in the throes of theatre I became more and more aware that the things I was doing were not Christ-like. And do you know what scares me?
I became ok with that.
I was fine with looking more like the world and seeing how far I could push the standards I had set for myself. I did share my faith with my friends (I was still a Christian, after all) and we had many discussions about faith and relationships and the like. But at the end of the day, my actions were not reflecting what I was saying. I was talking the talk, and not walking the walk, if you will.
And guess what? That makes me SO SAD! I really want to go back and shake my naive, foolish, 16 year old self! Here I had this AWESOME opportunity to present Christ to my friends, and I ruined it by looking more like the world than I ever had.
Fortunately, after that summer my faith began to get stronger again. I am SO thankful God chose not to let the enemy have me, even though I was giving him so many footholds, and reeled me back in. I still had a desire to be a missionary-like person. But I really had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. So I spent a lot of time praying. My prayers went something like this:
"God, I know you have something for me to do. PLEASE show me what it is, and give me the courage to do it!".
And slowly God began revealing His plan for me.
I don't remember exactly when the orphan crisis was first brought to my attention, but I do know that once I heard about it, God wouldn't let me forget. I read the heartrending stories of children who were starving and abandoned and unloved and I saw the pictures that were worth a thousand words. And an ache began in my heart. The more I read and learned about these children, the more the ache grew. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had to find them and hold them and love them. Thus began my passion for loving the unloved of the world.
All during that time my family was in the process of adopting from Ethiopia. In fact, we had been discussing/planning/processing our adoption since about 2005 or so. Because of this, Africa was very much a part of our life already, and my heart started falling more and more in love with it. Since I already knew I was supposed to go find the children who needed someone to love them, it seemed natural I go seek them out in Africa. But where? Ethiopia seemed the logical choice, but something held me back from pursuing it seriously. I looked into orphanages there, since God had kept up a pretty consistent love for orphans in my heart, but nothing felt *right*
Then we got the referral for my new siblings.
We saw their pictures and began to look forward to the day when they would come home to us forever.
And suddenly every picture of an orphan turned into one of my siblings. The orphan crisis became very real to me, because I knew that that was the reality my brother and sister were living with at that moment. The ache I was feeling for those children became overwhelming, and Jesus really and truly broke my heart.
After that God just kept fanning the flames of the passion He had created within me. I read blog after blog of families who had adopted, were adopting, or were involved in some sort of orphan ministry. I SO DESPERATELY wanted to be a part of that, to be out there loving and advocating. But I still didn't know where God wanted me. Very frustrating.
Then one day I came across the blog of a young lady who had just moved to Uganda, East Africa to start a feeding program in a slum called Masese. She blogged about the children and the people and the hunger and the devastation. But more than that, she wrote about the hope and love and joy she saw emanating from all those she came into contact with. My interest was piqued. I started researching orphanages in Uganda, just out of curiosity, not really thinking anything would come of it. I found one and began to pray.
As I began to pray more and more over the people of Uganda, I fell more and more in love with the country. For the first time, I began to feel a certainty in my heart. I began to realize that Uganda was where God was leading me. For real. I got excited.
So I formulated a plan in my mind. I decided not to go to college right after graduating, but take a gap year to live in Uganda. Over the course of the year I would pray about where God was leading me next - whether it was to college, or to take up permanent residence in Uganda. I felt a peace about what would come next. Nothing, save the fact that I knew (that I knew that I knew) that God wanted me in Uganda, was certain. I didn't know where I would live and serve, when exactly I would go, how I would pay for it, etc.
But I felt SO at peace! God had showed me where He wanted me, and all I knew was that I was supposed to go. So I kept at it. The orphanage I found seemed like a good fit: I could live there for up to three months, play with babies all day long, figure out what came next during those three months, and ultimately live there for a year. Good plan, right?
God had other ideas.
In January of '09, I went to on a retreat with my youth group. The topic of the weekend was becoming a pilgrim Christian as opposed to a tourist Christian. As you can imagine, that REALLY spoke to my heart. I mean, that's what I was doing, wasn't it? I was really, really moved. So after the lesson the first night, I went up to speak with the preacher, who happened to be the pastor at the college near me.
I explained what the Lord had laid on my heart, and how I had heard Him speak through her to me that evening. When I mentioned the orphanage I was interested in, she told me she had a student who had been to Uganda twice, and worked in that specific orphanage. She offered to get us in touch.
As you can imagine, I was ECSTATIC! I would be getting insider information!
So she put us in touch. The young woman's name was Jenny, and we started emailing back and forth. Even though I was pretty sure of where I wanted to go, I was keeping my options open; I hadn't officially applied to the orphanage. Jenny gave me a list of people who were living and working in Uganda that I could contact. She also told me a bit more about the orphanage I was looking into. She said that it was very well run and managed, but that they always had a plethora of volunteers. Meaning: they didn't really need my help. And I wanted to serve somewhere that needed my help more than they did.
Thus, God closed that door.
I emailed almost everyone on the list... Holly from Our Own Home was the only one who responded. I looked at their website , I prayed, and I felt God saying YES very strongly. I knew this was where He wanted me. So, through a series of God-orchestrated events, they accepted me to work with them.
Thus, God opened that door, and pushed me through!
After that things moved very fast! I officially knew I was going for sure in June, and arrived in Uganda on September 10, 2010.
Thus ends my story. God was the creator of my desire to work with children in Africa, and He was the One who saw me safely through my many ups and downs. He is the One who continues to guide me now that I'm here.
So there you have it, folks! HIS story through me. I'm just a vessel. And a broken one at that! His grace continues to amaze me every day...
God is good.