Remember this

Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are among the most beautiful places on this planet. Anybody who has been there will tell you. They are beautiful because of the exotic plant and animal life, and also because of their insanely gorgeous landscapes. They are fascinating because of their history overcoming challenges and strife. 

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But - as anybody who’s been there will tell you - these African nations are deeply exquisite because of the sweet people within. Women who are mentally, physically, and emotionally stronger than any American politician could ever hope to be, children who rise above more hardship before breakfast than most of us do our whole lives, and men who are fighting in every way for their families to have hope and a future. 

Our family had experienced the greatest hospitality, warmth, and love in these African nations. We have taken boats on the Nile River, experienced The Great Migration on the Masai Mara, and stood in an endless field of 4-foot grass admiring how God perfectly provides for His creatures. We have had the most extraordinary experiences of our existence in some of the African countries our President just insulted, because it is in one of these that we met our beautiful Pearl Girl.  

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We met her, and we fell in love with her birth country. We were represented by an African attorney who helped us stand in front of an African judge and commit our lives to parenting her. A significant part of that commitment is giving of our time, attention, resources, and love to this place we hold so dear. We deeply love her country of birth, and we honor it in every way we can conceive.

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Today, we honor it by speaking up to say - African nations are NOT “$h!th0le” places. 

Pearl’s home country and all the nations of color our “President” has spoken so poorly about are precious treasures in our world, and our both lives as Wilsons and our collective life in this nation as Americans would be so, so dull without them.   

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Any dim-witted, racist politician who calls these - and any other nations in our world - a “$h!th0le,” speaks out of ignorance. He should ask someone who has been there. Or better yet, make an effort to see these amazing countries for himself, and try it through eyes of understanding and love rather than fear and disdain. 

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To all our African friends: We love you dearly. We are embarrassed by and wholly condemn President Trump’s remarks about your nations, and we want you to know that this is not the heart of America. We are a country made of loving people, just like you. My hope is that it is our voices and not his that you remember. 

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Our kind of camping...

Matt has been after me to go camping for years. YEARS. "Let's go camping!" he said, time after time. "It will be fun!" he said. But I'm just not a camping kind of lady. I mean, the bugs. And the utter void of climate control. And all the gear. And the snakes. Sweet baby Moses, the snakes.

My Pearl Girl isn't a camper, either. The bugs swarm her, for one thing. And also for a child who was born on the Equator, she has a ridiculously low tolerance for heat. The Captain and Sassafras have camped before at the local state park, and I mean really camped as in the primitive kind of camping. But that is not for me, not even one little bit.

But we tried it recently, this camping thing. We tried it in a way that was a compromise between Matt's kind of camping (Tent in the snake-ridden wilderness) and my kind of camping (Hotel. Suite, please): RV camping.

The five of us plus our gigantic dog loaded up over Spring Break and headed to Stone Mountain, Georgia for a week of family fun and togetherness. I had studied up on RV camping and had pinned a lot of pinny-things in hopes to make the week as enjoyable as possible. Some of those were valuable and others...notsomuch.

You know, one thing I'll never understand about all of you Happy Campers is why you find such joy in toting a lite version of your whole kitchen out to the wilderness. Camping prep is hard, and that's why I don't understand why it's so enjoyable for so many. Vacation shouldn't be hard, man. Vacay should be EASY. It's the law.

The first thing I realized was that it takes time to settle in to an RV. There were unavoidable reasons for this, but the way things turned out we had to just dump bag after bag of stuff in the thing, convince Jericho this house on wheels was OK for him to jump up in, convince Sweet Love to get in her car seat even though it was confusing for her to have to ride in a car seat strapped to the side of a kitchen, and hit the road. I needed time to settle in, but instead just played the same round of hide and go seek with every single item I had need of over the next few days.

Once we got on the road, I noticed was that the RV - I like to name things, so we'll call him Rob - Rob was N-O-I-S-Y. Matt drove while the girls and I chilled in the back, but the word chill is actually a total lie there. There was 0 chilling in the back of that rattletrap RV. Rob's kibbles and bits complained noisily against every single bump in the road and (you people know I'm already deaf) we basically yelled simple phrases at each other, followed by "huh?" for hours. What a delight that was.

Add to that the fact that Sassafras was out of sorts and crying that her ear hurt. Sass, who has had maybe two ear infections in her entire 9 years, was crying of ear pain and had a fever. I would stagger down the "hall" to Rob's back "room," try to talk to the peds' nurse, be completely unable to hear her, drop the call, repeat. THAT was the cherry on top of our delightful little joyride. 

Now, all of this was not helping my opinion of camping as a family activity, but after arriving to the Stone Mountain campground, things improved drastically. We got settled in, had a prime spot near the bath house, playground, dog park, and beach volleyball court/huge sand pit. We had our own grill, deck, and fire pit. We were just a few miles away from historic Stone Mountain, and spent a few hours one day checking that out.

One of the most significant parts of Camp Prep was figuring out what and when and how all of these people + dog were going to eat. I was also semi-stressed the whole time because the refrigerator wasn't cooling with, like, exact efficiency. 

The Pinterest proved really helpful with some tried and true camping recipes, and that part (the food, because of course) was one of the most fun parts. We came up with all sorts of fun and inventive ways to cook all of the things.  

 My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

My three + some random kid who kept showing up at our campfire.

 Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

Lots of sweet time with the J-Man! Our Jericho, I tell you, he is the most chill, most precious, and sweetest dog ever. He was calm most of the time, except for the rare moments when some random stranger man would ease up on his girls and THEN, oh man, he was not having it. This dog is Captain-approved!   

It was so nice, though. Just to hang out and sit around in the peace and quiet, walk around and sniff it all in, and read for hours. 

 Steak and potatoes! 

Steak and potatoes! 

So there you have it. We finally figured it out...our kind of camping. 

Ms. Lady

Her hands felt rough and bumpy, covered with sores that were oozing some sort of infected discharge. As I reached out to shake her hand, she smiled weakly in hesitation, holding them both out for me to see that she was not well.  I am ashamed at how repulsed I felt by the sight, and frequently feel conviction over how infected my heart was in that moment.  

 Journey by boat from Kampala out to Nakalanda and Bethany Village

Journey by boat from Kampala out to Nakalanda and Bethany Village

It was greeting time in the village church, a building the size of a large bedroom filled to overflowing with children, women, and a few rare elderly Ugandans. The boys on the drums pounded out a rhythm as we moved around the room to hug and greet our brothers and sisters in worship. In Uganda, the formal handshake is as we do it here. The friendly handshake, however, is where they grab hold of your hand, then slide your hand up so that you are palm to palm (grasping around the base of the thumb), then back to the regular handshake. The more familiar or cherished the relationship, the longer you hold hands. Another way to tell that two people are close is if they are using both hands, one over the other. It is an intimate process and a way that Ugandans demonstrate their love and affection for one another as well as honored visitors.

There were so many people in that tiny room shaking and holding hands and hugging and laughing. Uganda is not a perfect place but it is filled with such kind and beautifully spirited people. I noticed that one woman – I cannot recall her name and so to me she is Ms. Lady – was sitting on a bench and smiling off into the distance but not engaged with anyone else in the room. I thought it an opportunity to bless a lonely lady, so I reached down to take her hand.

 *Not Ms. Lady. Just A lady. 

*Not Ms. Lady. Just A lady. 

Despite my horror at the state of her hands and some rapidly selfish projections at what I was about to contract, pride in my love for these people and fear over offending her drove me to take her hand in both of mine. They were so coarse, without even one square inch of smooth and healthy skin. There was a layer of pus oozing out, and she wouldn’t even look me in the eye as we shook.

It wasn’t until later that I considered whether she was trying to protect me from what she had or if handshakes caused her so much pain and discomfort that her church sisters and brethren respected her by avoiding contact during the greeting.  

I found out that the sores were from jiggers, a parasite common to parts of Uganda but typically embed within a person’s feet. Ms. Lady had the worst case of jiggers in both her hands and her feet that the village pastors had ever seen, and at that time she was a frequent visitor to the church’s “Jigger Clinic” where day after day, she would sit and let someone dig out the parasites with a knife and then pour a bleach-like concoction over her hands and feet in hopes that this time they would get them all out. Patients with jiggers feel constant pain and irritation as the bugs burrow deeper and deeper into their tissue, too deep for them to scratch or pat or wash the pain away. There is no relief other than having the bugs carved out of their skin. For people like Ms. Lady, those bloody rounds with the knife are a horrific measure taken to bring some small measure of comfort.

Though I met Ms. Lady several months ago on my trip with Mercy for Mamas, God still brings her to mind so often. That few seconds we exchanged a handshake has had such a lasting impact on how God has continued to carve infection out of my own heart and life, and how blessedly painful that can be at times. 

The Beautiful Simplicity of Mercy for Mamas

My first night in another time zone is typically the easiest, thanks to the sheer exhaustion that comes from traveling afar. The subsequent nights, notsomuch. I'm an insomniac at home but at home I have the interwebs to keep me company when I can't sleep. Not so in the UG, baby. It was a scary thing to be alone with my thoughts on those web-less and sleepless nights. Sometimes, when I was confident I wouldn't disturb my 5 roommies, I would crack open my trusty Kindle and work on another book or four. Sometimes I would write.  

 Like this. Under my net with my head lamp that was, in fact, one of the coolest pre-travel purchases I made. I tried real hard not to aim that at any of our bunkmates. Also? Zebra sheets. 

Like this. Under my net with my head lamp that was, in fact, one of the coolest pre-travel purchases I made. I tried real hard not to aim that at any of our bunkmates. Also? Zebra sheets. 

Our first full day we were up and out pretty early in order to make it to a Saturday outreach event at Victory Church in a small village outside Kampala. Our team conducted a prenatal women's health seminar for about 300 expectant mothers inside the walls of a tent covered but roof-less church building. Our team leader (Melissa) was invited to the mic to share about the Mercy for Mamas organization, and it was a beautiful moment for me as an adoptive mother to be there among so many Ugandan mothers to tell and show them that we believe in adoption when that is absolutely necessary but that what we really think is that it is best and most important for THEM to live and raise their babies. Adoption is beautiful but orphan prevention is even better. 

After the program, (which was given in their language by a Ugandan nurse-the oh so very fabulous Agnes) we served the women a meal with sodas and opened a prenatal clinic on our team bus. The ladies were a smidge hesitant at first but in the end were so encouraged by seeing a team of mzungus (white people) who wanted to serve them in any way possible, starting with a hot meal, a rare soda treat, and providing them with sterile birthing kits to protect these mamas and their babies from unnecessary infections and death.

The simplicity of this organization is so incredibly beautiful. Mercy for Mamas partners with local ministries who are on the ground serving vulnerable women of Uganda. Some, like SHIM, work in remote areas and serve families in the local villages in general ways. Others, like Kupendwa, serve a very specific purpose in operating as a foster home for pregnant teenage girls in crisis. In and through local churches, MfM supports long term mission efforts by providing the ministries on the ground with stores of the mama kits as well as short term educational and encouraging programs. At Victory and at each of the subsequent places we visited, Melissa would listen to the local leader's requests for what the women in the audience needed to hear the most and then she would coordinate the team's efforts in best meeting those needs. Sometimes it was a talk on menopause (interestingly a first for every crowd, bringing some real understanding and reassurance to a bunch of women who thought they were losing their minds). Other times the most important thing we did was just actively listen to the sweet chattering of a girl who really just wanted to be heard.  

MfM's simplicity also makes it wonderfully versatile. What in the world would connect villagers on some remote island, incarcerated women, pregnant 12 year olds, and more than 75 unique ministries all across Uganda? Mama kits. Because facing the realities of childbirth is a universal language, and any woman who listens to a health seminar and receives a good meal and a mama kit on Saturday will likely return on Sunday to hear more from the congregation reaching out to show them kindness and real love...the kind that would sustain them well beyond the moment their child comes into the world and even surpassing the years of hot flashes and feeling like they're going plumb crazy because of the mad rush of those hormones they didn't even know existed.

There are many "causes" out there calling people to action, but I don't know that I've seen many organizations as simple yet versatile as Mercy for Mamas. It was an absolute honor to be a part of this team...even if I didn't wear the shirt. 

Settling in to Uganda

Pardon as I do some catch-up bloggin’, friends. I’ve hit some high and deep notes here and here regarding my 12 days in Uganda, but there are some details in my heart and mind begging to be worked through as I write. 

The Mercy for Mamas team was made up of 13 ladies from 5 different states, plus the most wonderful Ugandan nurse Agnes and our drivers Godfrey and Julius, with the famous and beloved Billy playing the lead male role. You’ll hear more, much more, about them later.

 I do a strange head tilt thing. I have no explanation for this. I shall blame tiredness. Why can't we all be suave and dapper like Billy? 

I do a strange head tilt thing. I have no explanation for this. I shall blame tiredness. Why can't we all be suave and dapper like Billy? 

We all took our own roads to get there, but my personal flight path involved a five-city chain. It took two full days of flying to get from Birmingham to Miami to Paris to Nairobi to Entebbe. My people dropped me off in Birmingham around 9:30am on a Thursday morning and I arrived in Uganda approximately 32 hours later. It was an eventful journey, I must say. 

That Bham to Miami flight was beyond all doubt the most miserable I’ve ever experienced (and I have flown A LOT), when I was struck with a horrendous pain in my right ear. The excruciating pressure directly inside my eardrum was so intense that it spread to the entire right side of my face, back of my head and neck, and shot down the right side of my neck and seeped down into my molars. I could not move my jaw or arm to call for help and the pain was so severe and paralyzing. The internal pressure pushed my right eye outward, and I went into a bit of shock as I took inventory of those scary symptoms. I told The Captain after landing in Miami that if I had not been able to feel the pressure straight in my eardrum, I’d have sworn it was a stroke or an aneurism. As it turned out, what happened on that first flight was a wicked case of sinonasal barotrauma. I was scared to death that the remaining four flights would involve the same or worse pain but, thankfully, with many prayers and decongestants, the only lasting issue from that awful hour was moderate pain in the right side of my head and neck for two days with fluid leaking from my right eye for three.

So after surviving that mess, it was a beautiful, beautiful sight indeed to meet up with my girl Staci in Miami. She and I are so different, so the same, and I love her like a sister-for honest and for true. If grown up Michelle didn't regularly practice the art of self-control, I’d be signing off off our texts and emails and gchats with LYLAS. It’s like that with us. We snapped this picture and I'm so glad, because we looked and smelled a hot mess 12 days later.   

And this was proven time and again over these 12 days, as we were the best of seat-mates on 9-hour flights, periodically talked through our observations and reflections of the Very Big things we were seeing and feeling, and coached each other through international travel woes. Y’all, you don’t know friendship until someone shares their probiotics with you in a third world country and that is a fact. 

We met up with the rest of the Mercy for Mamas team in Paris, after a very strange experience at the first international airport of our journey. The enormous jet basically landed, pulled into a big ole parking spot on the tarmac, and they said “Get out.” We had to wait a while just to get outside the plane, then slowly drag our bags down some sad metal stairs (though a flight attendant and rebel-without-a-cause did entertain the crowd with a show of the girl insisting upon smoking IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO JET FUEL and the flight attendant addressing it incredulously). Then, I kid you not, we had to wait for a bus that could only carry a few of us at the time, be taken to some far corner of the airport, where we began the 20 minute journey of finding our gate and getting the next rounds of boarding passes printed. It took nearly every moment of the 2 hour layover just to get from plane A to plane B!

Welcome to Paris, we said. But at least they were good for 15 minutes of free wifi.

So then we saw the rest of the team approaching the gate…in their matching blue travel Mercy for Mamas t-shirts. And I remembered that though I had worn another very comfortable t-shirt to get me thus far (See, what had happened was...my MfM shirt was great and I love it, but…it touched my neck and I am very weird about things touching my neck. I could not spend 30 hours in a shirt that touched my neck or I would lose my ever-loving mind; I know, I know. Weirdness. File it away. There’s plenty more where that came from, people.) but I had intended upon changing into my matchy matchy shirt before we met up. Only after that weird deplaning experience I didn’t have time and even though I’m sure I concocted it in my head, I felt like I gave a bad first impression. Like I was anti-team shirt and therefore anti-team. But I really wasn’t! I just couldn’t very well say, hi, where are you from? What’s your name? Love that bag you are carrying! By the way, I know we just met, but I can’t wear a shirt that touches my neck.

I was between a neck-touching shirt and a hard place, y’all.

Speaking of the name game…Staci and I were at a distinct disadvantage because 90% of the rest of the team knew one another well. We were trying to learn names quickly, which is absolutely a terrible personal weakness of mine. Thankfully, she came up with the seat row strategy. We had another 9 hour flight ahead of us, so we learned our girls’ names row by row. Hannah-Beth-Patti were our first three and I'll never forget it.

Just soarin' over the Mediterranean Sea. No big deal...

 We got to fly on Kenya Air's new DREAMLINER. Ooooohhhh, aaaahhhhhhhh! Ok, it was pretty stinkin' cool. 

We got to fly on Kenya Air's new DREAMLINER. Ooooohhhh, aaaahhhhhhhh! Ok, it was pretty stinkin' cool. 

 Space, you do not have. Movies and your own personal color tunnel? Check. 

Space, you do not have. Movies and your own personal color tunnel? Check. 

 Anybody notice anything interesting about the safety instructions on Kenya Airways? Anybody? 

Anybody notice anything interesting about the safety instructions on Kenya Airways? Anybody? 

By the next day we had everybody's name down pat, which was super helpful in figuring out how to fit together within the grand puzzle we we were all supposed to make up. We may not have known all the details about the ladies we were living with for the next two weeks, but the first and overwhelming thing we noticed was that everyone was really nice, very positive, and completely eager/willing to do whatever. That would MORE than prove to be a spot-on first impression. Team MfM for the win! :) 

Landing in that last airport, in Uganda, was so remarkably wonderful. Everything was familiar, only better. Same lines, same organization, same forms, same poor lighting. It felt like it could have been just a moment before when my family of three landed in 2010 to become a family of four. Just as my people had when we came to adopt Pearl, we Mercy for Mamas chicks gathered our bearings in that airport, then collected our luggage, danced a silent jig in our hearts/said an internal prayer of thanks that it all arrived intact, and made for the door.

Every person traveling to another country to serve has an adjustment period where all they can focus on is orienting to the culture. For many people that takes several days, but for me? Thanks to our previous stay in this precious country, that drive from the airport to the guesthouse was my adjustment period. The darkness, the obsession with bottled water, the driver being on the wrong side of the van, traffic on the left, the insanity of Ugandan roadways, the unfamiliar language flowing smoothly between natives, that distinct Ugandan smell of burning trash and a touch of BO and dirt and maybe some incense and also some rain since it’s June (I realize that description doesn't sound like a smell to love but IT IS). It all washed over me like a tidal wave.

And I missed my people so deeply. I felt guilty that I was there without my Captain, without my Sass, without my Pearl. It hurt to process being present in this incredibly special place without them.

And then, because it was like 2:00am local time, the fatigue won the battle with guilt and I crashed under my “moskwito” net.