What a Difference a Year Can Make

Karen & Cason Maternity ShootWe are under 48 hours from holding our twin daughters in our arms and I have so many thoughts and emotions swirling inside. I am…

In Awe
In Love Already
Feeling unprepared
Feeling prepared as we’ll ever be

It has been quite a journey to get to this point.
It feels so long and somehow rather quick in hindsight.
Suddenly it’s now the end and it’s the beginning all in one.

One thing I’ve been marveling at in the last week or so is where we were at this time last year compared to where we are today.

August 1, 2014 – After the months of testing, consultations, switching insurance, trying acupuncture in the meantime, severely altering my diet, and waiting on the right timing, we did our first self-administered injection in our first round of IVF treatments. It was a terrible hour long process, where almost everything went wrong and I sat there wondering, how in the world will we ever do this…

August 4, 2015 (Tuesday of this week) – We will welcome our daughters into the world and everything will change, forever. Our daughters that we were not sure we’d ever have. Almost exactly a year to the day since that awful, first injection.

One takeaway for me from this story is that we have no idea what God has in store for us. What His plans are for our future. To remember how we were feeling this time last year and seeing how He worked out His specific plan for us.

What a difference a year can make.

And this is so true – in so many areas of life, for so many people.
For the person waiting on a job, a house, a move, an adoption, a relationship, a diagnosis…

God has a plan. And even though we may experience some pretty low times of desperation or questioning, we can look to how God has worked in our lives and in the lives of loved ones we know, and be reassured that there is a next chapter in our story. It may be one we never imagined, but His plans are far better than ours can ever be.

Today, I am grateful and marveling at how our lives have completely changed from where we were a year ago, and we never could have predicted how it would turn out.

What are you waiting for today? Trust that God does have a plan. And that His plans are perfect.
How have you seen this play out in your own life?

When Worry Steals My Joy

The past several months have been quite a wild ride, as partially evidenced by my complete lack of writing. But there’s one post that I’ve had in my head for months & have struggled to make the time to get it “on paper”. It’s overdue and it’s now time.

I will admit that there have been plenty of times over the last many months where I have struggled to maintain my joy at the complete miracle that God has blessed us with. Consuming thoughts about logistics and “how in the world are we going to make this work” take over and won’t let go.

The day we went to the doctor to find out how many babies we had growing inside of me was, of course, quite memorable. We had chosen to put in two embryos in that IVF round and we knew we were around 7 weeks pregnant, but we didn’t know with how many. So as the ultrasound tech is performing the scan with our doctor watching over the monitor, they find a cute little gummy bear looking thing, complete with a tiny, little heart beat. Wow! They’re checking it out and making sure everything looks good, and I get up the courage to ask “are we just seeing one?” “Looks like it” our doctor replies. Cason & I exchange smiles, and probably semi-relieved glances… Amazing. Our prayers have been answered… But then… she moves the wand in a bit of a different direction… “Oh, there’s the other one!“…

We were, of course, overjoyed that we were finally pregnant. Especially after what felt like such a challenging journey. And we were obviously totally aware that twins was a very real possibility (though the percentages weren’t nearly as high as you might think).

But what happened in that moment, and for weeks afterwards (and still often creeps in now), were the overwhelming thoughts that go something like this:

  • Twins? I don’t know how to care for 1 baby; how are we going to care for 2?
  • Can I even hold 2 babies at once?
  • How does feeding/sleeping/loading them in a car/going anywhere work?
  • Do you even know how much daycare for 2 costs? How in the world are we going to make that work? Will we both continue to work? Does that even make any sense at all? Could we even attempt to make ends meet in any of these scenarios?
  • How much more stuff do we need to buy when it’s twins? 2 cribs, 2 car seats, a double stroller…? How many diapers and bottles and wipes? How in the world are we going to be able to afford all of that?
  • Where will we live? How can we fit 2 cribs and all of that baby stuff in the same room?

I became so consumed with trying to figure out the logistics and the life scenarios and the impending costs, that it kind of consumed my thoughts (and my sleep). The worry would steal my joy. I’m slightly ashamed to say that in a time where we should have felt on top of the world and praising God continually for what He had done for us, I was bogged down with worry and anxiety. And I feel so guilty about that too. After the journey we went through, and all of the couples I know who are going through similar struggles and would do anything to be pregnant.

But that’s our human frailty isn’t it? And a universal problem that we all struggle with a various times. To get consumed with doubt and anxiety over how things will work out. To have a really hard time trusting that God has us right where He wants us and that He WILL supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19).

And then of course there’s Matthew 6:25-34 about not worrying about tomorrow…

Here we are months later and we’ve seen God answer the “where will we live” question. He has blessed us with a beautiful townhouse in a great location and we praise Him for that. And we can say out loud that we know He will provide for the rest of our needs in due time. That’s not to say it won’t be hard, but He will take care of us, and in the process, He’ll continue to sanctify us and keep us on our knees in dependence on Him. That’s the beauty in the brokenness.

Another way to help me push back those overwhelming thoughts of anxiety and worry is to recount the tremendous and miraculous ways that God has provided for us in the past. For anyone facing a similar struggle with worry (no matter what the circumstances are), I encourage you to do the same.

Psalm 9:1 says: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

You can stop reading here and go recount some of the amazing ways God has showed up for you, or if you want, you’re welcome to continue reading one of those stories that I hold onto now for us.

We know that God had His hand in every step of this journey for us – in bringing us our precious twin girls. One of those stories that I need to continually remember is in how He provided for us financially through it all. Infertility treatments are quite expensive and there aren’t many insurance plans that cover everything.

The cadillac of insurance plans that we switched to covered a good portion of the procedures, office visits, and super basic medications like the 1 antibiotic pill you take the night before a procedure. However, it covered nothing of the really expensive injection medications, of which you need a lot of in one round of IVF. One injection can cost hundreds of dollars and you’re often doing multiple injections every day for about 10-14 days in a row. It’s like liquid gold going into your body every time. Talk about pressure!

We went through 2 partial IVF rounds (that we stopped mid-cycle because I wasn’t responding well enough) and 2 full IVF rounds. That’s A LOT of shots. We purchased a big batch to start with. Our nurse at the clinic would then occasionally give us a couple here or there that someone else had turned in because that person had success and didn’t need them anymore.

As we were in our 2nd or 3rd round and were about 48 hours away from having to order another really large, really expensive batch of shots, our miracle happened…

A little backstory: Emily & I were in the same church youth group but hadn’t seen each other for around 10 years. My mom & Emily’s mom currently work at the same elementary school. As people often do, my parents & her parents would often say “we should get together for dinner” and then not actually make it happen. One day they finally set a date.

Emily was supposed to be out with a friend that night, but the friend uncharacteristically canceled on her, so she ended up being home too on that particular evening and joined them for dinner.

I come up in conversation (“how’s Karen doing these day”). Emily works at the main office of the clinic we’re going to and emphatically tells my mom to have me contact her. That she’d love to help us in any way that she can. Specifically to have me tell her which medications I’m on.

Mom delivers the message to me that night or the next morning. I send Emily an email, including the list of medications. Within an hour she writes me back and essentially says – ok, I’ve already rounded up 4 of these, 5 of these, and 5 of these for you. Give me a little more time and I can get some more. I read this at work and tears just start streaming down my face.

Her office is a good hour from me, without accounting for DC area traffic. How am I going to get these from her before the weekend when we need them? It just so happens that at IJM, we’re having our quarterly prayer retreat that Friday at a church halfway between where I live and she works. And we always end prayer retreats by 3pm. Her office closes at 4:00.

After the retreat wraps up, I make a dash for it (rush hour starts at 3 on Fridays!) and get to her office right before closing time. Like my fertility angel from above, she comes out carrying 3 large bags full of medication to just give us. Thousands of dollars worth. The tears go streaming down my face again.

I haven’t seen Emily in about 10 years. Our parents just happened to finally make their dinner plans for that particular week. Emily just happened to be home that night. It just so happened to be about 48 hours before I would have to place an order for more shots and I just happened to have our prayer retreat that Friday, allowing me to get to her in time.

Only God.

That batch of shots, and another one smaller batch she got us later, allowed us to get through the next rounds that we did. After we found out we were pregnant we even had some left over and were able to bless another friend by passing them on to her!

God used Emily as a big piece of our miracle, and even as a piece of someone else’s!

So this is a story for us to remember. To lean on when the worry creeps in. It’s a big part of how God has brought us this far. He provided, through Emily, for us during a very challenging time. He made it possible to get our girls. We must trust that He will continue to provide, for all of our needs.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

God has given us our miracle(s)!

Barnes Twins Coming August 2015

“With God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

I am a bit at a loss for words. How can I do a post like this justice and adequately give due glory to God? I can’t… I still can’t believe that this is a real post that I get to type. But let’s see if I can put some words together. It might be a little disjointed.

It’s been more than two years since we started trying to get pregnant and a year since we started down the “infertility” road. After being told last spring that we had a 1% chance of getting pregnant naturally, I clung to the idea that my God is a God of the 1%. He is the God of the impossible. If He choses, He can make it happen. We just didn’t know, in His sovereign plan, if He would choose to do it. There were many days where I didn’t think it would ever happen.

He has taken us down quite a journey, especially over the last 6 months of seeking treatment. Four months in a row of attempted IVF cycles will do a number to your emotions.

As I typed out my last post, about how God had to take me to a place of brokenness to really start to find a hunger for Him, we were in the midst of our 4th attempt. (Only our 2nd where we were actually able to do an egg retrieval & embryo transfer.) We made it all the way to the embryo transfer and were in the excruciatingly long 2-week wait before the pregnancy test as I hit publish on that last one.

God knew the journey He had to take us on. For some reasons we see now and others we’ll never know.

Because of my previous response (or lack of response) to treatment — including the one unsuccessful IVF round where we had one embryo to transfer — we decided to transfer 2 embryos this time around. We took the risk.

We found out we were pregnant before Christmas and were able to share the news with both of our families as we saw them in person over the holidays. It was the best and only present we needed, and a welcome miracle at the end of a hard year on both sides.

This past Friday, we went for our first ultrasound where they discovered that it is, in fact, twins. (For about two minutes we thought there was only one, but the second one was hiding a bit!) Both decided to stick around! We saw two tiny miracle hearts beating, at only 7.5 weeks. Wow.

We are so grateful and also quite overwhelmed! Twins! How in the world are we going to handle twins? There are so many logistics to figure out in the next several months.

As we continue on this new phase of our journey, we will lean on some of the lessons that God has taught us over the recent past. Both are possible blog posts that still need to be written:
1. We are not in control. Only God is. We could attempt to take matters into our own hands — I tried acupuncture, a special fertility diet for 6 months, 4 months of medical treatment where we could try the exact same combination and my body would respond differently every time — but it is only God who has any control over the outcome. It’s all in His hands.
2. God provides. We’ve experienced this in not having any idea how we were going to pay for such expensive procedures and medications. But month after month, God provided, in amazing ways. I know He will continue to do so.

Okay, I have 2 quips that I have to randomly fit in:
1. You all prayed too hard and God sure did answer — twins! :)
2. I guess we’re making up for lost time and trying to catch up.

And a serious note. For some reason, God has chosen to answer our prayers. I’ll never understand why. Why He has chosen to answer this one, but there are so many couples going through similar journeys and who haven’t gotten their hearts’ desire. I remain extremely sensitive to others who are walking this difficult road. And I don’t want to trigger anyone else’s sadness. The infertility journey is one that will forever mark who I am and I don’t think that will change.

As of today, we are only 8 weeks along. It is obviously still early and I am not naive to think “we’ve made it”. But we also couldn’t wait any longer to share the news of these two tiny miracles with you all. So many people have been praying for us and supporting us. We are so grateful for you! Would you please join us in praising God for these two lives and also praying for their continued health and development?

And maybe kick in a prayer for our wisdom and decision making about the future? We sure do have a lot to figure out! We have many more opportunities on the horizon for us to desperately lean on God in all things.

Our two 5-day old embryos on the left and our split screen ultrasound at 7.5 weeks showing two little blueberries!

On the left are our two 5-day old embryos before our transfer and on the right is our split screen ultrasound at 7.5 weeks showing our two little blueberries!

“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.” -Psalm 9:1-2

Photos are by Stacey Michelle Photography.

The Beauty in the Brokenness

October was hard. Really hard. On the personal and family side of things. A month that started with a lot of hope, felt like it crashed and burned quickly.

After a disappointing, failed first round of fertility treatment in August, we started a second round of treatment and hefty meds in September. This time we actually made it all the way through an IVF cycle (which is no walk in the park, but those are details for another day). It was like holding my breath every single day. But after making it to an embryo transfer, I was filled with so much hope, thinking “this could finally be it”. Almost 2 years later.

Then life came crashing in at once. My mom started chemotherapy for breast cancer. Two days later my grandma passed away. Two days after the funeral, we go in for our long-awaited pregnancy blood test. (It’s an excruciatingly long wait from the day of the transfer to when you can take the actual test. It feels like forever.) We got the call later that afternoon that it was negative.

I haven’t been very acquainted with grief and mourning in my sheltered life. But I became acquainted quickly. I didn’t even have a name to put on our own personal situation. It wasn’t a miscarriage because it was never a clinical pregnancy. But if we believe that life begins at conception (and we do), then it was a life lost. We have a picture of our 3-day old embryo that they gave us, before they transferred it back in. It’s a little 8-celled miracle. It still sits on my dresser, partly because I’m just not sure what to do with it now. But that was a life. I do believe we have a child in heaven now.

A week later, we plunged back into another treatment cycle, anxious to keep the momentum going. But after a week of pills and shots and every other day doctor’s appointments, my body just wasn’t responding and we decided the best thing to do was to cancel the cycle. Talk about dashed hopes and feelings of “this is just never going to happen.” I had to have a talk with my doctor about if and how to move forward. That same day, my uncle died…

I had some straight up bouts of “ugly crying” that weekend. And moping around, and crying again. It was a tough couple of weeks and it just was too much. I learned about grief and feelings of brokenness. And I learned that I just needed to stop and figure out how I, personally, needed to deal with it. And that it was okay to feel how I felt.

Getting to the point of this story, if I had written this post when I first thought about it, it would have been very different. I was going to call it “A Time to Mourn”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but thanks be to God, the story didn’t stop there.

I was so glad to turn the page on October. I’ve never been happier for a new month to come.

November then turned into a big month of healing and growth for me. It’s hard to summarize, but I think that God had to take me to a place of brokenness to really start to find a hunger for Him.

“I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love,
because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.
Psalm 31:7 (The Voice)

I started devouring a couple of great books. The un-ironically similar Bittersweet and Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Both exactly what I needed to read and worthy of their own posts. I started diving into different scriptures and finding that I had a hunger to know more of who God is. With refreshingly nothing to do with my circumstances. My circumstances were what helped drive me to this place, but I wasn’t looking up passages solely on hope and waiting anymore. I found a craving just to know Him better. I dove into Scriptures on the attributes of God, what He says about Himself, and His promises to us.

I found myself giving thanks to God despite, within and because of my circumstances. One particular devotion on SheReadsTruth.com (“Give Thanks in Sorrow”) struck me with this perfectly phrased message:

“God doesn’t ask us to silence our sorrow in favor of thanksgiving. Rather, He uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise… Extracted from all earthly attachments, void of trimmings and trumpets sounding, sorrow is a connection to Christ and our need for Him in its purest form…

I love that.

God doesn’t ask us to toss our grief and sorrow aside. To sugar coat it and forget it. He wants us to turn to Him in the midst of it. He hurts when we hurt. And it’s in the brokenness that we find a new dimension of Him that we wouldn’t know otherwise.

We learn about the Abba Father who wants us to climb into His lap and bring everything to Him – our hurts, our wants, our questions, our cries for healing and peace. This is the God that I’ve been discovering over the last several weeks. I’ve found myself praising Him for bringing me through this time of sorrow because it brought me to this place with Him that I wouldn’t know otherwise. And it’s a sweet place to be.

It IS the beauty in the brokenness.

* * *

A Joyful Confidence

Thank you all so much for the outpouring of support, encouragement, and prayers from my last post, where I opened up about our journey through infertility. I wasn’t quite sure if many people would read it, or what reactions might be. But I was blown away. I do hope these posts can be – at the same time – authentic, open, informative, God glorifying, and encouraging to those going through any sort of trial.

In the spirit of remaining authentic and vulnerable (since I don’t have everything together), I will tell you there have been some hard days. If I had written these posts in May or June, they might have been a bit more raw. There were a couple days in June where I think I got a taste of what depression might feel like. It only lasted a couple days luckily. I was definitely not myself.

It can be challenging when it seems like everyone around you is pregnant and your Facebook feed is full of birth announcements and gender reveals. Or so much worse, when you hear stories at work of children who are pregnant as a result of the unspeakable abuse they have suffered. It seems so backwards and unjust. It’s hard.

At IJM, we have quarterly all-staff prayer retreats (a phenomenal perk for which I am so grateful). At our June retreat, Nancy Ortberg was our speaker. She is an amazing example of someone who can at once be open, raw, incredibly God honoring and full of practical wisdom. In the midst of sharing with us some of her life’s trials, she dropped a piece of wisdom that I picked up and have clutched like a treasure ever since. She said:

“Trials are a test of our joyful confidence in God.”

Read that again slowly…

Trials are a test of our joyful confidence. In God. Despite our circumstances. In the midst of trials. Knowing, believing, clinging to the hope and truth that God’s plans are best. Even when we don’t understand it or feel it. Trials are an opportunity to show where our hope really lies.

Similarly, and perfectly complementary, in a Tim Keller sermon that I keep going back to called “Peace – Overcoming Anxiety”, he said:

  1. Peace is confidence and trust in God’s good and wise control of your life.
  2. Joy is a buoyancy. It’s unsinkable. It’s a focus on the unchanging privileges we have in God.

Peace and an unsinkable joyful confidence. This has become a prayer for myself and one I’ve had others praying for me too. That I would maintain a joyful confidence and a peace, despite our circumstances. Despite what our feelings of the day would like to dictate.

God has definitely answered that prayer and I am so grateful. We are actually in a pretty good place right now. We knew God started answering that prayer for peace and a joyful confidence when we walked out of the doctor’s office in late June with our medical plan of action (after months of waiting for insurance to work out so we could start doing something) and we actually felt really light and carefree crossing the parking lot back to our car. How many people leave a fertility clinic practically skipping and laughing to their car? I knew it was strange… Only God.

And we’ve experienced relative peace… through some pretty brutal medical treatment involving 2 weeks a month of self-administered shots, 3 times a day… Only God.

I don’t know what next month will bring, but I’m learning to lean on Him for each and every day. That’s really all I can do. And quite honestly, that’s not a bad place to be.

Joyful Confidence

“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure.” ~James 1:2-3 (The Voice)

How do you find peace and joy in the midst of trials? What are some Bible verses that you turn to in those hard times?

Our “Something”

Everyone is dealing with something. It struck me one morning as I was getting off the metro a couple months ago. People were coming and going from all directions. I had just ridden my 5 stops in a bit of a distracted fog. A funk really. But stepping off the metro, I realized that I was bracing myself. Putting on a happy face, ready to walk into work again like everything was wonderful.

And if that’s what I was doing (me, someone who has the strength of positivity) I wondered how many people around me were doing the same thing. Or who didn’t even have the strength that day to try. Everyone is dealing with something.

For us, that “something” has been and continues to be a battle against infertility. There, I said it. Ripped off like a bandaid. We’ve gone public. Completely exposed.

Such a taboo and vulnerable subject. And I’m tired of it being that way. It’s become core to who I am now and no matter our outcome, I think it will always be a piece of me.

I’ve sort of wanted to blog about our journey for the last several months for a couple reasons:

  1. Infertility actually affects 1 in 8 couples. I want to break the stigma and help people understand how common it is and how many people around you are probably dealing with it too. And possibly help you understand what they’re going through.
  2. To encourage others who are in the same journey. I’ve heard it said that infertility carries the same weight as a cancer diagnosis, as far as emotional trauma goes. It is a hard and lonely road and I want others to know that they’re not alone. I want to encourage others to reach out to their support networks or others dealing with it too.
  3. So that God can be glorified. I know that if we have to go through this, that one of the purposes is so that God can use it to His glory. And He can’t be glorified if we don’t share what He has done (& is doing).
  4. To share (& process) some of the lessons that we’ve been learning through it all that really are applicable to everyone, regardless of your exact circumstances. Like lesson #1: “Everyone is dealing with something”.

I’ve been held back from sharing publicly by fear of being too vulnerable. Not sure if I wanted everyone to know our business.  (Our inner circle of friends and family have been journeying with us for months.) But I’m feeling even more compelled by the reasons above and it’s time I give in.

As for our journey, we’ve been “trying” for 2 years. Journeying and struggling through “infertility” (as a label) for the last 9 months or so. Currently going through medical treatment, which is no walk in the park. It has been a roller coaster. So many ups and downs. Sometimes by the hour. Certainly by the day, week, and month. If I’m going to lay it all out there, I’ve struggled with feeling rocked to the core of my identity, with feeling incredibly alone, with feeling traces of hopelessness, and of course, with wondering “why us”. We’ve also been drawn closer to God and to each other. We’ve had the great opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by others we know going through this too. We’ve experienced the tremendous blessing of an amazing support network. We’ve seen God move in some mighty ways and have learned some really valuable lessons.

Everyone is dealing with something – a loved one battling cancer, conflict in a marriage, chronic migraines, feelings of loneliness, a miscarriage, unemployment, a personal financial crisis… something.

A simple, but profound lesson that I’m grateful to have fully realized. It has helped me view people with more kindness and empathy. In a world of social media where we choose which are the best pieces of ourselves to post publicly. Where we constantly compare ourselves to someone else’s highlights (but not the lowlights). And in a society where we put on our happy face and answer “I’m good, how are you?” without thinking twice. We just don’t know what others are struggling with.

It has made me want to be kinder to the cashier at the store, to greet the man always handing out papers at my metro stop, to give drivers on the road the benefit of the doubt (I know that’s a hard one!). To realize and remember that the person next to you is probably dealing with something hard too. We might as well choose joy and try to spread it to others.

As for our current struggle:
“I watch in hope for the Lord. I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” ~Micah 7:7


More to come soon…

So what were we actually doing in Uganda?

I have been terribly negligent at blogging. For various reasons, I’ve found it very difficult to sit down and write since returning from Uganda. But here we go with post #2. If you didn’t read the first post, take a minute to read that, as it provides the introduction to what I’m about to write about.

The piece of the puzzle that our volunteer team was in Uganda to help with was in working to change the systems – specifically in the area of court reform. If we can help the courts run more efficiently, we can more quickly get justice for more widows & orphans who are victims of land grabbing.

I regularly hear of stories where a case file has gone missing (in many of the offices around the world where we work). Sometimes suspicious activity is to blame for a missing file and sometimes it’s the case of archive rooms that look like the below picture. This can delay a case for months at a time, significantly delaying justice and restoration for the victim. It causes a lot of work for the IJM team who travels to every hearing only to find it canceled and it causes continued heartache and pain for the widow who is suffering. And after this past week, I can now understand how they go missing. Take a look again at this picture (that I posted before leaving):

For reference, those beams are a little over 6 feet up. Unreal.

For reference, those beams are a little over 6 feet up. Unreal.

In asking one of the IJM staff on the legal team in Kampala how often a missing case file affects the cases they’re working on in Uganda, the answer was “regularly”.

Amazingly, IJM has built up the trust & credibility with the local government and court officials that they welcomed the opportunity to have us bring volunteers to help organize these case files (while the criminal court was in recess in August). So we brought in volunteers from different churches who were willing to sacrifice their time & money to fly to Africa to go work really hard in a very unglamorous job. They heard of a need and said send me.

It was a very abnormal mission/service trip.

Before the team got there, IJM staff had worked extremely hard to empty the above pictured archive room down into 2 court rooms, into mountainous piles by overarching case work type. In the process they had to clean off and deal with mouse and bat droppings, terrible amounts of built up dust, dirt, & debris. They had to fumigate, rip out shelves, paint, and rebuild new shelves.

So here are some pictures of the piles that were waiting for us when we arrived:

This is 1 of the 2 courtrooms that was filled with paperwork when we got there. This picture probably shows around 1/3 of the total case files we faced when we arrived. We rightly look a little bit overwhelmed.

This is 1 of the 2 courtrooms that was filled with paperwork when we got there. This picture probably shows around 1/3 of the total case files we faced when we arrived. We rightly look a little bit overwhelmed.

Towers and towers of stacks of tattered paper, very roughly bundled by decade.

Towers and towers of stacks of tattered paper, very roughly bundled by decade.

You can get a small glimpse of the quality of the files we were working with. Mostly handwritten notes, paper that was disintegrating, often littered with bat or mouse droppings, etc.

You can get a small glimpse of the quality of the files we were working with. Mostly handwritten notes, paper that was disintegrating, often littered with bat or mouse droppings, etc.

It was pretty overwhelming to walk in and see what awaited us. I heard it was 60,000 case files! We knew it was a rather impossible task. But we also knew that God was doing amazing things through IJM in Uganda and He could work amazing things through us on this trip.

Long story short, the team was awesome. The original plan was to work Tuesday-Friday, roughly 9-5pm. Because the need was so great, and much more tedious than originally estimated, they team ended up asking if they could work until 9pm or so most nights (the courthouse staff strung lights up around the courtyard where we were working so we could see after dark). They also gave up their free time, fun activity on Saturday morning (an ATV tour) in order to get another 4 or so hours of work done before having to fly out that evening. They were so hardworking, and so joyful doing it. It was a privilege to be with them.

Here’s a bit of what the process looked like:

We had runners that would bring stacks from the courtroom piles out to the courtyard where we were working. He would roughly sort them on the front end before taking the stacks over to the labelers.

We had runners that would bring stacks from the courtroom piles out to the courtyard where we were working. He would roughly sort them on the front end before taking the stacks over to the labelers.

We all wore gloves & masks to protect us from the dirt & droppings. The labelers would go through their stacks with the intention of having to hand write the proper coding on each file. They'd have to sort & label whether it was a Chief Magistrate's Court or High Court file (like local court vs the next level up of jurisdiction/appeals), if it was a civil vs criminal file, the casework type (family causes, land matters, civil appeals, etc), what year it was from and the case number within the year (case 2 of 1978, case 214 of 1995, case 77 of 2011).

We all wore gloves & masks to protect us from the dirt & droppings. The labelers would go through their stacks with the intention of having to hand write the proper coding on each file. They’d have to sort & label whether it was a Chief Magistrate’s Court or High Court file (like local court vs the next level up of jurisdiction/appeals), if it was a civil vs criminal file, the casework type (family causes, land matters, civil appeals, etc), what year it was from and the case number within the year (case 2 of 1978, case 214 of 1995, case 77 of 2011).

Can you tell I'm smiling? After labeling, the runners would bring the piles up to the sorters. We'd have to keep them separated by all of the above mentioned criteria and pile them in stacks by years.

Can you tell I’m smiling? After labeling, the runners would bring the piles up to the sorters. We’d have to keep them separated by all of the above mentioned criteria and pile them in stacks by years.

We used those shelves to help sort. With each casework type spanning at least 3 decades, it was a lot of effort to get everything sorted properly.

We used those shelves to help sort. With each casework type spanning at least 3 decades, it was a lot of effort to get everything sorted properly.

We would then file the case files into boxes, in order by year. So this is a box of civil appeal files from the Chief Magistrate's Court, in case number order from 1980-1981. You can see the hand labeling in black sharpie at the bottom of the top file.

We would then file the case files into boxes, in order by year. So this is a box of civil appeal files from the Chief Magistrate’s Court, in case number order from 1980-1981. You can see the hand labeling in black sharpie at the bottom of the top file.

Rows and piles of boxes that we were filing into. Someone said we used well over 100 file boxes.

Rows and piles of boxes that we were filing into. Someone said we used well over 100 file boxes.

As I mentioned before, the volunteers were awesome. So joyful and diligent in the work. Gary Haugen talks about the work of justice being “long and boring”. It’s the unglamorous side of justice. Not the rescue operations, but the hundreds of hours our staff spends driving to and from court cases, or in this case, the dozens of hours spent tediously pouring over tens of thousands of files. But it makes a huge difference for the one widow we’re trying to help. Earlier in the week, we split the group into two and went out into the countryside where each group had the tremendous blessing of meeting one of the women we have helped (or are in the process of helping). It was a touching experience that made the work so much more real & impacting. (I’ll write about it in a later post.) But the team was very inspired by the experience & hung up the below sign:


So after hundreds of man hours spent handling tens of thousands of files, we didn’t get it all done in that week. But we got what we deemed the most important portion (and the work did get finished by another team after we left). And that Friday night & Saturday morning, we unloaded as many boxes as possible into the revamped archive room. Scroll back up to the before picture for a second…

And then check out this after picture. We never thought files could look so beautiful!

Finished I’ve skimmed over a lot of details here, but that is the gist. It was a long week of tedious work, but it sets up the court for much better efficiency, and helps our IJM legal team better serve so many more widows and orphans who truly need someone to fight for them.

Next (& soon) I will write about the absolute joy of getting to spend time with the IJM Kampala staff and about the touching experience meeting a woman our staff is walking alongside on the path to justice and restoration.

So I turned 30 on August 6th. Help me celebrate by donating to my IJM FreedomMaker campaign. I set the audacious goal to raise $3000 (100% of which goes to IJM). So far we’re up over $2,300, but the campaign ends on August 30. Let’s make an impact together.

Back from Uganda

Uganda Roadside

I am back from Uganda. In a nutshell, it was an amazing week.

I had really good intentions of blogging along the way… but then life happened. I learned quickly that a wifi connection was hard to come by in Uganda, even when the hotel said “they’re working on it” & “it should be working again soon”. Three days later and still no internet… Then there were the nights that, after a very full day, it took 2 hours to get our dinner, and afterwards I was way too exhausted to function well (let alone write). And finally, our days were so packed that there were only 10 minutes here or there on sporadic days to check in with the world, when there was functioning internet.

So here I am, arriving back at home, jet-lagged but with a full heart.

Where to start…

IJM in Kampala, Uganda works to secure justice for widows & orphans who are victims of property grabbing. A quick typical story – a woman’s husband dies and shortly thereafter (if not at the funeral itself) a relative from the husband’s side (a brother or uncle, or sometimes a neighbor) will swoop in and threaten her and her children with violence, claiming her land for themselves. They might destroy her crops, threaten her children with machetes, or push the house in on them while they sleep. She has nowhere to go, no one to fight for her, and she and her children (who are extremely poor to start with) are left with absolutely nothing. No shelter, no crops, no livelihood.

It is a very unfamiliar story to those of us living in the west. But this is her terrifying reality.

In a three year period from 2005 to 2007, 30% of the widows and orphans surveyed in IJM’s project area had become victims of property grabbing when their husband or parent died.

But this week, I met the heroes who are saying “not on my watch”. The IJM staff who stand up beside her and say “we are going to fight for you and we are not going away”. They are a group of truly remarkable people.

In a simplified description, IJM seeks to secure her land for her, to hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes, to stand beside her in the process of restoration & empowerment, and to change the systems in place so that this crime doesn’t happen anymore.

Incredibly, since 2008 IJM has brought relief to well over 650 victims of property grabbing crimes. (That number is almost a year old too.)

So, what were we doing there?

The piece of the puzzle that our volunteer team was there to help with was in working to change the systems – specifically in the area of court reform. If we can help the courts run more efficiently, we can more quickly get justice for more victims.

Along the way, I was specifically seeking a chance to interact with our staff, to learn from them to better understand the work being done in Uganda. As a marketer, if I can better understand the work, I can help communicate the story more effectively.

In the coming days I’ll write about our adventures at the court house, reflections from spending time with the IJM staff, from going to a rural Ugandan church, and maybe most notably, I’ll share with you the story of meeting one of the incredibly strong widows we are still in the process of walking alongside.

By the way, I’m turning 30 on Tuesday. Help me celebrate by donating to my IJM FreedomMaker campaign. I set the audacious goal to raise $3000 (100% of which goes to IJM). Let’s make an impact together!

Some IJM Uganda & US staff, together at church on Sunday

I’m going to Uganda!

Tomorrow, I leave for Uganda. Is this actually happening? Uganda.

This will be my first time to Africa. A whole new continent. A whole new world to explore. It’s been over a year since my last big international adventure. And as anyone who has traveled much internationally can attest, it becomes a bit addicting. Travel really is good for the soul.

This will also be my first time visiting an IJM field office. Something straight off of my bucket list. In Uganda, in general, IJM fights for widows & orphans who have been victims of land grabbing. Check out my post Freedom Friday: Caring for Widows to learn more about this amazing work.

So the trip is here, but I can still hardly believe it. I just learned I’d be going a month ago and these last 4 weeks have gone by in a total blur.

Are you ready for the fun-to-explain part? The overall purpose of the trip is to take some volunteers from wonderful church partners of ours and go organize the paperwork in the archive room of the High Court of Jinja.

Why would anyone even need to do that? Why would the government of Uganda let a group of Americans come ruffle through their official papers? And what good will that accomplish?

All are excellent questions. I’ll answer all of these in future posts, so you’ll just have to keep coming back!

In addition to that official and original purpose of the trip, I also have some marketing objectives to cover, and will also have the privilege of getting some good, quality time with the IJM staff in our Kampala office. The real heroes who are out there changing lives.

For now, please do really go check out the earlier post Freedom Friday: Caring for Widows and learn more about the incredible work IJM is doing in Uganda.

Oh, and did I mention, below is what the archive room in the High Court of Jinja looks like. Yup, that’s what we’re up against… It’s going to be quite an adventure! But definitely making a tangible impact we’ll be able to see!

Jinja Court Archive Room

Also, I’m turning 30 two days after I return! This year, I wanted to do something to make a bigger impact, so I started an IJM FreedomMaker birthday campaign with the audacious goal of raising $3,000 in honor of turning 30. 100% of funds raise go to fund IJM’s work. Will you please consider joining me & helping change some lives?


Back to Blogging (& growing)

So I’m embarrassed to say that my last blog post was on February 20 – almost 5 months ago! I started 2013 strong (in regards to blogging), but it didn’t last. In real life, 2013 started out with a bang. Between the last week in February and sometime in late April, we had 2 free weekends. It was all great things, but it was hard to catch my breath, let alone blog – though it would have been great material for blogging (like the inspiring Justice Conference in Philly). Alas, I had to let it go & just move forward.

Suddenly, it’s July. More than halfway through the year. When did this happen?

My “one word” to focus on for 2013 is Grow. So how am I doing? Decently, I think. Work is constantly challenging & stretching. I don’t think that will ever change. We’re really focusing on taking things to the next level, so I definitely feel like I’m growing there. In regards to church, I said I wanted to grow into a place of service & deeper involvement. Well, in early spring Cason & I became leaders for our Sunday morning class and we started facilitating a midweek couple’s Bible study. We are growing deeper relationships with others, which I always want more of. Personally, I haven’t really made the time to grow in pursuits outside of work (like learning how to use that camera). Maybe someday soon. This is my attempt to get back to blogging more often than every 6 months! A constant struggling point is trying to figure out the balance with my work life (which I feel is both work & service/ministry) and finding a place of service in the community (outside of the church). Similar to our involvement with refugees in Nashville.


All of that to say, the remainder of 2013 has plenty of room for continued growth.

What’s next? Well, in less than a month I turn 30. By the time that happens though, I’ll have traveled to Uganda & back. I’ll be visiting an IJM field office and helping with a project at a local courthouse. I’m extremely excited. This is something straight off of my bucket list. But more about that trip another day…

How is your 2013 progressing?