Above is a picture of my 36th birthday (looking like I’m telling campfire ghost stories- ha!)….and next to it is a picture of my very first birthday. The years between these photos have been so rich and so jammed-packed with adventures, that I don’t necessarily feel OLD….rather wonderfully LIVED. Is that a thing? Heck Yes!
At Hillsong Leadership College, Brian Houston (the lead pastor) would consistently remind us that THE BEST IS YET TO COME. This phrase became a mantra for me and a reminder that God would never be finished with me. I’ve lived with persistent anticipation for what lies ahead…and I’ve rarely felt that my ‘golden years’ were behind me. Today as I look ahead, I am certain this is still true.
The statistics of risks associated with maternal age, do not communicate this same enthusiasm for baby endeavours. At 35 years old, a woman steps into a world where the numbers begin to tumble and risk of having children with chromosomal abnormality climbs. Although pregnancy is trending higher among 30+ women…we are considered ‘advanced maternal age’.
When I was 23, I moved to Uganda. I spent 7 1/2 years pioneering a Non-Governmental Organization called Cherish Uganda. If you’ve known me- you’ve likely heard my story. A rebellious coming of age landed me on a Greyhound bus at 18, with blackened hair and heartbroken dreams. I was returning home from a spring and summer of tree-planting in Northern BC and my heart longed to unstick my feet from Canadian soil. I sensed a purpose that was ‘larger than me’ somewhere in a place I’d never been. I felt certain that I had been missing out on God’s best for me. I had run from Him because I had convinced myself I could map a better plan myself- but it had led me to the emptiest place I’d ever been. So as I sat on the bus, I turned my thoughts to God and the plans He had for me-which I’d all but abandoned.
“God, if you still have any possible use for me…if I am not too far gone, for you to redeem… I surrender my life to you…..whatever you want for me, I will do”. The sunlight streamed in through the window and I looked out at the spectacular scenery of Banff National Park, listening to the background humming of the bus. I looked down at my purple hair-dye stained hands as they held my CD player which was perched on top of my journal. In that quiet space, I heard a word whispered to my spirit, “Cherish”. It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t a rebuke or even a conviction….it was a promise. God was not done with me and more striking, He was close and not distant from me. In the pitiful state I was in, there He was.
My life turned at that moment. It was the kind of turn that resembled a 180-degree change of heart…a true repentance. I unstuck my feet from Canadian soil and travelled as far from home as I could possibly get. Hillsong Leadership College in Sydney Australia was my first stop. There, I met my gorgeous friend Emma. She is a British, sanguine, firecracker of a girl, who I quickly grew to adore! We shared a room in our college house, threw pancake and champagne parties, skipped classes and found a passion for Christ and His church during our years at Hillsong.
Our friendship took me to England after college, where Emma was working as a youth pastor for a church called Christian Grown Centre. I arrived in September 2004 and worked alongside Emma- where we continued our quest to see God’s Kingdom realized in the lives of young people…whilst being adamant not to conform to a boring, religious mould that we so detested. It turned out, we were in the right place- because when I met Rick and Bev Murrill. They were the senior pastors of the church and leaders of a movement of church plants throughout the UK called Christian Growth International. It didn’t take more than one conversation with them to figure out that they were faith-filled, mould-breakers themselves!
A few weeks after I’d arrived in England, Bev Murrill visited Uganda. She was taking a team of women to pray for and encourage the staff of Mildmay Uganda- a hospice for children living with HIV. The vice-president and founder of this centre was a tenacious British woman named Ruth Sims. She expressed to Bev that her team were struggling to face the overwhelming number of deaths among the children they attentively cared for. While Ruth took Bev through the hospice, Ruth explained that children without families were unable to begin medication because they would have no caregivers to support their stringent drug regime through childhood. So, although the life-saving medication was available to them, children were dying for lack of family and caregivers. Even orphan programs refused to provide care for these children, because of their HIV status.
God stopped Bev at a small bed, where a baby with HIV laid whose name was also Rachel. “Bev, you could DO SOMETHING about these children, if you want to.” These words could not be quietened in Bev’s heart as she returned to the UK and she returned with a catalytic anointing to speak in faith about an unseen response to God’s urge to ‘do something’.
The details of how God’s plan unfolded through Cherish Uganda would take me a book to share fully. In short, I spent the next 10 years of my life pouring my heart and soul into the team and work that developed into a village of rehabilitation homes, a health centre, schools and an agricultural farm for courageous children who would overcome stigma, abandonment and abuse- to become symbols of HOPE for others living with HIV.
I arrived in Uganda with a couple suitcases full of good intentions. I left with a heart made so rich by the grace and love of God. His purpose and path for me included undeserved leadership which was a growth experience, an incredible group of friends whom I was honored to call my team, a church family (worshipharvest.org) who discipled me into the outrageous grace of God….and friends all around the globe, who joined us to be part of this amazing story of redemption.
I’m writing this short excerpt of my days in Australia, England and Uganda, to remind myself that the years I invested in this cause would NOT have been better spent having children of my own. I would not change those years or trade them for anything else. I bring to my marriage and family the witness of a miracle working God- one who responds to faith. The thousands of days I spent without a family of my own, were days that prepared me for them. Those years were PACKED with adventure, pain, Jesus, love, friends and the evidence that God uses our own brokenness for His plan….in which we become whole.
As I face a medical world that correlates my age with maternal risk….I look back and think that a greater risk would be entering motherhood without the certain knowledge that God does miracles, He heals, He loves, He provides and He holds our futures perfectly in His hands. As Russ and I embark on a new parenting chapter of having a little girl with Down Syndrome, we are full of faith for her life….knowing that He who has begun a good work (5 months and counting….), is faithful to complete it. Our little girl’s diagnosis does not lie outside of His perfect plan.
So bring on the birthdays….the best is yet to come!
If Cherish Uganda caught your attention, please visit the website to check out the life-changing love that continues there today!