We celebrated our goodbye party with the Aunties at Kira’s baby home yesterday. I knew we were supposed to bring a cake but I had no idea what to expect otherwise. I was a little shy when I realized they had expected personal gifts from me at the parting party. I stood tall even so and remembered that we spread gifts on Christmas, deposited two months worth of diapers, made a cash donation from our family and friends, and gave them the book with everyone’s photos and messages of love and encouragement. If I had been smart I would have saved the book for this party. Oh well. We usually learn how to do something well after making a mess of it the first time.
We were hugged as we stepped through the tall iron gate and entered the familiar warmth of the baby home’s courtyard. Many of the aunties who spend the night with the children were there, and I had never met them before. They ushered us in and set up chairs in a circle where the children normally play. We were invited to sit as they scurried looking for their bibles. Because I had no idea what to expect I sat there wondering if I had been invited to a secret African ritual because there was a pregnant atmostphere of serious preparations. I was nervous, excited, and expectant.
One Auntie assumed leadership over the meeting. She said, we will begin with worship to God. A young auntie stood wearing her pretty church dress tilted her chin up and began to lead the group in singing songs of worship. The whole room began to sing without instruments. There was a hush in my heart, everyone experienced it, I am sure, and then we could feel the presence of God enter the room. The space became church for us. We could all sense the reverence and awe of our special guest. It felt holy.
That’s when the pain in my throat choked me, my lips began to tremble and my eyes dropped big Kira tears that I normaly wipe away several times a day for her. I wasn’t prepared for this emotional outburst but once in a while it sneaks up on me and displays itself at the most inconvenient times. I couldn’t utter a sound to sing, and I just knew they were going to ask me to speak. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone so I could get the crying under control, but that wasn’t possible. I don’t think they understood my tears, they noticed with a glimmer of eye communication but then carried on without a change in their facial expressions. I found this both curious and helpful.
After the singing, she said “Let me read from the word of God.” She opened to 1Corinthians 13 and read the LOVE chapter. Not coincidentally, but by the grace of God, it is the same verse I used to teach a bible study to women on Friday at Rose’s church. (I still need to report on that event! You didn’t know I haven’t shared it all did you?) She began to read what God has to say about loving well. More fat tears ran tracks down my face. I was feeling overwhelmed by the love and to have God’s words mingle with those feelings was far too much for my soggy heart. These are the women who take in orphaned and abandoned babies and love them as their own until they have to part with them in a ceremony like this one where I was centered. That’s enough to make anyone swell with emotion, but I have one of their precious ones and she is now officially my daughter and I love her as if I had been the one to bring her into the light of this world. I would have given anything to have been in their place to nurture and love her all those months we were separated but that wasn’t God’s plan. She was placed in their care and they opened their hearts to love her as each child in this world deserves. I am so thankful for the work they do and no words or gifts could possibly express it.
When she finished reading the scripture, she gave a short devotional about love and then asked us to go around in the circle and share what we know about God’s love. Seriously! How was I ever going to recover my voice and composure to share my heart with them? Prayer. When it was my turn I was able to share about the sacrificial and unconditional qualities of the way God loves us and that it is the example we must live by when people in our lives disappoint us. God is love, and we are made in His image and we are told love is the greatest above faith and hope. I myself will never forget to share the example of the way the Aunties in this baby home love the children all the while knowing they will leave them and break their hearts. They love them completely and unconditionally anyway. That is so rich, so full, so inspiring.
While everyone had their turns speaking the toddlers silently entered the room after waking from their naps. Peter stood before me and looked into my eyes with recognition so I lifted him into my lap and he settled there comfortably leaning against me. He whispered, “mama Cherish” and pointed at Kira who was being passed from lap to lap among the aunties. It helped me so much to have a child to hug as I dealt with my emotional wave. The aunties began to pray first in a sympthony of murmurings aloud to themselves and to God, and when it was appropriately satisfied the leading Auntie said a prayer for us all. If I could have composed myself and found my voice I would have been greatly honored to pray over this home, but I was lost in my physical pain of overwhelming emotion. A silent prayer had to do.
But that wasn’t to be. Sam, the administrator of the baby home stood and spoke formally about this momentous day. In some ways he said for me what I was unable to utter. I was relieved for that. But he wasn’t satisfied that his words were enough, he asked me to speak my heart to the Aunties. All I could think was to ask God to Help me. Through surging tears I told the women I could never express my appreciation for what they have given Kirabo at the start of her life. I promised them I would keep their memory alive for her by showing her the photos of her first home and convincing her that she was deeply loved from the moment she was found. They cheered. They don’t want to be forgotten, and this seemed to be gift enough for them.
Afterwards we moved the small table into the center of the circle and Sam took my camera for me. He asked someone to count to three, so an Auntie did so. I thought it was to take the picture and I wondered at the big “to do “ about a photo, but then they chastised me because I was supposed to cut the cake on three! So we did it again. I really can be clueless. It often is hard to communicate well here even though English is spoken. I am also learning communication itself isn’t a strength in Ugandan culture. I suppose it is because children are required to mostly be silent when they are in the presence of adults. The Ugandans marvel at the chatty nature of our children with adults and find it charming.
Anyway, I served cake to everyone and in my head I wished I was able to give them a taste of our American cake because what I was serving was like serving dry cornbread with only a hint of sweetness. It crumbles into dry bits at the touch of a fork. I wished I could serve them some delicious moist spongy cake that melts in the mouth while mixing with creamy frosting. They all seemed to enjoy eating the treat as they used their fingers and exchanged smiles and laughter.
Auntie Florence came and hugged me tightly and walked me to the courtyard. She said many kind words to encourage me and she said “be happy Mama Cherish”. I want to share how strong an encouragement it is coming from this woman. She has severe burns on her forearms and legs. Her toes on her right foot are melted into a misshaped stump. One afternoon while playing at the baby home I asked her gently what happened to her and this was the first time I saw that deep pretty smile. She told me the story of how many years ago when her two small children were sleeping in their beds their house went on fire. She had to save them and that is why she has scars. Her smile remained as she told me that she was seven months pregnant with twins when the fire came and it was too much for them. She said, “during the fire they left me in here” and she held her belly with both scarred hands. She smiled looking deeply into my eyes. She said “we suffered a lot during those times after the fire but my whole family loves Jesus so there is no problem on earth that ruin us.”
Every person we meet here in Uganda has a story of unbelievable hardship they had to overcome in their life. Their tragedies make them grow stronger. They overcome without therapy, without falling into life long depression or doing drugs. They don’t use their hardships as an excuse for all the personal problems in their life. They arise from the rubble stable, adjusted, and full of joy and peace because their faith in God is strong and because they have unbelievabe cohesive community with each other. This is one of the many reasons I LOVE the Ugandan people and commit my life’s work to helping them grow and prosper.
The party ended there and we dispersed. I was ready to be alone and begin processing my feelings. I felt emotionally tired like I needed a long nap with Kira in my arms. This goodbye party was more than the symbol of Kira’s emancipation from her baby home, it was more than a rite of passage, it was the beginning of our preparations to leave Uganda. I realized from my tearful reactions that it will be harder for me to leave than I ever thought. We are beginning the final week of our adventure. We have so much work to tuck into our days before we board our plane, and so many goodbyes to make. I took that nap so I could find my stamina and align myself with the superpower of God who can get me through it so I am not undone but that I might be like Florence and smile knowing God is the one who is my strength.