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I am home, in Ohio.

Africa was great. It just ended a little differently and a little earlier than I thought it would. But I’ve learned over the past 10 days that while life may never go as we plan, God is still in control and he can use our mistakes and screw-ups for his glory.

I made a mistake. A big one. And it has cost not only me, but so many people that I love and care for. A group of 10 of us from the team went to a local place in Choma that didn’t accurately represent IWU or World Hope. We didn’t think before we went how our quick decision might affect so many people. I personally slipped into being a friend and forgot to be a leader (something I struggled with throughout my whole time in Africa). Peer pressure took over. And I’ve asked myself questions. What was I thinking? How did I let this happen? I've been wracking my brain for a week trying to figure out everything I did wrong, everything that led me to this point. And while I could make excuses for my decisions, it comes down to a poor decision and lack of good judgment on my part.

Because of this decision, the 10 of us were all sent home early. Some may claim this was too harsh, some understand the consequences. All I can really say is that no matter what IWU decided as punishment for our actions in Zambia, I trust that God is still in control and still has great things in store for every single one of us that got to spend 7 incredible weeks in Zambia.
I truly wish I could express how sorry I am about what happened. God has done a number on me the past few days. He's been the one I've had to run to and while I understand his disappointment in me, I have also felt his forgiveness and his grace in ways I can't even begin to express. He has taught me how to have a truly repentant heart. He has shown me the hearts of the other students who were also there and how incredibly sorry they are. We never dreamed that our actions would cause so much heartache and pain, and if we had honestly known or thought about it, not one of us would have ever gone.

God's grace has been clearly evident through this whole situation, in spite of the heartache we've caused everyone. I wish grace could be explained through a picture. I would take one of Maureen and the WHIZ country director, Elvan Chilundika. They have shown us more grace than I believe is humanly possible. They have exemplified Christ in so many ways that I struggle to believe it most days. We deserve nothing, and they have given us everything and more. I wish everyone could know them, understand grace the way they understand grace. We have all learned more from them than we ever imagined we could through this time.

If there can be a good side to this mistake and this story, God will find it. My prayer over the last few days has been that in spite of my many mistakes here, this included, He will still shine through and his glory will be revealed. I know he can take things like this and turn them into something great and wonderful that can be used for his kingdom.

I didn't go to Lusaka with the team last weekend. I spent time alone for four days, reading and wrestling with God and surviving off instant coffee and popcorn and PB and J sandwiches. God used these four days to prepare my heart to come home. It's not going to be easy, and many conversations are not going to be fun, but I trust that God is going to do something in that. And maybe there's something hidden for me in coming home early. I don't know. Maybe I'll never know. But He is so good, and I trust him more now than I think I have in the past.

That weekend was hard. It was hard to be alone, to be silent. And I tried to avoid God at times. By Sunday morning, I was tired and frustrated and not sure what to think. I hadn't heard God yet. I knew in my head that he loved me, that in spite of everything and this situation, he still had great things planned for me. And yet, it hadn't sunk into my heart yet. And then, something happened.

This is what I wrote down after my experience in church:
“I wish I could explain what just happened. Church was normal, other than the fact that I'm here alone while everyone else is in Lusaka. Special music, yeah, it happens every week. Except someone different got up today. He'd made a DVD of songs and was singing one of them for us. He sang. Ba Judy translated for me. He called up one man, sang something to him. The crowd was totally into it. And then, he looked right into my eyes and called me up front. I was shocked. I had to put down the little girl in the red sweater sitting on my lap and stand in front of everyone. When I got up there, this man whose name I don't even know, grabbed my right hand and started singing to me in English. I smiled and listened to the words. He was saying that God brought me here from somewhere else for a specific purpose, that I was in Zambia for a reason. And tears started to form in my eyes and I tried so hard to keep smiling. As he continued, talking about how God knows my past, present and future, the tears started falling and I kept trying to smile. And when he told me with such clarity that God has great things for my life, I really lost it. I was so in awe. 60 some hours alone, with almost nothing but 4 novels to show for it, God spoke, out loud. So clearly. He said exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it, in front of the entire Mochipapa church, right before I was about to give up some hope. He's incredible. He's amazing. How unworthy am I to be called a child of God and yet, I am one. And despite what I've done, He has great and wonderful things in store for me.”

That was last Sunday, in Zambia. And today, God blew me away again. I came home on Thursday. My incredible parents picked me up from the airport and drove me home. Every single person has been glad to see me, no matter the circumstances. And God’s love, shown through all of these people that love me, has continued to overwhelm me day after day after day that I am home.

There’s a program called Upward basketball that my church in Ohio has. This year, they are reaching 800 kids from 1st through 6th grade with basketball programs and cheerleading. My dad coaches 1st and 2nd grade girls. And on Friday, I got to watch their game. These little girls were much improved from the stories my dad told me of their first few games. They were a joy to watch, but the interesting thing came from a little girl named Kaylee on the other team. One of the goals of Upward is for every kid to score at least one basket during the season. The season ends next week and for this little girl who had yet to make a basket, time was winding down quickly. After half time I noticed that every time Kaylee’s team had the chance to shoot a basket, they passed her the ball. They all worked together to make sure that she had a shot. And my dad’s girls even noticed and backed away playing defense, giving Kaylee some open space to shoot. You see, little Kaylee is really little, barely reaching 3 feet, and many of the girls she plays with and against are at least a foot taller than her.

She shot 3, 5, 7, 11, who knows how many baskets and was always a little bit short. So the coaches and refs lowered the hoop a little bit. And one of Kaylee’s coaches stood holding the basket. She took a shot with one minute left in the period she was playing and the coach leaned the basket forward a little bit and the shot went in. The crowd went crazy, both the home fans and away fans, jumping up and down and cheering for little Kaylee, who finally reached her goal.

It was a special moment, one I’ll probably never forget. And the moment connected with that came today, in church.
There was a special emphasis at our partner church today for Upward basketball and so my parents and I went there for morning service. Kaylee’s mom, Cindy is an organizer for Upward and shared a little something with this church that has allowed us to use their facilities every week and weekend for this amazing outreach program. So Cindy got up front, shared some statistics about Upward and then told this story of Kaylee. She explained how the coaches had helped Kaylee all along, even lifting her up at times so she could see what it was like to make a shot in practice. And finally, her coach gave that little extra push on Friday night so that Kaylee could make her first shot. She reached her goal.

And isn’t that what God does for us. He helps us along, lifts us up when we can’t make a basket and in the game, he leans the basket forward a little so that our shots go in. Even when we’re too short to make the basket, He helps us. His grace and his love provide a way for us to take part in his ministry, even when we fall short.

And I cried again. This story was another picture of God’s amazing love that he shows us each and every day in little ways. Sometimes I think I miss the love and gifts he gives me. Other days, they are so obvious.

I’m loving Sundays more and more. I’m loving God more and more.

Through these past 10 days, there’s been so many little things that God has used to show me how much he really loves me. And when I stop to think about all of the things and I add them up and I start to feel how much he loves me, I’m overwhelmed again and I find myself in tears most times, good tears.

One of these things that God used was a letter I was supposed to read when I was tired and exhausted during my time in Zambia. It was the one letter from a dear friend that I hadn’t read yet and I carried it with me during the four days I spent alone. There was a song in the letter, a song that my friend regularly sings and doesn’t always remember the words. So she found the words and wrote them down for me, and those words were ones I used to sing myself to sleep those nights I was alone.

*He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us, so.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way…

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us, so.*

Thank you Jesus, for loving me in a way that I often don’t understand. Thank you for showing me that love through little kids’ smiles, through letters from home that mean more than the writer intended, for parents that are so willing to forgive, for second chances when I thought there would be none, for friends who want me home, and for using me even when I’m too short to make a basket.

God is good. All the time.

And all the time. God is good.

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