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One day you wake up and realize you have a middle schooler. About two seconds ago you were in a preschool carline for a whole eternity, and then it’s middle school. Elementary is a rapid eye twitch and then it’s gone. (Now in our case, we shot to the front of the line by adopting a nine-year-old. We were at middle school practically after “Hello.”)

The hubs is taking our oldest to Uganda pretty much now. All day I’ve been on the edge of an ugly cry and couldn’t pinpoint why. It isn’t the traveling, because traveling is deep in the roots of our family and we love hopping planes to places. It isn’t the raging jealousy that I don’t get to go on this one, which surprises me and makes me wonder if I’m learning a little to share nice things. There’s something about my child setting her feet on African soil that makes me a weeping willow of a mom. Maybe because God’s used Uganda to teach me so much, to lead me to spacious places, and now my oldest is walking behind me.

I wrote her a letter, and I’m leaving it here, like so many letters before. I’ve blogged to my children before they even knew me and someday they’ll sift through Mom’s ramblings.

My dearest Ana,

Before you go to middle school, we’re sending you off to the greatest school, the school of hospitality and love and faith and joy, the home in our heart, that little village down a bumpy road in northern Uganda.

Listen and learn, child. You’ve already learned so much and you teach me. You’ve learned the hard and beautiful on two different continents, Europe and North America, and now here’s a third. Go to Africa and place your Russian-Latvian-American feet in its soil. Feel its soul. You’re standing on holy ground. So many of the spiritual lessons of our family are tied to this place. We can trace our road to Latvia through the red dirt of Uganda where God taught us to listen and follow and trust. Where we learned about forgiveness and healing from people who’ve done those things and know how.

We went to help orphaned and vulnerable children, but God did a work in our hearts and began a new work in our family. In Uganda, our hearts grew like The Grinch, three sizes bigger. We learned about opening up and steering into the surprise and embracing the unexpected. We learned how God can take hard things and make beauty. We learned about what big kids can do when they get a little bit of hope running through their veins. A little bit of hope in a big kid’s heart makes big ripples and brings big changes. The big kids we sponsor in Uganda showed us how awesome big kids can be. They made us not scared. They taught us to trust. They led us to you in our home, and you are a big gift, big kid.

I know you hail from up near the Arctic, but down near the Equator is where you grew in our hearts. Is that weird? Geography seems small when God assembles a family, doesn’t it?

I couldn’t be more excited for you. The village in Uganda is my favorite place in this world, next to our own wonderful home in Georgia. And you’re going with my favorite person in this world, your dad.

I’m praying for you that you would soak up all the sights and smells of beautiful Uganda. I pray that you’ll experience the love of God in new, fresh ways. That you’ll feel his presence and how much he loves YOU, dear Ana Banana. (Also, please eat lots of bananas because Uganda grows the best ones in the world.) And finally, I pray that you would find joy in building friendships with our Ugandan friends. You are so kind, and playful, and compassionate, and fun, and I wish I could see you thriving at the CarePoint our family has partnered with for so long.

Hug our extended family for me. And know that I love you to Africa and back.



featured image: Ana with her friend, CariJill, photo by Chantel Adams