Nov 18, 2014

It rained and she brought them sweaters

Some moments strike you as extra special.  They are ordinary moments, most people wouldn't even give them a second glance.  But for the people who know the whole story they go from ordinary to extraordinary.  

This moment was one of those times.

These two sisters arrived at Abide's Child Development Center early in the morning, like they always do. Mom goes out to work with her small business and the girls stay at the center to enjoy the free childcare Abide offers it's families. The girls are lively and loving, after saying goodbye to mom they always waltz into the compound like they own the place.  With so much swag. 

As the day progresses the sky starts turning black and we can feel the temperature dropping.  It's nothing to worry about, rain is a common occurrence.  However the sisters soon start to shiver, they had come to the center today in tank-tops. 

As the rain drops start falling and the kids dash for cover a familiar figure walks through the compound gates holding a small bundle.  She walks by smiling and holds up the two sweaters pointing to her girls. Mom came all the way from work just to bring her girls their forgotten sweaters.

Ordinary.  Typical.  Moms all around the world make sure their kids are dressed for the weather, right?  So why is this moment so special?

It's special because it almost didn't happen.

A couple of months earlier tragedy struck this mother and her girls.  I won't share details because they aren't my details to share.  But it left them without any options.  Soon the mom found herself standing at the gates of an orphanage, desperate for someone to take her girls and provide for them like she could no longer do. Thankfully this orphanage noticed that the mother didn't want to abandon her girls.  She loved them, she was just in a really tough spot.  In a country with no social supports this is common.  The orphanage told her no, they wouldn't take her girls.  

Instead they referred her to Abide to see one of their social workers. The mom was quickly enrolled in Abide's programs.  She stayed in emergency housing and her girls attended the Child Development Center while she attended business and parenting classes.  Soon she was standing on her own two feet again.  Running her own business, paying bills, sending the older sister to school....

And making sure her daughters have sweaters when they are cold.

The girls were so close to being left at an orphanage. Not because their mother didn't love them, but because she had no other choice.  I shudder to think about the pain all three of them would go through if they had been split up. If they hadn't been offered another solution.  

Orphan prevention matters.  

It matters because parents and caregivers should always be given the chance to bring their children sweaters when they are cold. 

Nov 6, 2014

I wasn't going to say this

I wan't planning on writing this. Not at all (believe me!).  But circumstances beyond my control have left me several steps behind these last couple of months.  And now I'm left scratching my head trying to figure out how to make this all work.  How to make ends meet.

So I'm just going to put this out there because people have been asking.  If you want to support me I won't say no....

Right now I'm putting every $$ I earn into buying travel insurance (about $700 for the full year) and a return ticket home (Estimating about $1000).  Once I have that taken care of I can start saving money for my monthly expenses in Uganda ($400-$500/month).  I leave in exactly two months!
I know the money will show up somewhere.  Right now I'm hopping it's from extra shifts at work although that isn't looking likely. I know I will be on that plane in January,  I just don't know how.
For the time being I'll work and sell my extra stuff along with praying and trusting.
It's a winning combination. 

Nov 4, 2014

Why grace matters

 I remember the first time I met him. It was dark and the compound had already quieted down for the evening.  He stood there clutching his teddy bear, refusing to leave his dad's side. I smiled at him and he grunted and turned his head. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted his dad and little brother.  He did NOT want the stranger who was trying to say hello to him.

Life is messy.  It just is.  And L's family was working through a lot of that mess.  The hard yucky kind of mess that leaves families struggling to find their feet.  Every family goes through it at one time or another, it looks different for each family, but it happens.

This particular situation left L's little heart broken and confused.  For the next couple of months he cried out for attention and love.  His dad worked hard to fill that need for L and his brother.  But L's little heart struggled, leaving everyone at a lose as to how to help him.

Finally we heard some wise words said to L's dad "You are a good father, keep doing what you are doing.  L just needs your love".  And that's just what he did.  Before our eyes we watched this single dad embrace his young sons in every way.  And slowly we watched the change in L.  He was calmer, happier and had more confidence.  He would follow his father around the compound helping with the chores. It was beautiful.

It was a while later that we got the news, L's mom wanted to come back.  The family could be reunited.  The dad was hopeful, he wanted to pursue the possibility. 

I'm embarrassed to say it but I wanted to yell and protest.  Things were finally calming down for this dad and the boys.  L had finally worked through some of the hurt in his heart.  What if this reunion didn't last?  What if it caused more harm than good?

I was so wrong.  Because we all make mistakes.  We have all messed up horribly.  But still, God gives us grace.  He is a God of second chances.  And it's because of that grace given to us that we can extend grace to other people.

That all became real to me the first time L cried out 'mama' and instead of responding "No baby, mama isn't here" I could say "look L, she's right over there". 

I am constantly being humbled and learning new truths.

A family united.  Grace, it matters.

"And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
John 1:16


Check out to see how they are working to keep families together in Uganda.  The above family is just one family who could have easily been ripped apart if they had not been offered the support they so desperatly needed.  
You can also follow Abide on Facebook and Instagram

Oct 24, 2014

I said I would never work retail

As soon as you think you have life figured out, something else gets tipped upside down.  That's how it always works, right?  Or at least for me it seems like it.

A couple weeks ago I went to work like normal, and just a few hours later I was back home, jobless.  All for good reasons and on good terms, I promise! But it still left me in a bit of a panic. I only had two months left before I left for Uganda for a year.  I had been saving and working and selling everything I could think of, but I still had a plane ticket+travel insurance+ visas to pay for. Yikes. I sent out emails and texts and resumes trying to find something (anything!) else for the next two months. No one really wants to hire someone for two months though and that familiar panic started creeping in.

If you know me you know that I have never had a desire to work retail.  Nope.  Non whatsoever.  I've been very vocal about that and I thankfully have never had a reason to work retail. Other jobs have always been found (+pay way more than most retail jobs).

Turns out I'm in a season of life that is completely turning who I thought I was upside down.  In a good but stretching way.  After a week of crossed fingers and prayers I have a job again.  And of course, it's working retail. 

The funny part?  It's the ONE retail job I said I would want. If I had to work retail, this one store was where I would want to work.  And that's where I got the interview.  That's where I was offered a job. It's a silver lining I could not be happier for. 

Finances are still going to be tight, I've lost time while having to job search again.  I still have my fingers crossed. But there is hope and I'm ready to work my butt off during the next two months.  That's all I can ask for.  In the end nothing is going to keep me off that plane in January. I can't wait.
also yo, I've started running. I don't even know who I am anymore...

Sep 6, 2014

Sometimes the unknown is Paralyzing

I finally feel like I can take a deep breath again.  Because there is finally a little order to my life again.  Change and the unknown freak me out.  Not just the typical freak out but the paralyzing kind of freak out.  The kind that makes it hard to breathe or make any decisions moving forward. It's been a life long battle and I've gotten better at managing it.  But it still happens and I refuse to avoid change just because of it (hello Uganda!).

That's what happened when I arrived home a few weeks ago.  After a week of not having a job and nothing working out I finally hit the breaking point. I couldn't do it anymore.  And that was my light bulb moment.

{excuse me while I go all Christian on you for a moment}

Of course I can't do it.  I'm not meant to do it by myself.  If I was able to do everything on my own why would I ever need to rely on God?  So simple but not.  And it took me feeling completely paralyzed to realize it. So I gave up.  At least I gave up doing everything on my own.  Since then it's been one painful step forward at a time.  But at least I haven't been doing it alone.

I made it to the other side of that paralyzing wall.  I have a job now.  It's exactly what I needed and I couldn't have found it on my own in a million years.  So thankful.

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Aug 23, 2014

Catching the trade winds

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover." 
Mark Twain


It's not official until I have plane tickets booked (which I don't yet) but it's as official as it's going to get until that moment. I'm going back to Uganda.  I'll be heading back sometime in January to work with Abide Family Center for a year.  A year people! I'm super excited and can't wait to be back there.

But believe it or not, the decision to go back wasn't an easy one. Sure I can't seem to stay away from Uganda, but when it came down to it, did I really want to spend a year away from my family?  Did I really want to delay finishing school by a year?  Did I really want to leave my friends and comfortable room?

After praying and looking at all the options for awhile I did not feel God calling me specifically back to Uganda. Crazy right?  I felt perfectly at peace which ever way I decided.  I could come back to Canada, and God would be there.  I could go back to Uganda, and God would be there.  I honestly didn't feel God leading me in one direction or the other.  What did I want to do with my life?  How did I want to spend my time?  The choice was up to me.

Once I had figured that out, the decision seemed obvious.  Which one would I regret not doing?  And the simple answer was Uganda.  If I didn't go back to Uganda I would regret it.  Almost everyday. I know I would. Life in Uganda is not easy or romantic. It's hard and messy and fulfilling. And I would regret not being apart of that hard and messy life.

I don't want to live life with regrets.  So I'm going back. And I can't wait.

Aug 19, 2014

Saying goodbye (but soon it will be hello)

It's been two weeks now since that awful last day. The day I had to say goodbye to everyone at Abide Family Center and come back to Canada. It was pouring rain that day, I'm not sure if that made the goodbyes better or worse. It was hard and felt super unnatural to leave.  But I didn't have much time to think about it, climbing into that first car started a whirlwind trip back across the ocean.

Back to Canada.  Back home.  Except it doesn't feel like home anymore, a piece of my life and heart are still over in Uganda. As much as I love my family and life in Canada, I just can't get my mind out of Uganda.

Which is a good thing, because I'm going back to Uganda.

Soon the goodbyes will be turned around into hellos.

And I can't wait.  xoxox

Aug 13, 2014

When silence is enough

This place has been quiet for so long now.  And I'm okay with that.

In the past I would have been a mess if my blog wasn't updated for this long. Not anymore.

Life is full and beautiful.

One day is packed so full of craziness that there aren't any words to express everything that happened.  No words would accurately portray the events or emotions of the day.

The very next day I found myself content.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Just content.  Content with the child in my lap and the rain falling outside. It didn't matter that I was dirty, sick or missing my family terribly.  I was still content.  And that is hard to explain in words because it just doesn't make sense.

That basically sums up the last three months.  Silence here it was, and silence was enough.

But that is changing now.  Because life is changing and I'm so very excited.

I can't wait to have you all along for the ride!

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Jun 5, 2014

The rain fell down

The sun was shining.  The rain from the night before was quickly drying, turning it into a hot and muggy day. The kids were getting restless waiting for lunch and everyone was a bit sleepy.

All of those facts made it the perfect day to let the kids loose with some water play. 

As the children finished their rice and beans, we gathered all the stray basins from around the compound and filled them up with water. 

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We were just finishing filling the last couple of basins when we heard a loud crashing noise.  We looked up to see a quickly approaching rain cloud. One minute the sky was clear and blue, the next minute it was dark and the babies were running from the thunder. 

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Instead of calling off the activity we decided to just let the kids at it.  They were going to get wet anyway, right?  Might as well risk the chance of rain.

As soon as the children jumped in the bins the skies opened and the rain fell down.

It poured.  It was perfect.

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The children screamed and giggled.  They splashed each other until they were shivering from the cold.

These children are great. 

It was one of those moments you can't forget.
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::To see a video of our crazy water experience head over to Instagram::

The day was a success.  And now we all can't wait for our next #waterplaywednesday at Abide Family Center! 

May 31, 2014

Hiking up a hill, walking through a palace

It doesn't matter how many times I've been to Uganda or how many places I think I've seen, there is always something new to discover and enjoy.

One of the greatest surprises of staying at Abide is how close it is to a killer view of Lake Victoria. 

A short (or longer if you're out of shape like I am) hike up from our compound and there you are. Looking out over Lake Victoria and the surrounding area. It's breath taking.  Not only that but on top of this hill stands a real life palace for the king of Busoga (the local Ugandan tribe).

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This last week we had a missions team come and visit Abide.  And with the extra willing hands we were finally able to bring the children currently at the center up to see the view for themselves.  Babies were strapped to backs and we double checked that each child had their shoes on.  And off we went.

With the little legs the hike was [much] longer than expected.  The sun was hot and there were some tears on the way up.  However, once at the top we were greeted with the best surprise, a private visit in the kings palace. We had biscuits and juice on the porch.  Then we marveled at the view and the fairy tale looking staircase. 

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The view was amazing. The breeze was glorious. but these children, they were the best part. They win. Always.
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May 23, 2014

Playtime at Abide Family Center

I've been at Abide Family Center for a little over a week now and these children continue to amaze me.  They work together [almost] flawlessly and can be entertained for hours with simple objects.

Today that object was a wheelbarrow.  So many laughs followed.

This week ended on a [very] good note.

Playtime at Abide Family Center || Bugembe, Uganda from Joanna Rist on Vimeo.

A Harvest of Blessing

May 19, 2014

In the chaos they were calm

Today started with a bang.  While standing outside Abide Family Center's child development center one of the older children came up to me and said...

"Auntie Joanna, Teacher Nakato is not coming today."

Um, okay. 

What happened next can only be explained as pure chaos. It started with the realization that my Russian is better than my Lugandan.  It continued with children going nuts over new supplies and refusing their naps. 

Toys were flying across the room.  Children were flying across the room.  The one baby who is terrified of me showed up in the classroom.  It didn't take me long to realize that I needed help.  And I wasn't to proud to admit it.  

So into the office I went,  "Pastor Julius, do you mind translating for me for a little while?" To which I got the wonderful response "It's okay".

And the day was saved.  He translated and was the peace keeper between the children all day long.  While I helplessly tried to wrangle and entertain the remaining children.  Countless times today I found myself sheepishly looking over at one of the Ugandan staff mouthing "help me!" and they would smile, walk over and calm the situation right down.

Maybe one day I will be as skilled at calming these children down, but right now I still have so much to learn.  

Today I could not be more thankful for Abide's amazing Ugandan staff.
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May 15, 2014

First day at Abide

After one missed flight + three successful flights + a 2.5 hour car ride I finally arrived at Abide Family Center late last night. This place rocks and I'm excited for what these next couple of months are going to be filled with.

Lots of cuddles and smiles. Lots of good conversation. Lots of creativity.

And hopefully lots of learning.

It's going to be good and I can't wait.

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May 13, 2014

See you on the other side

It's super early in the morning (or is this late at night?) and I'm heading to the airport.

The time has come. I'll be in Uganda by Wednesday night.

See you on the other side people!

May 8, 2014

The calm before the storm

I love rain.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned that before, but I love it.  Everything about rainy days makes me happy inside. When it's a thunderstorm it's even better.

Before my first international trip (Cambodia in 2009) I discovered something about myself.  I freak out easily.  I have never been so sick with fear or worry than I was during the weeks leading up to that trip.  It was terrible and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.  Since then the before trip freak out has happened like clockwork.  For the week or two before any of my trips anxiety strikes.  I look for ways out of the trip and contemplate faking some kind of sickness.  During this time it isn't unusual to hear me promise that I will never travel again after the current trip.  It's completely psychological and disappears as soon as I board my flight.  This happens every single time I go somewhere. 

This trip is different. 

Last week we had a thunderstorm.  All day the clouds slowly moved in.  It was hot, humid and still outside.  Having no wind in this city is very, very unusual. There was a sense of anticipation as the day went on.  It was going to storm and I couldn't wait.  Finally, that evening I heard the thunder.  There is something extra special about the first thunderstorm of the season; it was glorious. 

I've realized that this trip is very similar to that thunderstorm.  In a very good way.  I'm less than a week away from leaving for Uganda and I am nothing but calm. I'm filled with anticipation.  I'm excited.  I'm not freaking out!  This is a first for me and it is truly amazing.  It's the calm before the storm.

And I honestly can't wait for this storm to begin.

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May 6, 2014

Playing soccer in the snow

Sometimes timing works out perfectly.

This weekend my schedule opened up.  And it happened to open up perfectly around a soccer tournament. So after a quick whirlwind road trip I found myself sitting on the side of a soccer field huddled under a pile of blankets.  It was freezing.  And the snow dumped on us.

I spent more time commuting on the road than anything else.

But it was worth it.  Because family will always be worth it.  Making it to one of her soccer games before I leave the country was priceless.  She's a champ.  And I'm so glad she's mine.

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Apr 29, 2014

Two weeks before I leave & I'm looking at the clouds

It was cold outside, freezing really.  The kids laughed at me as I huddled on the grass wearing my winter mittens. The wind was strong and the sun was hiding behind a sky full of clouds. My back was starting to hurt and my thoughts were going a mile a minute. That isn't always the best combination. It leads to restlessness and a need to 'get up and get things done'. 

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via. instagram

And just like in the cheesy stories and movies, I was suddenly blinded by light. I looked up and was greeted by a big blue sky full of sunlight and parting clouds.  Was it always there?  I know it sounds silly, and it really is.  But I had literally forgotten that the sky existed!  

It was huge!  And I couldn't wrap my mind around the clouds.  They seemed to go on forever with incredible amounts of fluffy-ness (is that a word?).  And get this, the clouds were moving! It was a major light bulb moment.  When was the last time I sat on the ground and just looked at the sky?  Years.  I remember so clearly spending hours doing just that when I was little.  However now I can't remember the last time I even noticed the clouds in the sky. 

It's sad how busy life has gotten. It's gotten so busy that even when I am sitting outside physically doing nothing my thoughts are running a mile a minute. I should never be so busy that I forget to notice a simple thing like the sky. I don't want to be that busy.

Yes, I'm leaving the country in two weeks.  Yes, I do need to get travel insurance and talk with my bank. Yes, I have about a million other things to do and think about. 

All of that can wait. If you need me, you can find me looking up.

"The Heavens delcare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Psalm 19:1

Apr 3, 2014

Yes it's true, I'm heading back to Uganda!

I didn't expect this.  I didn't plan it.

But it's happening.  I'm going back.

I'm a big ball of emotions over this. One minutes I'm praying for the time to go faster between now and leaving, and the next minute I'm wishing for a way out (which happens before every trip I go on).  Like I said, a big ball of emotions.  However I know for sure that God opened this door.  My job is to just be obedient and follow.  Even when I don't really understand all the details and reasons.

So in 40 days I'm taking off. I'll be spending the next couple of months working with Abide Family Center (check them out, they are awesome) and I'm super excited to be on the other end of orphan care, working to keep at risk families together in the first place. I'll be back in Canada the beginning of August.

So consider yourself warned Uganda, I'm coming back for you!

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Mar 30, 2014

I left work early and the sun came out

God cares about the little things.  He cares about the little things we pray for, and even the little things we don't bother praying about.

My family came to visit this weekend. 

They were set to arrive Friday afternoon.  I would still be at work when they arrived but that's life, right?  Thursday evening I got a text from work. 

Work: Would you be willing to start work an hour earlier and then leave an hour earlier to compensate?
Me: Yes!  That actually works good because my family is coming to visit tomorrow.
Work: Ok, would you like to get off even earlier then? 

And just like that I was off work 3 hours early than I typically do.  Without even asking for the time off.

Thank you.


We had been having great spring weather here and I was excited for my family to experience some warmth (compared to their frozen, small town farther north) however last week it decided to snow. The snow didn't stop.  It's been snowing for about a week now and it seemed like our chances of a warm weekend were gone. God answered prayers at the last moment. Saturday the sun came out.  

God is good.  He cares.  Never forget it.
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Mar 17, 2014

I didn't pack my suitcases away

I moved a few weeks ago. I didn't move far, just to the other side of the city. But it was still a lot of work and meant I needed to pack up all my stuff to transport over to the new place. For about a week after the big move I was digging through boxes and finding new places to store things. You know how moving is.  It was a mess.

Finally my suitcases were empty again.

Our new place has a dark and deep crawl space for storage. It's was already a mess but I figured I would shove my suitcases in the back and be done with it.

Life changes. Plans change. Instead of packing my suitcases away in the crawl space for storage they are tucked away in the corner of my room.


Because soon enough I will be filling them back up.

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Ready or not, here I go.

Feb 17, 2014

Life > the internet

It's a simple truth.  Or at least it seems simple. Either way, it's something I've come to hold on to during the last couple of months.

Live > the internet.

Sometimes blogging and social media takes a back seat on the priority list.

And that's okay.

Life and relationships will always be more important than the internet. I don't want to miss out on life because I am busy building a life on social media. It's been a learning process. However, I no longer panic when I realize I haven't updated my blog or posted some kind of witty status on facebook.

Instead of blogging I close my laptop and snuggle a baby.  And I don't regret it.
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If you want more regular updates instagram is the place to be. 

Feb 12, 2014

Never forgotten

"Believing that he will be found and cherished in time."

We fought so hard.  We prayed. We raised money.  A family stepped forward and said YES to him. His body was weak. He couldn't hold on any longer.

Royce has passed away.
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He will not be forgotten.  He was loved.  He will be missed.

Thank you to everyone who fought so hard for him. 

Please pray for the family who loved him so much already. They didn't get a chance to meet him but loved him as their own.  They are grieving. 
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