EnGAGEd in Uganda!

FAM! Can you believe it?! Most of you are shaking your head “yes, duh” because sometimes it’s easier to see clearly from the sidelines. Even I go back and forth – pinching myself to see if the last 3 weeks were real, embracing the peace that comes from assurance in our Lord’s faithfulness. “Is this real life?!” // “Why am I so shocked? Of course it’s real. God promised.”

Here to report that it’s possible to hold both at one time.

Ahh! I’M ENGAGED. TO GAGE.

So many of you have reached out with immense encouragement and celebration, even from 7,000 miles away from where I’m sitting right now. That’s incredible. We both felt, and continue to feel, ALL of the love. (In this sense, I absolutely love technology.)

Let’s back up a bit, yes?

Gage landed in Uganda late on a Saturday night. I had driven myself across the country using my teammates’ car, and then crashed in Kampala waiting on his plane to land. By the time I was picked up at 7pm from my guesthouse to go to the airport, I was definitely shaking. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I was so nervous and excited to see him that I was almost physically sick. (Thankfully I made a smooth recovery, but that reunion was seconds from being way less glamorous.)

And THEN.  I spotted his hair through the masses and got a nice running start before I almost plowed him to the ground. Lots and lots of happy. 🙂

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Here he is, minutes after I used this puppet to flag him down at the airport.

And after that came two weeks full of an extended show-and-tell. I got to take him EVERYWHERE, show him all my friends and favorite places, teach him how to greet in the local language, watched him try all of the local food. We even went on the best safari of my life. It was surreal.

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Here we are two hours from home sweet Bundibugyo, at a beautiful overlook where you can actually see straight through the Rwenzoris into the Congo.

And somewhere in the middle of the surreal-ness, he asked me to marry him at my very own dinner table nestled deep in the Ugandan jungle. Which made things even more surreal.

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Our first night in district, my roommates cooked dinner “so we could have a real date for the first time in 7 months.” They also insisted that I put a dress and makeup on which I thought was super weird. I agreed to half of their demands and threw this dress on over my nasty sports bra, then put the pieces together after the fact. Pretty sure that hair hadn’t seen shampoo in DAYS.
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He also pulled off a surprise celebration with the team after. 🙂
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If there’s anything this team is exceptional at, it’s celebrating each other. LET ME TELL YOU.
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Then he met my Ugandan friends and family, who had all been awaiting his arrival. Here we are getting an official town tour with Clovice.
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And at Christ School visiting little bro Charity, who was waiting with his list of questions to drill him. Not kidding.
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And of course… the Rat Pack. The hooligans who are TOTALLY aware that they have my heart. Here we are right after an informal field day G helped facilitate — dancing, soccer, wheelbarrow races, three-legged races, water balloon fights, and tie-dying t-shirts. (To this day they ask me when he’s coming back. “We like him SO MUCH, Ashalon!”)
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And we ended our time in Bundibugyo with a hike to Nyahuka falls. A rite of passage for all who are brave enough to visit. 🙂
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Then we woke up the next day and headed to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari!
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Where we made a new friend.
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I’m still not over it.

And after that, we made our way back to Kampala to see him off. Except a few days before he flew out, he surprised me by hiring a professional photographer living and working in Jinja to drive 3 hours and do a mini engagement shoot for us. THIS HUMAN. I don’t know how he manages to do half the things he does. ❤

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A little preview, brought to you by our incredible new friend Mary.

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Go follow her on Instagram, people. You will not regret it –> @wanderingwithmary.

And after one last fancy dinner in the big city of Kampala, I put him on a plane to head back to my other home. Which was no easy thing to do after two weeks of life in Uganda with him right by my side… Where he was able to put faces to names he’d only heard me say over the phone, where he was able to feel the weight of intense beauty juxtaposed with overwhelming brokenness, where he was able to look at me and tell me he understood why I go to bed so early over here. We were able to finally meet each other in the hard places again. That was something I had so desperately missed.

BUT. This last airport sendoff was a bit different than the first one. We now have a more tangible hope we couldn’t necessarily claim before he got here, which is founded on a pre-promise of a more permanent lifelong promise! So even though grief came after he left, I also have more than enough reason to choose joy in knowing that the Lord has been faithful to us, and faithful He will continue to be.

Gage has integrated back into his Nashville rhythm, and I’m slowly reaching that place myself here in Uganda. (Back in the land of mango trees and children climbing them incessantly, no matter how often ask them in Lubwisi to get down before they hurt themselves.) We’re both in our respective corners of the world again, each vastly different than the other. But his entire journey here and back gave us a priceless gift – a deeper understanding of how the other sees, feels, and prays. We’re thanking Jesus for that.

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Most of you have put the pieces together at least enough to assume, but I’d like to end with a formal announcement: I’m officially ending my term and coming home to Nashville earlier than expected to marry a VERY wonderful man there. 🙂 And I could not be more excited to tackle the next season of life with him!! God has a way of messing up my plans to give me better plans. Gage has been the very best gift in just about every sense, and I look forward to doing life and ministry with him as my forever teammate.

I’m still working out more logistics and plans than I ever thought possible, but I do know that I’ll be home mid-August of this year!! I battle countless emotions on any given day surrounding this upcoming transition home, but rest assured: I have felt the Lord’s hand every step of the way. He’s guiding me and Gage both as we move together towards marriage. There is no greater peace or assurance than that which a Father extends to a beloved daughter. I’m setting up camp in that grace right now. And I’m looking forward to giving you all a more detailed timeline and plan, which I expect to come later this week. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, would you pray for me and Gage both? Specifically that we would continue on the path of intentionality during this season of being apart: for me to be intentional in seeking the Lord’s guidance in relationship and ministry here in Uganda, and that Gage would do the same with his relationships and ministry in Nashville. Ultimately, pray that we’d both be intentional in seeking the Lord first no matter what kinds of crazy this pending season of transition may throw our way.

So many of you have played direct roles in my journey here AND in my journey with Gage. We love each of you so, so much. Thank you for investing in us, praying us forward, and teaching us what it looks like to tangibly be the Church. It’s already been a fuel propelling me to go out and love neighbors sacrificially here in Bundibugyo; but it’s also something Gage and I will take with us into marriage and extend forward together for years to come.

I’ll end with a quote by Charles H. Spurgeon that I keep returning to. I’ve spent time reflecting on the way the Lord has written my story here in Uganda, the way he’s written Gage’s story, even the way He’s written our story together. And I know I’m not the only one who knows the uncertainties of trusting Jesus. Especially when life is less than convenient, when ministry is messy, when relationships face hardships, when valuable lessons come on the coattails of impossible grief, when following in faith makes no sense according to this world… So my prayer is that it would encourage you as well.

“I bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days. And when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from Heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. Fear not the storm. It brings healing in its wings; and when Jesus is with you in the vessel, the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

Love to all of you,

Ashland

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