As you may know, Saints of June donates a portion of proceeds to Fields of Dreams Uganda and Jonathan’s Place -giving hope to kids through the vehicles of education, mentoring, sports and fellowship, both charities are near to my heart.
I had the privilege of getting to know Ashley through Fields of Dreams Uganda. Her story of how she came to work with FoDU (with her babies in Pack n Plays no less), how working with refugees changed her view on life, family and her purpose, and how she came to adopt overseas is a delight to read. It’s extremely difficult not to fall in love with her and her family. I am thrilled she’s lending her storytelling talent and life lessons on our blog this week. Enjoy!
P.S. The paper bead bracelets she mentions below are amazing. I wear them daily. They are lightweight and go with everything. Click the link below to order.
Kate + The Saints of June
The summer of 2002 found me in the hallways of a hotel in Serbia listening to the horrific, war-torn stories of refugees and internationally displaced persons (IDPs). I was never the same. I quickly fell in love with traveling and story-telling, capturing these moments on film. These people – refugees, IDPs, and immigrants oddly felt like “my people.” My 20 year-old-self cried when my feet touched Midwestern U.S. soil, not quite ready to be back. I suddenly felt at home everywhere and yet nowhere. That’s what happens when you leave pieces of your heart scattered around the globe.
My young naive self was certain that it was impossible to fully experience the diversity of cultures within a meaningful relational context. But then God is in the business of doing the impossible. Little did I know, over the next 6 years a beautiful international community would end up right in my own neighborhood, and better yet, my home.
In 2005, I married my husband, an Argentine soccer player that I met at college. On an extended vacation to visit his family in Argentina a few months later, I decided to enroll in a full-time ESL/TEFL course and earned my certification. When we landed back in the States, I started the Masters in social work program and non-profit management at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and earned a graduate position working on community integration with the Bosnian refugee population. Two thousand two was coming full circle right at home. My new hairstylist was a refugee as was my next stylist when we moved to the burbs of Dallas, TX. (Side note, if you live in the Frisco/Plano, TX area, go see Bilmal at AALAM salon. She is a hair-color genius!). My final year of graduate school found me rewriting English curriculum for newly resettled refugees.
Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself home with 2 babies under 2 years old, when Mike Warneke (my college friend’s husband, now founder and Executive Director of Fields of Dreams Uganda) called. He communicated his vision of starting a non-profit in Uganda that provided hope to orphaned and vulnerable kids, primarily through the vehicles of soccer and education and extended the invitation to be a part of it. Bob Goff once said, “God’s plan for us is usually where our passions, our purpose, and our capabilities intersect.” With my husband’s background in soccer and mine in Non-Profit management and macro social work, we said, “YES!” without hesitation. We loaded up the car with kids, a pack-n-play, and a lot of excitement.
Since 2011, I’ve served in various roles for Fields of Dreams Uganda (FoDU). I started serving with FoDU because its purpose aligned with my passions and capabilities. I’ve remained at FoDU because of its steadfast commitment to leading with integrity, transparency, and operating within the Ugandan cultural context while providing hope to the orphaned and vulnerable youth of Uganda. For several years I’ve had the privilege of serving on the board of directors, and in 2018 stepped into a new role (voluntary) as director of product development at Hope Marketplace by FoDU, Fields of Dreams Uganda’s online shop. EVERY single cent from a purchase at Hope Marketplace by FoDU goes directly to support the artisans and the educational programs that Fields of Dreams Uganda provides. Our partner artisans are brilliant – full of ingenuity and grace not only in their craft but also in their every day lives. A co-op of Acholi women were displaced during the nightmarish terrorization of northern Uganda by Joseph Kony, hand-craft our paper bead jewelry.
Last April, while in Uganda, these ladies welcomed me into their home. As they welcomed me with song and dance, I learned that true hospitality is a posture of the heart. It is the presence of one’s self, not the lavishness of the home it’s found in nor the display of gifts that are given. Working alongside each one of these ladies is humbling and a privilege.
From a young age, I longed to adopt. The dog days of Texas heat in August 2013 (where we lived), found me holed up reading (because that is all one can do when it is 116 degrees outside) Kisses From Katie, and sobbing uncontrollably. I forced my husband to listen to me ugly-read him chapter after chapter each night. By the end of the book, he was all in and we started our adoption process. Two years later, we packed our suitcases and flew across the Atlantic to the land of mosquito nets, red dirt roads, and the most incredible hospitality for an unknown amount of time.
We were met with a lot of questions when we chose to take our 6 and 4-year-olds with us to Uganda. But Mamas, trust your gut and your God. I don’t think we’re asked nor promised to live a comfortable, safe life. Our family longed for adventure. We grew during that season in ways we never could have from a life of comfort and predictability. Stepping on Ugandan soil will forever feel a little like going home.
Just two short years later, after relocation back to Missouri, I saw the face of a little girl in the DRC. I quickly contacted a dear friend and adoptive mama and advocate for children in the DRC that knew her. She said, “She needs a home. Desperately.” I thought, “God, I don’t think we can do this again. It’s a long, hard process.” So I plotted to just tell my husband and accept his “No” as my confirmation. So on a flight to London, I pulled out my phone and showed him the sweet little Congolese face. He said, “Ashley, we know the right thing to do, so let’s do it.”
This year, our daughter Zara joined our family. Today, my sweet little family of six hails from four countries, Argentina, USA, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are complete. And I am the only caucasian. I am completely in awe of how God has given me the desires of my heart in ways I would have never imagined.
I currently work from home, writing frequently on the topic of international adoption within the context of transracial families, serving on the board of directors for FoDU, volunteering at our church and the kids’ schools, and advocate for adoption and racial reconciliation across cultures.
Ya’ll (for you Southern belles out there!), as our family has grown in number, and I’ve began to hone in on what I want my life to be about, one thing has become crystal clear: I am only one individual. Finite. My capabilities and resources, limited. Time, a thing to be treasured and treated with care. It is the most precious gift I can give; so while I once handed it to anyone that asked for it, I am more selective to whom and what I give this gift to.
Being a work-from-home mother to four children is wonderful and exhausting. So here are a few things that I routinely work into life.
- Build margin into the calendar every day. I started doing this a year or so ago, and it has been a game-changer. My natural bent is task-oriented and goal-achieving which leads to me over-committing. Saying yes to everything crossed off any time for spontaneity. It left me resentful to the tasks and events that I committed to. Building in margin, allows me to slow down and make time for the unexpected gifts present each day.
- Keep a gratitude journal. It isn’t possible for me to complain and give thanks simultaneously.
- Travel. It has been our one non-negotiable since marriage that we refuse to change. When we were dirt-poor grad students eating ramen, we traveled. Now with 4 kids, a dog, and a leopard gecko, we still travel. And while I adore my time with my kiddos, time with my husband is sacred. We try to take one trip a year, just the two of us.
- Exercise. Talk about the science, health benefits, and whatnot all you want. I’m just a nicer person when I do it.
- A really good bottle of Sangria (I’m LOVING Lolea), and a good friend to sit on the porch and sip it with!
Instagram Handles: @themillerseis, @FoDUganda & @Hope_Marketplace
Fields of Dreams Uganda: https://www.fieldsofdreamsuganda.org
Hope Marketplace by FoDU: https://hope-marketplace-by-fodu.myshopify.com you can also find it on our FoDU website under “SHOP.”