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Thursday, September 28, 2017

fearless mission

I'm going to Uganda.
I'm going to Uganda.
I. am. going. to. Uganda. 
I have to keep saying it out loud because it seems so unreal. its hard to believe that a 5 year, far fetched dream is going to happen. so i keep saying it out loud. i am going to uganda.
now that it is a dream coming true, i thought i needed to share a little background about 99 balloons and Ekisa. where my heart is at with this trip. why it's such a dream.

99 Balloons (http://99balloons.org) is a local nonprofit organization. It was started by a family, the Mooney's. The Mooney's had a son, Eliot, born with Trisomy 18. Eliot lived for 99 days, and at his funeral they released 99 balloons to celebrate each day of his life. They founded 99 balloons in 2007 to serve children and families with special needs. Their first initiative was rEcess, the capital E being no accident. During Eliot's 99 days, the Mooney's were on the receiving end of so much assistance so they were able to better care for him. They founded rEcess in order to serve families in ways that better help them care for their own children and families. 99 balloons has grown to be an organization that serves both locally and globally. I first got involved with 99 balloons when I  started volunteering for rEcess about 4 years ago. Being able to provide a few hours of respite for children with special needs while their parents were able to rest, have a date night, go to the grocery store, or just have a quiet moment... that was incredible. Some of the families we served during rEcess hadn't had a date night since their child was born until they started coming to rEcess. Some families hadn't ever left their child with anyone before and they put their trust in us. volunteering for rEcess filled my cup, I loved it.

Ekisa (https://www.ekisa.org) is a nonprofit organization in Uganda, Africa. It was founded in 2010 and officially opened its doors in 2011. In Uganda, people having special needs and disabilities are considered outcasts. Families often do not have the knowledge or resources to provide the care needed. Ekisa was founded to try to change that stigma and provide families and communities with the resources and knowledge needed to provide care for their families. Ekisa now serves over 100 children with special needs through their residential, community, and special education programs. They are able to provide education, medical assistance, therapy, and counseling to families throughout the region. I started following Ekisa's blog shortly after they were founded and since their doors opened I have dreamed of being a part of their organization. My heart has always been drawn to Uganda. I don't really know why, or have a specific reason, but every time I did research on orphanages, adoption, mission work, every time I found strangers blogs and fell in love, followed strangers on social media... it always came back around to be related to Uganda somehow. I have loved Ekisa's mission since the very first day, and I can't even believe that I get to be a part of it for a short time.

99 Balloons and Ekisa are both incredible organizations. When God partnered them up, I thought it was too good to be true. How does a little nonprofit in northwest arkansas end up partnering with my dream nonprofit in uganda? like really god, that's some good handiwork. when god started to open doors, it was pretty clear from the beginning that i would be going on this trip. i officially committed to go on september 7th and paid the deposit. on september 9th i shared about the trip for the first time on social media because i had to start fundraising immediately. i had my first deadline to meet... by september 22nd. for those of you who are also not good at math, that's less than two weeks. less than 14 days to raise $1575 so i could purchase a plane ticket. i laughed, like no way this is going to happen, thats a lot of money and i have less than two weeks, how in the actual heck could this work out, but okay god if you want me on this trip I'm trusting you to help me raise the money stupid fast. and wouldn't you know, on september 17th, 5 days before my deadline, and only 8 day after i started my fundraising, i met my goal. ARE YOU KIDDING ME GOD YOU HELPED ME RAISE $1575 IN JUST OVER A WEEK YOU ARE CRAZY AND BY CRAZY I MEAN CRAZY GOOD. like how does that happen? how do i have people in my life who support me so generously and freely and without hesitation? i can hardly believe it.

so my heart. it's always loved everything special education and disability related. it has always loved orphan care and nonprofit missions. it has always dreamed of doing something big and bold and scary and exciting. it was always a dream i kept tucked away and only shared with those i really trusted. it was something i never really thought would happen but loved to dream about. and right now i still can't believe its not just a tucked away dream in my heart and that it is a real life actually happening dream. my heart is overwhelmed because i have no idea what the trip is actually going to look like. i have no idea what my role will be when I'm there. i really don't know any details other than where i am going, and that is so hard for my control freak heart to accept. i'm trying to trust god in the details and keep telling myself that he is working it all out and i am going for a reason and even if i only love on kids for a week that will still be worth it. im being fearless by saying yes to this trip and not knowing any details. im being fearless and trusting the god who helped me raise $1575 in 8 days and said "you are going on this trip emily". trusting and holding on for the wild ride ahead.

thank you jesus for knowing my heart and my desires and loving me so deeply that you provided this opportunity. i am so undeserving and so unbelievably grateful.

Fundraiser https://www.purecharity.com/emily-noetzels-fundraiser-for-99-balloons-uganda-1
(ps: in october i have to raise another $1000 to meet my next goal. i'd love your support if you are able, and would also love prayers and encouragement as i prep for this adventure)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

august and africa

can i take back the "fearless in 2017" challenge yet? because each month gets crazier and crazier. i first heard about ekisa almost 6 years ago. i applied to go for the first time 5 years ago this month (weird detail, thanks time hop). i applied 4 times over the last 5 years and every time it was so very clear that the door was not open and i wouldn't be going. so imagine my surprise this year when i apply again on a whim when i see 99 balloons is going in january, because you guys january is like the best time for me to be out of work, it's after the holidays, it's not vacation time for me, so many selfish reasons i applied, and wouldn't you know that god seems to be opening the door. so i applied back in july to go to africa in january with 99 balloons (a local nonprofit). i thought i would find out if i was going by the end of july, but july came and went and there was no news. so i convinced myself it wasn't my time to go because that is easier than keeping my hopes up and being let down again. but then august came, and day after day i waited and watched my email. i made myself sick waiting. i talked myself into going, and talked myself out of going. i came up with 100 reasons why i shouldn't go, and then 101 why i should. i checked my email like i was an addict. i waited for the phone to ring with an unknown number. i didn't sleep well. i worried. i prayed. i reached out to friends to pray. i worried some more. and at the end of august, the 29th to be exact, i finally heard. they want me to be a part of the team (if they go- they don't have enough people to commit as of yet). so if they go, they want me to be their SpEd person. they want me to go to africa. and now i know, and i just want to throw up. fear creeps in every time i take a breath. there are now a thousand reasons why i shouldn't go and only ten that i should. what am i doing, lord? why do you want me to go to africa now? why in the freaking heck are you opening this door now? but even though I'm terrified, i'm pretty confident i'm going. like if i were a betting woman i would bet money that i'll be going to africa in january. god is going to get more people to commit, he is going to help me raise the funds, he is going to open the door. a 6 year dream in the making and i can feel it coming true.
but you know what else? i'm still terrified. i don't want to go. i have so much frickin fear. about everything. every detail. and i don't even know the details. right now god is opening the door and telling me to trust him and be fearless and make the deposit with money i don't even have in my account and say yes to going to africa. he's telling me to say yes when i don't know any details or really even know what i'll be doing there or what my role will look like and he's telling me to say yes even though I'm so scared of flying (not actually being in the air, all the things that lead up to it, like getting to the right terminal and fighting to find a spot for my carry on and losing luggage and missing flights and having anxiety poops on the plane and basically everything except for the actual being in the air flying part) and he's opening the door and pushing me through it and I'm fighting every step of the way and have made myself literally throwing up sick because I'm so anxious about all the details i don't even know and my brain just feels so scrambled. but he's telling me to say yes and he's opening the door and showing me so clearly again and again and again that it's time to trust him and i'm so (insert any emotion here) that i can't move forward at all, its like i'm stuck, just stuck and can't put one foot in front of the other.
but you guys. i think i'm going to africa. help me. pray for me. support me. send anxiety meds. (only kind of kidding on the last one...)

Monday, July 31, 2017

birth and birthdays

july. you always bring joy and pain. celebration and grief. beauty and ashes. you are broken yet so  beautiful. july brought heartache and happiness, joy overflowing and fear so palpable it was like the elephant sitting on my chest.
turning 30 this year seemed like such a big milestone. i know it's just another day and just another number, but it seems like so much more. as a kid, 30 seems so old. i just knew that by the time i turned 30 i would have a family of my own. i would have a husband and a whole gang of my own little loves running around. i would be planted in the perfect little starter house. i would be a wife, a mother, an educator, a world traveler. and today, i am only one of those. and that's okay. i'm learning that god has me exactly where i should be. i don't have a husband because it's not my time for that. i don't have children of my own because it's not my time for that. i don't have a house of my own because it's not my time for that. if I've learned one thing in my 30 years, its that God always provides what I need on his time, not my own. So here I am, entering my 30's in a huge, not-so-surprising, continued season of waiting.
so my 30th came and went. it was full of love and surprises and although i thought i would be sad to be turning 30, it was really just another gift. my best friend hosted the best birthday weekend, complete with surprise visitors, some of my favorite snacks, and a seafood feast that i will dream about for years to come. my heart was happy and my belly was full. and i am thankful, so very thankful, for every minute that was put into the prep and roll out of such a weekend full of love.
the week leading up to my birthday is always tough. it's strange to think of the day a traumatic event occured as an anniversary, but i don't know what else to call it. every year july 7th rolls around and is a seemingly normal day for everyone else. but when i wake up, i can't breathe. i spent all day trying to get my mind on something else, unsuccessfully. i plan a day full of things only to cancel because the anxiety is so real and so fierce that most of the time just getting out of bed to take a shower is all i can do. 12 years since i was raped, and sometimes the fear and shame and guilt and anxiety is so real it's like its happening all over again. so i spent the day doing nothing, because i couldn't do anything else. i sometimes wonder if someone acknowledged the fact that it's july 7th would make a difference. but then how do you say to someone "hey, would you tell me you love me on July 7th because its always a tough day" without opening a huge can of worms? it seems so easy to say when I type it out, but every year it rolls around and no one says a thing and i can't reach out to anyone to tell them I'm struggling because the fear is too crippling and the shame is too real. so this year, like the last 11, i woke up crying, feeling like i couldn't breathe, and crawled out of bed. i took a shower so hot my skin was raw and red. and i did nothing else. but you know what? that's okay. because i survived another day. i got out of bed. and i survived.
so by the time birthday week and day rolled around, being surrounded by friends and family, watching them pour over homemade treats and decorations and surprises, it felt so good. like on a level that i can hardly put into words because when i try i am just brought to tears. how could people love me so much? i am selfish and a complainer and defeated and spend so much of my time canceling plans, how could people love me anyway? what a beautiful picture of the gospel that week/weekend was for me. my people came together and loved me like jesus loves me. and when i ruined my party shirt they drove across town to buy the exact same one so i would stop crying. and they let me have all the left overs for the next 3 days and didn't complain that they didn't get any. and they served me and loved me and encouraged me. they loved me liked jesus loves me. and i can never say enough thank you's for that.
july, you also brought a gift that i will never forget. little rex arthur. it's not my birth story to tell, but i am honored and in awe. i am honored to have been there when you took your first breath, when we learned you were a boy, when you came into the world with a fighting spirit. i am in awe of how strong you are, how incredible your mom is, and how wonderful our sweet savior is. i can't quite articulate my experience that night as a member of your moms birth team. all i know is you are a gift, your mom is incredibly brave and strong, and the lord is so good. you are a good, good gift, and i praise him for you.
oh sweet july. thank you. thank you for both the beautiful and the broken. thank you for bringing new life this month. thank you for new days and new strength. thank you for bringing my people who love me fiercely and deeply to the same place to celebrate my life. and thank you lord for loving me through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Friday, June 30, 2017

jumping for joy in june

it's hard to think of witty titles for blog posts. i'm just not that creative. but ya know, june made it easy to jump for joy. when i moved back from south carolina in 2012, i had absolutely zero intention of staying in arkansas long term. arkansas is home because my family is here, but arkansas is not home in the sense of community and happiness. it was strange to move "home" to a place that felt nothing like home at all. i asked god week after week why he brought me back here. "lord what are you doing with my life? why would you take me from columbia, from a loving church family, a solid community of friends? why would you take me back to arkansas, a place that did nothing but hurt me, to relationships that burned me and left me broken? why would you do that? what are you doing in the background? please lord help me have peace, help me understand." so celebrating 5 years back in arkansas this month almost took my breath away. it is so hard to believe it has been 5 years. i feel like it was yesterday we were loading the u-haul and trucking back across the country.
i've gotten to see glimpses of why i think he brought me back here, and let me just say that he knows what he is doing. he took me out of contentment and comfort and put me in unknown and scary. and he did it on purpose. for a purpose. when i am content and comfortable, i don't need god. so when i got too comfortable, he said "alright time for a change, let's bring you back to me." and back to arkansas i came. 5 years is a long time to be somewhere that you didn't want to be in the first place. i have spent 5 years not really getting plugged in on purpose, because i didn't want to be here. when you build relationships and have community, it is a lot harder to leave. so instead, i just didn't. it's been a lonely 5 years because of it. but at the same time, i wouldn't change it a bit because i have needed god more in these 5 years than ever before. i have learned to listen for him in the daily tasks, to seek him in the hard times, to trust him in the details. i have cried out to him when my heart is breaking, and praised him when his faithfulness is revealed again and again.
he brought me to arkansas to be close to my family. i have been given the gift of being an aunt up close and personal. i have had the opportunity to pour into their lives and watch them grow and help them learn and have had so many adventures my heart could burst. i have chased sunsets, had way too many treats, and have had the best snuggles. he brought me to arkansas to support my parents through lots of changes and hard times. being in arkansas so i can be close to my family is the ultimate gift, and i'm so thankful he knew what he was doing when he brought me here.
he brought me back to arkansas and led me to sunshine school. i had no clue what i was doing when i applied for a job there. it was kind of a last ditch effort because i had such negative interviews with public schools. i spent so many days and nights just crying because i needed a job, but i didn't want to work in public school special education. the interviews i had were all great, i was offered several jobs, and i cried every time i got the phone call because i knew i would be miserable. so i applied for a lead teacher job at sunshine school. and when i showed up, they interviewed me for something completely different because i had a masters degree in special education. i met their qualifications and they took a chance on me. and LORD THANK YOU for that. i have met some of the greatest families through sunshine school. i have helped parents learn how to advocate for their child. i have made friends. i have built relationships. i have made a difference. i have watched kids take their first steps, use their first words, drink from a cup for the first time, make eye contact purposefully, i have celebrated the tiniest milestones because for us they are huge, and i have mourned the challenges and setbacks alongside families. i lost my mentor to a hard fought battle with cancer, and have been left grieving that and all the changes it brought with it. i have learned about gardening, what is a weed and what is a plant, how to cultivate life from a tiny seed, how to use my time gardening to worship and pray and tell beth how much i miss her. god knew exactly what he was doing when he closed the door to public schools and led me to sunshine school. 3.5 years ago when i started working there, i had no idea what i was doing. i had almost zero management experience, had never worked with families directly, and had never had a real full time job. but now, today, i wouldn't know what to do without sunshine school. i got a promotion in may, and it was just the boost i needed. its been a tough year, lots of changes, lots of challenges, and i was in the dumps. my leadership team recognized my abilities and asked me to step up and take on more. and i needed it. i panicked at first, because "what if i mess it all up, what if i can't do it, what am i getting myself into, this is too much, theres no way i can manage all of this"... but then god told me flat out that i would accept the promotion and i'd be okay.
so here we are now, being fearless and trusting him again. trusting him in another year in arkansas. trusting him to lead me in this new role. and trusting him to take away my fear and replace it with confidence and courage. i can do this.