The Stain of Beauty and Brokenness

Once Africa’s red dirt gets under your nails, it’s hard to get it out.

The red clay is caked to my shoes and the cuffs of my jeans and it has stained my heart.

There are majestic animals roaming wide open spaces and breathtaking sunsets filling the horizon.

Vibrant colors wash the city. It is a constant contrast to the extreme poverty that desperately works to strangle out hope.



Gridlocked traffic jams and thick exhausts plagues the city. Suffering tinges this country.

Today we stopped at a gas station on the way home from a quarterly Mercy House board meeting, next to a bright, outdoor market where handwoven rainbow bags swayed in the breeze, inviting us to behold their beauty.  An elderly beggar was asking for money outside the window. The gas station attendants told him to leave and when he wouldn’t, they took his walking cane and beat him with it.

He limped over to our van and asked again.

It’s not just this land. It’s the people that capture. It’s their resilience. It’s their beauty. It’s their brokenness.

Beauty and Brokenness–built on red soil–that’s what brands the heart.

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We spent 4 hours in our meeting today talking about just that.

I was reminded again of the impossibility of what we seek to do. Rescuing a girl and her unborn baby from the clutches of evil is audacious work.

It is heartbreaking. It is heartwarming. It is both at the same time. The magnitude wrecks me. We are believing God for the impossible, the improbable.


We take two steps forward and one back.

We make slow or no progress at all, but we are faithful and when we look behind us, we can see how far we have come.

We have 4 guards, protecting two houses, two dozen moms and babies with more coming. A gardner who also serves as a driver, and a social worker and a counselor and . . .  and I felt a wave of panic today at this responsibility.

Rescuing and redemption. But again, this is God’s work, not ours.

Today we played ball and laughed and chased toddler boys, who randomly stopped to pee pee in the bushes and on the rocks every chance they got.


Sitting in a circle, we asked shy new residents what they wanted to be when they grew up. I can hardly reconcile listening to 12 and 13 year old girls whisper their childlike dreams while a baby kicks in their wombs. My kids, the same age, sit next to them.

And I am undone.


One of the residents at Mercy House painted my fingernails red today. Crimson polish stains my nails and my skin.


It’s the worst manicure I’ve ever had.

It’s the most beautiful one, too.

When we look again, we see something impossible-we see both.

The breathtaking stain of beauty and brokenness.

WFMW: Why this Mother is Moving to Uganda {Giveaway}



I’m happy to welcome this week’s guest post from Emily for my Wednesday series Yes, Works For Me! Please welcome her and be encouraged by her yes to God and continue to link up what works for you.

I wore Africa on my feet when I was three.

I wore it red on my soles, padding softly across the dirt to stare through the wire fence at neighbors dressed in bright prints and singing deep songs from somewhere low, their hips swaying as they washed dishes and clothes in the sun, in bubbles in a bucket.


Kristen Welch

The same kind of bucket I bathed in with my brother who was borne premature in the Congo, and our house was made of cement and my crib covered in mosquito netting, the legs of the crib in bowls of water to keep the tarantulas from climbing.

We ate mangoes, fallen red and plump on the ground by the garden where Mum grew legumes and squash and she canned those mangoes and we spread them on homemade bread.

I stopped talking when we moved to Africa and didn’t say a single word while I lived there. I just laughed and all those words, they got caught in my throat and then we went back to Canada when I was four.

And they said we were home but I didn’t see it. Because home wasn’t white and cold, it was red dirt roads and hot like the sun, and I’ve spent my whole life trying to get back there.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to find home.

I tried to find it in an eating disorder when I was nine because even though I’d found my voice I wasn’t allowed to say what I needed to. We were pastor’s kids and we moved a lot, we were home-schooled and I was the eldest of four, and my Dad was always at church and I didn’t have any friends, so I stopped eating.

And even after I nearly died at sixty pounds, and the nurses said I was a miracle and I began to believe in God, it wasn’t enough and I couldn’t leave our house fast enough at eighteen.

Searching the whole globe for home, but I never made it back to Africa.

Not until this January, when I went on a bloggers trip to Uganda and that red dirt, how it clung to my soles.

I embraced every bright-clad woman I saw, every child, and I couldn’t stop holding the people because they were family.

But my family was hurting.

They wouldn’t say it. They just hugged me and moved over so I could sit with them in the dirt, in their life, and hold their babies.

And even though I visited Rwanda too, it was Uganda which wrapped my heart tight like Kikoyi, an African cloth, and I was there for three and a half days.

I took Uganda back with me on the plane, I took it sobbing and restless and wrecked for the abandoned babies I’d seen, for the slums with their cardboard walls and the hunger, and the child-headed households and the thirst—the hospital that had no well, the kids who had no school to attend or shoes to wear, I took it all home, and I fell on my face every night begging God to show me what to do.

And he said to this girl who hadn’t spoken until she was four, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

The Lulu Tree is a name God gave me before I knew it was a real tree in Uganda, a Shea nut tree which produces fruit, as the website says, in the people’s exact time of seasonal hunger. Lulu means pearl in Swahili, and Uganda is the pearl of Africa, and we have no plan except to be like Jesus.

To feed beans and to read a Bible story. My friend Joy is our hands and feet in Kampala, she lives there with her family and she is overseeing a team of nationals who will minister to the mamas and children in the slums of Katwe.

And in four years, in September of 2018, my husband, kids and I will be moving to Uganda for one year to serve alongside Joy.

God whispered it to me when I left for Uganda in January: “Your job is not to fix. I could fix the world with one breath. Your job is to love.”

I hear this every time I fall on the floor in the dark begging God to help those children, the ones sniffing glue to numb their hunger, the ones lying in the same dirt chickens defecate on.

All we have is a pot of beans and a Bible. But it’s our loaves and fishes. And we’re trusting Christ for a miracle.



My memoir, ATLAS GIRL, is releasing this month, and I am excited to give away FIVE copies today. Just leave a comment below to win!

From the back cover:

“Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it.

“Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.”

Click HERE for a free excerpt.

I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to:, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

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ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.
Bio: Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

The House That Mercy Built

This is the house that mercy built.




This is the window that sits in the frame of the new house that mercy built.


This is one of the babies who lives in the home who looks out the window of the house that mercy built.



This is a mom to one of the babies who’s life is being transformed at the house that mercy built.


This is a hutch that houses animals to feed the residents who live in the house that mercy built.


This is the hair and nail salon that donors built that teach the girls skills for future living in the house that mercy built.



This is the garden that grows the vegetables that feeds the girls and babies at the house that mercy built.


This is the playroom that entertains more than a dozen babies at the house that mercy built.


This is the couple that gives their lives away in the office at the house that mercy built.


This is one mom who is grateful for your yes at the house that mercy built.


These girls are the new addition to the family that God created . . .


Because your yes matters at the house that mercy built.

He Is Not Safe, But He Is Good

Tomorrow we leave for Kenya.

My husband and I have been watching the news closely.

These are not safe times in our world.

And I keep reminding myself God has not called us to safety. 

Even though it’s my favorite.

Some days the very title of my book mocks me.

Sometimes –often– our yes to God is scary.

Obedience is risky.

But when I shut out the what ifs, I can clearly see that God holds us close.

You may be standing on the dangerous precipice of your yes. The unknowns are terrifying, the fear tangible, but the peace palpable.

God is with us.

And when we ask, “Is He safe?” The answer is no. But He is good.” CS Lewis

Would you pray for us?

  • Pray for peace in Kenya.
  • Pray for protection over our homes, the staff, girls, babies.
  • Pray for wisdom and direction over key decisions that will be made in meetings.
  • Pray for the dozens of young, pregnant and single mothers we will be inviting into our new community outreach in the heart of two slums.
  • Pray for me? I’m a big baby and I just need a lot of Jesus.

I’ll be blogging from Africa. Follow our journey on Instagram.

Dear Moms: Let’s Stop Being Mean To Each Other

Earlier this week, I wrote a letter to my children explaining how summer is going to go down.

It’s been read over 1,000,000 times.

That doesn’t surprise me..

Because we are moms. We have kids. It’s summer. And there is boredom.


What did surprise me was the mommy war that battled in the comment section over education choices.


That’s what I was thinking, too. Because maybe I missed the point of my own post?

It started with one mom criticizing another and then retaliation ensued.

But if you dig deeper, it’s pretty clear this battle wasn’t about homeschool, private or public. This wasn’t about summer, boredom, entitlement or education.

It was about respect.

Good, better and best concept

Listen, motherhood is hard enough. We are bombarded with countless choices we make for our children and ourselves. And we often spend hours and days and years second-guessing those decisions.

Breast or bottle? Wean or not? Tummy or side? Schedule or not? Cry it out or rock them to sleep? Organic or processed? And that’s just a small part of the first year. We will make thousands of decisions-right and wrong, good and bad-in the the next 20 plus years. We live. We learn. We get it right; we get it wrong. But we don’t get to decide for others.

(We let our kids use slip and slides and we deal with the consequences. Ahem).

What we must stop doing is attacking other moms when their decisions are different than our own.

We don’t have to always agree; we won’t. We can stand firm in our personal conviction. But we can do so in kindness.


There is only a battle when there are two opponents.


Putting others down for their choices is really just a way to make us feel better about our own. And if we’re honest, do we ever really feel better after we’ve attacked someone else?

I think most of us want to raise God-fearing, productive kids who are respectful of others.

And that might just start by being kind to those who do things differently than we do.

That’s a decision we can all make.