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When I moved to Uganda three years ago, these were some of the first faces that became familiar. They live in a home for displaced children, most at least partially orphaned, but not adoptable. They are loved, but resources for anything more than food are scarce. I spent most of my time with these kids encouraging them to drink water, treating fevers that were way too high, and sitting in long lines at the hospital waiting for the doctor. The clothes they wear are threadbare from years of washing and they rarely have more than one or two personal belongings.

And yet, they have joy.


They smile and they play and the find delight in the simplest things. I have much to learn from them, but from that first day, I knew I wanted to do something special for the girls. We believe in a God who is extravagant, who gives us beautifully unnecessary gifts every day. I wanted these girls to each experience an extravagantly (to them) unnecessary gift. In 2010, I wrote to Matilda Jane Clothing Co. and asked if they would donate some dresses so that the girls would have something beautiful to wear to church on Sundays. Imagine my amazement when four huge boxes of beautiful clothes arrived on my doorstep. The girls were jumping up and down with anticipation as they formed a line to receive their dresses. As each one came to me to be fitted with a dress, I looked into her eyes and said, “You are beautiful and I love you.”

Over the years, I’ve watched the colors fade from their dresses. Many of them have outgrown what I gave them, but still manage to squeeze into their dress just because it’s their favorite. So, in anticipation of this trip to Uganda, I asked MJC again if they would donate dresses. Again, four huge boxes arrived and again, they formed a line, but this day was different. Child after child knelt down to say thank you. Child after child smiled sheepishly as I looked into their eyes (something adults rarely do in this culture) and said, “you’re beautiful.



{faith & kabasome}

{salima & molly}


{Nyakato & Nyangoma}

The other special treat of the day was headbands and earrings donated by so many wonderful people on Etsy. Each of the girls got a headband AND a pair of earrings and I have some headbands left over for a few friends to take to children in their communities as well. Such a beautiful blessing to leave with all these little girls for Christmas. I wish there had been time to take a picture of each girl and each headband, but it started raining as I was handing them out, so most of the girls were inside by the time I left. A few weeks ago, however, I went back and took pictures of all the girls who were wearing their headbands. Aren’t they beautiful?

{the boys (not pictured) were SO sad not to get headbands that I gave them each one as well. they were delighted.}

We’re so grateful to the following Etsy sellers who generously donated for these girls to feel extra beautiful:

Merry Christmas from Uganda!

Yesterday, we received final confirmation that the Embassy would not process any more visas before the holidays. They deserve a break, for sure, so we can’t complain. The first thought to cross my mind yesterday afternoon was, “Wow, we get to spend Christmas here.” There’s no telling what the next years will hold. We may never have the opportunity to celebrate this season in my girls’ home country again. Each day here is another opportunity for me to learn their language, cook their favorite Ugandan foods, and just sit still and watch them come alive. So truly, it feels like a special privilege. They are the very best Christmas I could have imagined.

Of course, my heart is sad to not be sitting with my family at church tonight, singing Silent Night with candles lit, exchanging hugs and baked goodies with the people who have formed my community for years. I’m sad that my daughters’ first Christmas as Turners won’t be accompanied by Christmas lights and stockings hung by the fireplace with care.


Last week, the girls asked me for a lollipop after lunch. They asked because in their minds, a lollipop is the very best thing I’ve ever given them as an after-lunch snack. It made me happy that they felt safe enough to ask me for the desire of their hearts, but I still said no. It crushed them visibly. They went out on a limb to ask me for something unnecessary – something good – and I said no. They haven’t known me long enough to know that when I say no, it’s because there’s a better yes at stake. What they did not see in that moment were the cinnamon rolls rising in the oven and cream cheese icing warming on the stove. Cinnamon rolls are not even in the realm of goodness they’ve known and they would never have guessed to ask for them. In order to say yes, however, I had to say no to what they thought was the best thing they could have. I had to say no in order to give something better.


Asking to be home by Christmas was the very best thing I could think of to ask of Jesus. I’m still learning how to be His daughter and sometimes asking for something unnecessarily good feels selfish and unsafe, but I wanted to be home so badly that I asked, secured by knowing that He loves it when we trust enough to ask. And the safety of having a good Father is knowing that we can freely ask for whatever we desire because He loves us enough to say no if He can think of something even better than what we asked.

He said no to Christmas in America and the achy part of this “no” is that I don’t know what His better plan is yet, but I’ve been His daughter long enough to know that His plan is always better. So tomorrow we’ll make cinnamon rolls while listening to Christmas songs and sipping Starbucks Tazo chai and hot chocolate in our red cups (we have a lot of wonderful friends). We’ll soak up the gift of another few days or weeks in this country that made us a family. We’ll Skype with family and probably go swimming, too. But most importantly, we’ll remember the gift of that baby, sent to do something that looked weak (and to the Jews, looked like a “no”) in order to give us the biggest and most important YES of all – a forever-place in His family.

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P.S. If you’d like to do something super easy to not make us feel so far away, take a picture of your family’s Christmas picture and send it to with a message to Elisabeth and Emma that you’re praying them home. It will make my day to see your faces and they will be ecstatic to know you are praying.

Today another impossible miracle happened to bring us home in time for Christmas and another door slammed shut hours later.

And as I was beginning to question again, He whispered, “Is my hand too short, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?”

How easily I forget that these doors are easy for Him to open and therefore it is only with His loving intention that they can remain closed. Today, they are closed, so we played, we swam, we bought treats for friends in America who are missing this country. And I took a moment to remember.

It’s December 20th and Uganda is hot and sticky. Diesel fuel and burning trash fogs the air and Christmas seems a world away.

A friend emailed this week to remind me that perhaps Christmas has never been nearer than it is to me this year. Christmas is about meekness, she wrote, and when you’re close to your weakness, you’re closer to God’s heart than you know. And she’s right. Christmas is the season when we remember how God became as weak as a baby so that our own weakness wouldn’t separate us from His family.

The past three months have been a weak season for me. Single parenting is rough and every inch of this adoption has felt like an uphill climb – not because of anything specific, but doing anything in a foreign culture is just frustrating. They work very differently here and sometimes submitting to their process means I experience just how impatient and selfish and irritable I can be. I’m weak. My kids yell mommy look at me every 10 minutes and it annoys me sometimes. I’m weak. Photos of Starbucks cups and Christmas trees flash across my Instagram feed and my heart stirs with discontentment. I’m weak. My oven doesn’t have a thermometer and sometimes dinner burns and I feed my kids rice again. I feel weak.

But what did He say, Is my hand too short to redeem? When weakness threatens to overwhelm me, my hope is in His decision to become a weak baby to redeem  and ensure that even my ugliest moments seed something beautiful in me and those around me. Weakness creates space to hope and hope makes us strong – not in ourselves, but in a Father who calls Himself the God of Hope.


Today the door to a Christmas at home is closed…and if it’s still closed on Christmas Eve, we will settle into an African Christmas with absolute certainty that here is His best for us for the next few weeks. But until then, our bags are packed and we continue to hope. Because this is a season when the whole world remembers to hope. We lose nothing by hoping if our expectation is that His answer will be good.


In case you’re feeling weak this season

or just struggling inside of a hope that seems impossible,

I took some of my friend Courtney’s words and made them into a printable –

free for you here.


  • Jennie - Mandie Joy,

    Thank you for your transparency. We welcomed a foster placement in September – a sweet one year old girl. The last three months have been such a special time, but, yes, also a time of weakness and coming to the end of me and realizing how very little I have to give unless Jesus fills. It is an encouragement to my heart today to read these words and hear that you are finding Him faithful in your weakness. My daughter and I are praying for you and the E’s.

    Love from Omaha,

This week what I have known in my heart to be true became legal and permanent – forever.

Elisabeth and Emma are my daughters.

I get to be their mommy.

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As you’d expect, I think they’re more than perfect. Each one has captured my heart in her own special way – from the fact that Elisabeth was born the very year I began praying for my children who might be out there, to the way Emma whispered nkwagala nyo (I love you) for the first time. They feel familiar – like I’ve known them for a long time – and at the same time are full of new surprises every day and stories that remind me they’ve been waiting, too. Elisabeth is strong, quiet, and wise. She taught herself to swim in a week and has already picked up a lot of the Spanish I’ve been speaking to them. She is the perfect model of a first-born and loves to care of little ones, but also finds me frequently to ask for snuggles. Emma is the quintessential baby, adoring her big sister and loving every minute she spends in the Ergo on my back. Her English is very limited, so she has been the answer to my prayer to learn more Luganda on this trip. Both of them have tender, generous hearts and are eagerly praying for a daddy already.

We have rounded the final curve of this journey home, but several big steps still lie between here and home. My prayer all along has been to have them home for Christmas, but today that looks nearly impossible. Would you pray with me that the last few pieces of paper come together in record time? If you know me, you know that Starbucks red cups are one of my favorite treats of this season. One of the things I’m beginning to learn is that God delights in our smallest desires – even the silly ones. He may say no in order to make room for an even better yes, and when He does, we get to trust and that is beautiful, BUT I do believe He wants us to ask.

I think when we ask for something trivial, knowing that He may very well say “no”, we force ourselves to step deeper inside a more authentic experience of Him as our Father.

So, I’m asking Him for Starbucks red cups. Just three of them. Not for the girls – they will not understand the significance – but for me. I’m asking Him to have us home in time for me to buckle the girls into my car, drive to the Starbucks where so many of my first prayers for them took shape, hand them each a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, and whisper, “this is from our Daddy. This is the season where we remember He sent His Son to bring us Home. Now these red cups, the lights, the chill in the air, the green and sparkle and smiling people? They will always remind us of the time He showed off to bring us home. He is really, really good.” It’s just a little thing, a small desire of my heart, but I think a lot of my Father-daughter relationship with God is built in these moments – where I ask Him for something and choose to hope expectantly and then still trust His goodness if the answer is not this time.

So will you pray with me that we’re home for Christmas?



  • Brianne - You have a beautiful family Mandie! I have loved watching God work through you! Praying big for you and your girls. God is good, all the time!ReplyCancel

  • Beautiful Bookmarks | Grace Full Mama - […] friend Mandy has some exciting news! Head over to read about her sweet story, Forever. She and I will be switching places soon…she is coming back to the States and I am heading to […]ReplyCancel

  • Brittan Gotbeter - YES!!ReplyCancel

  • Jessica Rudder - What a beautiful family!

    I’m so happy for all three of you.

    I’ll be praying for your three red cups.


  • Anne Caggiano - I’m praying you’re home with your girls for Christmas! A friend posted a link to this page on Facebook, and I loved reading your story. Seeing we have friends in common, I “friended” you so I can continue to pray. I have girlfriends praying about adopting, and I know they’ll be helped by your story. Your daughters are gorgeous, as are you! Asking our Father for that red cup celebration…ReplyCancel

  • Sara Welter Hagerty - Beautiful, friend….!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - I’m praying praying praying that your prayers are answered. I am so thankful that those little girls fill your arms and that they have you as their mommy. Praying for a Christmas miracle…with whipped cream on top. Love you Mandie.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney Dunstan - PRAYING AND BELIEVING in this awesome Father of ours! What a beautiful story with three beautiful women! :) Can’t wait to meet them! ReplyCancel

  • JoshandKimberly Bonham - Praying for you Mandy!!ReplyCancel

  • Deborah Gorla - Praying for a Starbucks Red Cup Christmas! Thanks for sharing your beautiful family & post w/ us!ReplyCancel

  • April Linder Bailey - Praying for those three red cups! <3ReplyCancel

  • Alejandra Ortiz - I will pray!ReplyCancel

  • Maureen Knight - Mandy, we are so proud of you and so excited for you!ReplyCancel

  • Heath - Mandie,

    I met you several years ago at the CFC conference. I can’t believe you are adopting these gorgeous girls! Where in the States do you live? I live in Atlanta. How old are Elisabeth and Emma? Can we be besties? :)

    I am so happy for you! Praying BIG with you for little things that we both know are not really little at all. :)


    • Mandie Joy - Hi Heath! Yes, I totally remember meeting you. Thinking your little girl and mine must be pretty close in age now. They’re 4 (ish) and 6 (ish). We live in South Carolina and would love to see you guys!ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie Riley - As a momma of an Uganda Princess, I know God can move mountains. Praying your paperwork is one He will. If not there will be blessings in the wait. ReplyCancel

  • Kimberly Young Kremer - I will absolutely pray this with you! So precious!!ReplyCancel

  • Cheryl Smith Nichols - Praying!ReplyCancel

  • Carol Lee Stephens - Praying boldly!!! So excited for you. You truly are an inspiration!!ReplyCancel

  • Charlene Pumphrey Iskra - Covering you 3 in prayer and believing with you. ReplyCancel

  • Marcia Loveing Harrison - Mandy – rejoicing with you three and praying with you! Wonderful news – congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of motherhood. XoxoxReplyCancel

  • Jessica Carpenter - Yes. I will. I love you, dearly!ReplyCancel

  • katie - praying for many impossible things today, including this one. love!ReplyCancel

  • Kaitlin Arnold - In tears as I read this! The Lord is so good! Your daughters are beautiful…congratulations on motherhood! I am praying for your three red cups this December :)ReplyCancel

  • Kendra - Praying & believing with you! What an incredible gift they are!! XoReplyCancel

  • ASH - What a beautiful family. Praying you are able to hold a warm, red cup in your hands :)ReplyCancel

  • Amber - Ohhh they are absolutely beautiful! You all radiate Joy! Praying and pleading the throne for and with you!!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey - Praise God!!! I’m so happy for you three! Happy tears streamed down my face reading this! Praying for your red cup Starbucks date with your sweet Elisabeth and Emma!

    We are loved by an awesome God and nothing is impossible!ReplyCancel

Perhaps the most awkward season of parenting is this one where an adoption is imminent, but miles of ocean and red tape still separate the waiting ones from the arms so ready to embrace them forever. As I go about my normal routine, they are always on my mind. Are they carrying water right now? Is someone coaching them to memorize the alphabet yet? What sounds fill their ears as they fall asleep? Crickets? Music? The words, beautiful or not, of the adults around them? Do they feel safe? Will they be terrified of me?

This kind of wondering and speculating can drive a mama’s heart to frantic anxiety because these children feel so real, so ours, and yet so out of reach.

Or are they?


When I was little, my mom used to tell me that when I wanted to talk to Jesus, I could ask Him to pull me onto his lap. That image has never left me and now, as I long to pull the girls onto my lap and meet their every need, it seems so obvious to just ask Jesus to do that for all three of us while we wait.

Throughout the day, my eyes close and He whispers “I’ve got you. What do you need?” The God who is not constrained by distance or time can gather us in the same space and doesn’t He love to build and restore?  He’s the God who loves to make something out of nothing, to take what is not and make it real.

And so I ask Him to – even now when they don’t know I’m coming and my imagination of their days could be drastically inaccurate. Even now as I wonder what their personalities are like and if I’ll get to teach them to read, pull their first tooth, be the first one to say “I love you”. As paralyzing as the 10,000 miles separating me from the girls may seem now, life has taught me that even after those miles are crossed, fear and lost time and language barriers and trauma surface to remind that physical nearness is not the cure-all answer to our hearts’ ache. The kinds of wounds we’re dealing with here cannot be healed by cuddles and bedtime stories and back logged vaccinations alone. These are wounds, mine and theirs, that need the touch of a perfect Father – and we happen to have One who knows no limitations of time, space, and distance.


So when that Father sits beside their African beds while I eat my American lunch, why wouldn’t I ask Him to begin His work in them (and in me as their mother)…even now. I ask Him to begin building up their little hearts to know me, trust me, want me. I ask Him to gather their broken places in such a way that they will feel safe with me.

And you? Maybe the distance you feel is not miles, but invisible walls around a child’s heart. Maybe you’re a teacher whose little students walk home to empty refrigerators and absent parents and the few hours you have with them seem so insignificant to heal. This is for you, too.

Below is a PDF download of the verses I am praying over the girls (and have been praying over my yet-undiscovered waiting children for years). Many of them are from the Old Testament and I know that can be a hang up. They were specific to people and places and battles then, yes, but Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. Those stories, words, and promises are recorded so that we know what we can ask. The history of those men and woman long ago is a promise for us to cling to here and now – to remember that just because our problems might be smaller than those of Gideon and David and Noah, our God is not.

He is waiting for us to ask Him to be bigger.

To access the full size pdf, click here.