Flickers of Light

“The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.”

–Brene Brown

Hey everyone! Posting two weeks in a row,¦not bad, huh? Like I’ve said many times before, my goal is to post once every two weeks. But once a week would be even better, right? So my hope is I can keep this blogging rolling!

Anyways, it’s been another crazy challenging and fulfilling week. The big news on the Hope Smiles front is our move into new clinic space! Sure, the perimeter security wall is still being built, the grounds are still a mess, flushing the “out of bounds” toilet will result in a flood, and an abandoned van still is sitting behind the clinic…but we have moved into new clinic space! We should probably place a “Pardon our Dust” sign at the entry gate to our clinic for the next few months. We started treating patients in the new space on Monday. Saturday and Sunday involved lots of moving and struggling to fix everything needed to operate on Monday. After some lengthy Sunday headaches in diagnosing some last minute electrical and plumbing emergencies (some of which are still a work in progress), Dr. Charles (the family physician we share our clinic with) and I decided to start seeing patients on Monday. All things considered, we have made it through the clinical week pretty well!


We were supposed to start our lease on November 1st…but the landlord didn’t have the new clinic space ready for us to realistically start seeing patients. Now, we can at least work around the workers and outside commotion for the next few months as everything finishes up. This move, like seemingly everything we try to do here, has involved a lot of struggles. Finishing work that isn’t our job…trying to find the right people to help us…trying to mobilize the people in charge to finish their jobs…can feel like we are just walking in the dark into locked door after locked door.

Dealing with these frustrations — and recognizing how much of this is outside of my control — brings my inner struggles to the forefront. Broken promises, a lack of resources, unstable electricity, trying to bring a team with no dental background together…it’s tough.  Self-pity can easily seep in to my thoughts, if not my words and actions.

Why can’t people just do what they say they will do?

How are we going to pay for this procedure for this patient?

Why can’t this patient show up on time?

Why is the power out when it’s sunny in the middle of the day and we have 6 patients for 2 chairs?

If we let it, the darkness can seemingly suffocate us.

And it’s there. The darkness of our struggles is real. There’s no use denying it, whether it is external or internal. Problems can’t be fixed until they are addressed.

And yet.

We follow a God who entered into our struggles. Who shares them. Who did not stay distant from us — but came to Earth, and as we’ll celebrate next month, was born in the middle of nowhere with some farm animals. God did that. It’s crazy. Completely crazy.

And He sustains us through our struggles. He brings us closer to Him in the darkness. We see His light in the darkness. As we stumble through the darkness, we rely on His light and love. It is stronger than the darkness. We fight to piece together the flickers of light in the midst of the darkness.

And we see Him at work.

You see, we aspire to enter into the darkness of our struggles — the seemingly innocuous daily frustrations, the lack of control over so much that I am used to being so simple or that inner dark selfishness that I can never completely get rid of.  But we don’t want to engage these struggles claiming our superiority or self-righteousness. We embrace the struggles acknowledging our brokenness, recognizing we are in need of healing and restoration from our Creator.

We are broken. And we want to come alongside other broken people and serve them. That’s why we are here. We want to engage each day with courage. Because it would be easier to just go to the comfortable places. It would be easier to just tell people what they are doing wrong and to fix it, whether they are patients or the multitude of people we encounter everyday as we grow as a clinic. But courage demands we embrace our own brokenness, make ourselves vulnerable, open our hearts…and love everyone we meet.

We want to engage each day with compassion. We want people to know we are here to help…not to coerce or control.  We strive to open our hearts to our patients and their families. We strive to understand the challenges they face. And we want to empathetically help them feel our love for them. Judgement and shame can never drive our interactions. We want them to feel comfortable. We want them to know their health is an area of their life they can control. Oral pain is not destiny. We want our patients to feel that we are here to fight for them. That we are on their side.

And when we engage each day with courage and compassion, the foundation is actually laid for connection. We are hardwired to connect with others. And we are grateful to experience so many connections in the midst of the darkness. So many powerful relationships and moments that have grown from piecing together courage and compassion and love, most especially when it is hardest.

We can think of individual people and families who we call friends. We think of Khadija, who has completely changed the way she cares for her teeth over the past few weeks. We know she isn’t scared of coming to the doctor anymore. We know she can sleep at night pain-free. We know her father has learned how to help his daughter care for her mouth. We know it because we get to see her smile as she enters our new clinic. We know it through the hugs she gives us.


And we are grateful for those moments.

They are gifts from God.

So while there are inevitable struggles involved as we grow here in Uganda, there is also immense joy. Our new clinic space is a work in progress, just like we are as individuals. We are excited about more space and the potential that space provides. We see how God has sustained us, and we know He is trustworthy. We know we have been called together. We know we can push on in the midst of the darkness because He is here with us.

And we can keep fighting and piecing together courage, compassion, and connection to see what moments He will give us next.

Gradi Ellis