Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Year in Review

This time last year, I hadn't even filled out my application to come to Togo yet. I was thinking actively about it, really meaning to do it every evening, preparing myself to come, but the first step in the process hadn't been officially started yet. I went home for Christmas, watched A LOT of Lost, ate a lot of food, and mentally prepared my heart for my last semester at Harding.


I went back to school and finished out my last semester, which I swear lasted two days total. I went to SpiritFest to represent Harding, hung out with Scott and Bonita on my way home, participated in Honors College wonderfulness, took my capstone course and put together a project to graduate with distinction, met weekly with my beautiful New Zealand team, and spent much time with my beautiful friends.

Then, I graduated. Four years went by in four blinks of an eye, I successfully walked across that stage (I didn't fall), shook Dr. Burks' hand, got an empty diploma cover, and walked out of the GAC where I frantically took pictures with everyone I could find and then... it was over. I went back to my dorm, finished my packing, and went to the Garner's house for the night. The next morning, I went to church, then drove Sean and I home until Wednesday when my beautiful mother drove us back to Searcy to leave for New Zealand.

New Zealand:

New Zealand stole my heart for a second time. Nat, Sean, Kari, Sarah, Andi, Cyndi, Carissa, Terri, Ken, Carolyn, Mike and Sue, Kristen and Elijah, the Palmy crew, the Inver-truck-ell (hehe) crew, the Mataura crew, and the Auckland team (including the lovable AIMers!) are now a huge huge huge part of my life and thoughts and prayers.


After I returned to the States, I jumped in my car and drove to Minnesota to teach Bible classes for Junior camp at Flaming Pine Youth Camp, losing my Ireland ring on the way. I learned how to be an adult in a setting where I’d only been a counselor, kept Michael company while he sat guarding lives at the lake in a jacket (silly FL boy!), and loved that lovely place for only a week.

Rest of the summer:

After FPYC, I spent time in Searcy, Dallas, and Jefferson City. I got to hang out with Bethany, Angela, Paula, Michael and Sarah, Jordan and Sam (yay engagements!!), Mel, Aaron, MonaLee, Jennifer, Amanda, and many other beautiful friends who mean so so so much to me. I went home, took up residence at Panera bread (for internet access), and spent the remainder of the summer prepping for Togo.


I got on a plane in Atlanta, flew to Ghana via London, met April and Nicole, then drove to Kara (where I had my first African middle-of-nowhere bathroom experience, which is no longer a novelty), and collapsed into the Kennell’s guest bedroom. We spent time setting up for school during which time I had my first bout of sickness and my first negative malaria test. Then the Reeves and the Millers got back from furlough and school started!! Since school started, I’ve missed almost a week from being sick (second negative malaria test), lost a dear friend, learned about mourning, learned about community, learned some French, learned how to cook without a Wal-Mart, and learned to appreciate Skype.


Our last day of school for the first half of the year was last Saturday. We ended the semester with a great Christmas party, complete with a snowman building contest and snowball fight. Hot chocolate, popcorn, and chocolate mini-muffins made me smile. All day Monday, les trois filles (as Brett calls us) baked Christmas cookies for the ladies’ party yesterday evening. And today, we hung out at the Kennell’s house. Now, we’re about to head home for yet another day of sleeping in. Tomorrow, we will decorate cookies with the Reeves. Christmas Eve and Christmas will be spent at the Kennell’s house where we will eat pie and wear cute PJ pants. Then safari on the 27th with the Emerson family, and New Year’s festivities (which I think I’ve heard will include a disco).

I’m blessed. So are you.

I love you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Holidays!!

I'm sitting in the Millers' living room watching the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (his nose was just exposed as being different and he's been banned from future reindeer games, poor Rudolph) and loving the holidays. Yeah, I'm in a different setting, but it's still beautiful.

I love you.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Great Wisdom from Children's Literature

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher.
‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’
‘There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.’”
-Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, 3:1-8,11

I love teaching fourth grade. One amazingly wonderful part of my day is read-aloud, where all of our books are currently centered around the Civil War. We finished Caddie Woodlawn before Thanksgiving break, but the day before it ended, we read something that made me tear up, and I feel that it pertains so much to my current season of life.

First, I’ll set the scene. Little Caddie Woodlawn is a girl whose family moved from Boston to Wisconsin. They live on a farm there, and soon after arriving, Caddie’s sister died because her body was too weak. In order to prevent the same thing from happening to Caddie, her father convinced her mother to let her “run with the boys” and become healthy in body, rather than sitting in the house and learning about how to become a “lady.” This excerpt comes right after Caddie alone has been punished for being rude to a guest, even though her two brothers were just as guilty.

Caddie is planning to run away because she is so angry at the injustice her mother has dealt her. She is waiting for her family to go to sleep so that she can sneak out. Before she does, her father comes in and says this to her:

“Perhaps Mother was a little hasty today, Caddie. She really loves you very much, and, you see, she expects more of you than she would of someone she didn’t care about. It’s a strange thing, but somehow we expect more of girls than of boys. It is the sisters and wives and mothers, you know, Caddie, who keep the world sweet and beautiful. What a rough world it would be if there were only men and boys in it, doing things in their rough way! A woman’s task is to teach them gentleness and courtesy and love and kindness. It’s a big task, too, Caddie-- harder than cutting trees or building mills or damming rivers. It takes nerve and courage and patience, but good women have those things. They have them just as much as the men who build bridges and carve roads through the wilderness. A woman’s work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man’s. But no man could ever do ti so well. I don’t want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners whom folks sometimes call a lady. No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl. I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind. Do you think you would like to be growing up into that woman now? How about it, Caddie, have we run with the colts long enough?”

After Mr. Woodlawn’s speech, Caddie goes to sleep and wakes up with this new realization:

“When she awoke she knew that she need not be afraid of growing up. It was not just sewing and weaving and wearing stays. It was something more thrilling than that. It was a responsibility, but, as Father spoke of it, it was a beautiful and precious one, and Caddie was ready to go and meet it.”

Later, at the end of the book, I ran into this passage:
“What a lot has happened since last year... How far I’ve come! I’m the same girl and yet not the same. I wonder if it’s always like that? Folks keep growing from one person into another all their lives, and life is just a lot of everyday adventures. Well, whatever life is, I like it.”

I’m growing up, and although I’m not a little girl like Caddie, I make this same realization every morning. I can be scared of the responsibility that I have now, or I can embrace it and see what new wonders I can introduce to both my life and the lives of those around me. I loved reading this passage and seeing how well Carol Ryrie Brink put my feelings into words in a children’s book!! Ecclesiastes’ “There is nothing new under the sun” comes to mind.

Another children’s book that imparted wisdom to me was Across Five Aprils, a book by Irene Hunt about a boy growing up during the Civil War. At the end of the last chapter, Jethro (the main character) has just found out that President Lincoln has been assassinated. *I would like to add a note in here that I have so gained so much respect for President Lincoln teaching the kids about him this year that I have to fight back tears every time a book talks about his assassination. This part was no different, and this quote made it that much harder to not burst into tears during read-aloud!* Jethro says:

“One accepted the good or the evil with humility, for life was a mystery, and questions were not for the lowly.”

A few weeks ago, I was pondering the meaning of life. I was, and still am, grappling with Scott’s death, and not too far behind that on my mind are friends from my home congregation, Katie and Don. My mom’s dad, Grandpa Willard, has Alzheimer’s and that has been painful for my mom and my grandma who have seen it before, and for my brother and I who haven’t. Ecclesiastes’ “All is vanity” was in my mind, and I was desperate to figure out why dear people to my heart had to die. It’s been a long year for learning lessons about mortality and death for me; I know it has to happen for everyone sometime, but I would have preferred it to not be the year I’m adjusting to life in Africa without Cheetos and Dr. Pepper and Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked ice cream.

The day before I read the end of Across Five Aprils, I had mentioned something to my friend Jamin about not understand the meaning of life. It might seem strange that reading “life was a mystery and questions were not for the lowly” helped, but it did- it reminded me yet again that God is in control and He can see the big plan. Our world is broken and hurting and marred by sin, but His Plan and His Son redeem us from that hurt and give us a Hope.

My questions have not been answered. They won’t be, most likely, for a while. But God continually puts ways in my life for peace to be found amidst the hurt. I pray that you can find peace, too.

I love you.