Friday, January 19, 2018

Surviving the Flood

If we made a top ten list of the things no adult ever wants to hear, I have a feeling “A pipe broke and there is water everywhere.” might just make the cut.  That’s the text message we received from our sweet babysitter in late December.  Thankfully we were only at another house on RVA’s campus, so we said hasty goodbyes, threw on our shoes, and dashed down the hill towards home.  On our way, we tried to reassure ourselves that the babysitter was likely exaggerating, but those hopes quickly faded when we opened the front door.

A pipe in the dorm’s kitchen had broken and water was gushing out, covering up to 2” of the floor in parts of the kitchen and living room and staring to move down the hall into the bedrooms.  Jared grabbed a flashlight and ran outside to find the water cut-off switch and then we set to work mopping up the mess.  As we were cleaning, I was thinking of how timely our burst pipe had been.  Granted, a flooded house is never exactly welcomed, but it had happened at a time when we were able to get to it quickly.  If it had broken a few weeks before when we’d been in Tanzania or even just in the middle of the night, both the mess and the damage would have been significantly worse.

As I wrung out my mop and reflected on this, thanking the Lord for His good timing, Jesus reminded me of another situation in which His timing is perfect- the birth of our second child.  You see, for the last twenty-eight months, Jared and I been trying to get pregnant.  It’s been a rollercoaster journey of cautious hope, followed by disappointment month after month after month.  I have cried buckets of tears as I begged God for another baby, rejoiced with countless friends as they got pregnant and had their babies, and laid awake wondering if Addilyn will ever have a sibling.  But here we are, still waiting. 

And yet, I’m choosing to trust.  Choosing to trust that if He is mindful of the timing of a simple kitchen flood, He’s mindful of the timing of when or if our family grows.  Choosing to trust that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)  And to trust that even if He doesn’t give us another child, He is still good and He is still worthy of our praise.

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Some days the trust comes easy and some days the flood feels overwhelming and the choice too difficult, and so we covet your prayers.  Both for God to bless us with more children, but also for us to continually choose to trust and believe He is good regardless of the outcome.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holiday Hop

I happen to like surprises.  So, when a recent dorm night came up on the calendar, I started planning.  Expanding on an idea from a friend (thanks Annie!), Jared and I planned an event for our girls.

Without any advance hints about the night, our sixteen fabulous 8th graders gathered in our living room asking questions and attempting to guess our plans.  Before divulging any secrets, we gave them five minutes to go change into a variety of assigned colors: Room 1-  gold, silver, black;  Room 2- red, pink, white;  Room 3- orange, yellow, red; Room 4: green, white, red.

Once they got back to the living room we announced that we were going to do a holiday hop.  Starting with New Years’ Eve (as represented by Room 1’s colors) and then progressing through the year.

To celebrate New Years’ we watched a video of last year’s NYC ball drop and counted down to ring in the “new year”.  We then toasted with fake champagne (a mixture of juice and sprite) and took photo booth pictures with a variety of fun props.

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(Unfortunately, we were having so much fun that we forgot to take pictures for our last three holidays, so you’ll just have to use your imagination!)

Room 2’s red, pink and white represented our second holiday: Valentine’s Day.  To celebrate we played a game that’s usually played at weddings, but modified it a bit to make it applicable for roommates.  Four roommate pairs sat back to back holding one of their own shoes and one of their roommate’s shoes.  We then asked all the pairs a question to see how well they knew each other and they had to raise the shoe- either theirs or their roommate’s- of the correct answer.  After questions like “Who keeps the room the neatest?”, “Who is more likely to wake up happy?” and “Who sings in the shower?”, our living room was filled with laughter and shouts of agreement or disagreement with the shoes that were raised.  We concluded our Valentine’s Day celebrations with homemade chocolate covered strawberries.

Our third holiday was on display through Room 3’s colors: Autumn.  Instead of carving pumpkins (the pumpkins available here have an extremely thick rind, which can make them almost impossible to carve), the girls decorated them with sharpies as they ate pumpkin cookies.

Room 4 represented our last and very seasonally appropriate holiday: Christmas.  We gave the girls time to change into pajamas, popped bowl after bowl after bowl of popcorn, and all snuggled in to watch The Santa Clause with Tim Allen.

Multiple moments throughout the holiday hopping caused Jared and I to laugh until our sides hurt, but our favorite memory of the night was the girls who came up afterwards to tell us thanks.  Just that extra step they took to tell us they enjoyed the night made all the tracing and cutting of photo props, struggling to get the chocolate for the strawberries to just the right consistency, and missing parts of the movie to pop extra popcorn when we ran out, so very worth it.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Setting the Table for One More

With sixteen 8th grade girls under our roof, plus a recently turned three year old, it can be tricky to meaningfully connect with each of them everyday.  Add in after school sports, drama practice, and a 90 acre campus and some days we may not even see some of the girls until their 7PM in-dorm curfew.  7PM rolls into a mandatory study hall, group and personal devotions, and then before you know it, it’s lights out. 

And so this school year, with our hearts desiring real connections, we adopted a suggestion given to us by another set of experienced dorm parents.  Every Tuesday and Wednesday night we add a 4th plate as we set the table and the girls take turns joining us for dinner.  The food’s not necessarily fancy, and often we’re juggling a near bedtime toddler, but those nights have become my favorite of each week.  Just those 30 minutes of (relatively) uninterrupted time gives us a chance to hear pieces of their hearts we wouldn’t otherwise catch: a shared joy, a recent struggle, a whispered prayer request.  Sometimes there are tears, other times laughter or even awkward silences, but regardless, those nights are always worth it.

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We pray that these nights continue to show our girls that we are for them.  We want them to know that they are a priority and that they are loved.  God has given us the awesome privilege to stand in the gap for these girls as they are away from home and sometimes that looks like setting an extra plate and inviting them to dinner.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Five Years Strong

Five years ago we boarded a plane to fly halfway around the world.  Five years ago we felt the red, East African dirt between our toes for the first time.  Five years ago we heard our first Swahili, made our first cultural blunders, and felt God giving us a love for a people who had yet to recognize His relentless love for them.

Five years ago we also met three dear families during our October 2012 Africa Based Orientation.  Though we were all working in different ministries across East Africa, our friendships stuck and we’ve managed to stay in touch and even see each other from time to time.  Two weekends ago we decided to get together to celebrate these last five years; complete with grilling…

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conversation…

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and even a ballet performance from two of the youngest.

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Five years finds us thankful.  Thankful for God’s faithfulness, thankful for the ways He’s stretching and growing us, and thankful for these sweet friendships. We’re also thankful for all of you who have made these five years possible through your consistent prayers, generous support, and willingness to let us go.

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(Thanks to Josh and Heidi Thulin for capturing such great photos.)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Going Batty

I am NOT a fan of bats.  Spiders, lizards, even snakes don’t really bother me, but bats and I are not friends.  When we lived in Tanzania we regularly had bats that would hang in the eves of our roof and I would regularly call on my handsome and fearless husband to get rid of them.  I distinctly remember a night he was gone when, despite needing to pee, I stayed tucked under the safety of our bed net for over an hour until he returned to take care of our latest bat intruder.

Interestingly enough though, I’ve come to realize RVA is a bit like a bat.  With a school schedule that involves three 3 month trimesters with one month off in between, things can get intense. When the school year is in session, all is a flutter- staff and students fly this way and that getting things done, meeting deadlines, keeping our campus of over 600 people humming.  And then, when that one month vacation comes, goodbyes are said, students return to their homes across Africa, and those of us who are left behind (120ish staff members plus their kiddos) go into hibernation. 

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And here’s where I really see this metaphor playing out.  Bats go into what’s called a true hibernation, meaning they are in such a deep sleep that they may appear to be dead.  The same could be said of campus… venture out for a walk on our 90 acre campus during vacation and it’s practically a guarantee that you won’t see another soul.  Campus shifts from a place with people and voices flowing out of every nook and cranny during the school year to sort of eerie during vacation as you walk around wondering if your family is the only one still on campus.  The crazy thing is most of those 120+ people are still there, they are just hibernating in their homes, storing up all that alone time for when school starts and the pace of life no longer allows for it.

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Depending on the species of bat, it can either hibernate alone or in a group; the same is true of RVA staff. During vacation you’ll find the introverts barricaded in their homes with a stack of books or a pile of movies, while the extroverts send out all sorts of e-mails trying to plan game nights and BBQ’s.  Everybody’s hibernating, it just looks a bit different for each of us.

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And then, just like a bat who’s heartrate goes from 25 beats per minute during hibernation up to it’s normal 400 bpm when it wakes, a week or so before school starts, RVA starts to ramp up.  You go for a walk on campus and actually bump into a few families; mandatory meetings start popping up on your calendar; and emails suddenly become more urgent.  Everybody comes out of their homes blinking into the bright equatorial sun, shaking off the dust, and limbering up for the full three-month sprint that’s just around the corner. 

So, as we come out of hibernation and prepare to receive the sixteen 8th grade girls who will join our family this coming year, would you pray for us and for them?  We’re thankful for hibernation and the rest it allows, but these next three months, this is why we are here and this is what gets us excited.


(All bat related facts taken from http://www.conservationinstitute.org/10-animals-that-hibernate/ and all photos borrowed from rva.org.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Hell’s Gate National Park

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In early June the entire 7th grade class piled into a bus and drove down very dusty roads to Hell’s Gate National Park.  Hell’s Gate is Kenya’s most geothermally active park and after arriving we were met with plumes of steam, high rock cliffs, and eroded river beds. Our assignment for the day was to supervise the students as they took part in repelling, rock climbing, and hiking.

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Thankfully a handful of adventurous RVA staff members were already trained for the task of leading the students through each challenge. This meant our role was to encourage the kids as they put their fears aside and tried something new, to take pictures, and to make sure we didn’t lose anybody!

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After some intense repelling and climbing, we hiked the gorge and marveled at the awesome power of water. The kids traversed through the gorge floor’s slippery, slime-covered rocks effortlessly.  And we, well we traversed as well, just with a bit more caution and a whole lot slower.

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We arrived back on campus late in the day exhausted but thinking, “What a great job!”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Oh, the places they’ll “go”

A few Sundays ago, around 6:50PM, I heard the screams of our dorm girls as they stampeded down the stairs and into our dining room, where, prior to that moment, I had been quietly sitting.  As they talked over one another, fighting to be heard, I made out shouts of “Eww gross!” “It’s everywhere.” and “Who did that?”  Finally I heard the phrase that made the whole picture come into focus, “SOMEONE POOPED ON THE FLOOR.” Cue. Jaw. Drop.

“Wait, wait, wait, let me get this straight… someone POOPED on the floor?” By the sight of the heads nodding up and down, I knew I’d surmised correctly.   My mind started racing… “What do I do? Who would do that and not clean it up?  How can I give whoever did it an opportunity to clean it up anonymously?  We did NOT cover this in dorm parent orientation…”

Before I could answer the questions in my head, one of the dorm girls insisted that I needed to see it, looped her arm in mind, and half-dragged me up the stairs to the dorm bathroom.  As I hesitantly peered into the stall, I saw poop on the ground, poop in the toilet, and poop sprayed all over the toilet seat.  Seriously not an exaggeration and seriously gross.

As luck would have it, the girls had youth group starting at 7PM and before I could even decide what to do next, they all bounded out the door, leaving me staring at a disaster of a toilet stall.  Though I racked and racked my brain, I just couldn’t think of a way to allow the “pooper” to clean it up without causing extreme embarrassment.  And so, before I could give the idea too much thought, I grabbed a roll of paper towels and a bottle of bleach spray and headed in.

All the while I cleaned, I avoided breathing through my nose and just kept telling myself, it’s just poop, you’re a mom you deal with poop all the time, just don’t think, just spray and wipe, spray and wipe.  A half bottle of bleach spray and nearly a whole roll of paper towels later, that stall was cleaner than clean, but I still had to figure out how to address the issue with the dorm.

After I spent ten minutes washing my hands, Jared and I talked and decided what was done was done, but that our goal needed to be ensuring it didn’t happen again.  As the girls returned from youth group, we were sitting in the living room waiting for them, directing them to join us to have a brief meeting before bed.  In my calmest possible voice, I told the girls I’d cleaned it up- making sure to emphasize that I’d used a lot of bleach so that they wouldn’t start avoiding that stall- and that I wasn’t mad, but that if something like that happened in the future, they were old enough to step up and clean it themselves.  Then, just as I was instructing them not to tease anybody it happened to, they all burst out laughing and yelling… “It was a prank!”  Cue. Jaw. Drop. Again.

Once again, 9 voices started talking all at once, explaining and describing their part in the hoax.  They couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized their display was really a combination of soggy toilet paper rolls and mud, but, as I tried to explain, I wasn’t exactly studying what I was cleaning up; I was holding my breath, squinting my eyes, and just trying to finish as quickly as possible.  As I got over the shock, I was so relieved it wasn’t real, that I couldn’t possibly be mad and even joined in their laughter.  It had been a well-played prank and a great reminder not to be surprised at the places these dorm girls will “go”.