Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Music Is Back

Music has always been a huge part of my life.

When I was very young, I remember my daddy's guitar and the piano in our house. I didn't know how to play either, but they were there. I remember one Mother's Day when I was in early elementary school, when my mom and I sang a duet together in church. I also participated in the church musicals with my brother. Pretty sure a wore a poodle skirt one time. We were the cutest. 

[Note to self: go find these pictures.]

In the 5th grade, I learned to play the flute. I continued all the way through college in marching and concert band. My junior year of high school I started to learn the piccolo for concert season and played that in the marching band at Texas Tech in the Goin Band. I still play both instruments, but not as often as I'd like.

After 7th grade, I started singing at church in the youth group band. Props to Goob (aka my good friend Jeremy) for trying to teach me to sing, have confidence, not be afraid of failing or looking dumb, and for putting up with me for so many years. I still have to work on those things daily and surrender those things to Jesus. I sang at church as a backup singer through high school and when I returned from college on breaks. I learned so much about myself, God, and music through these years.

During college, I was diagnosed with Type 1-Diabetes. After that, worship at church, at home, or in the car was usually filled with tears and trying to lead others in song would have been a hot mess. I stopped singing in public for awhile. Goob told me when I moved home after college that he wanted me to sing again on Sunday mornings. In tears, I told him that he didn't want me blubbering in front of everyone, and I wanted no part of that. But he kept pushing me and told me it might help me by singing in front of people again. He challenged me in a way that no one else could, and I finally said yes. Music began to enter my life publicly again. It was hard, and I felt so vulnerable sharing such personal feelings and pain with others around me. 

Fast forward a couple months. I left the church I grew up in to help start a church as their girl's minister. Through that, I had many opportunities to lead worship again. It challenged me in ways I hadn't been previously because I was leading more and not just singing backup. Tim, the pastor of the church, gave me opportunities to lead and grow in my musical abilities even though I didn't feel qualified. I learned from so many wonderful women who sing far better than me during my time there.

When I changed churches about a year later, I started going to a much larger church. Since it's larger, they have many great singers and didn't need my mediocre talents. It's been four years of going to this church, and I have always wanted to get back on stage to lead others in worship. I never felt qualified. I never felt like I had enough talent. I never felt like I had enough time to give on a Sunday where lesson planning and grading take all my energy along with my very few days of rest.

The problem is [NEWSFLASH] It's not about me. 

What? Crazy.

It's about taking my talents and the gifts GOD has given me to serve Him more fully. 

After my trip to Rwanda this year with a sweet friend who sings on Sundays at my church and other friends who are all about challenging me and my lack of confidence, I said yes to leading on a regular basis.

This is a leap of faith because I don't have a perfect singing voice, and I don't have a ton of time to give places other than school. BUT I know that I need to use this gift in the ways God calls me, even when it's scary, uncertain, and I don't feel worthy. 

It's also a testament to how God wired us and designed how we more fully glorify Him. It takes others building relationships with us to help us grow, learn, and improve by challenging us. It's what is expected of me at work as a teacher, that I build relationships with kids and other teachers. Why wouldn't it be the same in my walk with Jesus? My parents, Chris, Claire, my band directors, Goob, Tim, Laney, Val, Reagan, Jami, Ranelle, Kayla, Lauren, Lizzie, Janet, Alison, Josh, Luke, Stephanie, Lincee, and so many others who either helped me grow as a musician or challenged me when I didn't necessarily want to be challenged. 

Tonight, I'm leading worship for the first time in 4 years. So here I go. Jumping in all the way and saying yes to God's plan for the gifts He's blessed me with. Pray for me. I'm going to need it. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

#TMC16 Recap

I got home from Twitter Math Camp 2016 (TMC) almost a week ago, and I just haven't been highly motivated to sit down and write a recap. Every other year, I can't wait to come home and share all the great things with the people who read my blog. This year was different, though. I'm not 100% sure why, but I think it's a combination of things. Right before TMC a student at Jonathan's and my school passed away suddenly (he wrote a beautiful tribute here, but pack your tissues), I found out my grandmother had a stroke on the last day of TMC, and I am still processing a lot of heavy things as I learn more about moving to Rwanda. It has been a heavy summer. Great, but heavy. More so than I was anticipating.

I also wanted to get right to work on the things I learned and how I want to make changes in my room. I didn't want to waste the little time I have left of summer on blogging. As I started writing my recap though, I realized how much I needed to write in order to process some of the things we discussed last week. So here's what's been bouncing around in my head.


I got to see my #soulsister Casey after almost an entire year of being apart. #blessed
pink sparkly cupcake and being reunited!

He hates pictures so much.


Casey and I dragged Jonathan to the Mall of America. I'm kidding. It brought him great joy to hang out with the two of us and keep us out of trouble. We found this amazing nerd store (Marbles: The Brain Store) and J and I bought almost the entire stock of Mobi games (Bananagrams but building math equations instead) for our classrooms. Casey found a game for her classroom too. Overall, it was a good day at the mall. The giant NFL football helmets were great too.

Future Mrs. JJ Watt 

Later that night, we met up with lots of TMC friends who were getting into town. It was crazy, but Casey and I went back to the hotel with smiles on our faces so excited about the next few days.


Descon! The Pre-TMC Desmos day completely overwhelmed my brain, and I did not know where or how to focus my time. Card Sort is a really cool new feature and a visually impaired student has the ability to use Desmos too. The Desmos crew never ceases to amaze all of its teacher fans. They are the smartest people who after you've asked a seemingly complicated question say oh of course let me show you how to do that.

That night we went to the Minnesota Twins game. So fun with friends, but Casey broke up with me for taking a selfie and sending it on the snapchat. Oops.


TMC BEGINS! Deb and I matched unintentionally, and it was awesome.

I went to the greatest Morning Session I have ever been to. Michelle Naidu did an excellent job sharing her experiences with differentiating in class to reach all her students and help them close the gaps in their learning. I am taking activities and pieces of how she differentiated her classroom to make it fit my pre-cal classes. I loved the activities like snowball and our group thinking/concerns sheets where over the three days we filled in how much we felt like we addressed the topics on our sheet.

After that, I went to Getting Triggy With It with Fouss. She used lots of ideas I have used and seen before but forget about during the school year. It was good to be reminded of things I have seen, ways to make things better that I have used in the past, and also to see some new ideas.


After lunch, I talked in front of the entire group and didn't throw up. I gave a My Favorite about Rwanda and got lots of great feedback. A couple people are interested in coming next year on the teacher trip and others are excited to learn more about serving other communities in new ways. It has been a journey for me and I loved being able to share that with my math community.

Then, we heard from Tracy Zager who challenged us to share with multiple grade levels. This struck a chord with me because it is exactly what the American team shared with the Rwandan teachers, but I hadn't considered taking that idea home to my school district. I am not sure anyone is open to hearing about it at home, but I want to continue to think of ways we could use this. Even if it is just with my elementary school teacher friends, I should be listening, helping, and sharing with them every chance I get. Collaborating across grade levels is going to help us all get better.

Debating in math class with Chris Luzniak was next mostly because my brain was mush after presenting and I just followed Jonathan where he went. I am so glad I went! I loved this idea of always having a second answer in math class where you have to back up your answer somehow. It scares me to try something so outside of what I am comfortable with, but it will be so worth it.

I went to warm-up routines with Jessica Bogie and Lisa Bejarano for the last session of the day. This really encouraged me to create a plan for the week so that my kids aren't bored doing the exact same thing every day. I love Estimation180, Which one doesn't belong?, Open Middle Problems, Find the Flub, Counting Circles, and Clothesline Math, but now I just need to come up with the structure to utilize them all.

We ended the night with trivia and ice cream. #TeamDibs was great and I am so glad I got to know Glenn and Dave better. Such intelligent and funny guys! 3rd place just gives us room to improve for next year. :)
We all changed our pictures to this during trivia. #shenanigans
Team Dibs! *Dividing Is Before Subtracting* or *Dibs Is Bringing Sparkle* whichever you prefer


Highlight of today was Max's rational function session. Alex and I loved it so much that we skipped the flex session to continue working on our card sort that we hadn't finished yet. Then I worked with Sam and we chatted about Pre-Cal. I would love to teach at the same school as this guy (actually all of these great teachers at TMC, but that might get a little cray).

As stupid as this sounds, I really loved "watching" The Bachelorette with my math friends. Casey, Heather and I all live in different time zones and can't even tweet at each other without spoilers and 2 hour delays in conversation. For the first time ever, we were all in the same place to watch this ridiculous show. No one actually heard anything that was said because of all the drunken yelling, but whatevs. I loved it.

I love these girls. So. Much.
At home, I hide behind the couch cushions. I could not do that here. Do not judge me. 
Monday night I was in the Zeta house where they were practicing the dance for the TMC party anthem, and I joined in on the fun. Thanks for letting me be a part of such greatness!


Great My Favorites. Song. Go watch it! Lisa's speech. Announcement for next year's TMC in Atlanta. Tears. Saying goodbye to my ex #soulsister. Post TMC lunch and party in the airport.

Song Team!

Last lunch! Sad face!

I will miss these people if I can't go next year. I can't think about it or I will be too sad.

This year, I went outside my comfort zone of only talking to my people, and it played in my favor. I enjoyed myself much more. I made so many new friends. I really feel like I belong in this community and have things to contribute. It is a little crazy that it has taken 4 summers for me to get to this point, but I am really glad I've gotten there now.

To the newbies: Don't make it take 4 trips to TMC for you to make friends. I know it's scary, but it's so worth it and everyone is VERY accepting. Also present something, even if you think no one wants to hear about it. They probably do, and bonus you'll make more friends that way.

Friday, July 1, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 12

4 am: Wake up, get dressed, go eat breakfast.
4:15 am: 2 jeeps arrive to take us to the Akagera National Park
5 am: get in jeeps to head out on our safari
5:20 am: 1 jeep gets a flat tire
5:40 am: both jeeps get back on the road and head west towards the park
8:15 am: Both jeeps make it safely to the park and we're ready for our adventure with animals.

It was an early morning today, but we had many adventures and got to see lots of animals. 

Some highlights for me were:

1. Hearing everyone's reactions to their favorite animals. Carol's reactions were especially fun and exciting to listen to as I sat next to her in the back seat.

2. Carol had some amazing animal sounds.

3. We filmed footage for our "Africa" music video. Thank you Toto for such a perfect song.

4. We got SUPER close to some giraffes and zebras.

5. Best part of the day was the first few minutes when we saw the biggest elephant ever with a little white bird sitting on top of him. Amazing!

6 pm: We arrived safely back to the guest house.
9 pm: We all fell into bed fast asleep.

Tomorrow we must say goodbye and head home. This part is always challenging. Pray for safe travels and not too tearful goodbyes. 

PS. I'll post pictures later. Too tired. :)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 11

all. the. tears.

This has been my life for the entire trip. If you thought I cried a lot before, you have no idea.

This morning, I talked to a Rwandan doctor who shared some great things about diabetes with me. He made it sound possible to live in Rwanda with diabetes. I think it's possible, but I think it will be more challenging than he made it out to be. Still a ton to pray about and surrender to the Lord. There's also more research to do with an American doctor who knows about the care I am able to receive in the US.

We had a really good meeting with John Africa and the Head Teachers at the New Life schools, where we shared the good things we saw in the classroom and the ways we think they can still continue to grow. It was a 3 and a half hour meeting that was very productive. Loved every minute.

This afternoon, Carol and I met her missionary friends at a delicious bakery, where I was able to ask questions about moving to Rwanda and the culture shock that comes with it. I loved having a different perspective than what I had heard from Africa New Life people. Again, so much to pray about and think about before any decisions are made.

Where I stand right now:

The plan is to come and stay for a couple of months to test out a longer period of time to experience Rwanda not on a team. Being a teacher, it makes sense to come in the summer. Probably next summer. Still have no idea where or how the Lord is leading. There's a ton to pray about and a ton to surrender. Maybe now you understand a little why there's been so many tears.

This is so exciting and so scary all at the same time. Be praying for my heart and my head and my emotions and really everything. I'm crying as I write this. Who's surprised?

Love to all of you! Also in denial that the trip is almost over. Off to our safari EARLY tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 10

Today was the last day in the classrooms which is sad because that means the trip is almost over. But it is SO joyful because we were able to see the completed New Life High School and the changes they have made to the New Life campus in Kayonza.

Carol, one of our teammates from Washington, just wept when we got out of the van today. The money that came from her husband's memorial after he passed away went to finishing the school. The amount that they needed to finish the school was the exact amount Carol sent to Africa New Life. Crazy how God works.

We spent some time in the classrooms, but as always it isn't enough. We were talking at dinner tonight that we wish the trip could be 3 weeks. I think if the trip changed to 3 weeks, we would still feel like it wasn't enough. We just crave more time with our precious friends.

After our time in the schools, we went on a home visit to Lauren's sponsor child, David. This is my second time seeing David, and he is just the sweetest. I love watching him and Lauren interact. It is very special to observe and participate in. The family was all dressed up and ready to welcome Lauren into their home. The mom had a dress made with the fabric Lauren sent her for Mother's Day and the dad was in dress clothes. They are also working on paying off their house so that they own it. The neighbor who was letting them stay there decided that he could sell it to them since he wasn't going to return to Rwanda.

We told some of our life stories on the bus rides, and at dinner, Carol said how encouraging it is to see all of us allowing the Lord to have control over the struggles we have overcome to get here. It's cool to see God work in all of our lives despite our imperfections, illnesses, and weaknesses. He is able to shine because He is strong instead of us pretending to be strong.

It was enchilada night again. The Texas crew is 100% on board with Emma's enchiladas. Read Lauren's food blog.

After dinner, John (our driver from the last two trips) came over to the guest house to thank me for giving him more test strips for his glucometer that I brought him. I come down stairs and he gives me a huge hug and asks about my day. He says he'll be right back and comes out with a beautiful purse/computer bag to thank me. He's such a sweetheart! He also promised to teach me how to drive if I move here. Love that dude!

Tomorrow I talk to the doctor about the betes. Prayers for good conversations!

Off to bed I go. Love to all of you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 9

So today I was super tired, but Lizzie blogged for the team. Click here and go to her blog post! Love and hugs to all of you.

Tomorrow we head to New Life Christian Academy, which is our last school. Happy to be spending time there, but sad that the trip is coming to a close.


Monday, June 27, 2016

#Rwandering Day 8: Home Visit

We spent today in our first Africa New Life School. We went to the school in Bugesera called Kibenga Primary School. It was built by the government, but soon after it was built it was unsuccessful and deserted. The government asked Africa New Life to run the school since they did so well with the school in Kayonza. Now this school is the number 2 school in the district of 103 schools. Very exciting changes here and a lot of positive classroom practices too. 

The students are speaking English very well starting in Primary 1, which is not happening in many of the schools. Many of the classrooms we observed today had already begun implementing the ideas we shared with them this weekend. 

We served the students lunch to help the staff of the school. All the students loved receiving lunch from the muzungus. Lauren's devotional this morning talked about having a servant heart, and it was totally appropriate for serving lunch this afternoon. 

The best part of the day came from the home visits. I had my home visit with Eric and Kayla had hers with Valentine. 

Eric's family is in a bit of a crisis right now. His mother has been drinking a lot. She had problems with the neighbors and the family. She is no longer at home and has been in a rehab center for a few weeks. The family misses her so much and wants her to come home. They also have no idea how she is doing or if she is coming home. The Shema family was very concerned and stressed about their mom. The visit today came at a great time for them. They desperately needed encouragement, love, and a reminder to trust in Jesus through this tough time. 

The encouraging thing for me though, is Eric is now in the Kibenga school, in Primary 3, and speaking English VERY well. I gave him my favorite book when I was a child, "Go, Dog. Go!" Eric was able to read it to me on the bus, and I was so proud of his improvement. 

When we were taking photos of the family, Sandrine hugged me so tightly and then the whole family and I had a group hug. She squeezed me so tightly that all the tears came out. I could feel the pain their family was experiencing. Lots of things to pray for and lots of love to send to them when I get home.

After saying goodbye we hopped back on the bus, prepared to drive for a while to Valentine's house. We drove past three houses and stopped. Who knew they were neighbors?! (It was almost like the very beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 when the dad backs out of the driveway and drives next door to pick up Toula and her daughter.)

(Kayla writing now)
I had the chance to spend time with Valentine during Connie's home visit and on the bus. I showed Valentine pictures of my family and she had remembered many of them from pictures! She is very shy and doesn't speak much English but somehow I convinced her to read me a book while we road on the bus! I have the privilege of teaching my students how to read. It brings me such great joy when they read their first book to me. Hearing Valentine read was such an incredible gift! It was so special to hear her voice and see how much she has learned this past year. 

In the backpack I brought for Valentine, there was a game using a ball and two plastic mitts that were gifted to Valentine through my students from last year. I got to play catch with Valentine and her siblings in the yard outside of Eric's house. I never would have dreamed we would have been able to play together in that way! 

Once we arrived at her home I was so thrilled to meet her mother, Betty. Last summer when I visited, her mother had moved to Uganda. Meeting her mom today brought me to tears. Her grandmother thanked me that all of the prayers that brought her mother back. God is so good! 

We talked a little about her school year and how exciting it was for her to pass grade 2 and move to grade 3! I got to share with her about one of my soccer players, Lexi, who wrote to her this year as if she were a student at her school, just passing notes in the hall. Valentine remembered getting her note, and I could tell how much it meant to her! 

At the end of our time together I had the chance to pray for her family. As we were praying, Valentine wrapped her arm around my back and held my hand. It was one of the sweetest moments of my time with her. I am beyond thankful that God blessed me with this trip and the opportunity to see her and her family again! 

(Connie again)
Tomorrow we head to Kageyo (the school far away), and we'll have a few more home visits. Keep your prayers coming. We are definitely feeling them. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 6 and Day 7

The last two days have been filled with relationship growth, making new friends, and challenging others while at the same time being challenged myself. We have been attending the teacher conference that we help run alongside Africa New Life. Their leadership runs the conference but we lead a few of the sessions.

This year, we led sessions on communication, modern teaching, and methodology. We also broke up the 170 attendees into small discussion groups to help model how they could use small groups in their classrooms of more than 60 students in some cases.

Overall, they are very receptive to learning new ideas that they can implement in the classroom right away. They love that we come and share ideas with them, and we love coming and building relationships with them.

My top ten thoughts from the conference:

1. African tea (tea made with milk) and African food is delicious. The food is all starch which is probably why I love it. (again with the #worstdiabeticever) Matoke, posho, dodo, rice, beans, and some form of random meat. YUM. Not everyone shares my love, however.

2. Africa time would never be ok in the US. We had a couple morning breaks with Africa tea , but we did not eat lunch until 2 pm. If American teachers had to sit at a conference and not eat lunch until 2 pm, they would revolt. Neat new perspective.

3. Keep it simple. When you're leading a conference where everyone is speaking English with a different accent and English is their second language, keep it simple and talk slower than you normally would.

4. I need to be praying for my students more. We talked a lot about redemptive teaching and spreading the light of Jesus to our students. Teaching in a public school in the US makes this challenging, but I cannot use this as an excuse to avoid shining the light of Jesus every day even when it's hard.

5. Conferences with breaks where we sing worship music, clapping, and dancing with a great musician in 11th grade should happen everywhere.

6. Ok so the bathroom situation is interesting. There were two women's bathrooms for the whole conference of 170 people. Now more than half of the attendees were men, but still. You learned to go during a session instead of being polite and waiting until the end. Also, these were flushy toilets but sometimes the hotel ran out of water which meant you used a bucket and dumped water in to flush it manually. A little gross and I may have missed the toilet bowl and spilled water on the floor. Oops. They were super tiny stalls and one toilet didn't have a seat, but it definitely beats the squatty potty.

7. There was a sweet and very talented young man in Senior 5 (11th grade) leading some worship time. He had some music that he recorded and sang along to that was in Kinyarwanda. As he was singing, A LOT of people started walking up and sticking money in his pocket. Like he was in a night club...All of the muzungus (white people) were confused and asking, "Did that just happen?" Yes. Yes it did. Apparently it is a cultural thing where you show you like something and support it by sticking money in the pockets. I was voted to put money in his pocket by the team. I'm 100% sure my face was a tomato.

8. Leading any session at a conference like this helps you to learn the importance of modeling. Don't just talk. Act it out, draw pictures, use anything you can find to help explain your message. When you are teaching teachers, it is important to teach as if you had students in your room.

9. Sam is the Dean of Students at New Life Christian Academy in Kayonza. He has some talent with computers as well. By talent, I mean, he really loves powerpoint transitions. Every time someone new gave him a computer or a flash drive to run the powerpoint, he would quickly go through each slide and add transitions. My personal favorite was the one that looked like curtains opening. The presenter generally didn't know that is was happening until the whole room would laugh at the transitions. John Africa however, thought his slides had disappeared instead of just a transition. The entertainment was so real.

10. Maybe the greatest part of the conference is the end. At the end we take pictures. Like so many. I had people who I had not met yet come up to me like I was a celebrity and take pictures with me. There would be 10 cameras in front of you taking the same picture. They also really liked to change the background and then proceed to take the same picture.

Hands down most shocking moment: I sat with a man I met 2 years ago. He was surprised because he didn't recognize me right away. I kid you not this is what he said, "I did not recognize you because you have become fat." I thought, "Surely, I heard that wrong." So then he repeated himself. I said, "Oh, I am wearing my glasses today and I did not two years ago. Maybe that is why you didn't recognize me." To which he replied, "No. It is because you have become fat." I was called fat 3 times today. I did not freak out or cry or yell at anyone. Laugh so you don't cry people. Cultural differences for the win.

Tomorrow I see my sweet Eric and we go to Bugesera. Cannot wait! Hugs to all of you!

Friday, June 24, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 5

Today has been a little strange. As with anything in Rwanda or Africa, you have to be flexible. We started the day on time and were ready to go when we found out a student who just graduated from the New Life Academy with our mission director, Alice, and my friend Cyusa passed away during the night. Since John Africa, the liaison between Africa New Life and the Kigali partner schools, used to be the headmaster at New Life Academy, he knew this student and was a mentor to him. He was busy all day dealing with the family and arrangements that needed to be made, so we didn't have our leader for the schools like the other days this week. This has been a sad day for our friends, but they have been faithful to serving the Lord despite the difficult time.

We left a little later than originally planned and were only able to go one school, but it was so productive! We sat in a circle with all the teachers and allowed them to ask us questions about the US and how we structure our schools. They asked very intelligent questions and were thoughtful about why they asked them. We were able to offer advise and give suggestions to the struggles they are facing daily. I also learned things from our team which is great too.

The question that was asked was, "We can't let these conversations end. How do we keep them going?" Such a great question and EXACTLY what our goal is for being in Rwanda. God has gone before us and prepared their hearts and ours to do exactly what He has planned. It's really beautiful. I love being part of something so much bigger than myself.

Lunch was fun because it is Alan Hotchkiss' birthday (the executive director of Africa New Life) and the staff brought him an ice cream cake. Africans know how to party.

This afternoon we have been working on our presentations for the conference tomorrow and Sunday. We totally redid what we had planned, and it is going to flow so much better than our original thoughts. God has laid that out too. I also got to use I notice, I wonder that I learned at TMC13 a few years ago in our presentation. Thanks to the #MTBoS for the great things you have added to my teaching.

I have loved being a part of this team and a part of God's plan for this ministry.

Such a great day in this beautiful country and it's not over yet!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 4

This morning, I realized that I am the late sleeper of the group. And by late, I mean 6:30. Everyone else is up by 4 or 5. I do not understand these strange sleeping habits.

I led the devotion this morning where I talked about the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. We talked about how the devil is looking to destroy what we are doing here in Rwanda. We have all been feeling the tiredness and changes of staying in close quarters with people we just met. We spent some time in prayer for the Lord to help us to stand firm in his strength and not our own.

We headed out to the schools after breakfast and I ended up at a private primary school. Alice, our mission director, went to primary school there and was excited to come back and see one of her favorite teachers that still works there. As we walked into the first classroom, all the P1 (1st grade) children stood and recited, "Welcome visitors" in the sweetest little Rwandan accents. They sang us songs, danced, and clapped for us. No one can dislike children when they walk into classes like this.

I ended up in a P3 classroom that was adding and subtracting 3 digit numbers. This teacher (and school) did a fantastic job of keeping class sizes reasonable and teaching in English from the very beginning. All of the children spoke in English very well even in 3rd grade. After the lesson, the children asked me questions about my life in the US and I asked them questions about their lives. They loved every minute and were very eager to share their experiences with me.

When they went on break, I pulled out the 6 jump ropes I brought. It was not enough, but the kids shared and played well. The kids who couldn't jump rope decided that running around with me would be more fun. We decided to play tag which consisted of me running and small children running around behind me.

We spent a good amount of time after that speaking with the headmaster about what is going well and what could be improved. He was very receptive to growth and change and improvement. We were all very excited about the great things happening in this school and are excited to see more from them in the coming years.

The Africa New Life sponsored children at this school.

At lunch, Yvonne, one of the other mission directors, had her wedding anniversary yesterday, so we surprised her with a cake. She had no idea and couldn't believe what the other mission directors had done for her. As I was taking a bite of cake, John (the type 2 diabetic I talked about yesterday) asked if I was eating cake. With a full mouth of food, I said no and then promptly turned bright red and started laughing. I told him 2 years ago that he shouldn't eat sugar, and I had just taken a bite of some. Oops. #worstdiabeticver #ilovedessert

In the afternoon, we went to Umucyo, the Noonday Co-op and the New Life sewing shop to buy some more stuff and order the things we want made with the fabric we purchased. I think I have purchased all the gifts I wanted to buy and I still have money left over. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Enchiladas was dinner tonight. This is obviously authentic African food. Ok maybe not, but it is delicious! Emma is our favorite chef! He does such a great job for us.

Yvette was sponsored!!! Hooray! But now we have Xavier who needs to be sponsored. Read Day 2 for more child sponsorship info.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 3

Picture it. A cool Rwandan morning sitting on the balcony eating breakfast looking out over the beautiful hillside. Suddenly, you decide to ask a question and the person sitting across from you could potentially change your life forever. This was my morning.

I sat talking with Alan Hotchkiss this morning and told him about my history with Africa New Life and the trips that I had participated in. I then shared with him about how the Lord has placed Rwanda on my heart and how much I would love to move and teach here. Let me tell you. This. Is. Terrifying. (In the words of Carol: If its not a little terrifying, it's probably not the right path.) 

He suggested that I spend a couple of months next summer in Rwanda where I wouldn't have a team, but I would work directly with John Africa to test the waters before making a huge life changing decision. Very wise man. Lots to think and pray about in the coming months.

After breakfast, we went to the Africa New Life staff devotional. I don't know how to describe this except the most beautiful singing, dancing, praying, praising, and joy I have ever experienced. I think this is as close to what Heaven will look like on this side of it. Within a minute I was in full on ugly crying...and then laughter when Lauren turned around to ask me something and I was already a weepy mess. It also might have had something to do with the words of the song and the conversation I had just had at breakfast. 

I truly wish every morning started with Rwandan worship. In an odd way, I feel like this is how I am most fully worshipping the Lord on this earth. Singing loudly, in beautiful harmony, with dancing and clapping going on around. 

This is Cyusa!
Going to the staff devotional also meant seeing John (my driver for the last two trips), Cyusa (a sponsored child who has graduated and is now working in the ANL offices), JJ (the team's mission director last year), and many other sweet faces we recognized. The highlight for me though was seeing John. John has type 2 diabetes, and on the last trip I found out this information. He revealed to me that the only time he checked his blood sugar was when he visited the doctor. When I got home, I mailed a glucometer to him so he could check his blood sugars. The reason this was so critical for him was because on the last trip he drank a RedBull every day. Those things have SO MUCH sugar and I wanted to impress upon him how important controlling his blood sugar is. Today when I saw him, he had lost weight and looked very fit and trim and looked so happy to see me. The rest of the team believes I might have saved his life. I don't know how extreme we need to get, but I definitely enjoyed playing a role to help extend and improve his life. We hugged for longer than an appropriate time, but I don't care. This is what true Godly love looks like. 

This was all before 9 am. Phew.

We did more observations in the school today, which went very well. I watched a teacher really struggle in her first class of 55 7th graders because of how she was structuring her checking of answers. She had one student show all the steps to a fairly long problem and also check the answer. I could tell she was bored and the kids were bored, and I just wanted to make it better. We chatted between classes when I suggested to her that she could try having one student do a step, then call on another student to work the next step, and so on. I was thrilled to see her immediately implement the strategy. She was more engaged in her own lesson and so were the kids. 

It is an encouragement and challenge for me as I go forward to be present and ready for all of my lessons even when it's hard or its May, and I don't want to. 

After lunch, we went on Ranelle's home visit to see Ange. She is the sweetest little girl who is 1 of 10 children. Needless to say, there were many children running around. Their time together was perfect and Ange was so excited and nervous that she didn't know what to say. The one question she did ask was what the football was in the pack of athletic balls Ranelle brought. All the muzungus (white people) had a good laugh. 

We shopped some more after that in the crazy Kimironko market. Pro bargaining tip: make a stink face and say NOOOO and threaten to walk away if the price is too high. I have perfected this art a little too much. 

A long but beautiful day. Thank you Jesus for blessing us with your Spirit and faithful, loving people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 2

Classroom observations and home visits. What more could you ask for?

So the day started a little stressful. There's car issues that my dad and I are having to deal with together being in different time zones and potentially costing me a lot of money. It's frustrating and stressful since it was a hit and run, and I would rather not have to deal with this. Getting in the van in stressed out tears and within 30 minutes would be in a classroom observing, I needed to get the emotions in check. Sweet Janet prayed over me and the Lord wiped away the stress of the morning. It was such a blessing to see God answer prayers so immediately.

On to the schools...

We split up into 3 teams and each team member did one 45 minute observation in a Kigali partner school. Since we spilt up we were able to bless three different Kigali schools. Across the board the team felt the things happening in each of the classrooms were positive and encouraging and moving in the direction of more thorough student learning. Tomorrow we will do more visits in the schools and more observations. Cannot wait!

After lunch we went on two home visits to see Carol's and Janet's sponsored children. Carol's home visit could not have been more perfect. She has been sponsoring Patrick for nine years and has been writing him regularly during that entire time. The joy on both of their faces was priceless and they couldn't get to each other fast enough to give each other a hug. This had been a long time coming. They had a lot of time to talk in the car as we drove through Kigali to get to his grandmother's house. I loved seeing the difference in what a year has done in the life of my sponsor child, but seeing 9 years of consistent love and support that Carol and her family give to Patrick was so beautiful. Patrick is the top of his class in the Kayonza school even though he lost both of his parents at a very young age and his grandmother who he stays with on holidays is HIV-positive. He wants to become a doctor.

Janet's visit was exciting too, just in different ways. Janet sponsors a brother/sister pair so we got to visit two children in one home, Sandrine and Blaze. Sandrine has grown so much in the last 2 years since I saw her and Blaze's English has improved greatly. He has also come out of his shell a lot too. Their father struggles to find a consistent job because the work he does is seasonal and their mother battles malaria regularly. She has had a fever for a day or so and will be going to the doctor tomorrow. We're all praying the doctors can help her get some relief.

The thing about home visits is realizing the reality that these are all children with dreams and families with similar struggles as you. Providing for the family, illness, and disease. Just because I was born in the United States and they were born in Africa does not mean God values them any less or they are any less human. They have the same feelings, thoughts, joys, and sorrows as we do. I say all this not to make you feel guilty for what you have, but to have you consider how you might use the blessings God has given you in a powerful way. You can improve one of these lives too by providing education and health care (plus a few other things) through $39 every month. I have chosen to advocate for a child, Yvette. The team's initial goal is to get 14 more kids sponsored while we are here. I think we can do better than that. But that's just me. I know I am passionate about this, but what do you expect after my 3rd trip and possibly having a chance to move here in the future. It's legit. It's real. It changes lives one at a time.

Update: Yvette got sponsored! YAY!!!

It's easy, but if you need guidance. I got the hook up. :) Once she gets sponsored, I'll add a sweet new Rwandan face.

Be praying for unity for the team as we prepare for the conference on Saturday and Sunday.

Love you all! Seriously. XOXO

Monday, June 20, 2016

#Rwandering: Day 1

We made it to Rwanda after 27 hours of travel. Our welcoming committee included sweet Yvonne who has been with me on the first two trips. LOVE HER! We both love shoes and shopping...obviously we're besties.

By the time we got through visas, getting our bags, and dinner, it was close to midnight and we were exhausted. BEDTIME.

This morning we had an early start to head to meetings with Johnson (ANLM Director of Education) and John Africa (yes! his last name is Africa and he's the liason between ANLM and the partner schools). We had productive meetings with the headmasters and lead teachers of some of the partner schools. Teaching is really the same everywhere. There's differences in available technology and paper between us, but the root of our conversations lingered around the same ideas. So interesting.

We learned in our meeting that the country as a whole has shifted this school year from a primarily lecture style classroom to "competence based" classroom. They want the students to demonstrate mastery during class rather than be talked at. Crazy how much has changed in the country in only a few months since school started in January. I am very interested in how this will actually look in classrooms tomorrow.

Lunch was great because the Executive Director of Africa New Life, Alan Hotchkiss, is staying in Kigali and ate with us. We were able to hear about the changes occurring with ANLM and the joy he has had being in country. I will be talking to him later about moving to Rwanda. Please be praying for that.

In the afternoon, we toured the Genocide Memorial. It's always a tough place to go, but I always learn something new. The Lord continues to bless this country despite the tragedy and evil that occurred 22 years ago. I love thinking about how God has laid out his plan of restoration and forgiveness for our lives so vividly in the country of Rwanda.

Then we shopped and I already spent half the money I exchanged. Who's surprised? But Janet made a fabulous point that I bought over half of the gifts I wanted to buy, so there's that. Whatever it takes to make me feel better about my shopaholic tendencies.

Into classrooms we head tomorrow for observations.

Keep your prayers coming. Love you all!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

And we're off!

I wanted to write this a week ago, but alas the to do list had more pressing items.

Today we depart for Rwanda. 24 ish hours of travel later and we will arrive in the Land of 1000 Hills. I. CANNOT. WAIT.

Here are some things you can be praying for specifically:

  • Safety as we travel.
  • No sickness, blood sugar, dietary issues while we are in Rwanda. (There are some special needs in our group)
  • Rest. We have a lot crammed into two weeks, and we are going to crave good rest.
  • Week 1 we are going into 25 non Africa New Life schools in Kigali. We don't have the same level of relationships with these schools and teachers, but we want to be received well. Pray for love and grace on both sides as we try to help improve their teaching and learning. These schools may not be Christian either, so it will be interesting to observe.
  • The weekend in between we are participating in a professional development conference for as many teachers that are able to come. There will be some teachers and administrators from all of the schools. Pray for our preparation and delivery.
  • Week 2 we will be in the Africa New Life Schools in Kayonza, Bugesera, and Kageyo. We already have relationships with these teachers, so I know this will be a joyful and exciting time to be with dear friends.
  • Before we come home, we will shop and go on a Jeep Safari. Pray I don't spend too much money! :)
  • Pray for the research I will be doing while I am there of the ability to obtain insulin. If I return to Rwanda for a longer period of time to teach, this medication needs to be available to me. Terrifying and exciting all at the same time.
  • Pray for the devil's schemes to be thwarted. In the last two weeks, my car has been hit twice (one minor, one major) and it has caused distractions during this preparation time. I have felt surrounded by evil and it caused my focus to be even more intent on the reason I go on this trip. I had to keep my focus on the Lord to combat whatever spiritual warfare I was surrounded by. So...please pray that the Lord will continue to guide our steps through each day of the trip.

Since we're talking about Olaf, my car, I just want to say how marvelous the Lord has worked this out despite it not being a great situation. I was not injured to the point where I wasn't able to go to Africa. I was able to drop him off the day after his tragedy and he'll be fixed when I come back. In the meantime, I was able to drive my sister's car. A friend was close by, and I didn't have to sort through shock and calling the police alone. Roommate alumni's husband works for a car dealership and is my go to car guy; he was super helpful this week. All this to say, there were lots of details, but the Lord took great and perfect care of each one. 

Thanks for your prayers! I will update here and the team also has a blog so you can follow along with the happenings in East Africa. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Southwest Adventures

If you've known me for any length of time, you know if I'm driving or in charge of directions the trip will be an adventure.

Friday was no exception. Although this time was not my fault.

A month ago, my mother and I decide to go to my cousin's wedding in Richmond, VA. Naturally, we begin looking at flights and, of course, the Southwest 5:45 a.m. flight is $200 cheaper than the normal human wake up time flight on United. Since it's two of us, we decide that $400 was much better spent on something else, like let's say a hotel room.

Unfortunately, we were quite mistaken.

Friday morning comes, and by morning I mean the middle of the night. It's 3 a.m., and my mom and I are rolling out of bed, throwing clothes on, and running out the door...mostly on time. We get to the parking lot, to the terminal, through security (and my normal pat down) and to our gate with Chick-Fil-A in hand without a hitch. The flight is on time and we're boarding in the coveted group A. All seems to be going perfectly.

We get on the flight to Atlanta because going anywhere on the east coast requires a stop in Atlanta. I am a little nauseous, but that is kind of normal for me at that time of morning with travel nerves. We take off, and I still haven't eaten my chicken. This is generally unheard of. Food is usually consumed within minutes after receiving it. My mom knows something is not right in my tummy, and gets my barf bag and hers ready just in case. As we take off and get to cruising altitude, I realize there's no way I am going to feel better without using the little bag in my seat back pocket. Praise the Lord for barf bags! And my mom sitting next to me instead of some stranger. Of course she has extra napkins!

Minutes later the plane descends quickly and the entire plane knows something isn't right. The flight attendant even made an announcement that they needed to be seated. I half expected the oxygen masks to pop out of the ceiling. Not the most exciting thing to experience especially when you're still not feeling great. The pilot comes over the intercom stating that the cabin is not holding pressure and we will have an emergency landing in New Orleans. The only other time I have been to New Orleans is when we had an emergency landing on a trip while I was in college. Not sure I ever want to intentionally fly to NOLA now.

As all of this is happening, I realize that I might not be feeling well because my blood sugar is high. In my world if something isn't right, blame diabetes. And in this case, diabetes was partly a cause. My blood sugar was almost 400. It should be 100. Great. I changed my insulin pump site on the plane, which proved to be a challenge, but it worked and I am alive to write this. I knew I would start to feel better if my sugars levels came down and I was able to keep liquid in my system.

So we land in NOLA. We're told there's a plane coming from the hangar. We're all thinking an hour max we'll be on the ground. LOL how naive. The plane takes awhile to come, and then they announce that we will be waiting until 9 a.m. for a new set of pilots to arrive. WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR OTHER PILOTS?

As I discuss the stupidity of this with my first set of travel buddies, another mom and daughter duo, I decide getting some of my grading done would be a good idea. Also, I finally feel well enough for my delicious chicken. PTL.

At 9:30, they have us board the plane. WOOHOO! Everyone except the people continuing to Richmond have a new connecting flight. When we leave NOLA, we still have no idea how Southwest is going to get us to Richmond. Mom and I start making terrible new plans, like driving from Atlanta (8 hours). We were delirious, I think.

At 12:30, we land in Atlanta and rush the customer service desk with HOW ARE WE GETTING TO RICHMOND questions. They tell us the fastest way to get us there is to fly to Dulles in D.C. and take a Super Shuttle to the Richmond airport. The saga continues...

The Dulles flight doesn't leave for 3 hours, so we have time to eat more Chick-Fil-A and take a nap on the benches without annoying armrests. Chelsea gets credit for this because this is where she took a nap on Thanksgiving when we flew through Atlanta after the Macy's Parade.

The Dulles flight is fine with no problems, but the genius Southwest people told us that our luggage was going to be rerouted to Dulles instead of Richmond. LOL Like they're going to dig through all the luggage to find 20 people's bags and reroute them. NO.

Raise your hand if you're surprised our bags weren't in Dulles. Right. That's what I thought.

We get on our Super Shuttle with my new group of travel buddies

  • Janice-Asian girl freaking out because she's missing hanging out with her friends before graduation. She graduated in December from UVA.
  • Melissa- the mom trying to move her daughter out of the dorms and to a storage unit before their 1pm flight on Saturday.
  • The mom and dad duo with their 2 year old and 2 month old- bless them
  • my mom and me
  • the crazy driver from Africa- he speaks French, Spanish and English fluently and likes to weave in and out of traffic without a blinker while going 90 mph. 
Thankfully, we make it to Richmond alive at 8:30 pm. It was a pretty marvelous sight until we got inside baggage claim and saw our bags through a glass window with the lights off and door locked. SO. CLOSE. We call the number on the window and the man is there within a couple of minutes. 

Mom and I head to the taxis where we get a ride from the first guy. He's Russian and the coolest dude ever. He escaped communist Russia 20 years ago with $300 in his pocket and his family. He tells us about the realities of Russian mobsters and what they were capable of, and immediately follows with the importance of Jesus is in his life. What?! Of course our taxi driver is a Christian and there to remind us of the real reason we are on this earth despite the ridiculous day we had.  Love how the Lord works. 

At 9:30 pm, we have finally checked into the hotel, and my aunt and uncle arrive with delicious food from the rehearsal dinner. 

Approximately 17 hours of travel on Friday and a wonderfully stupid story to go with it. I'm so glad I captured it for my Snapchat story...enjoy.

Side note: A huge shout out to Southwest for doing everything in their power to get us to Richmond as quickly and safely as possible. 

In the midst of all this crazy, I am glad I experienced it with my momma and was still able to go to the wedding on Saturday. #brightside 

Stay tuned for Ben and Kate's wedding excitement!