Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Up and Down, Back and Forth

(Yes, I am fully aware that this picture is silly looking. And that I look slightly bald. And that I'm cheesin' for the camera. However, this is how I look about 90% of the time, so let's just go with it, mkay?)

In case you're just tuning in, I quit my job. 
I will in fact NOT be returning to the classroom this year as a high school English teacher. I'm not cleaning my classroom this week or having lunch with my friends. 
I'm not picking out a back-to-school outfit or stressing over summer reading tests. 
I'm not sitting in meetings with the principal or arranging my desks in perfect little rows.
 And I'm happy about it. 

Yes, I will miss some things about teaching, but I can honestly say that if I had committed to teach again this year, it have been a mistake. It's not what I'm supposed to do right now. I have no regrets. I don't regret changing my major one semester shy of graduating with a degree in public relations 
so that I could instead teach high school English,
 and I certainly don't regret spending eight years with some of the most amazing kiddos ever.
 But, no more high school for me; no more teaching.

And while I'm ever so happy about my decision to pursue other options, I tend to get mixed responses from those around me. Some people think I'm crazy. Jobs are hard to come by these days, I have one, and therefore I should keep it. Also, I don't hate teaching and my students always have great test scores, but does that mean I'm in the right spot? I also paint well and make good cake batter dip, does that mean I should pursue those professionally? I don't think that just because we're good at something that automatically means it's what's best for us. 

Others think I'm brave.
 I think more people than will admit wish they could try something new.
 I barely knew who I was at twenty-two, much less who I'd want to one day become. 

I think I'm a little bit of both. 

There are days when I am completely confident, and other days where I'm afraid about starting over. I do know this much: teaching another year would have been easy, but it would have been wrong. I am certain God has something else in store for me. But I'd be lying if I said the waiting isn't making me a tad bit anxious and causing me to do terrible things to my nails. I've applied a few places and made a few calls, but I can honestly say that I'm not quite sure I've found it just yet. Until then, I'll continue to go round and round and up and down, teetering somewhere between confident and concerned, certain and uncertain, patient and not so patient at all, and trying desperately not to jump every time the phone rings or to check my email every ten minutes. 

My motto these days: 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Teaching Take Away

We did a lot of things in Africa, but this was my favorite. 
Friends, I'd like you to meet the beautiful people at the Bwerenga School. 
Bwerenga is a little community out of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. If you are familiar with Sixty Feet, then you'll know that this is where Mama Katherine and Pastor Ernest live and where Faith and Boaz teach and work. 
And it made me very, very happy. 

Not only did going there give me a chance to witness some of the happiest children I've ever seen, but it also gave me a chance to do something I never thought I'd EVER do: teach Math. In case you're new around these here parts, I teach, well taught, high school English. I've recently resigned because I fully believe God is calling me to pursue other options. Anyway, teaching math was not on my list of things I wanted to do in Africa, but teach math I did. 

Here's a picture of me and some of the kids in my class. I was trying hard to get a picture of the little boy in the red shirt to my right, the one NOT looking at the camera. He was possibly the most precious little boy I've ever met, so timid and shy and so very smart. He knew all the answers to the questions I asked the class. He also had the biggest hernia on his belly I've ever seen, but that is neither here nor there.

It was so interesting to me to observe the differences between this school in Africa and our schools back home. But more than I noticed the differences, I noticed how we are all essentially the same. Kids will be kids. Teachers will be teachers. People will be people, black, white, red, or brown, African, Indian, Chinese, American, or any other nationality. 

I was also so very impressed with the teacher I worked with that day. 

Here she is preparing for the day's lesson and getting ready to explain to me how to best teach take away (or  subtraction, as we would call it) to her kiddos. 

And what precious kiddos they were....

I cannot tell you how amazed I was with how efficient they were with their supplies. You'll notice there are no desks in this room. The kids all sit in these plastic chairs. They cart them back and forth every day from their classroom to the main room, where they do their Bible studies and crafts. They also do a lot of standing-- their teaching style is much more active and hands on than anything I've ever seen here. They dance and stomp and move around...constantly. 

And the posters on the walls? The teachers DRAW those. Impressed? I certainly was. 

I was also impressed with how well-behaved they were. They were so sweet and so grateful for the opportunity to go to school, something I think Americans so often take for granted. 

They were so friendly and so very happy. 

I honestly think I could have stayed there for a long, long time.

This is Faith, one of the most poised and gracious women I have every met. She's the director of the Bwerenga School, and let me just say that I'm pretty sure she works harder in one day than I usually did in one week here in America. 

For my former students, you'll recognize this handwriting on the board, except for once I'm not talking about pronouns or literary devices. 

The only negative thing I have to say about the whole day has to do with these dang pencils. I don't know where they found these, but they are terrible. I literally spent half of the morning sharpening these because they literally broke every time a child touched one to his or her paper. And a nice, electric pencil sharpener? Forget it. I was hand sharpening these with what had to be the most pitiful excuse for a dollar store pencil sharpener ever created. I certainly left with a new found appreciation for effective equipment. 

But this is what impressed me the most. This, my dear teacher friends, are my teacher's handwritten lesson plans....for just this one lesson. She writes several of these for every day that she teaches. She also hand writes the work that each of her students will do that day in each student's workbook; there are no copy machines in the Bwerenga School.

Needless to say, I left with an overwhelming respect for these teachers and how hard they work. I also taught a little girl how to write the number four, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. The look on her little face was priceless; she was so very proud of herself. 

Bwerenga School, I already miss you and have asked Lee on more than one occasion when we can come back and see you....except next time, I think Libby needs to come too. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There Are No Words

This past weekend I had an experience I don't often have. 
I was visiting with a bunch of my friends, many of whom supported us on our trip.
And of course, as I'd expected they would, they were asking me about my trip to Uganda. 
And I had no words to say to them. 

I've been working hard to put all that I saw and learned and experienced into a few sentences, to think of a blanket answer to this question I'll be asked numerous times in the months to come. And as hard as I try, I just can't do it. I can't simplify it. I can't sum it up. I can't say it was hard because that implies that something bad happened or that we in some way regret going, and the truth is nothing could be farther from the truth. We in no way regret going, and nothing bad happened to us.

 But it was in fact hard. 
It's hard to see children with multiple medical problems. 
It's hard to watch children begging for food. 
It's hard to hear an orphan cry out for a mother that is never going to come.
 It's hard to sit in the Ugandan hospital with a child who is screaming out for Jesus to heal him and take away his pain.
 It's hard to know that I have a home and a bed and so many luxuries 
while these precious babies are in need of so much. 
It's hard to stand there politely as these beautiful people thank me for coming to serve them when really they've done more for me than I will ever be able to do for them.

The fact of the matter is, I'm still sorting through it all. I'm trying to figure out how to tell people about all that we experienced in a way that they will leave them not only with an understanding of what is going on there but with a desire to help. I'm still not quite sure how to do that, but I have learned a few things NOT to ask someone after they return from a mission trip. Things like, "How was your vacation?", "Did you have fun?", or "Have you gotten Africa out of your system yet?" should be avoided. We did in fact NOT go on a vacation. While we did have fun in our own way, we were not there to have fun. Some things are far more important than our worldly definition of 'fun'. And I love Africa because I love God, and I don't plan on getting that 'out of my system' any time soon. 

It's not that people are intentionally being rude or insensitive. In fact, I have no doubt whatsoever that I have at one time or another asked someone if she had 'fun' on her mission trip. But that was before I understood; that was before I'd experienced the hurt that exists across the world. That was before God had broken MY heart for what breaks HIS heart. 

Again, thank you for your patience. Thank you for checking in on us. Thank you for listening patiently as I fumble over my words and awkwardly smile when I can't quite get out what I want to say. And in case there was any question, I love Africa now more than ever before; that much I DO know. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This Makes My Heart Smile

One of the greatest parts about going to Uganda was the part the came before....the part where, with the help of some of the most supportive and amazing friends a girl could ever have, Lee and I were able to raise EVERY PENNY WE NEEDED TO GO AND SERVE!

Thank you to every single person who bought a shirt or a canvas or hair ties, stuck a check in the mail headed our way, or slipped some dinero in our pockets where you bumped into us. I cannot possibly tell you how very blessed I was by the support of so many, some I know and LOVE dearly, others I barely know or have never even met. I can honestly say that I have never in my life felt more supported. Thank you not only for believing in us enough to share some of your hard earned cash with us, but MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY, thank you for helping us to be the hands and feet of Christ to the amazing people we met in Uganda. 

And now, without further adieu, here are some of the smiling, happy faces of just a handful of those who supported us:



* Mary Louise*








*Shonna and Emily*




















*Anna Thompson*




*Lenzie and Marlie*

And last but not least, my oober cute mom...


Considering we sold just shy of 200 shirts, this really is just a small little glimpse of our shirts in their new homes. 
THANK YOU AGAIN TO EVERYONE who supported us...my heart just can't stop smiling.