Saturday, February 7, 2015

Go Big Blue!

After leaving Atlanta, we headed up to Kentucky for a visit.  We met up with the grandparents, who had a surprise planned for the kids.  

The first morning, they woke up to this table and the news that we were all going to a UK game that night.  As you can imagine, tickets to a Wildcats game aren't too easy to procure.  But, Ryan's parents were determined to take us all.  So, though we were scattered into pairs across Rupp Arena, we were all there and we had a great time.  

Getting ready to see the Cats take on the Georgia Bulldogs!

March Madness is one of the many things we'll appreciate more than ever this year.  Last year, we listened to the tournament games on our laptops in the middle of the night.  I feel confident that our night guard thought we were crazy as we were yelling at a computer screen in the middle of the night.   This year, we look forward to watching the games at a reasonable hour.  And, it goes without saying, it's a good year to be a Wildcat fan!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Big Peach

Last weekend, after our visit to North Greenville, we decided to spend a few days in Atlanta.  One of our friends that we worked with in Nigeria is now living there, and our volunteer teacher from those days lives a few hours away.  We all met up in the big city and had a great weekend catching up with one another.  It's amazing what kind of bond forms between people who share the kind of community that we shared with our experiences in Nigeria.  Even though we're at very different stages of life, we consider them dear friends and always to look forward to time together.

Some of the highlights of our weekend included a visit to MLK's childhood home, which is a great National Park site.  

Playing around in the visitor's center

 Posing in front of an MLK mural

Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK grew up

Dr. King's tomb

MLK's childhood home on Auburn Street.  We didn't get to go inside because the tours for the day were full, but we still enjoyed the other park options.

After our visit to Auburn Street, we enjoyed lunch at the classic Varsity restaurant.  Actually, I can't say that it was one of my favorites.  The lines were crazy, as was the seating and service.  The food was so-so.  But, I will say the experience was one of a kind and I'm glad we got to try it.

In the evenings we enjoyed making meals together.  I made a silly assumption that our single friend would own a cheese grater.  My mistake meant we had a few laughs "grating cheese" with a knife.  Truth be told, we ended up eating more than we put on our tacos, but we all appreciated the fact that the cheese was plentiful enough to just eat freely.  Africa will do that for you.

On Sunday, we enjoyed worship at Passion City Church.  We were surprised when the music started and the worship leader for the day was Matt Redmon.  That was a fun surprise, as he's a favorite among several in our family.

After church, we headed over to Stone Mountain where we enjoyed a wet afternoon tubing in the rain. The positive side of being soggy and wet is that there were no lines.   As fast as we can get from the bottom of the hill to the top, we could ride again.  We had a fun time, even if it took us a while to dry out.

No lines, no crowds!

Riding the conveyor belt back up to the top.  See General Jackson behind the girls?

Fun was had by all!

Monday morning, we visited a large Atlanta church which operates a missionary care center.  It was a bit like a nice thrift shop, except that all of the items were free.  We had a great time and we were blessed by all kinds of goodies from clothing to kitchen goods to accessories like backpacks and purses.  It was a great experience and we were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity we met there.  We did look a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies as we pulled away with a van which was very, very full of our suitcases + all of our new stuff.

Poor Ryan, he didn't get to join in all of the fun.  He is trying to finish up an education requirement which must be completed before we can return to Africa.  He is taking two classes, which last for 8 weeks.  He had two papers due last Sunday night, so he spend about 1/3 of his time in Atlanta sequestered in the hotel with a laptop.  We are very thankful that he is nearly 1/2 way through.  We will ALL be thankful when he is finished in 4 more weeks.  Your prayers are appreciated as he pushes through.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Life in These United States

Well, time here in the States is absolutely flying by.  The weeks have been so full of a variety of activities and experiences, with attempts at rest thrown in the quiet places.  We continue to enjoy so many little things, finding little joys we'd forgotten or in some cases, very fondly remembered.  It's been a nice start to our time here.

We continue to struggle through so many little things too, realizing how much Africa has changed us.  The wastefulness and excess that was so much a part of us, now makes us recoil.  Our kids have noticed it and pointed it out, even without our prompting.  They commonly voice questions as to why people they love spend so much money on things that have no eternal value or why they need to be entertained in such glitzy/expensive ways.  We didn't realize how simple we had become and sometimes we feel like a square peg in a round hole.  We often find that we would much rather be at home with a good book than have to go through the torture of a shopping mall.

Processing all of that has been hard for us, especially as we're trying to provide them with some of those same types of opportunities, experiences, and purchases that we would normally have over a typical 3 year period, all in a few months.  We don't want them to be critical or cynical of this great nation and the people they love here.  But, we also want them to be unafraid to lay the customs and common practices of any culture alongside God's word and their convictions and ask themselves, how do I respond to this practice/desire/etc?  We keep going back to the idea of moderation, in everything.

I know that probably sounds so self-righteous and, believe me, that's not my intent.  We realize that there are many, many ways that we are being challenged by so many of our American friends and family. I have fully recognized many habits/patterns that we have developed that need to be adjusted.  We are thankful for folks who are taking the time to speak truth into our lives.  We do not think that we have arrived or that we are better than anyone.  It's simply that we realize that there are aspects of American culture that we simply accepted and bought into our entire lives, that we no longer do.    Learning to live with a piece of your heart in both places requires a certain amount of grace.  Thankfully, my God has an endless supply of that, which we're trying to cling to, day by day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How Can This Be?

I"m not sure how or when it happened, but apparently I'm old enough to have a child making college visits.  Just yesterday the very same child was drinking out of sippy cups and begging to watch Big Bird.  How can this be?

But alas, it is true.  And, honestly, I know that when it's time for her to go, she's going to do great things.  I'm excited to see what paths she pursues and where the Lord leads her.  For now, I'm trying to embrace each moment and just enjoy her last couple of years at home.  Lord willing, the next time we come to the States, it will be to get her settled in for college and I know it's going to come far too quickly for this mama!

We did have a great visit last week at North Greenville University.  Abby is pretty certain she knows where she wants to go to school, without doing visits.  However, I felt strongly that she needs to visit several campuses, just to be sure.  We chose this one because they give pretty significant scholarships to people who work for our organization and we've heard great things about it.  Abby was convinced it wouldn't be the school for her, but she was willing to go have a look.  In the end, she was really impressed by everything she saw and with everyone she met.  It definitely is on her radar as a significant possibility at this point.  However, with the current major she's considering, it's not the strongest time will tell.

I have to say, I felt so OLD visiting campus.  As we ate in the cafeteria, walked through the dorms and class buildings, etc.,  I was very aware of the fact that I am definitely not a college student anymore.  I mean that's obvious to everyone else, but I think in my brain, I'll always be 20.  I had some great college years and experiences, it was a sweet season in my life. However, time marches on, doesn't it?  And so it should!

So for now I guess my season is to help pray, prepare, and launch a few young'uns for their own sweet seasons of university years.  Did I mention this whole parenting gig is going far too fast?!?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mystery Madness

Abby's birthday party happened on Saturday of one weekend.  We had Lily's party on the Sunday of that same weekend.  Word to the wise...don't ever do that.  Host two birthday parties in one weekend.  Just don't.  

Despite the fact that we doubled up, the birthday girl did have a good time with her "mystery" themed party.  We had a mystery meal where the girls ordered off a mystery menu.  This is something that we've done for several birthday parties through the years and it is always a big hit.  The first course, they have no idea what they are ordering, but by the 3rd and final course, they've generally decoded the entire menu.

After lunch, we played several sleuth based games, but, without a doubt, the live clue game was their favorite.  They drew names which assigned a clue character, received props to transform into their character, and then they were given recording sheets to use for determining the who, where, and with what of the mystery.  They set off to find and decode clues hidden in each room.  Process of elimination led most of them to determine that Professor Plum committed the crime in the library with the lead pipe.  They begged to do it again, but we moved onto other things.  Setting that up once was enough of a challenge for this old brain.
Here they are: Ms. White, Colonel Mustard, Ms. Peacock, Miss Scarlet, and Mr. Green.  Professor Plum, played by big sister, chose not to stand-in for the photo.  

They also had a good time decorating their own cupcakes.  Again, this was something we've tried in the past and found the girls love.  It makes less work for me and it's fun to see what the girls do on their own.

Lily had a great time with her friends.  She hadn't had a "friend" party at all in Africa.  She's a kid who is generally happy to have all of her family together.  But, she did have a great time having a few friends join in to celebrate!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

16 going on 17

About 8 years ago, after several years as a homeschooling mama, I found it necessary to return to work for a time.  A long line of medical and ER copays, combined with a couple of moves in a short period, and quite frankly, some not so stellar financial decisions, led us to needing a second income.  I found a school that had an opening at the same time that I had a need.  It all happened very quickly and in the course of less than 10 days, I went from mentioning to a friend that I might try to find a job, to asking my mom to come down from Cincinnati and move in with us to help with childcare, to leaving my older two for their first day of "real" school, while I went off into a classroom of my own.

To say that it was a rocky period for my kids would be an un.der.state.ment.  But, for my oldest, I truly believe it was a time when her faith became her own.  She was so brave and so terrified all at the same time.  She learned to cling to Jesus as she rode the tidal wave of her parent's decisions.  I remember sobbing so many times that year as I saw her wrestle through some tough lessons and reminding myself that God loved her and he was writing her testimony, even as he was writing mine.

One great thing that came out of those 8 months at Franklin Academy was a friendship that Abby still considers dear.  The little girl who showed her to the bathroom during those early days of tummy aches and tears, has been a faithful friend across 1000s of miles.

Here they are at their end of year program, back in 3rd grade.

About 10 months ago, Abby and this dear friend decided to hold off on their 16th birthday parties and have a combined party when we returned to the States.  They both have summer birthdays, so by the time we returned, they were both as close to 17 as they were to 16.  They decided they would have a "16 going on 17" party.  Last Saturday, after months of planning and crafting, much of it via Facetime, they finally had their much anticipated party.  They did all things pink and gold, and it turned out very lovely.

They had lots of friends show up to celebrate with them (several of whom were in that same 3rd grade class) and they had a great time.  I know that they had lots of fun planning together.

Here are the "birthday girls"

 Ready for guests

There were some talented girls in the group, as their lovely canvases showed.

Here are the girls with their grandmothers.  I'm not gonna lie, when they all lined up for the photo, I was very aware of how much my momma's absence and how much she would have loved to be in that line-up.

Here they are with the dad's.   AKA "The funders of dreams."  Though, I've got to brag on them, they were industrious, practical, and pretty economical party planners.
A good friend of both of our families' was very kind in offering the girls the gift of a cake.  She took the time to meet with them and get their ideas.  Then, she made them matching cakes, each with their own monograms.  They were both beautiful and delicious.  Thanks Ms. Sarah.

I'm so thankful for God's gift of friendship!