A Taste of my Summer

I wish that summer could keep going forever. (Cliché, right?) I’m living the dream here at Glorywood Farm. I wake up around 8:30, and mosey down the stairs to our Keurig where I make my 2/3 coffee, 1/3 French vanilla creamer morning beverage. I let our wild-child 1.5 year old yellow lab out of his kennel, and we venture outside. I play with Cedar for a bit, trying to tire him out one round of fetch at a time. I clean two stalls, get grain ready for the evening, put hay in stalls, fill water tanks, dump manure, shovel clean shavings, and in general love living here. I give Cedar more attention, mostly just to make sure that he isn’t destroying anything in our yard, then return to the house for the rest of my breakfast and my morning devotions.

The rest of my day might include anything from making phone calls about limos and cakes to (finally) driving into town to register to vote to driving down to Akron for a visit to filling out applications for a real-life teacher job.

I hope that I was thankful for this summer while it was happening. I mean, I really hope that I thanked God daily just for his grace and blessings and inordinate goodness to me. Because now, looking back at the past few months since I returned from Niger, I am deeply grateful for the joys and challenges and space that God gave me. I’m reminded that I don’t need to get stamps in my passport in order to see where God is working. I can witness Him and I can join in right here, from Glorywood Farm in sweet little Freeland, Michigan.

Now that I’ve given the broad overview, here are a few details/insights into specific areas of my life this summer:

Freaking out—Wedding Planning Style

I hadn’t even been home a week when it happened. It started with a slight anxious feeling that threatened to escalate to a bursting point. I got smart, grabbed my journal, a pen, and a blanket. I positioned myself strategically on the hammock—outside where maybe I could relax, somewhat removed from family goings-on, in a comfortable position. Then the waterworks started. I was either naïve or clueless, though, because I didn’t grab Kleenex from the get go. I cried and journaled and asked God and myself lots of questions. Everything from wedding planning to my attitude to friends in Niger to my dad (more on him later). Through the tears and snot and subsequent headache, I released fears and lies to God in exchange for peace.

My wedding does not need to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be perfect. It can be good and fun, but it’s also not a direct reflection of Stephen and me. And if I can recognize that yes, I do care quite a bit about various aspects of our wedding, then it will make it a lot easier to communicate and exchange ideas with my fiancé and my mom. 🙂 (I now know to preface certain statements with, “I’ve already thought about this, and I’m attached to this idea, so if you don’t agree, please just tell me gently.” Yes, I’ve actually used that line, and yes, it has helped.) After my confessional and refocusing time, wedding planning has been significantly more fun, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

The best parts about planning this wedding:

  • We still have lots of time, so we don’t feel rushed.
  • Stephen is wonderful and very helpful in all of the planning. And he’s not just a “This is my opinion because I think it’s what you want to hear” kind of fiancé. He has his own opinions, he communicates them well, and he likes to work together on various aspects of this day. Yes, he’s a total winner.
  • I’m living at home, so that simplifies communicating with my mom. Also, I like my mom, so that makes working together on this just that much more fun. 🙂
  • I’m actually quite enjoying working with different vendors. I never would have met these people otherwise, but now we’re talking and interacting and sharing visions and working together and I had no idea that I would enjoy this process the way that I am. I think that’s the collaborator in me.
  • Every time I work on wedding details, I think about marrying Stephen and finally living in the same place, doing life together. Heck yeah.

Now, we’re in the “8-10 months out” phase of planning and preparing. I’m still definitely working on wedding plans, but I’m also being reminded to focus on marriage prep. Stephen and I started asking about and looking into some Gospel-focused marriage books, so we’ll probably start reading one of those pretty soon. Of course, nothing will truly, fully prepare us for the life-change of marriage, but hey—how could it hurt to read some good books? 🙂

If you walk with your Daddy—a Children’s book by Abby Cline, shamelessly modeled after the works of Laura Numeroff

When your Daddy is building up strength again, he might want to go for walks.

And if Daddy is going for walks, he might want some company.

Maybe, when you come home from Africa, your Daddy might ask you and your fiancé to go on a walk with him. You’ll say yes.

If you and your fiancé walk with your dad, you might create a pattern. So when your fiancé goes home, you’ll still go on walks with your dad.

If you continue going on walks with your Daddy, you will probably talk a lot with him. You might have silly talks about almost nothing. You might have serious talks about deep social issues. You might even start telling your Daddy things that you haven’t told your mom yet. (But that you tell her later. When you remember. I love you, Mommy. 😉 )

And when you walk and talk with your Daddy, you will realize that even though you were scared when Daddy was sick, God was still in control. Even though Daddy was in pain, and Mommy sometimes worried, and life got really hard for your family for 8 long weeks, these walks might show you just how faithful God is.

And if you keep walking with your Daddy, you will soon realize that you, your Daddy, and your relationship with him are all getting the same thing: stronger.

Afterword to “If you walk with your Daddy”

First of all, if anyone wants to illustrate this story, I’d be okay with that. Secondly, here are some details to help fill the gaps. A week or two before I left for Niger, around the end of March, my family found out that my Dad had throat cancer. As you can imagine, this did not make me excited to leave my family for 2 months. My dad started treatment before I left. He then continued his 8-week treatments while I was gone. I can’t really speak for just how hard that process was back home. For me, it was

  • wishing I could be home, even though I couldn’t have tangibly helped.
  • Thanking God for my friends at Sahel. Students, teachers, and friends were all lifting my dad up in their prayers. If I hadn’t gone back to Sahel, I don’t think all those people would have been praying for my dad. Just another way God brought things together for good.
  • Not really knowing how bad things were at some points.
  • Learning to trust God and surrender my dad and mom and family to Him.
  • Two very busy months.

Then I came home. At first, recovery was hard for my dad. After 8 weeks of 5-days-a-week radiation and 3 chemotherapy treatments, his body had taken a beating. So had his spirits. But God. God has been so faithful to my Dad and my family. Over the past 4 weeks, my father went from not speaking and using a stomach tube to full-on-conversations, going to work partial days, eating and drinking lots, and yes, going for walks. And I’m reminded right now, as I write this, that I have so very much to thank God for.

My dad’s PET scan (the scan to see where any cancer might be) is not for another few weeks. Between now and then, we’ll just keep building strength and menu options. And we’ll keep thanking God for how He has carried us all through this dark valley.

God’s grown-up-style blessings

While some of these announcements still freak me out a bit, they’re also really exciting and totally grace a Dieu (thanks to God)

  • I have a job! This fall, I’ll work at Valley Lutheran High School as a Special Needs Aide. It’s a part-time position where I get to work one-on-one with several students, helping them with schoolwork, organizational skills, and general success at school. I’m so grateful and excited to join the VLHS staff in this really student-oriented position.
  • I have a role in a play! Actually, I have two roles. 🙂 I auditioned for a community theatre production in July, and I had a blast just at the auditions. The show is called Runagate, and it’s an original production based on the poem “Runagate, Runagate,” by Robert Hayden. I’m sure I’ll post more about this later. Our performance is November 14, and rehearsal begins September 12, and I’m ecstatic!
  • I started looking for a new car. Weird, right? For those who don’t know, I’ve been driving my older sister’s ’97 teal pick-up truck since about my sophomore or junior year at Cedarville. Don’t get me wrong: I love Killer. But after 201,000 miles, two run-ins (literally) with a parking garage, and kind of terrible gas mileage, it might be time for a grown-up car. So, the process has started, and once again, I’m so grateful for my Dad who went with me to look at new (new to me—clearly used) vehicles.
  • I’ve been working through a really great devotional book called Taking Every Thought Captive by Alaine Pakkala. I stumbled across this book as Stephen’s church was clearing out their old library. Basically, Pakkala has been offering verses to memorize and strategies for Bible study, and it’s all been really straightforward and really helpful. I haven’t been consistent or even adequate at memorizing Scripture since I left Grace Christian School in 2007. It was about time, and it’s been a wonderful transition.

Thank you

Thanks for reading. Thanks for praying. Thanks for loving my friends, students, and colleagues in Niger. Sahel Academy started school on August 12. Please continue praying that they have an amazing school year, even as they are a bit under-staffed.

When Oceans Rise

Have I already mentioned how this song almost always makes me cry? Because it does. I’ve had a few times when I can sing it with dry eyes, but for the most part, the timing or the words or my emotions combine with the music and lyrics to coax my close-to-the-surface tears (and snot) to come streaming down my face. This past week, I’ve gained a whole new understanding of oceans rising and feet failing. I’d say it’s been an “emotional roller coaster,” but that’s cliché and gives the connotation of something fun and exciting. While this week has had some exciting and fun moments, it’s also been rather challenging, heartbreaking, and just plain sad.

June at Sahel
One of the other missionary families here at Sahel has a common saying for the beginning of the summer: “June sucks.” Of course, Sahel students and teachers alike eagerly await the beginning of summer, in some senses. We love the freedom from planning teaching grading, homeworking, studying, and taking way too many IGCSE exams. We enjoy the accomplishment of finishing another school year. However, we also know that the end of the school year means the beginning of even more goodbyes. Seniors are graduating and leaving this place. Some families will be gone for only one year, maybe for a home assignment. Other families are changing locations, transitioning to a different ministry or job. Teachers come and go and mostly go, especially the pesky ones who had to go and get engaged. So amidst 5th grade and 8th grade recognitions, finishing exams, and a wonderful graduation ceremony, the Sahel community also has to say way too many goodbyes.

This happens every year. Can you imagine? Every year you love and cherish friends and teachers, only to say goodbye and never know if or when you’ll see them again. But this year, we had another unexpected, untimely, unfair goodbye to say.

Jesse Jones

On Friday, May 29, I gave a final exam to 18 of my students. Some time around 9:30, Jesse came up to my desk in the computer lab and handed me his typed response to the 2 essay questions he chose to answer for his World Literature exam. Even though he had missed the past few weeks of school due to illness, I had no doubt that Jesse was turning in high quality writing with a depth and understanding of the questions and the texts he referenced in his answers. He was always a diligent, high-achieving student in World Literature.

By 8:00pm that same day, Jesse had passed away.

He had been sick for a few weeks. I don’t understand everything that was going on, but maybe a half hour after he turned in his exam to me, Sahel staff rushed him to the medical clinic after he became very ill outside the school library. He stabilized that afternoon, and Jesse was able to talk with his mom and his older brother, Jordan, for a few minutes. Jesse talked about how he felt like he should be worried, but he just had so much peace. Jordan Jones was also in my World Literature class, and he graduated this past Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know about this whole mess of reality:

  • Jesse loved God with all his heart. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of where he is right now. He is whole. His body is healed. He is worshipping His Savior, and He has more joy and happiness than he could have ever known on earth.
  • All but 1 of the elementary students were off Sahel’s campus, at the pool on Friday morning. They did not see Jesse that morning, and they will not remember Jesse as he was outside the library that morning.
  • He passed away before the end of the school year, while all of the Sahel community is still here in Niamey, able to love and comfort and mourn together.
  • God is good. He is here. He is sovereign. Death is not natural, and it was not in the original plan back in Eden. And yet, God redeems all things for His glory.

For these and many other reasons, I’m choosing to praise God through the pain, tears, confusion, sorrow.

Since last Friday

I’ve been to a great many events and processed a number of experiences since last Friday. While I’m sure I’ll go to some similar events and work through similar thoughts in my future, I certainly hope that I have time in between for healing.

I went to the home of a family who had lost their 11th grade son. I looked through childhood photos of a sweet, kind, smiley young man with the world’s most impressive dimples. I listened as a grieving mother remembered her last day with her son.

I looked through photos on the school computer to create a slide show for Jesse’s memorial service on May 31st. After that service, I had the chance to talk with one of my amazing, resilient, godly, courageous, and hurting now-11th-grade students. His thoughts and processing challenged and inspired me, and I was honored to be a listening ear for him.

I attended the funeral of one of my students. Do you know how much that hurts? I stood with one of Jesse’s classmates and tried to speak truth to her while the sweat dripped down my legs and the tears threatened to spill down my face. “Nothing you did or did not do caused this to happen.” “Yes, God could still bring Jesse back, but Jesse doesn’t really want to come back now. He’s in heaven.” “It’s okay to grieve in your own way; we all grieve differently.” And as they carried the closed casket directly in front of us, I held her tighter and supported more of her weight, literally and figuratively carrying this burden of reality and sorrow.

I also went to a graduation banquet, a final assembly, and a graduation ceremony to celebrate all of the achievements of these amazing Sahel students over the past years. We laughed together, we remembered, we prayed, we ate great food, and we said goodbyes. Only, really, we don’t quite say “goodbye” here.

Uncle Jim

A little over 8 years ago, my Grandpa Cline passed away. I still remember how distraught I was after viewing what used to be my grandpa in the casket. After the viewing, our dear family friend, Uncle Jim, spoke a beautiful truth to me:

“You know, for Christians, we don’t really have to say goodbye. We just say ‘See you later.’”

He might not remember saying that to me, but clearly I haven’t forgotten. So to sweet Jesse, to the amazing class of 2015 at Sahel Academy, to my students in all 5 classes that I taught these past 2 months, to the many other students who befriended me, and to the marvelous staff, my amazing friends, here at Sahel, I say see you later. And really, in the grand scheme of things, see you soon.

In the next week

I have a feeling that the ocean will stay pretty high for the next few weeks as I transition and process. I have 4 more days here in Niger before I fly back to the States. In these next few days, I have more “See you laters” to say. I also have some packing, cleaning, and classroom-preparing to do. Then on Friday, I get to see my fiancé again for the first time in 2 months. 🙂 Gracious am I grateful for that.

So in the next week, the week after, and the weeks to come, I’ll keep processing and praying. I’ll keep missing people and places. Hopefully, maybe, I’ll keep updating this blog. 🙂 (I mean, I’ll definitely let you know when I’m home, no worries.) I’ll keep learning about preaching truth to myself, which I realized in the past few weeks that I’m not so great at. So, I’ll start with part of the Oceans song.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my savior…

For I am yours,

And you are mine.

And of course, I’ll go back to the source of truth:

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:23-26

Also, I wrote that passage in my journal on May 14th, over two weeks before Jesse passed away. God is good and faithful.

Thank you again for your prayers.

Discovering Daily Treasures

In October of 2013, my dear friend Pat Bates gave me a book: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. My sister also has a copy of this book, and we somewhat-jokingly believe that God might switch around the pages every once in a while so that every day that you read this devotional, you read precisely what you need to hear. Yesterday morning/afternoon, I read about “hidden treasures strategically placed” along my path for each day. Young clarified that these treasures might be “trials” or other “blessings” (150). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been discovering both types of treasures: the trials and the blessings.

IGCSE Relief

As of last Friday, all of my students have finished their IGCSE exams! This is a huge relief for both my students and for me. (There’s still one class of students here at Sahel who have to take 2 Sociology exams next Thursday and next Monday, so you can continue praying for those students and their instructor.) Now that the exams are done, we’re finishing up group projects in 3 of my 5 classes. The crazy thing is, we only have until this Thursday to finish these projects!

For the high school at Sahel, exams are Friday the 29th and Monday the 1st, so after Thursday, my main responsibilities will be grading and organizing all of the teaching materials for my classes for whoever will be teaching these courses next year. And yes, I am certainly anticipating that both of those activities will take way longer than I could ever hope or imagine.

Yearbook Adventures

There are so many qualities that I admire about my fiancé. On his extensive repertoire, his experiences and skills with helping to create a yearbook especially amaze me. And let me tell you what—it certainly would have been nice to co-advise the yearbook class with Stephen this quarter. 🙂 There are just so many details, so much checking and rechecking, so many technological questions and answers to discover when it comes to actually taking a yearbook to print. It also doesn’t really help that everyone’s reactions to “Oh, we used Publisher to make this yearbook,” all resemble pleasant shock and surprise.

The cons: It’s rough being a perfectionist when you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s also a bit rough representing a yearbook staff and an entire school when I make decisions about which page will go where and how much to crop off and where the title should fit on the spine. Also, our visits to the printers are rarely planned and don’t always happen at my most convenient times. Hence the trial-treasure theme.

The pros: I’ve been able to visit the Nigerien printing company multiple times, practicing my French and my Nigerien communication skills all the while. I’ve also had some good cross-cultural conversations with Joel, Sahel’s business agent, as we sat in traffic or waited for the 1pm prayers to end. Also, it’s done! The books are printed and sewn. Now they’re printing and gluing on the covers. Praise the Lord!

Koba and the Red Lion

I had the amazing privilege of helping with the middle school play these past few weeks! We did a one-act, African-fable type show in which a young boy learns to be courageous and selfless as he fights the Red Lion, saving his family and his village from danger. I had a marvelous time helping out the director as we created a set, brainstormed for costumes for a monkey, a zebra, a vulture, etc. I also had the chance to be in the sound booth, calling out cues for our awesome soundboard operator. Of course, I loved being a part of the production, simply due to my love of theatre and the joy that comes from watching students create live art. Selfishly, I also loved being a part of the production staff. I thought of A Very Common Procedure and The Last 5 Years and Purgatorio—I’m so grateful for the chances that I had to Stage Manage for Cedarville senior theatre projects. And yes, I thought frequently of Taming of the Shrew and the other shows that I’ve been in through the years. If I can figure out how to stay on one continent for a prolonged amount of time, I think I might need to audition for some community theatre. 🙂

Under the Weather

The past couple of days (really just since Friday morning), I haven’t been feeling very well. Food rarely enjoys staying in my system for extended periods of time. Not to worry: I’m staying hydrated, I’m taking it easy, and I’m resting a lot. I’ve also taken some medication and I’ve been talking with our school nurse. I guess I’m only mentioning this to say that prayers are appreciated, and I’d really love to be able to be fully invested in school this last week. I feel like a really crappy teacher when I’m only feeling well enough to sit behind the desk and watch my students work on projects. Thank you for your prayers.

7 Pieces of Double Bubble

Why would someone chew 7 pieces of Double Bubble at one time? That is an excellent question. Another excellent question might be, Why would 16 missionary women sit quietly in a back room with no electricity, and then shout “Surprise!”? And finally, Why would someone have a surprise bridal shower when that person isn’t getting married for over a year? You guessed it: Because I have amazing, loving, caring, selfless friends here at Sahel.

Last Friday night, I thought that I was going to dinner at a friend’s house with Hannah, Rachel, and April. It turns out, I was going to my first bridal shower! After a long week and an even longer Friday, I couldn’t even express how encouraged and loved I felt all through the evening. (Oh, and the electricity did come back on, don’t worry.) We had delicious food—fresh summer salads, brochettes, and really yummy desserts. We played some party games, digging through our purses for used tissues and 3-month old receipts; scrambling to think of love songs that start with “B,” “R,” “I,” “D,” and “E;” and finally, watching me add a piece of gum to my mouth for each question that I answered incorrectly about my fiancé. I did get 13 out of 20 questions correct, but clearly we have more to learn about each other. 🙂 Good thing we’ve got our whole lives to learn.

The evening ended with some of my friends praying for me, for Stephen, and for us. I am so blessed and so grateful. It may be a long year of engagement, but I have high expectations for what God will teach us and how He will lead us even just through our engagement, not to mention our marriage.

Prayer and Praise and Leaving Well

Last night, at the end of a student event called O.M.C. (Organized Mass Chaos), some of the students led a prayer and praise session. We sang a song or two, then had time for guided prayers, either in groups or individually. It was wonderful. I love the songs that we sing at the Nigerien church I attend, whether we’re singing in French or in Hausa. I also enjoy the songs we sing at the evening English worship service here on campus, although I rarely know all of those songs. The songs we sang last night, however, reminded me of Cedarville and Hopevale and trips to Hungary. We sang “Revelation Song,” “How Great is our God,” “The Stand,” and “Oceans.” So yes, naturally, I cried. (“Oceans” can make me cry more reliably than onions can.) I looked around the room at these amazing students from so many countries and backgrounds and families, and all I could think was, “I have to leave again.” This time more than last time, I’ve been really looking forward to being home. I think having a fiancé to come home to is definitely influencing my mindset, but I’m sure there are other factors. However, last night, all I felt was sorrow knowing that once again, I have to say goodbye. And once again, I have no idea when/if I’ll see these people again, this side of Heaven.

As “Oceans” started to play, I made my way over to Hannah, tapped her on the shoulder, and latched on to her as our tears fell. I guess it’s good to start the grieving, the leaving sooner rather than later. And it was certainly good to start the grieving process while also singing praises to our good, constant, faithful, strong God, for “We are His, and He is ours.”

Humble Yourselves

For the May 22nd reading in Jesus Calling, one of the verses listed was I Peter 5:6. When I looked it up, I couldn’t help but notice verse 7, as well. I think I frequently only hear verse 7. It was really good for me to dwell on how verses 6 and 7 connect.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-7

Amen. Thanks for praying.

First Week Back

Sometimes it feels like I never left. Other times it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I was here, walking these halls, smelling these scents, eating these foods, loving these people, missing my people in the States. It’s been a challenging, busy, filling, tiring, emotional, encouraging first week back in Niamey, Niger.

A Weekend of Raw Emotions

Here’s my theory: (And don’t worry, since I’m a shameless verbal processor, I’ve talked this theory through with multiple people) Because this is my second time coming to Niger, I skipped the “honeymoon” stage of culture stress and leaped right into emotional chaos. Let me define some of my terms. In cross-cultural experiences, sometimes we refer to that glowing, everything-is-new-and-exciting, I-love-everything-about-this-experience feeling as the honeymoon stage. (Maybe this will make more sense to me in about 14 months.) “Culture stress” is the newer terminology for culture shock; basically, the processing stages of entering a new culture. And emotional chaos is pretty self-explanatory: people are gosh-darn fickle. (And by people, I mean myself.)

What am I basing this theory on? All of last Saturday was an emotional roller coaster for me. My travel went smoothly starting Thursday in Detroit, continuing Friday morning in Paris, and arriving Friday afternoon in Niamey. My dear friends Hannah and Miriam picked me up from the airport, and I was doing great. By Saturday morning, I was bawling on my pillow, wishing that I were home. Saturday evening, I was praising God for miraculously giving me a better attitude about being here. Then on Sunday—you guessed it!—I was a mess again. I think you get the general theme.

I think because there was not the same glow of my first trip to Africa, I was more aware of my own longings for family back home. I must say, though, God is certainly reminding me that He is constant. He truly is my rock and my refuge. He is faithful. I’ve leveled out through the week, and I can honestly say that I’m enjoying my time here at Sahel. Proof that God’s at work, and that He’s merciful to the undeserving.

 Jumping Right In

I’m so grateful that I arrived during the weekend and that we had a four day week. I had Monday to prepare for my classes, or rather to prepare for Tuesday and to get an idea for the rest of the week/semester. Instead of just listing out my classes, I’ll use Sahel’s/my acronyms and abbreviations to introduce you to my teaching life:

IGCSE—International General Certificate of Secondary Education—These are exams produced by Cambridge in the UK. Freshmen at Sahel take at least 2, sophomores at Sahel take at least 3. Teachers at Sahel named Ms. Cline teach 3 classes for 4 exams.

ICT—Information and Communication Technology—this is one of the classes that I’m teaching. Do I know much about computers? No. Do I have much confidence in this area? That’s a stretch. Am I learning with my students? Now you’re talking.

1st and 2nd Lang Eng—First and Second Language English—this is my 9th grade English class. Eight students taking one of two exams.

WL—World Literature—My 11th and 12th graders. We’re reading Persepolis, and the students are jumping right in. Praise the Lord, this class does not have an IGCSE exam, and they’ll totally be doing a project at the end of the semester, not an exam.

Eng Lit—English Literature—This is the 10th grade class that I’m covering for a not-quite-defined amount of time. They’ll have an IGCSE exam, as well.

YB—Yearbook—Thankfully this class won’t be as stressful. After next Thursday. When we go to print. Gah!

Again, I fluctuate between feeling adequately confident to teach and feeling utterly and completely overwhelmed and incompetent. I think that means that I’m a normal teacher, right? 🙂 I’m trying to keep learning about work time, play time, and rest time. I think I’m a slow learner…

Being Back in the Community

  • The pastors at the Nigerien church I attend greeted me warmly, welcoming me “home.”
  • I had a Francais-English conversation with one of my pastors: he spoke in English to me, I responded in French to him.
  • Multiple students came to hug me, saying that it was good to see me.
  • Per usual, the missionary community at our evening Sunday service gave me a warm welcome of applause after I re-introduced myself.
  • I’ve already had about 4 movie nights at “The Girls’ House” here on campus, so named for the three young women, three of my dear friends, who live there.
  • Kathy mentioned that her house feels “complete” again with me back.
  • I met with Mikki on Wednesday after school to pick up our mentoring relationship, you know, right where we left off.
  • Worshiping in French, Hausa, and English on Sunday. Praying with my mentor, my friends, my students, my fellow teachers. Depending on God because let me tell you what—there’s no other way that I’d be surviving.

Praying and Praising

Pray that

  • The meningitis epidemic in Niger ends. (Don’t worry, my vaccination is up-to-date.) Pray for healing and that God will draw people to himself through this.
  • Both teachers and students will work diligently and trust God through the end of this school year.
  • I will stay fully invested here in Niger, at Sahel, while also loving my family and fiancé back home.

Praise the Lord for

  • His faithfulness and His grace through this transition.
  • Safe travel and good health. (Yes, Mommy, I’m taking my anti-malarial medication still. 😉 )
  • The internet and technology and a very flexible, reasonable, and patient fiancé.
  • All of you. I so appreciate your prayers and partnership.

In One Month– In Two Weeks

In two weeks and two days, I will be on a plane from Detroit to Paris, en route to Niamey, Niger. I can still hardly believe it. The past month has been an amazing, breathtaking, overwhelming journey of watching God provide in so many ways. It’s also been a challenging time of learning about patience and joy, both in formal settings and in my day-to-day struggle. The next two weeks will be a hopefully-not-too-tumultuous transition time. I’ll have a few more temporary “lasts” before I head out, and those can be hard at times. But the ache of a “last” significantly lessens when I already have my return ticket.

God’s Provision

I’m fully funded. Wow. It still makes me smile out of both joy and embarrassment. It’s so easy to laugh at my doubts and insecurities once I’m on the other side of God’s provision. In less than a month, God provided more than the $5000 estimated cost for my trip. What a blessing!! He provided through generous, faithful gifts from my family, my friends, and a good number of my parents’ friends. I am so, so grateful. I’m grateful to God for His faithfulness and for His graciousness towards me, even when I was hesitant to trust Him. I’m also incredibly grateful for the love and support that so many people have expressed for me and for this trip back to Sahel. Thank you!

SIM Orientation

At the beginning of March, I flew down to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a week of training at SIM USA headquarters. SIM is the mission organization that I’m going through in this trip to Niger. SIM has been around since the late 1800s, and its acronym originally stood for “Sudan Interior Mission.” Today, SIM has a presence in around 50 countries, both as sending and receiving nations. That’s right—they don’t just send out of the US. Hardly. International Headquarters are currently in the US, but apparently South Korea is quickly approaching the States as the largest sending country. Clearly, I got to learn about SIM from orientation. 🙂 If you’d like to check out this Gospel-driven, need-fulfilling, prayer-focused missions agency, please visit their website: http://simusa.org/

At orientation, I had about 3 days to receive so much information, encouragement, prayer, good food, and joy from the staff and other missionaries at SIM. We talked about other cultures, about missions and evangelism, about spiritual warfare, and about bodily functions on the mission field. (Missionaries are quite comfortable talking about their digestive systems, at least from my personal experience.) I had the chance to get to know 3 other STAs (Short Term Associates). All four of us women, between the ages of 21 and 24, either are in or are heading to Africa within the year. Two of the girls are doing medical missions and the other young woman is actually going to Sahel Academy for the 2015-2016 school year. God is so good!! It was wonderful to talk with Naomi, the girl going to Sahel, and it brings me so much joy to already know one way that God is going to fill a need at Sahel for next school year.

Orientation was a wonderful time to take a break from my relatively crazy life at home in order to spiritually and mentally prepare for returning to Sahel. I still need to work on lesson plans, finish reading Persepolis, and start a myriad of packing lists, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I also had the chance to have Ethiopian food and eat out of a communal plate, two new and spectacular experiences for me. 🙂

A Few of My “Lasts”

When I got home in December, I wanted to get more involved at Hopevale, my home church. I talked with our Children’s Ministry Director, and I decided to help as a small group leader for 3rd grade boys on every other Sunday morning. It’s been great! I feel like I don’t get to see them that much, since it’s only every other week for one hour. But it’s still been really fun. I think in February we were talking about kindness, and in March we’ve been learning about patience. It’s totally been what I need to learn, too, so that’s been cool. And convicting at times, no surprise. This past Sunday was my last Sunday with the boys, though. As I expected, most of them gave a general, “Okay. I’m not sure how to respond, but I hope you have fun” type of response when I told them, “Hey guys, so this is my last week hanging out with you because I’m actually going to Africa.” But one of my sweet, attentive, hair-gelled-up-in-front 3rd graders really listened. He also gave me a hug before leaving the classroom. I think he even told me to be safe. 🙂 It was just really encouraging and heartwarming to see that to some degree, I apparently have made an impression. I need to remember that “doubting myself and my impact” is actually doubting how God can use me. Because it’s Him at work, not me.

This week and next week will be my last riding lessons to teach. This is a harder goodbye because I’m pretty sure that I won’t be returning as a full-time instructor this summer. I will hopefully still help with camps at Willow Pond Stables, but I don’t have a consistent enough schedule (or life, let’s be honest) for me to recommit to teaching weekly lessons. Please pray for Karen, the barn owner, and for Roxie, the instructor who will both keep her lesson students and add my students to her roster. By the way, she also has a full-time job, so yes, she’ll be quite busy.

Thursday is going to be my last day substitute teaching. Well, I mean, I’ll be subbing at Sahel for 2 months, but this is my last day subbing in Michigan for this school year. I think I’ll actually miss it. 🙂 It’s been such a good fit for me right now, and I’m incredibly grateful that God allowed me to have as many subbing jobs as I’ve had. I’ve been able to stay pretty busy, minus our Michigan snow and cold days. I’ve had the chance to see different schools and classrooms and learning environments and students. It’s been a great way to transition before diving in to my first year as a teacher. And shoot—I don’t have to plan or grade! I know that those are both worthwhile, rewarding parts of teaching, but they sure are time consuming. And I’ve been grateful for the reprieve from those activities.

A Glance at the Next Two Weeks

Let’s be honest: I will not be writing another blog post before I leave. I’m averaging about one a month at this point, and the next 2 weeks will be especially full. Consequently, I’d like to give a little insight into what I’m thinking the next two weeks will hold. While you read, God will be chuckling at my futile attempts to plan my own life. And so:

Abby’s activities for the next 2 weeks

  • Visiting friends in Cedarville.
  • Going to see an amazing performance of Doubt at Cedarville University. (Insert shameless advertising here: http://www.cedarville.edu/Offices/Student-Life-Programs/Ticket-Information.aspx)
  • Spending time with Stephen. Praise the Lord again for his full-time job and his vacation days. 🙂
  • Making way too many lists.
  • Buying some last-minute surviving-the-desert items.
  • Celebrating Christ’s death, His resurrection, and the life He gives with my family, my church, and my boyfriend.
  • Packingpackingpacking.
  • Praying, and hopefully mostly interceding.
  • Flying back to yet another one of my homes. 🙂

I’ll probably post quick updates on facebook, and I’ll definitely try to be more faithful with blogging once I’m back in Niger. Thank you for your readership and your prayers. Have a blessed Easter, and I’ll write again (relatively) soon.

Change is the Only Constant

Through the month of December, I couldn’t help but think about how transient this life is. I was transitioning from student teaching in Niger, coming back to the States, back to my parents’ home, back to icy roads and free water in restaurants. I thought about my friends whom I was saying goodbye to. I thought about an aging friend in Cedarville; I almost had to say my last goodbye to her. I thought about the fact that life would not have been this tumultuous in Eden. The way God started this earth, the way we could have lived, in perfection, we wouldn’t have had all of this change. No death. One language. Perfect communion with God. People would still grow and mature and learn and develop, but I don’t think the changes would have been as painful as they are now.

But change is a part of this life. And, like all things in this life, God redeems it and uses it for His glory, for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. As much as I fear and resist change, I’m learning more and more that change mandates trust. Either I try to trust in myself or I can surrender and trust the almighty, sovereign, good Savior of the universe. Such a tough decision for my weakling heart.

The life of a substitute

I’ve started substitute teaching! It’s a real thing now. I officially love when I can accept a job before the morning-of. Those 5am calls are rough. In the past few weeks, I’ve been a teacher for high school PE (almost all boys), for 1st grade, for high school history, and for middle school drama. 🙂 I’ve also been blessed to join some special education classrooms recently. In my 8 days of subbing so far, 4 of those days have been in some kind of special education classroom. I’m really excited for how God’s been opening my eyes to the needs, the joys, and the opportunities of students who learn differently.

Subbing can be terrifying. I mean, ok, all I have to do is fill in for a teacher for a few hours, right? No big deal. And even when I had multiple sections of 40 high school guys for PE, I only had them each for 50 minutes at a time. What’s the worst that could happen? Please don’t answer that question. (Also, don’t worry—no fights, no broken bones, and some of them might actually have remembered my name by the end of the class period. )

The terrifying bit is the fact that each morning I get ready for a day full of unknowns. Sometimes, I’ve never even been in the building before. I don’t know who the other teachers are. I don’t know when classes change. For my first subbing job, I didn’t even know where the bathrooms were. Thankfully, I was only there for half the day. And almost every morning, I have a slight internal freak out: what if I can’t make it through the whole day? What if completely botch the lesson plans? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?? Of course, I keep these doubts to myself, I try to focus on breathing like a normal human, and I remind myself that God is so much bigger. And remember that one time He helped me teach in Africa? Oh yeah. That happened. Remember how He’s the same God now? Oh. Right. 🙂

Subbing is teaching me a lot about how I don’t know all the answers. It’s also been really cool to step in to fill needs. I like that a lot about subbing. Like most humans, I like being needed. Subbing allows me to, sometimes literally, respond to a call for help. I like that. And I already have 5 more jobs scheduled for February. Thanks for providing, God!!

Middle child—only child

Hey. What do middle children rarely get from their parents?

Any breaks.

Badum-cha!

But really. We also rarely get one-on-one time with parents. Sarah got Mom and Dad all to herself for a couple years before her baby “sisser” arrived, and Evan had their full attention after I went away to Cedarville. I always had to share my parents with my siblings, until now. 🙂

Thankfully, this truly is a blessing. Somehow my parents and I have navigated the transition to your-daughter-is-actually-an-adult-now land without too many bumps or scrapes. I love being able to have evenings with them. I try to help with housework and taking care of our horses. They’re both really understanding of me having my own schedule while also wanting to spend time with them. Especially since Stephen and I hope that we might eventually live and serve overseas, I’m really cherishing this time with my amazing parents. I mean, good food, great company, and free rent? What more could I want?!

The Door Analogy

Have you ever heard people talk about God’s will and doors? Forget about the whole, “If God closes a door, he also opens a window,” thing. First of all, how does free will lend itself to an image of us being trapped in a room with only two means of escape? Anyway. I’m thinking more about the Christianese jargon that “if doors are open, then I’ll continue going this direction. If God closes doors, though, then I’ll know not to go that way.” Is this doctrinally sound? I’m probably not explaining it very well, but I do have some questions:

  • Should you always walk through these spiritual open doors? Just because a door is open, an opportunity is available, does that mean that God wants you to “walk through it”?
  • What if a door is stuck due to humidity? Does that mean that God wants you to give up because the door is closed? Or are you supposed to hip and shoulder check that bad boy open?
  • What if I’m actually completely missing the point and overcomplicating an analogy that was intended to simplify things? What if the important thing is to pray? Just pray. Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Okay. Enough with the rant. Here’s the real reason why I’ve been thinking about doors and God’s will and my need to pray more:

Heading back to Niger

I’m currently applying with SIM to be a short-term missionary to Niamey, Niger, for mid-April through early-June of this year, 2015.

I agree. This is crazy. My mentor teacher and his wife will be returning to the States earlier than they had originally planned. Consequently, Sahel Academy needs a high school English teacher for the last 2 months of the school year. My visa to Niger and my yellow fever vaccine are still good through July of this year. I’ve talked with parents, boyfriend, siblings, pastor, SIM representative, Sahel representative, and a few friends in Niamey. I’m going back. 🙂

General feelings: I’m terrified. And ecstatic. And I once again have a deep awareness of my need for God. I cannot do this by myself. I should not and will not do this by myself. I need His guidance and blessing. I also need lots and lots of prayers. Feel free to contribute your prayers generously. 🙂 (Yes, eventually I’ll need cash, but we’ll talk about that later. 🙂 ) I can’t wait to see my friends and students again. It still feels surreal that I might be going back so soon. Gosh. God is so generous and good.

As I’m thinking about returning, I’m also thinking about what I’ll be walking into. Hopefully, dear reader, you are aware of the demonstrations and devastations that happened in Niamey a few weekends ago, on January 17th. In reaction to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, groups of Nigeriens burned and vandalized many churches, pastors’ homes, and some Christian schools, mostly in Zinder and in Niamey. While this tragedy brought me to tears and to my knees here in the States, it is still deeply affecting my friends and students at Sahel. I’m humbled and honored that I’ll be able to come walk with them as they continue processing and growing through those trials.

To read more about the devastation in Niger January 17th, to see pictures, and to learn how you can pray and help, please read some of my friends’ blogs:

From the Michigander French teacher, Madame Rachel: http://racheltoniger.weebly.com/my-entries/hope

From Ms. Knox, the second grade teacher: http://hannahjoyinafrica.blogspot.com/ (Her post “From my eyes” discusses the burnings)

Continuing from here                               

One of my favorite attributes of God is His constancy. I struggle to describe it. He’s faithful, and that’s part of what I love. He never changes, and I depend on that, too. He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. This also means that He’s the same God in Kecskemet, Hungary; in Niamey, Niger; in Akron, Ohio; in Freeland, Michigan. He’s the same, constant, faithful God. And He’s so, so good.

So really, change is not the only constant. Yes, our lives will consistently change. I’m no longer a college student. I’m only living in Michigan for 2 more months this winter before—hopefully—heading back to Niger. And I’ll only be there for another 2 months. I’m a substitute teacher, a riding instructor, and a soon-to-be long-term sub at Sahel. I can only see a few short steps ahead of me, and even those steps sometimes terrify me.

But there is one Being, one Truth, one Assurance more constant than change: God. For Believers, God is our true constant. He is my constant. I’m praying that I keep seeking Him and serving Him through the upcoming changes He has in store for me. 🙂

And no worries—I’ll keep you updated.

Processing and Pondering Or How is October already over?

I was just talking with Hannah about whether or not we cried much when we were little kids. I mean, my parents probably remember better than I do, but I don’t recall being an especially tearful kid. I don’t know when the transition happened. Maybe it was when I began seeing more of the pain and destruction in the world. Maybe it was when I began to see all of the disastrous pride, selfishness, and sin in my own life. Maybe my hormones simplpy decided to take over my life and overflow my tear ducts.

Regardless of when it happened, I’ve somehow become a bit of a crier. In fact, that’s one thing that I’ve done consistently well here in Niger: cry. 🙂

But please don’t assume that I want to be on a plane heading Stateside. On the contrary, a few of my recent cries have centered on the paradox of wanting to be home while really, desperately not wanting to leave this place or these people. Other times, I’ve cried from feeling overwhelmed or simply at a loss. Truly, I don’t always know why I’m crying. For me, my tears seem to signify a few very significant recognitions:

  • I’m weak.
  • I’m imperfect.
  • I don’t have the answers.
  • I still, always need saving.

God has been reminding me of these truths, along with many other less depressing-sounding realities. He is all-sufficient. Maybe, someday, eventually, I’ll live as though Christ is all that I need. For now, I say it, I believe that I believe it. But I’m clearly re-learning this life-altering truth: God loved me when I was still a sinner, He loves me now, and He is all that I need.

I guess in the same way that I needed to do some re-teaching for the Theme and Organization lessons in my World Literature class, God needs to re-teach me about His sufficiency.

In other news and since we’re all mostly interested in the happenings and goings-on in Niger, West Africa, here are some specific situations where God has been humbling me and proving himself faithful:

edTPA: Accomplished

The edTPA is done!!! Last night around 2am Niger-time, I was fighting the temptation to quote way-too-important quotes in slightly irreverent ways: “It is finished.” Or “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” (While I resisted the temptation last night, I clearly did not resist the temptation just now. C’est la vie.) Due to the support of wonderful Cedarville professor and Sahel colleagues, the prayer and patience of so many friends and family members all over the world, and they grace of a works-in-the-details Savior, I submitted my final assessment for my undergraduate studies. My other obligations for student teaching include: being observed at least 1 more time; teaching moderately successfully for the next 4 weeks; generally not ruining students’ lives. Due to God’s faithfulness and his sovereignty regardless of the outcome, I’m learning to trust him for those final responsibilities. And I’m feeling soooo good about being done with the edTPA. 🙂

Hippo sighting

I got to see hippos. Yeah, it was really cool! Mostly, though, riding in a boat on the Niger River was truly wonderful. A couple of weeks ago, a group of about 9 of us Sahel staff/missionaries and visiting family members went on a guided Hippo Tour. We ended up seeing about 6 hippos all hanging out together in the middle of the river, a very safe distance away from us. 🙂 The hippos were big and a little intimidating. The time on the river? A beautiful, peaceful, breath-taking view of river-life in Niger. Pictures are on facebook, although they hardly do the trip justice.

Alambaré Outreach

A week ago from right now, I was sitting on some wooden benches in the Nigerien village of Alambaré, after eating a meal of peanut butter and jelly on baguettes with 11 of my students and 3 other adult supervisors. Sahel students go on weekend-long outreach trips to Alambaré at least once a semester. While we were there, we played with the kids from the village, told them Bible stories (the students spoke in French and the local pastor translated into their tribal language), and enjoyed a weekend away from Niamey, sleeping in tents or in the open. (I was in a tent, although apparently outside the tent was pretty nice, too: not too many mosquitoes and gorgeous stars.) Although I did not anticipate the fact that I would be an impromptu leader for the Alambaré trip, I had a great support system and we had a really awesome weekend. I loved spending time with the kids in Alambaré, hearing the Gospel presented in 3 different languages at least 5 different times throughout the weekend, and seeing our Sahel students really step up and step out of their comfort zones. I’m still processing from the trip (which will not surprise many of you), but I’m also undoubtedly glad that I went on it.

A mini-Cedarville Reunion

About mid-October, I had the chance to sit down and talk with one of the missionary couples here at Sahel. Of course, I get to enjoy many spontaneous conversations with a lot of amazing missionaries here in Niamey, but this was a more of a planned event. I had seen some similarities between Stephen’s and my story and Coach and JJ’s story. (He’s the PE teacher and the softball coach; naturally that has become his first name.) Both Coach and JJ attended Cedarville, studying to be teachers. Coach played soccer at CU. JJ currently teaches middle school English and helps coordinate all of the new middle school, partially due to her capacity for organization and long-term planning. (Yeah, I’m not sure why I see similarities between this really great couple and Stephen and myself… Bazinga.) Kathy invited their family over and we had a great dinner with Coach, JJ, and their 4 kids. Then the kids walked back home—they also live here on campus—and we just sat and talked. About life, missions, support-raising, teaching, married life, waiting on God’s timing, knowing God’s will, trusting God completely, etc. We just sat and talked, 3 Cedarville alums and my wonderful roommate chatting about life until about 11pm. Of course, I then started on lesson plans for the week, but the nighttime work session was totally worth the previous time of enlightenment and idea-exchange. And encouragement. I sincerely hope that I can be at least minimally as encouraging to others here as they are to me.

Thinking of Hungary

I helped to FSL last Thursday. That’s right. You may have heard of ESL, but have you ever thought much about FSL? French as a Second Language. I, a second-language French speaker, got to help teach French to Zarma-speaking Nigerien women last Thursday, and it was so much fun! It reminded me a lot of my time in Hungary teaching English to Hungarian speakers. I don’t know any of their native language and I’m basically trying to somehow impart at least some French to them. Of course, when I taught English in Hungary, at least I feel pretty confident in my English-speaking. But still. I liked the flexibility, the vulnerability of language learning, the risk-taking and smile-sharing that happen when nobody is that great at French. I went with the fourth grade teacher at Sahel, and the two of us worked with about 10 young women who attend a sewing school here in Niamey. They may or may not be literate in Zarma, and they are at various stages of literacy in French, the language of the government and the educated here in Niger. Unfortunately, I’ll only have 2 more Thursdays when I can help teach French. But I’m already looking forward to those days.

Afraid of the lasts

I’m going to be a mess. That’s funny. I’m already quite a mess. All I have to do is look at a calendar and I start freaking out. Here’s the issue: sometimes November looks like the longest month ever and I don’t know how I’m going to last or what I’m going to teach or how I’m going to stay focused here instead of just thinking about getting home and seeing my family and seeing my boyfriend and being done with student teaching.

Other times?

Other times November looks painfully, frighteningly, unreasonably short. I still have souvenirs to buy. I want to see the giraffes. I really don’t want to exchange this weather for snow. And I’m not ready to say goodbye. To this place, this school, these people. And how many lasts am I going to have? My last day at church. My last day teaching yearbook. My last time seeing friends who don’t teach here at Sahel. My last time talking with each of my students. I don’ t know how to legitimize my sorrow and my reluctance to leave without becoming a self-important drama queen. I don’t know how to honor God through this process. Which is probably why He has me here, huh?

The last few months have been so brilliantly amazing while also feeling like a rather “normal” possibility for how life could be. The next few weeks are terrifying and daunting and going to come whether I’m ready or not. Because I won’t be ready, and I don’t have to be.

What Hannah reminded me of earlier this week:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Exodus 14:14

What God reminded me of just now:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16

Ways we can praise

  • God’s faithfulness and patience with me
  • The edTPA is done!
  • I still have a month left, thankfully. 🙂

Ways we can pray

  • That God will keep watering the Gospel seeds that Sahel students helped plant in Alambaré
  • That I will finish well—with student teaching and with my time here in general
  • That I’ll keep learning what God’s teaching me