Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dear Beautiful Boy's Mom

Dear Beautiful Boy's Mom,

Today I walked into the classroom and I saw your boy on the floor. He was weeping - I could hear him from my office - and with barely a glance in your direction, I wandered over to your son on the ground. He was sprawled across the floor, his hands nestled in the crooks of his arms, and his body was shaking with every cry. My hand rubbed his back, and I quietly asked him what was wrong. He didn't answer me; he just cried harder, and I insisted he tell me what had happened. But he was too focussed on his cries to respond.

I learned from the other students that you had beaten him. I don't know what he did wrong, and I don't know if he was rude to you or he hurt another student or if he interrupted you as you were speaking. All I know is that you had deemed his actions worthy of physical pain. And as I watched his tears, and his body shake, all I wanted to do was gather him in my arms so that as my heart broke I could hold his shaking body close. But instead I walked away, as my heart beat desperately in my chest and as I felt your eyes follow me across the room.

I wish I could feel what you feel when you take your hand and you force it across his body. (But then again, maybe I don't). I guess what I mean is I just really wish I could understand. 

Because I see this boy, this son of yours, as beautiful. Every part of him as valuable, even his tears. And I just really find it hard to see how, even in the name of discipline, this beating of him teaches him value. How it teaches him that you love him. How it teaches him an understanding of why his behaviour was wrong.

Because doesn't it just teach him to fear your hand?

I don't claim to know much, and I don't claim to know what it's like to be a mom. You have faced more than your fair share of challenges in your life and I admire the way you still carry a smile on your face and your head held high. I don't want to quote you all the textbooks and research and papers I've read on the topic, because in the end none of that really matters if I'm not willing to share my heart.

But can I just ask you one question? That's all, and I'll end the letter there. Can you look into his eyes? For a moment just look into his eyes, and see him as the Child of God that he is. Can you see him as he was knit together, the Creator's fingers taking careful measures to instil that he was perfectly created? And then in those moments, the moments where he makes you so angry you raise your hand or your fist or a cane - can you just remember that image? 

Because my heart's just breaking here, tonight, for him, for you, for me. Because I walked away and felt so helpless, yet there was something inside of me that was insistent I do something, anything. Even just penning this letter.

So with love and a breaking heart,

Your Son's Teacher

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Entering the Homestretch

Four days. That's all I have left here in Asamankese.

From last Wednesday to Sunday were spent in bed, and time seemed to stretch on endlessly. I watched movies, I read, I listened to sermons but I could do little else besides lay in bed. Finally my backpain started to lift and today I am feeling almost back to 100%, praise the Lord! But now that I'm up and at 'em again, the next few days already seem like a blur.

This is what they cook on outside.

I came home from school today, and sat with Auntie Jo and the boys outside while they made dinner, and then wandered around the compound taking pictures and taking in sights and sounds. I'm trying to hold every moment as precious, from the feeling of the breeze just before it rains to the sound of Auntie Jo chattering to the boys. I'm lingering a little longer to on the roof or the courtyard, committing every hill and building and tree to memory. I'm holding each laugh and conversation close to my heart, because I know in a short time they will be settled in my soul, a distant memory.

Seth: "Get a picture of my Asamankese dimple!"
I'm grateful for this place. For what I've learned and all I've seen. I'm grateful for the conversations that have challenged who I am and how I see others. I'm grateful for the feeling of hands cupping a student's face, for the sound of a giggle erupting in a quiet classroom (but don't tell my students' that!).

Beautiful Belinda!
This place, this time here, has shaped my heart and soul in more ways than I'll ever count. No matter how hard it has been at times, I am going to hold onto that. I know for sure, as I board the plane and arrive in a snowy country, I am not the same person that left, and my heart is full of gratitude for that tonight.

Left our mark on the roof.
See you all very soon ... on the other side of the ocean!

Much love,


"An adventurous life does not necessarily mean climbing mountains, swimming with sharks or jumping off cliffs. It means risking yourself by leaving a little piece of you behind in all those you meet along the way."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts from Bed

Today I found myself in bed all. day. long. With an aching back (and no reason why). I attempted to go to school, and that lasted about 45 minutes until the Rita graciously offered to cover classes for me. So I hailed a taxi and came home to a welcoming bed.

I've watched multiple episodes of Everwood.

I've sung out the window to myself.

I've played games on my iPhone.

I've read.

I might be going a little stir-crazy.

I don't like being sick, and most of all, I don't like being sick when I am here for only nine more days. I just want to be up, and I want to be able to walk without walking like I'm 90 years old. But.

In saying that, even being sick and bedridden I got to see some beauty come out of it, too.

Because today I was shown the kindness of the Ghanaian family I've found here. All of the people I work with at the school - Dora, Rita, Evans, Ebenezer, and Kujo - all showed up after school to check on me and see how I was doing. Smart called me and texted to make sure I was okay. Felicia, the other teacher, phoned me to see how I was doing. Belinda kept me company, helped me apply ointment, and generally reassured me that I wasn't going crazy being cooped up in the house. Auntie Jo made sure to stop in and see how I was. I was just incredibly touched that all of these beautiful people wanted to make sure I was doing okay - and went as far as coming to visit me the very first day I'm home sick.

I think it just reminded me that on days like today to be thankful for the family we make wherever we go, even if they're not blood related.

It reminded me how the kindness of others can go along way in making us feel a bit better.

And it encouraged me to do the same to everyone in my life.

{So thank you, my Ghanaian family!}

Much love,


P.S. Prayers are SO appreciated that this backpain will go far, far away from me!! :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thankful Lists

This past Saturday, Belinda and I left Kylie and Lauren at the front of the Kotoka Airport in Accra. A few tears were shed, many hugs were exchanged, and we headed home to an eerily quiet house. I spent the day reflecting yesterday; cleaning (as it seems I tend to do when I feel like I am mentally cluttered), and reading the Word and praying.

My beautiful African sisters.
It's funny how we always begin something knowing that it will some day end, knowing that with every hello there will inevitably be a goodbye. I came here knowing someday I would leave, and the girls arrived and I knew that I would eventually be leaving them at the airport. Yet, even in the saying of goodbyes, the memories that led up to that point make every goodbye worth it. So even though I miss my lovely African sisters, I am choosing instead to be thankful, even in a quiet and empty house! So here are a few things I am thankful for today:

1) Christmas music. It makes writing report cards a little more bearable.

2) Cockroaches. At first glance, I know they are atrocious and disgusting, but Friday night we had the most hilarious half an hour trying to kill the monstrocity on my bedroom wall. It involved a shoe, a 'back up' book, and Celtic music ... someday you'll need to see the video. I will probably laugh for years to come at the memory!

3) Language barriers. Today, a few kids I met on a walk came by to hang out. We can't speak to each other very well, and that's really hard. But it makes you be creative ... it makes you tickle them more. It makes you make funny faces some more. It makes you realize that even if you can't speak, presence is so much more important.

4) Tears. Because you know what? They are precious to Him. He catches every one in a bottle. He is near to the brokenhearted. He calls those who mourn blessed for they will be comforted! And yet we push away tears, and we tell kids to stop crying when maybe we should be telling them to see those tears as precious.

5) Mangoes. Seriously, there's no better fruit. Honestly. I will write about mangoes and my love for them until the day I die, probably.

6) Sore knees. I'm not good at being disciplined and working out, but Kylie and Lauren were the best encouragers and I worked out with them for the past few weeks. And then I hurt my knees doing one too many squats - but you know what? I'm proud of those sore knees. I'm proud that I was trying my hardest! And I will take my sore knees as a reminder to work hard, but know my limits, too.

7) Clingy students. Even though there have literally been moments when I've run away from kids who won't let me go - I know that I will miss those moments. Clingy kids remind me to love just a little bit more, to hold onto them just a little bit longer, to kiss away their tears, because maybe there's a reason they are clinging to you so tightly.

8) The ability to write. I don't think I ever really thought about how blessed I am to be able to read and write. But being here in Africa has made me realize just how much I love writing, and I think the thing I love about writing is that it lets me see beauty in brokenness. It lets me work through things. It let's me make the most ordinary, mundane experience become beautiful. And it lets me take my story and wrestle with it, and see that even in the broken cracks His redemptive fingerprints are still there.

Those are just a few of the things I am thankful for today. What are you thankful for?

Much love,


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As Things Wind Down

We are winding down to our last days here in Ghana. In some ways, it feels like time has flown by and I can remember everything about the first day I arrived on African soil. Then there are other days, when I am anxious to be home, to see my family and friends, and feel the cool winter air. A friend wrote me an email a few days ago, and she encouraged me, "Take pictures of your room. Breathe in the African air. Bask in the colours. Enjoy every minute you have left." And so even though I am excited to see my family and friends in just a couple of weeks, I am doing my best to keep my eyes here and now and to feel the blessing in every moment. Even today, as we are having a scheduled power outage for fourteen hours, I'm paying closer attention to the roosters crowing outside, the rain falling on the tin roof, and the quiet and silence that a dark night and no computer will bring.

As the girls prepare to leave this Saturday, we are cherishing every moment we have here, from our prayer times on the roof to 'Parenthood' marathons to our walks around town. Yesterday was the women's literacy class' graduation, and so all three of us dressed in our African cabahs and celebrated the accomplishment of the women in their classes. It was a long day for me, having had kindergarten all day, and then the graduation until 5:30 that evening, so we made a pot of soup and climbed onto the roof to enjoy our last African full moon. Tonight the Mormon missionaries we've become friends with are joining us for a last visit before we go home, and I can already smell the jelof rice that Belinda is preparing in the kitchen! I'm hoping to get a crash course in her cooking before I go home so I can attempt at recreating her amazing meals.

Things are winding down at school, and I'm trying to finish report cards and prepare for the intern who will take my place ... I'm jotting down things we need, organizing files and students' work, and trying to stay sane. Some days the kids are wilder than others, and yesterday we spent a good chunk of time learning what a detention was, but we do have a lot of fun and the kids are slowly stealing my heart. I will miss them when I am gone - not the crazy time-outs, detentions and suspensions - but those beautiful children's faces and laughs!

Last weekend I had my first ever PTA meeting, in which I had to address and read my first principal's report! Although I was nervous, I heard great feedback from the staff which was incredibly encouraging. It was a great moment for me to look back and see that even through our challenges, we've improved so much as a class.

As night falls and the rain continues, I should probably end for now. Your prayers are all coveted as I prepare to head home, and as I spend the last two weeks here without the girls. Please continue to pray for protection that we would all end strong, and that our hearts would be prepared as we come home at one of the most consumeristic times of the year.

I miss you all and am so looking forward to sharing my heart and my journey with you when I'm home. You are loved even from across the ocean.

At Smart's 6 am soccer game.



Monday, November 19, 2012

You and Me, We Eat Bananas Together

Life here has been extremely busy. Time is flying by, and we are down to counting our days here instead of weeks. Although we get a different answer every time we ask, we are headed into the dry season and the weather has begun to reflect that: not a moment goes by where we are as close to a fan as we can get!

As the days wind down, I think all three of us are busy cherishing every moment we have here. Although my kids drive me up the walls most days and I head home exhausted, I am trying to recognize that the most important lesson I can leave them with is to love one another. My prayer is to see them as Jesus sees them ... and so for every time I have to shout at the kids to climb down off the table, or out of the cupboards, or put them on time out for the millionth time that day, I try to always hug them and listen to their stories (or what I can make out from their broken English!) just as many times or even more. I try to take the time in the afternoon before they leave, no matter how tired I am, to laugh at their crazy antics and cuddle them close.



Kingsley showing me five fingers.

This past weekend on Saturday we had the opportunity to travel to Akusua nearby to an orphanage. Kylie and Lauren had visited a couple times before, and Lesley and I had visited once earlier in September. We knew it would be our last visit, so we brought what we could find here as gifts for them, and picked up some biscuits along the way. It was overwhelming to see their beautiful smiles as we walked in through the gate, and we spent as much of our energy pouring into them as we could. We read to them, wrestled with them, took pictures with them, and watched movies with them. They were beautiful. I was mesmerized by their kindness to each other and to us, and even moreso by their desperate desire to be loved by us.

I went to go put on my shoes, and Ama ran over to help me.
Being served in such a way was so strange but absolutely beautiful!
Nail polish!

We left our mark.

Lipstick anyone?
At the end of the day, there was one boy, Yow, who had found his way into the living room with us where the daughter of the owner of the orphanage had served us some nuts and bananas. The kids don't seem to get a lot of food, and aren't allowed to ask us for any of the food they give us while we're there. But as soon as the daughter left, Yow turned to me, pointed to the bananas and asked if he could have one. Lauren watched the door for the daughter while he ate the two bananas that were left. As we said our goodbyes, and Yow cuddled into my arms, he looked up at me, with a big grin on his face and said, "You and me: we eat bananas together." It was hard to think that that would be the only time we'd eat bananas together.

Since pictures speak louder than words sometimes, here are some more from the orphanage.

Much love to you all,


Monday, November 12, 2012

All the Places Your Hands Have Been

Sometimes it's easy to sink into the thoughts, the dark ones that belittle the beauty you hold, that minimize the worth that has been placed upon you, the thoughts that tell you that the love you share is so little in comparison to what you should be sharing.

It's really easy to believe those thoughts. It's really easy to take them, to hold them close, even though there is a small Voice deep within your heart that is fighting to remind you that they aren't truth, begging you to cast them aside. But still you don't.

And then a complete stranger's words, a whisper of His grace, offer a gentle reminder.

Take out a piece of paper and write it down. All The Places Your Hands Have Been. The letters they’ve written. The wrists they’ve touched. The wounds they’ve bandaged. The children they’ve held. The stories they’ve grasped in their Tiny Palms. 

And marvel … just marvel at the good Two Hands can bring to a world in need.

And so in that moment, that's what I do.

I think about the hand I held this morning when a student came with pain in her eyes and showed me her swollen knuckle where she was beaten that morning.

I think about the moments where I grasped an imaginary ball and played toss with my students.

I think about the rebellious student that I pulled onto my lap, ignoring her disobedience and teaching her how to give 'air kisses' instead.

I think about my hands as they pulled loose my new braids, allowing them to dance as little children's hands found their way in between the numerous strands to play and pull and twist and tuck.

All it takes is two hands. Two hands. To bring just a little bit of good in this world.

Hands intertwined.
So my challenge to you is to take that moment today or any moment you feel discouraged, down on yourself, like you aren't enough and just write. Write what your two hands have done. Write about all the places your hands have been. Who's hands have they grasped? Who's tears have they wiped away? What prayers have been lifted up as you've folded your hands in your lap?

And then just take a moment to marvel. Marvel at the good two hands can bring to a world in need.