Half Moons

I’m outside, a half moon before me, wrapped in a fleece blanket. This is my happy place.

I found this place a few dozen moons ago, on a rooftop overlooking Asamankese. Those were a hard few months. I was stretched and sucker punched in ways I don’t know if I’ve even grasped, yet. I talk about those days. Some days I regret leaving. Other days I breathe a prayer of thanks. But mostly, I remember the moon.

6622_10151267396519340_1342261398_n

Almost every night, after we’d eaten and the night had dropped quickly, we’d climb up onto the roof with our Bibles and an iPod and maybe a blanket. We’d sit on the scratchy cement roof, the scuffling of lizards making their way away from our spot, and we’d talk. We’d pray. Sometimes we’d sit in silence. Sometimes I would be alone, and other times the three of us would gather together. But consistently, always, there was the night sky, and there was God.

In that place on that roof, with the smell of smoke thick in the air and the sounds of dishes being washed in tin basins around us, I learned a simple lesson: when life seems like it’s the hardest thing to do, my eyes need to turn back to the One who put me here in the first place. When my eyes are on Him – not on what’s around me – it’s then I can finally breathe.

And so when I’m in that place again, when things are falling around me and I’m drowning, I go back to the place I know He’ll be. I sit at His feet and I stare at the moon and I am reminded.

It’s been a sign of His faithfulness in some of the hardest and best of seasons. It was a full moon the night she walked down the aisle and a chapter of our childhood was closed. It was a full moon when I showered in the dark of a Senegalese night on a trip I thought I’d never take. I could whisper to you every night that when I needed the reminder, and looked outside, the reminder was there.

And so tonight, it’s a half moon as I wrap myself in a fleece blanket and ask God why I am still here and she is not.

And He reminds me to breathe.

And He reminds me that I need Him more than I need answers.

That I need presence more than I need words.

And so I thank Him for the adventure, the life ahead of me, the days stretched long and the peace that surrounds me. He is good and He is faithful,

just as He is faithful to let night fall and a small ray of moonlight dance across my face.

Dancing to the Beat of my Heart

Today I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, the Bible open across from me, and a latte safely snug between my hands. This moment was profound to me. Not because of my love for coffee, or because the walls were painted my favorite turquoise.

10665268_10152520567539340_5627082125459341815_n

No, it was profound because in many ways, I didn’t recognize the person I’ve become.

There was a time where I refused to be alone in my own company. I couldn’t go out and eat alone. I didn’t walk to school alone. I certainly wouldn’t live alone. And in one moment two years ago, on a rooftop in Ghana, I realized a horribly ugly truth: I did not love myself. In fact, I loathed most parts of me. And I resolved on that rooftop that I wanted to see myself as my Creator sees me: beautiful, loved, unique. Because how heartbreaking is it if I avoid the one person I can know the best – myself? How could I hope for others to love me, if I alone wasn’t willing to? And what did my lack of love for myself say about the Creator – the One who knit me together, who designed me, who calls me His beloved?

On that rooftop I cried because my heart broke. Because I knew that God wanted me to love what He’d created and died for.

Everyday it’s a journey. I wrestle with choosing to believe who I am in Christ instead of who my insecurities say I am. I wrestle against the idea that pride is loving ourselves and being confident in the things we excel at. That’s not true. Being prideful is finding our identity in those things, not humbly thanking God for them.

I seek the things that I love – and if I want to, I do them alone. I visit the park alone I love so much. I wander the market. I sip coffee in a new coffee shop. I hope someday to have someone to do those things with – but either way, I want to love being with just me. I want to know the person that God has created – to understand what it means that I am made in His Image, to understand the things He’s created that make my heart dance. I want to dance to the beat of my heart.

I think as we understand the created, we too understand the Creator. We are missing a characteristic of the Lord if we deny understanding who we are. Because we’ll see His fingerprints in the very way He designed our heart to beat.

So I’m quietly rejoicing for that moment today. I’m rejoicing that as God forms us into new creation – that slowly, I am being given a new heart to love. To deeply love God, to love others, and to love myself.

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

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,

Angie

“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.”

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,

Angie

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

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,

Angie

Sitting in the Graveyard

My heart is heavy tonight. It’s still beating …. but it’s bruised, and it’s a bit battered, but it still beats. And I am listening to that sound, as if it is a lifeline, uttering a prayer of thanks with every new sound.

Because sometimes life is so hard.
And it takes leaving your country, your home, your family, your friends to be in a space where you can finally feel that. It takes losing all of the things that hold you up … to be in a place where the only place you can land is in His arms.
It takes being in an unfamiliar place, I think, to finally venture into grief and let yourself feel. Because when you lose something, it’s easy to walk around the grief, to stare at it, to wish it away, to pray it away, to lose yourself in the familiar because grief is anything but. 
But you can’t bring building supplies to the graveyard. There’s a season of life, when dreams have been shattered, and you have lost what you never thought you would, that you need to sit in that grief and that heartache. 

And although it’s scary, and it hurts, I might have finally walked into that graveyard. For a long time I’ve sat and stared at it’s gates, and there have been moments when I’ve dared venture in, but the truth is, being sad and feeling my grief is the hardest thing to do.

But I think I might be ready to sit. I think I might be ready to leave my building supplies behind and just sit in the graveyard. However scary and painful that might be.
Because I am reminded that however scary it might be, however dark it might seem right now, the sun will rise and illuminate even the darkest and scariest graveyard. I know, for my hope rests in Him, that there will be a time when the sun, in its beauty and glory, will remind me that I too can rise. 

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.

Love,

Angie

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.

Victor

Roberta

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,

Angie

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.