"Smile or Die!"

I realize that this post might make me seem like a cynic or a pessimist. But, I'm okay with that. Please note: my goal here is not to offend anyone, but to explore the concept of unrealistic optimism.

Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich explains the craziness of the concept of "mandatory optimism and cheerfulness" in this RSA Animate video. Though she focuses a lot on the corporate world in this lecture, I think she's onto something. Sometimes I feel the pressure to be unrealistically positive in my everyday life, in my job, with my family, with my friends, and even (at times) with my spouse. Throughout our struggle with fertility and in struggles with my job, I've conversed with close friends and family and have heard more than once---"stay positive." Though I do think these people are being somewhat sincere, I am at odds with this mantra of positivity. After hearing it time and time again I begin to think that something is wrong with me if I am not feeling positive. I begin to think that I am the only one in this miserable world feeling...well...miserable.

I've been reading a book called Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss. I actually just finished it this morning--it's an enlightening book, good for anyone to read, even those not struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and adoption loss because, to be quite frank, these issues are more common than most are aware. It's from the perspective of a woman who has truly struggled with all three issues, and the book is saturated with scripture and sound biblical advice. But that's not the point of this particular post---actually, in one chapter the author mentions what grief looks like in the Old Testament---people displayed grief by extreme weeping and tearing their clothes. She writes, "There was weeping and wailing. For a whole year, nobody expected you to look or be the way you were. How wonderful! But in our nutty society, the person who 'keeps it together,' who's 'so brave,' and 'looks so great--you'd never know,' that's who is applauded" (Saake).

I'm not proposing we go back to Old Testament displays of grief that last a year long or even more--but, I do think there is a pressure in our society--especially in the Evangelical sector of society--to be unrealistically positive--that a glimpse of grief is sometimes equivocated to a lack of faith. Saake writes, "The Bible does not say to cheer up the bereaved, but rather to 'mourn with those who mourn.' Christ does not say we grieve because we are deficient in faith, but rather [in Matthew 5:4], 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted [not rushed].'" What a concept--mourn with those who mourn.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels the pressure to give the canned answer of "Great!" with a cheap smile plastered on my face when someone asks how I'm doing, when really how I'm doing is far from great. Maybe I'm the only one who feels like people question her faith when grief is displayed. But maybe not. Maybe we could all invest in people a bit more---maybe we could all look for and encourage an honest answer to the question, "How are you doing?" Maybe we could all use a healthy dose of reality: there will be negativity, hard times, and grief in the world---and it will affect us--and it's okay to feel less than positive sometimes--it's okay to mourn with those who mourn.


Merry Christmas!

Hope you are all enjoying your Christmas! So far we have celebrated with Nate's immediate family, my dad's family, my immediate family, and will celebrate with my mom's family tomorrow. We've had so much fun playing games, laughing, eating, and enjoying the company of family. This is truly my favorite time of year. I am so grateful that God sent his Son to die for us--to offer us salvation.

Here is our Christmas letter we created this year. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to figure out how to embed the Word doc into this blog---then I asked Nate to try, and he figured it out in 10 minutes! What a tech. genius :)

Hope what is left of your Christmas is blessed!
Christmas Letter2b


Engaging students

Author's note: This post is a fragmented collection of my thoughts based on the Ken Robinson video I posted earlier today.

We are teaching a generation of students whose attention spans are pulled in a million directions in their everyday digital lives--and then we punish them for not focusing in school. When I notice my students not focusing, it is generally because I am teaching boring material in a way that is not conducive to the way these digital natives learn. I struggle with this. It exhausts me to think about how much energy I exude when teaching some groups of students. Changing activities every 10 minutes, creating lessons that contain visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components every day is worth it, but is time consuming and strenuous. I have often wondered if I can keep doing this for 20 more years. I fear that I can't...

I've heard many teachers, journalists, and government leaders lament the fact that students' attention spans have dropped exponentially with the rise of a digital age. But why do we focus on this? I don't think we can change it, and I don't think it's a battle even worth fighting. We have to teach our students in a way that will wake them up and rouse their senses. But it is exhausting! So what do we do? We change the way education is done."The current system of education was designed, conceived, and structured for a different age" (Robinson). This is a daunting task......

Standardized Testing: What's Our Priority?

Author's note: This post is a fragmented collection of my thoughts based on the Ken Robinson video I posted earlier today, an op-ed from NPR (see the link below), and a conversation I had with another Nebraska teacher.

Standardized testing, I fear, is creating a generation of test-taking robots who have little to no capacity for creativity or critical thinking. What standardized testing often does is strip critical thinking down into a multiple guess testing method. Why? Because it's easier to grade and monitor. I understand that we have to find ways to monitor student learning, student growth---and the easiest way to do this is by objective testing that can be scored by a machine. I understand that our country's education leaders are feeling the pressure to catch up with South Korea, Japan, China, and other countries. I read an op-ed on NPR's website a few weeks ago that ranted about our country falling behind to other countries and the need to "restore excellence to America's schools" (Rothkopf). And while I agree with what much of Rothkopf is arguing for, I don't understand why we would stoop to this level of standardized testing in order to "restore excellence to America's schools." Sure these tests may close the gap between us and South Korea, but this also encourages conformity in students. One of its priorities is to get students to perform at the same level: proficient. There are many problems with this: who determines what proficient is? And does a multiple guess test measure proficiency? Do we see students' thought process on an assessment where they click a series of boxes or fill in a series of bubbles? So what is our priority: creating a generation of creative, critical thinkers or creating a generation of students who can make educated guesses? Sadly, I believe our country's focus is the later. I fear what public education may look like in 20 years. I hope teachers, students, parents and government leaders will rise up and continue to fight against this. Doing what's easiest (creating a test that can be scored by a machine that will ultimately decide if schools, teachers, and students are proficient and successful) isn't always doing what's best.

Sir Ken Robinson Speaks: Changing Education Paradigms

A few months back I posted a TED Talks video from Ken Robinson called, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" Here's another video that has had me thinking all week--it's worth your time to watch it. I've watched it at least ten times this week and have been working on a series of blog posts based on concepts presented in the video. I'll post them one at a time, so check back for more.


Finding Opportunity Amidst Difficulty

Today the journal prompt for my English 9 students was an Albert Einstein quote: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Between struggling with infertility to frustrations in my job---I'm learning a lot about finding opportunity amidst difficulty lately. To be honest, when we first struggled with having biological children I couldn't see opportunity in that difficulty. I had a one track mind and was devastated that we might not ever get that opportunity. Earlier this year when troubles struck at work, I'd grow so angry that I could barely do my job. I didn't look for opportunity. Instead, I focused on how pissed I was.

Today was a rough day. We had a pretty heated staff meeting at work, physically I haven't been feeling well, and I've been dwelling a lot on growing our family. When I found myself feeling like I was going to blow my top, I walked into my classroom, shut the door behind me, took a deep breath and began organizing papers (normally I run when I'm frustrated, but because I was in work attire all I could do was clean!). Eventually I looked up and saw the Einstein quote on my board. It started to put things into perspective. I went on a run when I got home to clear my head and began thinking of all the opportunities I have in my life right now: because we can't conceive our own children--we get to adopt a child; my job seems like a really stressful place right now--so I have the opportunity to be that joy and light that my students and co-workers need. I've identified the opportunities; now the hard part is actually doing something about it--taking that step to act on these opportunities. It won't be easy, but I think it's worth it.


The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Over Thanksgiving break I started reading the book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I hadn't read it since I was in elementary school, but I remember loving The Chronicles of Narnia series. I often spent my recess time in the library of St. James Elementary School, reading from The Chronicles books. Some nights I would stay up well-past my bed time, hiding under the covers with my book and book light reading into the early hours of the morning. The books captivated me as a child.

Reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe again was incredible. The story was better than I imagined it! I found myself giggling, gasping, and sobbing as I read through this book for the second time. In fact, last week we were laying in bed--Nate had been a sleep for about 30 minutes already, and I kept reading. I was to the point where Aslan was killed by the witch and her people all while Lucy and Susan watched from afar. As I read, I sobbed. This wasn't just a tear here and there--I was hysterically sobbing. But I kept turning page after page. Eventually Nate woke up and asked me what was wrong. In between gasps of air, sniffling, and more sobbing I muttered, "The witch killed Aslan. It's exactly like the crucifixion." This didn't seem to affect Nate too much as he stared at me for about 20 seconds longer and then fell back asleep!

This book had new meaning for me this time around. I was reminded so much of the sacrifice God made by sending Jesus to die for us--this is what drove me to uncontrollabe crying last week. The book is filled with parallels between Aslan and God and the witch and Satan; it helped me remember how poweful and just our God is. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has climbed back onto my list of favorite books. If you haven't read it, or it's been awhile---pick it up. You won't be disappointed.



Currently it's 7:20 AM on a Tuesday, yet I am still in my pajamas. No I'm not sick...we have a late start due to icy roads! I took advantage of this time to really spend some time reading the Bible. It's funny because yesterday morning as I was getting ready for work, I ranted to my husband about not having enough time to grow in my faith, be a good wife, be the best teacher, research and do my homework in preparation for my thesis, and stay sane. And today we have a late start; God must have grown tired of my grumbling.

This morning I sat down to read the book of Micah by the light of the Christmas tree---I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have not read through Micah in its entirety. I am intimidated by the Old Testament. But--I'm glad I read through this short OT book today. My Bible has an awesome intro. to each book; in the intro. before Micah it described our society's overuse of the words love and hate. It's incredible how many times I use these two small words in my everyday speech. Because of their overuse, "We no longer understand statements that describe a loving God who hates sin. So we picture God as gentle and kind--a cosmic pushover, and our concept of what he hates is tempered by our misconceptions and wishful thinking" (Life Application Study Bible). This got me thinking about how I look at God's punishment, how he deals with sin. The Old Testament is filled with displays of God's wrath on sin; it seems like each time I read through some of these I grow uncomfortable. Maybe this is why I've strayed from reading books in the Old Testament--maybe I am uncomfortable with these accounts because I don't really have a good understanding of a loving God who hates sin.

As I read through the first five or six chapters I found myself wanting to stop because it was so gloomy. But I kept reading for some reason. And when I reached chapter seven I felt a relief--I began to understand a little more God's purpose for His wrath against Jerusalem and Samaria. More than that, I feel like this sort of gives me a hope for what is to come in our world. Sometimes I get so frustrated with all the crap that goes on in our society, in my community, and even in my small social rings (that I am sometimes guilty of being a part of), but in Micah 7 God promises to lead His people out of darkness. Micah declares:

"As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies. The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness." --Micah 7:7-10

In a nutshell---I am learning that our God is one who is loving, yet hates sin---and this is okay. I am learning that I need to be patient like Micah and wait for God to bring me out of darkness--while I'm waiting, I need to examine myself, repent, and be faithful. If you haven't read through the book of Micah, I encourage you to read through it. It's eloquent, practical, and thought provoking. I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs, Equally Skilled, from Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot) whose lyrics are from Micah 7.


Holiday Struggles

I’ve struggled with whether or not I should chronicle the most intimate parts of our adoption journey. After lots of thought and prayer, I’ve decided that I need to write about it. Not only is it for my own benefit, but also I feel that part of my purpose is to write so that others can relate. These painful two and a half years of struggling with infertility and beginning the adoption process has left me feeling alone and looking for someone who I could relate to. It’s human nature to want to connect with someone who is in a similar life situation. So—every once in a while I will be writing about some of my inward thoughts about adoption and infertility in hopes that it will be of help to those experiencing something similar and to shed some light for those who aren’t familiar with the processes or emotions of adoption and infertility.

Some holidays are tough for me now. I love spending time with our families and friends and their children, but there are moments where it is a constant reminder that I don’t have children. At the most random of times I will be swept up in uncontrollable emotion. Today we helped my mother in-law set up her Christmas decorations. Our two nieces and one nephew dug into the boxes of their Christmas ornaments that contained a variety of ornaments displaying photos of them from over the years—a kind of time line of their lives. Their parents stood by with the video camera documenting the special moment—the girls, still pajama clad, weighed down one low branch with seven ornaments and sang fragmented Christmas carols and our one wobbly nephew held a musical ornament up to his ear savoring the sound of Deck the Halls. It was a beautiful moment until my eyes began to well up with tears. For the past year it had been my hope to be pregnant by Christmas time so I could give gifts that would reveal our pregnancy--coffee cups with cheesy phrases about being grandparents, picture frames that donned sayings about how important aunts and uncles are, and more importantly coining my husband with the title of dad. I quickly stood and ran upstairs so my tears would not ruin the beautiful moment my nieces and nephew were giving their parents and grandma. We quickly packed our car, said our awkward and rushed goodbyes, and hit the road towards home.

The minute I shut the car door I let the tears fall down my cheeks and squeezed my eyes shut thinking that if I didn’t open my eyes, maybe I would just fall asleep and let the emotions die down. But it didn’t work. I cried from my mother in-law’s house in Grand Island until we reached the interstate near Alda--nearly eight miles of tears. My husband didn’t have to ask what was wrong; he just held my hand as he drove.

I wonder if these sudden outbursts of emotion will ever go away. My fear is that even after our child is placed with us I will start crying during those important moments--birthdays, holidays, etc—because the pain of infertility will catch up with me. How would I even explain that to my child?

It’s amazing how emotions can take such a strong hold on a person. I guess I will just continue to take life one day at a time, trusting that God has ordained a specific child for us to love and raise in His ways and pray that my heart would slowly be healed.


Bringing Web 2.0 to Town: Using Technology to Enhance Student Learning in Rural Areas

This is the official title of the presentation I'm scheduled to give at this year's Rural Sites Conference affiliated with the National Writing Project in Little Rock, Arkansas! I will be collaborating with a professor from Michigan to create a 75 minute presentation on using technology to enhance education for rural students for rural teachers. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity and a little nervous as I'm a bit new in the business of presenting to teachers. More details to come!


Last week I had the chance to travel to Orlando, Florida to attend the National Writing Project conference and the National Council of Teachers of English conference. I attended sessions on digital literacies, Google Apps for Education, teaching in rural places, video gaming in the Language Arts classroom, content area literacy, social justice in the English education setting, and using Google Docs as a collaboration tool. I realize these may sound extremely dull to the average person, but they were incredible. I learned so much that I could take back to my classroom. Though I'm not a Disney World fan, it was a nice get away. Here are some photos from the trip:

Me with Cyndi and Erin Gruwell--the original Freedom Writers teacher

At Epcot--it sounds silly, but when I was a kid, I always imagined that the park was inside that big Epcot ball. For your information, the park is not inside the ball. I was a bit disappointed.

Cyndi and I enjoying a bit of sunshine before hitting the exhibits at NCTE

Cyndi with her loot---we each scored about 60 free young adult books @ the NCTE exhibits...
Last night at Disney= ranting about the commercialism of the whole experience. We were so outraged we decided to be rebellious and climb the "Mayan ruins." A few other swimsuit clad travelers decided to join us for the experience. We were promptly encouraged to climb down the ruins from a relatively kind Disney worker.

More fun with the Mayan ruins...


I don't know why I'm not in bed right now. It's late--but all I can do is listen to music and think. So, though it seems hokey, I thought I'd take advantage of being awake to compose a short and not so eloquent post about what I am thankful for (in no particular order):

  • Good music--I can't begin to express how important music is to me. The Swell Season, Iron and Wine, Bob Dylan, Yael Naim, Owen, Death Cab, Derek Webb, Wilco, and many, many others have brought so much peace to my life. Music balances me and makes me feel alive.
  • Literature--Reading takes me to new understandings and helps me grow into a well-rounded person and pushes me to be better in most aspects of my life.
  • Education--I am so blessed to have had so many educational opportunities. These have pushed me to become an effective teacher.
  • My career--What better job is there than to work with teenagers every day? Ha. Though it is sometimes an emotional roller coaster, I wouldn't trade it for any other career. I love to see them think and create. I enjoy working to make my classroom a community for my students. I love the fast-paced tempo of my job. Teaching is definitely my calling.
  • Family and friends--These people have stuck around through the ups and downs of my life, and for that, I am thankful.
  • Grace--I am an awful person who is consistently screwing up. It humbles me to think that God has offered His grace to me via His son. I take grace for granted a lot---but what a powerful concept that we could all practice in our everyday living.


Skyping With Polish Friends

Today we got a chance to Skype with our friends from Poland, Kris and Ola. We made a great connection with this couple while we were there, so it was great to hear their voices and see their faces. Kris and Ola are so faithful--their marriage and relationship with Christ is encouraging to me. I love hearing them talk about the small groups they are involved with and the outreach they're doing with the scout groups that they lead. Each time I talk with them I am invigorated. We are blessed to have them as friends!

Playing Dress Up with a 5 Year Old

A few weeks ago my niece, Alexis, was spending the weekend with her dad (my brother in-law) and we happened to be in town. So we had some quality time together to: practice her spelling words (she's in Kindergarten), watch movies, build a fort in the living room, and play dress-up. This little girl is so creative and full of energy--she's a blast to play with because her imagination runs wild. We were playing some form of house and our dog Sampson was "the baby"--so Alexis and I dressed up Sampson:

Sampson sporting his new I Love Kindergarten t-shirt and green tutu.

Playing with little kids is great. Not only does it make me excited to have my own children, but it reminds me to lose my inhibitions. To just go crazy and wear the silly, sparkly angel wings and make up dialogue for a half-naked Barbie doll. We can learn a lot from little kids about living in the moment...


More adoption musings

It's official---we have our first intake interview scheduled for Wednesday at 9:00 AM. I am so excited for this next step I can hardly contain myself. But...I'm also growing anxious. I've spent the last hour reading blogs of people who have adopted and though I love reading their stories, it makes me so anxious. I'm nervous about the littlest things---what if I freeze up on the stupidest question (during my interview for my current job, my principal asked me to tell him a little about me, and I blanked out!)? What do I even wear to something like this (seems so shallow, but I want to make a good impression)? What kinds of questions will they ask? I just am so unfamiliar with all of this. I scoured the racks at Hastings Books and Music this weekend (the only major book store in the area) searching for books on adoption and found one book that was over 10 years old....there were loads of books on pregnancy, but one on adoption. I know many, many people who have had their own children naturally, but only know a few people who have adopted. Who do I even turn to when I have questions? I can't turn to my mom or my best friends for answers because they've never experienced this. Sometimes I just feel so alone and frustrated because of our "out of the norm" situation. When I think about, it's a little funny because if you know me well, you know that I spent most of my life trying to break free of conformity and what was considered normal, so I guess our "out of the norm" situation is a bit fitting. Nonetheless, today I feel overwhelmed, overjoyed, and a bit sad. What a mix of emotions, eh?


Adoption update

It's been quite the weekend for us. On Thursday night we headed up to Grand Island to spend some time with Nate's brother Scott and his adorable little girl Alexis. While eating lunch on Friday with Scott, Alexis, Nate's mom (Linda), and my brother in-law (Pat), we got a phone call from the Adoption Intake Coordinator at Nebraska Children's Home wanting to schedule an interview with us. She listed off about 6-7 dates in November, one of them was this Wednesday. So, we checked our calendars and called the woman back to schedule the meeting. It looks like we will have our first intake interview tentatively scheduled for this Wednesday (we're waiting to hear back from the Intake Coordinator to confirm the date and time)!

Needless to say, we're excited...I'm a little nervous--I know God's hand is in all of this and that He is bigger than any of my fears and anxieties. It's just such a huge step---it doesn't even seem real. I mean, we've been waiting for, struggling with, and praying about starting a family for nearly three years. We've watched other couples close to us start families and have stood by, waiting for that same blessing...so, to actually take a step in the right direction seems...different. There are so many mixed feelings that I never thought would be present.

Nate and I woke up earlier than we wanted to this morning and as we carried on our usual Sunday morning routine of eating breakfast in bed while watching television shows on Hulu--Nate prayed and offered praise to God for bringing us this blessing of adoption...and at that moment my heart was filled with a joy and peace that I haven't experienced in a long time.

If you're a praying person--here are a few things to add to your prayer lists this week:
  • Praise---offer praise to God for this blessing of adoption!
  • Peace---Nate and I have missed and will be missing quite a lot of school this month. We took a personal day for Friday to spend some much needed time with Nate's brother, we'll take another personal day Wednesday for the adoption interview, and then the following week Nate will miss two days of school for All State and I will miss three days of school for a conference. The next week is Thanksgiving, so we'll only be in school for two and a half days---I'm stressed about preparing lesson plans for a sub, cramming in everything I need to get in during the remaning weeks of the first semester; Nate is equally stressed about missing so much school and still having his choirs be prepared for their Christmas concerts December 16th and 17th. Though family trumps school, we both love our students and our jobs, so being gone this much is difficult for us.
  • Safe travels---we'll be doing a lot of traveling this week, so pray for safety.
Thanks again for reading my thoughts. It encourages me so much when I see that people are reading my blog and leaving comments; it shows that people truly care about our situation. And I know we have lots of prayer support---words can't express how much we appreciate this. Prayer is powerful!


It's the little moments...

During the past few weeks our FBLA members have been selling Spook Suckers--a person can purchase a sucker for a quarter and send it to anyone within the school. There is also a place on the delivery tag to write a little note. I had seen this in the school announcements, but to be honest--I didn't even know our school had FBLA let alone know who was in FBLA! So, I skimmed over the announcement. Today during the last class period the Spook Suckers were delivered. My students started passing them out, and I continued teaching. The bell rang, and as the students filed out of my room, one student shouted, "Mrs. Helzer--those are yours" as he pointed to a pile of tissue wrapped suckers. I took them back to my desk and started reading the delivery tags. All but one were from former students and one was from another teacher...some of them contained thoughtful notes from the kids. Truth is, those dang suckers really made me felt appreciated. It seems really insignificant, but I realized then how something small can really have a huge impact on a person. So...my goal in the next few months is to spend more time thinking about the little things I can do in order to serve others or make people smile.


Adoption musings

Author's Notes: I'm not really sure what the point of this post is...it's just musings on our situation, I guess. It's not eloquent. I am a firm believer that God bring us into situations for a reason---I honestly think part of his plan for me is to relate to or reach out to others who might be experiencing something similar, and I do think blogging is a great way to fulfill this purpose. Oh, and it might help to watch the movie trailer before reading this post.

Yesterday my husband and I went to see the new movie, Life As We Know It. It was a cute movie that we both really enjoyed. It really got me thinking this weekend about our adoption journey. You'd think that this would be the only thing on my mind, but the truth is, I haven't had much time to just sit and process the situation. Actually---part of me thinks that I don't give myself time to process through it all because I don't want to find myself getting emotional over it. The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster--and I'm sick of riding it. So, I tend to avoid situations that would make me emotional.

Nevertheless, I took some time this weekend to think through our adoption "stuff" (I don't even know what to call what we're doing....). There are so many thoughts in my mind right now. Part way through the movie yesterday I started bawling just thinking that I might never be able to have biological children. Thoughts like this just creep into my mind every now and then. I don't think it's right to push them out, I think that I need to let them surface and then just deal with it...let the emotions run their course.

The movie also got me thinking about what a blessing it will be to adopt. To think that we could be parents to children who really need us is incredible. I have such a strong desire to raise children in a Godly home, to provide them with a solid foundation.

Though I want to fill my home with children, part of me is afraid for how our lives will change when that day does come. The couple in the movie struggled with adjusting to this new responsibility (as do most new parents) and had to sacrifice quite a lot. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to make changes and sacrifices. But--a small part of me wonders, am I ready for this? Am I ready to give up some of my freedom? Am I ready to give up spur of the moment hiking trips? Will I be able to find a balance between my family and my career? There's a scene in the movie where Josh Duhamel's character is rocking the baby he just acquired, and stressed about his situation he sings a line from Radiohead's, Creep..."What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here..." Though I know that I'd sacrifice freedom, hiking trips, and my career for the blessing of a child, I still worry about having those "what the hell am I doing here" moments. Parenthood seems to be a beautiful burden, for sure.

If you're a praying person---here are a few requests:

1. Patience---there are days where my patience really wears thin. I hate thinking that it might be another two-five years before we can invite a child into our home. So please pray that God would just calm my heart and help me to focus on what is good and holy; pray that he would use this time to refine me and cause me to experience true intimacy with Him.

2. The process/anxiety--we are early in the process. We sent off our initial batch of paperwork a little over a week ago and are waiting for the intake coordinator to schedule an interview with us. This is very new, so we are a bit anxious as we wait for the process to unfold.

Thanks for reading. We'll keep you posted as things start to unfold.


Fifteen Authors

I saw a note on a friend's Facebook page that said this:

"Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes."

Because I love reading and writing, and because I am that nerdy...I created my list:

1. Jack Kerouac
2. Don Miller
3. Hugh Prather
4. Billy Collins
5. Ted Kooser
6. John Steinbeck
7. Harper Lee
8. Sandra Cisneros
9. Paulo Friere
10. Natalie Goldberg
11. The apostle Paul
12. Ralph Waldo Emerson
13. Henry David Thoreau
14. Herman Hesse
15. Tom Robbins

16. Anne Lammot (I know--the rules say 15, but I have to add this one!)

I haven't necessarily read all of their books, but these authors will stick with me for the rest of my life. Many of them hooked me on literature and writing, while some made me enthusiastic about teaching, and others took me deeper in my faith. Reading is so powerful!


Working Through Insecurities

I am an extremely insecure person. I like to think that I appear as a confident, strong woman who knows where she is going in life. But---the more I experience life, the more I realize I am not this person. I am more of an anxiety-filled dreamer who has no clue what she wants to do with her life! Here are a few of my insecurities:
  • Coaching---I have NO idea what I'm doing. I don't really know how to coach kids, and I don't know a lot about the physiological aspects of running. Though I really enjoyed my time with XC this year, I had a lot of anxieties during the season due to my lack of knowledge.
  • Teaching--I second guess myself a lot. Should I teach composition alongside literature? Am I inspiring my students to be active, considerate, and caring people? Should I be doing more with grammar? How can I teach writing more effectively? Am I too hard on my students? Questions like this swirl in my mind all day...
  • My role as a wife--There have been many moments where I have had insecurities about my physical appearance and moments where I've questioned if I really fit that mold of what a wife should act like....this is partly due to my lack of femininity.
  • My future--As I near the end of my master's program, I feel like I need to make a decision on what to do next. PhD? Keep teaching? Do I want to be a stay at home mom?
  • How I will be as a mom---Though we don't even have kids yet, starting the adoption process has made me stop and wonder---will I be a good mom? Sometimes I can barely handle my classroom, how will I be able to handle my own kids?!? Since we're not having children the "natural" way--will I have that motherly instinct that other women have?
It's numbing to think about all of these. It's funny because I'm actually typing this while sitting on the floor of the unfinished part of our basement---it's cold, dark, and gloomy, and it fits my mood perfectly. These insecurities have really affected me this year; they've caused me a lot of late nights. But---as I've worked through these insecurities, I've learned one thing: God is bigger than all of them. Incredible! Here are a few verses that have been a huge comfort to me in my time of anxiety--Hopefully if you're experiencing something similar, the verses will be encouraging to you:

"Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you." --Psalm 37:5

"So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we ear?' These tings dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow for tomorrow ill bring it's own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." --Matthew 6:31-34

"Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." --Philippians 4:6-7


Speaking (and living) with conviction

Author's Note: Sorry for my brevity in this post--it's also a little raw around the edges. Maybe I'll get to clean it up later. Thanks for reading!

A fellow teacher sent me this video and I really liked it. Though it's funny, I think it speaks volumes about a lot of issues. What comes to my mind first is: How often do we speak with conviction? I'd like to think that I do this often, but in the last few days I've caught myself turning my declarative sentences into interrogative ones. And now that I think about it, I tend to second-guess myself a lot in daily conversation. I don't speak with enough confidence. Now, there's a fine line to be drawn between speaking with conviction and arrogance. Nobody likes an arrogant person. But, what benefit is there in speaking with conviction? I often wonder, do people know what my passions are? Do I speak and live in a way that make my passions evident to all around me? I'm not sure that I do...(I'm not trying to have a pity party here, I am truly just thinking) It's time for me to buck up and really speak with and live a life of conviction.

The second issue that comes to mind is: bandwagons. It's so easy to jump on a bandwagon--be it in fashion, music tastes, choices we make, or speech patterns. But what are we truly gaining by following, by jumping on bandwagons?

Work Cited:
Mali, Taylor. "Speak With Conviction Poem." Tangle. n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2010.


Teachers Who Made A Difference: What's Your Story?

As I browsed my newsfeed on Facebook today, I stumbled across a blog post on NPR called Teachers Who Made A Difference: What's Your Story? The post asks readers to post a tid-bit about a teacher who impacted their lives. After reading through two pages of posts, I was inspired to write my own:

At times, high school was a bit rough for me. I was a free-spirited kid who resited any sign of conformity and sought creative opportunities. For the most part, I worked hard in my classes but there were only a few teachers that truly motivated me intrinsically: My 11th grade American Lit. teacher and Journalism teacher, Ms. Beecher; my high school choir director, Mr. Ritter; and my 12th grade Composition teacher, Mrs. Kluth.

Ms. Beecher used my free-spirited nature when studying Emerson, Thoreau, and Hesse and always pushed me to think deeper about topics. She noticed my passion for writing and encouraged me to join the newspaper staff---and then allowed me to try my hand at writing several different types of news stories. But the one moment that sticks out most to me is the day I walked into class crying during my junior year. I wasn't a crier, but it was one of those days that pushed me over the edge. Instead of ignoring me or telling me to go pull myself together, she took me out in the hall, gave me a tissue, and asked what was wrong. She listened to me---even though she had a class full of students, she listened to me.

Mr. Ritter was not only my choir director, but he is also my best friend's dad so I got to know him in a different capacity. However--what I admired most about him was his boldness. He was bold in his faith, bold in his teaching, and he always did what he thought was right even if it went against popular opinion.

Mrs. Kluth had a dry sense about her. She was a cut-to-the-chase, no-nonsense kind of teacher who demanded that each student work to his/her full potential. But she also knew when to let down her hair and have fun. We worked our tails off for her because we didn't want to let her down.

All three of these teachers have shaped me into the person I am today and have inspired me to be the best teacher that I can possibly be.


Simple Banana Bread

I love bananas. I love eating them after running, I love eating them on tortillas spread with Nutella, and I love them in smoothies. But I never seem to eat them fast enough; I always end up with 2-3 over ripe bananas sitting on my counter. We had no school today due to parent-teacher conferences this week, so I decided to use some of my time to bake. I absolutely love cooking and baking but hardly ever make the time to do it. When I get time, I relish it! Today I used up those over ripe bananas to make a tasty batch of banana bread using this simple, nutritious recipe:

  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (I threw in about 1/4 c. flax seed with the flour for an extra boost of fiber!)
  • 1/2 cup splenda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3-4 bananas (1 1/2 cups banana, mashed)
  • 1/3 cup applesauce (I cut up a small apple and pureed it to make my own applesauce)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (cranberries or chocolate chips might also be tasty if you don't have walnuts)

Orlando Bound

Next month I will be traveling to Orlando, Florida with a group of teachers from the Nebraska Writing Project's advisory board to attend the National Writing Project's annual convention. The convention is a great opportunity to attend sessions about teaching and leadership and to network with other folks from across the country involved in the writing project. As I registered today for my sessions, I realized how much I love teaching and being involved with public education. I am truly blessed to be doing something I love and to have so many chances to grow in my career!


Processing "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith"

While gallivanting in Boulder last month, my husband and I visited the local Borders to grab new reading material when I stumbled across Anne Lamott's book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. I had heard about Lamott via a Don Miller book and had decided that I wanted to read something form her. So--I bought the book and it has occupied my nightstand and the desk in my classroom for a month. Usually it doesn't take me this long to read a book--but this book was different. I would go through moments where I couldn't put the book down and then moments where I had to put it down. The book was very unsettling to me.

My writing friend Erica and I had a short conversation on Facebook tonight about the book, and I mentioned that Lamott is an incredible writer who has the ability to engage, entertain, provoke deep thought, and write in a way that is honest---an honesty that stings a bit like peroxide on a scraped knee. Though the peroxide analogy may seem weird, it works for me because even though it stung like crazy when my mom put peroxide on my scraped elbows and knees, I knew that it was good for me--it was purifying. And that's how Lamott's book is---parts of it sting, parts of it makes me feel uncomfortable, but it's good for me to be pushed to think and reflect on how/if this book fits in with my belief system.

In a nutshell, the book is a bold account of Lamott's struggles with addictions, family, self-image, relationships, etc. and how she finds faith in God through it all. No doubt about it: she invites everyone--no matter their backgrounds--to experience her faith. I'm certainly no Bible scholar, but I think this is what Jesus wanted--to have everyone--even the least of these--to experience His father.

At the bottom of the book cover is a quote from the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, "Anne Lamott is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath." In some instances, this is what I struggled with--the mix of reverence and irreverence within a page or even a sentence. Innumerable swear words, leftist political ideologies, and at times a wishy-washy view of God caused me to close the book. Because of this, I think that many conservative Evangelical Christians would dismiss this book as garbage. But her incredible way of crafting sentences, her pure honesty, and the way this book challenged me to question her theology and examine my beliefs always drew me to pick up where I left off.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book, and I'd recommend it to people who have an open mind--it's not for the faint of heart. If you're interested in reading another--more professional and much better written--review of an Anne Lamott book, check out the following link.



This post is a bit delayed, but over Labor Day weekend Nate and I took a short trip to Boulder, Colorado. I've always wanted to visit Boulder, so we packed up the Subaru and headed west. We had some time to do a little shopping at the Pearl Street Mall, had dinner with a friend in Arvada, and then spent almost all day Sunday hiking near Ward, Colorado. We hiked to Lake Isabelle and then headed up Pawnee Pass. It was about a 9-10 mile hike that got pretty strenuous towards the end. In fact, we got pretty close to the end and then my fear of heights got the best of me. I sat down on the trail while Nate hiked the last switchback to the top and got to see a lake sitting in a crater of the mountains (unfortunately I had the camera). It was a great weekend where we could just spend time together in the beautiful outdoors.


Beginning our journey towards adoption

After a long two years, several doctors appointments, and some serious prayer--Nate and I have decided to begin the adoption process. Our desire to be parents and raise them in a Godly home is so great that if we can't have our own children, then we want to give this to a child who may not have it.

Currently we are in phase one of the process: seeking out local agencies and signing up to attend informational meetings. It seems that most agencies require this before actually applying. So last week we first made contact with the Nebraska Children's Home and were told that the soonest informational meeting was January in Lincoln. After that we were a little disheartened. We were really hoping to get a spot at the September meeting in North Platte, but it was already full--the only thing we could do was add our names to a waiting list. So a few days later, after talking to my aunt and uncle (who adopted two children) who encouraged us to apply to as many agencies as possible, we found three more agencies to contact. We called Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and were again told that the soonest we could schedule an informational meeting would be this coming spring but that they would send us a packet of information to leaf through. Feeling defeated and a bit hopeless, I prayed. Honestly, I didn't know what else to do...I've grown so tired of the waiting and knew that I couldn't handle it on my own.

At the beginning of this week I made contact with Lutheran Family Services again just to double check on what to do next. After a short conversation with a woman in the Lexington office, we had an informational meeting scheduled for September 14th in North Platte! And yesterday Nate texted me while I was at our Cross Country meet to let me know that we were invited to attend an informational meeting with the Nebraska Children's Home in North Platte on September 16th! God is good. This is truly an answer to our prayers, and I'm excited to see how else God provides for us during this process.

If you're a praying person--please pray that God would give us a sense of peace and comfort and patience as we begin a long period of waiting. Next week we are planning on contacting two agencies to learn more about them; I'm praying for positive experiences with these as well. Thanks for the support as we launch into this page of our lives!


Cross Country

This year I'm trying something new: coaching cross country. I've never coached a sport before, and I am relatively new to running distances. But--when the head coach approached me last May about helping him this year, I was pumped. Since I started teaching two years ago I've wanted to coach a sport but have never had the chance. Though its an added responsibility and busies my schedule even more, I am so thankful for the opportunity.

It's definitely been a humbling experience, I am a natural go-getter and like to be in control. But I don't know much about coaching, running, or coaching running! So here is what I've learned so far:

1. Running takes just as much mental stamina as physical stamina. This is something that I've come to learn from running, but as I've watched kids train over the past several weeks, I am seeing more of how much a mental activity running is--it sounds cliche, but those who think they can't, who are defeated before they begin, will have a hard time finishing a longer run than those who approach it with even a shred of confidence.

2. A little encouragement goes a long way--a simple fist bump after a good workout could be what boosts a kids confidence enough to come back for the next practice.

3. People will work harder when who they're working for, trusts and respects them. The head coach of our team is fantastic--he has worked hard to create a great program here in Ogallala. One thing I noticed right away was that his kids are willing to work for him and typically don't cause problems. As the season has gone on, I've figured out that one of the reasons why the kids are so compliant with him is because he truly trusts and demonstrates respect towards them. He also holds them to high standards--which I think motivates them to work hard.

4. I've learned the importance of giving God your best (the head coach is also a strong Christian who has created a great ministry out of cross country and FCA). This isn't a revolutionary concept. But, as I've heard our coach say over and over again "God only cares that you give Him your best," I've started to examine my own life. There are so many areas where I don't give God my best...often He gets what's leftover at the end of a long day of teaching, coaching, and being a wife.

I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I'm looking forward to it all. We have our first meet tomorrow in Goodland, Kansas--so if you're a praying person, say a few for safe travels, health and strength of our team, and that the kids would run their best.


Finding my female identity

Tonight I went to "So That" our women's ministry group at church. A woman from church called me last night to invite me to come and talk about my experiences in Poland at the women's ministry group that meets once a month. I dread these invitations. But before you get all hot and bothered, let me explain. I am not a typical female--and I sort of take pride in that. I have never been into girly things--when I was younger I dressed in boy clothes and tried several times (without success) to pee standing up, makeup is not my best friend, the color pink makes my head hurt, I don't like having my nails painted, and I dislike shopping. In high school I generally gravitated towards male friends because I couldn't stand the drama that my female counterparts often exhibited. I kept up this behavior into college, and now--at the age of 24--I find myself with only a handful of close female friends who I can share my dirty laundry with. Being around females is hard for me because it's out of my comfort zone--it's unfamiliar territory. So I avoid female gatherings. As humans, we tend to avoid what makes us uncomfortable.

But tonight as I sat and listened to other women share their experiences in Poland (we had five other New Hope gals serve in another part of Poland this summer), and as I talked with some of the women in attendance--I felt a sort of bond. Once I got past the initial awkwardness and hyperawareness that I was around so many females, I slowly began to feel comfortable. I am realizing the benefit of stepping out of my safe bubble in order to form relationships (I have come to realize this summer that relationships are often the foundation for fellowship in Christ--but that's another blog post!). Women can be a powerful breed of people when united under once cause--and that excites me. So one of my many goals this year is stretch myself to connect with more women--I guess I'm finally sort of finding my female identity....


Back to school...

Today was our first day of classes! I have mixed feelings about going back to school this year. I love my job, but our summer was so crazy busy with classes that I feel like I didn't get quite enough time to myself. I also have some anxieties about this school year--one of them is living out my faith throughout the year both in and out of school. But despite my apprehensions, the time has come and students are filling up the seats in my room. So, I wanted to pass along a few passages from scripture that are really challenging me to live better (for a lack of better terms) this year because it is tough to live out a Christian life in our society. I hope they'll be of some benefit to others who might be reading:
  • Romans 12
  • Galations 6:16-26
  • James 1:19-27
  • James 3


Poland Update

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my four year old niece, Denelle, wanted to do something to support us going to Poland. So, she and her mom went and bought three picture books about God to send with us. On the last day we handed out these books to a few kids.

The first picture is of a woman at the camp who served as a translator with her two daughters.

The next is of two little boys who attend preschool at the Chojnice Baptist church. What's interesting about this family is that the parents aren't believers...though this is a kids book, I think it will positively impact the parents as well

The last picture is really special to me. The little boy in the picture is Bartek--he is three years old and is going through some rough times right now. His 14 year old sister was in my classes, and I found out that their father recently left them. The mother is raising three children on her own...I am confident that this book will be a comfort to both Bartek and his mother.


Krys and Ola

This week we had the opportunity to meet and get to know a beautiful couple: Kris and Ola. They are around the same age as us and have been married for almost a year. They’ve been attending family camps for the past five years. In fact, Kris made a decision to follow Jesus at one of these camps a few years back.

We spent a lot of time with these two this week; on our last day in Poland, the two came and picked us up in old town Gdansk and we spent the afternoon together. They shopped with us and helped us find good bargains, translated for us, then took us to see the Baltic Sea, and finally we went back to their flat for coffee and great conversation. We ended up having dinner together and even went shopping at a hardware store to help them pick out paint colors. I’m having a hard time describing this new-found friendship because it feels like we’ve been friends with them for years.We’ve only known one another for 8 days—but we’ve made such a deep connection. It’s great to see how God brought this all about. I’m looking forward to seeing how our friendship develops over time.

This new relationship is another small picture of how God works at these camps. First, Kris developed a relationship with Jesus during this camp—it was just what he needed to give him that extra push in taking a step of faith. Many people who attended the camp this week felt this same push. Some decided to put their trust in Jesus at camp, but many more were driven one or two steps closer to God because of how He worked in the camp. Who knows where these people might be without the experiences they had at camp. Second—Kris and Ola’s marriage is another testimony to these camps. Ola mentioned that a few years ago she spent a lot of time talking with an Ogallala woman about marriage and what a godly marriage should look like (this Ogallala woman is the late wife of one of the men—John--from our church who came to serve at the camp this year). Now, Kris and Ola are married and are in a relationship that is glorifying to God. Kris and Ola’s marriage is also a blessing to John in that he could see how much of a blessing his wife was to this young couple. Finally, I feel invigorated to have met Kris and Ola. Because of them I am challenged to work more at my marriage and to make sure that God is the center of our marriage. I realize that camp isn’t the only event that caused all of these blessings to occur, but there is no denying that the way God works at these camps has played a role in many of these blessings.

My translator

As most of you know, my husband and I have been in Poland for the past 13 days working and teaching at a family English camp in Poland. So many great things have happened during this short time—there’s no way I can describe them all, but I do feel that I need to process the trip. So, the next few blogs will be devoted to my experiences in Poland.

Meet my translator, Ester. Ester was born in Poland, but moved to Canada with her family when she was younger. This summer she was back in Poland visiting extended family, so she wound up serving as a translator for me this past week. Translating is tough work. Not only does it require switching back and forth between two languages, but it also means that there is no time for spacing off during a conversation! Ester’s job this week was particularly difficult because we were working with girls raging in ages from 10-14 who spoke little to no English. If you’ve ever worked with this age group, you know how much talking can go on in the course of an hour! By the second day the 12-13 girls felt comfortable enough around us and were in the habit of talking or shouting at once and expected Ester to translate all of it. Ester’s job was not limited to the three and a half hours we were together for Bible study, English class, and conversation time—she ended up translating a lot in the evenings when girls wanted to talk with me. I am so thankful for Ester’s diligence and willingness to serve. It was frustrating at times for both Ester and me, but she stuck with it until the end.

Not only was she my translator, but I also feel that she became a friend during our short time together. We had some time each day where we just sat and talked. I think it was the second day of camp when Ester and I were talking about relationships—she is about the age where she’s thinking about marriage, so we talked a lot about the joys and hardships marriage brings. She asked if Nate and I were thinking about having children. I explained to her that it’s something we’d been struggling with, and that medically—the chances of having our own children are slim and that we are interested in beginning the adoption process. Ester piped in and boldly asked, “Well have you prayed about it? Because you can’t just say ‘some doctor told us we can’t have kids so we’ll just adopt.’ You have to pray because God can do anything, you know. Do you want me to pray for you?” I couldn’t believe that this 19 year old was getting so personal with me so quickly. It was a bit unnerving but also refreshing in the sense that someone who I barely knew cared enough to ask if she could pray for me.

Sunday was our last day of camp, so we spent a few hours reading through camp evaluations and talking about our experiences. Our leader (a pastor from Washington) stressed the importance of digesting the trip. So as I sit on the plane (we’re flying from Munich to DC right now) I’m thinking about how I can describe my experience in Poland to others. The conversation I mentioned between Ester and me is a perfect example of what happens at these family camps in Poland: relationships are built. Because the camp has a focus on God, not on teaching/learning English, great things can and do happen. The relationship I developed with my translator is just a small glimpse of what I gained while in Poland---be watching for more!


Poland Update: Thursday

I would have to say that a highlight of my day was Connor's testimony. Connor is a 19 year old college student who is an Ogallala grad. I mentioned this in my last post, but he has made quite a few relationships here at the camp. Tonight he gave a very moving testament of his faith in Christ. There were not many dry eyes in the place. I've heard many testimonies before, but this one will stick with me for awhile because it was so genuine and heart-felt. Connor laid himself on the line in front of nearly 150 people tonight--and several people talked with him afterwards to get advice about what they were going through or how they were feeling...this was a big step of faith for him. If you're the praying kind, please keep praying for Connor--that he would continue to draw nearer to Jesus and experience a type of intimacy he's never felt before. Also, pray for the campers who were moved by Connor's testimony, that it would bring them one step closer to God.


Poland Update

My team, posing as pirates...
My girls during English class---playing American Candy Bingo
Worship at night...
Nate's crazy high school boys during one of the games
My girls posing for a silly picture

Author's Note: Forgive me for any typos or poorly written sentences; it's late at night, and I’m exhausted!

It's Thursday morning...we just finished the fourth day of camp and are ready to start the fifth. I can't believe we only have four days left. I would have to say that this has been one of the best experiences I've had in a very long time. Here are some of the highlights:

•Watching one of the guys from our church connect with the Polish teenagers--Connor Max (he graduated from OHS in 2009) has really gone out of his way to form relationships with many of the Polish teens. He is leading junior high boys while we're here, and they have really connected with him.

•Seeing my girls (ages 10-14) come out of their shells. The first day they were a timid bunch who didn't speak a word--now they are chatty as all get out! I've also had a few girls ask if we could talk one on one at the end of the night--(with a translator translating). These conversations haven't been too deep, but it's a good step in the relationship forming process. I'm hoping that my girls can open up even more to explore deeper topics and converse about their faith.

•My Bible study time: At the end of our time yesterday I asked if anyone wanted to pray for the group. An outgoing little girl (Gabi) volunteered to pray, and she prayed the Our Father (most of my girls are Catholic) in Polish. So, I took advantage of this knowledge they had today and taught them the Lord's Prayer in English (Luke 11:1-4). They LOVED it! And I think it was eye opening for them to see the prayer in the Bible. In fact, when I asked them to turn to Luke 11 one girl asked, "You don't know it by heart?" I told them that I did, but I wanted them to read it from the Bible. I know I only have 8 days with them, but I'm hoping that reading our Bibles each day will get them familiar enough with it so that they aren't intimidated to open their Bibles.

•English classes: Though I am accustomed to teaching English, I am not familiar with teaching English to non-English speakers. Yesterday was our first class; I was trying to write a few vocab. words on our little white board and the girls kept shouting at the translator that they could not see the board. So naturally I taught them the phrase, "I can't see the board." I turned the board back onto my lap to write a few more words, and about 30 seconds later, in unison the girls screamed, "I can't see the board!" It scared me so much because I wasn't used to hearing English during that time! Our lesson today was fruitful, and many of the girls have been following me all over the place during the day practicing their newly learned English.

•Testimonies: Each night we end the day with about an hour long service where we sing (the worship band here is AMAZING) and an American gives his/her testimony (how they came to have a relationship with Jesus). Sunday night Justin, a youth pastor from Washington, gave his, Monday I gave mine, Tuesday was Bob from Washington, and today was John from Ogallala. I can really tell that God has been working during this time. I am a nervous person who doesn't like to speak in public, so I was terrified to give mine. I wrote four drafts of it! But I prayed over and over that day that God would just give me the right words to say to speak to the hearts of the campers. After the first line my nerves faded, and I felt a sudden sense of peace as the words flowed from my mouth. A few Polish people approached me afterwards and thanked me for speaking; some said they could relate to my story. I think that's a step...

•Seeing God work in the camp: Here's one example--our group leader from Ogallala, Chuck, drove us all the way to Denver, we got to DIA to check in, but when he the passport to the clerk he realized he had grabbed his wife's passport rather than his own! Passport-less, he drove back to Ogallala. Our pastor tried to book him another flight out, but the possibilities looked bleak. Chuck and our pastor prayed together over the phone and a few minutes later the pastor called back saying that the travel agency had found tickets for Chuck. He arrived at the end of our first day. Chuck is a legend here at camp as this is his 12th time here. He has formed many lasting relationships and has seen many people devote their lives to Christ. It's a blessing to have him here despite the minor passport glitch.

•Becoming familiar with Polish culture: Polish food is amazing. Polish people are EXTREMELY competitive (we've played a lot of evening games as social activities) and have a TON of energy, which makes for a lot of fun!

I know that's a lot! I do want to post more tomorrow about my amazing translator, Ester--so be sure to check back. I will leave you with a few prayer requests: handed

1. Connor is giving his testimony tomorrow night. Pray for peace for Him that God would work through him to really touch the hearts of some of the campers.

2. Energy! It's the middle--so some of us (including me) are dragging.

3. That we would be able to continue forming relationships with the Polish people.


More prayer requests...

I have a few more prayer requests for you all if you feel inclined to pray:

--One of our team members from Nebraska, Chuck--who has been to help at this camp 11 times--will be traveling to Poland today. We had a small hiccup at the airport--he was checking in at DIA and realized that he grabbed his wife's passport rather than in his own. So he had to drive all the way back and then rebook his flights---please pray for safe travel for him.

--Open hearts for the Polish people attending the camp.


Poland: Days 1 and 2

It's been a whirlwind so far here in Poland! After a long flight from D.C to Munich (layover due to weather and really tight quarters---none of the guys got to sleep on the nearly 9 hour plane ride) and a 1.5 hour trip from Munich to Gdansk, we had some more downtime while we waited for one of the Polish pastors, Piot (Peter), to come pick us up. After a few hour trip, we finally arrived in Czersk--a village of about 10,000 where we are staying with Ludvick and Camille. They are a wonderful couple with a beautiful home. They have been nothing but hospitable--Camille is an EXCELLENT cook and has fed us some great, authentic Polish food (all from scratch!) while Ludvick has been our tour guide bussing us all over to nearby villages. Last night we went to a nearby forest to see a beautiful river and do some hiking. On the way home we stopped in the town square to watch a traditional children's Polish group dance and sing. Tonight he took us to a beautiful Scandinavian cemetery that has been used for nearly 6,000 years in a forest---I got to eat wild blueberries here! Then he and his wife took us to another nearby village where an international folk festival was going on. We watched groups from Poland, Bulgaria, and Macedonia dance and sing. He also bought us some Polish bread (I can't pronounce it or even begin to think how to spell it!) that was topped with cheese, onions, cabbage, and meat. They are very gracious people.
The entrance to the Scandinavian cemetery
Connor, me, and Nate enjoying our Polish food at the folk festival
On the bridge at one of the forests near Czersk

Today we also visited the Baptist church in Chojnice--this is the church that is hosting the English camp we're here to work at. The pastor there, Henrik, is fantastic man--he and his wife have 8 kids and 1 on the way! After our team meeting, Henrik took us into the town and gave us a tour--according to him, the part of the city we were in was nearly 1,000 years old. Of course, the buildings have been renovated since then--but the history of the town is phenomenal. The Polish people have really endured a lot---the Germans in both World Wars and the Russians during the Communist era. They have only been free from Communism since about 1989, so they're still a relatively "new" country. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful country. All of the people we have met so far have been hospitable and very kind.

The Chojnice Baptist Church

The camp starts tomorrow---I'm not sure how the internet connection will be, and I know our schedule is pretty crammed. I'll try to blog during the week, but if not--look for a new post next Monday or Tuesday. I've also posted a bunch of photos to Facebook---so feel free to check there to see more of this gorgeous country!

If you're a praying person, here are a few prayer requests I have:

-Energy--we are all getting really tired as our bodies struggle to adjust to timezone differences. It's currently 11:55 PM here, but 3:55 PM in the states.....we will be stretched this week. So please pray that we would have some sort of supernatural energy to make it through.

-That we would rely on the power of God--the pastor who is joining us from Washington led us in a short devotional today on 2 Corinthians 12:1-9 (Paul's weaknesses). We talked about how we all have weaknesses--these are especially evident in situations where we are unfamiliar with our surroundings. My weakness right now is a feeling of inadequacy--I don't feel cut out to speak to people about Christ, I don't feel confident in my teaching abilities (especially to a group of Polish speaking junior high students!), the language barrier is a bit overwhelming at times, and I am tired. But---we can use our weaknesses to recognize the power of God--Paul writes, "Three times I begged the Lord to take it [his weakness] away. Each time he said, 'My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me."

Thanks again for all of your support!!!