A Desert Confession

You may have realized that I have been pretty silent the last few months.  Yes, that is partially due to the crazy busy cycle that is teacher life.  There is no doubt that the endless cycle of children being children, teaching said children in their childish antics, and grading the results of said teachings is more than enough work to fill my time and mental space. And we have, in short, told people life is good.  And to be honest, life is good.  Some days are harder than others, but isn’t that life in general?

But the secret (and I wear my heart on my sleeve, so this may not be quite so secretive) is that while life has been busy and enjoyable and full of community and life, it has also been extremely draining and spiritually immobilizing.  A few months ago, not but a month or so into living in Shanghai, I began to feel this dryness take over.  I began to question what it means to be a person of faith.  Every single thing I used to do to connect with the Father began to feel empty and dead.  It felt like I had followed Father, tethered to his heart and to the things that kept that connection stable, all the way to this land we are living in; and then I was abandoned.  It felt like every connection I had made, every rope that connected me to the Father was severed.  On one hand, that was good because it made me realize that my walk was not firmly planted but rather relied on the latest and greatest from John Bevere or the Spirit exuding from inside my mentors. On the other hand, it felt lonely, empty, and dry.

And to be honest, this should have driven me to seek the Father deeper.  It should have driven me into His presence, but every time I did try, I was met with pain.  I was met with an ache of emptiness and longing.  I began to write it out, penning a new song.

I find myself in the driest place I’ve been, wondering where you have gone. I long to sit in the presence of my King, but it seems that something is missing. Where are you? I need you. I want to worship as before, my face on the floor, in your presence.  I want to seek you at my core with open heart, open door, in your presence.

And that helped for a time.  Still, when I created space to be quiet and still, it hurt or it was empty.  The Truth felt meaningless.  Everything felt meaningless.  The Father felt distant.  And as I dragged myself out of bed around 10:30, committed to seeking Him in the early part of today, I found myself experiencing the exact same pain.  A pain that can only be described as a bad breakup.  It felt like my heart had been ripped in two.  The flesh of it remained beating in my chest while the spirit of it was caught in a cry in my throat that simply prayed, “I miss you.”

Then, as has been the cycle for the last few months, I attempted to continue my day and forget the pain.  I messaged some warriors and moved on.  After my haircut, I open up my phone to a message from one of those warriors.  It was a helpful reminder that I knew but needed to probably hear. It was just enough to help the purge of my heart through fresh tears and readjust my gaze.

Then, as I began to walk around, I stumbled upon a CrossFit.  This may not seem like much, but another area that has been a struggle is feeling sluggish and defeated about my health. I had gone from a 6 month life change of nearly 60 pounds to feeling bloated and disgusting and weak again.  It’s been nearly a year since I worked out at my gym back home, and I have found myself looking back to who I was and how I didn’t want to go back to the old me, but that is what transition did.  I reverted to the old comfort of McDonald’s and not-so-baggy pants. It is only by the grace of God that I haven’t gained every pound back. So when I stumbled upon CrossFit, it was like a light dawned.  Something new, yet familiar.

And as this story winds down, we went to community where I discovered a women’s retreat that is happening which shares the exact same name as the community of women I used to be connected to.  And it felt like Father was screaming out into my depth of despair, reaching from heaven and saying, “I’m here, and I DO see you!

And THEN, if that hadn’t been enough to renew my hope, one of the songs at community touched on this EXACT thing, the faithfulness of Father.  The lines that wrecked me, like a stream from my heart spilling through my eyes were these: “Your promise still stands. Great is your faithfulness, faithfulness. I’m still in Your hands. This is my confidence. You’ve never failed me yet.” And it was like I was being picked up out of the desert, even if for a moment, given fresh perspective, and completely reset into the knowledge of the Father’s eternal presence in my life, regardless of whether I “feel” Him there.

In a moment, I went from one of the lowest places I have ever felt to being in the very place I have longed for–in His presence, held tightly in His loving hands. Will the pain return? I hope not.  Will the desert remain? Possibly, but I am going to press on to the next stream with a renewed gaze and an expectant heart.

Be encouraged.  Perhaps things are changing.  Perhaps you feel dry.  Perhaps you feel distant from the Father.  Perhaps nothing is as you thought it would be.  Perhaps you are disappointed and hurting, but the Father is good.  He is faithful.  He will never leave you and never forsake you.  He isn’t a breaking up Father.  He is real, and He is near… always.

Check out the song that was played at community here: Do It Again by Elevation Worship

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Thanksgiving

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Every Tuesday and Thursday mornings we have a group meeting. We come together have a small devotion like message and then start the day. Today, we learned about Thanksgiving (That’s right we had school on Thanksgiving). I know it’s something that we have in the back of our minds every year… you know behind the turkey, and stuffing, family arguments, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and, most importantly, football.

I’ve never connected really with Thanksgiving. I mean, I’m thankful. But there hasn’t been any special about it for me. Today, I actually connected with the spirit of Thanksgiving.

In the late 1600’s a group of Pilgrims left Europe in order to find religious freedom. They didn’t want the government and church controlling each other, and their lives. Over the course of their first year in what would be called America, they faced a lot of hardships. Over half of the pilgrims died due to sickness or starvation. If it wasn’t for the Native Americans who came along and showed them how to farm, and work the land, most likely none of them would have survived.

In the spring they worked the land, and planted their crops. When harvest came they joined with the Native American’s and celebrated the friendship of the Natives, and for food.

As I reflected on this story today, I feel like a Pilgrim. I feel like a person who is so dependent on others to survive. Luckily, I don’t have to learn how to farm… but I depend on others to eat, and survive. It’s hard living in a country where very few people know your language, and where food is so different. I will admit, I have had way too much McDonalds since being here, because I recognize it, and it is very easy for me to get. I can’t however, take to many crappy hamburgers. (I still could eat McD’s fries every day though) It’s hard to order food, when you don’t know what you like or don’t like, when it’s written in a language you can’t read. I can’t even imagine what it was like to even communicate when neither party knew the other language at all (and smart phones weren’t even invented yet.)

I know that the other teachers I work with, and the friends I have made will never read this post, but I am so thankful for them. I am thankful for them taking time to show me how to order food, teaching me different Chinese phrases, and words for food. For showing me how to get to a store to buy things, and for simply taking time to learn my language to help me, while I learn theirs. I am also thankful for the friends and family in America who support us as we figure out how to survive in a foreign land.

Today may feel weird due to the fact I can’t watch football today, or that we most likely will not be eating turkey tonight… but I will be surrounded by friends, and people who care enough to teach me how to survive China. Isn’t that really the spirit of thanksgiving?

Life As We Know It

Life…

I have been wanting to write an update for awhile now. I have been waiting for something to happen. For a story of a broken child that breaks my heart. For big event to take place with drama. For a lost sheep to find it’s way to the Shepard. So far… nothing. Nothing that seems big for us. We live our normal lives every day. I’ve told some people that we will update when life doesn’t feel so busy. Yet it seems as though nothing happens.

So, let me tell you what the “nothing” and “busy” are…

Each day I wake up, get out of bed and quickly get ready for school. (Funny how I’ve waited all my life to be done with school, so I didn’t have to go to school… yet, I work at a school) I hop on my awesome motor bike, that looks like it came out of the game Halo, and off to school I go. (It’s only about a mile to school, but it takes what seems like forever when walking.) As soon as I leave the gate of the apartment complex I see hundreds, possibly thousands of men and women with pink coats on walking past me. They work at a very famous plant called Pegatron (look it up) they used to and possibly still do, make the parts that go in your computer and iPhones.

While I navigate the sea of pink on my scooter I can’t help but to look at the torn down buildings and the new buildings that are being built on both sides of the street, wondering what new shops might go in or what the purpose of the buildings will be.

Once I get to the school I go to my office and hope that no one has any technical issues at 7:30 in the morning. (Most mornings are quiet). From there I usually work on some projects for the school, or read some news from the States, until I have someone with a problem that needs help, or I have a class to teach.

The school is starting it’s 5th year, and has never had a dedicated IT person before. I have a lot of projects that seem to be starting from the ground up, and a lot of infrastructure fires to put out. We don’t have a library system in place, so I will hopefully be scanning all our books into a program and creating every student an account in the system. I have been creating an online resource library so that everyone can access documents, drivers, and walk through videos. We also do not have a meeting room with a sound system in it. I am trying to convince the school to buy a sound board and speakers for when we have parent info meetings so that every parent can clearly hear what is being said.

One of my most time-consuming projects has been the computer lab. When I got here, all the computers were in rows facing the front. The rows were barely big enough for anyone to walk down and you couldn’t see any of the screens while teaching. I rearranged all the computers, so they are facing outward and you can see every screen from any point in the room. The next biggest thing was all the computers were running Windows 8 (not even 8.1) I just updated all 26 computers to windows 10 and have spent hours removing programs that shouldn’t have even been put on the computers. And I am not even finished with it yet.

I teach two 3rd Grade and one 6th Grade class twice a week.

After school on Tuesday’s I have guys night. A time where most of the guys get together and have dinner, the night usually ends with us going to someone’s house and playing Halo. It really is nice having that community every week and connecting with everyone.

On Wednesday and Thursday evenings Megan and I meet with our Chinese teacher, and attempted to learn the language. For me it is a little more of a chore while Megan is a little too happy to learn the language in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I want to learn, it’s just really hard to put together sounds and not know what they mean until later. But I am fascinated by some of the meanings of the words and possible origins of how the language was created.

On Friday… normally something is going on. Wether we are celebrating someone’s birthday, going to a game night, going to a staff party or just hanging out with friends and going out to eat.

Saturday is mostly relaxing, nothing really happens until the evening when a group of us get together and have a great time of “community”. This is a time for amazing reflection, some laughs, and great time for digging deep in the Book.

Sunday is a day we try not to plan anything. Megan and I usually stay home and watch some movies or tv shows, or like last week we might get with some friends and watch the entire second season of Stranger Things.

That is mainly a day in our lives. Some things that aren’t as common, but we do is go shopping. This is very different than from the states, for one we don’t have a car to just get things. We use the Chinese version of Uber called Didi here. It usually costs us around $5 (USD) each way to go to a store like a Walmart.

Eating dinner can be difficult. If we don’t have the stuff to make dinner or didn’t have time to prepare anything, I usually order food to be delivered to us. Delivery fee is only about $1 (USD) so it isn’t bad. But the reason I order for delivery instead of going out is because I can use my phone to translate the words and there is usually pictures as well. It normally takes me about 45mins to find a place that has dishes we like and figure out what we want, the about 20-30 mins to get it delivered. I will admit we have eaten McDonald’s (or the new Chinese name “Golden Arches) a little too much because it’s easy to order.

That sums up our life for the most part. We are really enjoying it. We have been able to go to Disneyland once, watch the Chinese version of the Lion King on Broadway. Also, a couple weeks ago, because of visa issues, we were given a paid weekend trip to Taiwan. We just had to pay for our own food. It was a blast. We have pictures posted on our personal pages for those trips.

Overwhelmed Stress Turned to Hope

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To some, rest is sleeping in on a day off until 10:00 AM, but for me, it is waking up at 6:00 AM leaving for the coffee shop across the street by 7:00 AM and sitting with a delicious latte, an open Book, and a journal. For me, it is finally writing out all the things that have been happening and reflecting on my Daddy.  And in all of this writing, reflecting, relaxing, and processing, I know a much needed update is in order. Since my blog 20 days ago, things went from bearably stressful, to bearably less stressful, to overwhelmingly stressful mixed with feelings of hurt and anger, to survival, to hopeful, to overwhelmingly emotional, to hopeful. Beware, this update should be in two phases, but I am going to try to condense it into one.

Teaching is a demanding job.  Ask any teacher.  Go to the school on the weekends and watch as your child’s teacher works overtime to plan, prepare, and grade. And while you may think we get big chunks of time off, know that many of the times those are also spent planning, preparing, and grading.  Yesterday, was our last day of work before fall break (Yes, we worked on a Saturday because this nation operates differently than America). And I am going to take time to play, relax, and rest up during the holiday, but I am also planning days of solid working so I can catch up and get ahead on planning.  Teaching is stressful, but when your Little Oyster begins to open up and reveal its pearl, it is incredibly rewarding, too.

And part of the stress of being a teacher is the constant critique of everyone who thinks they know how you could do it better.  There are administration observations with constructive criticism.  Then there are parents who think their child is perfect and the only person to blame is the teacher.  This can be stressful and overwhelming in one’s own cultural context.  Throwing a few dashes of cultural backlash, and you have a recipe for an emotional roller coaster that would send a teacher packing, or at least send them to their bedroom questioning the One who sent them there in the first place.  Yes, this story I am about to unfold at times made me question if this is actually where I belong.  The answer is yes. I do belong here, and I know I will be a better teacher in the end of it all.

Just when I thought I was beginning to get a handle on all of the lesson planning and teaching, I was thrown a curve ball.  I committed the first crime against First Days of School training.  I grouped my kids in pods rather than in single placed rows.  Educators warn against this, and I really shouldn’t have tried it.  I wanted to skip the process, and that is never good.  I had reached the conclusion that I needed to separate my kids who were talking, overly distracted, and downright disrespectful.  However, before I could begin making the adjustments, I receive word indirectly from my principal that my partner teacher and I need to make some major changes to our classroom teaching style and decor.  Our class was the most disorderly and our room had too many cool tones. I had worked hard on setting up my classroom, and it still felt cold.  There wasn’t much I could do about it, and I was continually working toward improving it.  Hearing all the things I knew were wrong with my class from management made me feel like a complete failure of a teacher.

Living in a relational indirect culture, the way these kinds of “constructive criticisms” reach you is not through management itself, but rather through someone else.  The management tries to save face because there is no way you can be mad at them if they didn’t deliver the bad news, so this critique to our classroom came from someone with broken English and a translator app, which to be perfectly honest made an already painful critique maddeningly difficult to hear. And I did my best to move forward and make the changes I already planned to make.  Then when it happened for a second time about something I already had made steps toward fixing, I reached out to someone.  I needed another person to come in and help me remove myself from the offense to look at it in a more culturally objective view.  Because in this cultural moment, I was angry and hurt, feeling like rather than saving face, my face was being damaged because I couldn’t defend myself. I couldn’t explain my own observations and my plans to fix it.

So, while juggling the stress of just everyday job planning and executing the plan, I was dealing with other influences that made the job increasingly difficult, stress compounding stress.  I went into survival mode.  “If I can just hang on until the fall break.” Coasting through day by day, drowning in lesson plans and job demands.  I am not perfect at dealing with cultural indirectness, and I may never be, but hopefully I can find it easier to remove myself from the situation and look past the hurt I feel in the future.  And things began to get better.  I made changes to my teaching, the kids were improving, and hope settled in. Some days were better than others, but it looked like the class was moving forward.

Then we reached Parent Teacher night.  We had a meeting to talk about curriculum and meet the parents.  In America, the most difficult parents are the ones referred to as helicopter parents.  They hover over every little thing and stress about their children.  They have high demands for you and for their child, all in the best interest of their child. And while two or three can get a little stressful from time to time, it is bearable.  Culturally unaware me was blindsided by the cascade of blame throwing and questions that would catapult from the mouths of 23 helicopter parents at our parent-teacher meeting.

The questions they raised were not just at me.  The most heated discussion at me personally was about sending books home with the children.  They continue to throw that one at me, and I am standing my ground but acknowledging consideration of their viewpoint. I am working toward a compromise that doesn’t send a pack of wolves at my throat. That discussion got heated as two cultures collided, me coming from a culture of, “What is the least amount of homework my child can do and still do well in school,” while they were aggressively vying for more homework. Then it suddenly shifted and the mood went from a heated yet respectful argument to hostility.  I found myself wondering if they were as angry as they sounded or if this language was like German, everything sounds angry.  I leaned over to my interpreter and muttered, what’s going on?

Basically, the parents were questioning my partner teacher and my qualifications and capability in light of the experience of the other third grade class.  They wanted the school to switch teachers and give an answer to their concern about the lack of our experience.  And while I know they weren’t attacking me, and while I tried to tell myself that, I couldn’t help feeling not good enough.

A couple of days later, I sit down for another meeting that points out some more areas that I need to improve.  My focus has been on teaching and planning more than communicating to parents.  And it became painfully aware that I am not doing enough, so much so that they ask another person to come and train me so to speak in how to interact culturally with these parents.  I truly appreciate the help and the loving guidance, but after two and a half weeks of stressful and emotional critiquing, tweaking, and changing, it was the last straw.  The dam broke, and I cried yet again.  I knew that my kids were getting better, why couldn’t they let me take baby steps with the rest?

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In the middle of the meeting, I receive encouraging messages from a handful of my parents.  They apologize for hurting me.  They assure me that their concern is directed at the school and not me, and they are supporting me.  I get an email from my administration that she is sorry she wasn’t able to protect me from the parents’ attack, and that she will be there for me in the future.  After weeks of feeling berated for my teaching, I began to feel affirmed again.

And as I sit here in the coffee shop, relaxing (Finally!!), I have mounds of work to do over the holiday, but I am rejoicing in the victories.  My kids are having fun learning.  My kids feel loved by me.  Each parent that messaged me told me how their child loves me and how I teach them.  My kids are in fact learning; we took a test and each student scored an 80% or higher.  That is an incredible success rate! The behavior has made leaps and bounds! It isn’t perfect, but we are getting there.  The parents are kinder. The planning is getting easier.  There is rest in sight. There is stress.  There is work.  But, there is hope.

Love compels me to stay and hope gives me strength to continue.

My Little Oyester

As I looked into his eyes and asked him a series of questions, probing to get to know him, each question was met with a blank stare and a shake of his head.

“Do you have a favorite color?” He shakes his head.

“Do you have a favorite animal?”  He shakes his head.

“Do you have a favorite subject in school?”  He shakes his head.

No. No. No.

“Do you understand what I am saying?”  He shakes his head.

It seemed all he knew was, “No,” and being his teacher, I was nervous. I didn’t (and don’t) know how to reach this child, and I was afraid he would be too low of an English speaker compared to the class for me to devote enough time to him. I finally talked to one of our experienced ESL teachers, knowing she had previously worked with him. I needed insight.

She encouraged me to just keep trying. He may be one of my low students, but he wasn’t as low as I had thought he might be. She told me he would likely refuse to participate in many things and may not warm up to me for a month. She told me to be patient in love. So the next day,I began walking to school asking Father for a way to reach this child. I asked for wisdom and insight because Father knows him better than me.

As we came to our math game to review multiplication, I was not surprised by this young boy’s refusal to participate. He sat quietly waiting for an option he was satisfied with. I got the class situated and I came up to this child. I said, “You can either play with me or with friends. Which do you choose?” He said, “You.” We would flip our two cards, and I would solve my side. Then I would ask, “What does yours make?” He would pause to think, and then answer. “Who wins the round, me or you?” “You.”

Tears welled up in my eyes because I knew how important this small interchange was. One month had just narrowed down to days. Slowly he emerged out of his little shell and began revealing his likes and dislikes, his abilities, and his actual depth of English understanding. He has since surprised me time and again. This child is an oyster hiding its pearl. I am confident that with patience and more love, he will open up, fully trust me, and learn exponentially this year.

He is my little oyster. And he is in my class for a reason. He is one of the 23 reasons why I teach.

First Day of School

First day of school.

Well we made it. We are settled in as much as we can be and have our class/office set up as much as we can now. I’m not sure that it has really sunk in yet that we are here.

Life has been so crazy with buying stuff for the apartment, setting up rooms, and training. But today the students come. Today Megan meets her kids, and today I start the whirlwind of stuff that needs to be updated and slew of issues teachers have with printers. Today starts the jobs Megan and I have waited for for years. Not just being in China, but teaching (Megan) and IT (me).

I don’t know if I can speak for Megan exactly, but today it starts to sink in. As I sit in my office listening to the excitement of kids on the first real day of school, my heart fills with joy and joins in the eager expectation of what is to come this year. A new beginning for the students, teacher, and staff. A time that marks a start of a journey of learning.

My job is to touch the lives of the students and parents. To go against culture and show love to those who have never seen love. To be the hands and feet of the One I represent.

Represent, to present again. Isn’t that what we are all supposed to do? Re-present the One who gave His life for the entire world. To take His love that He presented on earth and re-present it to those around us.

Goodbye and Hello!

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Looking out the window, I became suddenly aware that this was my last view of America.  This, although a city I have never truly been to, was the last familiar thing. To be cliché, this was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.  The other end of this flight would be a world of new culture, new food, new language, and new challenges.

We arrived safely and took Rory, our little pup, through customs. He is in quarantine for the next week. We finally arrived at our friend’s apartment around 8:30 pm local time (That is the wee morning hours back home). Unfortunately, there was misunderstanding, so we will be here at our friend’s place for a couple of days until our own apartment is ready.  We will update once we settle in and have photos of our place. We enjoyed some delicious local food, and we crashed hard once we figured out the AC unit. It is hard to know what buttons to push when you don’t know the language.  We slept well, and we are resting today.  Everything is new, but…

We are still safe.

We are still fed.

We are still warm.

We are still hydrated.

We are still loved, especially by our Father.

We are still sheltered.

There may be a lot that has changed, but there is plenty that is the same.  Thank you for following our journey as we turn the page to our new adventure.

72 Hour Countdown

We are less than 72 hours from lift off, and we have four bags to finish packing, but that isn’t what weighs on my mind.  Ok, maybe it is a little bit.  I’m mostly overwhelmed with peace.  The only anxiety I have right now is when I think about preparing for my classroom, which lets be honest, is really stupid.

Father has prepared me, given me strategies even, to speak into these students lives.  He has given me a plan in my head which I need to nail out details for, but all in all, He has prepared me to teach.  I’m so sick and tired of the enemy trying to tell me that I am weak and useless.  Be still my heart and know that the Father will help you succeed. Intercede. Work. Prepare. Plan. Pray.  Sandwich all you do in conversations with the Father, and it will be ok.

So, let’s start over.

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We are less than 72 hours from lift off, and we have four bags to finish packing, but that isn’t what I am here to talk about.  In all reality, it seems that this should be the scariest time of our life.  We are moving to a foreign country in which our right to free speech is stripped away, in which we have to be very careful in what we say in public and on the internet.  We are moving to a place where we are becoming the odd ones out who will be treated as outsiders.  We are moving to a place where we have to learn a new language. We have to learn a new culture.  We have to learn to adapt to a lot of “scary” changes.

Here is the thing.  We aren’t scared.  We are excited.  Sure, nerves get a little frayed when we really stop to think about the leap we are making. But mostly, we are on the edge of free fall with a smile on our face knowing that Father has given us all the right tools, all the parachuting equipment, to let us land safely. And so we are nearly finished with this season of transition, and we are ready to step into the next with all these emotional miracles swirling, yet settling, around us.  We have peace in what could be fearful.  We have trust in what is unknown.  We have faith in what we do not see.  We have joy in what could be sad goodbyes.  We have eyes fixed on one thing: claiming Our City for Our King and His Kingdom with whatever tools He arms us with.

And we are confident that as we pursue Father and His heart for Our City, that everything else will fall into place. For, “we know that [Father] causes everything to work together for the good of those who love [Him] and are called according to His purpose for them.”

Moving to Northern Asia

The time has finally come.  We have been waiting for this day for years, knowing Father had a plan and way for us to get to Asia, but not knowing how or when. It is amazing to look back and see the hand of the Father on every detail of our lives.  There were so many stepping stones that made this possible, and we are grateful that we serve a Father who knows, “all the days ordained for [us] before one of them comes to be.”

The journey to Our City started over 10 years ago.  It started with the gentle prodding and prophetic confirmations that we were destined to work for the Father overseas. It started with a Little Caesar’s pizza, geocaching, and soon-to-be friendship.  It started with taking a chance on a stranger and becoming best friends in the process. It started with an exploding love for Asia and for Disney.  It started with David.

David is my husband’s best friend. When Stephen and David met, it was over a Friday Little Caesar’s lunch while geocaching.  At the time, David didn’t have any affiliation with Our Country, but that soon changed. He had an amazing opportunity to tutor in Asia, his mom became the regional director for a summer student exchange program in which the kids were from Our Country, and he started learning the extremely difficult tonal language. David also loves Disney, and after completing two internship programs with Disney, he was able to land a job helping to build Disneyland in Our City.

It was because of David, who is living in Our City, that we ever learned about the school we will be working at.  If it wasn’t for David, we wouldn’t have ever known about it, which means this is a door that has been slowly opening for ten years! As we prepare to move in August, we are mostly excited! We have friends that live in Our City who will welcome us, and we know that this is an opportunity we were meant to walk through.  We will miss people, but how can you not be excited when the hand of the Father is so evident?