Christmas Cheer.

This Christmas was a tour around the United States!

The weeks before our Christmas break were a bit different, as Venezuela was having major elections and school was cancelled for a couple of days before leaving for break.

During those days, we were asked to stay local and not to go out, just in case of anything that might result from the elections. So, what do a bunch of teachers hunkered down at their apartments do with free time?

Badminton, that’s what. A lot of Badminton.

Before, I would say that I was a comfortably below-average player. After those few days, though, I’d say I’m pretty average which says a lot.

After the elections, things calmly returned back to normal and we finished out that week of school. We left mid-December for three weeks in the States, dividing up our time to see as much family as possible!

1st Leg: California

Well, let’s be honest, the first real stop of our Christmas break was the Houston Airport. No joke. We flew with the Director of our school and his family, and ate some awesome Ruby’s Burgers as soon as we landed. Then, we picked up a coffee for the next flight to California. Incredible.

It’s the little things, guys.

We were in California for less than a week, but, what a fun week it was! Between game nights at the house, catching up with good friends, shopping for some essentials to bring back with us, and long (flat) runs in the morning, it was good. Because our bodies were still used to a different time zone, we got up ridiculously early and took advantage of not having to rush anywhere in the mornings.

One of the highlights from California was being able to go to our old home church, Foothill Church. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to go due to the scheduling and timing of everything, but, we were so happy to be able to! We got to see so many people we respect and admire, friends and pastors who have encouraged and supported us through many different seasons in life while we were in California. It was by far a highlight.

Another highlight was Megan (my awesome sister-in-law) getting us passes to Disneyland for the day (!!!). We had mentioned for quite some time that it would be great to go there since it had been years for either one of us. But, if you haven’t seen the prices there in a while, it’s not like buying tickets for a movie… More like take every movie you would see in a year times 30. So, it was the best gift that she made it possible for us to go and we had such a great time.

The only downside: 40 degree weather. I know, I know, 40 degrees is nothing! Say that to people whose bodies are now conditioned to shiver at temperatures below 70. We stayed moving and bundled up as best as we could the whole night.

We celebrated the first of many family Christmases with our California clan, and it was full of love, food, and fun with everyone, including our sweet niece Adeline, who we got to meet for the first time while visiting!

2nd Leg: Dallas, Texas

Brandon and I were so happy we were able to make it to see the extended Burroughs/Branning clan in Texas this year! We had not been able to visit the past couple of years due to moving around/being in different places/not having the time off from work and really wanted to be there this year.

Between the couple of days we were there, we visited both sides of the family, stayed up late playing too many games of Coup and Avalon (look those games up and I promise you won’t be disappointed that you did), ate some great food, and celebrated together.

Brandon and I were able to share a little bit about what our time in Venezuela has looked like, and things that we can continue to be praying about in the months to come.

3rd Leg: Cleveland, Ohio

Straight from Dallas, we flew into Cleveland on Christmas Eve to visit my parents at their incredible warehouse. Seriously. It’s incredible. I’m blown away every time we drive up and see the creation that my parents have so diligently and skillfully put together.

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Our time in Cleveland was cold yet so life-giving. Lots of coffee times full of great conversations, catching up on shows we haven’t seen in over 2 years (and starting new ones), sitting on the couch with blankets pulled up around us, and getting to see my dear friend, Kelsey (my Maid of Honor), and her family while we were there.

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About 3 days after arriving and drinking gallons of coffee, we packed ourselves in the car for the next leg of the trip:

4th Leg: West Lafayette, Indiana

Six hours (give or take some minutes), multiple coffee/snack stops and bathroom breaks later, we made it to West Lafayette to stay almost a week with my brother, Zach, sister-in-law Lauren, and their sweet 17-month-old son, Cole in their cozy home.

What fun we had hanging out with the whole Hallum+ family (Bran and I are the +) together, running around with Cole, making meals together, taking insanely difficult but fun classes at the gym (difficult for me, piece of cake for my mom and Lo), playing lots of games, movies, and going to eye appointments for me (yay)!

We even snuck in some family photos!

After celebrating the New Year together (a.k.a. forcing ourselves to stay awake until midnight), we packed up the car again to head back to Cleveland.

5th Leg: Cleveland, Ohio + Airport

We had planned to stay until Sunday in Cleveland, not leaving for Caracas until that afternoon. So, leaving Indiana Friday morning we thought we could take advantage of the last bits of time we would have together that day and Saturday.

However, on Friday we found out that the flight we were on was cancelled, which meant we would be taking another flight still leaving Sunday afternoon… but not getting into Caracas until 6 a.m. the following morning. That would be 30 minutes before we were to start work.

Long story short, we were able to find another flight that would get us in Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., but, that meant leaving on Saturday and flying throughout the night. Bummed to not have a full day with my parents as we thought, but grateful to not be getting in the same exact time that we would have been working, we hastily packed and got ready for our 24 hours of travel.

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On the way back, I experienced something for the first time that I feel I should have experienced ages ago: lost baggage. After delayed flights in Newark, forcing us to switch our itinerary entirely (again), we arrived in Caracas, but our bags did not.

Apparently, I was due for a little refresher in the importance of patience and trusting in the Lord, because, this was definitely a scenario that required it.

While we filed the delayed luggage report, took all the necessary steps to ensure that our bags would eventually get there, there was no guarantee when or in what condition the bags would be in. Without sounding dramatic, you really have no clue what the state of your luggage coming in to the country will be (delayed or on time). As we were bringing lots of essentials not only for us that we can’t find here, and bringing important things for friends here, we were praying for days that it would come and everything would be in the bags.

Three days later, our bags were dropped off in the middle of teaching a class. Everything was inside! Obviously we were thrilled when they arrived untouched, however, those days of waiting really showed me that I cannot control certain things (more like, everything) and that the worrying and havoc that occurs in the mind during the waiting game is just distracting and destructive. It is just stuff. Yeah, a bummer to not be able to give out those gifts we brought with us, but, there are more important things in life.

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Sitting in my classroom. Hooray!

It warms my heart so much looking back to those busy and beautiful three weeks we spent with family and friends all over. While there are still so many people I wish I could have sat down to have coffee and just spend quality time with, activities that we would have loved to do, and the list goes on and on, I am fully grateful for our sweet time with each and every person we saw.

The more time we are here, the more I realize the magnitude of how much I love and cherish those family and friends scattered around those different States. It’s a weird thing to always cherish and miss people no matter where you are, but, it is something I am thankful for.

We are grateful, refreshed and full of special memories with our loved ones that are carried with us here, now that we are back in Caracas and fully in the swing of things!

 

 

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On Not Overreacting.

If you thought this post was going to be about Christmas… It’s not! Somehow it is well over Christmas and almost into February and I have yet to post some blogs from a while back!

As a result, over the next two weeks, I’ll be posting on things from as far back as months ago and from as recent as yesterday! Get excited.

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November – 2015

Over Thanksgiving Break, Brandon and I were able to get away and take a 3-day trip to Cartagena, Colombia. We had tried to take this trip last year, but, had to cancel due to some visa issues.

This time around, it was a dream.

 

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Old, walled cities and ancient fortresses. Colonial buildings dotting street after street. Colorful facades, intricate designs, horse-drawn carriages and restaurant after cafe after ice cream shop. What a beautiful break it was to explore someplace new.

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The first two days we walked around the grid-like Old City, got lost a bunch of times, and walked some more. We were able to stock up on some essentials that we’ve been out of here and were so thankful for the opportunity to get some of the basics there. I would honestly tally up the miles walked in the 20s, and the sweat by the buckets. It. Was. HOT.

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The second night we moved to a hotel just outside the Old City’s walls and stayed on the coast a little closer to the airport as our flight was the next day. The hotel we stayed at had everything! We literally felt like kids as we took full advantage of all of its amenities: balcony, pool(s), fitness center, air conditioning, room service (first time for everything as it was the cheapest option out there, yes please!).

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How could anything go wrong/why would I get frustrated by anything on such a dream trip? Well, because I’m human and that self-centered part of me likes to stick it’s little foot into everything. The reason: coffee.

 

Seriously, guys. I’m ashamed.

Let me back it up a little:

One of the many joys of Colombia (that I had done research prior to leaving because I was just so excited) was that they had lots of coffee shops that served more than 8 ounces of coffee. One particular coffee shop is called Juan Valdez and it is a chain in a number of different countries around the world. Is it the absolute best coffee ever? No. But, did they serve 16 beautiful ounces of tasty coffee in one cup? YES.

While we were able to go there the first full day while we were there, I was itching to go back the next day. However, that was also the day we needed to go to the grocery store, got lost on the way back, couldn’t find the Popsicle shop we’d been searching for for over an hour, found the Popsicle shop but couldn’t find our way back, had to pack up our hotel room, and leave the current hotel we were staying at all by 11:00 a.m.

We did not make it to the coffee shop, and guess who put up a big stink about it? This girl. Not proud of that ugly monster that was roaring on the inside of me that just wanted what I wanted and was bummed that normal circumstances got in the way.

I was bummed, no coffee for me, the taxi driver ripped us off, and I just couldn’t believe we missed the last opportunity (see how dramatic I was?) to go to the nice coffee shop/dreamland (as I called it) for the foreseeable future.

I was not fun company on the way over to the next hotel. The worst part is that I knew I was not fun company but I still made that conscious decision that we all are aware of when we are making it to still be grumpy even though I had no good reason to be grumpy.

Well, wouldn’t you know that upon walking into our new hotel, there happened to be a Juan Valdez coffee shop right smack dab in the middle of the lobby.

WHAT, GOD??

Yes. As we walked through the revolving doors and were greeted by glorious air conditioning. I was also smacked in the face by my own selfishness and God’s sense of humor.

Even after my grumpiness and complaints, He still took into account those big and small desires and looked out for me.

How beautiful is that? How undeserving our we?

And this is about silly coffee! Literally something that absolutely does not matter. But, because it matters to us, it matters to Him.

I am thankful that I had such an obvious reminder of my own smallness in the light of a God who is Bigger, more Loving and more Gracious than we could ever be and beyond anything we could ever ask for.

Needless to say, I need to tattoo that little reminder on the back of my hand so that the next time I am tempted to let my own pettiness and selfish desires rain on the parade I quickly put that in check and move on.

Instead of focusing on our own desires and what we want, let’s challenge ourselves to put as much time, effort and thoughts (that we put on ourselves) onto serving those around us and being an active part in seeing their wants and needs be met?

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Our new Colombian cat friend.

 

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On Word-Watching and Chatter.

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If I am going to be completely honest, I find there is something (sickly) satisfying about listening to someone complaining or a story about someone getting what they “deserved”. You know that feeling where you sit enthralled, nodding your head as you sit on the edge of your seat, excusing something all in the name of “justice”? Even more with the honesty, it feels good to be the one complaining. And when you’re the one retelling that story, you feel like you are gifting the world with a righteous tale. Key word in this description above: sickly satisfying. Because it is exactly that: a sickness.

I am definitely not perfect in this, and I know very few people whose words are consistently uplifting and encouraging, not speaking bad of anyone else (my husband). Truthfully, I have found myself get frustrated when he lovingly won’t go along with my complaints and abruptly shuts down my gossip. How thankful I am for him.

This morning while I was reading, I came across this (righteous) dagger to the heart:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. (2 Timothy 2:16). 

Whoops and amen? Is it possible to be 100% convicted and so sure of the truth in something at the same time?

I’ve seen and experienced how bit by bit, this “chatter” (in the form of complaints, gossip, rehashing the past, etc.) slowly turns me into a monster. While on the outside I seem bubbly and loving, my insides are dripping with ugly thoughts and feelings.

Even more so, it doesn’t say avoid only complaining and gossiping, it says avoid ALL GODLESS CHATTER. Isn’t that basically all of my speech, then?

Is me saying how tired I am actually helpful? Does me voicing my doubts about what the dentist recently did to my teeth constitute as chatter? Maybe not the first time (because a girl’s got to process), but, the 5th, 6th, and 20th time? Yes. Definitely, yes.

I am not saying that every single word out of my mouth needs to come straight from the Old Testament. But, we know (at least I do) when what we’re saying is actually something that does no one any good. When it’s just words. And grumpy ones at that.

I need to be thinking before I speak, more. I need to practice speaking life-giving words and not empty, life-sucking words.

Recent Happenings.

Happy Friday!

Phew. What a week, right?! We had a long week as a school as many of our teachers and staff were out sick. Every morning this week, we’d apprehensively take a look at each other during devotions to see who was here and feeling well. Brandon and I are drinking Vitamin C like it’s nobody’s business!

We had planned a couple months back to go on a weekend trip to a German/Venezuelan town called Colonia Tovar, situated in the mountains about 1.5 hours away from us with our friends. However, our friends cannot come this weekend because they were hit with a slue of sickness over the past week and are thankfully on the mend. Since we could not get our deposit back if we were to cancel the reservation fully, Brandon and I get to go away to the mountains for the weekend. While we will miss our friends, this is the perfect weekend to rest and rejuvenate and take more Vitamin C in the mountains.

Last year at around this time, we went to Colonia Tovar for our staff retreat (you can read about it here) and it was when I unfortunately came down with something nasty that left me in the hotel bed/bathroom literally all weekend long. I am hoping and praying that this weekend I can healthfully enjoy this little town.

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Hammock #1.

I cannot believe that Sunday is November! The time is flying here and we are trying to soak everything up. I love looking at how in just a year, our relationships with people here are much richer and fuller. There are many moments when we’re in a taxi on our way back from running errands and we look out into the city thinking, “we live here”. We have a church, we have a dentist, we have a movie theater, we have regular places we go to. We hung up our hammocks in our living room over the weekend, and even have a neighborhood cat we feed want to kidnap… catnap?

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You can see “our” cat, Luna, right behind me.

Two Sundays ago, I taught the Sunday School lesson at our church… In Spanish. We have led worship a couple of times at church in Spanish, too. Our life is not just the bubble of our school, but, is reaching beyond to different places and relationships.

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Just some guys playing some games and eating pizza. Melting heart.

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The game of the year: Basketball! These are the Blue Whales.

Sorry for the lack of recent photos. I don’t have an excuse other than completely forgetting about it!

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I already warned you of the lack of pictures. This is called: wait! we should be recording our lives. This is what a regular day looks like for us. Ticket to Ride and glasses.

Some things to look forward to this next month:

  1. Brandon’s Birthday (November 10th)!
  2. Our School’s Fall Festival!
  3. Thanksgiving Break!
  4. Our annual International School Conference
  5. Prepping for midterms and Christmas Break

I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

A Day in the Life.

This past Friday night (and Saturday morning) was our Secondary “Lock-In” for our middle and high school students, a.k.a. “let’s stay up throughout the whole night even though we desperately want to go to sleep”. As their teachers and the supervision, Brandon and I stayed the whole time, sleeping a couple of hours in the middle of the night in hammocks we set up in the first grade classroom.

These events always remind me of the unique and awesome role we have: Not just as teacher, not quite high school leaders, but a mix of both. We are blessed with the ability to get to know our students and pour our lives into not only the lessons we teach them, but the conversations we get to have with them. It is easy to get caught up in the routine, the day-to-day normality of teaching and going through “the motions” of lesson planning, making copy after copy, grading, having the same “talk” with the same students, making lessons more interesting and creative. Sometimes, it’s easy to allow our daily occupations to be just a job than a mission.

I know my prayer right now, as we are all tired (even more so after a weekend like we just had), a little sick, halfway through our second quarter, and feeling the tension of missing family and friends near and far, is to be fully present and actually engaged. It is definitely possible for one to be present yet not contributing anything to their community. I want to choose to be present and a breath of fresh air to those I am around. Being here physically is not enough. What makes the true difference is pushing your heart to love deeply and try intentionally when our own storehouses are running low or even completely empty.

It’s easy to look forward to “breaks” and it’s not a bad thing to be excited about spending sweet time with family and friends, but, wishing too much for the future just creates a distracted and discontent present.

We are called to so much more than just “making it through our day”. Reading through a devotion from She Reads Truth about our Holy Calling really convicted me in my apathetic, tired thoughts and attitude. If you are ready to be recharged in what our focus should be today, read it.

In the middle of the regular moments of the day, one verse that I need to have written on my forehead and to be reminded of is Colossians 2:6. It says:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” 

This requires action, not laziness/getting caught up in the mumble and grumble that is easy to get caught up in, and requires our attitudes to be full of thanksgiving. Instead of being grounded in our limited supply, we need to be rooted in the truth of who Christ is and how that transforms even the simplest interactions.

I am writing this for myself because today is a day I need to hear it. We can choose to be someone who brings light and salt to each place. Or Mr./Mrs. Grumpsville. Yes, the light and the salt require work, but, it is a Holy work that goes beyond us. And lucky us, we aren’t the source of that strength.

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Beauty Disasters & Getting Over Yourself.

The day before flying into Caracas, I decided to try something new in the beauty realm. I am not a risk-taker when it comes to appearances. I am definitely on the side of less-is-more in regards to beauty and appearance. This is due partly because of lack of time available to put into it, lack of knowledge, and personal preference.

However, apparently the day before coming back I was feeling a little wild. I went with my mom to get our nails done as a sweet goodbye time together. We rode our bikes to the nail salon, entered excitedly dreaming about our (finally) manicured nails, and to our dismay, there was literally a WHOLE bridal party getting their nails done at that time. We were told we could wait 2 hours for our turn if we wanted… We chose not to.

With an hour free and no place to go, my mom and I looked across the street to an eye-threading salon. We looked at each other and thought, “Why not?!”.

That was our first mistake.

First of all, eyebrow threading is potentially one of the most painful things you can intentionally put yourself through. Think: contact-popping-out, tears-streaming-down-your-face kind of pain. Yes, I can’t complain since I subjected myself to it in the first place. However, every time I sit in that dentist-like chair with a stranger telling me to hold back my skin in a very painful position (and I can never actually do it right) while they slowly pull my eyebrow hairs out with a thin thread, I think, “Why am I here again?”.

Well, we survived the threading, with our eyebrows and forehead a glistening red. The lady then asked my mom if she would be interested in getting her eyebrows tinted.

All-natural, she said. Everyone loves it, she said. Will last for 2 weeks, she said.

So, my mom said, “Why not?!” and added, “Sallie, this can be your birthday treat!”

That was our second mistake.

My mom has beautiful, dark hair. I, on the other had, have a reddish-blondish-copperish tint, with almost non-existent eyebrows. So, I confirmed with the lady that she would do something different with my eyebrows that my mom’s. She said, of course!

10 minutes later, 2 eyebrows midnight black. She handed me a mirror, and to my horror, they were big and bold. I left a little bit shaky and in shock, thinking, this is going to be on my face for the next 2 weeks. We made it down the street before I turned back around and asked the same lady to try to lighten them. Ten minutes later, more raw, red skin, 2 still-extremely black eyebrows.

I remember thinking that I would just go home and completely scrub away my eyebrows. Which is what I essentially tried to do after bolting through the living room, avoiding my husband’s gaze, screaming, “Don’t look at me!”.

One hour later, eyebrows still black, but, now my skin under and around was starting to peel off… I should have listened to Brandon’s advice and not actually make my skin scabby on top of having ridiculous eyebrows. Eventually, we had to leave for dinner and a baseball game… Most self-aware night of my life. I distinctly remember thinking, “everyone is staring at me”. This transported me right back to my Middle School days (and what I see every day with my Middle School students), this hyperawareness and sensitivity. This belief that the world is keeping very detailed notes, and making very critical observations of every aspect of what you look like, act like, say, and do. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, Middle School Sallie, no one cares!

While I went through the next couple of days trying desperately to cover up too-dark eyebrows AND scabby skin, I kept thinking, I look like a clown! It’s amazing how those thoughts completely transform how you interact with those around you. I tried to avoid conversations, looking people in the eye, and wore lots of hats. It made me not want to be noticed, and altered the way I usually act within my friendships. All over silly little eyebrows!

Now, what began as a beauty blunder turned into a major learning moment for me: No one actually notices what you are obsessing about! AND, if they do, then that’s weird!

What’s even crazier is that all of the emotional stress I put myself through thinking, regretting, and reenacting that moment that I said “alright!” to the lady at the shop, only physically made me sick and isolated me from relationships with other people. How awful that self-obsession and being so pulled into our own feelings, emotions, and so bent on what is going on in our lives completely separates us from the real world and makes us awful friends, spouses, and teachers?!

While I can tell you from experience that eyebrow tinting actually lasts longer (4 weeks in my case, not the 2 that they told me), I am thankful for that experience because it illuminated what I have been telling my students but not really believing myself all along: The one thing that you think everyone is noticing, no one even sees or thinks about! Be confident in who you are!

Even if people see it, stare at it, talk about you, etc., it truly doesn’t matter. There very much are important things and less important things in life. When the less important things take over the actual important things, that’s when there is a problem.

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Me with my normal brows.

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Terrifying.

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Literally as if a child drew them on my face.

So, while you may not have your own eyebrow story, I’m sure there is that something else that you have gone through or are currently going through that you so firmly believe EVERYONE sees and is judging you on. The truth, in the most gentlest and loving way possible, is that no one is watching, and no one is caring. Let go of the stress. Let go of the self-judgement and criticism, let go of the what-ifs, should-haves, and continue on confidently. Even with midnight black eyebrows.

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Yup. Still scary.

Thankful & Grateful.

thankfulWe have been back in Caracas for 3 weeks, now. And, man. Did those 3 weeks FLY.

Backing up before arriving, tired-eyed and sleepy after our red-eye flight and 24 hours of travel, we spent some sweet and wonderful time with family and friends in California, Ohio, and Indiana.

California:

We were blessed with almost 3 weeks straight in California. Family time in the mountains, half-marathon with the brother, lots of Chipotle, coffee dates with forever friends, and sleepovers and game nights at our dear friends’ Matt & Becca.

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There were still so many people we would have liked to see and spend time with, and so many things we would have liked to do, but, we are thankful with the time we did have.

Ohio:

I flew out to be with my family in Cleveland about a week before Brandon met up with me there (he was also able to spend time with the California Burroughs). During that time we drank lots of coffee, talked, drank more coffee, went on bike rides, ran, watched my Dad pole vault, and had some great conversations.

When Brandon got into the city, we spent a few days together before going on a road trip to Indiana! In Indiana, we stayed with my brother, sister-in-law, and their 11-month son, Cole. During that time my family and Lo’s family came together to dedicate Cole. It was such a special time to have both families together.

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In the middle of our Ohio trip, we hit a little bump in the road with our work visas. We were on schedule to receive them while in the States, and with that understanding, we decided to stop through Costa Rica on the way back to Caracas. However, due to some paperwork issues, we ended up having to cancel our trip, allowing us to stay in Ohio for another week!

With that added time, we took a little road trip to New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. We stayed with some good friends, The Fajnors, some nights and explored with them during the day. On our way back, we celebrated our anniversary in Pennsylvania!

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By the time we got back, everything was in order with our visas! We were ready to go, but, still feeling that bittersweet mix of excitement to be back yet sadness to leave behind family and friends.

Caracas:

We arrived July 25th, and ever since then, we’ve been running! We began our new teacher orientation that Monday, and after meetings and time at school in the mornings, each afternoon/evening was filled with tours around the city, meals, time getting to know one another, and prepping our classes for the first week of school.

Monday was the first day of school and also my 25th birthday! It passed so quickly! This year, Brandon and I are teaching some different classes, in different rooms, and with different responsibilities. Brandon is now the Math Teacher for grades 6, 8, 10, & 12, in addition to being the 9/10th Social Studies Teacher! I am teaching 6th grade Ancient Civilizations and English, 7/8th World Geography, and 11th Grade Pre-Calculus (terrifying), in addition to being secondary lead teacher. As Brandon and I have NEVER taught math before, and have to brush up on basically everything we’re teaching before we teach it, it is a fun but daunting challenge that is making us completely trust in the Lord.

I am thankful. I am thankful for our community, here. Our apartment, our staff comprised of hard workers, of friends here and back in the States who are so loving and generous, of a church we’re excited to be back to, and knowing a little more this year than we did last year. Yes, it’s still very busy, but, in a completely different way. We sat down today to look through all of our goals for this year (short and longterm) so that we don’t waste one day.

I am grateful. I am grateful for this opportunity, and for being on this adventure with Brandon, with another year of marriage to celebrate. Grateful for another year of life. Grateful for challenges that make you realize you have to rely on others and God, friends who show you love in ways you would never imagine, and quiet moments at home recharging.

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